“Race” and the Adventist Church

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“Race” and the Adventist Church

Considering the place of notions of “race,” “ethnicity,” and “culture” in the Christian Church, and in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in particular, first calls for clarifications. It should be noted that these three notions, which are taken for granted, are all constructed in nature. Of all three, the term “culture” can perhaps be considered the least invidious. But of course that depends on what one means by “culture” and the degree to which culture is engaged. Furthermore, one still has to be leery, since the notion of “culture wars,” for example, is still of vitriolic reckoning in modern life.

Nonetheless, we pick up the discussion by first taking a look at race—shall we? (The other two areas in this broader category—i.e., ethnicity and culture—can be addressed in a subsequent presentation.)

What is race? The answers one receives to this question are rather diverse, vague at best, and anything but uniform. In fact, when confronted with the question, people may actually be fazed for a moment, as if taken by storm.

Can you blame them? For the concept of race itself has nothing to do with biology, but is a mere social construct, albeit a very expensive, conflict-causing, divisive, and life-threatening construct. What does that mean? Race is and has been the cause of much social conflict throughout the world, including the church; the cause of bigotry, bloodshed, and unremitting war. A seemingly naïve and benign word to some, yet it is arguably the most corrupt and greatest of monsters engineered by the human mind.

“Race” has been used as a tool in the hands of the oppressor, to suit particular whims and fancies, in academic methodologies and theories, for political “ideals,” for economic ends, and for all other imaginable and unimaginable enticements (including slavery and sex slavery)—and yet it’s not real.[1] Can you imagine that? Something as unreal as race, yet dominating every facet of human life.

It is at this juncture that, troubled, someone will joltingly insert: “Wait a minute—did you say that race is not real?” That is to say, if it’s not real, then how come we look so different and have different tastes, different hair textures, etc., etc.?

I hate to burst your bubble, but the last time I checked, all humans are the same—one color of blood. As Acts 17:26 aptly puts it, God “hath made of one blood all nations of men [and women]” (KJV). The fact of the matter is, we have been duped and guided by “race” sense for so long that “race” along with all its diabolic and subtle implications has been thoroughly ingrained in the human psyche. So embedded is it that only the power of God can break the chains and set the captives free—much like setting the demoniac man free of the evil spirits that took uncanny possession of his soul (Mark 5:1-20).[2]

Just to be clear, the differences to which people refer have nothing to do with “race.” In fact, there is no such thing as a gene for “race.” The differences in appearance, melanin, etc., are simply a matter of phenotypic variation. And that says nothing, other than the fact that God created us that way. So what you see and hear is actually a gross overplay, and people are making a bigger hype about phenotype than is warranted.

But here is the boomerang question: Do humans have to be divided (in more ways than one)? Despite our insistence on being divided, which we see throughout the human saga, is it possible to break that mental slavery mold of “division” that has fully taken over the human mind like a cancerous sore? Emancipation, it seems, is still forthcoming.

The “race” concept suggests unwarranted cleavage that continues to cast the human family in the limelight of exclusivity, confusion, bigotry, conflict, and bloodshed. And for what? That’s why it’s always good to stop and take a reflective look not only at your condition, but at the ideologies, thoughts, social systems, etc., surrounding you that impact your supposed disposition. That need becomes painfully clear in light of the “race” prejudice, discrimination, segregation, and drama that have embraced Seventh-day Adventism. Sincere contemplation itself, from that standpoint, can be freeing, in the sense that it carries cathartic value; it is good for the individual soul as well as the Adventist soul.

Just to illustrate the underlying deceit of the “race” concept: If any married couple were to trace their lineage back far enough, husband and wife would soon realize that they are not only conjugally related, but, lo and behold, they are actually blood relatives. What does that mean? Simple. It brings to the fore the concept of “monogenesis” as opposed to “polygenesis.” Monogenesis says that we all came from the very same parents. Yet there are all sorts of twisted and ideologically bankrupt views running around wild in society—like the notion of the so-called evils of “miscegenation” and the notion that there are multiple species of humans. Some bold-facedly declare or believe that since humans are not all fundamentally the same—which means that some are either subhuman or a different type of human—then certain features like sterility are a certainty if one is a different type of human or “species.”

Do people actually think that way? You better believe it. In fact, there are much more corrupt and brainwashing thoughts and tactics running around, the subject matter of which may be engaged on a different occasion. But such is the kind of thinking that adds to the perverseness and shallowness of our social sphere, and believe it or not, has taken up residence in the church.

Racism in the Church

Does any of this have any impact on Seventh-day Adventism? Oh yes—whether it’s these exact sentiments or other thoughts on notions of “maintaining the purity of the white race” or “master race.” They have entered the church fully clad and armored, and in fact are being handed down to the next generation, placing one member at strange odds with the other. Granted, one will argue that the younger generations—X, Y, millennials, etc.—are living in a different world from their parents and foreparents, but even that has evidently not wiped out traces of bigotry and the mentality of “racial superiority” both inside and outside the church. You might be surprised to find out the types of deep-seated divisions still prevalent not only among adult Seventh-day Adventists, but Adventist youth as well, and the separatist views that some Adventist youth hold, both black and white. (Notice I said some.)

Suffice it to say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, like other religious groups and denominations, has allowed the world to dictate patterns and practices. In fact, sometimes it is the church that leads the way in separatist views and racial antagonism. “Racial” prejudice, segregation, and discriminatory behavior in the wider society, in North America and elsewhere, play out in symmetry, as both the church and the wider society (social institutions, organizations, neighborhoods, etc.) hug and imitate each other. Shameful and disturbing indeed. This is in particular reference to what I call the “hug of segregation and woe,” that, not surprisingly, leads to an irksome bitterness and unsettling rivalry.

And it’s not like this is a once-upon-a-time occurrence. Segregation, white flight, and “racial” prejudice continue to plague the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a variety of areas, including top church administrative hiring, academy and local church attendance, and the notably divisive politics and dynamics played out in the structurally divided black/white conference system. That includes segregated campgrounds and the persistent inequality caused by segregation in Adventist grade schools, for instance.

