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Roland R. Hegstad

From: North American Division News, June 20, 2018. Courtesy of Sheri Clarke Hegstad family.

Hegstad, Roland Rex (1926–2018)

By Douglas Morgan


Douglas Morgan is a graduate of Union College (B.A., theology, 1978) in Lincoln, Nebraska and the University of Chicago (Ph.D., history of Christianity, 1992). He has served on the faculties of Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland and Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. His publications include Adventism and the American Republic (University of Tennessee Press, 2001) and Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America (Review and Herald, 2010). He is the ESDA assistant editor for North America.

First Published: February 15, 2024

Roland R. Hegstad, editor of Liberty magazine for 35 years (1959-1994), was a leading Adventist voice for religious freedom and separation of church and state.

Early Life

Born in Stayton, Oregon, on April 7, 1926, Roland Hegstad grew up in Wauna, a small mill town located along the Columbia River in northwestern Oregon. His father, Philip R. Hegstad (1902-1968), operated a gas station. In addition to Roland, Philip and his wife, Lydia Prospal Hegstad (1902-1975) had a daughter, Georgia Anne (1927-1992).1

During his high school years Roland won first prize for fiction in a statewide writing competition and edited the school paper. He also wrote on sports for the local newspaper, aspiring to become a sports editor. Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, offered him a journalism scholarship and the role of sports editor for the college paper.2

Roland was not raised a Seventh-day Adventist, but his grandmother, Anna Sophia Hegstad (1876-1943), joined the church in 1921, five years before he was born.3 Her death in the midst of his senior year in high school prompted Roland to discuss questions about the existence of God and what happens after death with his aunt, Sylvia Hegstad Petersen (1909-1983), also an Adventist. She suggested that he study at Walla Walla College, the Seventh-day Adventist college in eastern Washington state, to find answers. That conversation along with other family circumstances prompted Roland to forego the offer from Linfield and go to Walla Walla instead. Though not yet a church member when he enrolled, he ended up earning degrees in both theology and journalism.4

After graduating in 1949, Hegstad began evangelistic ministry in the Upper Columbia Conference. He married Stella Radke (b. 1929) on August 22, 1949, in a ceremony at Central church in Portland, Oregon, officiated by Leon B. Losey, dean of men at Walla Walla College.5 They would have three children: Douglas (b. 1953); Sheri (b. 1954); and Kimberly (b. 1965).

Evangelism in the Upper Columbia Conference

Hegstad evangelized with Aaron A. Wagner and others in the Columbia Basin of central Washington state. They raised up a new congregation of 70 members at Ephrata. Hegstad remained in Ephrata as pastor until heading to Washington, D.C., in August 1953, for graduate study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.6

After graduating from the seminary, Hegstad became pastor of the Clarkston, Washington, church in the fall of 1954. He was ordained to gospel ministry at Lewiston, Idaho, just across the state border from Clarkston, on September 18, 1954.7 Hegstad remained at this assignment only nine months, but during that time he and Wagner again collaborated for an evangelistic effort, this time in Lewiston, that resulted in the baptism of 26 new members.8

A New Era for Liberty

Roland Hegstad’s youthful aspiration to be an editor was realized, albeit modified by his ministerial calling, in June 1955 when the Southern Publishing Association in Nashville, Tennessee, invited him to become associate editor of the evangelistic periodical These Times. He would remain an editor for the remainder of his career. In 1957 the Southern Publishing Association gave him a new role as its book editor. Then, in 1959, the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., called Hegstad to the editorial staff of Liberty, a quarterly periodical published on behalf of the Religious Liberty Department of the General Conference.9

As Hegstad later recalled it, the Review and Herald’s plan was for him to become familiar with the field of religious liberty while serving as an associate editor for two years, and then become editor. However, the resignation of the current editor, J. Arthur Buckwalter, a week after Hegstad’s arrival, accelerated the timing. At age 32, Hegstad suddenly was editor of Liberty.10 He would lead the magazine to a new era—in content, style, and reach.

By the time Hegstad took the helm at Liberty, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had established a strong record of publication and public advocacy for religious liberty and separation of church and state that extended nearly 75 years. However, the editorial policies of Liberty, published since 1906, and its predecessor, the American Sentinel, launched in 1886, had oscillated between highlighting the magazine’s Adventist identity along with the church’s distinctive teachings, on the one hand, and, on the other, keeping the church and its doctrines in the background, positioning the magazine as part of a broader interfaith coalition on the single issue of religious liberty.

