Race, Culture, Mission! Part 2

Part 1 of Pollard’s 2-part series on “Race, Culture, Mission!” focused on the proper interpretation of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer of John 17. The unity Jesus prayed was spiritual: Christ in His Father, and the Father in the Son is not a description of administrative structure. Part 2 now asks what kind of administrative structure best serves Adventist mission in NAD. Note that in this summary of the author’s original essay, endnotes are kept to a minimum. Editors

NAD Regional and State Conferences are inextricably bound together by and in a common set of biblical beliefs and evangelistic goals. They are united in and on mission, in beliefs and lifestyle practices, and in commitment to Scripture’s unassailable, transcendent, and final authority in personal and institutional life. But for some, the Regional Conference focus on primary target populations within specific geographical regions suggests administrative and, or structural disunity. We begin our address to this concern with a careful look back on earlier times in the history of Adventist Church structure.

Beginning at Moses

Just like Jesus demonstrated, for His own witness, on the road to Emmaus, the testimony of Scripture is important to all Adventist Church discussion. Adventists are a Bible-believing community that actively and intentionally seeks guidance from the teachings and principles of Scripture. Moreover, scriptural writers’ articulation of the centrality of mission as God’s action in the world provides a common focus for the discussion of the role of structure in Adventist mission’s implementation. Appropriately, then, our discussion of the Church’s best basis for organization chooses to begin with Moses and Old Testament history and proceed from there.

Old Testament examples of organizational structure in the life of God’s people include structures of patriarchal, judicial, prophetic, levitical/priestly, and monarchial leadership. The New Testament and the growth and development of the Christian church witness a variety of structures and models for progress, including temple/synagogue, messianic, apostolic/communal, representational (diaconate), and domestic/familial structures. The following chart highlights different dimensions of these varied governance and administrative structures.

Bible students should not attempt to extrapolate too much from this data, but we may observe the following: 1) the Bible presents a variety of structural arrangements related to the people of God in history; 2) the Bible provides no argument for universal application of any particular structure; no single structure cuts across eras; 3) organizational structure in Scripture expands, contracts, and/or adapts based on the scope and focus of the mission; 4) equitable representation is considered a vital dimension of service and witness (e.g., Acts 6); 5) structures reflect continuity and discontinuity with the organizational structures of surrounding cultures, whether patriarchal or representative; 6) organizational structures in Scripture reveal the following characteristics. . .

A. They vary across time—from 3000 B.C. to 62 A.D;

B. They vary across location—from Palestine to Rome;

  1. Flexibility differs based on the size of the community—Moses’ millions to the House churches’ small groups;
  2. Decision-making progresses from the Old to the New Testament patriarchal command-and-control decision making toward collaboration and consensus—From Abraham to the Apostolic Council (Acts 15);
  3. Material resource management moves from individual ownership to communal sharing—Genesis to Acts.

We now proceed to examine how their understanding of Scripture influenced our pioneers relative to the issue of structure in the accomplishment of mission.

Structure in Early Adventist History

Several Adventist scholars have studied the history of Adventist pioneers’ thinking and their journey on the issue of organizational structure.[2] We offer limited citations from these, including an important examination of Adventist structure recently commissioned by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The citations may help to illustrate the background to our current approach to structure and mission.

Adventist historian George Knight sees Adventist history as representing “the full spectrum on approaches to organization. The [Adventist] movement began aggressively anti-organizational, but today it is the most highly structured church in the history of Christianity.”[3] Knight draws on pioneer wit to succinctly summarize the Church founders’ approach to the role of structure in the accomplishment of mission, and their progression from denouncing organization as “Babylon,” to recognizing the absolute necessity for “gospel order”:

We are aware that these suggestions, will not meet the minds of all. Bro. Overcautious will be frightened, and will be ready to warn his brethren to be careful and not venture out too far; while Bro. Confusion will cry out, ‘O, this looks just like Babylon! Following the fallen church!’ Bro. Do-little will say, ‘The cause is the Lord’s, and we had better leave it in his hands, he will take care of it.’ ‘Amen,’ says Love-this-world, Slothful, Selfish and Stingy, ‘if God calls men to preach, let them go out and preach, he will take care of them, and those who believe their message; while Korah, Dathan and Abiram are ready to rebel against those who feel the weight of the cause, and who watch for souls as those who must give account, and raise the cry, ‘You take too much upon you.”[4]

The January 1, 1863 organization of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference shows that Church pioneers preferred appropriate biblical principles to prescriptive literalism when it came to developing an organizational structure.

