Lake Union Conference Says Racism Led to Regional Conference, Formally Apologizes

During a ceremony celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Lake Region Conference (one of five conferences that make up the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota), Lake Union president Don Livesay shared a statement of apology for racism that led to the creation of Lake Region Conferences in the 1940's.

Reading prepared remarks, Livesay, who was flanked by executive secretary Gary Thurber, treasurer Glynn Scott, and general vice-president Carmelo Mercado, recounted three reasons the Seventh-day Adventist Church changed its approach to ministering in the Black community in the mid-1940's, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Lake Region Conference within the Lake Union. The first was mission—including the beliefthat Black individuals could work more effectively in the Black community than couldwhite individuals. The second reason, Livesay said, was the idea that the Lake Region Conference would advance leadership opportunities for Blacks within the Adventist Church. However, Livesay acknowledged that racism was a third, significant reason that the Lake Region Conference was created:

A simple, honest look at the segregated Church of the past, the segregated General Conference cafeteria, the Negro Department of the General Conference that was first directed by White men, the segregated hospitals that we know led to the death of Lucy Byard, the dismissive attitudes and actions… These and more issues were also major contributors to the establishment of the Regional work. That look, that review and recalling of history, takes a simple heartbeat in time for us to recognize the Church failed the Black community, specifically the many loyal pastors, teachers and members who stayed true to the message and mission of this Church in spite of its deep and many failures.

Livesay said that it might be easy to dismiss the racism of that era as simply a reflection of the broader culture in the United States at the time, but he hastened to add that God has always held the Church to a higher standard.

One could say that the White Church—the White members and leadership—merely reflected what was going on all around us. But God has not called His Church to reflect the evil of the world; God has called the Church to reflect His character, to treat each other in love—with the Golden Rule, in respectful ways, and to honor each other and all of God’s children.

Livesay acknowledged that racism in America is not only a problem that plagued the nation in the past:

It is clear—even that significant event (the election of President Barack Obama) did not mean we had arrived. Awareness of our lack of racial equality and social justice has been heightened as Black lives have been needlessly and carelessly taken in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and other locations, both recently and through the years. And now, Charleston."

On behalf of the leadership of the Lake Union, Elder Livesay offered a formal apology for the racism that influenced the shape of Adventist work within the territory.

I come to you, along with my fellow officers of the Lake Union, with a heart that compels us not only to bring our joy in the successes of Lake Region but, also, to bring a personal and official apology to our brothers and sisters of the Lake Region Conference on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Lake Union.

We apologize with sorrow for the failures of the Church in regard to race, for individuals disrespected, for the lack of time taken to understand, for those mistreated, the leadership marginalized, for students in our college only able to sit with fellow Black students in the cafeteria, for Lucy Byard, for the slowness, reluctance and stubbornness to do the right thing. We are sorry that we as a Church did not rise up above the sins of the society that day. And we are sorry for the lack of progress our Church has made in the 70 years since the establishment of the Regional work.

Our apology is from our hearts, but we recognize it is not enough. We also are committed to seek a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each other, more sensitive approaches, more inclusiveness and stronger partnerships that will make us more united as God’s people and for His cause that we may come closer together, march together arm and arm now, and then into the Holy City, to spend eternity with our God and each other."

Livesay's remarks were met with applause, many appreciative remarks, and some tears.

R. Clifford Jones, president of Lake Region Conference, responded on behalf of the conference to Livesay's remarks.

On this historic occasion — in the wake of what took place this week in South Carolina, the fact that we were all shocked, shaken and shattered by the senseless killings of innocent brothers and sisters who were simply aspiring to dig deeper into the Word of God only to have their lives snuffed out, we want to thank our Union president for his courage, for looking at the history of our people in this Church, God’s Remnant Church, and for offering this heartfelt and meaningful apology. Mr. President, on behalf of the officers, the departmental directors, pastors, Bible instructors, principals, teachers, all of our committee members from the Executive Committee on down, and on behalf of the constituency of the Lake Region Conference, I’d like to say, 'We accept your apology.' And as you’ve stated, an apology is good, but let’s work aggressively and vigorously and intentionally now to eliminate this scourge of racism that is so prevalent and pervasive in our land, yea, even in our Church. Let’s work together!”

