Can We At Least Do This?

Off-the-wall, unworkable first date #1:

Imagine a first date that goes like this. Fred and Sarah do not know each other very well at all. They met at a county fair at an outdoor concert, got chatting, and decided to do something together the following Sunday.

He picks her up at her apartment and they head to a restaurant downtown for dinner. Which one to choose? She likes Italian, he likes Mexican. They compromise on Chinese. So far so good. At the eatery, they order Spring Rolls, Fried Rice, and Chow Mein and engage in nervous small talk about the weather and displays at the fair.

After fifteen minutes, Fred says, “I’d like for us to get married.”

“What did you say?” Sarah inquires.

“Let’s get married,” he repeats a little slower and more distinctly, with an emphasis on the word “married” for clarity sake.

“You’re kidding right?” she replies, with an incredulous giggle.

“No, not at all. I think it’s the right thing to do. We were made for each other. It doesn’t need to be a big wedding. Maybe fifty or sixty people, outdoors in some garden.”

A pre-arranged violinist appears playing, “Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You” by George Benson.

Fred kneels down on one knee next to Sarah, pulls out a little box from his pocket and opens it. There is a sparkling diamond wedding ring inside. He holds it up to her and says, “Sarah, would you please marry me?”

She replies, “You’re nuts!” and rushes out of the place.

Much better, doable, first date #2:

The truth is that Sarah was abused by her former husband and went through a difficult divorce a number of years ago. She is just now trying to come out of her self-imposed shell and expand her circle of friends. So let’s not even call it a date. Just a get-together, an outing. No mention of marriage. Nothing but good food, an interesting chat, and a few laughs. Uplifting, fun, enjoyable. Period.

My point is to use these two fictional scenarios to try and address the relationship between State and Regional Conferences within Adventism. My experience has been that the conversation between State and Regional Conferences has been too much like dating option #1 above and not enough like option #2. Over the years there has been occasional talk regarding a possible merger. But that is like talking about marriage on a first date.

In marriage, the idea of a wedding is out of the question before there is a lengthy period of simply getting to know each other, understanding each other, and trusting one another. Likewise, any talk of merger between State and Regional Conferences is incredibly frightening because they do not really know each other well. Such talk causes people to run for the exits.

I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, aging, male who has no idea what it is like to be black in North America. But I am also a Christian Seventh-day Adventist who believes we can be friends. We can enrich each other’s lives, do interesting things together, and support one another.

In the past, African American Seventh-day Adventists suffered terrible prejudice and abuse from their white brethren in the church. “Racial discrimination was rife at SDA institutions.”1 For example, decades ago a critically ill African American woman was thrown out of an Adventist hospital because of her race and died soon thereafter in a non-SDA hospital nearby. Black girls were denied admittance to the Washington Sanitarium School of Nurses. And on and on. With such a history of abuse, is it any wonder that Regional Conference leaders are mistrustful and defensive?

Today, administrators from both State and Regional Conferences are certainly cordial and get along at meetings. But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as it goes. Have they spent time in each other’s offices? Have they ministered side by side? Have they had dinner together? Have they ever traveled together? Have they ever played golf together? Have they ever been invited to each other’s homes? Have they ever gone on a long walk together? Without building that basic friendship and trust, how can we possibly talk about something as momentous as merger?

It is my sense that Regional Conference leaders feel that mutual cooperation is a dangerous thing because it can lead to merger talk which, in their mind, could undo the big gains they have made from 1945 onward. That very palpable, understandable fear has to be addressed and assuaged before any deeper connection and collaboration can occur.

Because the topic of merger is so anxiety producing, I humbly suggest that we take that topic completely off the table. In order to break the current stalemate, we have to take the elephant of merger out of the room and lead him away into a distant country. Only by taking merger out of the equation in a very visible and convincing way can a safe path to deeper cooperation be opened.

One possible way to remove the elephant is for conference officers from each side to sign a “Pledge of Friendship and Goodwill” that might go something like this:

I pledge to only focus on being close Christian friends and ministering together.

I pledge to not take your land, buildings, equipment, or workers.

