Racist Social Media Firestorm Erupts During Southern Adventist University Vespers

A vitriolic, racially-charged firestorm on social media erupted during and following the Friday evening vespers program at Southern Adventist University this weekend. The anonymous, racist comments shared on the social media app Yik Yak quickly went viral and prompted a condemnatory response from university administration.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/02/28/racist-social-media-firestorm-erupts-during-southern-adventist-university-vespers

Wow. This is extremely saddening. Racism truly is something we can’t talk about, and this represents just one more example of why this is the case. These events at Southern also show how anonymity truly brings the worst out in people. So sad.

What I hope is that this will not be seen as a reason to think less than Southern. This same thing could have happened at any of our other campuses too. There are racist individuals at all our campuses, in all our churches and in all our communities. I hope we simply see this for what it is, a wake-up call to keep working to confront racism for the ugly thing it is. We must keep talking and educating. That we still have white individuals who cannot see that such a thing as white privilege exists means we really do have more need to educate.


These type of comments should not surprise anybody given the fact that a high percentage of SdAs are Republicans and that the denomination for a long time took part in the American conspiracy against black Americans called “segregation.”

Such comments are common on right-wing media. White conservatives deeply resent any mention of white America’s complicity in racial crimes–crimes so awful as to challenge the concept of American exceptionalism. The slave trade is reduced to greedy Africans selling their own to hapless white traders, and the slaves were hardly more than guest workers without a return ticket. And the War Between the States, which the Civil War is called in these circles, was imposed on the South by greedy northerners who wanted to control southern trade, and slavery was not a factor in the declaration of war.

What you are seeing at Southern is what you see everywhere in right-wing America. Culture always trumps religious values. The entire Christian South was complicit in a crime so awful that it forever made nought the argument that you need faith in God to have genuine moral values. The South proclaimed Jesus in thousands of churches that would not dream of admitting black members. The GC cafeteria, where the stewards of “God’s highest authority on earth” assembled, was segregated.

When I married into a Collegedale family in the 1970s I soon discovered that there still were white supremacists in the pews. Today I assume that the white supremacists are gone, but as long as you have a group deeply in hock to right-wing politics, you are not going to get rid of these kind of “tweets.” They do not represent an abberation as much misguided political loyalties. This is what today’s right wing stands for.


I’ve been watching this developing story since being made aware of it, almost immediately after the YikYak ‘screen caps’ were made public. As mentioned before, I find it appalling! I mentioned it to Spectrum and am so glad to see this article come to light this afternoon. I am more elated to see the SAU President’s response. I pray this issue is not only addressed at SAU, but all over the Adventist Educational spectrum. Racism continues to pervade the Adventist Church at every level, and it needs to be addressed, even at the GC office!

Let me be clear. I am not categorically stating that the SDA church is racist. I am suggesting that there are still areas within our church where decisions are made, policies are voted, and leaders carry out day-to-day operations where racism continues to be the underpinning. The reality is that while sin remains, racism remains in the hearts of the sinner.

Let’s look at the numbers and consider the current state of the NAD. The SDA Church was founded by an overwhelmingly Caucasian leadership in the 1860’s. From that time until today (2016), the SDA Church has grown astronomically in areas OUTSIDE the NAD. Places like Africa, the Far East, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, and numerous other areas, make the NAD one of the smallest Divisions; with only 1.19 Million in membership. (as of 2015)

Within the NAD, most of the ‘State Conferences’ are losing members at an alarming rate. One, their membership is an aging population of baby boomers and seniors. Two, their youth are not staying in church to take up the mantel of leadership. Three, tithing and offerings are down across many conferences. And Fourth, their evangelism is not effecting a steady growth to fill the void in many churches. In contrast, the Regional Conferences have seen a steady growth in both Tithe & Offering, and newly baptized membership. As a result, we find that in the State Conferences, the astonishing growth of the Caribbean and Hispanic movement is beginning to take root.

Increasingly we also see where that same growth in these two demographics has ‘browned’ many of our NAD institutions. Texico Conference is all but Hispanic. Florida Conference has so much Hispanic, Haitian, and Caribbean growth, they are planting churches monthly! Texas Conference is overwhelmingly Hispanic. New York Conference is Haitian and Hispanic. And when you look at the racial makeup of many of the historically Caucasian churches in the NAD, they are becoming mixed. Our institutions also reflect this stark demographic change taking place in the NAD. Absent Pine Forge Academy, most of our K-12 Academies are now mixed with a host of different nationalities.

