A Reflection on Race

"Black Lives Matter" — the Sentence a Racist Will Not Say

"All Lives Matter" — a Copout Whose Time Has Passed

Sometimes my mind sees connections in stories seemingly unrelated. As in the two that follow:  

Scene 1: It's Friday, May 22, 2020, and 23-year-old University of Connecticut senior Peter Manfredonia begins a days-long flight from police, after a string of crimes: the machete killing of 62-year-old (good Samaritan) Ted DeMers and the wounding of another man, in Willington, Connecticut; holding another man hostage in a home nearby, and stealing his guns and truck; driving to another town 70 miles away, fatally shooting 23-year-old fellow student Nicholas Eisele, kidnapping his girlfriend, and forcing her (imagine the terror) to drive him across state lines into New Jersey, bailing out at a highway rest stop.

Scene 2. It's Monday May 25, 2020, about the midpoint of (what would turn out to be) Manfredonia's six-day flight. And some 1,100 miles to the west, George Floyd, exactly twice Manfredonia's age, is arrested for passing a fake $20 bill at a local convenience store in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On his belly beside a police vehicle, his hands cuffed behind his back, he finds himself squirming under the knee of a police officer, digging into his neck.

In the sequel to Scene 1, Manfredonia's family-hired attorney, the very day of Floyd's encounter with police, goes on air with a public plea: “Peter, if you are listening, you are loved…. It is time to let the healing process begin…. We love you, please turn yourself in.” The following day the Connecticut State Police join the appeal: “Peter, this is ‘not who you are’…. We want you to be able to tell your story. We are here to listen to you…. Your family has hired an attorney…, and your rights will be safeguarded.”[i] One day later, Manfredonia is apprehended in Maryland without a scratch.

In the tragic sequel to Scene 2, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, callously ignoring the victim's repeated plea ("I can't breathe!"), as well as the persistent appeals from people on the street, keeps grinding Floyd's neck into the pavement with his knee, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating him in cold blood.

Peter Manfredonia is white; George Floyd was black. Peter Manfredonia committed theft, kidnapping, wounding, and double murder, but is alive; George Floyd, for passing a fake $20 bill, is dead. And that, unfortunately, is the story of America.

A Dark Mosaic

No two cases are exactly alike, of course. But many cases together can reveal a pattern, exposing the dark mosaic I'm trying to describe. Names like Tamir Rice come to mind: a 12-year-old boy playing with his toy gun in a Cleveland, Ohio park, November 22, 2014. A police officer arrives and shoots him dead, no questions asked. Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, 43-year-old father of six, killed July 17, 2014 in a police chokehold — for selling loose cigarettes on the street without a license. Then there was Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott, and Dontre Hamilton, and Rayshard Brooks, and a host of others. In the five years from 2014 to 2019, Blacks in the United States were killed by police at almost 2.5 times the rate of Whites: 13 per million for Whites, 31 per million for Blacks.[ii]

The stats are bad enough, but often it’s the sheer triviality of the offences that drives me crazy. A broken tail light, selling loose cigarettes without a license, walking home from the store and looking suspicious, running away from police, falling asleep in your car outside a Wendy's, or, like Breonna Taylor, lying asleep in the middle of the night on her own bed.

Blacks are not the only ones to encounter racial bigotry in the United States. Ask Native Americans. Ask Hispanics Americans. Ask Asian Americans. With the coronavirus being labeled "the Chinese virus" — or even "the Kung Flu" by the highest office in the land — some Asian Americans are "being told 'go back to China' or having people spit in their direction."[iii]

But when it comes to sustained, naked bigotry in America, Blacks take the cake, hands down. And the mosaic of their suffering is dark.

The Situation in the Church

In a letter to Review and Herald editor F. D. Nichol in 1963, I inquired (as a young Caribbean Adventist) about the racial division in the American Adventist Church at the time. Nichol responded with a kind letter, in which he wrote, in part: “We are a peaceful people, seeking to move onward toward the kingdom while stirring up the least of political strife and emotions as possible. In this we follow the example of the Bible writers. We do not find Peter or Paul or the other apostles going out in a great campaign to abolish slavery.” Instead, “they tried gradually to inject the gospel… into the hearts of men and women, and thus strike slavery at its roots.” “In general,” he said, “I think we are coming along very nicely in this country in an attempt to find a solution of the problem of race.”[iv]

Coming at the issue from the other end of the spectrum, Elder Nichol clearly shows a patience I do not have. When I encounter racism, as someone from the Caribbean, I'm not thinking: “Please, please accept me for the human being that I am — please!” Instead, I'm thinking: “What an uneducated idiot, for failing to recognize another human being for what they are!” (And by "uneducated" I'm not talking academic degrees or distinctions. Rather, I'm talking about a certain enlightenment, a certain elegance, a certain cultural sophistication, a certain decency, a certain je ne se quoi.