I pledge to not take away or diminish any of your power and authority.

I pledge to have no secret agendas.

I pledge to not manipulate you in any way.

I pledge to treat you like I wish to be treated.

If State and Regional Conference officers could take this pledge in front of their pastors and teachers it could go a long way toward opening up interactions between local congregations and schools. Maybe it could create an atmosphere where genuine, in-depth relationships will take root and grow. Maybe it could initiate a New Era of Cooperation free from the fear of people losing their jobs and losing control of resources and leadership opportunities.

For purists and ideologs who see such an approach as anathema, as a surrender of God’s ideals, as a sellout of Christian principles, I ask you, “How is the current situation working for you?”

Who knows where a decade or two of friendship and trust building will take us? At least it gives the Holy Spirit something to work with and no one can fully anticipate what amazing possibilities He might bring about.

By taking merger off the table, we could perhaps now focus on a whole host of other great reasons to get to know each other and minister more together at the leadership, congregational, and personal levels.

From my experience, it is often the case that a State Conference church does not even know that a Regional Conference congregation exists just a few streets down from them and vice versa. Each church plans its own evangelism separately. Each church plans its own health fair separately. Each church plans its own Vacation Bible School separately, etc.

I am a firm believer in small steps. So how about churches simply locating each other? How about the pastors and head elders from the Regional and State churches in the same town/city going out for breakfast together two or three times a year? How about a pulpit exchange? How about a combined choir for a holiday concert in the community? How about a church-wide potluck together at a park? How about the church boards participating together in a walk for charity? How about Pathfinder Clubs traveling together to camporees and tenting together? How about starting small groups made up of members from each church?

Can we at least do this?

I know that when it comes right down to the nitty gritty of initiating such change, many will say, “Why bother?” Well perhaps a New Era of Cooperation can come for the following important reasons:

*For the sake of helping our children and young people know how to value and navigate diversity.

*For the sake of our children who will grow up in a pluralistic society.

*For the sake of young people who are deciding whether or not their denomination has enough credibility regarding issues of justice and equality for them to support it and stay.

*For the sake of enriching church members’ lives by building new friendships with people in another SDA congregation nearby.

*For the sake of each congregation ministering to the spiritual and emotional needs of the other. Complimenting the weaknesses of one with the strengths of the other.

*For the sake of opening up new avenues of thought and understanding.

*For the sake of the community who would benefit greatly from coordinated ministry.

*For the sake of Christ.

My sister called earlier this week all excited. Her interest in our family ancestry lead to the discovery of a second cousin she never knew existed who lives in a neighboring town. “I’ve got to have lunch with her asap!” she exclaimed. Why can’t we be just as excited about meeting brothers and sisters in Christ who worship on the other side of town, with whom we already have so much in common?

It is always beneficial for two State churches in the same city to cooperate. It is also important for two Regional churches in the same area to cooperate as well. It is far more consequential, however, when State and Regional churches partner together because it sends a powerful message about racial harmony and equality.

In trying to get Regional and State churches to work together, it would be enormously helpful if conferences, unions, and the North American Division offered uniquely generous financial subsidies for projects that are pursued jointly, perhaps doubling or tripling the normal amount. Other types of creative incentives could also be developed in order to make ministering together an exciting, compelling, attractive, high-priority option. Such joint projects should then be widely publicized in order to hopefully spark an ever-widening movement.

Thankfully, some cooperative engagements are already occurring. In addition to those important initiatives, what church members, what pastors, what churches, what teachers, what conference presidents, what department heads, will step up and help move us forward even further?

In this season when we remember the birth of Christ, we can follow His example by becoming incarnated into the world of the State or Regional church and school nearby. In this season of new beginnings, we can chart a new course and bring joy to the Savior’s heart by singing and praying and sharing and serving and laughing heartily with fellow believers just down the road.

