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A House Divided
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Submitted: Feb 23, 2012
By Charles Eaton


Why do the two Seventh-day Adventist Conferences continue to be separated, de facto, by race?

Admittedly, I am not much of an historian, but some basic research into the history of this church demonstrates that the two conferences were indeed necessary when overt racism was rampant through the United States.  It seems that they were started as an initiative by both white and black leaders in the 1940’s so that more black people could join the church while it worked out its internal racist issues; it was never intended to be a permanent division, but rather a temporary stop on the way to unification.  I have no qualms with how and why we first divided into two conferences; in fact, I think it was a great idea to keep the church expanding while giving authority positions to African Americans.  However, since that time, the military has pioneered racial integration during WWII, schools were racially integrated not too long after that, and we elected our first half-black President of the United States all while the church continues to split itself along racial divides in a post-modern society.  Credit where credit’s due:  Individual churches have done a phenomenal job inviting and including people of other races into the loving fold of fellowship, but the governing body of the Adventist church continues to foster the same “separate but equal” doctrine that African Americans fought against for decades.

Unfortunately, one of the primary reasons why that doctrine continues to be accepted into the church while it has been rejected everywhere else is because a large number of African Americans support it themselves.  When I asked one prominent African American pastor about why we still have two conferences today his reply, essentially, amounted to self interest.  Paraphrasing, “The reality is that the interests of the African American community rarely take center stage, or even off-center stage, when combined with European interests.  We can serve our own community better by ourselves than would be possible if the two conferences were merged together.”  Another black minister told me, again paraphrasing, “Quite honestly, a merging of the conferences would mean that some individuals from both sides would be forced out of power.  It’s hard to convince people that it’s in their best interest to reduce their own authority.”  A third person who works for the Regional Conference told me, paraphrasing, “The system has been in place for so long most people are simply satisfied with the way it works now.  Also, those who want an integration of the conferences are often short on the practical ways it can be done.”

None of these reasons hold enough weight to justify the segregation of the conferences, but they are windows into the heart of race relations within Adventism.  Frankly, I cannot believe that the primary excuse to continue the separation of the conferences is, of all things, inconvenience.  It is inconvenient to merge the conferences, so why fix what’s not broken?  It is inconvenient to risk losing power, so let’s not rock any boats.  It is inconvenient to not set our own agenda for community action, so we’d rather not share.  I firmly believe that we are missing out on direct blessings from God, perhaps to the point of holding off the latter rain, because of this silly segregation issue that no one wants to seriously address.   The Holy Spirit did not fall upon the early believers until they were all of one accord under God’s will.  It is a sad, sad day when our secular government sets any standard of social equality ahead of the church, but perhaps, with a new generation of young people who have no real living memory of white/black racism in this country, we can start to catch up. 

________________________
Join in the discussion:

Kevin Riley
2012-02-23 6:08 PM

The reason that integration will not happen any time soon is the same reason why there will be no major reorganisation of the church's structure any time soon, even though the need for it has been discussed for decades now.  In any change there will be 'losers', and those who have power never want to lose it.  In a church that is fundamentally about not changing, it isn't hard to convince enough people that change is too 'risky', that we need more 'consultation', etc.  I also would not conclude too quickly that there is no racism in the US or elsewhere.  It may more often be presented in terms of culture rather than race, but the basic assumption that some groups are inherently 'better', or more closely approximate God's ideal, shows little sign of dying. 

I wouldn't expect the church to lead in any social justice issues.  We have never made a move until legal events or social pressure made moving unavoidable.  It shouldn't be that way, but in a conservative church, can we expect anything else?

Horace Butler
2012-02-23 6:37 PM

This will have to be done from the grass roots.  I have discussed this with many people, and not one of them has expressed any support for the continuation of this policy.  I don't know all the ins and outs of church governernment, but I know that major changes come about at the GC session every 5 years.  The solution would seem to be to send delegates who are committed to changing the policy.

In our little church, in a predominately white State, we have a relatively high percentage of non whites.  Until recently we had one individual from a country in Africa.  We have a couple of individuals from a Caribbean nation.  We have South American and Mexican, Philipino, etc., etc.  And this is a very small church.  At our church race is irrelevant.  Everyone there has at least 2 things in common:  we are all SDA', and we can communicate with each other in a common language.  It is enjoyable to be able to get different perspectives from these folks from various parts of the world.  It can be the same way on a conference level.  We just need to do it.