Has the Nichol strategy of quietism and gradualism worked after 57 years? In a powerful Spectrum article just over a year ago, Daniel Xisto, a white Adventist pastor, described the overt racial slurs and behavior he has witnessed among fellow Caucasian Adventist pastors and leaders over the years.

And he told what happened when he preached at a Virginia Adventist church, following that bloody 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — a rally that featured Neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches, and KKK members in their hoods. "I'm not ok because white supremacists, white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other domestic terrorist groups thought they could come into my town and cause my friends to fear." The moment that opening sentence left his lips, "several people in the congregation stood up and walked out…." At the end of the sermon (which was about unity in Christ), several church leaders made their objections known, and one elder later went to his home to emphasize that although no one at the church was a member of the KKK, almost everyone knew someone who was, and that, therefore, he ought not to preach that kind of sermon there again.[v]

I feel sure not many Adventist congregations would react that way. But the deeper question is: How many others might harbor silent sympathy for that response?

But in the wake of the George Floyd killing, Adventists have been making a lot of welcome noises. Former North American Division (NAD) President Dan Jackson issued a strong statement in early June.[vi] And Adventist Review has carried several solid pieces on racial justice. In addition, many Adventist pulpits have delivered muscular sermons on the subject — among them Loma Linda University Church, Oakwood University Church, Pioneer Memorial, Sligo, and many others. Like the Seabrook Adventist Church in Lanham, Maryland, whose (Hispanic) associate pastor Jimmy Muñoz preached two successive Sabbaths in July, wearing a "Black Lives Matter" t-shirt, with the same slogan draped behind him on a sofa.

But from certain important quarters of the church there is silence. And those of us who have watched this phenomenon over the years are well aware of a certain group of "concerned members," so to say, who have mastered the art of lying low and striking at just the opportune time. They don't mind seeing Blacks and other minorities in what might be called "supporting roles." But when it comes to filling the "highest" positions in the church, that's when they flex their muscle.  

In my memoir I tell a story that symbolizes the nexus of racism and money in the church. In the wake of Robert Folkenberg's resignation as General Conference president in February 1999, the committee finally came down to just two names, one Caucasian and the other African American. During a break before the vote, the NAD convened a meeting of its officers and union presidents to develop a coordinated strategy for the impending vote. "During the special confab, when it appeared that support was building for [Calvin] Rock's name, (then) NAD president Alfred C. McClure spoke up: 'There are wealthy people in the church,' he said, 'who will withhold their support if Rock becomes GC president.'"[vii] And we know the outcome.

Election time. That's when our true colors show. And the test going forward will be whether in the midst of election fever, all races and genders will have an equal chance. Many have noted, for example, the resistance to electing African American males to General Conference presidential spots, for fear of setting in motion risky scenarios of succession. How I dream of the day when the race or gender of people elected to these positions would be completely un-remarkable.

Thank God for our Adventist pioneers — people like Ellen G. White, James White, John Byington, Joseph and Prudence Bates, Charles M. Kinney, and a host of others — who "made protest against racial injustice inseparable from their Adventist faith."[viii] Their principled stance in defense of justice is why Black Americans remain in the Adventist Church today.

Signs of Hope

In his novel, Little Dorrit (about the bleak Marshalsea prison for debtors in 19th century London), Charles Dickens talks about something called “the Circumlocution Office” — the government agency responsible for processing citizens' requests for documents, papers, licenses, and the like. People would return again and again and again, only to be told to come back, or to apply to another office, or be given some other excuse. Dickens referred to the agency as “the burial ground of hope.”[ix]

And for decades following the Civil War in America, that was the plight of Blacks, as they were told to wait, to come back, to apply again, to try another place. Every form of subterfuge (in regard to jobs, and schools, and housing) was used to keep them in their place, and preserve that precious legacy of White privilege and entitlement.

But beginning in the 1960s, locked doors began creaking open, leading to the now well-known ebb and flow of progress and retrenchment, advancement and setbacks, for yet additional decades. Now it seems as if that tragic event in Minneapolis last Memorial Day has touched a nerve. In that gruesome, slow-motion murder of George Floyd, a line was crossed, putting centuries-old abuses of Blacks in bold relief, the graphic killing searing its way into the collective global consciousness. Millions took to the streets, the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, demanding justice. Demonstrations spanned the entire country and stretched around the world, to include improbable places like Wales, Bangkok, Turkey, Kraków in Warsaw, and Bulgaria.