The church itself resembles a battleground—“blacks” vs. “whites”[3]—with each side laying down solid stakes, making visible their political territory and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, backed by loyal troops (i.e., members and conference workers) who support those respective positions. Yet the administration and constituents on both sides are all marching to the very same heaven!

This gives one pause to wonder which is worse: the maintenance of church segregation with its underlying tensions, cover-ups, and embarrassments, or the fact that the church insists on flaunting its divisive dynamics with a disingenuous smile in the public sphere, while the world watches? When you really stop to think about it, why is it so hard, and what is so wrong about seeing each other simply as humans, without having to resort to socially induced qualifiers: “white,” “black,” etc.?

Socio-historical “Racial” Dynamics and the SDA Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the U.S. has had a very ugly history of “race” discrimination. That subject is the content material of research, archives, articles, and books. But I would, nonetheless, proffer an idea of such historical reckoning in the church.

Going back to the early 1800s we find that blacks were already involved with the Millerite movement, including their engagement in public presentations. By the time you get to 1863 (the year the Seventh-day Adventist Church was formally established), there were already blacks in the mostly white Adventist congregations, particularly in New England. And in the mid-1850s there was the notable case of William Hardy—a black man elected to public office and a beloved local Adventist leader among whites—and his family in Michigan.[4]

But it is not until the late 1880s that we find Charles Kinney, considered the “father of Black Adventism” due to his great pioneering efforts. It is in Kinney’s era that we find the idea of separate conferences for blacks circulating, and in this respect it is important to underscore that he was forced to entertain the idea. Kinney literally ached in his heart to even think about such a proposition, due to the hardened prejudicial attitudes and egregious discriminatory practices of the white leadership and brethren.[5]

The racial saga dragged on into the twentieth century, so that by the early to mid-twentieth century, nearly all Adventist colleges, for instance, did not admit blacks.[6] And if they did, like Andrews University (previously Emmanuel Missionary College or EMC), there was a strict quota system in place.[7] One student was invited to enroll at EMC, but upon the school’s realization that he was black, he was denied, and even his application fee was deemed nonrefundable by the college.[8] Clearly, the idea was that the black presence had to be very limited and contained.

Not only was there a quota in place for enrollment of “colored students,” but they also had to suffer the humiliation of “having to wait on their meals until there might be a ‘quota’ of colored students to fill a table.”[9] Another form of outrageous indignity dictated that “colored students” be “assigned to the rear seat during worship at chapel.”[10] Around 1968 there were confederate flags in the dorms at Andrews University along with a cross burning on campus, all in the name of intimidating black students.[11] In another unimaginable instance, in an Adventist college, if no white student invited a black student to sit and eat, then that black student had to suffer the acrimonious shame and horror of having to stand against the cafeteria wall to eat with or without tray in hand.[12] These examples give only an idea of the unfathomable heartaches and depths of racial hatred and injustice in Adventism.

The same type of narrative has sadly colored other Adventist institutions, such as not permitting blacks in the General Conference or Review and Herald cafeteria, not admitting blacks to Adventist nursing programs, and not admitting black patients at Adventist hospitals. The case of Lucy Byard is the classic example (but not a solitary case) cited in that regard, and it stands as a critical hallmark of Adventism’s historical racism; so much so that this example is seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back, in light of a long list of other heavy racist straws and policies.[13] (By the way, my use of language such as “racist” and my citation of historical anecdotes are not to point fingers at anyone, but rather to tell of the depth and severity of the problem, rather than downplay it. Facing the past honestly and openly can help us in better apprehending the present and in moving into the future by God’s grace.)

The Lucy Byard story is crucial in setting up the framework for this piece. We go back some 73 years to the fall of 1943, or the onset of early winter in the northeast United States. Lucy was brought by her husband for treatment to the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital (later named Washington Adventist Hospital). They both were black, but being of light complexion apparently allowed them to bypass the racial detectors of hospital personnel, at least for a moment. After looking at her chart, however, and realizing that she was black, the Adventist hospital personnel then boldly phoned around, looking for another hospital that would admit blacks. Long story short—the hospital staff finally found another hospital across state lines that agreed to admit Lucy.

Poor Lucy. Can you imagine yourself gut-sick and being told “sorry”—you can’t be treated because of your skin color or perceived “racial” group—by a Seventh-day Adventist institution, no less? Imagine what was going through the minds of hospital staff and administrators: “Sorry, we Christians don’t treat colored people; you will have to die first.”

I can only imagine the gut-wrenching thoughts, the ghastly shock on their countenances, and the aching dejection that may have pulsed through Lucy’s and her husband’s hearts, perhaps marked by fear, anger, sorrow, anxiety, or a mix of it all. Meanwhile, rubbing salt in the wound, white Adventist leaders and hospital administrators stood by their disclaimer that “it is against public policy” to admit “negroes” in the Washington Sanitarium with white patients.[14]

I must pause here to clarify that it is gross error to paint all whites—Adventist and non-Adventist—with a broad brush of calumny and racism. That would be outright misrepresentation and unfair characterization to say the least. It is because both the church and society back then (around mid-twentieth century) were predominantly white, and because racist policies (Jim Crowism, etc.) were put in place by whites, that it appears as if all whites are hateful and the same. Oh no, there are always the exceptions. On that same token, not all blacks in the denomination are necessarily forgiving of the racial injustice and social inequality they experience or in favor of integrative measures. Consequently, attitudes of exclusivity and prejudice, and unresolved feelings of animosity reside on both sides, undergirded by nagging racial tensions that persist, despite the fervor of religious activities, and in spite of emphases on spiritual revival, the imminent return of Christ, remnant distinctiveness, and prophecy fulfillment.

With this caveat in mind, let us wrap up the Lucy episode. As the story goes, she was eventually transported to the Freedmen’s Hospital (the forerunner to Howard University Hospital), where she died shortly thereafter of pneumonia, supposedly caused by a draft due to being lightly clothed with a hospital gown in the hallway. Granted, there are varying views as to the actual cause of Lucy’s death, depending on your source material.[15] And then, of course, there is that nagging question: Would she have died if she had been attended to at the Adventist hospital in the first place?

