By Michael D. Peabody, Esq.
We are saddened to learn that long-time religious liberty advocate John V. Stevens passed away on November 30, 2015.
Stevens served as the president of the Arizona Conference in the 1960s until joining the Pacific Union Conference as Director of the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty until his retirement in 1995. He remained active in religious liberty issues until his death.
Stevens was instrumental in founding two religious liberty advocacy organizations including Council on Religious Freedom and Founders’ First Freedom, which is an independent non-profit focused on religious liberty and freedom of conscience issues. In the interest of full disclosure, this author is a corporate officer of Founders’ First Freedom, which is separate and distinct from ReligiousLiberty.TV.
An advocate for strict church-state separation, Stevens also served as a trustee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In 2008, Stevens published a book entitled The Abortion Controversy which provided an extensively researched apologetic for legal abortion. Although the book itself was controversial, it sparked much discussion as one of the first books that addressed the controversial issue openly from the perspective of a pro-choice Seventh-day Adventist. Stevens believed that the religious right could ultimately take advantage of anti-abortion legislation to threaten personal freedoms, and argued against the personhood of an unborn fetus. Stevens was gracious with those who disagreed with his position on this issue, and because the book pulled the curtain open on a subject that had previously been shrouded in silence, it provided a catalyst for other Adventists who also believed in liberty of conscience to respond from a perspective that valued life at all stages. Even for those who vigorously disagreed with Stevens’ conclusions, his book was a springboard for a much broader, necessary discussion about the nature of human life that continues to this day.
A Memorial Service will be held January 16 at 3 p.m. at the Clearview Seventh-day Adventist Church in Surprise, Arizona.
In 2008, as the same-sex marriage battles were heating up, John sent me this note in response to an article we had posted about California’s Proposition 8 and gave permission to post his response on this website. It is a good summary of his love for freedom and his love for God. Stevens was a great thinker and passionate advocate for religious liberty. We will miss him.
Here, again, is John Stevens’ letter from July 19, 2008.
Thank you for sharing this item. As you know, I am personally opposed to same sex unions. But I am also opposed to a lot of other things, such as honoring the pagan day of the sun in the name of Christianity and rejecting the day God blessed and sanctified for our worship and fellowship.
But my God has given everyone the power to choose and if I am going to have His image restored in me, and that is my goal, then I will have to accept that part of Him, and honor the freedom to make choices of people with whom I disagree. I cannot in good conscience deny others the right that I wish to claim as my own. Consequently I oppose all constitutional amendments to codify religion or any aspect of it into law.
Bringing the recognition of the marriage union to the church and to private institutions with the submission of a simple form informing the government that the marriage has taken place is fine with me. That provision would make the marriage legal in case of divorce, etc. But the government could not under this plan require a license, hence no one needs the government’s permission to get married.
These people who oppose same sex marriage and want the government to enforce their personal religious views are the identical people that want the government to conduct worship services in the public schools for their minor children, and force non believers’ children to attend such services. I find that repulsive and unacceptable and yes, even unAmerican.
We are witnessing a replay of the time when Christ was tried and sentenced to crucifixion. Remember the religious leaders’ testimony? “We have no king but Caesar.” Whenever the church resorts to the state asking them to do for them what God has not seen fit to do, they testify anew that the state is mightier and more capable than God, whom they profess to worship and serve. So we hear in these demands by religiously conservative political forces, “We have no king but Caesar.” Wonder how God must feel about that and them, for whom He paid an infinite price?
Having lobbied government on all levels for over 45 years I have yet to find anything in which the government really excels, and that I apply to all governments in the world. They are made up of faulty people, for there are no other kinds, including ourselves, and what then can we expect? And I certainly honor the far sighted wisdom of our Founders in making this new nation a secular one, where religion is not controlled by the government and where the government is not controlled by religion, the latter being one that is taking place and expanding.
Such thinking and acting is bringing us daily closer to the fulfillment of Revelation 13:11-18. It is so sad that we are headed that direction, especially when our beginning, and during much of our history, we have reflected the lamb, Christ.
Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.
John V. Stevens, Sr.