There will be no Black, Hispanic, Oriental, or white conferences (or churches) in Heaven.  Why should there be any now?

Kevin Riley
2012-02-23 7:44 PM

It is unlikely the GC would act.  It is something that would have to come from the North American Division.  Session delegates are appointed by the Unions and the Division.  They are the people who would be most affected by the change.  That has always been the problem with any change - we are asking people who are comfortable with, and usually benefit from, the current situation to vote on whether a change is neccessary and 'doable'.  It would be easier to vote on a 'theoretical' reorganisation where all the Unions become obsolete and then start again rather than trying to amalgamate what already exists. 

In our system, it is the conference session that votes on whether a conference should amalgamate with another, and a Union session which votes for the Union level.  That is why we have financially unviable conferences, and why we have way more conferences than we really need: they would have to vote themselves out of existence, and that rarely happens.  The same thing applies to Unions.  It has happened, but very rarely.

Milton Nebblett
2012-02-23 10:24 PM

It WAS...IS...and always will be about MONEY.  Who controls it, and its useage.

Charles Eaton
2012-02-24 3:49 PM

You are absolutely right.  I didn't even get into the difference in retirement packages from the GC to the RC.  Its embarassing! Also one of the biggest single reasons why the RC doesn't want to join with the GC again.

laffal
2012-02-23 11:13 PM

If I understand the history right, at the turn of the 20th century, there was a African American pastor, John Manns who was sought financial support for his evangelistic efforts which was bearing fruit in conversions / membership.  As a result of not being able to obtain financial support to meet the needs for sustaining evangelistic efforts, and local church support, Elder Manns began what was / is known as the Free SDA Movement (freesda.org).  I believe the Regional Conference concept / institution was a result of not wanting to lose the African American membership to the Free SDA Movement.  As Milton said, money was / is always at issue.

Kevin Riley
2012-02-24 12:09 AM

I think it is a little cynical, and simplistic, to say it is all about money.  Money is almost always one of the issues, but there are also issues of power, and ego, and even concern that the work of the church should get done.  Money is really just a tool - albeit a very useful and valuable tool.  Our leaders are all human.  So are we - or at least, most of us :)

William Noel
2012-02-24 9:39 AM

Charles,

Once again, you've put your finger on a timely issue and highlighted the big factors used to argue pro and con.  Well done!

Perhaps a good starting question is: Who cares about what issue?  If it is power, that usually is the focus of those (few) who hold power and feel threatened by the prospect of losing it.  If it is control over funds, it is usually those who control the funds, or wish they had more funds coming their direction.  But whatever the issue, most often it is the pursuit of the illusion that the issue is of superior or paramount importance.  Noting who is engaged in that pursuit often identifies those who are devoted to a concept of how we are to advance the work of God, but without the empowerment or guidance of the Holy Spirit to more than a minimal degree. 

In recent years I have enjoyed the great blessing of being part of planting a new church just a few miles from Oakwood University.  While we are part of the traditionally majority caucasian conference, race is not an issue to us because we are focused on gift-based ministry and the fellowship of believers that comes when people are united by God.  We have members whose origins are around 20 countries around the world.  Every continent is represented.  How a person is gifted by God and their ministry are far more important than the color of their skin or how they speak.

I do not believe that the blurring of conference lines leading to full unification within the denomination will be driven from the top-down because it is at the top where the power games are played and divisive issues get argued most loudly.  It is when we have growing unity of believers in the local congregation that minimizes race that the change will grow from the bottom-up.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-24 11:47 AM

Charles,

Thank you for bringing this point out in the open. I had no idea that this situation still existed among SDAs. In my opinion, it is both astonishing and unconscinable. Even STUPID and self-defeating. Why would anyone be attracted to such an archaic organization?

Joe Erwin
2012-02-24 2:51 PM

So, now may I apologize to you all for the tome of my previous comment. And, further, may I be the first to point out that spelling "unconscionable" incorrectly was also "STUPID and self-defeating."

While I can understand that differences in traditions associated with ethnicity can result in different personalities of congregations and services, it is astonishing to see a formal institutionalized segregation in any group that professes to believe in fairness and brotherly love. 

Let me assure you all that this stance does not suggest a Godly connection or spirit in your church, and, even though I have given some thought to making contact and attending a local adventist church, finding out about this really ensures that I will shelve any further consideration of those thoughts. How can any of you possibly tolerate such a division in your own church? It is simply incredible....

Stephen Foster
2012-02-24 3:30 PM

Joe,
 
While Charles offers one understandably idealistic perspective; allow me to share with you another. Please read the first blog that I ever posted on this site on this exact same topic, entitled Marching to Zion, From America. This may provide you something else to consider—besides the fact/truism that, for better or for worse, the most segregated hour (or three) of the week, all over America, is 11 o’clock on either Saturday or Sunday morning.
 
http://www.atoday.org/article/286/blogs/foster-stephen/2009/marching-to-zion-from-america


Charles Eaton
2012-02-24 4:00 PM

Stephen,

After reading your blog, while a very interesting perspective, I think you were off on a couple things.  I think you contradicted your self when you compared the Adventist church to McDonalds, in that "No matter where you go, the menu items are virtually the same; we all study the same Sabbath School Quarterly, sing from the same hymnal, and the fries all taste the same."  Then in the next paragraph highlight all the differences between conferences such as song choice, preaching style, worship style, and time management.  While I agree that individual churches take on many different forms and fashions when it comes down to worship service, they should still be under the same umbrella conference.  We may not like each other, and we may have racial problems even within the two conferences, but the fact that we haven't gotten over it yet is downright embarrassing to us as a denomination.

Joe Erwin
2012-02-24 5:07 PM

None of us should be making any judgements about individuals on the basis of some group "characteristic" in this day and age. It is deeply inappropriate for anyone, let alone people claiming to be Christians, to have the kinds of divisions that are maintained in the SDA church. Seemingly there is no commitment to equal oportunities and fair treatment on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, or maybe anything else. This is not even consistent with Christian values or secular ethics and morals. Is this the message you are trying to spread through the world? Surely you can't believe that the 2nd advent COULD occur with such deep and pervasive divisions still existing among the "believers." 

Stephen Foster
2012-02-25 4:00 AM

That “fries all taste the same” line was an attempted 'play' on the McDonald’s parallel with Adventism (in general) from the perspective that in either case, you have every reason to expect the same product.
 
Let’s face it however Charles, while you are perhaps comfortable patronizing a McDonald’s in an affluent suburb; suburbanites may not be comfortable patronizing a McDonald’s in the hood. The inverse of this is also true. (Well, that may not be a good analogy for a variety of reasons; but there are some parallels to our situation.)
 
The conferences are, in my opinion, merely pragmatic responses to the demographic composition of the congregations/churches therein. When, as is apparently the case, the churches become less homogeneous, so will the conferences; then pragmatism will again dictate that the organizations reflect reality.
 
Meanwhile I maintain that this current ‘situation’ is in actuality more reflective—and is more a function—of the racial, societal and cultural history of the United States of America than it is anything else (hence the title of my initial blog).

Preston Foster
2012-02-24 4:02 PM

I'm all for integration.  But let's not assume that our ways and God's are the same.

Israel had 12 tribes, each with unique features and purposes.  It was organized this way, purposefully.  There are, according to Revelation 21:21, gates to the heavenly city (presumably, they will all be used).  The only unity constant throughout the Bible is in Christ.

Ideally, we should all get along together, here in our churches.  But, we do not.  This is not unique (well, perhaps it is especially unique to "churched" people).  The Southern Baptist Convention and the The National Baptist Convention exist for much the same reason as the (formerly) majority Conferences and Regional Conferences in Adventism: the closer we associate (in terms of organization, administration, and power), the less we seem to get along.

Blacks and whites do not share power and authority well.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."  But, sadly, a house separated to operate toward the same goal, might stand longer than we might like. 

William Noel
2012-02-24 7:33 PM

Preston

You stated "Blacks and whites to not share power and authority well."  You are correct in observing that there is a lot of history of people who contrast racially having difficulty working together in many settings, including the church.  However, where people are united in purpose, even those who are physically diverse can work together in great harmony.  While the 12 Tribes of Israel were distinct, they did not overlap each other and they worked in harmony under God's guidance.  May we do the same!