Notes & References:

Kim Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Further Reading:

North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Affirms Role of Regional Conferences, March 26, 2015

“The Dissolution of Regional Conferences: Another Perspective” by Donald L. Bedney II, March 20, 2017

“Two Nashville Pastors Bring Black and White Together” by Alita Byrd, February 16, 2018

A review of the book “Protest & Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity” by Calvin B. Rock. Reviewed by Danielle M. Barnard, June 28, 2018

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/10114
5 Likes

I almost passed over reading this, but I’m glad I decided to check it out. So refreshing, and on a topic that has simmered far too long, creating untold heartache both to generations of frustrated young people along with perpetuating the ache in the heart of God.
The suggestions offered here are practical and have great potential if the Spirit is allowed to bring us together in genuine humility and love. This is long overdue, and I want to thank you for this very thoughtful and well-written work.

4 Likes

Many unscrupulous things have been done in the name of Jesus, and this appeal is one of them. So many people over the centuries have fallen for the okie-doke. Now, as the demographics are shifting and the numbers of Whites in the NAD diminishing, there are voices from the State Conferences and a few within the Regional Conferences advocating for “unity.” Have White Adventists grown conscience all of a sudden? Has the imminent coming of the Lord inspired a fresh resolve to moral and ethical obligation? Has the image of divided racial structures become a public eyesore? While there is plenty of room and reason to question the motivations behind this appeal, the truth is that unlike the generation of the Babyboomers, this generation and a few of us progressive Babyboomers understand that until White people in North America begin to address their psycho and sociopathology, i.e., why they behave the way they behave and address their issues relative to non-White people and women (racism and sexism), there can be no unity because unity demands substantive psychological and social change. I mean, “hades,” we can’t even get past the music! In the White psyche, due primarily to transgenerational socialization, we (Black people) are less than human. Even the most well-meaning White people, good people, benevolent people, are not immune to the pervasive and insidious generational overlaying that fuels their implicit biases. So, Kim Allen Johnson (author), let’s begin with a little soul-searching. We know that you’re money and institutions are close enough to trouble for these pleas, suggestions, and appeals but you will not escape the consequences of your sins by appealing to the “Holy Spirit” this time. Your best bet is confession, repentance, therapy, and restitution, in that order.

4 Likes

My dear brother this statement is true of every person, belonging to every and any people group of any and every color.

6 Likes

except that this powerful message about racial harmony and equality may be misplaced…do we certainly know, given the god-directed dispersal at babel based on language, that led to different environments that produced the different human races, that it is god’s will for all of his followers to homogenize, and essentially force themselves to ignore very evident genetic differences that are expressed in everything from worship and music styles to diet and dress…perhaps the apostolic church’s sanctioned differences between jews and gentiles, causing paul to cite two valid gospels in Galatians, is something to consider, as are the several biblical references to the many and apparently separate and distinct “nations” praising god in heaven, e.g. Rev 7:9…

i’m not so sure that separate but equal and interactive doesn’t reflect the love and unity in diversity most adventists believe god represents and is calling us to…the notion that amalgamation of the races in the church as an ultimate goal represents the truth in adventism, even if we pretend effectively that that isn’t what we’re working towards, seems a bit limiting and limited…after-all, people, regardless of their race, should feel free to express their true selves, and that doesn’t appear to be possible in a constrictive melting pot…

2 Likes

I changed it up a little.

My point is to use these two fictional scenarios to try and address the relationship between unions with women and homosexual pastors and unions banning women and homosexual pastors within Adventism. My experience has been that the conversation between Conferences has been too much like dating option #1 above and not enough like option #2. Over the years there has been occasional talk regarding allowing women and homosexual pastors within Adventist. But that is like talking about marriage on a first date.

In marriage, the idea of a wedding is out of the question before there is a lengthy period of simply getting to know each other, understanding each other, and trusting one another. Likewise, any talk of allowing women and homosexual pastors worldwide is incredibly frightening because they do not really know each other well. Such talk causes people to run for the exits.

I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual, aging, male who has no idea what it is like to be a homosexual in North America. But I am also a Christian Seventh-day Adventist who believes we can be friends. We can enrich each other’s lives, do interesting things together, and support one another.

In the past, Homosexual Seventh-day Adventists suffered terrible prejudice and abuse from their heterosexual brethren in the church. “Sexual discrimination is rife at SDA institutions.”

