Almost Compassionate: A Response to the GC’s Statement

I read the long awaited statement yesterday. As a matter of fact, I read it about five times. A colleague posted it on social media, and when I saw it, I was almost excited. But then, I actually read the title and knew immediately that it’d fall short. After reading it several times to be sure I was truly seeing it for what it was, I am disappointed (but not surprised) that we are, once again, falling woefully short of speaking directly and prophetically to the heart of pressing and painful issues. We are almost compassionate. Kinda concerned, but not overtly passionate. We care about oppression, injustice, suffering and pain, but not enough to take the bull by the horns when it involves issues that are uncomfortable for the dominant group.

We Thought It Would Never Come

The first person I called on election night in 2008 was my dad. I called with a certain swagger in my voice. It was because he had recently said to me that America would “never have an African American President” in his lifetime. When he committed suicide in 2011, one thing I reflected on was that he actually did get to see a Black President before he died. I understood the stance though. He grew up on the back end of the civil rights movement, and had witnessed terrible injustices against black people. He studied history in undergrad and graduate school, and was well-acquainted with the legacy of bigotry and racism in our country.

My dad believed that America’s racist past contrasted against the contemporary parleying and promoting of this ideal of a post-racial society. Yet, while simultaneously harboring hate and resentment of Black people, was indicative of a doublemindedness that wouldn’t allow authentic, wholistic, and systemic change. This is after all (as one of my favorite artists puts it), “America the land of the free, the home of the brave, built while breaking the backbone of the slaves.” It’s always been all doubletalk.

Some years ago, a few of my colleagues and I started attempting to apply pressure to the General Conference and Ted Wilson to make a statement concerning violence against unarmed Black people; especially at the hands of law enforcement. It was primarily on social media. There was no response. Several laypeople chimed in and echoed the sentiment. As the hashtags continued to mount, we kept prodding, hoping that the corporate body of our church would respond, or at least acknowledge the collective trauma and pain that the Black community was (and still is) experiencing. No response. 

I gave up. Several others gave up. Yet, we listened on several occasions as Ted Wilson gave lip service to insensitive ideas and perspectives that could be understood as bigoted, or possibly even racist. We assumed that this was the sentiment of the collective GC administration. Thus, we did not expect that such a statement would ever come. But then it finally came. Years late, and possibly because the groundswell has become too great. Yet, still, terribly lacking in several areas.

Almost Compassionate

When I read the statement, I felt like its author was winking at me. Not waving, or calling out to me, but rather simply winking annoyingly. There is no way to misconstrue why such a statement is necessary. Even the United Nations has acknowledged that America has an unmistakable crisis of police violence. Why is it so difficult for the church to name those who have been brutally murdered, especially by those who vowed to serve and protect? We applaud and celebrate the leadership of the North American Division for taking the lead in this regard. Yet, as the UN Human Rights Council has demonstrated, this is not just a local issue. These matters have global impact and universal implications. Yet, the General Conference statement fails to speak to the matter directly. 

I wish the authors had mentioned the names of the victims that were killed in senseless acts of violence. The lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the rest matter. There needs to be a specific, direct, and open acknowledgment of the wrong. When we say Black lives matter, we align ourselves with the specific crisis at hand. This helps us to identify the particular ailment and place of pain, so that we can move toward healing. Our statement hints at it. Not much more. Also, our statement hints at systemic racism and injustice, but doesn’t identify how it affects us (more-less how it’s manifested in the Adventist community) specifically. 

The statement leans in to terms like equality, diversity, peace, and reconciliation without acknowledging the barriers and obstacles that even the church has constructed to make such ideals so elusive. Frankly, it reads as if they are actually promoting assimilation, homogeneity, and more sickening melting pot frameworks that help thwart authentic cultural expressions and true diversity. 