The latter approach had prevailed during the 1940s and 1950s. Frank Yost, editor from 1954 to 1958, had contended that if Liberty presented the “full program of Adventist doctrine,” it would be dismissed by its intended audience of legislators, public officials, jurists, and attorneys as a tool for evangelization and not be taken seriously as a voice for religious liberty.11 Hegstad implemented a change in direction. Uplifting the magazine’s identity as “an unapologetic Adventist magazine” was his most important contribution as Liberty editor, he later said.12

Hegstad thus added articles and columns touching on doctrine and apocalyptic prophecy, without altering the periodical’s central focus on religious liberty. He sought to do this “in a way that is intelligible to the secularists” who made up a high percentage of its readership. He also recognized that the readers he targeted were busy professionals and thus sought to grab their attention with a punchier style and striking artwork. He moved the publication schedule from quarterly to semimonthly in 1960 and circulation increased from about 152,000 in 1958 to about 500,000 by 1975. During Hegstad’s 35 years as editor, Liberty was honored six times by the Associated Church Press with an Award of Merit. It also won 80 other awards, most of them for design.13

Sunday Laws and Public School Prayer

In contrast to the way “religious liberty” has widely come to be understood in the United States in the 21st century, Hegstad championed Adventism’s historic emphasis on separation of church and state as the best policy for safeguarding religious freedom. Thus, Liberty generally opposed government funding for religious institutions and support for religious expression or practice that favored some forms of faith over others.

Sunday closing laws, for example, long-opposed by Adventists, gained renewed prominence when the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such laws in 1961, early in Hegstad’s tenure. He derided Chief Justice Earl Warren, who argued that Sunday legislation now had a secular basis, for his failure to recognize the obvious religious “face” shown by the language of the contested state statutes—“from the ‘holy time’ halo to the ‘desecration’ dimple on the chin.”14 Despite a flurry of efforts in the aftermath of the 1961 decision to strengthen state legislation and its enforcement, Sunday laws faced an uphill battle against the growing power of consumerism and diminishing enthusiasm for them on the part of Christian activists. Hegstad pointed out in 1974 that “[d]ecided changes . . . in the American constitutional climate” would be necessary before a Sunday law that significantly oppressed the religious freedom of observers of other days or no day could be passed.15

Prayer in public schools became a much more hotly contested cultural battle when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Engel v. Vitale (1962), against classroom prayer mandated by public school officials. In their support for this ruling and aggressive opposition to a constitutional amendment proposed in 1964 to permit prayer and Bible reading in the public schools, Hegstad and other leaders of the denomination’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department (PARL), stood against a strong and wide-ranging tide of religious sentiment in the nation. Hegstad pointed out that Engel v. Vitale ruled out only official, state-written prayers and thus the decision “should not be called anti-God but anti-state-enforced religion.”16

The school prayer controversy made clear where Hegstad and other spokespersons for the Adventist church stood in the alignment of forces struggling to define the role of religion in the American public order during the 1960s. On matters of church and state, they stood with mainline, ecumenical Protestants represented by the National Council of Churches, along with Jewish and secular advocates of church-state separation and against conservative Protestants such as represented by the National Association of Evangelicals with whom they had much greater affinity when it came to basic Christian belief and practice.17

The Adventist Debate Over Government Money

Adventists and their interfaith allies joined forces in Americans United for Separation of Church and State, organized in 1948 as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Adventist PARL leaders and Liberty editors were prominent in Americans United from the beginning, and Hegstad gave the keynote address for the organization’s annual convention in 1966.18 At the same time, however, conflict was coming to a head within the denomination over acceptance of federal funds for church-owned educational and health-care institutions made available on a large scale by post-World War II legislation. Adventists had long spoken out against such funding as a dangerous violation of the wall of separation between church and state. However, administrators of the church’s colleges, universities, and hospitals, with pragmatic needs in view, believed some types of government funding could be accepted without violating the core Adventist principle of religious liberty. Increasingly, they did so, even though contrary to denominational policy, so that by 1963 Seventh-day Adventist institutions were among those listed by Americans United as violators of “the principle of Church-State separation.”19

Hegstad and others voiced passionate warnings against the denominational drift from separationism. For Hegstad, more important even than upholding the U.S. Constitution was Adventism’s apocalyptic identity as remnant—a faithful minority resisting the oppressive union of church and state that, based on their understanding of biblical prophecy, they anticipated would finally take hold in America. In a panel discussion in 1968 involving Adventist denominational leaders, educational administrators, and religious liberty advocates, Hegstad asserted that it would be “criminal” for those having “the prophetic insight of the Adventist ministry uncritically to involve the church in confederacy with government for the sake of financial aid.”20