Today, administrators from unions with women and homosexual pastors and those banning them, are certainly cordial and get along at meetings. But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as it goes. Have they spent time in each other’s offices? Have they ministered side by side? Have they had dinner together? Have they ever traveled together? Have they ever played golf together? Have they ever been invited to each other’s homes? Have they ever gone on a long walk together? Without building that basic friendship and trust, how can we possibly talk about something as momentous as merger?

One possible way to remove the elephant is for conference officers from each side to sign a “Pledge of Friendship and Goodwill” that might go something like this:

I pledge to only focus on being close Christian friends and ministering together.

I pledge to not take your land, buildings, equipment, or workers.

I pledge to not take away or diminish any of your power and authority.

I pledge to have no secret agendas.

I pledge to not manipulate you in any way.

I pledge to treat you like I wish to be treated.

If Union conference officers could take this pledge in front of their pastors and teachers it could go a long way toward opening up interactions between local congregations and schools. Maybe it could create an atmosphere where genuine, in-depth relationships will take root and grow. Maybe it could initiate a New Era of Cooperation free from the fear of people losing their jobs and losing control of resources and leadership opportunities.

For purists and ideologs who see such an approach as anathema, as a surrender of God’s ideals, as a sellout of Christian principles, I ask you, “How is the current situation working for you?”

Who knows where a decade or two of friendship and trust building will take us? At least it gives the Holy Spirit something to work with and no one can fully anticipate what amazing possibilities He might bring about.

*For the sake of helping our children and young people know how to value and navigate diversity.

*For the sake of our children who will grow up in a pluralistic society.

*For the sake of young people who are deciding whether or not their denomination has enough credibility regarding issues of justice and equality for them to support it and stay.

*For the sake of enriching church members’ lives by building new friendships with people in another SDA congregation nearby.

*For the sake of each congregation ministering to the spiritual and emotional needs of the other. Complimenting the weaknesses of one with the strengths of the other.

*For the sake of opening up new avenues of thought and understanding.

*For the sake of the community who would benefit greatly from coordinated ministry.

*For the sake of Christ.

Thankfully, some cooperative engagements are already occurring. In addition to those important initiatives, what church members, what pastors, what churches, what teachers, what conference presidents, what department heads, will step up and help move us forward even further?

4 Likes

this is certainly an interesting twist…personally, i see no real nexus between WO and LGBT outside of conservative fears and imaginations, but let’s talk about homosexuality, which certainly represents a barrier within adventism possibly greater than black-white race relations…

my own experience, and therefore belief, is that homosexuality is biologically mediated perversion that certainly is perversion, and therefore sinful, despite that biological mediation…but having said this, i don’t believe homosexuality, in its behavioural form, can be dealt with in our church like other behaviours that the bible testifies against…this is actually because of its biological, and highly personal, dimension, but also because of our social context, in which sexual orientation, and therefore expression, is widely perceived to be a civil right…while i think our official church must maintain our anti-LGBT position, simply because our calling is to maintain the bible regardless of where the chips fall, i don’t think this particular issue should be made a test of fellowship, baptism or ordination…in fact i believe the LGBT situation is precisely what jude meant when he taught “and of some have compassion, making a difference”, Jude 22, even when that position comes across as contradictory to purists…LGBT resolution has to be a personal quest and decision, and every point on that journey should be respected by the church, if and where it is known…

outside of sda kinship international, i don’t believe we have organizations, certainly not on the union or even conference level, that openly advocate for LGBT sexual expression…but i certainly support efforts by glendale city church, chico adventist church, and others, to fully accept and integrate LGBT members even while they keep those efforts under wraps…perhaps this is the most effective way to handle this issue…my own feeling is that open confrontation, where LGBT acceptance is forced or even urged onto the church, can only lead to polarization, disunity, upheaval and a certain split, and ultimately be counterproductive…even clamouring for “conversation”, and greater understanding, as if the impasse over homosexuality in our church is the mere result of unfamiliarity with the issues or persons involved, isn’t likely to succeed in my view…the situation with LGBT, unlike WO, involves clear biblical texts that cannot be controverted, even though it also involves a highly personal, biological experience within a culture that now recognizes sexual orientation and expression as a civil right…sledge hammer tactics, from either side, cannot be fruitful in such a situation…certainly finely chiseled sensitivity, thought and erring on the side of love and acceptance is the only approach that can harmonize with a full reading of scripture, which includes egw, in my view…