The Relationship between Unity, Diversity, and Mission

The consideration of texts like Galatians 3:27-28 as a call to color-blind community, race-free at maximum, and race-neutral at minimum, raises its own question:

Are ethnic structures or congregations barriers to Christian mission in NAD because they are “segregated?”

We should not forget that ethnicity belongs to all people groups: in the NAD this would include Caucasians [Germans, Swedes, Irish, etc.] along with all the other explicitly labeled “ethnic congregations.” As for “segregated structures”, these would require law or coercion to provide or prohibit membership in a group. Given that no such laws exist or operate, the question must be answered in the negative, because “ethnic” administered Adventist churches and structures are not segregated either by law or in practice.

What Galatians 3:27-28 announces is the end of fallen, corrupted and community destroying diversity, along with which 2 Corinthians 5:17 announces the means by which a new, regenerated humanity is brought under the claims of Christ. But biblical new community involves no call to color-, or class-, or gender-blindness. Jesus’ reminder in John 12:8 on the permanent presence of the poor is itself a hint at the temporal stability of multifaceted and complex organization. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 9:18-21 represents the many facets of this complicated and redeemed societal reality not as barriers, but as resources for mission.[5]

Despite multitudes of earnest calls to abandon race and class in the name of Christian unity, biblical unity does not create a diversity-blind community or mission. Instead, Paul will be a Jew to the Jews, pro- or anti-law, weak or otherwise, as each case may require, for the sake of winning any and all to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-22). Paul, who states that “there is neither Jew, nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28), also discloses continuing sensitivity to his ethnicity, cultural awareness and political connections (Acts 16:37-40; 22:26) as elements of his Christianity now serving as mission-usable resources, deployed to reach all categories with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Based on Paul’s missiology, Japanese, Ghanaian, Russian, Hispanic/Latino, Korean, African-American, Filipino, Euro-American, and a host of other ethnic congregations in NAD all stand, not as examples of division, but of believers who resource socially important aspects of their racial, cultural, and ethnic identities to advance Adventist mission. These believers know that the grace of God, which is no respecter of persons, is a grace that radiates from all people to all people and through all people (“in every nation . . .”—Acts 10:34-36). These “ethnic” congregations are committed to meeting people groups in North America in the language, folkways, and cultural idioms that speak the gospel most deeply to their communities of origin. It is color-sensitive rather than color-blind mission. And those who fear segregation are encouraged to note that the congregations we have listed are open and accessible to any believer or non-believer who wishes to visit, and who, hopefully, will be won over to join.

Regrettably, critics of regional conference structures have at times misapplied to them the polarizing rhetoric of the Jim Crow era of American history: terms like “segregation,” and “separate but equal.” Regional leaders have been accused of being power hungry, racist, separatist, etc. The simple truth is that Seventh-day Adventists in America are free to visit or belong to any Adventist congregation in North America and bring all their friends with them, without any prior notification to anyone. Membership criteria are doctrinal, and ethnicity is not one of them.

Admittedly, the relationship of whites and blacks, particularly in its reflections of the period of the 1930s and 40s, does deserve a closer look, a look we are willing to give.

Structure and Adventist Church History

Regional Conferences are seen by many today as a perpetuation of the structures of an unfortunate history. They believe that the refusal of the Adventist Church to accept black members’ request for integration in 1944 was wrong, and that decision must now be reversed to reflect societal progress on racial issues. And they ask: “Is not the continued existence of Regional Conferences a reminder of an embarrassing failure in Adventist history?”

