Baltimore, Race, and Being...a Seventh-day Adventist Christian

(Spectrumbot) #1

I have tried to be silent about this. I have posted the popular posts on Facebook to show my support for equal justice, and tried not give too much opinion. But I have to say I am frustrated.

I can't find it in me to condemn the Baltimore riots. How can I condemn what's been the black Baltimore experience? How can I condemn the historic American response to injustice? There have been more than that young man who have died like that at the hands of the police in that city, in all cities, since MLK. While I am not advocating violence, how and why should a people, who are consistently viewed as the enemy and as subhuman, take any issue to the courts and expect justice when that very system has shown itself time and time again to not work justice for them? America, what would you have them do?

Historically, when the king of England was abusing the colonies, they rioted, went to war, won their freedom, and got their justice. The under-current of the average American "majority" mind is that all know there is a justified claim to violence, or is violence simply for whites who feel unjustly oppressed, or their college kids who are drunk or lost a basketball game?

The hypocrisy of media and law enforcement with drunk white kids rioting is realized in the fact that the destruction they cause is on par with the destruction caused during black riots, and yet at no time are they called animals, thugs, or anything else. This is because there is no threat to the social order when they riot. Their rioting is considered justified, or innocent fun to be guarded, corralled, and then ignored. If the things which consistently happen to people of color were happening to white people, the news outlets would be calling for riots and impeachment. Billy-bob and John-boy would come out in force with shotguns, Wall Street executives would behave like generals, and we would have immediate war. Whites would not be for peaceful protests, or legislative action, but for blood. Their history has demonstrated this time and time again here in America.

The only reason we are here right now is because of social media advancements, which have allowed the average person to film cops, so that the abused across the nation can see that there is no such thing as a one-time incident, and that they are not alone in their experience of abuse.

I served in the military with some honorable men, and yet even among them there were those who referred to me as a coon, laughed at racist jokes, and denigrated my music and culture while expecting me to join in and enjoy theirs. They saw nothing wrong with this, and those who didn't join in simply acted like it was something to be washed under the rug, not confronted. Confronting things like this would be like confronting that racist family member one loves, and so one turns the other cheek, and keeps some distance from that family member. But confront them? Challenge them? Incarcerate them? No, that is not American history.

I also acknowledge the numerous white people I know who fight for justice and equality: Reverend Aaron Maurice Saari , Mark Daniel Belda (RLTW), Matt Martin, Nicholas Miller , Ramona Reynolds Netto , Brad Kurlinski , to name a few. These are people I have worked with, whose open-mindedness and moral character I respect. There are many more who have shed blood to ensure freedom of speech, religion, and expression. The culture as whole, however, has demonstrated belief in a system that has consistently worked against people of color in this nation.

There have been sermons, there have been appeals, there have been lawsuits, and there have been calls for justice. These have done much visibly to stem the tide of abuse, but they clearly haven't done enough and can't do it all. Historically speaking, when whites felt abused, after their appeals, lawsuits, and calls for justice, this nation came into being when they took up arms and took justice.

There is the question of blacks policing black on black crime. I have no issue with that being discussed. I think my black community and people have largely failed on this, but the issue is far bigger.

We thought everything was fine after MLK, that the nation as a system and as individual peoples had turned a major corner on race relations, equality, and justice. Then we had jobs shifted to third-world dictatorships, while a war on drugs was declared before crack was even in the 'hood, resulting in the mass incarceration of black men for marijuana, from which white, middle class soccer moms can potentially make billions. We saw the creation of Planned Parenthood, and it was placed in our neighborhoods by people specifically interested in reducing the black population. The war on drugs paradoxically introduced more drugs to the black community than we actually had access to, by people interested in our eradication or re-enslavement.

During all this, we kept swallowing the pill that change, equality, and justice had come. As long as some of us could be born in the lower middle class we kept silent, while inner-city, lower class black youth and men have been continually hunted, framed, imprisoned and/or murdered. Our men and youth have turned to crime, and where have our intelligentsia been—the black minds who could have lead and made changes in the hood? In the suburbs, next to people who will move away when too many minorities move in, because the value of the land will depreciate. We have failed to build thriving black communities and failed to empower our own.

Not that this is entirely our fault, mind you. American whites haven't done a great job of policing their own either. The 20th century historical narrative is full of stories of black wealth and cities which have been attacked and taken by whites. Tulsa, Oklahoma is a classic example of this, a sin for which, to my knowledge, there have been no apologies, no reparations, and no justice.

