Challenges and Changes: Responding to the Current Crisis

On June 10, leaders of the Pacific Union and the North American Division held a roundtable via Zoom to dialogue about the issues raised by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the nationwide protests against police brutality and systematic racial injustice, and the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Below are excerpts from some of the comments made during that roundtable.

Something particular has happened here that I’ve not seen in my lifetime, and it’s quite surprising. I see diversity in the protests. You don’t just see African Americans; you see people from every culture as part of this. Something has happened. We are in a generation and a time now when people are coming together and saying, “We want to be our brother’s keeper.” There is a sense of understanding each other’s humanity.

Marc Woodson, president of the Northern California Conference

It is our Christian duty to speak up and speak out on this. I’m really glad that as a denomination, as a church, we are now awakening. All of us. Our tradition has been to not become very involved as a church, but now it is undeniable that we have to stand up and defend life. May the Lord bless us all as we unite to defend what Jesus would do if He were living in this time.

Velino Salazar, president of the Southern California Conference

As members of the body of Christ, we have a social gospel that speaks of social justice. We must be good stewards of whatever God has given us—whether it’s our voice, or resources, or opportunities to sit at a table where decisions are made, or an education. That’s what the civil rights movement did for us. It gave us the opportunity to receive an education and sit in places where we can make a difference by voicing our opinion.

Virgil Childs, regional coordinator of the Pacific Union Conference

Some of our schools and graduation ceremonies were very unusual and ran the gamut from virtual to drive-up variations. And some of those schools took the time for an eight-minute 46-second period of silence. Truly, this is a generation that has been moved and has been changed. I hope that we have the ability to guide them into a way of making this a more positive experience.

Berit von Pohle, director of education of the Pacific Union Conference

We are seeing what happens when our words don’t match our actions, when our beliefs are not lived out in the relationships we have with one another. We must humbly accept that we have failed in showing God’s true character and grace.

VicLouis Areola, Asian-Pacific ministries coordinator of the Pacific Union Conference

There is one way in which this current issue has to speak to the church and to the minds of church members. I heard someone say that for all too long we have hidden behind the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary, thinking that it was OK to remain silent or to remain aloof. But the reality is that the issues that are a part of our society are also a part of our church, and there is racism in the church.

Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division

We are in the world, but we’re not supposed to be of the world. In other words, we’re not to have the same values that the world espouses; we cling to the values of Christ. But have we been articulating that well enough, loud enough, widespread enough? Would we say that people who have been denied justice should have justice, and that it runs both ways—not just from the police to a suspect, but that the police should be held accountable also? How does that affect our communities?

Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference

All of those videos combined that happened within a month, they rocked the consciousness of the nation—and the world. The fact that all of these incidents were occurring showed definitively that there was something wrong. Something is going wrong. I watched the first funeral, and they asked for a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It was a long time—unbearable. And that made an impact on the entire nation.

Leon Brown, Sr., president of the Nevada-Utah Conference

Sometimes the way we have organized things can lead to division instead of unity. Perhaps we have falsely emphasized what divides us instead of what unites us. Perhaps we have sought consensus when we should have been listening more carefully to individual concerns.  But in all these things, Christ strengthens us. As a church, we must be ready to listen first.

Jorge Soria, vice president of the Pacific Union Conference

There were clergy who were supporters of the civil rights movement but who urged caution, slowing, patience. Martin Luther King answered, “The church in the first century was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion. It was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” I think that’s the challenge for us today. It’s easy to have rhetoric. It’s easy to sit back and say we should do it.

Brad Newton, executive secretary of the Pacific Union Conference

For too long words of comfort have been spoken in moments such as these and systems have gone unchallenged. We call on those in positions of power, those in places of privilege, those who have authority over others, and those who are followers of Christ, including ourselves, to act courageously, to care compassionately, to love deeply, to creatively construct new ways, new patterns of being in this world that honor all members of God’s good creation.

Joy Fehr, president of La Sierra University

We’ve got to be careful to not see this experience of George Floyd as just something that’s on the television. We can’t hold his memorial services at a distance from ourselves.  It’s not just some painting or some symbol. We’ve got to go beyond that. We have to see it as a clarion call for us to come together and talk about what is right. We need go beyond protesting against what’s wrong; we’ve got to talk about what’s right, and we’ve got to insist on accountability.

Virgil Childs, regional coordinator of the Pacific Union Conference

Many of our members and even some of our local leaders did not know the Adventist position on social justice. Jesus showed us what we should do. He started His public ministry standing up for the disenfranchised, what we call today social justice. We have to do something, and I appreciate the conversation we’re having here in the Pacific Union.

Alex Bryant, secretary of the North American Division

I believe that our church, at different levels, on many occasions, has decided to pass over and ignore the particular needs of more than one ethnic group. Often, their requests and recommendations have not received balanced, careful, or respectful consideration. They have not been treated as equals. They have experienced prejudice, inequality, racism, bigotry, injustice, and marginalization. This type of conduct is unacceptable for our church.

Alberto Ingleton, Spanish Ministries coordinator for the Pacific Union Conference

We are commandment-keeping people, and that’s foundational for us. Yet, if we really are going to be people of the law, we’ve got to remember that the law is based on love. If we’re truly commandment-keeping people, then we cannot allow racism to exist in our church.

Remember the foundation of our beliefs. We sometimes forget about the most important piece: love. Love is the center of what Adventism is about.

Leon Brown, Sr., president of the Nevada-Utah Conference

In Romans 13:11, the Apostle Paul tells us it’s time to wake from our sleep. What I’d never noticed before were the first three words in that verse: “Now do this.” What is Paul asking us to do? When you read the previous verse, he says, “Love your neighbor.” In anticipation of the Second Coming, we need to be emphasizing “love your neighbor” because it is the fulfillment of the law.

Ralph Watts, president of the Hawaii Conference

We must reframe our theology of social justice in a way that moves us from compassion to advocacy, because it’s the advocacy that will lead us toward solutions that can help restore people’s dignity. We believe, as the body of Christ, that all are created in the image of God and have an indelible dignity. What a message for us as we continue to find ways and verbiage to preach that, to teach that, and to model that together. I also believe that we need to change the way we are siloed in our churches.

Sandra Roberts, president of the Southeastern California Conference

Black lives matter. It’s time to move beyond words. Instead of merely talking about diversity, I want us to move to action where we live out and celebrate our differences, loving each other as Christ has shown us. Christ calls us to be more than accepting or respectful of each other. He calls us to love one another. Now is the time to put those words into action.

Robert Cushman, president of Pacific Union College

Social justice is misunderstood. I think we need an education. Therefore, number one, I am calling for family ministries, children ministries, education ministries, and church ministries to develop a curriculum that will address this foundational element of our human experience. Number two, I’m calling for each conference and local church to create a standing roundtable committee to serve as a safe environment where discussions can take place and social justice can be better understood.

Ramiro Cano, president of the Central California Conference

At this time, I think we are seeing a generational shift, where younger generations are growing up with a different experience. I applaud so many people with the bravery to speak out. I appreciate this opportunity to share and to get so many different perspectives, because hearing other people’s stories gives us an opportunity to know where they’re coming from.

Stephen Mayer, treasurer of the Pacific Union Conference

We are at a pivotal point. We have a church that spans the world, and the world is being challenged about social justice and the expungement of racism of every kind. In the Old Testament, God used His prophets to speak to the injustice that His people were perpetrating against each other. In Matthew 22, Jesus tells us to love the Lord and love our neighbor—on that hangs all the law and the prophets. Justice is a manifestation of love.

Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference