On Friday, February 27, 2016, I was the guest speaker at Southern University for their Black Christian Union vesper service. While I was preaching about unity to the student body, a different message was being heralded on campus via social media. Several students on Yik Yak – an anonymous local feed for posting ideas and having conversations – were posting insensitive and racist statements.
I, of course, knew nothing of this until I looked at my phone after the service, and was greeted with screenshots of the conversations and tweets of consolation and support. Later that evening as I got back to my room, it hit me.
In 2016, on a Seventh-day Adventist campus, there are 18- to 22-year-olds who see my people as “banana eating monkeys”; who, in worship, can refer to black people as “slave labor”; and who see me as a “nigglet”. The thing is, because racism is inherited, not inherent, these kids most likely learned it from their Bible-believing, truth-bearing, Sabbath School attending, “good” Adventist parents.
The Seventh-day Adventist church has a racism problem. It’s not a race problem – the idea of diversity and race isn’t problematic at all. However, throughout our church’s history, racism has consistently reared its ugly head. The most stirring thought from this weekend for me was the realization that I don’t know who is sitting next to me when I’m in church. In the same sanctuary where I am praising God, there could be people right next to me who see me as “less than”. It’s sobering to me that my children could attend a General Conference session or academy with someone whose parents use the word “nigger” at home.
Racism doesn’t just simply cause us to have regional conferences and white conferences. Racism leads to death. It is an insidious evil that can cause someone to walk into church during prayer meeting and kill nine black gatherers simply because of the color of their skin. Maybe he saw them as “nigglets”. The same evil that leads to hate crimes and lynching is the same evil that sits in our pews every Sabbath morning, or even, God forbid, in our boardrooms.
We must start a serious, proactive conversation on how we can work toward eradicating racism in our church. It will be difficult and painful. It will require honesty and humility. But it is time. If we don’t, it’s possible that 25 years from now, if my son is invited to speak at the Adventist university in Collegedale, Tennessee, he will receive the same “Southern hospitality” that greeted his father.
By: Corey Johnson