The Annual Council Contribution to the SDA Conversation on Racism

It’s been over five months since the murder of George Floyd in late May unleashed protests worldwide, re-energized the Black Lives Matter movement, and changed the conversation about racism in society. Merriam-Webster even revised its entry defining racism to include “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another specifically: white supremacy sense.” Over the summer Adventist leaders, churches, conferences, unions, divisions, and organizations have issued statements condemning racism and police shootings of black individuals including Floyd, Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and others.

In September 2020, the General Conference Administrative Committee voted a statement on “One Humanity: A Human Relations Statement Addressing Racism, Casteism, Tribalism, and Ethnocentrism.” Then at the October 11 Annual Council meeting of the General Conference Executive Committee the statement was read to the members after a two-hour presentation by the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty. In his introduction of the agenda segment, GC President Ted N. C. Wilson told the committee gathered on Zoom that there would be no vote on the topic, however he encouraged divisions to take up the issue at their year-end meetings and discuss it in their local context.

Including the local context, making a statement specific to the moment, has been a challenge for the General Conference and its officials who tend to see things in global terms. For instance, Wilson’s first statement after the death of George Floyd spoke of racism around the world, and didn’t mention Floyd’s name. He issued a second statement that did.

The statement from the GC Administrative Committee begins with this global outlook: “The moral duty of declaring biblical principles in the treatment of fellow human beings has become paramount as the world increasingly recognizes the lingering scourge of racial injustice, tribal conflicts and caste system bigotry suffered by millions of persons in every society and world region.”

To localize the context for the Annual Council presentation, eight General Conference employees spoke, with most addressing conditions in specific areas of the world after a broad introduction on the topic by Ganoune Diop, director of the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty. He called racism a disease, an attack against God’s character, an insult to Christ’s sacrifice, a rejection of divine law. He said racism is a heresy, an attack on God’s truth, and it makes a mockery of Creation, because all are created in the image of God. He then turned to the Bible to provide a framework for his assertions, beginning with a consideration of what Adam and Eve lost when they sinned: they lost fellowship with God, immunity against suffering and disease, immunity against death. “Death crept into all relationships,” he said. Adam accused his wife, Cain killed his brother Abel, violence spread like a virus. But God decided not to abandon the human family. He wanted all people to be saved.

To overcome racism, Diop said requires embracing God’s vision of the human family. There is one human race. We are all connected, descended from one blood. However, all human beings are under the curse. Christ bore this curse so that all people can be blessed. Christ tears away the walls of partition, the dividing principles of nationality, abolishes all territorial lines. All are seen as neighbors. Every Sabbath, Adventists remember that equality matters. “We remember that there is no master, no slave, all are loved by God, all are equal in God’s sight.” He concluded by calling for this remembrance to be a deterrent to racism, tribalism, casteism, ethnocentrism.

The first presentation on a local area came from Ella Simmons, vice president of the General Conference. She started things off by describing the legal decisions in the United States that perpetuated its racism — the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that ruled that all people of African descent were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no rights in federal courts. The Plessy v. Fergusson decision that blessed the separate but equal system of cultural institutions. She pointed out that while racism is often defined as individual prejudice, it is incorporated in cultural artifacts, ideological discourse, and institutional realities in America. It is embedded, institutionalized in the fabric of American society.

Moving past American society, she said racism flies across boundaries and can be found in cultures across the globe. She then noted statistics from a survey of SDAs in all 13 world divisions. She said 36% of the respondents reported experiencing racism directly, and 58.4% said they had witnessed racism against others. Tribal bias was experienced by 45.5% directly and 63.3% said they had witnessed tribal bias against others. Nationalism prejudice was experienced by 37.1%, while 48.3% had witnessed national prejudice against others. Racism lives in our world today, she concluded.

Geoffrey Mbwana, vice president of the General Conference, got the assignment of addressing the isms in Africa, a difficult task given the 54 countries, 1.2 billion people, 3,000 tribes bound into ethic groups, and 2,100 languages of the continent. He called out ethnocentrism — the belief of one’s own group superiority — and tribalism as being driven by colonization and competition for resources and land. He said the African Christian church has not been immune to the evils of the isms, and has struggled at church elections and in church hiring practices.

Stanley Ponniah, senior accountant at the General Conference, described India as a sleeping tiger, but one that is waking up, changing. Casteism, while officially outlawed in 1947, still exists he said. He credited education, urbanization, globalization, and communication with bringing progress.