Finally, there’s the apology. Have you ever had somebody tell you, “Sorry for any hurt that I may have caused”? Here is the GC version of that pitiful half-admission. “We apologize where in the past we may not have spoken or acted boldly enough on these matters.” Correction: You did not speak or act at all. And in your silence, you demonstrated your complicity, and embarrassed those of us who have family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who took note of the collective silence and inaction. It spoke volumes that we’re just not “with it.” The statement sounds almost compassionate, but ultimately hollow. Generic, nebulous statements don’t actually speak to anyone.

Speaking to Everybody and Nobody Simultaneously

The GC often seems to try to hide behind its responsibility to be inclusive in its response to suffering. There is always suffering all over the world, and our efforts to combat such suffering must be equitable. This begs a separate conversation, and there is some validity to the concept. However, there is a failure to speak to anyone when we consistently attempt to speak to everyone. We dilute the significance of the harm and trauma when we say that there are problems and suffering everywhere. It suggests that the harm is not fully recognized. There is no way to effectively capture all the injustices of the world in one statement, nor do we have to. Yet, by speaking to any one crisis specifically, we demonstrate our commitment to peace and justice globally.

There were multiple mentions of the first angel of Revelation 14. The text is often used to point to the globalization of proclamation, and with it, the equality of mankind. Yet, I believe that the methodology of the first angel is largely misunderstood. The angel is not simply blanketing the globe with the gospel message. In actuality, the angel translates and transposes the message to ensure everyone can hear and understand clearly. 

Look closely at how the work is accomplished. The angel strategically narrows the message of the gospel on several levels, from nation, to kindred, to tongue, and then, to the people. There is a more focused effort with each level that is mentioned. It goes to “every nation” and thus, to the masses. Yet, its impact is felt locally as it reaches every “people.” Notice though that it says that the angel goes to “every” single nation, suggesting that the angel understands that it wouldn’t be possible for everyone to receive the message all at once and in the same way. The nation (demos) is an inclusive term. It speaks to a large and expansive body. The “laos” is exclusive in that it is small and local. 

The angel narrows its focus from the nation to kindred (race or clan), to tongue (language group), to people (tribe or village). Again, the “laos” is a small group unlike the “demos.” If I wanted to give it a more loose and colloquial translation, I’d say that it’s like saying that the angel goes to every continent, country, state, county, city, and neighborhood. The issues and customs that will present opportunities and obstacles for receiving the gospel must be carefully considered in every context. Otherwise, what we end up with is muddled, muffled, and nebulous “statements” that really don’t say anything deeply meaningful to anybody. 

Praying for Change

I sat in on a virtual conference last night, wherein multiple presenters advocated for relevant, strategic, socially conscious ministry that is responsive to the issues that our people are facing on the front line. The presenters challenged the viewers to work tirelessly to address the pain and suffering of the people with compassionate, gospel-centered ministry. Just before that, I listened as a colleague preached about fervent prayer for change. I suppose in a lot of ways, I am a prisoner of hope. I am confident that there is no problem that God cannot empower us to solve. I am hopeful that we are committed to the task. Yet, I am also convinced that if it cannot be confessed, then it will never be corrected. Here’s to hoping for a proper confession.  

Christopher C. Thompson, D.Min., has authored and co-authored six books. He currently serves as Communication and Marketing Director for the Breath of Life Television Ministry and Adjunct Professor at Oakwood University.

Image by rawpixel.com

 

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10728
2 Likes

Dear Christopher C. Thompson:

Thanks for this excellent essay.

Of course, the General Conference doc is terrible. It’s also generic, timid, boilerplate, passionless, and lifeless. To reference my compadres from Hiero, it’s not causing storms in the underground.

Your mistake, perhaps, was to expect anything else from the government of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; e.g., a critique of white supremacy from a bureaucracy that can barely say racism; the word appears only once in their decree. (“Caste” appears five times. Maybe we accidentally got the Southern Asia Division’s copy.)

You should re-write the statement.

You, and about a hundred brothers and sisters should each draft your own vision of what the correctly-written version would say, then pin them all to the GC’s front door, like theses.