He portrayed in a more positive light than some of his colleagues a new policy adopted at the 1972 annual council of the General Conference that permitted church institutions to accept government aid while setting forth guidelines intended to ensure that neither the independence of Adventist schools nor pursuit of their mission be compromised in the process. However, his assurance that the guidelines would ensure that the amount of government aid coming into Adventist institutions would “not exceed a trickle” would prove overly optimistic.21

Politics, Prophecy and the Papacy

The differences over government funds marked a gradual parting of the ways between Adventists and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Another factor was that affirmation of religious liberty, based on principle rather than pragmatic concession, by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 dissipated the wariness of Catholic political power that had been crucial in drawing mainline Protestants into the alliance in the late 1940s and 1950s. Adventist writers, too, tried to be fair-minded in recognizing the significant changes marked by Vatican II, but remained more wary than most other Protestants due to the specificity of their prophecy belief about the role of the papacy in the final persecution of the faithful remnant. As Hegstad put it, he did not expect “to see the Spanish Inquisition reincarnated” to storm through a perceived loophole in the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom tomorrow, but “there remains always the day after tomorrow.”22

Responses to the recurring efforts of U.S. presidential administrations to establish diplomatic relations with Vatican City illustrates the shifting perspectives on the papacy. Adventists had been a vocal part of a much broader mostly-Protestant coalition that frustrated such moves by presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman during the 1940s and 1950s. When President Ronald Reagan appointed a Vatican ambassador in 1983, Adventists again protested vociferously in Liberty and other periodicals and quickly mounted a national letter-writing campaign calling for rejection of the appointment. However, opposition from Protestant leaders and organizations overall was muted at best. Disturbed particularly by the way in which the Senate quietly lifted an 1867 prohibition that stood in the way of appointing a Vatican ambassador, Hegstad accused Congress of an ”appalling dereliction of duty . . . in failing to hold hearings before the President confronted Protestant and other religious leaders with a fait accompli.”23

Politics, Prophecy, and the New Christian Right

With prophecy belief again a significant influence, Hegstad was perhaps Adventism’s most outspoken critic of the ascendant political influence of religious conservatives in the “New Christian Right,” organized most visibly by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition in the 1990s.24 Hegstad warned that the effort to create an evangelical voting bloc for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election looked like a movement toward “legislated religious conformity” that boded ill for religious freedom.25 At the same time Hegstad came closer to an implied endorsement of a candidate in Liberty than ever before in his tenure as editor. Liberty gave President Jimmy Carter “high marks for fidelity to his stated views on church and state” while ranking Reagan a distant third behind third party candidate John Anderson because of the Republican nominee’s “support for state-sponsored prayer in public schools . . . and his commitment to an abortion amendment.” The Liberty editor considered that the broad Roman Catholic-evangelical alliance on the latter issue portended repression of religious minorities.26

During the 1992 election Liberty made no comment on Democratic nominee Bill Clinton nor third-party candidate Ross Perot, but the cover of its November-December issue (published in October) depicted a GOP “Trojan Elephant” out of which proceeded conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and allies, marching up the steps of the Capitol. Hegstad denounced the right-wing rhetoric that Democrats had “no concept of families,” for example, as “verbal toxic waste” and predicted that “dollops” of it would be dumped on opponents of the New Christian Right agenda.27

The Vatican, the Kremlin, and Beyond

While Liberty primarily targeted American readers, Hegstad, as an associate director of PARL at the General Conference, was also involved with international religious liberty diplomacy. In 1966 and 1967 he was involved with efforts to promote adherence to the 1965 Vatican II Declaration of Religious Freedom in predominantly Catholic nations where the religious liberty of non-Catholics had been suppressed. With Dr. Jean Nussbaum, the Adventist religious liberty leader for southern Europe, Hegstad met with Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, dean of the College of Cardinals at the Vatican, to discuss strengthening the provisions of Spain’s new Law of Religious Toleration, and went with a Church-State Study Committee to investigate conditions in that nation.28

Also, in 1986 and 1987, Hegstad participated in interactions that brought rapprochement between Adventist church leaders and representatives of the Soviet Union.29 These breakthroughs led to founding of Zaoksky Adventist Seminary in 1988, the first Protestant higher education institution in Russia and Source of Light Publishing House in 1991, the first Protestant publishing house in the territory of the former Soviet Union that operated with its own printing facilities.30