Among those in attendance was Charles E. Bradford, the fourth president of the Lake Region Conference and the first Black president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Elder Bradford, who is now retired, offered a prayer along with Elder Livesay.

WATCH: "LUC Apology"

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Well said and thank you pastor Livesay. It’s refreshing to see a church leader admit past wrongs and engage with his constituency. Time to move forward and remove duplicated administration based on race.


Wasn’t the "Mother Emmanuel AME church first established by African slaves in the early 19th century?

How have the Adventist African-American churches first started? Did they establish congregaations with help of their Caucasian SdA members? As some of these non-SDA churches have thrived without outside help, is there something to be learned there? When a group establishes a church without outside help and support (such as conferences) is their success better or less successful? Are congregational churches able to function as well or better than tied to a conference organization?

i guess when dwight nelson speaks ( ), people listen…but even dwight’s message seemed to be riding the momentum of ferguson…it’s good that our church can respond when society seems stirred by racism - and perhaps the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the lake region conference intersects coincidentally with charleston - but how much better it would be if we could lead the conversation…on the other hand, of course, correcting social ills has never been our mission…

i just saw on cnn recently, in the wake of charleston, color commentary on the historical significance of churches like emanuel african methodist episcopal church in the black american experience…aside from religion, black churches have been the vehicle for black self-affirmation and resistance to ill treatment…i wonder if black adventism shares in this history…if so, talk of assimilation with white adventism may be illusive…how can a community steeped in rich, self-defining history assimilate into or absorb a community that lacks that history…theoretically, a mutual faith should bridge such a divide…but does it in reality…

were jews and gentiles in the apostolic church one assimilated body, or were they separate communities with separate policies…


Better late than never. May this wonderful apology be just the start of many other good things to come.


It does my soul good to hear this apology, and I hope it will be accepted in the spirit with which it is made. But I wonder if there is not something even more tangible than an apology that is needed for our African-American brothers and sisters to feel the sincerity.


In other words… the people were worldly instead of spiritual…and an apology alone changes that?

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Now What?


Perhaps it could begin by pastors in a geographic area trading pulpits multiple times during the year so members can meet each other’s pastors.
Perhaps having both church groups in a geographic area have combined services several times a year so they can meet and explore each other’s religious culture.
The “combining” of the church has to begin at the “Pew Level” before it can be adequately “combined” at the Leadership Level. Both “black” and “white” Pew Members have to be able to tell the “Black/White” Leadership what THEY want, NOT be told by Leadership that THIS is the way it is going to be. Otherwise there will ALWAYS be an uncomfortable feel to it.

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From CNN Belief Blog.
America’s “angriest” theologian faces hanging tree.
A comment regarding Reinhold Neiberh and his legacy.
As outspoken as he was, he would NEVER address Lynching.
And as a result, preachers all across America followed his leading, and NEVER addressed Lynching and Lynching Mobs.
Black Community Memories hold the FEAR that these now Un-Marked Lynching Trees in every town and city hold for the Black Community, including the Black Church Communities.
Every year in August the Episcopal Church takes a pilgrimage to Hayesville, Ala to remember black and white martyrs there, casualties of race hate. Where one black man, just because he became “too successful”, owned several businesses, was shot one night, left on the side of the road for the animals to eat. Other awful stuff in that little town. A white store owner declared “Not Guilty” by an all white jury after he shot a white preacher at close range, and declared it “self defense”. We meet in that same court room and remember the martyrs of Alabama, with their pictures to remind us of their once Humanity.