We owe white brethren thoughtful, blunt talk. We are owed tribute for our grievances, as the maltreated offspring of the enslaved, brutalized, and humiliated.

Do everything in love.

HA

Black Lives Really Don’t Matter if having a Black President or African American President in and of itself is sold as part of God’s Justice. Particularly, if that former President demonstrated that many lives did not matter to his Administration, that the majority of Black life in the US did not matter to him or that many poor white lives did not matter to him, or poor Hispanic Lives did not matter to him or that the lives of unborn babies did not matter to him. Black Lives really don’t matter if the First Black President demonstrated that many black lives overseas did not matter to him. Trying to justify Barack Obama’s presidency by referring to his identity alone, and ignoring the failures of his administration is a justification of wickedness and is neocolonial. Proverbs 18:5 is instructive, which says, “It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.”
There are some black leaders in other countries with majority black populations, some of them first black presidents, who were largely harmful to their populations, rather than helpful. What would be the use of celebrating them as the first black president of their countries, in order to whitewash their misdeeds, particularly, against their populations? Celebrating the First black president irrespective of the harm that the president has caused to the country, is using identity politics to silence legitimate criticism and to whitewash a poor record. There are some First Black Presidents of countries, who largely helped their countries and populaces. Yet, are they celebrated as much as Barack Obama? People are insisting that in order to be just and righteous, that one must say “Black Lives Matter” and align one’s self with this organization despite some of it’s ungodly paradigms. Yet these same people, show by their very actions, such as uncritically supporting former President Obama’s record or insisting that communities just vote without expecting much in return, or insisting that notions of justice be necessarily aligned with ungodly paradigms, that lives do not matter to them, whether they are Black Lives, White Lives, etc., etc. You can’t reduce Justice to the Black Lives Matter organization. It shows a lack of seriousness around justice to try to do so. The Bible verse Proverbs 28:5, “Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully” is instructive here. Being comfortable and content with the carnage of Former President Obama’s administration, the carnage that his administration rendered on lives here in the states and overseas, shows a lack of seriousness about justice. One can’t claim that one is fighting for the least of these, if one has an intolerance or mocks people who don’t subscribe to one’s point of view regarding the Biden or Obama record and one is dismissive of those to the left of one or the right of one, who don’t think Obama and Biden are effective leaders and who don’t support voting for them. This is not what Justice is about. A movement for “social justice” that is captured by a particular wing of a political party, in the case of much of the Adventist Church, the Obama/Biden wing of the Democratic party, can’t secure justice. One of the reasons is that it is simply importing much of the party platforms from this wing of the party into its movement. Justice can’t be reduced to a slogan such as “Black Lives Matter.” Justice can’t be reduced to symbolism. This is what Former President Obama offered; symbolism rather than largely good policy. God never tried to force Satan to love Him or sinners to love Him. You can’t demand that people say “Black Lives Matter” and that it is insufficient for you, if they deviate from the phrase and say, “We value Black Life” or “Black Lives are Important”, because they don’t want to be associated with this organization of BLM. Other people are not the subjects or minions of those in the SDA Church demanding that people must say “Black Lives Matter” or demanding that people must vote. Barack Obama prioritized certain social issues above basic issues of right to life, affordable healthcare, religious liberty, basic economic rights issues facing the majority of people in this country, including the poor and working class. There should never be this sort of creation of a zero sum game where people can’t even get the basic provisions, because a politician chooses to favor some constituencies over others. Race or Identity should never be used to justify wickedness. This is why notions of “race” and racism were created in the first place; they were created to justify wickedness, particularly slavery. The one-drop rule historically defined blackness in this country and asserted that any person with even one ancestor of black ancestry was black.

