In 2013 three black women started #Black Lives Matter (BLM). These women demonstrated radical love for their communities when it was not popular to do so. Queer women, feminists, and others stood up for Black men and women who had been brutally murdered by the police and white supremacist civilians. In 2016 Colin Kaepernick, a mixed heritage, tattoo-covered, giant afro-wearing quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took a knee during the US national anthem to protest the same issues that stoked the women of BLM into action. He demonstrated radical love and commitment to Black communities when it was not popular to do so. His stand cost him his job. He was condemned by the President of the United States and was boycotted by all the teams of the National Football League (NFL).
Fast forward to 2020. In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder by the police, BLM has global prominence, and everyone, from global corporations, politicians, the sports, arts and entertainment industries, proclaim that Black Lives Matter. Even the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the ‘special denomination’ with its ‘truth’ for the last days, found it necessary, from its world headquarters, area divisions, and local unions and conferences, to issue apologies and statements of various kinds, recognising that Black lives indeed do matter! How is it that a church that was formally organised in the United States in 1863, in the midst of a civil war fought in part over the burning issue of the liberation of Black lives from enslavement, is only now drawing the conclusion that Black Lives Matter?
I would humbly suggest that on the issue of racism, and on most of the key questions related to equality, human rights and dignity in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Church has been wrong. Groups of people and organisations that it has demonized — from marginalised racial and ethnic minorities, to gays and lesbians, to feminists, to other denominations, ecumenical bodies and governmental organisations — have shown a greater degree of love, compassion and support for the oppressed and marginalised than has the SDA Church. In most cases, these groups have acted first and we have trailed in their wake. They have lived out the Christ-like attributes of love, mercy and justice, whilst the Church has displayed an out-of-touch narrow mindedness.
A powerful example of this is the Church’s neglect of the commandments, whilst claiming it is the only church that keeps all the commandments! ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is the second great commandment, but the SDA church does not mention it in its fundamental doctrines. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is a central tenet of what it means to be a Christian, yet it is not a precondition for SDA church membership. Loving your neighbour as yourself shows us the character of God, but it is a minor, almost irrelevant consideration of what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist.
The emphasis that the SDA Church has placed on claims of ‘truth’ at the expense of love is why it has been so negligent in addressing racial injustice. A church that loves would be quick to speak out on issues that hurt its community. A church that loves would open its doors and share its resources willingly with those in need, even at its own expense and hurt. A church that loves stands in the gap for those that are unloved.
It is not too late for the Church to recognise its errors and to make restitution to those that it has for too long neglected. Here are a few starters:
To every local church in the UK (Black-led, White, Multi-ethnic, Majority-ethnic), take a break from inviting preachers from overseas. Use the money to support local anti-racist charities and Black-led community organisations. Talk to other denominations, faith groups and the local authority and work with them to support the Black community in your area.
Local churches, come together and support Black businesses. Use the same supplier for your flowers, paper, computers, cleaning supplies, repairs etc; work together and join with other denominations and create local consortia to support jobs and create opportunities in your communities.
To the Conferences and Union, scrap camp meetings or, at a minimum, extend its hiatus and use the money to sponsor non-Adventist inner city youth to attend the best Adventist Schools. Use your influence to ensure all SDA institutions that are resident in the UK are diverse and are creating pathways and opportunities for marginalised communities.
Open up the radio station and Church publications to the wider Black community. Allow them to share their knowledge, their expertise and their experiences with us. Let’s expose ourselves to each other so that all can grow and develop together.
It is a radical moment; the Holy Spirit is speaking through the rocks to the Church. Engage, listen, learn, share and love. Don’t let this harvest pass.