Proposal for a Resolution on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation in the SDA Church
WHEREAS the Lord Jesus Christ prayed in His final prayer on Earth in John 17:20-22 for all His people to be one, regardless of race, tribe, gender, caste, ethnicity, status, as He, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are One
WHEREAS we are a body of biblical Christian believers from every race, caste, gender, ethnicity, tribe, color, status, baptized into God%u2019s remnant Church and are commanded to love, confess, repent, forgive, reconcile, and unite as one
WHEREAS throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we have struggled with fully accepting and integrating all races, tribes, genders, castes, ethnicities, statuses
WHEREAS the sanction, practice, and perpetuation of racial, ethnic, or other forms of descrimination are unchristian and undermine our mission as a Church, we humbly urge the following of the leadership of the SDA Church at all levels:
%uFFFD A corporate admission and apology for the wrongs committed against minority groups within our church
%uFFFD A concerted effort to abandon all prejudicial practices througout our institutions, conferences, and our organization by embracing diversity and inclusiveness
%uFFFD That we implement changes in our church structure at all levels that create a climate of openness and acceptance of all believers in the faith to participate in the governance and execution of its mission, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, tribe, caste, and status.
%uFFFD That we intentionally create opportunities and implement initiatives that foster lasting, genuine unity within our church by intentionally reaching across racial, cultural, ethnic, and economic lines
%uFFFD That all racial and ethnic groups collaborate individually, locally, and corporately in worship, fellowship, and in evangelizing the world in preparation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
May the God of love, peace, and unity instruct us in our efforts to become a more loving and unified body of believers, who through His strength, and by the power of His love, will more effectively accomplish His mission in these last days.
Prepared by the Committee on Diversity
May 26, 2010
Rationale for a Resolution on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation in the SDA Church
In Jesus%u2019 final prayer (Jn. 17:21), he prays for all His disciples to be one as He and the Father are one. The New Testament admonishes Christians to unite as one because in Christ all races, tribes, castes, and genders are as one (Gal. 3:28). In some regions of the world, this Christlike unity has eluded Christians. North America is foremost among them.
America%u2019s long history of racism can be traced to the beginning of slavery in 1619. After centuries of oppression, the white ruling class, empowered by the benefits of slavery, but shamed by the cosmic disgrace of the scourge, amid much social pressure and at times militant opposition, reluctantly freed their slaves. In the aftermath of slavery, they resorted to segregation by race. This was effectuated %u201Cby law and by private actions in the areas of transportation, public accommodation, recreational facilities, prison, armed forces, and schools in both Northern and Southern States.%u201D http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html(http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html)
The prevailing intellectual-scientific climate at the time held that Blacks were inferior to Whites. (Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 101). The Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church came out of the Millerite Movement during this time and since its infancy, has borne marks of its social-cultural milieu. This social climate made it unsafe for blacks and whites to worship together. (Louis B. Reynolds, We Have Tomorrow: The Story of American Seventh-day Adventists with an African Heritage (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1984), pp. 296-8). In 1889, Ellen White recommended racial separation in worship as a temporary safety measure for all members due to the threat of physical harm to those (whites and blacks) who would engage in joint worship exercises. (Ellen White, The Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9. (Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1948), pp. 206-7); Ron Graybill, "Historical Contexts of Ellen G. White's Statements Concerning Race Relations" (unpublished thesis, SDA Theological Seminary, 1968), p. 50; Reynolds, pp. 299-300.
Between 1863 and 2010, the SDA Church has grown to over seventeen million members worldwide, with just over a million residing in the North American Division. Still the structure that divided the church over fifty years ago remains in place: blacks worship mainly in blacks-only congregations, whites generally choose whites-only churches, Hispanics to their own, Asians to their own, and we seem to be uninterested in uniting at the local level. The threat posed to mixed worship churches of the bygone era is nonexistent today, so what biblical basis do we now have for maintaining the present structure of governance according to race?
The 1994 genocide in Rewanda was not carried out primarily by animists and satanists, as ample evidence point to the involvement of Christians (75% of population) who abandoned their faith for their ethnicity. Among them were Catholic priests and a SDA pastor, whom the courts indicted for the massacre of 8,000 Tutsis. (Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Enquirer, Sept. 9, 1998). It has been reported that some 1,000 Hindus who converted to Christianity in India recently, returned to Hinduism soon after observing the prejudice and segregation in Christianity (http://www.southasianconnection.com/blogs/155/Dalits--thEe-Untouchables-or-Outcasts-of-India.html).http://www.southasianconnection.com/blogs/155/Dalits---the-Untouchables-or-Outcasts-of-India.html How effectively can the Church counsel Adventist Rwandans, Indians, and others mired in cultural divisiveness, when the church%u2019s headquarters resides in the same complex as the North American Division, which practices separation by race and appears complacent with such ungodliness?