I've been encouraged by the fervency and resiliency of the demonstrations. And by their multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-generational character. It all suggests a radical shift we've not seen before. To paraphrase Angela Davis, people are "no longer accepting the things they cannot change. They're changing the things they cannot accept." 

As Adventists, what should be our posture?

"Black Lives Matter"? Or "All Lives Matter"? It's the verbal Rorschach test of our times. "All Lives Matter" is a copout whose time has passed. "Black Lives Matter," an idea whose time has come, is the sentence a racist will not say.

But as Adventists, we must say it. It's an affirmation of the gospel. And it is present truth.


Notes & References:

[iv] Letter to Adams, Nov 26, 1963. In author's personal files.

[ix] I picked this up from watching the movie, Little Dorrit, so I don't have a book reference to give.


Roy Adams has served the Adventist Church as high school teacher, pastor, seminary professor and, until his retirement in November 2010, for 22 years as associate editor of Adventist Review/Adventist World. He lives in Maryland with his wife Celia.

Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10641

In sixth grade public schools my classmate named Russell was caught chewing gum - again. This time, Miss Hynes, told him to stay after school. He was not to go home until he had written, "I must not chew gum in class - 100 times - and he did write I MUST NOT CHEW GUM IN CLASS, standing at the board. Guess what, he was caught chewing gum again the very next day. Maybe if he had written it 200 times it would have made an impression, you think?

Black lives do matter, but bullying white people into saying it doesn’t solve the problem.


Yes Black lives do matter, but that doesn’t mean signing on to the “BLM” political movement.


This is a gross misrepresentation, and sadly, one needed to make the rubric that
“black lives matter” as the measure of “racist”.

This is not THE story of America.

To say it is so inserts the falsehood that “black lives don’t matter”-
something i feel strongly is a lie which I do not accept nor parrot.

If my life matters-I make it so. I refuse to give someone power over me such that unless they merely -and perhaps bullied into mindlessly do so-repeat this bumper snicker mantra that in so uttering it, my life magically matters.

I beg to vigorously differ, my life matters much more than that.


How can any American, let alone any SDA person, identify with with a self-acknowledged Marxist and Spiritist movement? Please do your homework before bringing into this forum mass media agenda PLEASE (yes redundant but necessary).


Roy, Thanks for the article. A few remarks, perhaps insignificant ones but they address some common themes. I’m ok with a Black GC president or even a Black Jesus because being Black doesn’t mean being a descendant or product of American slavery. There are Black people from Ethiopia or Kenya or numerous other places that would be fine. Not sure just why it is but there is something unique about slave descendants in America that sets them apart, not in a good way. Rather than load the page with anecdotes to make my point, I’ll just say that my view is shaped by my life experience in working/interacting with Black people, mostly American slave descendants but not all. The “not all” group mitigates my largely negative opinion of the Black community.

During the OJ trial, I would be in one part of Los Angeles in the morning,. The White people mostly agreed that OJ was guilty. In the afternoon, I’d head down to South Central where it was believed OJ “didn’t do it,” he was being framed by “white cops.” Both communities had access to the same news, saw the same slow speed chase, admired OJ’s athletic prowess and media personality but reached opposite conclusions.

The victim you described as “sleeping in his car” stole an officers taser and fired it at him, the victim "selling loose cigarettes " resisted arrest and required restraint, Mr. Floyd also resisted arrest and required restraint. I might mention Rodney King as well. I saw the unedited version of the video, not the one usually displayed for maximum effect. He also resisted arrest. Police normally do not just kill someone or beat them for no reason. I received the worst beating of my life from a [white] police officer. I deserved it, provoked it, brought it on myself. Thankfully a [Black] officer put a stop to it.

Racism in the church is a horrible thing, no doubt; however, members of the Black community choose to belong to a denomination with a failed [Black] prophet and an influential “prophetess” named White. Really, what do you expect?


If Black Lives mattered then All Lives would matter.


A slogan cannot by itself convey the complete underlying sentiment it embodies. “America First!” can mean it’s in a competition to “win” or “beat” every other country? In what ways and for what reasons? Or, it can mean that we should spend every $ we have for ourselves and ignore the rest of the world? Or that we should abandon NATO or any other alliance in which we are more helpful to them than they are to us?

“Black Lives Matter” needs a little “flesh” to express its deep anger and pain. For example, two different adjectives attached to it seem to me to “make all the difference.”