1 Like

Hi! To The New Martin Luther.
All I can say is this – What GREAT insight and challenge!
Other Denominations have been blessed by putting your posted
Ideas into action.
Many of their Local Congregations have been Blessed by putting
your Ideas into action, even though Headquarters was not ready.
To be able to post a sign in HUGE LETTERING. “All are welcome.
ALL means ALL.”
And when it comes time to elect Church Officers, selections are
selected from ALL of the membership.
PS – Baptisms are based on accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as
their Savior. THIS is the ONLY criteria for full Membership.

2 Likes

"Can we at least do this?"

One could only hope that as professing “Christians” that this would be the case. However, as long as the emphasis is upon the title of “Seventh Day Adventist”- there can only be division and self-seeking. Let’s pray that spiritual maturity will make greater awarenesses and inroads.

2 Likes

WOULD YOU HELP?

You are here, so I know you have some appreciation for Spectrum/Adventist Forum. Conversation Partners, please consider donating as 2019 draws to a close.

Spectrum will report from Indiana at the General Conference Worldwide Session in 2020. Spectrum will continue to provide a space online where people can discuss issues that have been ignored by the official Adventist news sources.

For $100, you can be a member and get the paper journal, which has different content than the website and features original art. https://spectrummagazine.org/store/membership

Or, consider donating any amount to support our efforts to provide community through conversation for people who care about a big view of God’s kingdom work. You might consider the authorization of a monthly donation. https://spectrummagazine.org/donate

On behalf of the board of Adventist Forum, I thank you for your partnership on this journey.

3 Likes

Thanks for your essay, Kim Johnson.

I like the way that @drdrjcc puts it: I expect that the conferences which resulted from American Adventist apartheid will remain as “a public eyesore” until Christ returns.

I see this unifying call as similar to the one for healing that Paul made, only to be met with God’s retort: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, KJV) The healing did not come, and, in this case, it won’t, either, because racism is a seductive and, thus, permanent part of white culture.

That “Black Protestant sermons are four times as long as those in US Catholic churches,” as The Guardian dryly noted, recently, is not even really the major obstacle. The major obstacle is that, if so-called state conferences wanted unity, and the regional conferences said, “Great! Dissolve your corporations. Then you, your members, and your property come into ours,” those white church members, like the rich young ruler, would go away sorrowful, for they have great possessions. (Matt. 19:22)

Finally, @DarrelL, you are correct: The “pervasive and insidious generational overlaying that fuels…implicit biases,” and of which @drdrjcc spoke, belong to every and any people group of any and every color.

However, it is only among white people that these tools are wielded by the power of white supremacy. Because racism dominates all relations between people, in the hands of racists, these cognitions acquire a surgical cutting edge.

HA

1 Like

Drdr, I’m curious if in this quote you are speaking to the author or universally to all white Adventists.

Your comment carries the tone that you do not ascribe any insight, honesty, sincerity or goodwill to any white Adventists. Am I reading that right?

I don’t pose these questions out of any antagonism. I desire insight and understanding.

What in the hell is that?? Where do you live my brother?

I should clarify that I am not questioning the “white Supremacy” exists. Just like anti Semitism and a thousand other stupid people or groups who have sick beliefs.

But what are we talking about exactly? Are you talking about “Institutional Racism,” if that still exists somewhere please let me know I will come and support you in whatever way I can. But please don’t talk to me about “mico aggressions” “subliminal” whatever.

I have promoted integrating all the conferences in our region and no one on either side seems to want that because of cultural differences relating to worship style and so on. I think the white churches need our black brothers and sisters because they might revive some of our lethargy.