There are a lot more crucial details to the story, particularly its aftermath, involving the General Conference, the North American Division, and very concerned black members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The black members’ concerns had to do with understandable frustration with the discriminatory treatment by the church over a sustained period of time. One of those concerns was that they were financially supporting the church yet were denied access to its facilities and institutions.

There is a direct causal link between that dark hospital episode and the creation of regional conferences in 1944.[16] Black lay members in particular were not looking for separate conferences, inasmuch as they were seeking equal treatment and respect as well as total integration. But the white General Conference leadership did not think that such equality was reasonable or possible, and instead opted for the GC-authorized cleavage.[17]

Thus it may not be totally surprising that, due to the persistence of prejudice and racial tensions in the denomination even some decades after the formation of regional conferences, black leaders were once again on the move, this time pushing earnestly for black union conferences in the 1960s and 1970s.[18] Such a petition was taken up by the General Conference but ultimately turned down.

But if we are really honest about the whole affair, the truth of the matter is that the ongoing maintenance of the segregated conference system is the direct result of white supremacy and racial discrimination by the white Adventist leadership of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[19] In light of all of this, therefore, any consideration of integrative measures ought to place the heavier burden on church leadership rather than expecting the entire initiative to be taken up by the constituents themselves.

Moreover, for a church that boasts of equality, any serious attempt to move forward must also take into consideration the fact that the divided structure in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is “separate and unequal,” and furthermore exacerbates inequality—although some may like to think of the current arrangement as “separate but equal.” I have personally heard complaints from black church members about the lack of resources and the persistent economic inequality faced by grade schools run by the regional conference, for instance, as opposed to the resources and benefits afforded by the state conference. Yet, besides the fact that many blacks reaffirm the value of regional conferences, the North American Division not only claims to be working in concert with regional conferences, but also affirms the need for regional conferences, pretending that all is well—as seen, for example, in a recent (2015) NAD response to Andrews University student groups’ concern for the division in the church.[20]

Again, one has to wonder which is worse—upholding racial segregation backed by its animosity and inequality, or making the world believe the segregation is all good? Segregation is segregation no matter how rosy you paint the picture, and, furthermore, it is rooted in white racism (as already seen), particularly in reference to the American Adventist context. It matters not what color you paint the elephant; in the final analysis, the “elephant in the room” is still an elephant.

Confronted with the weighty matter of such considerations, we can also ask another pivotal question for solemn introspection, in thinking about the prospects of Seventh-day Adventism. Is the Jim Crow framework of “separate but equal” justly warranted in the SDA Church? And while you’re at it, you can contemplate: What is the meaning of separate but equal? Is there such a thing? Is it valuable, enriching, etc.?

Ultimately, however, the question is: Where do we go from here?

Implications and Considerations for Seventh-day Adventism

On SDA discussion blogs, articles, presentations, and so forth, person after person has written on and responded to the issue of Seventh-day Adventism and “race” relations, yet no one is addressing a more fundamental issue: What is race? This, I believe, will help to demystify the issue and hopefully will allow clear-thinking, proactive minds to prevail. But I warn you that because the concept of “race” is such a diehard notion, if you are indeed serious about tackling the issue, it means absolutely relentless pursuit, fearless of any man, woman, or church policy, but motivated only by the fear of God and by the grace of God.

Where does that leave Seventh-day Adventism? As I conclude, another apparently unassuming yet profound question comes to mind: What will it take for Adventists, from the GC president to the member in the pew, to put themselves second and God first in confronting the “terrible beast of race”? Ah, but verily I say unto you, be not deceived—God will move when He will move, with or without your surrender.

So, to all fellow travelers on this upward journey, in earnest soul-searching and prayer, I suggest that a depth of understanding of the nature of division and its underlying causes and effects first be fully grasped and absorbed, including the ramifications, in order to really catch a glimpse of the bitter sting of the matter. This point must be emphasized because many in the Seventh-day Adventist Church feel that this is an issue that one can just leave on the burner behind the back burner (i.e., one that doesn’t exist), and perhaps “luck” and chance will take care of it. Only when the weight of the matter is properly absorbed with the guiding and penetrating light of God can the shackles that blind the mind, eyes, intellect, and heart be truly broken. And then like Paul you may finally see the light and make that 180-degree turn, with a conviction so strong that nothing in heaven and earth will shake it.

But the finger-pointing. What about it? This immature game of “whites” pointing at “blacks” and “blacks” pointing at “whites,” declaring that the other isn’t ready yet, or is stalling, or doesn’t want it, or worships differently, can’t work any longer. It’s the perfect epic of what I call “SDA World War I stalemate in the trenches.” Neither “side” is gaining any positive ground as long as the status quo is endorsed. The name of the new game is “integration at all costs.”

How do you break the impasse? As already ascertained, one has to unconditionally surrender oneself to God, deny self, and allow Him to perform the surgery—for it is a “transplanting of the heart” issue. Short of that critical step, it won’t work. For it is only then that all material endowments like salary, retirement package, and position will dim and lose their value and cease to be a stumbling block to what God has been patiently waiting to impress upon the heart.

All would do well to take individual stock of whatever part they may play in maintaining division, for no doubt it is an unnecessary evil. Don’t exclude yourself. The problem is that we ourselves are or can be the most incorrigible barriers to unity. Granted, much of it is systemic as well. But understand this: individual people make up the system, and whether or not it has to do with idiosyncrasies of one financial structure for “black,” “white,” and “other,” or power-sharing, there’s always something blocking the path to progress.

Thus, where we go from here really depends, not merely upon how conscientious we are, but more so on how much we allow God to work on our hearts, taking full control, leading us to concrete steps and unimaginable places that would prove refreshing to the soul.

______

Notes:

[1] For more insight on the topic, please refer to Cleran Hollancid, Evolution Declassified (Detroit, MI: Gold Leaf Press, 2012). And among a host of other references, see for example, Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lee Lott (eds.), The Idea of Race (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2000).