Wall Street and Enron also come to mind. White America watched corporate gangsters escape on golden parachutes, and did nothing. A president lied to the public about the Iraq War, and White America did nothing; no calls for impeachment, no protests, no heated debates on Fox News. But President Obama calls for equal access to affordable health care, and American is up in arms about his ethnicity, his nationality, whether he is Islamic, a socialist or both. He receives blame for the state of the Union, not Congress for the lobbyists it allows to fill congressmen and women's pockets so that interest groups can continue to extract jobs and wealth from the white middle and lower classes. The narrative simply would prefer to think that all the jobs are going to Hispanics, and that if the blacks can stop asking for handouts the nation would return to its pristine Christian glory.

When was this "Christian glory"? When Native Americans were having their land stolen and their people massacred? When African-Americans were officially enslaved since the very early 1600's, then unofficially enslaved with black codes post-civil war, continually marginalized and towns destroyed, petty crimes garnering felonies and imprisonment, thus reintroducing slavery under a different name? When? When we imprisoned Japanese-Americans during WWII. When were we ever so great a Christian nation that our Christianity spoke demonstrably louder than our bigotry or capitalistic greed?

And what of my Church? Where have Adventists been on the social justice spectrum after the 19th century? We're mysteriously silent, culpable of riding the wave of bigotry while seeking to call people into God's "Remnant"; preaching a Three Angels' Message so narrowly imagined that it is laughably irrelevant to current issues; debating and arguing women's ordination (a conversation that is 50 years behind the issues of today), and a host of other things that we should have already handled, all in the name of keeping the Remnant "pure and holy," while having nothing to say to the suffering going on around us. Sure, there were black preachers who marched with King, but that was in the face of the North American Division instructing Adventists to not get involved.

Among Adventists, self-appointed pundits preach sermons of legalism and sexism, while defending a structure of ethnic separation birthed in nothing less than racism, refusing to acknowledge the sin that birthed it. The North American Division is as guilty of sin as the South African Division was during of Apartheid, Rwanda was during its genocide, and the German and Austrian Conferences were during Hitler. The difference is that those areas at least offered an apology formally and publicly for racism and ethnocentrism, while in good old American fashion, the West has simply sought to cover up such sin by defending the division based on the purposes of mission, and by accepting ethnically diverse churches within the white conferences as a show of diversity, while having no integrated leadership. Adventism has failed in this capacity, and done it on a global scale.

What of the Gospel? What of integrity? What of Agape? Christian America, with its capitalistic, elitist bent toward the ethnic majority, as well as the North American Division, must accept the fact that, while in the pursuit of comfort, ease, and the American way, they have asked people of color to be more Christian than they. "Let us be called Christian, but please carry this cross for us while we stay comfortable. Please stay in your economic place. Please don't ask for equality. Please don't point out injustice. Please let us keep viewing this as God's ordained design for us and you, and then once we have lived our lives to their materialistic fullness, please forgive us for our willful ignorance, injustice, silent culpability, and forgive us our transgressions, even as our mutual Father in heaven has forgiven yours."

I served my country, and would do it again with the exact same people. I grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where justice was valued. I am an Adventist from birth, and genuinely believe in our doctrines and mission. America is a great nation, when compared to others around the globe. But America and Adventism have been extreme let downs when compared to the high claims each makes about itself. When I compare institutions to the claims they make about themselves, the hypocrisy is more than is painfully palpable.

I am not passing judgment. I am sad. I hear calls for peace, and in my heart want to ask why. I hear calls for violence and want to ask why? We have had sermons...and here we are. Soon we will have blood...and then what?

I am afraid for my nation, I am afraid for my people (black, as well as white). The experiment of America has shown itself to follow the same path of all nations. We are no more holy than the next nation. America has lied to everyone. Justice is not blind, it looks out for its own. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a true Christian nation. There can only be Christian people. And to be Christian means to bleed. We cannot bleed for social change, because we have already done that in the 60's, and we are here. Christians will have to actually be Christian, walking away, if need be, from culture, nation, ethnic affiliation, fiscal security, and religion/denomination to solely follow Christ. The preaching of the Gospel is for heart change, and changed hearts change society. But the time for using the Gospel to fulfill the American dream is far spent. The Gospel is not fulfilled in the American dream, and the kingdom of God is not American. One cannot reform a system which is based ideologically and theologically in the superiority and inferiority of people groups. There can be no reformation of a broken system: there is only modification of the status quo, or all out revolt.

