Challenges and Changes: Responding to the Current Crisis

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

2020-07-01T09:36:45-07:00June 29th, 2020|Let Justice Roll|

Let Justice Roll

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! — Amos 5:24 (NIV)
 
George Floyd must live in our memory. His name will live among other names—Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery—names of black men killed by those sworn to protect, defend, and serve. The Bible says, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV).
 
Where is the church in the midst of all this violence? Where is the one institution in society that is supposed to be our moral compass, that is supposed to be a prophetic voice calling out injustice, demanding justice, promoting righteousness?
 
What is the legacy of the church in a nation plagued by systemic racism? Yes, it is a plague—as real and deadly as the locusts that rained down upon the Egyptians in the Exodus. Systemic racism in America is a plague of biblical proportions.
 
The legacy of the church is mixed. During the civil rights era, white pastors and other clergy joined with their black brothers and sisters to march, to be beaten, to give their blood for civil rights. They achieved stunning victories with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other key legislation. But then they went back to their congregations, and it was largely business as usual. These laws have profoundly changed our nation for the better, but they have failed to make much of a dent in systemic racism. Housing discrimination is illegal, but our neighborhoods still suffer a high degree of racial segregation. Employment discrimination is illegal, yet we don’t even have a term like “glass ceiling” to describe the exclusion of blacks from the top echelons of corporate governance. School segregation is illegal, yet public school demographics track with housing and schools have never fully desegregated.
 
Systemic racism is perhaps most clearly visible in the relationship between blacks and law enforcement. Blacks know it is a crime to have the wrong color skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a luxury car and wearing a business suit—those red flashing lights in the rearview mirror inspire fear of violence. No one black is safe, whether jogging around town, sitting in your car, or even lying in your bed.
 
What about the church? Has it become a silent dog, refusing to bark? Across our society, churches at worship remain the most segregated time in American life. Most of us don’t even worship together with people of other races. How can we expect to dismantle systemic racism in other parts of society?
 
Make no mistake: Christians occupy positions of leadership at every level of society—in government, in business, in education, and yes, in law enforcement. Christians have largely failed to do our duty to address systemic racism where we live and work, and where we have influence. It is time for us to repent, and not merely wring our hands and say, “I’m sorry.” No, it is time to remember. To remember George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others and, by remembering, to act. Racism is socially tolerated, allowed, even reinforced when we passively remain silent and fail to address it. Systemic racism exists because racists are not made to pay a price for their hate. We tolerate racists in our families, in our companies, and yes, in our churches. Racism is a sin, and until the church recovers its moral voice, the church will remain complicit. It is past time for anyone to think they can sit on the sidelines.
 
In our churches, we teach children to sing, “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.” We do this in churches that are largely segregated themselves, and we return to neighborhoods and schools that are largely segregated, and to companies where too few blacks occupy leadership posts. The death of George Floyd did not take place in a vacuum. George Floyd is dead because we permitted racism to flourish in America. George Floyd is dead, at least in part, because the church has failed to provide the moral compass we need.
 
I call on Christians, especially, and people of all faiths to take action in your communities and demand justice. There will never be justice so long as we tolerate racism. We must stop passively accepting the intolerable as the status quo. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
 
 

2020-06-26T16:53:10-07:00June 26th, 2020|Let Justice Roll|

Leadership Roundtable June 10, 2020

The senior leadership of the Pacific Union Conference—including conference presidents, Union officers, North American Division officers, and education and health care leaders—convened for a Leadership Roundtable on June 10, 2020. Their purpose was to formalize a shared conversation and address some of the issues raised by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, and to respond to the nationwide protests against police brutality and systematic racial injustice and the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The conversation was hosted by Dr. Ricardo B. Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference. Below is a list of the members of the Leadership Roundtable.

Ricardo Graham

President, Pacific Union Conference

Bradford Newton

Executive Secretary, Pacific Union Conference

VicLouis Areola, III

Asian-Pacific Ministries Director, Pacific Union Conference 

Leon B. Brown, Sr.

President, Nevada-Utah Conference 

G. Alexander Bryant

Executive Secretary, North American Division

Ramiro Cano

President, Central California Conference

Virgil Childs

African-American Ministries Director, Pacific Union Conference

Robert A. Cushman Jr.

President, Pacific Union College

Joy Fehr

President, La Sierra University

Alberto Ingleton

Hispanic Ministries Director, Pacific Union Conference

Daniel R. Jackson

President, North American Division

Ed Keyes

President, Arizona Conference

Stephen Mayer

Treasurer, Pacific Union Conference

Scott Reiner

CEO, Adventist Health

Sandra Roberts

President, Southeastern California Conference

Velino Salazar

President, Southern California Conference

Jorge Soria

Vice President, Pacific Union Conference 

Berit von Pohle

Director of Education, Pacific Union Conference

Ralph Watts, III

President, Hawaii Conference

Marc Woodson

President, Northern California Conference

2020-06-26T16:51:12-07:00June 26th, 2020|Let Justice Roll|

Adventist Churches Show Up to Support the Black Community

By Cynthia Mendoza
 
In response to the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Adventist churches nationwide, including in the Pacific Union, have joined in public demonstrations of support for the Black community through protests, prayers walks, and vigils.
 
Ahmaud Arbery was shot by civilians in February while out for a run near his home, Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in March by police officers while they were executing a search warrant, and in May George Floyd died during an arrest attempt by police officers.
 