Bettina Krause, associate director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty and director of Government Affairs, spoke to the plight of the Aboriginal peoples in Australia, and the structures of racism that live on in the justice system. She said the church had a mixed record in its treatment of the Indigenous people. While a special work was created in 1901 to reach them, one could also find articles in church papers that referred to them as a foul blot. Today, there is a specific ministry for them within the Australian Union, and she asked Pastor Darren Garnett, one of its leaders for his perspective. “Racism must be acknowledged and declared for what it is,” he said. Understanding the effect of racism on individuals, the family and a community comes next. “When this is understood, then empathy will flow, and healing will take place in acts of reconciliation.” He concluded by saying, “My hope is that my church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, will lead the way in addressing racism, powered by empathy and a sense of brother and sisterhood in Christ to build a community where racism has no place. What a powerful witness that will be to the world.”

Nelu Burcea, deputy secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, told of the plight of the Roma people in Eastern Europe and their chronic exclusion. Linda Koh, director of Children’s Ministries, had the task of noting all the minority peoples in China and Southeast Asia.

Josue Pierre, associate general counsel of the GC, acknowledged the aversion that the church has in having a conversation on racism. “I get it,” he said. The conversation is uncomfortable and can lead to anger, bitterness, and resentment. Some would say that the conversation is pointless and distracts from the mission of the church. “On the contrary, I would say that these conversations are necessary in order for the General Conference and other segments of the church to insure that our efforts to share the Gospel are relevant to the time in which we’re living.”

Mark Finley, evangelist, closed with an illustration from his experience walking on a beach in South Africa, post-apartheid. In one section, all the people on the beach were white, and in another section all were Black. There were poles from where barbed wire used to separate the two areas, but the barbed wire was gone. It surprised him, because it showed how rules and regulations may change, but that doesn’t mean that people necessarily change. He said only God can change people’s hearts. He said it is the everlasting gospel, the cross that unites all people. Racism is evil because it denies the Gospel. We are not two groups, we are one. We are family. He concluded by pointing to the ultimate solution of hearts transformed by God. Then we can rise to our destiny and share the gospel with the world.

Now it is up to the Divisions to take it from there.


Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Sounds similar to the U.S. federal government response to Covid 19. Regarding systematic racism, as long as protesters don’t riot, everything will be fine. Rigfht?

Recently, our Southeastern California Conference (SECC) officers held a racial equality and justice forum via Zoom…

One question raised was in regard to ministries distinguished by race - Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific - each headed by a VP. Regional, according to geography or zip code, perhaps as an alternative? It’s working, according to one VP. We have a nice working relationship among ourselves, said another officer. My question: In whose interest is the system of dividing according to racial lines working?

What a sad report. What a missed opportunity. Did nobody talk about racist practices within Adventist churches at all levels? Was there really no attempt to confess, to apologize for our complicity in racist behavior, to ask for forgiveness, to commit to change?


Thanks, Bonnie Dwyer, for this coverage.

I agree with @SylviaHordosch: From the write-up, it doesn’t appear that any of the speakers were tasked with what would have been, certainly, voluminous and notable: A report on the history and role of racism “in” the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

It’s an oversight so vast as to be, perhaps, intentional; akin to tallying solar bodies, but not listing Earth. Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Well, perhaps, they saved that for the next day of the event.”

Of course, even more, here’s what’s most notable from Dwyer’s reporting: It appears that none of those who testified mentioned, named, or addressed what would be the elephant in any room, not only ecclesiastical ones: The planetary dominance of white supremacy as a race system. This is the teraforce above and beyond even the substantial ethnic conflicts the presenters did address, justifiably so.

If Ganoune Diop actually parsed these antipathies as “racism, tribalism, casteism, ethnocentrism,” then he did well. (He seems to fare admirably in his other remarks, also.)

Many merely write-off tribalism, casteism, ethnocentrism, and other such rivalries as forms of racism. However, properly understood, this is not the case.

I’ve made this very point many times, here, on Spectrum, and need not delve into it, again, though I will point to one such earlier outline.

This leaves my only objection to Elder Diop’s précis. (It may not be his, but merely an over-compressed summary by the author.)

It’s where he says, "There is one human race."

I’d urge such statements are, first of all, failures to grapple with race and its significance, particularly, as a synonym for racism.

Secondly, and most obviously, this is a taxonomical misfire. Human beings are not a “race.” Human beings are a species.

No one ever talks about “the bird race,” “the Labrador Retriever race,” or “the salmon race.” Even the mention of such aggregations sounds bizarre.

