Black Lives Matter — Adventist Voices

In light of the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter activism, we discuss the need for fewer sermons about forgiveness, the pros and cons of bias, and how Adventists for Social Justice is growing. Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is President of the Society for Black Neuropsychology and an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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Alexander Carpenter is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

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I’m stunned at the " the need for fewer sermons about forgivenes" in contrast to what Jesus says:

Matthew 6: 14, 15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Are you suggesting social justice is another way to God?

I think conversations like these are important, give people people a platform for discuss grievances, so I don’t want to be seem as a perpetual “BUT” in a conversation where racial socioeconomic issues are projected on police brutality and “white privilege” and covert racism as dominant causal factors.

But, at certain point in time, we have to begin having honest conversations on the broader issues of core problems as opposed to the symptoms.

I know it would seem like a shocking claim to make, but police brutality and racial profiling in 2020 America is a symptom of deeper causes, which rather directly point to the core issues that no one here seems to want to discuss honestly. All power to Courtney to attempt to alleviate the issues associated with racism and police brutality, but it would be sort of like blaming doctors for botching a cancer surgery. Yes, doctors shouldn’t kill people while attempting to save them, but at the same time it’s not a problem with the doctor, as much it is a problem with cancer. As a disclaimer, I don’t want to imply that Courtney doesn’t care about these issues, and perhaps the conversation was solely focused on police brutality, but it is a problem when underlying causal factors that feed into it as an effect are avoided.

And this is where a very healthy dose of good old-fashioned legalism actually could help us as Adventists when we begin to discuss the core issue as it relates to the broadest racial divide in poor black communities, although it’s a similar problem in poor white communities when we compare “poor apples to poor apples”. There’s a correlation link that could be made between virtually all issues associated with poverty and violence, which end up with a necessary patch of overpolicing and police brutality, and it’s an issue that no Adventist wants to touch with a 10 ft pole… the issue of 76% of black babies born to almost 70% of single black mothers.

This is a very uncomfortable issue to discuss, because it becomes extremely awkward for both black and white people who must have this conversation in order for any of these issues to be resolved, but it’s much easier and “more obvious” to discuss police brutality, “white privilege”, or much rare incidents of racism that today have army of lawyers who are waiting to deal with. So, it’s arguably not a case of systemic problem, since it’s not longer an explicit directive of the system.

On the other hand there is a problem where people brought up in these environments where problems seems to be perpetuated by systemic causes, and I can’t help but wonder about why it’s not integrated as some of the dominant concerns of the BLM movement from POV of how this problem gradually unravels? Count it be attributed to an effect of Slavery and Jim Crow? It doesn’t seem to be, since the numbers were not so immediately post-Jim Crow era. Is it a problem of drudge trade epidemic where a lot of young black men were sent to prison as per request from civil leaders for tougher policing requirements? Well, it doesn’t really explain these issues from sociological POV?

It would seem to me, that it could be an effect of Government jumping in and subsidizing single mothers, with constraints in which such support is withdrawn if such mothers are to be married. It’s very difficult to explain it from any other POV of constants that exist in people who get to make it out of these places.

I think we should sympathize and abstain from judgement in a sense that people in need will take the first available option on the table. But, we can’t pretend that these policies didn’t subsidize and are not still subsidizing the culture in which a vast majority of babies are born to single mothers, or essentially into a much more disadvantaged home environment that ends up perpetuating these issues.

So, should we be silent about all of this as Adventist Christians? Should we side with Courtney, who points to isolated incidents of police brutality as proverbial evidence that police is racist, and that there’s some ominous cloud of “white privilege” that exists, and which actually also seems to be present as “Asian Privilege”, or “Latino privilege”, and “East Indies privilege”, and even spread to people like Courtney who is a PHD professional after all? What was the difference? Why is “white privilege” so selective when it comes to only being racist against single black women and their children? Why hasn’t it stopped Courtney from achieving her goals?

So, can Black Lives Matter if we ignore these issues? Why would we keep treating them like these don’t matter when we constrain the focus to be that’s anything other than how children grow up in these neighborhoods, with a mindset that’s not very easy to undo in a future and which becomes very direct barrier to their success?

So, I suggest a different set of questions for Adventists when it comes to whether Black Lives really matter.

  1. How long are we going to ignore our role in providing some supplemental moral guidance in these communities that have enormous need for it? How long are we going to avoid empowering people who want to do something to remedy these issues as opposed to focus on issues of “white privilege” and overpolicing?