On one hand, the answer is “Yes.” The history of the Adventist Church’s discriminatory treatment of blacks between 1865 and 1965 is well documented. “That conflictual history,” according to some, “is the reason that we should now disband Regional Conferences now that the church and society has changed so drastically since 1944.” Is it not time that we eliminate “a racially defined organizational structure?” they ask.[6]

Again, if one’s understanding of history allows for a single basis of assessment of a 1944 transaction, we can say “yes.” However, understanding history as God does provides rather broader perspectives and deeper insights, as “behind, above, and through all the play and counter play of human interests and power and passions, [He is] silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”[7] Human interests, power, and passion are involved in making history. But there is much besides. History’s explanations reach far beyond the intent of its tyrannical or racist agents.

History does not have to be perfect to be purposeful. Consider how many significant breakthroughs in Adventist progress and understanding grew out of conflictual history: the testy showdown between G. I. Butler and Uriah Smith, on one side of the righteousness-by-faith issue, and A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner on the other, at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference over the nature of salvation is but one notable example of historical conflict that yielded significant progress for the theological development of our doctrine of salvation; the conflict between Ellen G. White and the leadership of the Battle Creek Sanitarium and J. H. Kellogg in the 1890’s over the nature of Adventist Healthcare and Church authority is another; and John Burden’s 1904 decision on whom to listen to—the Conference president who said desist, or Ellen White who said he should proceed with the purchase Loma Linda—was certainly tension filled. But as we review our history we see how often awkwardness and apparent setback for the Church have resulted in God’s greater glory.

The Church’s 1944 vote to organize Regional Conferences “where the colored constituency is . . . sufficiently large, and where financial income and territory warrant. . . ”,[8] has yielded much more for the cause of God than its original and reactionary context could have promised or even conceived. By December of 1945, four conferences were organized for the Negro (colored) people, and four more by 1951. And from the time African-Americans were given conferences to operate, the work among African-Americans expanded dramatically during the 20th century.

I have thought of the alternative to that explosive gospel advance and wondered: in the context of Adventist missiology, might it be that integration would have hindered the embryonic black work? The segregationist context of 1944 was not substantially different than in 1909 when premature integration does seem to have hindered God’s work during the Edson White mission activities around the turn of the century. In 1944, full-scale integration was still an extremely liberal political idea in racially-conservative America.[9] Neither US Baseball (1947) nor even the US military (1950) had yet been integrated. Imagine, in such a historical context, what might have transpired if Adventism had insisted on integration in 1944.[10]

Those who criticize the Church leadership of that time sometimes overlook the fact that current outlooks on race are the cumulative result of 50 years of social upheaval around issues regarding race in America.[11] But racial intolerance in 1944, prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, the social experimentation of the 70s, and the tolerance and diversity movements of the 80s and 90s, was aggressively assimilationist,[12] committedly colonialist, and deeply imbedded in the outlooks and institutions of America, including the Adventist Church. Accession to the 1944 request for integration of structure, in such a fiercely unwelcoming racial environment might have driven others besides Lewis C. Sheafe[13] and James K. Humphrey[14] out of the Adventist Church. We do not know. Adventist historians and scholars writing about this period consistently assume that integration in 1944 would have been the best missional decision for the future of Black work.[15] These assumptions explain why some consider Regional Conferences “God’s non-ideal plan.”[16] And why some see Regional and state conferences as carryovers from pre-civil rights era race-based segregation. Note, though, the idealistic assumptions involved, that 1) in a hierarchy of values, integration should be the highest value and implemented at all costs; further, 2) that full inclusion would have followed.