[2] This narrative falls directly between that of Jesus speaking to the winds and the sea and the story of Jairus (a ruler of the synagogue) coming for healing for his daughter, while Jesus is also intercepted by the woman with the issue of blood. So much excitement, but we can’t stop here. This telling episode (even more dramatic than the same story found in Luke 8) of the demoniac man, “Legion,” seems to have taken place on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine someone night and day in the mountains and tombs, crying and cutting himself with stones? Any sleep? I wonder how long this went on. Wow—this is not good.

[3] My use throughout this article of terms like “race,” “ethnic,” “white,” “black” and variations of such terms (though constructs) is solely for conventional purposes—to convey the message.

[4] Sheila McGrath, “Michigan Township to Name Pond After First Black Adventist,” Adventist Review (September 29, 2015); and Lawrence W. Onsager and James R. Nix, “Adventism’s First Black Family,” Adventist Review (February 24, 2011).

[5] See “C.M. Kinney’s Statement on the Concept of Regional Conferences,” in Delbert Baker (compiler), “Telling the Story: An Anthology on the Development of the Black SDA Work.” On Black SDA History – A Collection of Historical Documents, Articles, and Visuals on Selected Topics Relevant to the Black SDA Work. (Done in Cooperation with the Black Caucus of SDA Administrators). Loma Linda, CA: Loma Linda University Printing Services (March, 1996, second printing), 2/8-9.

[6] See online video with panel discussion, from 2005, on “The Creation of SDA Regional Conferences,” with leading black SDA figures, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuzbSJZO6EI (for quick reference, begin video at 1:21:00). Compare with Helderberg College’s history (in South Africa) of exclusion of “blacks” and “non-whites” from campus and events, with the same issue currently plaguing or having infected other parts of the SDA world.

[7] Refer to online video, panel discussion, 2005.

[8] Ibid.

[9] In Delbert Baker, 2/11.

[10] Op. cit., and see 2/10-12 for fuller details.

[11] Refer to online video, panel discussion, 2005.

[12] Kyle Berg, “Union College Takes A Step Forward: Reconciliation at Last” [with reference to apology for past SDA racial injustice], The Clocktower the Associated Student Body of Union College (February 22, 2015).

[13] Baker, 1996, 2/3.

[14] In Baker, 1996, 2/12. This is part of the documentary article entitled, “Shall the Four Freedoms Function Among Seventh-day Adventists?” by Joseph T. Dodson, 2/10-16.

[15] See Baker, 1996, 1/12 and 2/37-38, for example. Ironically enough, it was a black Adventist graduate of Loma Linda, interning at Freedmen’s Hospital, who attended to or at least welcomed Lucy to Freedmen’s (Ibid., 2/37). Cf. excerpt online, http://archives.adventistreview.org/article/2406/archives/issue-2009-1505/death-in-d-c

[16] To examine, in great detail, more of that direct causal link, see Baker, 1996, 1/12-13, and all of Section 2, specifically 2/3-7 and 2/37-48; and for the exact wording of the text authorizing the official creation of regional conferences on April 10, 1944, based on the vote and “Action of the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee,” read 2/5 and 2/40-41.

[17] Ricardo B. Graham, “Black Seventh-day Adventists and Racial Reconciliation,” in Perspectives: Black Seventh-day Adventists Face the Twenty-first Century, Calvin Rock, ed., pp. 127-37 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996); and Baker, 1996, 2/3, cf. 2/10-16.

[18] For discussion on the matter, including pros and cons, see, for example, Edward E. Cleveland, “Regional Union Conferences,” Spectrum 2/2 (Spring Issue, 1970), 41-46; Benjamin Reeves, “The Call for Black Unions,” Spectrum 9/3 (1978), 2-3; Calvin B. Rock, “Cultural Pluralism and Black Unions,” Spectrum 9/3 (1978), 4-12; and Lorenzo Grant, “Ethical Implications of the Quest for Black Power,” Spectrum 9/3 (1978), 13-22.

[19] For some treatment of earlier prejudicial attitudes of the white Adventist leadership, see, for example, Holly Fisher, “Oakwood College Students’ Quest for Social Justice Before and During the Civil Rights Era,” The Journal of African American History 88/2 (2003), 110-125. This piece by Fisher also includes the outrageous and telling narrative of how a white church deacon or official called the police to escort black Oakwood students out of a white SDA Church in Alabama, for no reason other than simply being black.

[20] Alisa Williams, “North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Affirms Role of Regional Conferences,” Spectrum (Spring Issue, 2015); and Alexandra Yeboah, “NAD Defends Racially Separate Conferences,” ADVindicate (Spring Publication, 2015).

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About the author

Cleran Hollancid is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology (of religion) at Western Michigan University and holds graduate degrees in anthropology and sociology. He also holds a Master of Divinity from Andrews University. Cleran has taught various courses in religion and social science. He has a particular passion for discourse on God, science, and society.

  • William_Thomas

    I originally wrote a much longer and more detailed reply to The Compass Magazine article of 19 February 2016, “Race and the Adventist Church.” Unfortunately, my reply was quickly growing longer than the article itself. Therefore, please allow me this abbreviated response.

    And also please allow me to reference a weblink of a much related subject that proceeds from a slightly different viewpoint or understanding of the issue: http://www.scc-adventist.org/the-other-side-of-the-cheese-my-response-to-dr-dwight-nelsons-sermon-on-ending-ethnically-separate-conferences/. I don’t want to call it an opposing viewpoint because I don’t think it was necessarily intended as such but I will call it as representing a different viewpoint that I and many others are more in agreement with than with the viewpoint evidently expressed in The Compass Magazine article. Please also note that I agree with him herein but please do not assume that I am speaking for him. You may be familiar with Pastor Edmond’s article but I thought I should link to it nonetheless.

    The basic assumption of The Compass Magazine article seems to be that it would somehow be better and more Christ-like if we changed the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, at least in all but the most western parts of the United States. An interesting article – indeed, an interesting series of articles – but I’m left with a sense of … how? Not how to achieve integrated conferences and/or churches but how do integrated conferences and/or churches better reflect the Gospel of Christ and our mission to take His Message to all the world and every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It sounds nice to say and even to believe but neither the evidence nor Divine Inspiration necessarily agree with the positions taken by these articles.