The following are just a few of the churches within the Pacific Union that have engaged in public support for the Black community.
 
On Wednesday June 3, members, pastors, and conference officers of the Southern California Conference marched from the University church to the California African American Museum in Exposition Park, Los Angeles.
 
The event was a peaceful prayer protest and vigil. The group was joined by members of the community, a local business owner, a captain of the LAPD Southwest Division, and the captain of University of Southern California’s Department of Public Safety, who marched with them and addressed the people.
 
The message of this event was clear: “Black Lives Matter and God’s voice matters” and to do nothing is to be complicit in the injustice.
 
“We are surprised and devastated by continued police brutality, particularly against African Americans. It’s discouraging to see we’re still fighting the same battle for the last 100 years,” said Royal Harrison, SCC Greater Los Angeles Region director.
 
Conversely, Harrison said he was encouraged not just by the turnout at the march, approximately 300 to 350 people people, but by the ethnic and age diversity of those who came to show support.
 
“We all have to work together to make communities safe for everyone,” Harrison said.
 
Also within SCC territory, in Long Beach in early June, youth and young adults met for a morning community walk during which they visited and prayed with people from businesses that had been affected by a recent riot in that area.
 
“Never have we seen in our lifetime, a conference explicitly fight for social justice clearly,” read a statement on the One House Facebook page, a group of SCC youth and young adults, under a post of photos from the marches and protests. “We are proud POC [people of color], proud men and women, and proud members of the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”
 
In Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday, June 5, Abundant Life and New Life churches participated in a rally, march, and candlelight vigil at Kianga Isoke Palacio Park in Las Vegas. The theme was “We Deserve to Live—Black People Matter.” The event drew a crowd of approximately 2, 500 people.
 
On June 13, the Nevada-Utah Conference (NUC) also hosted a conversation via Zoom called Courageous Conversation About Race. The program was hosted by NUC President Leon Brown, Elder Karen Schneider, Elder Carlos Camacho, and Pastor Oneil Madden.
 
“This has been a very difficult time for our nation. The last several weeks have been especially difficult for me personally as I contemplated the deaths of three young people who died unjustly.” said Brown, in a separate video statement in response to the recent deaths. “As I shared my thoughts with our pastors and leaders, it became apparent right away they too were being impacted by the events taking place in our nation.”
 
Brown’s brief introduction then leads into a longer video, with voices and thoughts from NUC educators and pastors in response to the recent events. A common theme among the various responses was a commitment to the “weighty matters of the law,” such as justice and mercy, and a commitment to caring and helping set free those who are oppressed.
 
On Sabbath, June 6, Clovis church pastor David Dean interviewed Clovis Police Chief Curt Fleming. In his introduction, Dean said that, in light of everything that was happening, he felt convicted to invite Fleming to speak. Their conversation covered many topics currently being discussed in communities across the nation, and Fleming also shared specific physical and procedural policies regarding arrests, adding that all the information was publicly available online. You may view the entire interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v = xnwB0cJ5TfI. The interview begins at minute 58:10.
 
In the Northern California Conference, the Valley Community, Mayfair, and Pittsburg churches came together for a community prayer walk at a local park in Stockton on June 6. On Sabbath, June 13, the Mayfair church also hosted Crucial Conversations, an online forum with pastors and leaders to address the issues impacting people of color in the church and in society as a whole.
 
Within the Southeastern California Conference territory, the Mt. Rubidoux church hosted a rally on-site on Sabbath, June 6, in response to the deaths of the three African Americans earlier this year, and also took part in strategic plans to establish building togetherness. Church members are also encouraged to support Black wounded businesses and to reach out to lawmakers regarding abolishing “qualified immunity” so that police officers would no longer be immune from lawsuits or other legal consequences in cases of alleged wrongdoing.
 
Many of the churches mentioned in this article, as well as others not included at this time, continue to hold online discussions and other events and activities in response to the issues of racial justice. While churches and communities continue to grapple with racial issues, they are also engaged in safely navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with many churches preparing to reopen soon. And many are still fully engaged in ongoing community service, such as providing food baskets for people in need.
 
As events continue to unfold, more stories and responses will be shared in upcoming print publications and online. For more information on what various conferences and churches are doing, members are encouraged to visit the churches’ and conferences’ official social media pages.
 
Photo—top of page: On Wednesday June 3, members, pastors, and conference officers of the Southern California Conference marched from the University Seventh-day Adventist Church to the California African American Museum in Exposition Park, Los Angeles. The event was a peaceful prayer protest and vigil. The group was joined by members of the community, a local business owner, a captain of the LAPD Southwest Division, and the captain of USC Department of Public Safety who marched with them and addressed the people.

 
 

 
On Friday, June 5, the “We Deserve to Live – Black People Matter Rally, March and Candlelight Vigil” took place at the Kianga Isoke Palacio Park (formally Known as Doolittle Park) in Las Vegas. Supported by the Abundant Life and New Life SDA Churches and friends, the event drew a crowd of 2, 500.

 
 

 
On Sabbath afternoon, June 6, in Stockton, Calif., the Valley Community, Mayfair, and Pittsburg churches gathered for a Community Prayer Walk.

 
 

 
On June 5, Southern Conference youth and young adults in Long Beach, Calif., met for a morning Community Walk to check in, visit, and pray with businesses affected by a riot in that area.
 
 

2020-06-29T15:02:26-07:00June 24th, 2020|Let Justice Roll, News|
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