The truth is that the racism of the past is in the past. Some keep reviving it to make some feel oppressed and to use it as a political weapon. Our Constitution, with its corrections, gives us all freedoms regardless of skin color or ethnic origin. It is time that all realize that we all have the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and stop dwelling in the mud holes that prevent us from looking forward. Encourage our children and other young people to pursue education with a gusto, to prevent the public school education and the liberal media from clouding our minds with rebellion against our God and nation and the nations laws/order and liberties. We must realize that law enforcement gets into predicaments and their snap decisions can have terrible consequences. We must realize that some law enforcers have prejudice and many do not. We must realize that some that choose to live risky lives can find themselves resisting getting caught and find themselves on the wrong end of a firearm. This is the reality of truths that some will live or die with. The great words from Joshua are, “choose you this day whom you will serve” have great guidance for all. Great truths are found in Gods word. Dig into it! I encourage you, Christopher Thompson to take heart and be encouraged by God’s light rather than the darkness of this world. The darkness will kill your energy with discouragement, Satan’s favorite weapon.

Christopher Thompson, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and like you also reread the statement to make sure my first impression wasn’t mistaken. The message reminds me of the old joke about Microsoft Tech support which is that the information they give while accurate is total useless.

It just mentions that past wrongs occurred but doesn’t address them directly and forthrightly it voices these as if in passing. There is no recognition that real harm to cause of God has occurred and that resolute tangible action addressing the issues are needed. There is no hint of a call to reform followed by plans for mitigation. It is neither hot nor cold and leaves everyone with the impression that it is merely an expression of platitudes yet again.

This level of thinking is not consistent with our calling, brings further shame and continues to be a stumbling block.

3 Likes

AT Jones grandson once told me that the Church did not treat his grandfather very well too. This being true, perhaps there is more to this racism than just race? religious differences? Intolerance of varied opinions? Isn’t this the Church that exiled God’s prophet to Australia? And the church that voted not too long ago to NOT ordain women because they were not men? And isn’t it the church that is taking actions against individuals and conferences because they are bucking the leaderships’ narrow-mindedness?

Lip service goes a long way when it comes to talking the talk, but not so much when it comes to walking the walk.

I’d say, no, there isn’t more to racism than race, at all. Racism is race.

If your view is that the church treats all kinds of people badly, I’m sure that’s true.

However, racial classification is its own “treat them badly” column, or box to check, in addition to whatever you’ve done, for which you’re being penalized. It’s an accelerant.

HA

1 Like

Thanks, @truthisfreedom.

I don’t understand this.

You said:

Then you said

Well, our Constitution is in the past, too. It became effective March, 1789.

So, in your opinion, why is it active, and effective, but racism isn’t?

Are you saying that racism has stopped?

Well, if it has, how do you know this?

Who stopped it, and how did they do so?

And if it hasn’t stopped, why is it in the past?

Also, what about the effects, today, of racism in the past?

That is, the Revolutionary War is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

Thomas Jefferson’s presidency is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

The Civil War is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

Even Christopher Columbus’ voyage, here from Spain, is past. It happened long before any of the other events I’ve just mentioned. Yet, like them, it created effects we still experience today.

If so, why are past racism’s effects only in the past? What makes racism’s effects so unique, and different from everything else?

Plus, I noticed that this time, you said,

“…with its corrections….”

So, here’s another question: If the U.S. Constitution needed corrections, how do you know it doesn’t still need corrections, or won’t again?

I’d like to read your triumphant paragraph. But I seriously got stopped trying to understand the opening 2 1/2 sentences.

HA

4 Likes

Totally and entirely mis-construed. Does not apply to the subject they way your are inserting the statement.

“If the U.S. Constitution needed corrections, how do you know it doesn’t still need corrections, or won’t again?”