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-24 4:15 PM

May I suggest that Mr. Nebblett and Mr. Riley are both correct—it’s about money and power and ego.  To which we might add status, a nice office, and a retirement plan.  In short, it’s about the fact that the conferences are staffed with human beings just like us.
 

Joseph W.
2012-02-24 4:59 PM

This article was called to my attention by a friend. I responded to him and he insisted that I share my thoughts to him with your publication. Here they are:

"All of them are wrong (the article and the commentators). The conferences are DIFFERENT not segregated. People go to church not to conference. A gathering of Adventists in a new location is not a church plant, it is church swell. Plant is growth. Relocation is swell." 

Horace Butler
2012-02-24 6:09 PM

OK, maybe I'm naieve (even at my advanced age), and have led a sheltered life; but I don't go to church to hang out with my own particular ethnic group.  I go to worship God, and to fellowship with fellow believers.  The color of their skin or the country they're from is irrelevant.  If we can't learn to get beyond these foolish artificial barriers (race, tribe, nationality, etc.), we won't even be in heaven.  Up there there will be no ethnic or national barriers.  I don't get it and I guess I never will.  There is only one race:  Homo sapiens.

At least that's how this gringo (or haole) sees it.

Stephen Foster
2012-02-24 8:52 PM

As I pointed out in commentary following my blog/take on the same subject, the two sets of local conferences might disappear if the congregations of which they are comprised became heterogeneous (i.e., much more integrated).

Those who most vehemently lament the status quo should lead by joining congregations currently comprised of people of another ethnic background.
 
My anecdotal observations are that blacks and Hispanics often join previously predominantly white churches, but white Americans very seldom join predominantly black and/or Hispanic churches; and that, as Preston has pointed out, some of America’s largest Christian denominations are organized in such a way that their racially different organizations are actually effectively functioning as separate denominations. At least we haven’t gone that far. (The fries continue to all taste alike?)
 
We should not perhaps ignore The Pink Elephant in the Room. The fact is that white Adventists are apparently becoming, shall we say, less numerous in the so-called “First World;” including of course, North America.
 
I suspect that crisis will soon enough bring everyone together. But then, everyone doesn’t anticipate the same crisis; so when it is here, what will we do then?

Stephen Foster
2012-02-24 8:57 PM

Clarification: I suspect that the crises of the end-times will bring everyone together. However, everyone does not anticipate the same crisis.

Ella M
2012-02-24 10:30 PM

   Like Charles, I have found this terribly embarrassing--the existence of separate conferences.  It is a VERY poor witness, and one feels that our leaders don't care about witness, including that of not allowing women leaders.
  Fortunately my home church is very ingetrated as are most non-regional churches.  We have a black associate pastor as well.  I can't think of anyone who likes the separate conferences except  administrators.  I hear that many whites don't go to the regional churches, because by being designated apart from the rest of the church, they are assumed to be for blacks only. I don't see them reaching out to the other local churches.   I wish our local regional churches would advertise their programs/concerts more so that we would be aware of them. As you can see, I do not call these black churches but regional because that is the institutional name and they exist by virtue of the insitituion.    
  

Seminary student
2012-02-25 12:00 AM

The real issue is not about race . If you go to our churches you will see black , Asian , hispanics , Anglos , worshiping together . The real issue is about power .For example a conference president if he is told that they are going to merge , Do you think that he would want to go back to Pastoring after being giving orders for 20+ years . People dont want to let it go . Have you seen a conference president  or any church official say that he thinks the church should choose some one else ?  when they are elected " God must be leading " if the position is higher than the previous they held . I could mention people who were conference presidents and accepted the position because they felt " God was leading in that direction " but days later they will took a higher office " because God is leading ".

Seminary student
2012-02-25 12:13 AM

Our church leaders have become like "Polititians " . Sorry  I meant " dictadors " . I wonder how long they will be able to continue to " manipulate " our church members .   I hope not for long ! people are leaving the church and they continue to play games , arguing who is the greatest . May God help us and deliver us from this evil .

