Last week, my brother and I did a presentation for pastors. As you may know by the emphasis on this blog, I am interested in making sure we do not lose any more of your young people. Getting the perspective of an outsider, who himself took the journey out, was helpful. We did not agree on everything, yet it was a productive discussion.
The presentation was composed of eleven questions. (you can request it and I will send it to you) One of the questions was:
What was the worse experience you remember from church? The first (and only) one on the list was: RACE in the church.
Yamil then proceeded to quote MLK “We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday [or Saturday] morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King JR
That conversation has been on my mind a lot lately. Here are three thoughts I want to share:
1. Difficult conversations.
It was very difficult to explain to my own teenage kids, when we moved to Atlanta from Oregon, how conferences are aligned in this part of the country. Coming from the NW, we had one conference where all the churches were together. It is even more difficult to explain to a non-believer, especially a younger one, the reasons why we align the way we do. Race conversations are difficult. See Travon Martin’s case for example, a heart wrenching murder case that elicited much dialogue in Twitter and Facebook, but silence pretty much everywhere else in our denomination. When we are silent in matters of race, for fear of offending or just plain “not getting it” we lose a great opportunity to engage a segment in our church that is extremely in tune with social issues, including race. It is difficult, yet it is necessary.
2. Careful/caring expressions.
As we join the conversation on race, and our present structure it’s important to be careful and thoughtful when we speak. For example, I have heard repeatedly the following remark:
“We should be united and not have two conferences in the same area. Black conferences should disappear and we should all join one conference.” That comment is offensive on two levels.
- There are no Black Conferences. They are called Regional Conferences.
- Saying that regional conferences should disappear puts them in a secondary status, reinforcing once again the reason why they came to be in the first place.
Here are some others that are untrue that I have heard personally:
- All white people are racist, have a hidden agenda or don’t get it.
- It’s easy to baptize people in Hispanic Churches. In fact, it’s getting harder every day.
- Black means militant or hateful.
We become careful/caring by entering each other’s world. We do that by intentionally pursuing relationships with people different than us. I have been in several cities in our union that pastors living in the same city from different conferences do not even know each other. I believe that is sinful. Unity multiplies impact.
3. Highlight success.
This might be my perception, (and feel free to challenge me on it), but there seems to be a lack of information to the wider world of NAD Adventism on the many wonderful things that are happening in the minority segments of our church. Take young adults for example. We have a problem in North America with their disconnection from our churches, yet congregations like First University in Tampa, which regularly has around 400 mostly young adults on Sabbath is a virtual unknown. Other examples (I could mention dozens) are churches in Orlando, Riverside Chapel, Forrest City, Atlanta. In Atlanta where I live you could visit 10 churches within 45 minutes of each other that have significant numbers of young adults engaged in ministry. Its even worse for Eastern European and Korean Churches, who are less prominent, and practically invisible.
Another example is PELC (https://www.facebook.com/pelcpower). I wonder why it does not get a wider exposure. It’s the longest running evangelism and leadership convention in the nation, with over 2,000 leaders in attendance, yet it barely gets mentioned.
There are wonderful things happening in many places, but because we mainly stick with our own, we miss the learning opportunity. I could mention about Florida’s Lay Pastor Churches (an interesting model) a church planting initiative in the Carolina’s, a great youth initiative in KTTN, the possibilities are endless, yet many times ignored. I encourage you to do three things:
1. Worship, connect, or attend an event where people are different than you. This year.
2. Seek a person of another race and invite them out to lunch. Pray for them regularly.
3. Listen. Get on Twitter or Facebook and listen.
I want to be an agent of change. What can we do together to improve our witness, join our forces and pool our talents for the kingdom? Your turn now…