Insight Interim

Hegstad’s editorial and diplomatic skills combined in 1971 to help resolve a serious conflict within the Adventist church. Insight magazine, launched by the church in 1970 to reach the younger generation more effectively during an era of rapid societal upheaval, provoked a storm of controversy with its non-traditional approach. To resolve the crisis, Hegstad served for a year as interim editor of Insight while retaining his responsibilities with Liberty. He used his standing as a church leader so as to allow the younger associate editors to continue bringing fresh, creative content to the magazine, while also winning their confidence and receptivity to his counsel. “He came across trusting us” and was “never condescending,” recalled Charles Scriven, one of the associate editors. He did not interfere with day-to-day operations and thus “aside from planning meetings, tended to just drop by—always with a smile and his trademark aura of irrepressible energy.”31

After retirement in 1994 from responsibilities at Liberty and the General Conference, Hegstad served as editor of Perspective Digest, a publication of the Adventist Theological Society, until 2004. He authored numerous books, including Rattling the Gates, a study of the charismatic movement (Review and Herald, 1973), Baseball, Popcorn, Apple Pie, and Liberty (Review and Herald, 1979), Pretenders to the Throne (Pacific Press, 1990), and The Incredible Power of Grace: When God’s Assurance Becomes Your Own (Review and Herald, 2005).32


After an extended illness, Roland R. Hegstad died June 12, 2018, in Dayton, Maryland, survived by Stella, his wife for nearly 70 years, their three children and five grandchildren.33 He was Adventism’s preeminent spokesperson for religious liberty in America during the second half of the 20th century.

It also seems fair to suggest that, preoccupied with protest against the manifold harms of linking the coercive power of the state with the church, Hegstad gave inadequate attention to the role of the church as an influence for racial and economic justice and against the dominance of doctrinaire secularism in public life. The vast expansion of the role of government in American life during Hegstad’s lifetime made these challenges more pressing, and it may be that he did not see adequately that faithful public witness on the part of the church called for a broadened response.34 Nevertheless, Hegstad’s relentless advocacy for separation of church and state as the best framework for freedom, grounded in Adventism’s theology of history, and skillfully communicated to gain a hearing in the nation’s pluralistic public arena, leaves a legacy of enduring significance.


Bond, C. Lester. “Ordination of R. Hegstad.” North Pacific Union Gleaner, October 18, 1954.

“Church-State Relations.” ARH, September 26, 1968.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Adventists and Government Money.” Liberty, March-April 1973.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Diplomatic Relations With the Holy See.” Liberty, May-June 1984.

Hegstad, R[oland]. “Farewell.” North Pacific Union Gleaner, July 11, 1955.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Get a Good Blanket.” Insight, February 12, 1974.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Liberty Learns a Lesson: An Editor Reflects on 100 Years of Stormy History.” ARH, May 15, 1986.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Modern Sunday Laws Not Religious? Liberty, May-June 1961.

Hegstad, Roland R. “New Deal for Spain’s Protestants,” Liberty, September-October 1968.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Peace Words Flying: An Eyewitness Report of the Moscoe Peace Conference.” ARH, May 7, 1987.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Religious Liberty and Public Order.” Liberty, November-December 1965.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Supreme Court Decision Misunderstood.” Liberty, September-October 1962.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Verbal Toxic Waste.” Liberty, November-December 1992.

Hegstad, Roland R. “Washington for Jesus—Really?” Liberty, September-October 1980.

Hegstad, Roland. “The Work Advances in the Columbia Basin.” North Pacific Union Gleaner, June 29, 1953.

“Jimmy Carter on Church and State—2.” Liberty, November-December 1980.

Kellner, Mark A. “Roland R. Hegstad, Longtime Liberty Magazine Editor Dies at 92.” Adventist News Network, June 20, 2018. Accessed January 8, 2024,

“Liberty Expert Says U.S. Building Image to Beast.” ARH, February 27, 1986.

“Long-Time Religious Liberty Advocate, Author, and Editor Passes Away.” North American Division News, June 19, 2018. Accessed January 8, 2024, accessed

Johnsson, William G. “In Defense of Religious Liberty: An Interview With Retiring Liberty Editor Roland Hegstad.” ARH, February 24, 1994.

Morgan, Douglas. Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001.

“Roland R. Hegstad obituary.” Focus, Summer 2018.

“Roland Rex Hegstad.” FamilySearch. Accessed January 3, 2024,


  1. “Roland Rex Hegstad,” FamilySearch, accessed January 3, 2024,

  2. William G. Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty: An Interview With Retiring Liberty Editor Roland Hegstad.” ARH, February 24, 1994, 8-9; “Roland R. Hegstad obituary,” Focus, Summer 2018, 36.

  3. R.H. Nightingale, “Anna Sophia Hegstad obituary,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, April 18, 1944, 6. Roland’s father and mother both joined the church later in life; see “Philip Roland Hegstad obituary,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, February 3, 1969, 14; “Lydia B. Hegstad obituary,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, February 16, 1976, 16.