Caleb Rosado echoes the biblical assertion that in Christ all social divisions fall and he observes in the SDA modus operandi a %u201Ctheology of neglect.%u201D That is, the Church has neglected the organizing principle of Christianity in Gal. 3:28, which enjoins the observance of racial, tribal, caste, and gender equality on all Christians. (Caleb Rosado, Broken Walls: Race, Sex, Culture%u2014in Christ all barriers fall. Boise: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1990), p. 115) More recently, Samuel K. Pipim and Delbert Baker approached the issue of separation by race in our church. (http://www.drpipim.org/church-racism-contemporaryissues-51/99-the-church-and-race-relations-part-1.htmlhttp://www.drpipim.org/church-racism-contemporaryissues-51/99-the-church-and-race-relations-part-1.html; Delbert W. Baker, ed., Make Us One: Celebration Spiritual Unity in the Midst of Cultural Diversity (Boise, Id.: Pacific Press, 1995), 83-103)
The larger American society has made some significant social strides in the last fifty years--from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960%u2019s led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States in 2010. Yet, the North American Division (NAD) SDA sub-culture seems bent on maintaining a structure of governance that is not only archaic but unchristian. Though there is some integration at the General Conference(GC), union, and division levels, such integration is generally absent from our local conferences, health facilities, and educational institutions, which may appear integrated because they employ token ethnic people. Are we as Adventists, by maintaining these ethnic barriers, not neglecting Jesus%u2019 admonition in John 17:21 that we must be one as He and the Father are one?
That the GC exerted pressure on the Southern Africa Union Conference and Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division to restructure and realign the conferences in their territory to reflect the unity that is enjoined on Christians in Scripture, leaves us yearning for this counsel to be implemented here in North America. Jesus%u2019 parable (Mt. 7:3-5) of the man with the beam in his eye, who was pointing out the dust in another man%u2019s eye, depicts the current relationship of the North American Division to other countries with respect to racial and ethnic tensions. Given that the US has united across racial and ethnic lines to do what was deemed impossible by electing an African American as President (i.e., Barak Obama), is it foreseeable that we as a Church could unite along similar lines to embrace the %u201Cunity in Diversity%u201D that Robert Forkenberg (former GC President) dreamed of decades ago?
In 1994, two SAU local conferences (one black and one white) merged to form the Kwazulu Natal-Free State Conferences. In that same year the Southern Africa Union Conference Executive Committee heeded the counsel of the GC and formulated the following statement to be presented to the government%u2019s Truth and Reconciliation Committee:
%u201CWe are constrained therefore by the love of God that has grown more keenly in our hearts to confess that we have misrepresented the gospel of Christ in our sins of omission and commission regarding apartheid. We realize that this has had a hurtful effect on our society, on our corporate church and its individual members. We are deeply sorry and plead for the forgiveness of God and our fellow citizens.%u201D (http://hobbes.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/sdas-in-south-africa-j-crocombe.pdf; see also, The course by Jeff Crocombe, senior lecturer, Helderberg College, South Africa REH 417, Lecture 22, %u201CAdventists in South Africa,%u201D p. 6). Isn%u2019t it time we had a similar declaration by the NAD and the GC, considering our history here?
It is commendable that the NAD has an Office of Human Relations, which has attempted to deal with the issue of diversity. Yet there is no such office at the GC, neither has the NAD had a summit on race relations since 1999. Our inability to obtain data from the NAD on the effectiveness of its diversity initiatives suggests that these data are nonexistent. Conversely, the 15 million members Southern Baptist Convention recognized their need to address this issue in their church and explored options. Consequently, in 1995, without warning, yet sensing the urgency, it passed a resolution at its Atlanta session to reconcile racially (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=899). As the SDA Church continues to proclaim the nearness of Christ%u2019s return, what do we need to do to integrate and unite in carrying out our mission and purpose?
The ill effects of a long history of racism and segregation still plague our church. Whites worship primarily in white-run churches, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians do the same. What biblical basis do we now have for maintaining the present structure of governance according to race? Some are quick to account for this as cultural (e.g., style of music, preaching, etc.) preferences. Others think, however, that the separation is primarily due to racial and ethnic prejudice. Are we hesitant to deal with this challenge because of the potential of any organizational reconstruction to disrupt the livelihood of those who currently work for the church? Or, do we hesitate because we do not wish to worship with others who are different from us or are apparently inferior to us? Is this righteousness?
Leviticus 16 records the annual Day of Atonement service that was a part of the Israelite cultic tradition designed by God. The individual and corporate sins committed by citizens and priests throughout the year were symbolically cleansed in this service. The present condition of the SDA Church, particularly in North America, but also in countries with a history of racial, tribal, caste, and ethnic conflicts within the Church, necessitates atonement for her sins. Yet this atonement would be meaningless unless there is a resolve among members to turn away from these sins and build new bonds of relationships that could exist in integrated and racially diverse structures of governance.
The upcoming GC session seems to be an ideal occasion at which to have such an Atonement Service. With the next session being in Atlanta, Georgia, it becomes the more fitting and symbolic, given the history of race relations in the southern United States. If the world church officials were to lead their delegates in a public atonement service, what a symbol of unity that would be, as a start? In the spirit of confession, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation, the leaders could then invite their delegates present in person and members via satellite to make a resolution (see above) with them. Then, a prayer of consecration and dedication would consummate the beginning of new race relationships in our church. This reconciliation, resolution, and atonement service, could then be widely publicized by the leaders and delegates through all official church media and be constantly highlighted by pastors, elders, and other officers in the local churches, as we continue to pray earnestly for God%u2019s healing balm. Our church needs healing in order for us to accomplish our God-given mission. The time is right! If not now, when? This GC session presents a golden opportunity for our leaders and members to demonstrate to the Church and the world our spiritual fortitude and our love for God and ALL mankind. Will they?! Will we?! The heavenly hosts stand ready to support and applaud us!
Prepared by the Committee on DiversityCollegedale, TN
May 26, 2010