Ellen G. White’s work does not suggest integration as a transcendent moral value. Her handling of the mission issues related to the “color line” in the 19th century gives a clear indication of her mindset.[17] Before “situational leadership” would be posited some 60 years later, Ellen White demonstrated a case-based approach to resolving mission issues. Based on her counsel to the southern field, she believed that our mission must interface effectively with the local, cultural, social, and historical context.[18] While she supported equality at creation and in cross-racial affiliation in her early statements, she was not slavishly bound in her thinking.[19] The moral implications of her adjusted counsel on the relationship between the races has gone largely unexplored by scholars. For her, effective Adventist mission was both practically and contextually responsive.[20]

Writers who focus on Adventist choice against integration too often fail to show that Regional Conferences were also established for missiological purposes.[21] Like historically black colleges and universities in America such as Oakwood University, Regional Conferences were responses to exclusion. However, they were much more than that. The documents that chronicle their founding also show the belief held by General Conference leadership in 1944 that Blacks could better organize, manage, and execute the Seventh-day Adventist church’s mission to black America. Consistently neglected in the discussion of NAD structure seems to be this accompanying second track of missiological motivation behind the establishment of Regional Conferences. Stanford Economist Henry Felder’s landmark analysis of Regional Conferences from 1945 to 2008, concedes that “It is not possible to estimate what the rate of growth among African Americans would have been in the absence of Regional Conferences; however, the observed increases[22] are consistent with the original intent in the creation of Regional Conferences to achieve a ‘great advance in soul-winning endeavors.’”[23]If we were to reject Regional Conference structures despite the powerful testimony of their success, what prevents any of us from considering women’s ministries departments, “gender-based organizational segregation”? Or Christian Record Braille as “disability-based organizational segregation”? Or Korean Camp meetings as an evidence of “nationality-based organizational segregation”? And would we consider the Adventist Youth Department, “age-based organizational segregation”?

The success of Regional Conferences and the success of the Regional Conference structure within the NAD do not exonerate flawed actors for their flawed motivations. It is simply the truth that the unexpected and dramatically positive results of these Conferences are a fact of history—a history distinguishable from the power, ambition and caprice of flawed human agents. Moreover, though the passage of time has dimmed and virtually extinguished the legal and social context of segregation these decades later, the missiological necessity for Regional Conferences has not faded. Nor does it follow that since the context of segregation has ended, the structures must automatically end also. Structural analysis must answer missional questions, not merely humanly intended historical ones. Regardless of the motives and/or mistakes of our Adventist forefathers, Regional Conferences continue as mission-particularized structures created for the missional purpose of empowering Black leaders to evangelize America’s black peoples.[24] History did not have to be perfect to be purposeful.

What Next?

Many more questions remain to be answered before we as individuals and as a worldwide body are ready to come to conclusions about the right or wrong structure for the Adventist Church in North America, questions such as the following:

Aren’t we living in a post-racial society now? And if not, then shouldn’t we be working towards it? How shall we experience the interracial fellowship that will certainly be our joy in heaven? Or do we expect to attend segregated services in glory?

Don’t Regional and State Conferences represent a duplication of services that squanders our Church’s precious resources?

When are we going to experience racial and ethnic reconciliation in Adventist America?

Don’t texts like Ephesians :14-16, and Galatians 3:26-28 condemn race-based Christianity, whether in administrative structure or day to day interaction?

Why don’t we dismantle all conferences in NAD and design new, united ones?

Why should the Church in America not be held to the same standard as the Church in South Africa? And would Ellen White have supported Regional Conferences when she refused to support the creation of German and Scandinavian conferences in 1905?

Does mission particularity mean that individuals must focus only on people of their own race? For some, this essay and its predecessor have provided adequate evidence for the validation of Regional Conferences. For all concerned, my full argument is available here. Meanwhile, I shall hazard one more comment before concluding:

It is my suspicion that one of the major reasons, if not the major reason why Regional Conference structures have been labeled as “race-based organizational segregation” is because of the historic sensitivity in the United States around the subject of “race.” In the NAD, race is an unfinished conversation. One cannot discuss race in the history of America without arousing the discomfort that de jure and de facto racism have caused in American society since the founding of the country.[25] Discussions of race call issues like power, privilege, access, equality, control, etc. into question. Conservative Christians generally do not see themselves as responsible, party to, or practitioners of discrimination. [26] Many conservative Christians find it difficult to converse publicly about these issues. In 1999, NAD convened the Division’s first summit on race. The announced plan was to convene a follow up summit to build out on the recommendations from the first summit. To the disappointment of many, requests to convene the follow-up summit were consistently denied.