  4. Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 8-9; “Roland R. Hegstad obituary,” 36.

  5. “Weddings,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, September 6, 1949, 3.

  6. Roland Hegstad, “The Work Advances in the Columbia Basin,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, June 29, 1953, 4.

  7. C. Lester Bond, “Ordination of R. Hegstad,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, October 18, 1954, 8-9.

  8. R[oland] Hegstad, “Farewell,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, July 11, 1955, 7.

  9. Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 9.

  10. Roland R. Hegstad, “Liberty Learns a Lesson: An Editor Reflects on 100 Years of Stormy History,” ARH, May 15, 1986, 10.

  11. Frank Yost, “The Place of Liberty: A Magazine of Religious Freedom,” NAD Religious Liberty Council, n.d., RG 52, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives (GCA), quoted in Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2001), 238, n. 6; see also 126.

  12. Hegstad, “Liberty Learns a Lesson,” 10; Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 9.

  13. Hegstad, “Liberty Learns a Lesson,” 10; Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 9-10; M. E. Loewen. “Circulation of Liberty Now Highest in History,” ARH, August 29, 1868, 24; “Public Affairs and Religious Liberty,” ARH, July 31, 1975, 25-26; Mark A. Kellner, “Roland R. Hegstad, Longtime Liberty Magazine Editor Dies at 92,” Adventist News Network, June 20, 2018, accessed January 8, 2024,

  14. Roland R. Hegstad, “Modern Sunday Laws Not Religious?, Liberty, May-June 1961, 27.

  15. Roland R. Hegstad, “Get a Good Blanket,” Insight, February 12, 1974, 9-11; Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic, 127-130.

  16. Roland R. Hegstad, “Supreme Court Decision Misunderstood,” Liberty, September-October 1962, 32.

  17. Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic, 137-139.

  18. Ibid, 131; “Roland R. Hegstad obituary,” Focus, June 2018, 36.

  19. Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic, 139-141.

  20. “Church-State Relations,” ARH, September 26, 1968, 1-7.

  21. Roland R. Hegstad, “Adventists and Government Money,” Liberty, March-April 1973, 14-21.

  22. Roland R. Hegstad, “Religious Liberty and Public Order,” Liberty, November-December 1965, 28-29.

  23. Roland R. Hegstad, “Diplomatic Relations With the Holy See,” Liberty, May-June 1984, 19-22, 27-28; Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic, 200-202.

  24. “Liberty Expert Says U.S. Building Image to Beast,” ARH, February 27, 1986, 20.

  25. Roland R. Hegstad, “Washington for Jesus—Really?,” Liberty, September-October 1980, 6. 27.

  26. “Jimmy Carter on Church and State—2,” Liberty, November-December 1980, 3.

  27. Roland H. Hegstad, “Verbal Toxic Waste,” Liberty, November-December 1992, 2.

  28. Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 9; Roland R. Hegstad, “New Deal for Spain’s Protestants,” Liberty, September-October 1968, 10-13, 21-32; Neal M. Rosendorf discusses Hegstad’s work in Spain in Franco Sells Spain to America: Hollywood, Tourism and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power (Springer, 2014).

  29. William G. Johnsson, “A New Era? The Editor Analyzes the Recent Flurry of Contacts Between Adventist and Soviet Leaders,” ARH, May 7, 1987, 9-10; Roland R. Hegstad, “Peace Words Flying: An Eyewitness Report of the Moscoe Peace Conference,” ARH, May 7, 1987, 11-12; Johnsson, “In Defense of Religious Liberty,” 9; Kellner, “Roland R. Hegstad.”

  30.  Eugene Zaitsev, “Russia,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, February 14, 2021, accessed January 8, 2024.; Leontiy Gunko, “The Source of Life Publishing House,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, June 1, 2022, accessed January 8, 2024.,

  31. Tompaul Wheeler, “Insight,” Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, March 9, 2023, accessed January 5, 2024,

  32. “Long-Time Religious Liberty Advocate, Author, and Editor Passes Away,” North American Division News, June 19, 2018, accessed January 8, 2024, accessed

  33. Ibid.

  34. Calls for a “broadened response” of this kind on the part of Adventist leaders during Hegstad’s era were rare but not entirely unheard of; see for example E.E. Cleveland, The Middle Wall (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1969), 49-56, 68-70.


Morgan, Douglas. "Hegstad, Roland Rex (1926–2018)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2024. Accessed June 18, 2024.

Morgan, Douglas. "Hegstad, Roland Rex (1926–2018)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2024. Date of access June 18, 2024,

Morgan, Douglas (2024, February 15). Hegstad, Roland Rex (1926–2018). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024,