Black Lives “Only” Matter? or Black Lives “Also” Matter! Can we not see the huge difference here? That’s Roy Adams message, I believe.


I’d further suggest “If any lives don’t matter, no lives matter”

but right now this homegrown organic Golden Boy yellow
'mater~N~mayo sammich truly only matters…

‘Black Live Matter’ is a slogan that has been adopted by millions of people world wide to decry racism against black people. It is used by people of diverse political persuasion, religious belief and culture ninety nine percent of whom are not card carrying members of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a most appropriate slogan for addressing the bigotry that is evident in the USA and many other parts of the world. That’s why Seventh Day Adventist’s can and do use the phrase.


I’m jealous! I would love to have a really good home grown tomato to make a 'mater N mayo sammich. You must be from the south…if not, you sure sound like it!

Enjoy! :slightly_smiling_face:


Racists typically do not expressly declare that they are racists. Instead, they bob and weave, deflect, and make assertions that are pretextual. We see that this has occurred in this discussion, as follows:

a. People should not say that black lives matter, because that is “bullying.”
b. People should not say that black lives matter, because the assertion is an endorsement of Black Lives Matter.
c. People should not say that black lives matter, because my life matters irrespective of what people say.
d. People should not say that black lives matter, because to do so is to smuggle in the notion that we should support Marxism and Spiritualism.
e. People should not say that black lives matter, because I have had bad experiences with black people, black people are stupid (they acquitted OJ Simpson), the blacks who were killed acted badly and therefore deserved to be killed, and a failed prophet from the past was black.
f. People should not say that black lives matter, because the phrase can be nitpicked even though we all know what it means.

Everyone is free to utter additional pretextual assertions that can be added to this list.


I have always tried to be non racially biased, but all this rally around the Marxist radicals in BLM turns my stomach. We’re Martin Luther King alive I believe he would distance himself from this group. This group continually grabs at everything to drive a racial wedge between people. I’ve got no use for race baiters of any color. My mantra since kindergarten is “red and yellow, black and white all are precious in His sight.” I refuse to buy into this collective guilt trip that many are imposing on the rest of us. This continual carping has reached the level of pandering. The SDA Church has run into a ditch on the other side of road, trying to avoid the ditch on the wrong side of the road.


let’s not overlook the reality that racists are often self-deceived…they truly believe they aren’t racist…

i actually believe that almost all mind-sets represent forms of self-deception…self-deception is insidious…there’s no chance it can be discovered by the self-deceived…and there’s next to no chance that the rare individual who isn’t deceived can make a meaningful impact on a self-deceived individual or group…it’s a largely hopeless problem…


Martin Luther King, Jr. was also accused of being a Marxist radical, a communist.

Thank you for adding to my list of pretextual assertions: We should not say that black lives matter, because that saying causes a “collective guilt trip.”


I think you summed it up rather well!

“Everyone is free to utter additional pretextual assertions that can be added to this list.”


“We’re Martin Luther King alive I believe he would distance himself from this group.”

King was often accused of ‘communist’ ideas as a way to lessen his impact. Lets not rewrite history!
MLK - Marxist


One big danger I see in the blm movement and influence in the church is that when they use the word “racism” they only mean white on minority racism” . However, as Christians, our issue should be with all racism. You state blacks aren’t the only group to suffer racism in the US…and to ask Hispanics. Well, I’m Hispanic and sda and I can say that I’ve never felt hated, less than, dismissed, discriminated against or the victim of racism in the US or the church. I’ve no bad run-ins with police. however I have heard MANY Hispanics in my church make blanket stereotype comments about , whites, Asians, blacks etc. is it any less offensive if the comment is coming from a minority? In God’s eyes I’d say definitely not. Speaking only of white racism will lead to minorities being racist against white people. I see it in my youth at church…they make statements like, white people are racist, white people hate us, white people think they’re better than us. To have this opinion of an entire group is prejudice…and they feel perfectly justified in saying them. The biggest problem I have with blm is that they use Some bad experiences to make people believe it’s the norm and the #1 problem in the country…when as Christians, I hope we know it’s not.


Don’t forget the red onion with that matto and mayo sanish

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Even though I watched the video a few times, I still have not seen a Black person being executed or lynched. I saw a Black suspect refusing to cooperate with police in a lawful arrest. It so happens that Minnesota allows the type of restraint being used on Mr. Floyd in certain circumstances, even though many departments disallow it. It may turn out that what officer Chauvin did was legal and appropriate in the circumstances. The underlying health condition of Mr. Floyd, rather than Officer Chauvin’s methods, could well have been the problem.