Tightrope Walkers

The supposed existence of reverse racism aside (a concept whose legitimacy I don't want to spend time debating in this article), it is undeniable that as a systematic concept, racism flows primarily in one direction. So preaching to a predominantly minority congregation about what they can do to facilitate improved race relations can be a tightrope. It can easily veer off into directions that may be ill-received: akin to lecturing women on what they ought to do to prevent misogyny or assault. Yet, a balance can be struck for the sake of moving forward.

Let me back up. Last month, I wrote a piece ending with a call to church members and pastors to be proactive in fostering racial reconciliation across our congregations. But that obviously means I ought to practice what I preach. In my own congregation--as in many Black churches across America--we've discussed racial tensions innumerable times. However, actively facilitating reconciliation between congregations wasn't something we regularly did. For the reason mentioned in the first paragraph, it was difficult to formulate a challenge to those who are often the recipients of marginalization regarding their responsibility to be intentional in building racial bridges. Enter Todd.

Todd Leonard is the Lead Pastor at Glendale City Church, which is in my conference. Months ago, he approached me about taking action to address the race relations issues that are sadly prevalent not only in the larger society, but in our very own conference. I'm grateful for that. Todd is White. And, no, he obviously doesn't speak for his entire ethnic group (just as the actions of no single individual becomes the representation of their entire people group). But having him take the initiative was necessary. It demonstrated that there was a desire by individuals within the majority culture to tear down the walls of separation. The importance of that component can't be overstated. So in March, I preached about embracing change, evoking forgiveness, and having empathy for our brothers and sisters--even if you have been hurt--just as Joseph did with his brothers; just as Moses did with Aaron and Miriam when they discriminated against his wife. Todd coming to the church made a huge difference. At the end of my sermon, he opened his heart and shared. He cried. He prayed. And my church embraced him, figuratively and literally. It opened a door.

Two weeks later on Easter weekend, our church hosted a unity agape feast that was originally planned to be held in conjunction with Glendale City Church and Hawthorne Spanish Congregation. But word got out and we had members from the local Ghanaian group, the Glendale Filipino Church, and from Hollywood Church come to join us as well! Different backgrounds languages and cultures ate and sang and prayed together.

Now I'm not so naïve as to believe that one program will erase all of our divisions. But this won't be a one-off event. We want… actually, we NEED this to be only the start of the path toward reconciliation.

I'm not writing this to tout what we did, nor to claim the what we did was THE way to begin (although it is A way). And I certainly am not insinuating that ours was the first attempt of a church group taking action in the name of racial healing. On the contrary, many have done things on various scales before this. Instead, I simply wrote this follow up to circle back and reiterate the fact that all of us--including myself--need to be willing to put our money where our mouths are. If we belong to Christ, we ought to honor His prayer on our behalf that we may be one as He and His Father are One. If we aren't willing to put in the work, then we're only paying lip service to what Christ claimed would distinguish us as His own.

Yeah, I know many things have transpired during the past month since I last wrote on this subject: big things and important things. But we can't allow our goal of multicultural community to fade into the background until another racially charged incident brings our problems to the fore. Being intentional in striving for unity can't be relegated to just once a year. Let's continue to be proactive during all 12 months. Let's challenge all of our members to do so. Let's have the hard conversations--even if it means walking a tightrope.

Courtney Ray is a native New Yorker who ministers in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is an ordained pastor serving in Southern California Conference.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7403
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I applaud Courtney’s article in general and its intent to educate us about the problems of racism, etc., within the church. One of the issues that is apparent is the churches that she mentioned are still divided by race. As long as there are self-imposed distinctions- racially designated churches, conferences, etc., it makes the problem with race so much harder.

God never intended that we should segregate ourselves by color or by race…it is we who have done so in the Adventist churches. I am weary of hearing the excuses that it makes people more “comfortable” and that it “equalizes” the power base between white/black. These are human, not Divine, reasons and there has been little progress made in over a hundred years.

Shame. But evidently not enough feel it…

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I understand the feeling that motivates the title of this article. It seems that people with the best intentions for true dialog are often shut down for saying things in an offensive manner or being ignorant of the most current social mores. They are brave soul indeed that risk the vulnerability that comes with dialogs on racism. Thank you, Courtney, for your courage.

My thoughts along these lines are this: Within the Adventist church there are some congregations that have a good representation of many ethnicities/races and some congregations that do not. My particular congregation is multi-ethnic and I appreciate the valuable lessons that we learn through constant contact with each other. It seems to me, at this point in time, that the multi-ethnic congregation would be the best witness/example to demonstrate kingdom values to the world.

But there is also a demonstrable value in giving administrative autonomy to various racial groups that exist with a strong sub-culture. Both the Methodist and the Adventist denominations have a history of “regional” divisions which provide greater administrative autonomy to African American adherents to determine their own destinies, etc. Months ago, I found a dissertation paper by Alphonzo Greene Jr. in which Professor Greene compares Black Regional Conferences in the SDA church with a comparable division (Black Central Jurisdiction) in the United Methodist denomination. When the United Methodists ceased the distinction - in the name of racial unity, the growth of the United Methodists among African Americans suffered because of it.* So looking at those statistics, one can see the value of ethnic “regions” within the church administrative structure. But this approach also encourages the establishment of various mono-racial congregations - which gives the appearance of a racial divide. Professor Greene offered this discouraging conclusion toward the end of his dissertation, “It is unlikely that fellowship of equals without distinction based on race or gender will ever be obtained in America or anywhere else.” (pg. 325 of Dr. Greene’s dissertation)

Is this a situation that must be addressed or are things fine the way they are? Is there a true value to multi-ethnic congregations that is great enough to be intentionally encouraged at the institution/administrative level? Would encouragement of this kind have a negative impact on mono-ethnic congregations and with the gospel work of the SDA church overall? Are there certain regions of the country where race-specific congregations are necessary and other parts of the country where they are not?