    Moreover, there is no evidence that ethnic separation in and of itself misrepresents the Gospel or hinders its furtherance. You, me and the next person may not like it and we all may even complain to others about it but there is very little evidence that individuals are actually leaving or not joining the Adventist Church because of it. We absolutely must love one another but it is a fallacy to think that we must have racially integrated organizations in order to love one another.

    Consider the example of the Israelites themselves. They all were children of the promise and heirs of salvation. Indeed, they were all kindred and all literally the children of Israel and all considered one people. Yet GOD still divided them into different tribes and gave each tribe separate territories (even the Levites had separate properties within the territory of the other tribes). Moreover there is no evidence that this was done as a concession to sin. This is not an argument for racial segregation but it is an argument that many of our “modern” societal ideas about integration (which is not the same thing as desegregation) are not necessarily biblically supported. Again, despite our feelings about it in our current age, why did GOD Himself divide the children of Israel into separate tribes?

    It is very interesting and discouraging that many today even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church want to define the work of GOD within a “conservative” socio-political milieu. With but few if any exceptions, they sincerely believe that GOD must agree with their personal political and societal views. Yet it is also very interesting and discouraging that many today even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church want to define the work of GOD within a “liberal” socio-political milieu. With but few if any exceptions, they sincerely believe that GOD must agree with their personal political and societal views.

    Perhaps the LORD does not agree with any of us on this issue.

    • rachelcabose

      Thanks, William, for your comments and for sharing Pastor Edmond’s thoughtful article. I remember reading it several months ago. Yes, this is a multi-faceted issue, and as you point out, even if we as a church did decide that a racially integrated structure would better serve the church, the question of how to make that happen is still a complex one.

      Our goal with publishing these articles is to encourage more discussion of the subject so that we as church members can better understand the viewpoints and experiences of our fellow believers. I believe that greater understanding and empathy can help us recognize and (with God’s help) overcome our personal prejudices and preconceived ideas and be better able to work side by side with others who are different from us. This, in turn, could be a powerful testimony to the effectiveness of the gospel in changing hearts. The question of how church structure can aid or hinder that process is an important one, but probably not the most important one.

      • Cleran H.

        In response to William. Thank you for the post. First and foremost, I must say that with God’s guidance, let any discussion be done to His glory! So let the discussion flow in a graceful manner and in the spirit of love.

        With that said, I like the general tone of the discussion thus far. It’s always good to listen to other voices as we can learn from each other. So beginning with your conclusion William, surely I affirm that God does not conform to our whims and fancies; hallelujah! But I tell you, it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. With God in control, surrendering to Him and living by His grace, you cannot go wrong. And that in itself is both amazing and beautiful.

        So then, what I’m about to say I say it in love. And by the way, incidentally, along with other material, I read Elder Edmond’s article last year. And certainly there are issues there to look at – example, white-flight in churches, schools, etc., and perennial prejudice that’s connected to inequality and so forth.

        But before we get too far, let’s get into some foundational stuff. Firstly, part of my article addresses the issue of ‘race’ – What is race? or What is it not? And that is key in attempting to apprehending the core of the matter. The church has allowed ‘race’ to rend it asunder, without paying attention to how monstrous it is and without addressing what it really is or is not. And the truth of the matter is that even if academia has published and acknowledged that ‘race’ is not a fixed biological dictum, but rather a social construct, the academic world realistically makes the matter worse. Such is the case since there is duplicity in the educational world with respect to matters concerning ‘race’ so-called; for example, the manner in which research is done and funding granted; and the way ‘race’ is catered to among both academicians and politicians alike actually creates more social animosity, leaving a frustrating and distasteful spirit in it’s wake, to say the least. The name of the game is simple – ‘Divide to Conquer’ or ‘Divide and Conquer’ – your pick. And this is very much a spirit and mentality prevalent in the church as well.

        In other words, its about money and materialism over substance and principle.

        So it is clear that we cannot rely on academia to eradicate the evils of ‘race’ and ‘racism,’ since the educational world is quite equivocal and furthermore utilizes ‘race’ to push agendas. Thus, it is absolutely no surprise at all that the vicious cycle of race-baiting, finger-pointing, race tensions and race riots continue to engulf the public’s consciousness, as we can all attest to.

        Having said that, does that mean that we simply ignore all the evil and injustice done in the name of ‘race’ – slavery, peonage, Jim Crow, discrimination and oppression to name a few? Absolutely not! No one is getting off the hook that easy. Not that we are assigning anyone to ‘hell,’ but the point here is that people can be reconciled to God and humanity by first admitting whatever wrong and conditions are involved.

        This leads me to my second point. Do we ignore the evils, corollaries and outcomes of the race saga in Adventism (as among other religious groups), that are inextricably linked to notions of ‘white supremacy,’ oppression, and domination? Let’s be clear and honest, the current official segregation in the denomination, particularly in the divided conference system, is in fact linked to white supremacy both inside and outside the church; a type of ‘supremacy’ that declares all non-whites inferior, and in some instances even sub-human or belonging to a different species – if you can imagine all the wild thoughts and theories associated with that. That is why, for example, notions of anti-miscegenation run wild and rampant in the church as it is in the wider society; all the while, maintaining the corruption and playing to the ignorance of some and the prejudice of many (‘black,’ ‘white,’ ‘other’). In other words, people are being played in the church, as in the wider society.

        So then, to set the record straight, to maintain the segregation is to bow down to ‘white supremacy,’ whether you like it or not. So what do you do – try to pad the nagging evil and justify it anyhow and in every which way to make it sound satisfactory, pleasing, or appetizing? or do you call it out by the grace of God? Keep in mind that you can paint the elephant whatever color you want, at the end of the day the ‘elephant in the room’ is still an elephant.

        This is linked to my third and final point (or question) – what does it accomplish in the church to continue to be divided by artificial boundaries such as ‘race’? I am asking this in all sincerity. And yes, I am well aware that attitudes, along with thoughts and practices indeed matter. So you can merge all the conferences you want, but at the end of the day it will be more of a photo op and a complete waste of time if hearts and minds remain stubborn and unsurrendered.