The Constitution with amendments currently gives all citizens equal rights and equal justice. However, the biggest room is the room for improvement. You might try reading the entire paragraph for complete understanding.
It is time that all realize that we all have the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and stop dwelling in the mud holes that prevent us from looking forward. Encourage our children and other young people to pursue education with a gusto, to prevent the public school education and the liberal media from clouding our minds with rebellion against our God and nation and the nations laws/order and liberties. We must realize that law enforcement gets into predicaments and their snap decisions can have terrible consequences. We must realize that some law enforcers have prejudice and many do not. We must realize that some that choose to live risky lives can find themselves resisting getting caught and find themselves on the wrong end of a firearm. This is the reality of truths that some will live or die with. The great words from Joshua are, “choose you this day whom you will serve” have great guidance for all. Great truths are found in Gods word. Dig into it! I encourage you, Christopher Thompson to take heart and be encouraged by God’s light rather than the darkness of this world. The darkness will kill your energy with discouragement, Satan’s favorite weapon.

Thanks, @truthisfreedom. I’m encouraged.

But you did not answer my main question. Maybe you missed it.

I’ll repeat it, and even expand on it.

When you answer it, I will truly be encouraged.

If you don’t answer it, it would be reasonable to think that, either:

a) you don’t know the answer, or

b) you do know the answer, but don’t want to tell me.

A white person who has useful information, but who doesn’t want to share it with a non-white person, is, by definition, a white supremacist.

I’m not saying that you are a white supremacist. I strongly suspect that you are a Christian, or at least trying to be one.

When you answer my questions, I will be ultra-encouraged.

You said:

Then, you said

Well, our Constitution is in the past, too. It became effective March, 1789.

So, in your opinion, why is it active, and effective, but racism (of the past) isn’t?

Are you saying that racism (of the past) has stopped?

Well, if it has, how do you know this?

Who stopped it, and how did they do so?

And if it hasn’t stopped, why is it in the past?

Also, what about the effects, happening today, of racism in the past?

Keep in mind, by the way, that racism of the past includes every racist act of which you and I have mutually heard. For example, the murder of George Floyd is racism of the past.

Think about it this way: The Revolutionary War is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

Thomas Jefferson’s presidency is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

The Civil War is past, but it created effects we still experience today.

Even Christopher Columbus’ voyage, here from Spain, is past. It happened long before any of the other events I’ve just mentioned. Yet, like them, it created effects we still experience today.

In fact, stepping back even further, most of what you may know about the God you claim you serve happened long before Christopher Columbus’ trips; nothing in the Bible is fresher than 1,900 years old; pre-racism.

Yet all those events created effects we still experience today.

Even well before anything in the Bible, the Big Bang, itself, happened 13.8 billion years ago. But, clearly, it created effects we still experience today.

If all these events happened so long ago, yet are still affecting things today, why are past racism’s effects only in the past? What makes racism’s effects so unique; so, pardon the pun, discriminatory; and so different from everything else?

If you really are the caring Christian you may be, and not a person who is really a racist, I’d appreciate hearing your responses to my pressing questions. I am at a loss for answers.

HA

The truth is that the racism of the past is in the past. Some keep reviving it to make some feel oppressed and to use it as a political weapon. Our Constitution, with its corrections, gives us all freedoms regardless of skin color or ethnic origin.

People still harm others, even though they should not and do not have the right to do so. Stealing is not a right but some still do it. Vandalism is not a right but some still do it. Disrespect is not a right but some still are disrespectful. Education is an opportunity but also a right in our nation, but not all take advantage of it. Utopia will not exist in this sinful world. Heaven will fill that void. Sin has not stopped yet. Vengeance has not stopped yet. Dishonesty has not stopped yet.

My great, great, grandparents have died. My grandparents have died. Whatever calamities they had to deal with I can learn from and bury. Onward I march doing the best I can rather than digging up bones, else wise I will live a life of constant burden, sorrow, anger, resentment and unhappiness.

I do not try to be a Christian. I am one, by choice.

Whether I am white or other color makes no difference. Whether you are white or other color makes no difference to me. Your eyes, your heart, your mind and your words do matter to me. Life is a gift that I thank God for, myself and others. A constant focus on racism will keep a person in the racist road of life and will likely keep them locked out of happiness.

1 Like

Thanks.

You declare this a truth, but you don’t prove it, despite repeated requests that you do. Indeed, I’d hold that you cannot. You merely say it, as though obvious, because it’s comfortable to do so.

