The Dissolution of Regional Conferences: Another Perspective

For several years now, I have listened with interest to arguments for and against the continued operation of regional conferences. Most of the arguments against their continued existence are:

1. Separate (so called “segregated” conferences) fly in the face of the biblical imperative of unity as outlined by our Lord and Savior in John 17.

2. Separate conferences are relics of the past; are “sustained by ancient arguments and stories” and are no longer relevant in post-civil rights America.

3. Separate conferences result in the unnecessary waste of already scarce church resources; represent a needless duplication of effort and are a continued “embarrassment” to the church while continually hampering its witness.

While such arguments generate significant support for the eradication of regional conferences, they fail to address deeper issues that demand consideration if the Seventh-day Adventist church is to be the organization God intends for it to be in these last days of earth’s history.

The relevant issues are summarized below.

The Issue of the Logical Solution

While some vehemently advocate for the dissolution of Seventh-day Adventist regional conferences, they appear to see no impediment (and in fact encourage) the formation of other ethnically responsive structural entities within the Seventh-day Adventist structure (i.e. unions of churches in Scandinavian and European countries).

Changes in the Seventh-day Adventist church structure resulting in the creation of ethnically sensitive entities does not automatically result in exclusionary behavior any more than their elimination will cure the cancer of racism. The creation of totally integrated conferences will also notresult in the dissolution of racially distinct churches.

People tend to gravitate toward and fellowship with persons of similar background, lifestyle and socio-economic status. Preferences in worship style alone can result in the formation of unique congregations not because the attendees wish to exclude particular races or ethnicities but because they seek to support (and promulgate) a particular brand of Seventh-day Adventist Christianity that suits their taste, reaches the persons they are most likely to invite to church (and to Christ), and which satisfies their particular spiritual cravings.

Despite these realities, in virtually every passionate plea for the dissolution of regional conferences, the stated (or subliminal solution) is that regional conferences should dissolve operations and “come back home” to the “original” state (so called “regular”) conference. At NO TIME have I ever heard it proposed that predominately white state conferences dissolve their operations and join already established regional territories; a process that would be even more feasible than its highly espoused reverse solution.

The Issue (and Myth) of the Racially “Pure” Conference

The all too frequent call for the dissolution of regional conferences is based on the assumption that regional conferences are exclusively black while so called state conferences are exclusively white. This is not the case. Regional conferences (including my former employer) are made up of multi-ethnic congregations including: Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African, Haitian/French, and others. State conferences, as well, are populated by numerous multi-ethnic churches. In fact, some non-regional conferences (e.g. Greater New York, Potomac, etc.) have become largely non-white in their membership make-up. Is it the intention of those who would dissolve regional conferences for purposes of unity also to dissolve state conferences whose ethnic memberships are greater than 50%?

The Issue of Ethnically-Focused Ministry

The Gospel Commission given to us by our Lord and Savior is a call to “preach the gospel” to “every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” That call places upon each of us, whether members of a regional or state conference to reach the lost regardless of their racial make-up, socio-economic level, gender, or inherent sinful propensities.

In Acts chapter 2, the Lord sent (in answer to diligent prayer and heart searching) the Holy Spirit to temporarily eradicate the barrier of language from the evangelistic equation. Nationalities present in Jerusalem heard the preaching of the Cross by Jesus’ disciples “each in his own language.” As a result of this miraculous anointing by the Holy Spirit, new believers were fitted to depart from Jerusalem to carry the message of the salvation to their respective countries and local communities.

The challenge of the first century church is not unlike our own. Theirs was a challenge involving chiefly a language barrier. The continuing challenge for the Seventh-day Adventist church includes not only language but also culture and socio-economic separation and stratification.

The apostle Paul himself, when commenting on the need for ethnically focused and responsive ministry, emphasized his need to be “a Jew” to the Jew and “a Greek” to the Greek; thus contextualizing his ministry approach for the sake of spreading the message of Christ beyond his provincial boundaries.

In a similar way, the overriding call (and purpose) of regional conferences is to reach the world with the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Savior within the context of the Three Angels’ messages…with particular focus and concern for the needs of people of color. This purpose does not exclude any race from the “net” of salvation but merely targets people of color as its unique “catch.”

The Issue of the Awkward Question

Some have complained that the mere presence of regional conferences puts them in an “awkward” position of having to explain their existence.

When the question of why regional conferences exist arises, instead of apologizing for their existence, such questions provide a unique opportunity to explain to the honest inquirer:

1. The Wisdom of God in creating diverse races of people in His creation (distinctions, by the way, that in my understanding, will not be erased in the new earth…) and the necessity to provide venues for their exercise of self-determination.

2. The leading of the Lord in allowing for the creation of ethnically sensitive entities that address the particular needs of a racially diverse populous.

3. The necessity of pastors and leaders in majority races to continually remain sensitive to the needs and concerns of racial minorities regardless of the structures in place.