        So then, to reiterate, do we just leave the segregated state of affairs as is, declaring it’s too hard, in spite of the fact that it continues to fester animosity among brethren, and inequality, not to mention – it boldly advertises and caries the burning torch of white supremacy in which it was born? – all this, while the world watches on.

        God bless as you continue to let him guide the mind and heart.

  • William_Thomas

    It would seem that, for whatever reasons or technical difficulties, my original response that I posted approximately three months ago has been deleted. Fortunately, I maintained a copy. Below is my original reply to the above article, unedited and unmodified:

    I originally wrote a much longer and more detailed reply to The Compass Magazine article of 19 February 2016, “Race and the Adventist Church.” Unfortunately, my reply was quickly growing longer than the article itself. Therefore, please allow me this abbreviated response.

    And also please allow me to reference a weblink of a much related subject that proceeds from a slightly different viewpoint or understanding of the issue: http://www.scc-adventist.org/t… I don’t want to call it an opposing viewpoint because I don’t think it was necessarily intended as such but I will call it as representing a different viewpoint that I and many others are more in agreement with than with the viewpoint evidently expressed in The Compass Magazine article. Please also note that I agree with him herein but please do not assume that I am speaking for him. You may be familiar with Pastor Edmond’s article but I thought I should link to it nonetheless.

    The basic assumption of The Compass Magazine article seems to be that it would somehow be better and more Christ-like if we changed the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, at least in all but the most western parts of the United States. An interesting article – indeed, an interesting series of articles – but I’m left with a sense of … how? Not how to achieve integrated conferences and/or churches but how do integrated conferences and/or churches better reflect the Gospel of Christ and our mission to take His Message to all the world and every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It sounds nice to say and even to believe but neither the evidence nor Divine Inspiration necessarily agree with the positions taken by these articles.

    Moreover, there is no evidence that ethnic separation in and of itself misrepresents the Gospel or hinders its furtherance. You, me and the next person may not like it and we all may even complain to others about it but there is very little evidence that individuals are actually leaving or not joining the Adventist Church because of it. We absolutely must love one another but it is a fallacy to think that we must have racially integrated organizations in order to love one another.

    Consider the example of the Israelites themselves. They all were children of the promise and heirs of salvation. Indeed, they were all kindred and all literally the children of Israel and all considered one people. Yet GOD still divided them into different tribes and gave each tribe separate territories (even the Levites had separate properties within the territory of the other tribes). Moreover there is no evidence that this was done as a concession to sin. This is not an argument for racial segregation but it is an argument that many of our “modern” societal ideas about integration (which is not the same thing as desegregation) are not necessarily biblically supported. Again, despite our feelings about it in our current age, why did GOD Himself divide the children of Israel into separate tribes?

    It is very interesting and discouraging that many today even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church

    want to define the work of GOD within a “conservative” socio-political milieu. With but few if any exceptions, they sincerely believe that GOD must agree with their personal political and societal views. Yet it is also very interesting and discouraging that many today even within the Seventh-day Adventist Church want to define the work of GOD within a “liberal” socio-political milieu. With but few if any exceptions, they sincerely believe that GOD must agree with their personal political and societal views.

    Perhaps the LORD does not agree with any of us on this issue.

    • Cleran H.

      Dear William, I was certainly not aware that the response posts to this article (including my response) was deleted or no longer visible. I’m glad you were kind enough to repost, in order that dialogue could flow. Fortunately I saved a copy (of my portion) as well. To be fair, below is my original response to your comments, with only one added clause only for the sake of emphasis. That added clause is found in the seventh paragraph (or section) below, containing only the following seven words – “lynching, merciless beatings, mass arrests, ‘Black Codes'”… .

      With that said, here is the original reply (containing the added clause as specified above):

      In response to William. Thank you for the post. First and foremost, I
      must say that with God’s guidance, let any discussion be done to His
      glory! So let the discussion flow in a graceful manner and in the spirit
      of love.

      With that said, I like the general tone of the discussion thus far.
      It’s always good to listen to other voices as we can learn from each
      other. So beginning with your conclusion William, surely I affirm that
      God does not conform to our whims and fancies; hallelujah! But I tell you,
      it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. With God
      in control, surrendering to Him and living by His grace, you cannot go
      wrong. And that in itself is both amazing and beautiful.

      So then, what I’m about to say I say it in love. And by the way,
      incidentally, along with other material, I read Elder Edmond’s article last
      year. And certainly there are issues there to look at – example,
      white-flight in churches, schools, etc., and perennial prejudice that’s connected
      to inequality and so forth.

      But before we get too far, let’s get into some foundational stuff.
      Firstly, part of my article addresses the issue of ‘race’ – What is race? or
      What is it not? And that is key in attempting to apprehending the core of
      the matter. The church has allowed ‘race’ to rend it asunder, without
      paying attention to how monstrous it is and without addressing what it really
      is or is not. And the truth of the matter is that even if academia has
      published and acknowledged that ‘race’ is not a fixed biological dictum, but
      rather a social construct, the academic world realistically makes the matter
      worse. Such is the case since there is duplicity in the educational world
      with respect to matters concerning ‘race’ so-called; for example, the manner in
      which research is done and funding granted; and the way ‘race’ is catered to
      among both academicians and politicians alike actually creates more social
      animosity, leaving a frustrating and distasteful spirit in it’s wake, to say
      the least. The name of the game is simple – ‘Divide to Conquer’ or
      ‘Divide and Conquer’ – your pick. And this is very much a spirit and
      mentality prevalent in the church as well.

      In other words, its about money and materialism over substance and
      principle.

      So it is clear that we cannot rely on academia to eradicate the evils of
      ‘race’ and ‘racism,’ since the educational world is quite equivocal and
      furthermore utilizes ‘race’ to push agendas. Thus, it is absolutely no
      surprise at all that the vicious cycle of race-baiting, finger-pointing, race
      tensions and race riots continue to engulf the public’s consciousness, as we
      can all attest to.