1 Like

Thanks, @DarrelL.

I said:

You said:

In response:

White Supremacy =

(1) The direct or indirect subjugation of all “non-white” people by white people, for the basic purpose of “pleasing” and/or serving any or all “white” persons, at all times, in all places, in all areas of activity, including Economics, Education, Entertainment, Labor, Law, Politics, Religion, Sex, and War.

(2) The only functional Racism, in existence, among the people of the known universe, that is based on “color” and/or “anti-color” in the physical make-up or physical appearance of persons.

(3) Racism “for the sake of” Racism.

You said:

In response:

I live where white people dominate: Throughout the known universe.

HA

Thanks, @DarrelL.

You said:

In response:

I hold that white supremacy (racism) dominates relations between people throughout the known universe. So, of course, anything, that dominates, exists.

You said:

In response:

I agree that the White Supremacists have “sick beliefs.” But I am not talking about “anti Semitism,” or anything else, here.

You said:

In response:

See my response, above.

You said:

In response:

I don’t use the term, “Institutional Racism.”

“Institutions” are a) racists + b) their stuff; e.g., staplers, doors frames, file cabinets, chairs, tables, by-laws, membership rolls, artwork, etc.

“Stuff” cannot practice racism (white supremacy). Only white people can do that.

So, to say “institutional racism,” to me, is merely to engage in superfluities.

You said:

In response:

Great.

You can support me by eliminating the system of race (aka White Supremacy) throughout the known universe.

You said:

In response:

Thanks.

Why not?

That sounds like an exterminator who says, “I’ll exterminate your brown rats, but not your Norway rats.”

I’d think that either a) he has no expertise exterminating Norway rats, and/or, b) he benefits from the continued existence of Norway rats.

You said:

In response:

As I stated, above, that is probably the cosmetic issue, but not the dominant one.

You said:

In response:

Glad to be of service.

HA

that’s a bit rich, don’t you think, harry…i didn’t get the impression that darrel was asking for, or even thinking about, your servitude…

2 Likes

Quite some years ago a White Evangelist was telling our white
group the difference between
White congregations
Black congregations
This has to do when the congregation REALLY gets into what
the speaker is saying and paying attention.
He reported –
White congregations get Really Quiet.

A lot of Black Entertainers got their start in church. Singing in
the choir or groups. Playing the piano [Little Richard an SDA],
or another instrument.
Jazz is a black musical venue. Can be either on Stage or in Church.
Depending on the words.
Black congregations get “noisy” with verbal cues of “AMEN Brother”
“Preach It!” and ETC.
It can really “bug” a black preacher in a white congregation because
they respond Emotionally with Extreme Quiet.

Thanks, @vandieman.

@DarrelL said:

I said:

You said:

In response:

Excellent.

In his response, what do you see “Black brothers and sisters” getting out of the prescribed arrangement?

Like, what’s noted there, in the text, that I missed, beyond the experience of reviving white people out of their lethargy? What else did he say is in it for us?

HA

well, assuming darrel is correct, that white churches are lethargic, and blacks hold the answer, what blacks would get out of providing that answer is the satisfaction that they fixed something that was broken…

but personally, i don’t think darrel is quite correct…in my view, black churches are as lethargic as white churches…the main difference i see is that black churches operate on a much more intense, overt level of emotionality…but emotionality and spirituality aren’t synonymous…i actually think emotionality can effectively hide spiritual deficiency…the reality is that whites aren’t genetically programmed for the type of emotional effusiveness that comes naturally for many blacks, and so trying to bring more emotionality into white churches runs the risk of being a turn-off…

there isn’t anything else that you’ve missed…

but keep in mind that darrel was originally responding to drdrjcc’s characterization that white racism is essentially hopeless…i think darrel is spelling out where he thinks blacks can help whites, rather than the other way round, because he isn’t sensing, at all, that drdrjcc is open to the notion that whites have anything to offer blacks…because of this closed position articulated by drdrjcc, darrel is prevented from offering a more balanced picture…he can only talk about what an apparently aggrieved person on the receiving end of racism is able to hear…