Thus, you’d probably be surprised how many people would vehemently disagree with you.

Southern writer William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I’ll venture the subtleties of his declaration have already gone far past you. So, I hope that you have the power to keep shouting your opening statement, @truthisfreedom: I expect that you will have to do so a very long time.

This is unduly vague.

Ever since I pointed this out, you keep saying, “…with its corrections….”

Aren’t its corrections part of the document, however?

Why don’t you say, “our Constitution, with its ink”?

The Constitution is a faded document that a bunch of smart white men put together at the same time they kept enslaved people as property.

Were you to draft a document regulating “Love At Home,” doing so on your off-days from fist-beating your wife, your children would have good reason to line the python cage with your scribblings.

This is not to say that the U.S. Constitution, “…with its corrections….”, isn’t a brilliant piece of foundational legal work. It is.

It is also, though, merely paper. It is held together, not by God, gravity, or magic. It is held together by people with the capacity to see that the racism of the past is not in the past.

They can do so because millions of their co-Americans object to the racism of the present, and a thoughtful person would soon realize anything that exists probably just didn’t begin when they noticed it.

You truly could have left this out and missed almost nothing.

With all due and appropriate respect, this sounds uneducated. It reads like you don’t understand the contradiction of talking about the past as being merely the past, while following the dictates of a 2,000-year-old spiritual metatext.

There is deep irony afoot in your life, if these statements are true. (However, the same is certainly true for me, also. :slightly_smiling_face:)

Right.

I tend to give people who make such claims wide berth.

Typically, there’s more in the life of any person who says they are a Christian, that proves they are not, than that proves they are. Humility is required.

So, when asked if I’m a Christian, my standard response is, "I’m trying to become one."

I’d say this response is more credible—even if one is a fornicating, thieving, lying, blasphemous murderer, like me—than anyone saying they are one.

That is, unless they don’t take Christ seriously as the Son of God.

Only white people talk like this. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

An aside: The only white person I ever heard say something akin to this statement, where I believed it, was the great Freddie Mercury, Queen’s lead vocalist, on their 1985 rocker, “One Vision.”

Again, mostly white people talk like this, but they don’t mean it.

Few white people, saying this to a Black person, would stay where they live if, the next day, their state, neighborhood, town, or section of town, suddenly became 50% Black.

The term white flight was not invented because whether you are white or other color makes no difference to me, despite everybody vomiting up this cliché at a moment’s notice.

So, what do you do when, as it is for so many, those faculties have been shaped by past racism?

I want to deride this as “Hallmark card copy”…but I agree!

I’ll cancel five Sins. [insert CinemaSins retraction sound here]

Why do people, who have never experienced racism, feel so comfortable talking about it, and telling race victims how to live under it?

Would you answer this question, at least, @truthisfreedom?

It’d be like if I gave daily advice on cleaning and caring for one’s vulva. If you had one, you’d do well to ignore me, as well as wonder if this was merely a prank, or a grotesque act of mansplaining.

Time to make whitesplaining a bigger part of the global vocabulary.

HA

Our constitution is in the past?

Well, we’re teetering on the brink. Evidently, it never occurred to the framers to build in protection against a thoroughly corrupt mole in the White House, and a corruptible Senate. I get nightmares.

3 Likes

I agree that the statement from the General Conference is somewhat weak. In my opinion, the comment: "We apologize where in the past we may not have spoken or acted boldly enough on these matters.” is unacceptable and to some degree discredits the sincerity of the entire statement. One of the members of this great church died because she was refused treatment at one of its hospitals! Those responsible for the content of the GC statement should read Nehemiah chapter 9. That is how a nation should deal with its past and present wrongdoing.

1 Like

I am sorry to see that apparently a persecution already started for you… :roll_eyes: :innocent:

I can’t wait for Spectrum to post a new/revised GC Statement that includes “Women Discrimination.”

This topic was automatically closed after 7 days. New replies are no longer allowed.