Ervin Taylor
2012-02-25 1:10 AM

I seem to be in the very embarrassing position of defending the average conference officer.  Some of the charges being leveled here are correct for some conference administrators.  For example, certainly they are politicians. How can they not be?  The Adventist Church maintains a complex, bureaucratic, multi-level operation much more highly structured than the Roman Catholic Church.  Someone must run all of the levels of the Adventist institutional church.  One problem is that the administration of these complex institutions that make up the Adventist Church are placed in the hands of individuals who were trained first and foremost to be clergy.
 
So why do we not have the conferences run by professionally trained lay members?  May I suggest that one reason is an unstated assumption reflecting a traditional ideology about who should run the Adventist Church.  It appears that it is assumed that God is involved in the selection of conference officials and apparently God does not want non-clergy to run the church.  I personally don’t believe that but I offer this as one reason.  Objections are welcomed.
 
There are other factors which others might wish to suggest. 
 
May I again suggest that the root cause of the problem is that conference officials are all human beings—like all of us offering our critical comments. They find themselves selected to be a conference officer. Most know they do not have inadequate preparation for the jobs into which are thrust and most do the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  

William Noel
2012-02-25 9:54 AM

Ervin,

If Jesus could take a group with such diverse backgrounds as the apostles and use them to provide the diversity of leadership necessary in the apostolic church, why do we imagine using only clergy for church leadership positions as we prepare to meet Jesus?

Kevin Riley
2012-02-25 4:35 AM

Having got to know a number of church officials over the years, I don't believe we should be impugning their motives.  Most are genuinely doing their best, as they see it.  Until you know the restrictions under which they work, it is hard to judge their efforts.  Most are well aware of the failings of the church as an institution.  Many would like to see changes.  But they need to persuade others to make the changes.  When the merger of the five unions in the South Pacific Division into four was first put forward, the focus was on fulfilling the mission of the church.  What sold it to many in the sessions that approved the changes was the financial aspect - we would save money that could be used elsewhere.  If the church leaders spoke a lot about money, it was at least partly because that is what would work to persuade the delegates, not because they were focused on money. 

We have an interesting organisation.  We sometimes accuse the church of being a bureaucracy, but if you read Weber's description of what he means by 'bureaucracy', you would soon see we aren't.  We are an ideological movement, which brings all sorts of huge problems (and possibilities) that would not exist if we were a bureaucracy.  In a bureaucracy, the administrators are paid to be 'dictators'.  Everyone down the line obeys commands from above.  That is not our system at all.  Conferences pay pastors, but their success depends on the cooperation of the local church.  Each level of the church is meant ot oversee the level below, but the officials are elected by delegates from the level below.  Each official is therefore meant to oversee the work of those who put him in office.  If you can't see the problems inherent in that, you've never worked in an organisation.  The only level with any coercive power over church members is the local church.  The local church where he is a member can discipline the GC President, while he has to rely on his 'moral' authority to deal with anyone in the organisation.  Any decision he makes can be over-turned by the GC session or executive committee.  We may be more highly structured than the RCC, but no one in our hierarchy has even the authority of a local RC priest.  I have known a few administrators who would love to return to the work of a local pastor.  The more I see of how the church works, the more I sympathise with their position.

William Noel
2012-02-25 10:02 AM

Kevin,

Speaking as an MBA with advanced training in corporate structures and management, the only corporate structure I can show you that is more bureaucratic and fiscally inefficient than the Adventist Church is the US federal government.  The first and foremost function of a bureaucracy is self-preservation.  To that end the church has built a mystique of exclusive clergy qualification that permits measurement only by criteria it defines, so it has become to varying degrees insulated from the realities of ministry needs in the local church. 

It is from that view that I question the potential success of any movement like the One Project seeking spiritual transformation if the majority of those in attendance are church leaders. 


Kevin Riley
2012-02-25 7:20 PM

The Mormon church is considered the religious organisation that comes closest to an ideal bureaucracy.  If you compare how we work with how they work, I think you will see why I say we are not a bureaucracy.  The first priority of any organisation with a paid administration tends to become self-preservation.  I think the church actually resists that tendency better than most.  Partly because we are not a bureaucracy and those outside the administration actually do have the power to prevent that happening.  A lot of other churches actually admire our system, especially when it comes to finance. 