As we journey toward the future, I remain open to “a better way” of performing effective ministry. I welcome calls to discuss such approaches if they are made with sincerity, humility, and with a recognition that all players in the debate sit at the table as equals. However, until that day arrives, we should continue to support (and explain when necessary) the origins, purpose, and continuing relevance of structural entities that not only pursue the Great Commission given to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but who do so in the context of racial inclusion and cooperation.

Donald L. Bedney II, M.Div., M.S.A., J.D., is former Executive Secretary of the Lake Region Conference.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7923

This comes across as a well-stated, balanced presentation. What I’m more convinced of is that we have far too many “middle” administrative organizations and administrators with support staff that duplicate and waste God-given resources. The union conferences should be the first to go.

Incidentally, I think it would be more accurate to state that God created the genetic machinery that has led to races, rather than directly creating the races.

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Given the means of communication and travel, I think the local conferences should go.

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The more integrated all congregations become, the more nonsensical the existence of regional conferences will appear. Those who would wish to join together the conferences should take pains to integrate the congregations, the pastoral teams of those congregations, and the administrative/leadership teams of their respective conferences. Until that time, the regional conferences will be serving an obvious need.

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I see blacks joining white churches, but unfortunately, few whites join black churches. I appreciate black churches for in general they are more conservative.

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Love the well reasoned presentation. Coming from a part of the world that has ethnic churches but not ethnic based mid-level organizational structure, one is moved by the rational thoughts.

However, I wonder rather than calling for Conferences or Unions to be disbanded, if we should be considering further up the tree? With technology and communication capacity today, why do we have such a top-heavy General Conference? Our last major church restructure was over a century ago.

It would seem to me that we could have a “steering committee” of one representative from each of the 13 Divisions as our GC. Then disperse power and focus back to the Divisions who could then use the 400 plus GC budgets to actually do the work that we are called to do - make disciples of all people.

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Perhaps we could take a lesson from the Episcopalians.
They have their “Conferences”, “Unions”, “Divisions”.
Perhaps how they administer would be something to study.
But then, with the Liturgy style of Worshiping, they dont seem have a lot of issues
that many SDA congregations seem to have.
The “color” mix of the congregation is no issue. Persons selected for church offices
is based on the casting votes by the congregation based on who they presume to
be the best for the office.
Same with a selection of Pastor. It is a Congregation-Vestry acceptance of the person.
At present the “Atlanta [upper 1/2 of GA] Conference” Bishop-President is Black. The
North American “Division” Bishop-President is a black male. The former Presiding Bishop
was a white woman Bishop.
Members in the Local Congregations have a lot of control with the directions of their church
and its programs. Its musical instruments in service. A lot of WORKING committees. Many
of the Working Committees at St Francis began with drinking coffee–tea–hot chocolate and
eating brunch at table together after service. A small group would see and verbalize a need,
then they would plan on a strategy to meet it. And Go To Work.

We do need to face facts. There are different expectations about “Church” that various ethnic
groups have. We “white folks” are used to S.S. around 9:30 and church let out between 12 &
12:30. Other ethnic groups enjoy longer services. A number of years ago I attended a church
in downtown Chattanooga on Sabbath with my niece who was attending Southern. It was a
mix of ethnic persons. Began at 9:30 and we were dismissed at 3PM. Was primarily a mix
of white and black culture. But the regular members, including students from Southern,
enjoyed that type of Sabbath celebration, and so it was a popular church.
Most white cultures – SDAs, Baptists, etc are used to an hour or 90 minutes at most, of the
"chuch-preaching" service. White churches have 2, maybe 3 songs. A black church I visited
a few years back had 3 choir numbers, each directed by a different leader. And had 2 other
special musics. In addition to the congregational singing. The preacher did not begin until
12:30. We were dismissed at 2PM. But it was a Celebration with God. And one could sense
the difference there as compared to most “white” services where one is “entertained” but not
Celebrating.

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Donald Bedney is my friend. He’s intelligent and a deep thinker. What he has to say is worth consideration.

And I agree with the post that suggests we should eliminate some of our “top-heavy” administrative positions – whether in regional conferences or (especially) at the GC.

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Though the author makes some compelling arguments/reasons…they still would not hold weight in nearly any First World Country that values true diversity, etc. I see this prospective coming from the position of apologetics not from progressivism.

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Thanks Donald!

If we have a problem where our administrative and support services are under-utilized, we have two options!

  1. We can ask some of these administrators and specialist support staff to step down.
  2. We the people can step up to the plate; and in this way can take up the slack in the system.

The Holy Spirit is waiting to empower the people to do all we can. I’m sure if we used all the gifts God has given to progress the mission and ministry of Jesus we would need more administrative and support services not less.

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this particular defense for regional conferences is probably suspect…i was just reading that phenotypes of the human nose are a genetic adaptation to climate:

it goes without saying that skin color, and racial formation itself, is likely also a product of climate:

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics/human-skin-color-variation/modern-human-diversity-skin-color

of note is the fact scientists have now isolated the gene variant responsible for the formation of skin color:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/researchers-identify-huma/

the most tenable biblical perspective, then, is not that god made the different races at creation - a white adam, and a black eve, for instance…rather, he created the languages that dispersed the descendants of noah at the tower of babel into the various climes occasioned by the changes brought about by the flood throughout the earth, as well as the gene variants that were capable of affording successful adaptation to those various climes…over the centuries, cool, northern climates selected for threonine-SLC24A5, leading to a lighter skin, while hotter, southern climates selected for alanine-SLC24A5, leading to a darker skin…this perspective posits that none of the races existing today exhibit what god actually made to thrive in the perfect climate of eden because the perfect climate of eden no longer exists anywhere on earth…

as for the issue of regional conferences itself, the question is really whether the church is primarily an evangelistic tool, or a demonstration of what received evangelism accomplishes…if the church is primarily an evangelistic tool, it makes sense to have regional conferences, since there are millions of black people who will likely respond more favorably to a black church structure…this is analogous to the split situation in the apostolic church: the jewish church existed side by side with the gentile churches, and we don’t really see any of the inspired apostles pushing to merge them…they understood that world evangelism in their day required different ethnic tools…

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Keep the Conferences, dissolve the GC. Problem solved!
@elmer_cupino @hopeful @ageis711Oxyain @robert_sonter @tjzwemer

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If I’m reading the above description correctly, real integration when it occurs actually happens at the congregational level rather than as a consequence of regional or state (mainstream) conference planning or decision-making. In some notable cases, so-called integration may have resulted from a shift in an ethnic majority composition of a congregation’s membership. Rather than integration of regional and state conferences, what’s needed, I believe, is consolidation of these conferences and union conferences in order to eliminate the needless expense of the duplication of services.

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It makes no sense to integrate the “black” and “white” conferences into a one big conference only to be segregated between the “she” and “he” conferences or better still between the “ordained” and “commissioned” ministers.

Until full equality be conferred to both sexes, the church might as well be allowed to wallow in knee-deep issues of inequality. As a once great politician remarked, “What difference does it make?”

The genome can undergo epigenetic modifications such that the DNA, while remaining unchanged, can be silenced or activated much as EGW, GC and BRI can silence or activate God’s words.

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In a conversation back in 2007, at Buckingham University , with a top EU professor from Oxford ,who instinctually responded to my question by saying, " The Vatican will never join any group that would control it." To which I replied, "But it would join a group that it controls . " This simple fact seem to highlight the problem we are having concerning Regional Conferences. The State Conferences are alright as long as they are in control , but the birth of the Regional Conferences grow out of a direct neglect of black workers and their families. This is a human issue . We just don’t treat each other very kindly . Acts 6:1-7 describes a situation where one group’s daily food portion was stopped . They just happened to be Greeks, but the portion to the Jewish widows never stopped. It was Satan that was seeking to use this occasion to bring in dis unity. Are we allowing him to do the same here. Brethren, we must be wise . This division has gone on too long ,. The work is the Lord’s . But those in charge of the purse must see to it that everyone eats daily . That mean me, the preacher , but also my wife and children when I’m here no more. " Bring ye all the tithe into the Store House that there shall be Meat in My house . " WHOSE EATING ALL THE MEAT ?

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What needs to be discussed when dealing with regional conferences are unions that do not have regional conferences but have ethnic coordinators as in the Pacific Union. How do these do compared to unions with regional conferences? It would be interesting to know how these black, Spanish, or other ethnic groups feel in this kind of situation compared to the regional conferences.

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The church was begun as all-white and rather than welcoming the growth and encouraging everyone to be part of the church, it became a problem and the solutions will always present problems until ALL are considered equal in every respect: color blind and gender blind.
Continuing to preach equality of but refusing to practice it is the worst of hypocrisy.

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Good question. So forgive me for pointing out that an ethnic or Spanish speaking group isn’t “Spanish” unless referring to Spaniards. Whom you seem to be referencing are Hispanics or Latinos: Americans of any race who are descendants of the peoples of Spain, Portugal, or the Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America.

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Please cite one black conference official that desires integration and what he is doing to make it occur. Furthermore, please cite one conference official in general at any level who has an integration strategy and what he is doing to implement it.

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Interesting essay. I have served in a “white” conference (Indiana) in a church in a two church district that was predominantly black and Hispanic, in fact, almost 80 to 90% of that race/ethnicity. We got along fine, it was a “white” cultural service with predominantly black members, and more conservative than many black churches.

I think the main problem with the black conferences is white guilt. I don’t believe there is much motivation on the black side to close them up,. And as this man points out, there may be good non-racial reasons to allow them to continue operation. So how do we assuage white guilt? And should we try to? . .

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