  2. How long are we going to siphon off resources from our local churches that could be directed towards these causes? How can we ever claim to care about “the world” when people in our own communities need us far more. Think about the effect for a generation of 77% of black babies growing up without a father figure, or with an intermittent one? I’m sure we can’t replace fathers completely, but can we even do something without getting proverbial “head-count” of converts? And no, I’m not talking about walking in with our high-horse of fundamentalist policing and decry teenage pregnancies. But are we really going to debate that unsupervised kids are going to do what “they are going to do”? What can we do to alleviate these issues?

  3. Why can’t we as churches adopt and help specific individuals in need and outsource these efforts? Why can’t we make it a consolidated systematic efforts and perhaps forego our evangelism series for a bit until we have something to show when it comes to our efforts to focus on some of these communities living in “perpetual disaster zone”? Can we as a church set the tone and do something about it?

I think there are much more creative people than I, who could come up with more creative opportunities for alleviating these issues… but how long are we going to pretend like the only viable subject of social justice is “checking our white privilege” and fighting police brutality with “Strongly-worded statements”? Are we really that uncreative, or perhaps we are so deluded that we think that more of the same is the answer, and that marching on the streets will get these people what they really need, and that no one will forget about all of this once the pre-election pandering will die down?

I don’t want to keep debating people about legitimacy of “white privilege” and police bruatality or 2020 covert racism as the dominant cause of problems that these communities have. I think it’s a waste of our collective time and effort and that’s somethin, because in some respect they are correct when we discuss isolated contexts where such charges would be accurate. But, I think these issues are beyond debates when I think we should be finding some common ground and doing something that both sides could agree to do as opposed to being divided on this?

So, could we agree that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and it’s a problem that people need our help with?

your analysis is detailed and interesting, as usual, but in this instance, i believe you’ve taken the wrong fork in the road…your implications and apparent conclusions are off the mark…

specifically, you don’t appear to be seeing that the reason black men haven’t risen to the role of fatherhood in such numbers is because they don’t feel valued enough to develop that responsibility…like the ubiquitous black on black crime in cities like chicago, fatherless families are a symptom, and not a primary driver that can be understood apart from the cause, which is systemic racism…black men, and blacks, in general, really have been experiencing a world that no-one else has had to experience…the police brutality we have witnessed of late is only a fleeting glimpse into that world, and of what has been going on, generally beneath the surface, for many, many decades, and possibly even centuries…

as things stand now, the ingredients for growing up with a positive self-image and sense of self-worth that can morph into what it takes to be a stable husband and transmitter of moral and cultural values to the next generation don’t exist with black men in many instances…these ingredients have been destroyed, or have never been allowed to develop, by the constant negativity emanating from a society that is systemically and pervasively racist - so systemic and pervasive, in fact, that intelligent people cannot detect it…it is literally part and parcel of everything people look at, and assume…that is, nothing contrasts sufficiently with the systemic racism in our world to reveal it…

so the answers to the problems caused by fatherless families don’t lie in fixing or intervening in fatherless families through yet another church program…it lies in addressing the cause of pervasive fatherless families, which again, is the systemic racism that black men encounter, not once or twice or several times, but perpetually…the fact that successful two-parent black families do exist isn’t evidence that systemic racism doesn’t exist, and that those blacks who don’t succeed don’t try hard enough…instead it’s evidence that the nobility and humanity of many blacks have risen to the surface despite the setbacks…but why should anyone be required to expend extraordinary effort, discipline and focus just to succeed in what others take for granted…too much is being asked and expected from black people in our world…they should be able to live without the drag of the negativity of systemic racism…they should be part of the same level playing field as everyone else…

I disagree with you in a sense that systemic racism was much more prevalent, and much more demoralizing prior to 60s, and the rate of fatherlessness in black community was less than in the white one. The poverty rate was also smaller.

What changed since then? If you think that systemic racism today is worse than systemic racism at 1950, then we can’t have an intelligent conversation rooted in facts. In 1950 black people were rather openly brutalized and demoralized. There were explicit laws that not only allowed, but actually structured such discrimination. These laws, along with mindset were gradually diminishing all up until today in which racism is actually viewed and is taught as immoral.

It doesn’t mean that you are correct in certain issues of cover racism as a certain prevalent problem of self-image, especially as it is portrayed by the media which is re-projected and consumed by US as a while in pop music and TV. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but it’s not a problem that began with such massive portrayal of black community by the white propaganda in the US, and it wasn’t the image that was accepted as a cultural norm by poor black communities. The normalization of a typical image of “black criminal” which is celebrated in black communities today as a symbol of ironic power, would be unthinkable for black communities in 40 and 50s.

