“It is impossible to be truly affected by the redemptive aspects of scripture and not long for social as well as spiritual freedom” (pg. 226). This, you could say, was the lived drama that Calvin Rock sought to explore, and what an exploration it was.
Dr. Rock is no stranger to the Seventh-day Adventist church’s roster of leaders. In fact, his dedication to the cause of Christ has seen him in service across various levels of the Church organization and various communities. Importantly, Dr. Rock has served as a spokesman for social justice, racial equality, and equity. Hence, his approach to the subject is further verified by being an active participant in the struggle of black leadership, for over a century, to move the mountain of racial equality within the Seventh-day Adventist Church context.
The author presented the four major twentieth-century protests of Black Adventist Leadership, along with a clear and honest depiction of the strong prejudices and inhumane circumstances laid upon the ‘colored brethren’ as termed in his book. This was followed by a rationale for the continuation of the major structural adjustments, namely, the regional conferences, and the retirement plan.
Dr. Rock sensitively retraces the historical steps that Black leadership had to take leading into the 21st century to end racial segregation. One of the things I enjoyed about the text is its historical honesty and transparency. Readers will discover historically verifiable manuscripts of actual events, individuals, and locations that were all crucial to further understanding the struggle for parity.
Rock, essentially, not only brings us face-to-face with truth otherwise unknown (especially since the information is not taught in the church’s educational system), but also leaves no room for ambiguity of character, for it creates that space in the heart for worthy self-examination. Though we may not want to admit it, organizational structures such as regional conferences were born out of real and painful realities, truths that cannot be ignored or forgotten.
Some of the dynamics readers will observe include, how organizational leadership levied policy over people, the concept of separate but equal, the difference between desegregation and integration, how various theological ideologies and philosophical frameworks created environments for racial segregation, and further what theological and philosophical framework led to small victories over racial segregation in the organizational leadership structure of the Seventh-day Adventist church and its institutions. Additionally, Rock explored the tendencies of both church leadership and membership to maintain the organizational ‘status quo’ even in the face of the cries of the minority.
There are several questions to consider:
- How does the current culture and context of the Adventist church reflect that of the early and mid-19th-century negative race relation context?
- To what degree, should modern ministers be involved in the struggle of race relations and other social ills affecting its membership and community?
- Should the existence of regional conferences today serve as an indication of the continued existence of racial tensions as experienced by the colored brethren in the Adventist church of the early 19th century?
- If we were to observe the current relational, organization and authority structure of the Adventist church, would there be signs of systematic and even intentional racial inequality?
- Is it time to end the era of regional and state conferences and begin the journey to integration?
- Does the presence of regional conferences ignore the progress made in the struggle for better race relations, and possibly stifle our possibility for integration?
In response to those questions, Dr. Rocks posits, “it is not helpful to ask an ethnic minority of any stripe, especially one of color, to relinquish accommodations essential to their well-being for arrangements that assume attitudes and conditions that do not exist” (pg. 180). Furthermore, “we should expect that as long as America’s overwhelming social patterns dictate for its Black minority a differing social culture, the need for structural accommodation in their church life will be necessary” (pg. 181).
I will leave the conclusion to the reader, but I cannot end this review without sharing Dr. Rock’s final thought on regional conferences which rings with the harmony mirrored only in his sermons, “far from being divisive, or an embarrassment of duplication of effort they (regional conferences) will remain an arresting display of the “unity in diversity” modeled in scripture and manifest throughout God’s wonderous creation” (pg.227).
Author’s Note: All citations are taken directly from the book.
Purchase Here: Rock, Calvin B. Protest & Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity. Published by Andrews University Press (2018).