Christ alone is the Gospel. His is the only government which matters to the Christian. His love is the only currency by which we must navigate life, and if Christ is not living and going to return, then there is no resort but violence, no recourse but another American revolution, for there is none to save us.

J. A. O'Rourke is a husband, father, military veteran, and hospital chaplain. He resides in Orlando, Florida.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(le vieux) #2

How does destroying the property (and livelihood) of one’s neighbors address the problems in the city? When is anarchy ever a solution?

You’re not going to get an acceptable answer when you use code words like “social justice.” Too much baggage with that term.

The SDA Church was not called to jump on every social bandwagon that passes by. We were not called to right all the perceived social inequities that exist. Jesus certainly didn’t take on that task; neither did His apostles. But the principles of the gospel, when followed, will inevitably improve the lot of mankind, both rich and poor.

I’m not sure where you came up with that. I’ve never seen that attitude among the Adventists I know. This sounds like more of the same “victim mentality” that gets perpetuated by the likes of Al Sharpton, et. al.

(k_Lutz) #3

I truly comprehend these temporal sensitivities. Now that they are released, please read the balance of the article in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Trust The Process.

(le vieux) #4


Please be more specific. I don’t think I’ve heard a “legalistic” sermon in at least 45 years. And sexism? Come on. I’ve never heard a “sexist” sermon.

(Jared Wright) #5

Start here: Doug Batchelor’s 28 Fundamentalist Arguments Against Women Ministers

(le vieux) #6

Apparently you’re listening to the wrong news media. That’s exactly what we call those who vandalize and destroy property. I don’t care what color they are, or what their socioeconomic status is.

According to one interview with Black residents of Baltimore, this wasn’t about race, it was about a lousy police department. Why, with a Black Democratic mayor and police commissioner, are they having these problems? There’s more to this than race. Quit playing the race card. It solves nothing.

(le vieux) #7

I saw that sermon. It wasn’t sexist. It was based on Biblcical principles. Those who can’t stand the thought of male headship will naturally interpret it as sexist. That can’t be helped. You’re implying that all of us who are opposed to WO are sexist by default. I know plenty of women who happen to agree with Doug Batchelor. I guess they must be sexist as well, or can’t think for themselves.

(Jared Wright) #8

I’m sorry, where was the passage in Scripture that suggests women should not attend seminary because the root of the word is the same as that for semen?

The problems that O’Rourke outlines in this article are real, they are deep, and they require serious attention from the Church and from the nation. These issues are not local and they are not going away.

We’ve already passed the point at which the protests across our nation could be chalked up to “a lousy police department.” This is systemic.

(Carolyn Parsons) #9

I will remember this the next time you use coded language with baggage, it cuts both ways.

I think that this is a great example of what kind of nation we are now. A nation of white male privilege as long as the white males have the purse strings. Since white males do have the purse strings and wealth perpetuates itself, then they will always have hold of the purse. Unless we are serious about wealth inequality, the great elephant in the room. Wealth inequality which keeps blacks, especially black males, out of the economic mainstream.

Take a look at this report showing the wealth gap and other inequities that are maintained, and have even grown. It is sobering.

(Steve Mga) #10

I dont know about other places, such as Baltimore. But here in Macon [the school attended by the students in the community where we have had our tuesday afternoon tutoring program for the past 5 years] there is at least one elementary school that is predominately black that has had only a 50-60% passing rate of students taking the State Tests for the past 5 years.
That means unless these kids learn some place else [other than school] to read,write and do math, they will probably NOT be employable, or if so, will maintain a status of minimum wage jobs their lifetime. Which in turn leaves them at the bottom of the economic ladder their lifetime.
In at least the past 5 years that I have been aware [before I was oblivious and didnt know and didnt care] the City, County, and The State of Georgia have not turned this around, or been able to turn this around in this particular school.
Our Nation NEEDS an Educated Society to function. A Society that can Read, Write, Compute numbers. A Society that can Learn, that can Do. That can start their own successful businesses. And successful enough to employ more than just family members. Increasing the Minimum Wage is NOT going to benefit any person who is Un-employable. And our educational system in some areas are turning out an
Un-employable citizenry.
QUESTION-- WHY are Churches [Sabbath and Sunday keepers – maybe Friday keepers] all over American NOT teaching their members from Age 4 to Adult reading skills so they can at least READ the Bibles [Koran] they carry to church, or have sitting on a table at home? If they cant read the reading books in school, they certainly are not reading the Bible sitting at home.
THIS is where Seventh day Adventists NEED to be! If we are a so called “People of the Book”, WHY are we not opening up our churches to the communities and TEACHING community children and adults the ABILITY to Read the Book?
On the Internet there are Word Lists that children in different grades Have to Know. The ones we use go up to 5th grade [we dont have any Middle School kids in our program]. Churches could begin with those.
This is one answer to Pastor O’Rourke’s discussion. One way to begin to make a difference ALL OVER North America.
Isaiah says, “How beautiful the FEET -ugly feet,calloused feet, gnarly toes, dusty feet. – that bring good Tidings.” The Bible says, How can one know, if someone doesnt Tell. If the ONLY way a person can know the Bible is just through Auditory methods, how does one KNOW what they hear is Truth? It is ONLY be being a READER of the Bible that one can Know the Word of Truth.
Let us Rise Up, and TEACH, TEACH Reading!!!