      Having said that, does that mean that we simply ignore all the evil and
      injustice done in the name of ‘race’ – slavery, peonage, Jim Crow, discrimination,
      lynching, merciless beatings, mass arrests, ‘Black Codes,’ and oppression to
      name a few? Absolutely not! No one is getting off the hook that
      easy. Not that we are assigning anyone to ‘hell,’ but the point here is
      that people can be reconciled to God and humanity by first admitting whatever
      wrong and conditions are involved.

      This leads me to my second point. Do we ignore the evils, corollaries
      and outcomes of the race saga in Adventism (as among other religious groups),
      that are inextricably linked to notions of ‘white supremacy,’ oppression, and
      domination? Let’s be clear and honest, the current official segregation
      in the denomination, particularly in the divided conference system, is in fact
      linked to white supremacy both inside and outside the church; a type of
      ‘supremacy’ that declares all non-whites inferior, and in some instances even
      sub-human or belonging to a different species – if you can imagine all the wild
      thoughts and theories associated with that. That is why, for example,
      notions of anti-miscegenation run wild and rampant in the church as it is in
      the wider society; all the while, maintaining the corruption and playing to the
      ignorance of some and the prejudice of many (‘black,’ ‘white,’ ‘other’).
      In other words, people are being played in the church, as in the wider society.

      So then, to set the record straight, to maintain the segregation is to bow
      down to ‘white supremacy,’ whether you like it or not. So what do you do
      – try to pad the nagging evil and justify it anyhow and in every which way to
      make it sound satisfactory, pleasing, or appetizing? or do you call it
      out by the grace of God? Keep in mind that you can paint the
      elephant whatever color you want, at the end of the day the ‘elephant in the
      room’ is still an elephant.

      This is linked to my third and final point (or question) – what does it
      accomplish in the church to continue to be divided by artificial boundaries
      such as ‘race’? I am asking this in all sincerity. And yes, I
      am well aware that attitudes, along with thoughts and practices indeed
      matter. So you can merge all the conferences you want, but at the end of
      the day it will be more of a photo op and a complete waste of time if hearts
      and minds remain stubborn and unsurrendered.

      So then, to reiterate, do we just leave the segregated state of affairs as
      is, declaring it’s too hard, in spite of the fact that it continues to fester
      animosity among brethren, and inequality, not to mention – it boldly advertises
      and caries the burning torch of white supremacy in which it was born? – all
      this, while the world watches on.

      God bless as you continue to let Him guide the mind and heart.

      • William Thomas

        As a Black man, I used to have a favorite saying: “GOD made me Black, and He doesn’t make mistakes.”

        I still like and stand by that saying. Just as I support a White person who would say that GOD made him or her White or a person of Hispanic heritage for saying that GOD made them Hispanic, et cetera; GOD gave all of us a distinct heritage. Our task — our GOD-given task — as Christians is not to pretend and deny that these differenes exist. Our GOD-given task as Christians is much greater and more difficult: to acknowledge and appreciate our differences and to love one another, truly love and care for one another, even more precisely because of our differences.

        To use an analogy and at the risk of starting an even bigger and more contentious argument, I believe that GOD made men and women different. That does not mean (and nor do I advocate) that men are intrinsicly better or worse than women, nor that women are instrinsicly better or worse than men. But it does mean that GOD made a distinction between men and women and that many of our society’s efforts to eliminate gender distinctions are wrong. Forgive the digression but I personally think men and women should have separate and distinct restrooms and that having separate and distinct restrooms for men and women does not make or denote one gender as being inferior or superior to the other (but again, I digress, although I do think is a good analogy of my point: differences do not in themselves denote inferiority/superiority).

        Let me be perfectly clear that this is not to say that racism is not a problem or does not still exist both without and within the Seventh-day Adventist church today. One need only consider the recent events in Tulsa, OK (less than a week ago as I write this) as an example of the former and some (not all but many) of the comments on Adventists websites like these (http://www.fulcrum7.com/ and http://advindicate.com/articles/2015/4/2/nad-defends-racially-separated-conferences) as examples of the latter. But it is to say that pretending and denying that there are not legitimate cultural and ethnic-based differences between us is not the GOD-ordained solution.

        For the record, I agree that racial and ethnic and tribal segregation are evil. But I disagree that racial or ethnic or tribal separation is necessarily evil. Learn and understand the differences between segregation and separation. As noted before, GOD Himself separated the children of Israel into separate tribes. Each tribe was given a separate territory and their descendants were often discouraged (and in some uncommon circumstances were outright fobidden) from intermarrying even with the children of other Israelite tribes. I write this not as a paen against interracial marriages or relationships but as a warning that many of our modern-day assumptions about race and ethnicity are not necessarily supported by a “Thus saith the LORD” (and indeed, may sometimes and someways be antithetical to them).

        As another sidebar, towards the end of his life even Martin Luther King, Jr. would speak of the benefits and advantages of racial separation. For example, see the book, https://www.amazon.com/Testament-Hope-Essential-Writings-Speeches/dp/0060646918/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474635219&sr=1-1&keywords=a+testament+of+hope‘, which is a collection of his speeches, about pages 664-667. You can find it at any bookstore and if we knew each other better I would be happy to loan you one of my copies.

        Thank you for this dialogue, sincerely thank you, for this ongoing dialogue about race and ethnicity and racism and prejudice within GOD’s Remnant Church. But I also think many of your assumptions, let alone a few of your conclusions, are biblically unsupported. Indeed, as a fairly “historicist” or theologically “conservative” Seventh-day Adventist myself, I could easily make the argument that Regional churches and confereces are growing faster, healthier and less apostate ones (the last being more and more debatable as time goes on and as I may be influenced by my now middle-age reminisce of my youth and earlier middle-age years) and are more in GOD’s order. If that were the case — which I am not saying it definitely is but only that it should not be rejected out of hand — then why the apparent assumption by many that our current ethnicly-based organizational structure is in and of itself a bad thing?

      • William Thomas

        As a Black man, I used to have a favorite saying: “GOD made me Black, and He doesn’t make mistakes.”