Regional Conferences are for some a reminder of a painful racial history in America. Many wish that discussions of that history would just “go away.” They read into that difficult history a continuing and unresolved hostility between blacks and whites in NAD, “a symbol of the historic divide” between the races. These speakers and writers call for “racial reconciliation” which, in their view, will be evidenced in the dissolution of Regional Conferences and the creation of new structures. Their vision of reconciliation concludes in structural consolidation. But not all who make such calls are properly aware of the history of how Regional Conferences were born. Others, who have some fluency regarding this period of Adventist history, too consistently read that history only horizontally. But we now know that even as power, ambition and caprice write their history of earth, the God of heaven and eternity, “above, behind and through all the play and counter play of human interests and power and passions [is] silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”[27] As Joseph put it long ago: whatever may have been the unflattering intent of human agents, “God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Gen. 50:21, NASB).[28]

The mission of NAD Regional Conferences, the mission of NAD State Conferences, the mission of God’s Church around the world is one and the same, to take the three angels’ messages to every town and city, race and clime. Regional Conferences exist to do their part in accomplishing that glorious work. They have done, and still are doing that which others of the Church’s administrative structures are not yet as capable of doing. It may not always be perfect, but it is purposeful. The structural flexibility within the NAD that Regional Conferences represent permits Adventist America to respond effectively to the particular conditions of their natural, designated and acknowledged mission field while at the same time maintaining the global values and identity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. [29]

They and all other missional structures will cease to be when their work, and God’s work, and our work in all the world, is done. Then and only then, and not before. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Readers and researchers interested in Pollard’s full essay, of which these two articles are no more than a summary, may find it here.

[1]Unbelievers could hear the gospel while they ate together in believers’ homes.

[2]Andrew Mustard, James White and Organization (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1985); Barry Oliver, Adventist Organizational Structure: Past, Present and Future (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1989); George Knight, “Organizing for Mission: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Organizational Structure,” http://www.Adventist.org/world_church/commission-mission-services-structures/. For Pollard’s complete article, along with full documentation, readers may contact the author at lpollard@oakwood.edu; presidentsoffice@oakwood.edu; or mbattles@oakwood.edu.

[3]Knight, “Organizing for Mission,” p. 1. Knight’s assessment is accepted with one caveat: whether Adventists are more structured than United Methodists is an open question. See United Methodist Church’s description of their own structure and organization at http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1720695/k.4FEC/Structure__Organization_O.

[4]James White, “Yearly Meetings,” Review and Herald, July 21, 1859, p. 68.

[5]For a broader development of diversity as a resource for mission, see Leslie Pollard, “Culture Matters,” in Adventist Review at http://www.Adventistreview.org/2004-1506/story1.html.

[6]See “What’s Taking So Long?” in Adventist Review Online at http://www.Adventistreview.org/article.php?id=1704.

[7]Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.1903; 2002), p. 173.

[8]From “Actions of the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee,” April 10-16, 1944, pp. 15-16.

[9]In an enlightening distillation of the race doctrine of this period, Gunnar Myrdal summarized the social construction of race in America during this period with 6 propositions: 1. The Negro people belong to a separate race of mankind; 2. The Negro race has an entirely different ancestry than white people and cannot be related to white people in any way; 3. The Negro race is inferior to the white race in as many capacities as possible; 4. The Negro race is so different in characteristics and ancestry that all white people can be considered a homogeneous race; 5. The Negro race has a place in the biological hierarchy somewhere between the white man and the anthropoids; 6. The Negro is more akin to each other than to any white man. From Gunnar Myrdal, The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy: An American Dilemma, vols1 & 2 (New York: Harper Torch Book, 1944), pp. 103-104.

[10]As an illustration of the depth of the racial challenges of Adventist leadership during the first 70 years of the 20th century, Frank Hale, documents the resistance to integration of Adventist facilities up to and including the 1962 General Conference Session in San Francisco. Adventist leadership was public in its criticism of the faith-based communities who participated in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Into the 1960s, key Adventist educational and ecclesiastical institutions had not integrated. At San Francisco, the issue of desegregation in the Church was prompted by the involvement of the national press. See Frank W. Hale, Jr. Angels Watching Over Me (Nashville, TN: James C. Winston Publishing Company, Inc., 1996), pp. 157-211.

