Love in a Hard Spot – July Recorder Message from Pastor Ricardo Graham

Recorder Recorder Highlights Love in a Hard Spot - July Recorder Message from Pastor Ricardo...

As I am writing this column, I am in all honesty challenged. The assignment is to write on love, the theme of this issue of the Pacific Union Recorder.
However, the events happening in our country have created a hard spot in time. We have been hit with a “double whammy.” While we are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are being hit with the stark reality of the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a policeman in Minneapolis.
We have seen the horrible video of the last eight minutes and 46 seconds of his life. Some of us have watched one or more of the memorial services for him that have been broadcast. His death, along with other deaths of Black men at the hands of white police officers, has swelled the ranks of the Black Lives Matter movement on a global basis, to include people around the world who are calling for an end to racism and police brutality. Rightly so.
In my opinion, my beloved Seventh-day Adventist church, at least in the North American Division where I have lived all my life, has rarely attempted to have open, courageous conversations about the implications of racism and police brutality for Black Americans and Black Adventism.
As an African American Seventh-day Adventist, I find myself in a hard spot. How do I continue to love people who racially profile me? (Yes, I have experienced such incidents, even in California.) The current surge of people marching in protest makes the situation impossible to ignore. And ignoring it (or nearly so) seems to have been the Adventist default for the last 70 years or more.

Today, there are near-constant occurrences of injustice; the denial of equality and fairness is present on a daily basis around us. And the church seems to be silent.
Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and a multitude of others have been killed, with the police serving as judge, jury, and executioner. George Floyd’s death has made “I Can’t Breathe!” an outcry of the oppressed, becoming a force that is uniting multitudes of people globally.
But how do we as Christians respond?
I am challenged to think of the pursuit of justice, not revenge. It is in these instances, and others, that I turn to meditation, prayer, and a search of Scripture.
I am impressed that throughout the Old Testament, especially in the writings of the prophets, God repeatedly spoke condemnation of the injustices His people participated in or allowed to happen around them.
I belief that the church has been called out of worldliness to live the full life of Jesus. His call to love, found in John 13:34-35 (love one another) and Matthew 22:34-40 (love the Lord and love your neighbor), requires continual response and application.
Jesus demonstrated this love unceasingly during His earthly ministry. Even as He was dying, He uttered from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV). His life and death were the implementation of the full, unrestrained love God has for people.
In love, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our true heart motivation. We need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to see if we individually measure up to the fullness of love in Jesus Christ.
We must also examine our structures and systems to see if the true, loving acceptance of others is reflected in the policies and procedures of the local church and the denomination itself. If we find that there are practices that are in any way unjust in application, we must address them.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must be both humble and bold—humble enough to admit where, when, and how we may have failed, and bold enough to determine how to bring ourselves into full alignment with God’s criterion: justice, mercy, and humility.
When I read the Gospels of the New Testament, it seems to me that Christ’s emphasis is on people relationships. Jesus condemned the religious practitioners of His day for their mistreatment of other people. We must move with all deliberate speed to fully embrace the righteousness of Christ’s call to His church, in all areas of life.
We must pray, then get up and do the will of God. And that includes dismantling the evil structures of systemic racism that pervade all life in the United States, including church life.
We may not join the Black Lives Matter movement, but we can stand up and speak up against racism and injustice. We should no longer be silent.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
What would happen in the Pacific Union if we really, truly sought justice for those who have been denied it? Could we, for instance, support such movements as The Innocence Project, which has empirically proved that a large number of people, especially Black men, convicted of crimes and imprisoned, were denied justice at every step of their trial? This organization is committed to exonerating wrongly convicted individuals.
I believe God calls us to do that and more, as His children in this time and place. Being salt and light is more than adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, returning tithe, and keeping the Sabbath holy. It involves more than preaching the three angels’ messages. It involves infusing the world around us with the powerful, life-altering practice of the love of God. I am convinced this includes being anti-racist.
If anyone was ever in a hard spot, Jesus was. Look at Gethsemane and Calvary. Denied justice, beaten mercilessly, He carried the sins of the world—including the sins of prejudice, bigotry, and racism—to the cross.
What are we to do? Micah, like the prophets before him, wrote and preached from a hard spot. His nation had abandoned the practice of God’s principles, but this is what he wrote: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NKJV).
Micah’s challenge to love in a hard spot still stands. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we must move towards the expungement of the evil of racism in our church and stand up against it in our country.
Ricardo Graham is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.

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Love in a Hard Spot - July Recorder Message from Pastor Ricardo Graham

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