Teaching READING is Doing TRUE JUSTICE!!

(George Tichy) #11

It’s statements like this that discourage me. Why is it that some guys (like yourself, obviously) have such a big problem with “social justice?” What is “coded” in those words anyway? Nothing is coded, it’s just that you are against social justice!

The only thing it tells me is that those against social justice are in favor of social injustice. Well…, this is commendable, isn’t it???
Is it also a Christian virtue now???

(George Tichy) #12

Pici, this is a serious discussion. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to make this kind of jokes when we discuss something so sensitive.

Well, on a second thought, it can be true…, if you haven’t been in church for the past 45 years!!!

(George Tichy) #13

I don’t know about you, but sure, any person who discriminates against women is a sexist. And time has come to eliminate this shameful practice (and belief) from our midst.

There is the SDAC. But is seems that soon some people will prefer to congregate in the SDAD club. (D-discriminators). If this is what it takes to purge the SDAC from discrimination against women, so be it!

(Elaine Nelson) #14

The Pope just this week spoke out very forcefully, even appearing angry which he condemned all those nations who still do not have equal pay for women. It took a costly, public lawsuit for the Adventist denomination to be forced to pay both men and women equally.

What will it take for this church to recognize the equality of women in all clerical positions?

More than a half century ago the women of Iceland went on strike demanding equal pay. The entire economy nearly stopped. Since then, it is one of the only nations that have equal pay and their world did not end. The Adventist church does not have clean hands in instituting social justice. Unless they first clean their own house they become hypocritical when calling for justice as Christ’s message: " I have come to free those in bondage and set the captives free."

(le vieux) #15

And so we’re back to the definition of “discrimination.” It’s easy to throw around derogatory labels: sexist, homophobe, racist, discriminator; but nearly impossible to refute the charges. Is God the Father discriminating against the Son, because He (the Son) takes a position which is subordinate to the Father? Is the school board discriminating against its members when it chooses a chairman? You can call it “discrimination” all you want, but it won’t stick. We have a difference of opinion as to the respective roles of men and women in the church, but using the term “discrimination” is neither accurate nor useful, nor does it facilitate constructive dialogue.

(le vieux) #16

Equal pay for equal work is not the same as the subject at hand. I don’t know anyone who is against that. I remember being shocked when I learned that female teachers were paid less than their male counterparts. That needed to be corrected, but it should never have involved a lawsuit. We have counsel against that, both from Paul and Ellen White.

Recognizing separate roles for men and women in the church does not deny equality, no matter how loud the protesters may claim otherwise.

(le vieux) #17

Oh, you’re equating “if you love Me, keep My commandments” with legalism. I get it.

(George Tichy) #18

Isn’t it a shame, Elaine, that there are so many men who just cannot take social justice? I can’t understand what happens in the brain of a man that believes that a woman cannot make the same money as he does for the same job. This is mind boggling.

Do they expect such kind of inequality to happen in Heaven (and new Earth) as well? If so, they should cancel their travel ticket immediately, because they would be miserable for the whole eternity having to live in a place where they won’t be able to discriminate against women!

(George Tichy) #19

Unfortunately, so far I haven’t found any other word in the English language that describes the facts we see better than “discrimination.” It is what it is.

(Carolyn Parsons) #20

Not discrimination: we all have the same opportunity to do the work that best suits our education, experience and hopes.

Discrimination: we all have the same opportunity, except for women. Women can’t do one job, and another job that depends on doing that one job.

I can’t think of a better word to describe it.