[11]Ellen G. White believed that there would always be a work that only blacks could do for other blacks: “The colored ministers should make every effort possible to help their own people understand the truth for this time. As time advances, and race prejudices increases, it will become almost impossible, in many places, for white workers to labor for colored people” (9T: 207, 208).

[12]Alfonzo Greene, Jr., “[Black] Regional Conferences in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Adventist) compared with United Methodist [Black] Central Jurisdiction/Annual Conferences with White S.D.A Conferences, From 1940-2001” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago, 2009), pp. 352-356, shows the impact of assimilation-in-the-name-of-unity on the United Methodist Church in the history of the dismantling of the Central Jurisdiction. He documents the high cost the assimilation model exacted from the UMC’s black membership.

[13]See Douglas Morgan, Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2010), pp. 279-311 for an example of the racial situation of the 19th century Adventist Church. Lewis C. Sheafe had been a Baptist minister before joining the Adventist Church. Possessed of a dynamic personality, he was unable to agree with Adventist racial attitudes and practices. Between the years of 1910 and 1915, he was inconsistent in maintaining church membership. He finally left for good. Mrs. White wrote a testimony to him on Feb 10, 1907 (LT. S-44-07). In this letter, Ellen White pled with Pastor Sheafe to not be influenced by many of the apostate elements at Battle Creek, some of whom were exacerbating and exploiting his racial struggles in an effort to secure his support for their own purposes.

[14]On the career of J. K Humphrey, see R. Clifford Jones, James K. Humphrey and the Sabbath-Day Adventists (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2006).

[15]Clifford Jones documents the very difficult and confusing relationship of the Adventist Church toward the Negro from 1840-1930. See Jones, pp. 82-112. He describes the black experience in Adventism as “. . . a saga of paradox, ambiguity and ambivalence.” Jones, p. 82.

[16]As examples, see the Adventist Encyclopedia, pp. 1193-1195. See also Samuel Pipim, “Separate Black and White Conferences-Part 1: The Sin We Don’t Want to Overcome,” at http://www.drpipim.org/church-racism-contemporaryissues-51/97-separate-black-and-white-conferences-part-1.html.

[17]Ciro Sepúlveda, Ellen White on the Color Line: The Idea of Race in a Christian Community (Biblos Press, 1997), pp. 25-39; see also Roy Graham, Ellen G. White: Co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Company, 1985), pp. 247-249, on how E. G. White moderated the racial debate in three ways through her leadership; First, she declared that there was no superior or inferior race. Second, she reminded the church, especially the Northern Adventist Church, that it was the collective responsibility of the entire nation to make restitution to the formerly enslaved Negro. Third, she spelled out contextually-sensitive recommendations for how Adventist workers were to proceed with the work for the Southern field.

[18]White (9T: 205-07) wrote from Australia to warn of the importance of caution, advising, for example, “that the mingling of whites and blacks in social equality was by no means to be encouraged.” Again, “Let as little as possible be said about the color line, and let the colored people work chiefly for those of their own race.” Also, “In regard to white and colored people worshiping in the same building, this cannot be followed as a general custom with profit to either party--especially in the South. The best thing will be to provide the colored people who accept the truth, with places of worship of their own, in which they can carry on their services by themselves. This is particularly necessary in the South in order that the work for the white people may be carried on without serious hindrance.” Hers were words of tact and discretion: “Let the colored believers be provided with neat, tasteful houses of worship. Let them be shown that this is done not to exclude them from worshiping with white people, because they are black, but in order that the progress of the truth may be advanced [emphasis added]. Let them understand that this plan is to be followed until the Lord shows us a better way.”

[19]Graybill, White and Race Relations, 110ff.

