Conversations


(Spectrumbot) #1

Whenever there is discussion about ending racially segregated conferences, there will inevitably be individuals wondering if that will mean having state conferences absorb the regional conferences. During one such conversation someone stated that, in his recent sermon on the topic, Dwight Nelson should have suggested state conferences being absorbed by regional conferences as a possible solution instead. I noted that there were already many prominent black ministers who have proposed that course before. But I half jokingly suggested that if Dwight were the one to publicly say so, it would probably gain more traction since the best way to popularize an idea is to have it be suggested by a privileged person. But I was only half joking.

This phenomenon is familiar to many women in male dominated workplaces: when women speak, even when they have a great idea, it can be totally ignored. Meanwhile, men in the same room speak and are heard. This is so commonplace that Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote a New York Times article on it (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/opinion/sunday/speaking-while-female.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad). As Jessica Bennett talked about in Time, when this interruption is accompanied by the co opting of ideas it's known as "bropropriation" (http://time.com/author/jessica-bennett/). Likewise, minorities can testify to the repeated “Columbusing” of various ideas, innovations, and inventions over centuries.

But it's unnecessary to go back too far in history. An excellent example of this took place right after the most recent Academy Awards. The media instantly grabbed hold of an image of white actor Chris Pine when he shed a single tear during a performance of Glory (http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/02/what_happened_when_a_handsome_white_actor_shed_a_tear_over_glory.html). Never mind the large numbers of people of color who actually performed in Glory. Forget about the countless people of color whose real life contributions were the basis for the movie's creation. It was the tear of a privileged white man that became the focus of attention.

Such tone deafness is also evident in the church. Just this February Nathan Davis, a white (or as he asserts, "colorless") student from Andrews, wrote an opinion piece in the student paper questioning the utility of Black History Month. Despite a myriad of critique decrying the author's obliviousness, there were those who credited him for at least "starting a conversation". In blatant disregard for the countless hours minorities have devoted to promoting awareness of racial concerns and social justice issues, some people don't consider a conversation to have been started until a white person says something.

We have had sermons preached and forums held and petitions signed in an attempt to racially unite our church in North America. Yet no action from the Division will truly bring unity if we can't even practice the art of simply acknowledging each other. Parts of our church are talking--and have been talking-- yet other parts haven't even been listening. Demanding that the Division provide a statement defining the usefulness of regional conferences or dismantle them when the individuals within those conferences have already thoroughly outlined their utility is, again, a statement that some people don't even recognize, or thoroughly value the opinions of their brothers and sisters of another ethnicity.

What good would it do to have a superficially united church structure while continuing to have such huge rifts in basic communication? Sure, we will look better to those outside of Adventism. There's no doubt that having racially separate conferences brings a lot of questions; it doesn't look good externally. However, as Jesus stated in Matthew 23, it is necessary to wash the inside of the cup instead of merely the outside. Having a whitewashed tomb of a denomination simply for the sake of appearances is hypocritical. We need to work on the internal issues first.

That responsibility belongs to all of us. Working with churches and pastors that have members who are ethnically different from us doesn't require any Division action. Entering into a genuine dialogue about ecclesiastical and evangelistic concerns of individuals of a variety of cultural backgrounds isn't just a good idea, it is essential to creating true and lasting unity. The single most powerful thing that can be done to heal our racial divide doesn't lie in the hands of administrators. It begins with validating the legitimacy of ideas and opinions and voices of our brothers and sisters regardless of the color of their skin. Conversations are already happening. Let's all join in: speaking and listening.

Courtney Ray is a pastor in Southern California Conference.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6729

(Kim Green) #2

I agree with this sentiment, Courtney…but for me who is old enough to have known, to have been born, when the desegregation in the US began, saw the first black female actress with her own show on TV, Equal Opportunity brought into the public market place, etc., I can honestly say that most of this was in fact “imposed” upon the American public. These changes were not wanted by most, and talked and fought against- but ultimately it was for the good of the American people.

Certainly there have been some negatives that came because of all these societal changes but most of it was for the better. A lot of the arguments that I have heard on this topic sound so familiar to me, much like those in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I still remain convinced that the SDA church needs to reform it’s racial-oriented structures so that there truly is only “one color”. It would not come without it’s struggles or failures, but I would hope that it would represent what God would want His church to look and act like. He is waiting…will the Adventist church answer?


(Elaine Nelson) #3

As the question of WO is scheduled to be introduced in San Antonio at the G.C., the analogy drawn in this essay is a perfect illustration of certain voices being unheard. Women for years have been speaking and writing of the inability of the leaders of the church to recognize that they have been denied the equality with their brothers for ordination since this church began. Yes, a small few have been ordained but compared to the entire numbers of men who have been so recognized it is infinitesimal.

When men in leadership positions are as enthusiastic supporters of WO and request equality with their sisters in the ministry, it will gain the church’s attention in asking “how much longer must women wait”?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

as one of my Black faculty colleagues remarked. Sunday remains the most segregated day of the week.


(Joselito Coo) #5

Demanding that the Division provide a statement defining the usefulness of regional conferences or dismantle them when the individuals within those conferences have already thoroughly outlined their utility is, again, a statement that some people don’t even recognize, or thoroughly value the opinions of their brothers and sisters of another ethnicity.

Courtney,
I see you’re a pastor in the Southern California Conference where, to my surprise, I found a modified form of ethnic regional segregation within the conference structure that has been in place for many years, long before I arrived in this country. Same is true in the rest of the Pacific Union Conference. Why? Any thoughts on its usefulness? BTW, though my name sounds feminine, I’m male, Filipino.


(Joe Erwin) #6

It is time to end the racial divides within all institutions, including the SDA church. It is time. It is long past time.

My guess is that injection of the spiritual style of “black” congregations into an integrated church would be an improvement over the rather moribund traditional style. Of course, the real barrier, the reason why it will never happen, is that the proportion of whites in the church is declining and there is a desperate effort to maintain control of the church and its resources.


#7

Maybe Sunday is the most segregated day. On Sabbath, the so called ‘white Adventist churches’ are relatively unsegregated, compared to the society at large. In my experience, next to the US military, they are the most diverse venues you can easily find in our country. My mainly non Adventist family frequently remarks on that, and credits the nice ethnic mixture of our church for the well adjusted attitude of our children, who are half preppy Northeasterner and half Jamaican. (My wife is the Jamaican - I am the ‘preppy’).
Unfortunately, the reason for the high diversity generally is that the ‘white’ population of our state seems impervious to the Gospel outreach of our denomination, no matter what we try. So we get a large number of ‘minority’ immigrant members, who form the backbone of our congregation.
On the other hand, the so called ‘regional Adventist churches’ are very segregated, being black only. This is not because white folks aren’t welcome, they just are not particularly a part of the mission orientation of these churches, often located in highly segregated neighborhoods.
These are the facts. How blacks and other minorities FEEL about their situation when in the non regional churches is a subjective matter. I dare not judge these feelings. So called "power’ jobs in the church organization are disproportionately held by “whites” still, but there has been a dramatic shift away from this in the last 15 years.
In the light of all this, I honestly feel the time has come to stop making our remnant people look unnecessarily bad. It demoralizes us, hides what is actually a remarkable strength of diversity and unity, and gives enemies ammunition to ignore our highly idealistic Gospel message.