We use the terms class, breed, and species, respectively, to denote groupings of these beings.

In a similar sense, species is the word that most accurately describes the category in which Terra’s human occupants reside. It’s the designation of which the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ thirteen divisions are, collectively, a subset; each one equal in the sight of God, if not necessarily each other.



Hello Henry,
I can dig what you are saying and trying hard to get my white self to understand. Maybe it ain’t gonna happen. So I enlist your help: What is the human race? You’re a learned man. Where on earth did this come from?

From a “racist perspective,” yes, everything should be fine…“Let them protest, it will not move the needle…” And the systemic racism will continue assaulting people’s rights.

It’s all so strange because I would expect more action from a POTUS who declares so adamantly that he is not a racist, "I am the least racist in this room. … Well, at least he said, “Those children are being treated marvelously,” didn’t he? What a relief, isn’t it? :roll_eyes:

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As long as there is only protest in church, without any rioting, everything will be fine… :roll_eyes:

Thanks, @tekcajwolley, for the question.

My name is actually Harry, not “Henry.”

And I don’t know the answer to your question.

However, on their Grammarphobia web site, authors Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman give what appears to be a rather competent answer to it.

Part of their response even appears to falsify one of my contentions, by citing historical applications of the term “race” to fauna, and even flora; e.g., “the wolfish race," or “the several Races of Plants.”

However, I’d say that a) these uses appear to be poetic, not scientific; b) they seem to be few in number; and, most of all, c) they are old; from the 17th through 19th centuries.

In other words, my point was that nobody, today, speaking scientifically, would talk of “the tardigrade race,” or even “the ape race.”

The latter is true, despite the fact most scientists hold that members of the superfamily Hominoidea are our species’ nearest living relatives.


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Thanks, and please accept my apologies for the misnomer.
I certainly don’t know. But I understand that DNA is shared among us, differences account for things like height, hair color, etc. Is it right then in this sense race and species are now synonyms? Is it correct to say there is but one species?

The phrase “human race” is very current, meaning all humanity. I would surmise that it is convention. That is, its use has been handed down to us and has become imbedded in our language as correct usage, though not necessarily scientifically accurate.

Another is “according to Hoyle” meaning according to the rules. It is from a Brit living in the 1600s who wrote about the rules of card games! Yet still used occasionally today. English is a wonderful language!

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I understand that separate ministries along racial lines each with a VP in charge is probably of the least concern to those who fellowship with institutional congregations such as at LSU and LLU. The SECC, we were told, is probably one of, if not the most diverse SDA conferences in the world. Interestingly enough, alongside the VPs for Black, Hispanic and Asia/Pacific ministries, there’s no VP for White. Why not? Reason is, again we were told, in the SECC there’s only a Romanian congregation that could possibly be counted as purely white.

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The issue here is what racism means. If the definition is a Harry avers, then all whites are racists, and it is because they are white, that is members of the oppressor class. The new definition by Merriam-Webster also supports that idea.

Is the church now adopting that view? Are all white members thus racists?

Taking such a position is accepting the thinking of Critical Race Theorists. I read a small article in the religion section of Realclearpolitics on this topic. I will quote the pertinent sections. Sorry for the length:


Nathan Berkley and Phil Rexroth, October 5, 2020

American Christians have taken to the debate with vigor, with some indicting various Christian denominations for being insufficiently responsive to racial inequality or injustice, while others emphasize the vital role Christians played in the abolitionist and civil rights movements. These claims are not mutually exclusive. Despite their shared commitment to love their neighbor and seek justice for the oppressed, American Christians may be rooting these commitments in very different understandings of what “justice” entails. But justice is a central theme of the biblical narrative, and its meaning for Christians must therefore be defined by those textual boundaries.

Social Justice Ideology vs. Christian Orthodoxy

In their recent book, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay usefully contrast social justice (a broad sensibility about achieving general fairness in society and righting societal wrongs) with “Social Justice” (a specific body of theory). Traditionally, Christianity has framed the idea of social justice in terms of specific instances of oppression or inequality brought about by unjust, and therefore sinful, actions. Those actions could occur at the purely individual level or be channeled through a range of institutions. They could ultimately be traced to identifiable oppressors who should and would be held responsible for their actions, whether in this life or the next. The role of individual Christians, and the Church corporately, was to identify injustice, to speak and work against it in their own lives and in the ministry of their churches, and, when applicable, in their broader political community. This understanding asserted a common humanity, with each person created in the image and likeness of God and recognized as a moral agent who will be judged by God on that individual basis because “all have sinned.”