[20]Note her statement in 9T-204: “The gospel is to be presented to the downtrodden Negro race. But great caution will have to be shown in the efforts put forth for the uplifting of this people. Among the white people in many places there exists a strong prejudice against the Negro race. We may desire to ignore this prejudice, but we cannot do it. If we were to act as if this prejudice did not exist, we could not get the light before the white people. We must meet the situation as it is and deal with it wisely and intelligently.” Again, another passage from her Testimony titled “The Color Line” clearly elucidates Ellen G. White’s missiology: “The wise course is best. As laborers together with God, we are to work in a way that will enable us to accomplish the most for him” 9T:215.

[21]The topic of Regional Conferences came to the floor of the GC Committee’s Spring Council held April 8-19, 1944, in Chicago. The following resolution was passed: “WHEREAS, The present development of the work among the colored people in North America has resulted, under the signal blessing of God, in the establishment of some 233 churches with some 17,000 members: and WHEREAS, It appears that a different plan of organization for our colored membership would bring further great advance in soul-winning endeavours; therefore WE RECOMMEND, that in unions where the colored constituency is considered by the union conference committee to be sufficiently large, and where the financial income and territory warrant, colored conferences be organized.” See, “Regional Conferences,” p. 14.

[22] Regional membership, 1059 percent; the rest of NAD membership, 242 percent.

[23]Henry E. Felder, “An Analysis of Seventh-day Adventist Regional Conferences and Economic Development 1950-2008,” Unpublished paper presented to the 2010 Regional Conference Caucus in Orlando, Florida, January 22, 2010, p. 6.

[24]If social context is seriously considered, then interpretations like Knight’s can and should be called into question. His assertion reads, “While Black [Regional] conferences were certainly not the ideal, their creation seems to have stimulated the denomination’s work among certain segments of North America’s Black population.” See Knight, Organizing to Beat the Devil, 150. However, if the new structure dramatically stimulated and advanced the mission to black America, then why would not that advancement in mission be considered “ideal”? Missiologically-deficient assessments repeatedly overlook the possibility that the God’s overarching purpose was realized in the dramatic stimulation and growth of the black work in 1944 and beyond.

Further, two points of rebuttal are appropriate. 1) Point 1 is a clarification of Knight’s statement: The financial and statistical growth data shows that with the organization of Regional conferences, a remarkable blessing attending the spread of the Adventist message among African-Americans in North America; 2) Point 2 raises a question: Do any scholars question why the request for integration was denied? The fact that the request for integration was denied raises the missiological question of whether integration would have facilitated or inhibited the growth of the work among blacks in America. Dogmatic idealism aside, from a missiological perspective, missional particularity in North America better suited the Adventist mission to black America. Again, we see that our history did not have to be perfect to work for God’s higher purpose.

[25]Former Secretary of State and Stanford Professor of History, Dr. Condeleeza Rice, in a March 28, 2008 interview at the White House, identified racism as “America’s birth defect.” See her remarks at http://www.npr.org/blogs/news/2008/03/sec_of_state_rice_us_has_birth_1.html.

[26]Research by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000), documents the vast differences in perceptions of race and racism in America as held by black and white evangelicals. Most white evangelicals’ Christianity made them some of the loudest and most critical voices lifted against the Civil Rights movement. Black evangelicals viewed such behavior and attitudes as complicity with, if not outright support of racial discrimination.

[27] White, Education, ibid.

[28] Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

[29]See the statistical data referenced in the article by Henry Felder. African-Americans represent approximately 13% of the general United States population, but 40% of the North American Division. There are no comparable numbers in any other institution or industry in American life. For instance, in schools of Medicine in the U.S. African-Americans represent about 5%-6% of all medical school matriculants. In Schools of Dentistry, the number is 4%. In Schools of Engineering, it is 3%. Based on the dramatic financial and numerical growth of the African-American Adventist population, it could be successfully argued that the creation of Regional Conference structures is the single most successful missional innovation ever undertaken in the North American Division. 

We reserve the right to approve and disapprove comments accordingly and will not be able to respond to inquiries regarding that. Please keep all comments respectful and courteous to authors and fellow readers.
comments powered by Disqus