Adventist Church President Ted N. C. Wilson made a case for vegetarianism in a Sabbath sermon closing a weeklong health conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and he expressed disappointment that some people liken the church’s emphasis on a plant-based diet to fanaticism.
He also encouraged the audience of 1,150 Seventh-day Adventist leaders and health professionals from 81 countries to boldly share the Jesus-centered health practices that they had learned at the Global Conference on Health and Lifestyle, even if they faced opposition in their home churches.
Wilson, who compared the energy required of Adventists to the high metabolism of a hummingbird, said he was familiar with discouragement and the best recourse was to lean on Jesus.
“I hope you will go from this place filled with God’s intense desire, like the hummingbird, and to be careful in what you do, to be balanced in what you do, but to proclaim God’s precious word,” he said.
The conference, organized by the world church’s Health Ministries department, featured science-based presentations from leading global health professionals that showed the best safeguard against premature killers like cancer, heart disease and diabetes was a healthy lifestyle with a vegetarian diet and regular exercise.
The conference’s goal is to ultimately open community health centers with programs offering a Christ-modeled blend of physical and spiritual wellness in every Adventist church. The programs could include stress management courses, fitness classes, and Breathe-Free 2, a stop-smoking initiative unveiled at the conference.
Practice what you teach
In his July 12 sermon, Wilson returned to a theme that had dominated the conference: Attendees must apply what they were learning to their own lives in order to effectively share it with others.
“Lifestyle ought to be modeled,” he said. “Avoid detrimental lifestyles. Show the love of Christ in all that you do.”
Wilson added: “I want to tell you I feel sad when I hear of places that think that because you talk about healthy living, you’re a fanatic; if you talk about the sanctuary service, and its completeness, and the righteousness of Jesus, that you are some kind of a quack; if you talk of Jesus’ soon return, that you are a fanatic; if you talk about promoting the values in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, that you belong in another century.
“I want to tell you brothers and sisters: The principles in God’s Word and the Spirit of Prophecy are as fresh today as they were when they were written,” he said, drawing loud “amens” from the audience.
Wilson prefaced his remarks by saying that he had spent hours rejoicing and praying with conference participants during the past week but had been troubled by some of the things that they had shared.
Wilson then turned his attention to what Adventists eat.
“Nancy and I have been vegetarians all of our lives,” he said, referring to his wife, who was in the hall.
“That doesn’t mean I’m any closer to the kingdom of God than the person who is eating meat,” he said. “It simply means that I am trying to follow God’s health laws so that the frontal lobes and the delicate nerve endings can receive the impressions of the Holy Spirit in a wonderful way.”
The Adventist Church has no ban on meat eating with the exception of pork, shrimp and other meats designated as unclean in the book of Leviticus. Studies suggest that nearly half of North American Adventists are vegetarians, but many believers in other parts of the world such as South America and the former Soviet Union eat meat, and some have resolutely resisted change.
Presenters at the Geneva conference offered an abundance of scientific evidence suggesting that vegetarians live longer, healthier lives. They also pointed out that a healthy person tends to be more receptive to spiritual matters than a person who is distracted or numbed by fatigue or illness.
Wilson noted that Adventist church co-founder Ellen White foresaw that Christians awaiting Jesus’ return in the last days would not eat meat.
“I want to encourage you to read some of that and pray about it and see how the Lord impresses you in terms of your lifestyle: what you eat, what you watch, what you read, what you do. And I myself have to do the same,” he said.
Indeed, White wrote in her book Counsels on Diet and Foods: “Among those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord, meat eating will eventually be done away; flesh will cease to form a part of their diet. We should ever keep this end in view, and endeavor to work steadily toward it.”
Wilson, reiterating a point he made at the conference earlier in the week, stressed that vegetarianism would never determine salvation.
“I live in a healthful manner, not to earn my way to heaven, but because the Lord has told me that’s the best way to live,” he said. “And that’s what we need to share with others. I challenge you to live the lifestyle.”
‘Don’t Get Discouraged’
He told attendees to remain balanced and calm if they faced opposition from “your local church or even, God forbid, from your pastor or from a church administrator or an organization that doesn’t understand what we have been talking about this week.”
“Don’t get discouraged,” he said. “Lift people’s eyes to what Jesus did.”
Wilson said he could empathize with those tempted to feel discouraged. “Sometimes the things that people throw at me are, you know, things that aren’t very pleasant,” he said. “I’ve learned by God’s grace to just give them all to the Lord. Lean on Him.”
He then read from Matthew 5, which says: “Blessed are you when they shall revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven.”
“Go with that attitude,” Wilson said. “Be a vital missionary for Jesus. … Go in the power of Jesus. Be a vital proponent of God’s wonderful work.”