Social Justice, by contrast, rejects the notion that justice occurs when exercises of moral agency, by individuals and the spect­­rum of human institutions, align with God’s intent for His creation. Rather, Social Justice utilizes various Critical Theories to engage in what Pluckrose and Lindsay refer to as applied postmodernism, which focuses on hidden structures of systemic power as the root cause of all societal injustice or inequality. Social Justice adherents thus concern themselves primarily with identifying and criticizing discourses, which are frames of language or knowledge that reinforce the structures used to oppress or marginalize those who are not members of the dominant identity group. Accordingly, the idea of a common humanity populated by individuals who derive their primary identity from their created-ness (“I am a person with these attributes”) is rejected in favor of a definition of identity as membership in a group or groups based on one’s attributes (“I am this/these attribute(s)”).

This distinction between possessing one’s attributes and being one’s attributes has profound consequences for the manner in which modern American Christianity engages with the society it inhabits. Where orthodox Christianity asserts, “All humans, though infinitely variable in attributes, are equally valued by God as such,” Social Justice responds, “Humans have no intrinsic identity beyond the intersection of their attributes, and by their membership in larger groups of people who share those attributes.” When orthodox Christianity stipulates that “All humans are individual moral agents and will be held responsible for their own thoughts and actions,” Social Justice counters that “No individual has true agency; all human experiences and actions are subject to differential power structures that limit true freedom of thought and action.”(end article)

Thus, since Whites are an identifiable group, and are the top of the worlds groups, they are all racists.

This is a subtile action. And makes it impossible to really speak to each other coherently. If all whites are racists and there is nothing they can do about it, the discussion is really over.

Of course.

I think the term is used interchangeably, often, as it pertains to human beings. I think I did say this, or at least suggest it.

But my point was that this is something, I think, people should avoid, especially people who are against racism.

Yes, I’d say, if we are speaking about human beings, aka Homo sapiens.


The scientific use is the one to which I was speaking, compelled by what you call “convention.”

White supremacy is also a convention. My point was, and is, that it is better to use the word race as a synonym for racism, or for white supremacy, than as a synonym for species.

It is more truthful, more accurate, and far less incoherent.


The definition of racism that I offer, @ajshep, is as follows:

Racism =

(1) The scientific practice of unjust subjugation, misuse, and/or abuse of persons classified as “non-white,” by persons classified as “white,” on the basis of color or non-color, and/or, on the basis of factors “associated with” color or non-color.

(2) White Supremacy.

[Note: It is incorrect to use the term “White Racism.” To use this term is to imply that Racism exists in a form other than White Supremacy].

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.

Are you saying, based on these definitions, above, that all white people are racists?


Hey Allen, expect turbulence in this discussion. I was about to comment on the issue, but on a second thought, I better abstain because I agree with you.I believe that any person can decide to be or not to be racist. After all, the idea that only whites are racists is malarkey - and racist in itself.

Good look in defending your points! But don’t be a “fool”…, just behave… :laughing:


I know what your definition of this term is. My understanding of Critical Race Theory is that the theory states all whites are racist. You are unwilling to say it, but do believe it. However, I don’t want to argue this with you. I want input from others and their views.

It seems that Ella Simmons, a VP for the GC hews to that theory. She goes to Dred Scott and Plessy Fergusson to make her point. That is ridiculous for those decisions are irrelevant to today. But she mentions imbedded racism.

Pastor @ajshep, respectfully, a “Yes,” or “No,” will suffice as an answer to my question.

I’ll ask it, again: Are you saying, based on these definitions, above, that all white people are racists?


I don’t think that one by fiat can claim that his definition on a matter is pivotal. You have a definition that you adhere to. OK. I don’t need to adhere to it, but may go by another.

My understanding of Critical Race Theory is that all whites are racists. Perhaps you can find a quote of a member of that group that contradicts that view. But your personal view is really not that important. If the folk who adhere to Critical Race Theory believe that all whites are racists, then they have made their position clear. I think that you actually believe that as well, despite your denial of such a view. But that is just my opinion, and it is not that important either.

Perhaps a discussion of that Critical Race Theory teaches would be educational. I think (opinion, mind your) that CRT is prejudicial and racist itself. But again, my view.


I don’t understand this response, @ajshep. It sounds like gobbledygook.

