Compass Magazine’s inaugural conference, Repairing the Breach: A Pathway to Racial Unity in the Church, held on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, opened in spectacular fashion last Friday night with a hard-hitting, mission-driven, yet heartfelt and compassionate message from Michael Nixon, a 2009 graduate of the school.
After completing his undergraduate studies in political science, Nixon completed a Juris Doctor from the John Marshall Law School. He currently serves as Legal and Policy Coordinator for the Fair Housing Justice Project, based in New York City.
Nixon opened his message by utilizing climate change as a metaphor for the current state of race relations in the Adventist church. Whether or not we would like to admit it, the climate surrounding race in our church today does not exist in a vacuum; it did not emerge out of thin air; ignoring the issue will not eliminate it. In like manner to global warming, the causes of our climate are man-made; if we are to change, and to pursue a path of reconciliation, we must accept responsibility for the man-made actions which have brought us to the place where we now stand.
Nixon continued his remarks by relating his message to the theme of the conference: “Repairing the Breach.” He noted that no solution to our current racial problems may be found without first identifying and rectifying the breach which caused the original problems. Nixon identified this foundational breach as a lack of racial reconciliation in the church.
The first step in dealing with a problem, as Nixon pointed out, is recognising the problem to begin with. If the Adventist church will move forward to racial unity, we must begin at the point of confession; we must confess the sins which we have committed against each other which have led to our current condition.
The far more difficult question, however, is “What are these sins that we must confess?” Nixon proceeded to outline a hard-hitting list of the major racial injustices and sins the Adventist church has committed throughout its history, from the General Conference’s decision to ignore African American pastors’ pleas to not segregate conferences on racial lines, due to their belief that the church’s evangelistic efforts would be aided by such a split, to the racially discriminatory admission policies implicitly practiced by many Seventh-day Adventist universities for decades, to the segregation of African-American students in classrooms and cafeterias–all actions perpetrated during a time in which the modern world had signally rejected such practices as unethical.
However, as Nixon noted, the greater sin is not that these events occurred throughout our history (after all, the United States permitted far more grievous acts of racial discrimination for over a century prior), but that the Adventist church has been unwilling to acknowledge wrongdoing, and has sought to eliminate the current racial disunity in our church through a climate of silence, as if ignoring the deep tensions buried beneath the surface will somehow cause the underlying disunity to evaporate.
Now, being that the vast majority of injustices perpetrated in our history were a result of institutional and corporate decisions, the individual church member may not feel a particular need to confess and recognize wrongdoing; however, as Nixon dutifully noted, we cannot forget that institutional decisions are made, ultimately, by people. In the end, we are reaping the results of decisions made by people, by church leaders. And thus, Nixon argued, we must publicly acknowledge and confess the individual climate and decisions which have contributed to the current state of racial disunity. He stated,“If this is important to us, no cost is too high to bear.”
Nixon reached the zenith of his message with an exposition of the Gospel as the foundation and center of true racial reconciliation in the church. As he put it, racial unity is not a political issue; it is not a cultural issue; it is a Gospel issue. After all, doesn’t the New Testament go to great lengths to demonstrate how the Gospel breaks down the dividing walls between tribes, races, and genders? Thus, racial reconciliation is a Gospel issue – nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, Nixon argued, if we can’t find it in our hearts and minds to reconcile, this is evidence that the power of the Gospel has yet to touch our lives. As he put it, “The Gospel destroys walls of hostility; it doesn’t build them.”
In conclusion, Nixon reminded the assembled students and faculty of our hope in Christ’s soon return. As we prepare for Christ’s return, he postulated, we must expect and welcome His presence in our lives and our hearts. We must become unwilling to continue playing church–continue following the status quo. Rather, we must seek to be transformed by His grace. We must trust and expect Him to do a work in and through us which we cannot do of ourselves. It is only through the power and grace of God working in the lives of His people that true racial reconciliation may be accomplished.
Watch the full presentation by Michael Nixon below.