Union Facilitates Dialogue on Race Relations
Union Facilitates Dialogue on Race Relations
Growing up on the west side of Las Vegas, Marvin Brown, president of the Allegheny West Conference, saw the impact economic disparities had on his life and many of his African-American classmates who were bussed to a school across the city. His working-class parents were so busy they couldn’t visit the school to help choose his curriculum and nurture his educational journey, resulting in less than acceptable academic results.
When domestic violence ended his mother’s life and he was sent to Cleveland to live with an aunt whose home he described as “dire if not abusive,” he ran away to live with his grandmother in Cincinnati. He eventually attended Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) Pine Forge Academy in Pine Forge, Pa. While there, one of the teachers, Mrs. June Sims, took a special interest in him and helped him catch up to his classmates.
“Racism is ridiculous,” says Brown, reflecting on his classmates who hadn’t been given the same opportunities he had at Pine Forge. “Instead of them being productive students, [the government is] paying to house them in jail. What would have happened if they had the same opportunity I had? Where would they be today? They would be paying taxes instead of being supported by taxes. America is only as strong as its most vulnerable citizen. … We need to have these kinds of conversations.”
Brown shared his story at the Deeper Understandings of Race Relations: A Biblical Perspective event last month. Henry Fordham, president of the AEC, also shared a bit of his family history with racism.
Many of Fordham’s family members worked for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and one particular uncle held a high denominational position. The uncle shared about visiting another leader’s home. The uncle thought there “would be a wonderful spirit of togetherness,” Fordham shared. Then the uncle was asked to sit alone at a small table off to the side because the leader’s mother-in-law wouldn’t eat with black people.
“If recent political events have done anything for us, they remind us how fragile our system of democracy is,” says Fordham. “There has always been some sense of racism with us. Even when our church members were being mistreated [they stayed] because they love the Lord and this message and want to be part of finishing this mission.”
These stories, or variations of them, are familiar to many African-American members, and have been brought to memory even more vividly recently.
This past year has been tumultuous in regards to race relations. “The stark reality of the evil of race relations and unfair practices have touched a nerve for all of us,” said Dave Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference, during the event hosted on Zoom. “Because we are a church in the world, not of the world, we want to offer ideas on how to make an impact and gain understanding.”
Rick Remmers, executive secretary of the Columbia Union, added, “Union leaders want to focus on the Word of God for guidance on how to be salt and light in our culture and make a difference when it comes to race relations in our culture.”
The Sabbath afternoon event was one of several leadership enrichment programs for the union’s executive committee members and other union leaders over the past few years. During the event, several professors from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (Mich.) shared presentations on the various perceptions of racism in North America and in the Bible.
During the event, Brown and Bob Cundiff, president of the Ohio Conference, also shared about a joint Bible-reading initiative their conferences, which share part of the same geographic area, spearheaded. Read more on the initiative.
The Church Is You and Me
During his presentation on the biblical/theological perspective on racism, Jiri Moskala, dean at the seminary and professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, said the Bible doesn’t mention race specifically, but it does deal with attitudes similar to racism. “It is the same spirit of bias, bigotry, hatred, unfairness,” he says, noting that the Bible speaks against those very clearly and plainly.
He added the fundamental principles for dealing with racism are found in the creation story. “God created only one humanity, humankind. So, God did not create the races. …We are one family, and we are one diverse family. And everybody is created equal because we are all created into the image of God. And this is a fundamental issue for everything,” said Moskala. “And of course, this does not rule out diversity. On the contrary, we can have these differences and we can celebrate the differences, but God is the creator. And there is only one humanity.”
He added that theology “needs to be practical and transform our relationships. … The church is “you and me, and we need to be the model of transformation. … We cannot change the past, but we can transform the future,” noting that to bring the walls of separation down, we have to have open minds and dialogue with one another.
Willie Hucks, associate professor of Pastoral Theology and Homiletics and the chair of the Department of Christian Ministry at the seminary, presented an African-American perspective on a solution to racism.
He urged participants to practice the rejection of deflection, as seen when people don’t want to acknowledge hurts of the past and realities of the present. He noted that the parable of the prodigal son serves as a cautionary tale, where at one point in time the younger son needed more attention. “It didn’t mean he didn’t love the other son equally, but, at that point, he is searching for the son who left.”
Hucks added, that to find a solution, members must have truth and reconciliation, versus just reconciliation. “We must be informed about the truth we’re trying to reconcile. This begins with having sound information. Let’s study and see what has gone on.”
Trevor O’Reggio, director of the Master in Religion program and an associate professor of church history at the seminary, shared a presentation titled, “America Bipolar Nation—The Lamb or the Dragon.” He recounted the history of slavery and racism in America and the continuing economic, social and spiritual impact and implications: “If we are true to the mandate that God has given to us, we’re obligated to address these economic inequalities. …. We aren’t only called to address the gospel, but also the various needs of individuals. If a guy is hungry, cold and homeless, he isn’t going to be very receptive to your sermon about the Sabbath or the state of the dead. … We aren’t carrying out the mandate of God if we neglect the economic realities of those we’re trying to reach.”
During a panel discussion segment in the program, a number of the 70 participants expressed appreciation for the presentations and information shared and encouraged union leaders to continue the dialogue and consider additional steps.
In his closing remarks, Dave Weigley, encouraged attendees with the challenge before the church: “We have an opportunity to show the world that we are one family, that we are all brothers and sisters, despite how the world may try to divide us. Through the church, Christ is going to manifest his character and glory through His people,” said Dave Weigley in his closing remarks.
He then shared the following appeal, a quote from Ellen White: “The church is God's appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God's plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency. The members of the church, those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, are to show forth His glory. The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to "the principalities and powers in heavenly places," the final and full display of the love of God. Ephesians 3:10.” (Acts of the Apostles, 9.1).