        I still like and stand by that saying. Just as I support a White person who would say that GOD made him or her White or a person of Hispanic heritage for saying that GOD made them Hispanic, et cetera; GOD gave all of us differences, an important part of which includes our cultures and heritage. These are not differences in value or importance or worth before GOD (a point which we as sinful, selfish humans too often forget) but differences in history and perspective and experiences. And often new and necessary and vital understandings based on those uniquely different histories and perspectives and experiences; dare I say even new and necessary and vital understandings learned from the experience of “race”. Our task — our GOD-given task — as Christians is not to pretend and deny that these differences exist. Our GOD-given task as Christians is much greater and much more difficult: to acknowledge and appreciate our differences and to love one another, truly love and care for and even give our lives for one a other, even more precisely because of our differences.

        To use an analogy and at the risk of starting an even bigger and more contentious argument, I believe that GOD made men and women different. That does not mean (and nor do I advocate) that men are intrinsically better or worse than women, nor that women are intrinsically better or worse than men. But it does mean that GOD made a distinction between men and women and that many of our society’s efforts to eliminate gender distinctions are wrong. Forgive the digression but I personally think men and women should have separate and distinct restrooms and that having separate and distinct restrooms for men and women does not make or denote one gender as being inferior or superior to the other (but again, I digress, although I do think is a good analogy of my point: differences do not in themselves denote inferiority/superiority).

        Let me be perfectly clear that this is not to say that racism is not a problem or does not still exist both without and within the Seventh-day Adventist church today. One need only consider the recent events in Tulsa, OK (less than a week ago as I write this) as an example of the former and some (not all but many) of the comments on Adventists websites like these (http://www.fulcrum7.com/ and http://advindicate.com/articles/2015/4/2/nad-defends-racially-separated-conferences ) as examples of the latter. But it is to say that pretending and denying that there are not legitimate cultural and ethnic-based differences between us is not the GOD-ordained solution.

        And for the record, I agree that racial and ethnic and tribal segregation are evil. But I disagree that racial or ethnic or tribal separation is necessarily evil; indeed, sometimes racial or ethnic or tribal separation could be good. Learn and understand the differences between segregation and separation; they are not the same thing. As noted before, GOD Himself separated the children of Israel into separate tribes. Each tribe was given a separate territory and their descendants were often discouraged (and in some uncommon circumstances were outright forbidden) from intermarrying even with the children of other Israelite tribes. I write this not as a paen against interracial marriages or relationships but as a warning that many of our modern-day assumptions about race and ethnicity are not necessarily supported by a “Thus saith the LORD” (and indeed, may sometimes and in some ways be antithetical to them).

        As another sidebar, towards the end of his life even Martin Luther King, Jr. would speak of the benefits and advantages of racial separation. For example, see the book, https://www.amazon.com/Testament-Hope-Essential-Writings-Speeches/dp/0060646918/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474635219&sr=1-1&keywords , which is a collection of his speeches, about pages 664-667. You can find it at any bookstore and if we knew each other better I would be happy to loan you one of my copies.

        Thank you for this dialogue, sincerely thank you, for this ongoing dialogue about race and ethnicity and racism and prejudice within GOD’s Remnant Church. But I also think many of your assumptions, let alone a few of your conclusions, are biblically unsupported. Indeed, as a fairly “historicist” or theologically “conservative” Seventh-day Adventist myself, I could easily make the argument that Regional churches and conferences are growing faster, healthier and less apostate ones (the last being more and more debatable as time goes on and as I may be influenced by my now middle-age reminisce of my youth and earlier middle-age years) and are more in GOD’s order. If that were the case — which I am not saying it definitely is but only that it should not be rejected out of hand — then why the apparent assumption by many that our current ethnically-based organizational structure is in and of itself a bad thing?

  • Fred vB

    Dear Cleran,
    Thank you for your study, for your paper.
    I was horrified to read it: I had never imagined that such behaviours could ever exist in our church.
    My story: mid-June 2012 I receive (and accept) the Grace of God/YHWH and I convert to Chritianity (after 50 years of deny), then I say to myself: “no church, no intermediates between me and God” because to pray will be my main relation with Him/with Jesus.
    The EXACT day after my conversion (I am swiss “white/uncolored”) arrives in my house the (“black/colored”) son of an Adventist pastor from Mexico.
    After having lived about 10 days with him (and consequently having had of a lot of discussions), I was very interested by “his” church: Adventist of the seventh day.
    And so I decided to ask to be a member of this church… without knowing the horrifying stories you have related.
    Am I better than all those that have behaved so badly?
    Certainly not: we are all sinners, with big or “little” sins. Saved, but sinners (or ex-sinners). And I must realise that even if I have never behaved like some that you described in your paper, I am not of a greater value: even with “little” sins I have dirtyied the world, I have made it unperfect, like Adam and Eva have done.
    It is only with the love of Jesus the Christ, with His sacrifice, with His blood that we become of the greatest value (if we sincerely repent, of course).
    Now, what do we have to do?
    I think that we have to pray.
    I think that we have to do like Jesus the Christ did to His Father God/YHWH: pray, pray and pray again, with all our heart, with all our faith, with all our love for our Father, for our Creator and for our neighbour.
    I must add that if God/YHWH has given His Grace to me, about four years ago, it is certainly because of the prayer I made to Him about 35 years before, telling Him (I was not a believer!): “God, if you exist, take me! Take the whole of me. If you exist nothing better can happen to me than You taking me”.
    It is also certainly because of many, many, many Christians pray every day in the whole world so that the Holy Spirit reaches the non-believers like I have been during decades…
    So I invite you to pray in any circumstances.
    1 Thessalonians 5.16-18. “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
    God bless you.
    Friendly
    Fred vB

  • CervvantesEsq

    “The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the U.S. has had a very ugly history of “race” discrimination.”

    I cannot accept that statement at face value. Why is it usually a person of color who makes such accusations?

    Better take a look at Thomas Sowell’s columns for a more rational approach to the subject of race.See for example: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell110216.php3

  • Andrew Michell

    Why are black Adventists so outraged at the death of one black woman at WAH? I have documents from the Maryland state department of health that WAH has murdered thousands of black children via abortion. Black Adventists know this and say nothing, why? One black woman dies and everyone is upset, thousands are murdered and nobody says a word.