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, continued its powerful and articulate message of racial unity last Sabbath afternoon with a triad of presenters contributing a series of short, power-packed messages on the subject of racial reconciliation in the Adventist church.
Dr. David Penno, Associate Professor of Christian Ministry at Andrews University, began his allotted session with a call, not just to talk about racial reconciliation, but to take action on it. In areas such as these, he argued, we should be the head and not the tail. He bemoaned the fact that, with regard to this particular issue, Adventism often appears to be going backwards.
Penno argued that the central point at which all attempts at unity must find their foundation is an appreciation of the supreme importance of mission. However we resolve this racial divide, our collective mission as Adventists is what should draw us together. He added that, with regards to unity, we don’t know exactly how to achieve it, but we must do something. Actions speak far louder than words.
We need pastors, administrators, and professors who are willing to do the hard work; healing the divide is not easy, it is not fun, nor is it fast. Regardless, we must be willing to do the hard work of processing the past and building relationships across the divide. This process won’t be completed in a day, a week, or a month. It will likely take years; however, if we are unwilling to act, we may face serious consequences if our younger generations are unwilling to tolerate the current and historic injustices perpetrated in our church. It is far better to be proactive now than reactive later.
The second session was presented by Dr. Cleran Hollancid, who recently completed his doctorate in Sociology of Religion at Western Michigan University. His dissertation focused on black/white segregation, specifically within the Adventist church. His presentation began with a restatement of Dr. Penno’s argument that action must be taken in the area of racial reconciliation, even if we don’t know exactly how to proceed at the present time.
The next question we must ask, Hollancid postulated, is, “What exactly are we reconciling?” Hollancid proceeded to clarify historical definitions of race based on anthropology and biology, demonstrating that race is nothing more than a socio-political construct. With that said, while the construct of race is imaginary, it is real in its consequences, as demonstrated by the multitudinous examples of segregation and discrimination in American history.
Hollancid concluded his presentation by highlighting the roadblocks that stand in the way of racial reconciliation, most notably the attitude that Christ’s Second Coming will resolve all such issues in the church. Hollancid vigorously argued against such an attitude, noting that racial reconciliation is nothing more than an issue of surrender to God, and a willingness to follow His will. Whether the roadblocks to reconciliation be controversies over salary, position, or power, humility and surrender will clear out these obstacles, and provide a way for racial unity to be achieved.
The third session was presented by Dr. Jerome Skinner, who recently completed his MDiv and PhD at Andrews University, and is currently co-authoring a commentary on the book of Isaiah, soon to be published in the upcoming Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary series.
Skinner focused his presentation on the means by which Adventists can overcome subconscious biases and prejudices from the culture around them, and work towards racial unity in the church. He began by referencing the ethics and worldviews portrayed by mainstream media, and how they influence our perspective on cultural issues, especially as they relate to the subject of race.
Skinner argued that to develop accurate cultural literacy with respect to other races, we must actively develop strong and secure relationships with individuals outside our ethnic group. These relationships will allow us to remove the biases and prejudices prevalent in today’s society. Finally, Skinner repeated the truth that racial reconciliation will only be accomplished through a surrender to the transforming power of Christ.
The three presentations were followed by a Q&A panel including all conference speakers, as well as Pastor Dwight Nelson. The video recording of all three presentations and the Q&A panel may be viewed below.
At the conclusion of the Q&A panel, the conference participants divided into small groups to discuss practical pathways to racial reconciliation in the Adventist church. The conference was officially concluded with a special musical item, followed by a group prayer for unity in the church. The video recording of the music and prayer may be viewed below.