I feel like, just asking these questions, might be revealing some racial ignorance on my part, and I apologize for that, but the questions are sincere.

*Regional Conferences in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church Compared with United Methodist Central Jurisdiction/AnnualConferences with White SDA Conferences, From1940 - 2001. Alphonzo Greene, Jr. 2009
http://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1159&context=luc_diss

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There is always going to be the ENJOYMENT of doing church with like persons.
Perhaps communities of Seventh day Adventists need to consider meeting on a non-Church day at a non-Church house location.
Perhaps Sunday events somewhere in the geographical area such as a big park, water front area, or other place where interaction activities can take place.
Perhaps these special days might just include certain age groups, that way the number of persons attending will facilitate conversation, and allow for manageable group activities to occur. And foster improved meeting and greeting.
Plan activities where traditions can be shared. Perhaps in food, dress, music, worship style. Maybe even in games.
But it needs to be a time when non-Sabbath talk can be engaged in freely. And lots of noise can be allowed.
**** An Adventist that grew up here in Macon the Macon White church has recently moved back after long years of living elsewhere. She actually lives in my building, so we have been conversing. I mentioned that both the White and Black churches do not talk to each other.
Her comment was — I didn’t know there was a Black SDA church in Macon.
The Black church has more than twice the membership of the White, and has a huge church school program with many non-SDAs who attend.
**** Our White Church is quite multi-cultural. Probably more than half the congregation on sabbaths are hispanics and black. But the service is a traditional White programming, and music is with either piano or organ only.

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“akin to lecturing women on what they ought to do to prevent misogyny or assault.”

Don’t you think that that’s a little overdramatic? I don’t think my parents thought it was a tightrope to tell us children to reach out and be friendly first with the majority, even if they were not, initially friendly . . . when we moved around and joined new schools and new congregations as we were growing up. That’s something we were taught as children, and something I teach mine.

Additionally, are you suggesting that your Adventist brethren of a different skin color would assault you?

We don’t have to make everything about race. We don’t have to always distinguish what differentiates us. Why don’t we get together at Unity Agape feasts as a fellowship of Adventists stressing the commonality of the hope we have in the God we serve and His soon return. Perhaps, in that feasting on the things we have in common, we can, also, learn how, despite our differences, we are the same.

Let’s just fellowship with congregations from different churches, without having to intentionally look for racial differences. Just curious, has the church had unity agape feasts with other Adventist churches in Compton? As we become friendly with everyone, perhaps we will find that without intentionally looking for friends of different ethnicities we will find that we will have friends of different skin colors.

And I do agree with a previous poster that many ‘white’ churches are very multi-racially diverse. We are not African-American but we are a minority. As an adult raising children, we have always attended ‘white’ churches that had pastoral staff of white, Asian, Hispanic and African American ministers.

Let’s not dwell on things that divide us because they will divide us more. Let’s be intentional in focusing on the God we have in common, Jesus, who will draw us all to Him.

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Racism is a social, not a biological construct. Adventists should try to get along despite outward differences and the natural tendencies to preserve traditional cultures and bloodlines. This will take time but SDA’s cannot consider themselves a true remnant with a unique mission for these latter days when humanity can be made extinct in a few hours, if we cannot rise above a false doctrine such as racism… The Book of God clearly tells us that racism is false. In the natural world the “races” can interbreed ad infinitum with viable effects, whereas a few generations of incest would leave those practicing such as deformed (such as some "horse-like faced members of the Hapsburg dynasty) or prone to the “bleeding disease” of the Windsors , and so on. Even Hitler had to back off on his support for Nordic superiority when his racial propagandists could not explain why it was that the “Mixed race” Greeks and Romans were the ones who created the greatest European civilisations and not the blonde blue-eyed Nordic peoples. Her desperately switched to the ARYAN culture but Aryans were ancestrally mixed race peoples due to war between Indian and German tribes where the inevitable intermixing occurred. He originally divided the white race into three:1. Nordic -tall, long-headed, blonde 2, short, round-headed mousy-haired Euros in central europe3, Mediterranean Greeks and Romans. Also he was baffled by the huge almost miraculous monuments existing on the continent of “savages”, Africa, which no German architects / builders could reproduce. He tried say the fair skinned Hyksos built these but history refuted this spin. Genome scientists say that each cell has 100,000 genes, but that only six control skin colour. Also everyone shares the same six genes which means that everyone of us has potential to produce skin as black as an African native.

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Thanks for your essay, Courtney Ray.

Respectfully, I’m not sure what you’re claiming and, thus, advocating.

That is, I’m not clear what the list of activities you describe in your essay are supposed to do about white supremacy (racism), or what would be the evidence of this.

HA

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