Both your father and my father, Pastor Francisco Jimenez, practiced social assistance to the poor of their pastoral district in Chile; my father was a skilled carpenter who repaired furniture, doors and windows for poor families. But both and the other South American pastors did not bother to promote public policies or eliminate unjust laws that would solve the high rate of infant mortality, with malnutrition of children, the lack of drinking water and basic sanitation, the absence of primary medical services, and the lack of decent pensions for the elderly. This denominational indifference to social causes during the twentieth century stands in stark contrast to the public commitment that Adventist pioneers, particularly Ellen White, had. Pr Daniells, in 1915 said that in his writings, E. White “Nor is the social status of the human family lost sight of. Slavery, the caste system, unjust racial prejudices, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the unfortunate,—these all are set forth as unchristian and a serious menace to the wellbeing of the human race, and as evils which the church of Christ is appointed by her Lord to overthrow “. (Life Sketches of Ellen White. Pag 385.)
Church Adventism often interprets in a limited way what the Church Manual says “Even though we must stand apart from political and social strife, we should always, quietly and firmly, maintain an uncompromising stand for justice and right in civic affairs, along with full adherence to our religious convictions”. (Church Manual. Pag 144) . Adventists translate quietly, utter silence, and social strike, with self-referential indifferentism, and sanctified escapism (Jonathan Duffy. Pag 90.) https://absg.adventist.org/assets/public/files/lessons/2019/3Q/SE/PDFs/EAQ319_11.pdf .
Our parents attended social causes at levels 1 and 2 of the Four Levels of Community Services. https://nnsw.adventist.org.au/departments/adventist-community-services/ The challenges of social justice require that as a church we move to level 3 that declares “Some Adventists also work for “systemic (structural) change” (also known as advocacy), seeking to change the institutional policies and laws that encourage unjust or unhealthy conditions An example is efforts to impact laws that make housing affordable or work or living conditions more humane, or to help disadvantaged people gain access to resources and opportunities that will make their life better.”.
The Adventist silence in the face of social causes has done enormous damage to the image of the remnant people. For example, remember the horrible stain of white supremacism on Sister Lucy Byard in an Adventist hospital… https://adventistregionalministries.org/lucy-byard-1877-1943-her-end-helped-regional-conferences-to-begin-part-i/ Also, by not addressing social causes, the Adventist Church practiced apartheid in South Africa from 1948-1994. (Jeff Crocombe. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern Africa — Race Relations and Apartheid). The indifference to social affairs of the African Union and Division leaders allowed the local Hutu Adventist leadership to discriminate against Tutsi Adventists in Rwanda. The president of the Adventist Rwanda Mission, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, and his son Gérard, medical director for the adventist hospital, had encouraged hutus people to seek refuge at the hospital. Once they were there, they called Hutu militias to come in and “clean up the country. Three thousand people were brutally murdered on the compound of the Adventist hospital in Mugonero, on April 16, 1994, https://www.adventistreview.org/remembering-rwanda/2014-03-31-rwanda-20-years-later .
Closer to us we have seen the dark silence South American Adventism in the face of the serious abuses of human rights that occurred in the 70s in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Therefore, the words of Sister Yolanda Clarke, who on August 23, 1963, were with MLK on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial have great value. Now 90 years Clarke declared “we as Adventists are too withdrawn from what’s happening around us. We must change that. Jesus was among the people — that’s where His ministry was. And so we also need to be a part of what’s going on. That’s the only way our light will shine.” https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story2267-whos-that-adventist-woman-beside-martin-luther-king-jr
I think we should practice this, and what Pr J. Paulsen has preached to us “As a church—and individuals—we have not only the right, but the obligation, to be a moral voice in society; to speak clearly and eloquently on that which touches our core values. Human rights, religious freedom, public health, poverty, and injustice— these are some of the areas in which we have a God-given responsibility to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves.”. http://archives.adventistworld.org/images/issues/2007/may/2007-1005.pdf
To the initial question Does the church have a role in working for social justice ?. My answer is definitely yes, the church has a role to play. This is also officially recognized by the General Conference. “Seventh-day Adventists believe that actions to reduce poverty and its attendant injustices are an important part of Christian social responsibility. Working to reduce poverty and hunger means more than showing sympathy for the poor. It means advocating for public policy that offers justice and fairness to the poor, for their empowerment and human rights. It means sponsoring and participating in programs that address the causes of poverty and hunger, helping people to build sustainable lives.” Seventh-day Adventist Official Statement on Global Poverty, June 24, 2010. https://www.adventist.org/articles/global-poverty/ The problem we have is the presence of prejudices, fears and administrative barriers for its proper application.