Did the Christian Church condemn Lynching? NO! Did the Seventh day Adventist church condemn? NO! and THESE are ALL memories of Black Communities everywhere. I am sure they are STILL some with these memories in the Black Seventh day Adventist churches.
HOW!! do we apologize this this SILENCE???

Remember the words – Tar and Feather. Many blacks had to endure this awful torture.


The news media reported (following Gov Haley’s address to S. Carolinians, that while the nation’s flag was at half mast following the massacre, the Confederate flag was not lowered.

It was raised in the early 60s during the Civil Rights Movement in protest; plus, the street on which the AME church is located is on Calhoun St., named for a notorious segregationist!

It can’t be easy to shape an apology that covers the errors of multiple generations, but it must be done. The words here are beautiful. Moving forward, let’s now live out these words in our actions and institutional policies.

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I would hope to see that the segregated conferences will now be desegregated in the wake of this epiphany.

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Inexplicably, you have often wondered what we humans are so guilty about when it comes to Christ covering our sin - our sinful nature. These pictures above might be a clue. Unfortunately, we are all potentially capable of unspeakable sin. These white folk seem like ordinary people, but look what they accepted as normal behavior.

The depravity of human nature pops up every now and then in our history. It’s demonstrated in the US in these pictures; in Nazi concentration camps in Germany; in the Siberian gulags in Russia; in tribal wars in Africa. We are all guilty.


It’s nice to see the church acknowledging a difficult and uncomfortable issue. It’s certainly not something that will right all the wrongs, but it is another important step towards healing and unity within our denomination. I have had enough experiences with Don Livesay to believe with confidence that this is not just a PR move but that he has been working and will continue to work towards meaningful and applicable progress in this area. Well done.


The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement. - Ellen G. White SW 54.1


The AME denomination grew out of the Free African Society in 1787 in Philadelphia. Apparently, when Africans worshipping in a Methodist Episcopal Church were pulled off of their knees a move toward independence started. In 1794 the Bethel AME was established but would have to go through a couple of court battles to win their right to be an independent congregation.

As far as the history of Black conferences in the SDA Church those started in the 1940’s, I believe. Just at the cusp of national change in segregation. The conferences don’t really make sense today, in my opinion.

I guess my “Lynching Tree” picture was unwanted on here. I see it has been removed.
Reality grosses people out.

The article talks about someone talking to someone else, saying they would soon be home.
The person stated he had just been to a Bar-B-Que. A dead black male had been roasted in a fire.
At least there were no pictures of that!!

As a kid in probably 5th grade my bedroom was next to the TV room. Sometimes I would lie awake and listen to the TV after being in bed. This night I was overhearing the TV 11PM news. It reported that somewhere some white men had castrated some black man. No other details were given. But I still remember that after 60 years. How awful it sounded. And that would have been around 1953 or so.
This would have been around Toledo, Ohio. Not the South.

If Blacks in SDA churches were required to verbalize the evils they saw as kids, endured as kids, saw done to parents, grandparents, others, What Stories would they have to share through trembling lips, trembling hands, dripping eyes, watery noses?
What are we going to do to elicit the Healing Process of repressed memories?

Maybe instead of moving to the Med, several on here could be paid to make pilgrimages to black churches to effect the healing process.

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In another 30 to 40 years, Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders we will be issuing official apologies to women. It’s too bad that some lessons are difficult to learn.


Lake Union Conference president, Don Livesay’s, confession, of a public, protracted, presumptuous sin of the “Remnant Church”, exposes the lie that perfect obedience/faithfulness to God is a necessary condition for being the Remnant or entering heaven. But that untruth should have been avoided from the inception of the church, because the group of SDA Pioneers, who ascended the mountain to meet Jesus, on October 22, 1844, were, admittedly, tobacco users, pork eaters and Sabbath breakers, etc. Mercifully, Jesus didn’t return that day, because, according to current SDA Theology, if He did, all our pioneers were “in Babylon” and would have gone to hell.