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, prayer 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 George Floyd died during an arrest attempt by police officers in May.
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, 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.