But, beyond that, we can statistically trace the time when when the tendency of black fatherlessness began to take off:

So, you can see that the tendency loosely corelates with a less sharper uncrease in the same tendency in white population, and it starts about mid-60s. What happened in mid-60?

What changed was Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty in 1964. It’s not some shallow analysis on my end. It’s actually a very prevalent analysis in libertarian and conservative circles of the black academia and think-tanks like project21, for example.

So, what demoralized black men was something different, and again, it’s not just my opinion. Men were simply not needed in a sense that subsidies diminished their role as a provider. And that trend isn’t something unique to black family, but is quite prevalent across the board, even in egalitarian countries. For you as someone who understands the context of this through the lens of something like Adventist traditionalism, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

So, again, it’s not a uniquely black problem in America. Poor whites have just as much of a problem with single motherhood and absentee fatherlessness, but traditionally there is a competitive cultural pressure that templates certain kind of behavior and associates it with success and failure.

In poor black communities such culture now hangs on different concepts that at times are rooted in facade more than these are rooted in reality, and that’s be why we find a phenomenon of poor people in these population segments spending more on luxury items than middle-class Americans of any race do.

But, back to single motherhood rate, the role of a father or lack of it tends to ride along with perceived need for a father as a provider, which the war on poverty has removed and replaced with government subsidies. There’s a more nuanced history behind it, but it’s very difficult to miss the fact that fatherlessness rate increase in black community in the US corellates with inception of the eventually failed war on poverty.

You structure a context in which any viable statistical correlation of causal factors that lead to success are demoted to rather vague and omnious ghosts of “nobility” vs “systemic racism”.

Words have meaning. For systemic racism to exist you have to be able to point at laws that enable it. Such laws are not there, and the opposite is the case. There’s an army of lawyers who make a very good salary using the anti-discrimination and hate crime laws to hunt down any context of systemic racism.

The racism that exists as a bias is by definition isn’t systemic, but individual and personal. You may argue that such racism translates to how black people are treated as a whole, but statistics simply doesn’t reflect that when it comes to certain things in which racism becomes rather inconsistent and dissonant… with racism. So, there’s constant rationalization why our culture is racist because of few single-dimentional corelations, while rather inexplicably it stops being racist in a case when it comes to something like pop music, for example… which is dominated by black producers and performers. Or it stops being racist when it elects a black president. And it stops being racist when it overwhelmingly stands and marches against any racist expression at any corner. It stops being racist when we find black men and women at prominent positions. But it is still systemically racist when black men with extensive criminal history are killed by police, which in case of armed killing is so rare that it would be in the 5% range of over 5000 black people who die in traffic accidents.

So, think about it comparatively. Even an armed black criminals are 20x more likely to die in a car crash than they would die during police apprehension. If they are unarmed, then that rate is multiplied by 10. So, unarmed black men are 200x more likely to die in a car crash than they are during police apprehension.

It would seem to me that car accidents are much more brutal to black people than police who tries to mitigate these. When we get to things like heart disease, the numbers are so far beyond compare that any viable comparison devolves to absurdity.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about police mishandling of authority. But to paint police brutality as “the problem” on which to hang the “demonstrable systemic racism” is absurd, given that there isn’t significant statistical disparity when we compare broader context of more frequent black crime, and thus much more frequent black criminal encounters with police. This context seems to evade conversations like this one.

First of all, you are actually injecting something that in psychology is well known as “learned helplessness” into this debate as an excuse for certain behavior that you seem to justify as normal. Overtime we actually found that “learned helplessness” concept is inverted. Independence, competence, and assertiveness is learned. Helplessness is default. Hence, in any civilized culture… excusing any responsibility to negate developmental competence because of whatever challenging factors will prove to be disastrous. And that’s especially true in the age where a smart phone in your hands opens up a world of unimaginable access to information.

Given your history, it should surprise you to know that ethnic marginalization and discrimination isn’t that rare around the world. Yet, it doesn’t absolve the marginalized populations from moral responsibility… of things like being a supportive father to a child. Yes, it makes it more difficult and challenging, but it doesn’t absolve that responsibility. Likewise, I’m surprised to find that viewpoint coming from you, but perhaps I misunderstand the nuances you see in these scenarios. An absentee father is an absentee father. There isn’t a white man standing with a gun forcing people to have sex and then abandon these women once they have children. That wasn’t the case prior to 60s, so again… what has changed?

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I don’t think that church program will resolve this issue in a span of single generation. I’m not naive, but a church program can allow a chance for black kids in these inner-city communities to broaden their outlook on what it means to be a person in a scope of personal empowerment that lies through learned competence… which in turn increases confidence, and leads to empowerment. And we are not talking about feeling of empowerment that runs through some movement that externalizes and absolves personal responsibility, and hangs it on ominous concepts like “white privilege”, but rather it allows the kids to get to privileged position in society by becoming valuable producers that are in demand, and who would be capable to run businesses and manage their families.