I present these findings to submit the following issue I see within the leadership of some of our institutions. There are those in leadership who are having a difficult time accepting change and giving up power! They’ve had power for so long, that they will do anything to maintain it. Policies are created and voted to make sure a person of color never becomes president of ‘such & such’. More policies are put in place to make sure a certain group never outnumbers another group, in order to maintain a foothold on ‘said’ institution. Actions are taken to ensure certain monies are allocated only to ‘thus & thus’, so that said ministry stays afloat. We wont elect ‘such & so’ person to lead this ministry, or we might loose our constituents. And so goes this continued ‘surface Christianity’ and so called ‘tolerance’, while deep down in one’s heart, many still hold disdain and hatred towards the minority groups.

I will say this. I love the fact that our church holds a Democratic form of governance. Every member has the one power that can NEVER be taken: the power of the Vote! A day is coming when delegate counts will be more representative of the church, and not finagled to suit the agenda of one group. This last GC Session showed how that worked out! A day is coming when ‘The Vote’ will cast you out of your office, place someone else to take your place, and make room for the Holy Spirit to guide this Church to equality, fairness, and Christian love regardless of one’s skin color. A day will come when we will see more Conference presidents who are of color across the NAD. A day will come when there will be a black Seminary Dean, a black SAU President, A woman Andrews U president, an Asian president of LLU or La Sierra, a Caribbean or Indian or Native American NAD President, or a female leading VOP, Amazing Facts, It is Written, Breath of Life, or 3ABN. I pray this begins the conversation! A mighty rushing wind of the Holy Spirit is coming! Will the SDA Church be ready for change and POWER?

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Black History Month is a hallowed commemorative marker in the United States, in particular on campuses of higher learning (including Adventist ones), because African-Americans hold the tragic distinction of being the only community that was brought to this country in shackles, against their will. And while others in our land have endured cruelty, oppression, and privation, none have experienced the forcible bondage and systematic ostracism experienced by Americans of African descent.

Vestiges of racial tension do persist among Seventh-day Adventists, and without question must be expunged from our ranks. My heart breaks for this report, from a campus I cherish. Racism is one of the most degrading and horrible sins yet devised by humanity, and God’s final generation of grace-empowered, victorious believers—in whom no fault or iniquity will be found (Zeph. 3:13; Rev. 14:5)—will experience the total eradication of such perversity from their hearts and lives.


when LBJ or end the Civil Rights act Sen. Russel of Ga. said you just lost the South. It has gone solid Republican ever since. TZ


The student newspaper has several articles about race in the opinion and religion sections.


I found it painfully ironic that in their response to this crisis that SAU chose a text contrasting darkness and light. I believe they are trying the do the right thing here, but I’m afraid they still don’t get it. Language and the way we use it is tremendously important.


I spent the first twenty four years of my life in South Africa, where APARTHEID, a highly codified oppressive regime, ensured that a minority of whites, maintained a demeaning domination over a hugely larger group of blacks.
In effect, "a police state"existed.

One cannot help but be contaminated by ones social environment, but I hope I have finally divested myself of all traces of racism. I left my birth country at age 24 in fierce opposition to Apartheid.

My observations about the racial episodes at Southern Adventist University:

These posts betray the mind set of junior high students not college age adults!
It does not speak well of the Adventist academies, Adventist congregations, nor Adventist families that produced these biased bigots!

Nor does it speak well of Southern either. Quite frankly, if I had college age children/grandchildren I would not be desirous of them associating with this very damaged peer group!

It recalls twenty five years ago, when my Yale educated daughter, seeking medical school admissions, visited the Loma Linda medical school. She arrived on a day when some sophomore medical school class was having a class on, of all things, sexuality! She sat in on the class.

When homosexuality was mentioned this class of supposedly early twenty somethings, erupted with snickering, rude remarks, and behavior more typical of pre teenagers. My daughter was so revolted, she resolved that Loma Linda was not for her. She ended up being the Yale pre-med graduate that year who was accepted to the most medical schools, and ended up attending a much more prestigious institution, also with a more mature peer group!

What also disturbed my daughter on her Loma Linda visit, was that on all other medical school visits, she was warmly welcomed by the students, who asked how they could help, and did she have any questions, and could they take her to lunch?.

On the Loma Linda campus not one medical student greeted her, although she clearly was not a member of their class…

Apparently our Adventist colleges/academies have a lot of maturing to accomplish!

Maybe our Advenist families would be better advised to send their offspring to publicly funded high schools/colleges, thereby saving money and ensuring a better peer group.

The latest US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT COLLEGE GUIDE, which I perused to help my twelfth grade grandson, lists SOUTHERN, ANDREWS and Walla Walla as being the highest ranking, NO, not in academic standards, but being those campuses who graduated students with the most student debt!!

All in all, Adventist education does not present a pretty picture!


A question: Have you read any African-American writers to understand where their feelings come from? Can you imagine a culture (I am old enough to have lived in it) in which no television or Hollywood productions feature any persons of color? No commercials, movies, sitcoms, news shows? Can you imagine growing up in homes where your grandparents describe the systematic, humiliating and brutal experiences they endured “back then?” Can you imagine your feelings when you learn your parents were denied a bank loan for purchasing a house in a white neighborhood? Happened and still happens far more frequently than we whites ever can fathom. So, if you’re sick of hearing about “white privilege,” maybe it’s because you have no conception of what it means in your own experience.