Let me explain why, this way:

You said:

The relevant part, of course, is where you said: “If the definition is [as] Harry avers, then all whites are racists.”

So, I didn’t challenge this. I printed the definition(s) that I’ve used, both here and for decades:

Racism =

(1) The scientific practice of unjust subjugation, misuse, and/or abuse of persons classified as “non-white,” by persons classified as “white,” on the basis of color or non-color, and/or, on the basis of factors “associated with” color or non-color.

(2) White Supremacy.

[Note: It is incorrect to use the term “White Racism.” To use this term is to imply that Racism exists in a form other than White Supremacy].

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.

And I asked you: Are you saying, based on these definitions, above, that all white people are racists?

In other words, you said, “If the definition is [as] Harry avers, then all whites are racists.”

I printed out the definition that I aver.

Then I asked you, Are you saying, based on these definitions, above, that all white people are racists?

In other words, are you saying, with the evidence of what I aver, that these definitions compel one to conclude what you’ve stated: That all white people are racist?

This seemed a simple question; one that you could address unambiguously, expeditiously.

Yet, in fact, I’ve now had to ask you this question twice, emphasizing the second time that all I need is a “Yes” or “No.”

• You’ve not answered this question in the way that I requested, or even in a way I can understand. This seems ungenerous. It feels particularly so in a forum whose motto is “Community Through Conversation.” Even more, though, in a field where racism is mostly manifested through deceit, secrecy and violence, it seems racist.

• You’ve charged “the theory [that] all whites are racist” is one that I, Harry Allen, am “unwilling to say,” but adding that I “do believe it.”

I won’t exert much of a response to this, save the evidence of what I’ve already said about this odd claim.

To put it another way, all I am to you is text on a computer screen. So, if I’ve not written it, how could you state what I believe? Where do these “believes” exist, and how do you have access to them?

This is not the first time I’ve asked this ostensibly reasonable question, though, were you to give a meaningful response to it, that would be novel.

• You keep mentioning “Critical Race Theory,” You did so four times in the responses, above.

This is a term I’ve never used, to which I’ve never referred, and to which I have no discernible relationship. Yet, you keep speaking about it.

You do that, but you do not answer the inevitable question one should easily answer if anything that you’ve said about me is true. Odd.

Now, in fact, you don’t really have to answer the question, not because I can’t compel you, but because you already have.

That is, you’ve said that the definition I hold, of what racism is, affirms that all white people are racist.

If your statement is not a mistake, or a lie, that means when I present that definition, it will do what you say. That is, unless you are mistaken, or unless you are lying.


I’M ADDING THIS TEXT, BELOW, AFTER THE CLOSING OF THIS SPECIFIC FORUM. It’s a response to @ajshep’s statement, below.

Your responses, @ajshep, are, as usual, incoherent.

The issue, or question, isn’t whether or not you accept my definitions of racism. You didn’t say, “If the definition is [as] Harry avers, then I don’t accept them.”

The issue is, do the definitions that I aver do what you say: Do they affirm that all whites are racists?

You said they did.

I printed them here, then asked, “Do they?”

Your response was 250 words about other stuff.

This is weird. I just want to know why you can’t back up your statements.

Again, it’s odd that you’re excellent at tossing out false claims, but no good at responding to direct challenges.

Is this a pastor thing? You know: Not usually debated at the pulpit, so they say all kinds of crap, but no good in direct confrontation with someone who knows what they’re talking about, and who disagrees with them?

This is off-topic.

The issue isn’t a debate about what I think. You’d lose that contest, since you’re not credible on my thoughts.

The issue is simply this: Are you saying, based on these definitions, above, that all white people are racists?

In other words, do my definitions affirm what you say they do?

Again, a YES or NO is all you need to answer this question.

You said definitions matter, and that by mine, all whites are racist.

I pulled them out and said, “Do you mean these?”

Well: Do you? YES? NO?


a) I’ve already done what you’ve suggested: I said that “Critical Race Theory” is a term I’ve never used, to which I’ve never referred, and with which I have no discernible relationship.

Yet, you keep speaking to me about it. Why?

b) “Critical Race Theory,” whatever it is, is, certainly, by virtue of being a theory, a body of interlocking ideas composed of multiple parts.

If you can’t respond coherently, on a single issue that you’ve raised, how would you be able to take part in a discussion in a massive, modern theory of race?

“For – with footmen thou hast run, And they weary thee, And how dost thou fret thyself with horses!” — Jeremiah 12:5 (YLT)