From my personal experience… it doesn’t take a lot in context of resources. But, it does take time to cultivate interest and provide ongoing reminders that one can do whatever they want if they put in adequate time.

The idea that none of that matters because police kills 20 unarmed black people is absurd. And the idea that police will throw you in jail for being merely being black is equally absurd.

There’s a very simple way to avoid police issues… don’t break the law. If you are going to argue that it’s harder to to for poor people, then we can’t have an intelligent conversation about moral context on which any society depends on. Yes, there are more police profiling issues that need to be addressed, but we likewise have to figure out at to where the line is between asking police to prevent crimes in neighborhoods where crime breaks down along certain racial lines, and which margin for error these neighborhoods are willing to accept when it comes to reality of certain policing tactics and procedures.

But, I think it would be rather naive to think that if we eliminate racism and pice issues then black fathers would be automatically more present in their families. Again, it’s more an issue with biological gender roles and negation of these as integrated culture, than it is about anything else IMO.

For example, the former USSR had similar issues, with over 70% of all marriages ending in divorce in a span of 10 years, and single motherhood rates skyrocketed simply because State became the proverbial father and provider. No racism necessary.’s,Moskovskaya%20Pravda%20newspaper%20said%20Sunday.

Same issue with Sweden, where immigrant women tend to divorce because of the social net that allows independence from the “male nonsense”.

these are interesting statistics…do you have printed evidence…

but assuming the validity of your statistics, i think one thing to consider is the fact that the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th to early 20th centuries, leading into the civil rights mvt of the 40’s through 60’s, and due to their overt nature, may have promoted a strong black collectivism that found expression in family, church and business life, whereas the post-civil rights era, up to now, while egalitarian on the surface, may have replaced some of that earlier collectivism with an individualistic isolationism precisely because racism now may be more subterranean, and therefore more sinister…i have heard some black commenters say that this actually is the case…

of course the gorilla in this room - outside of adventism’s own ben carson, who may now have succumbed to Trump Rearrangement Syndrome - is the fact that i haven’t heard any blacks say there isn’t systemic racism in existence in every aspect of society…this is a stunning indictment…certainly some kind of plurality among black commenters, saying there isn’t systemic racism, or that it isn’t as pervasive, would be expected if there really weren’t systemic racism, or if it were marginal, or isolated…i think we have to assign weight, and precedence, to what people who stand to suffer the effects of racism are saying, when considering racism…for a white person to say there is no systemic racism now isn’t meaningful…likely they wouldn’t be tuning into anything beneath the surface, and so it wouldn’t be surprising if they didn’t detect something that isn’t blazoned in neon lights right in front of them…

and if it is the case that LBJ’s war on poverty in the '60’s inadvertently obviated the traditional role of men, the fact that it has disproportionately impacted black men is evidence that a different dynamic operating among blacks than whites, that reinforced that effect, really has been in existence…gee, i wonder what that different dynamic could be…

no-one’s saying that a church program can’t be beneficial, and that because it can’t be expected to solve a problem completely, it shouldn’t be initiated…but i think what we’ve been seeing on city streets all over the world, in the wake of the floyd murder, goes well beyond any feel-good, stopgap measures that have undoubtedly been tried before…it does seem as though society now needs a major, top-down overhaul of its understanding and treatment of its black populations if progress, on any front, is going to be meaningful…if this is the case, denying the existence of systemic racism, as you are doing, isn’t part of any useful answer…

Re-reading I think I rushed into the last claim. To reiterate with correction:

1 . Racism was worse prior to 60s. There’s a mountain of evidence to that, so I think it should be common knowledge by now. I hope you are not disputing that it was.

  1. Single parenthood seems to gradually increase in black communities since war on poverty. There are various and more precise stats consolidated as of late:
  1. Rate of poverty was not lower in black population than it is today, although we can argue that the “War on Poverty” may have had unintended consequences in black community.

I think the overall trajectory of people in the US went from more community-oriented being to more individualistic existence. I’m sure that it may have fed some of these issues of community-driven support that make marriages stronger, especially when it comes to societal expectations. But, I’m not really sure that it would prevent people in black communities from getting married and staying married, given that there are intensives for marriage that are built into US system.