I pray church officials, administrators of Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities answer this young man’s call for an authentic conversation about race and racism. It is deeply rooted in the American psyche and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In fact, this church seems to rest in a cloud of racial illiteracy. This behavior is also one of the reasons why Black history month, the genius of the Black American educator Carter G. Woodson, is so important. This kind of sad ignorance continues to thrive because people do not know or appreciate American history. As I reflected on what took place at Southern Adventist University, I did a quick check on courses offered at Southern concerning the beautiful and sometimes challenging racial experience in America. There needs to be an authentically intellectual conversation. Southern University may want to begin with its list of courses. In the English dept., for example, at Southern and LaSierra, for that matter, there does not seem to be a class in the literature of the African American. Young pastor C. Johnson should be given an AMEN and AMEN again. There needs to be a conversation, and iI hope the adults hear and respond!


I get what you’re saying, and the thought entered my mind when I saw SAU’s statement, but realistically… Context is king.

Even Dr. King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Doesn’t it take a pretty long leap of logic to apply that verse and the concept of spiritual light/darkness to race?


What sadness… Is it too much if I hope that those racists (at least the majority) are not SDAs?

On the brighter note and in a curious move of providence, me and my family spent the whole Friday night in watching and listening to East-African SDA choirs singing, and felt our appreciation and mental bond with those people deepen. As SDAs, we’re one nation. If someone doesn’t get that, he is to humbly ask God to teach him the ABCs of Christianity.

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to respond. My post was deleted. I guess there’s a zero tolerance policy here for difference of opinion–especially if it concerns race relations.

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Aage. although you are an infrequent poster here, you always have very provocative comments.

Having been born in the Deep South and lived there for my first 20 years, it is sad to realize that there are still such racist feelings especially in the Adventist community. Because so many college students have spent most of their years inside the divided SdA cocoon, there is a closed community that apparently does not admit other "outsiders into the inner circle.

While I also simply accepted that most Adventists were Republicans, many of us were surprised to see the latest Pew Poll (2-23-16) showing the political preferences of U.S. religious groups. Seventh-day Adventists 35% “lean toward or identify with the Republican Party” and 44 % Democrat, with 19% not leaning to a party. Whether this reflects a very recent change, it could be based on today’s candidates. Without doubt, the Southern States are strongly Democratic, but apparently, this is not true across all the states.


I agree with the idea of what you’re saying, but as you say, “Context is king.”

Out of all the bible verses available I think something else may have been more appropriate. I wasn’t trying to imply that I read this verse as having to do with race, (I would completely reject that interpretation of this passage) but rather that given the situation in which the university is applying it, using language other than a dark/light dichotomy might have been more healing. Hence my statement that the language we use matters.

I believe that even the way we discuss an issue can impact those which whom we are hoping to communicate, and so sensitivity and awareness is vitally important.


In my daily life, I see black people living in nice houses, driving nice cars, wearing nice clothes, owning companies, elders in my church mixed race SDA congregation, physicians in my community, and even President of the United States. I am not aware of anything holding back an enterprising individual of any race in this country. If anything, affirmative action programs provide an advantage to blacks. The myth of white privilege has not made it to Appalachia or many poor rural communities. The majority of food stamp recipients and people in poverty in this country are white.

As time goes on, Black History Month will become more a source of division than unity. Its hard to have a color blind unified campus when organizations based on race are school sanctioned. And when these racially divisive school sanctioned organizations lead out in meetings that all students are required to attend, well what do you expect?


You are fortunate to have a social circle and community where you see greater equality, sadly statistically there is still a lot of work to be done nationwide. I don’t see why celebrating various cultures needs to turn into a source of division. We should consider it part of our education as humans, especially for those on college campuses.


Just how can the SDA church effectively address the “racially-charged” storm without destroying its core doctrine and existence? The theology that we preach of being God’s chosen people, WO and MH to mention a few all share the same psychodynamic/infrastructure that underpins racism. Subscribing to the concept of being the remnant church requires that we relinquish our empathy for non-believers at the cost of dehumanizing them. Isn’t this what racism is all about?

If there were a fertile soil for racism, by virtue of our eschatology theology, WO and Male Headship doctrines my church would be a high risk. Sad.

It is time to rethink and reformulate our church’s narrative. Are you taking note Pastor Ted Wilson?


Or, Elmer, it could be that there are racist people in our church and it has nothing to do with theology. One of the joys for me coming to this church was its diversity, especially my local church. We believe in FB #13 and it has not turned us into bigots or racists. If anything, I’ve found, looked at correctly, will humble a person.

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