You would have to make a very good case that “subterranean racism” is more sinister than Jim Crow in its outcome, especially as it relates to legal opportunities. Likewise, you would have to make a very good case that such form of racism is widespread as it relates to day to day life of a person in a way that would make one’s success in the US substantially more difficult. I’m not really sure you can invoke it as a default claim that we can merely assume.

First of all, I have to point out that referring to Carson as a “gorilla in the room” would have most of white people fired, or crafting a very long apology letters… so I should note why your claim is rather ironic.

Secondly, what’s Trump got to do with it? He’s a political opportunist, and he hasn’t been 4 full years in the office yet and collected enormous amount of vitriol on either side, largely because he wasn’t particularly likable by many even prior him running, largely due to his abrasive “no filter” personality that’s equally directed at allies and political opponents. Lest we forget the infamous “belt buckle” issue, among some… when Carson was in Trump’s sights, and Trump was in Carson’s. At certain point in time you have to separate circus of politics from reality. So, no there is no proverbial gorilla, unless you are implying, like Joe Biden, that black people should vote against Trump?

Third, I’m not sure that everyone understands “systemic racism” the same way, especially when it comes to provide more than a “conspiracy theory-like” claim by which one isn’t referring to anything in particular other than citing cherry-picked disparity stats, and bundles these together as evidence for whatever one formulates systemic racism to be.

NBA, for example, on average is 75% black. What does it tell us? Should it tell us that black people are better basketball players? Well, I can’t tell you how many people I know lament that stereotype as some proverbial expectation cast on surprise when someone with high-amount of melanin doesn’t even know how to dribble.

The point-being, mere statistical concentration of something doesn’t necessarily correlates with anything other than extremes that doesn’t correlate to certain mean. On average, black and white basketball players are about equal in talent and athleticism. But, when we get to statistical extremes in which we select for specific style of the game, there is a vast statistical disparity at those extremes, with various hidden factors which may have nothing to do with “genetic superiority” claims that some people make.

Now, let’s discuss systemic racism in that context. Generally, we either get isolated anecdotes, cherry-picked stats, or consensus by feeling that actually provides neither. It becomes a claim of a narrative that merely references some racial system elements like segregation laws and redlining practices that are arguably no longer there. It references the disparity in sentencing for drug offenses, ignoring that leaders in these communities demanded these. It references isolated incidents by police, which statistically happen on both sides, and have to be contextualized against frequency of police encounters in certain neighborhoods where crime is higher.

In fact, I still have not really got any viable answer from anyone as to proof that the case of George Floyd was a case of police racism, and not police criminal negligence. Are we just going to assume that’s the case? Is it the case where any black person dying at the hand of white person becomes a case of racism? It’s very difficult for me personally to honestly parse these incidents through the lens of systemic racism cast as an assumption. Scientifically, it’s problematic.

As far as no black people saying that there isn’t systemic racism… there are plenty. You may not seeing them largely because there’s a tidal wave of self-flaggelation on behalf of corporate media that tends to drown their voices:

First of all, you can’t historically draw this breakdown along racial lines in the past, and then project it on the present as though “white people” 50 years ago are the very same “white people” now. I was not here 50 years ago, and neither were my ancestors. So, what are we really discussing here? Are you really thinking that consolidation of guilt and victim-hood along the lines of color with specific cherry-picked socio-economic parameters is a viable context for justice?

So, a person who immigrated to the US 10 years ago, all of a sudden viable for American racism because of his skin color? You don’t see that as ironically racist?

So, we are not discussing “social justice”. We are discussing political identity games that project anything and everything on singular causes, and there’s a tendency to avoid breaking it down to individuals, because these causes are said to exist as some “system” that’s invisible at the individual level. You don’t see how this is a pseudo-religious language and concepts that will arguably never fix things, because they are not aiming at fixing specific things. These are simply hunting ghosts and witches, with similar tests for what a witch is, in which case, whether one is a witch or not makes very little difference… since statistically… they are a witch.

I don’t think all of this is about BLM or George Floyd. That’s why BLM is jam packed with overlapping political ideology that communicates to wide cross-section of class-related frustration globally. I’ve shown you Communist marching under BLM flag around the globe with next to no black people in their ranks. European black population is 2%, and it’s not evenly distributed. In Germany it’s 1%. In Sweden, it’s even less.

They are not all marching for the same things. Some simply want this particular system to end, because they have mountains of debt they want to reset, and that frustration spills into generic anger that BLM happened to lead as a marching band which plays “we don’t like this” anthem of various instruments.

But, in the end, facts matter. Was George Floyd killed because he was black? Maybe, maybe not. But we don’t decide that by projecting ominous feelings and consensus of these ominous feelings. That’s not how justice works, and that’s not what justice is.

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