Whether you view a system as 'fiscally efficient' often depends on the theory on which you base your evaluation.  And what you are comparing it with.  Fiscal efficiency is actually down the list of our priorities.  It has to be for any organisation whose primary commitment is to an ideology and its mission.  When we focus on fiscal efficiency is exactly when our mission tends to suffer.  I notice a lot of people who criticise our present system do so almost solely from the POV of what it does to a local church, and tend to be in favour of a more congregational structure.  I personally believe we would be making a huge mistake in moving in that direction.  I am in favour of restructuring our present sytem of GC - Union - Conference to make it more efficient, but not of changing the underlying rationale or  theory of how the church should work. 

I also would question the success of any movement that attracted only church leaders.  That is because most of the changes that we need need to occur in the local church, not higher up.  Revival is more effective at the local level.  But when revival does occur at the local level, the long-term results can be more effective if there is a church organiation standing behind it to lend support.  There is no reason why the organisation should be out of touch with the realities of the local church.  If their delegates keep selecting and voting for people who are, then I guess they deserve what they get.

Preston Foster
2012-02-25 10:24 AM

I agree that one of the root problems of initiating and achieving change in the church (in this case, integration at the organizational level) is the lack of diversity -- in the backgrounds and experience of those leading the church.  As William points out, bureaucracies are, by their nature, self-perpetuating and, to a large degree, self-serving.

The assumption that God calls only theology students to serve in church administration is not biblical.  Indeed, unity is accomplished through the employment of a diversity of spiritual gifts, per 1 Corinthians 12.  There are a diversity of spiritual gifts that, if employed, would organically address the issue Charles raised. 

The lack of diversity in how our church is run, purposefully or not, organically calcifies the problem.

tooblessed
2012-02-25 6:08 PM

I noted at least one post that professed not to know the issue still exists. I wonder how many other members across the board would say the same? Joined to the hip of the racial divide is the continued denial of treating our women equally ie: ordination.

For the sake of  supposing let's assume that glorious day comes when this dispicable barrier is done away with. What will be the rules then? Will we say that a certain percentage of white and non-whites, male and female must hold certain positions at all times? We know human tendancy will cry "foul" if any one race/gender gains(or maintains) a decided edge. Someone else mentioned that as of now there is not a viable transition plan on the table to deal with the "x & o's" of making it happen in a functional, productive manner. The saddest part of this discussion is that leadership at the highest levels on both sides aren't of mind to make it a priority.

I truly think reform will occur with the next generation or so(assuming Christ doesn't come) just because they're better socially equiped to make it happen. If projected statistics hold true that within the next couple of decades more children will be born of dual heritage as opposed to one race the issue (at least in North America) may genetically work itself out through natural processes.  

Horace Butler
2012-02-25 7:31 PM

We need to get over not only the race issue as it relates to regional conferences and local churches, but also in terms of the idea that we must have a certain number of women, Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, etc., etc., on any given committee.  I believe it only compounds any racial divides or tensions there may be.  When we pick nominating committees, for example, I pick the names of those who I believe would do a good job.  I see names, not gender, or ethnic/national origins.  God is color blind; so should we be.  According to Paul ethnicity and gender is irrelevant when it comes to our relationship to God; it should be the same in our relationships with each other.

Truth Seeker
2012-02-25 9:18 PM

 "When I asked one prominent African American pastor about why we still have two conferences today his reply, essentially, amounted to self interest.  Paraphrasing, “The reality is that the interests of the African American community rarely take center stage, or even off-center stage, when combined with European interests.  We can serve our own community better by ourselves than would be possible if the two conferences were merged together.” "

If Blacks generally wish to maintain separate conferences I cannot see or understand any basis why they should be forced to integrate. It is neither incorrect nor racist to say that  Black divine services are often quite different from those of other ethnic groups. That is not saying one is right and others are wrong -- they are just different.

Isn't the term "self-interest" judgmental?

John Andrew
2012-03-02 4:19 AM

Black conferences should be abolished, not only because they are a stigma to the SDA church in terms of racial equality, but also because they are horrendously managed, highly disfunctional and disorganized. I don't know why this happens honestly but it seems to be the case in most of these conferences, possibly because they feel they are not so beholden to their Union Offices.

I can think of one such conference in Chicago where any church in the country could become part of their field and send tithes there and another one in Florida where Administrative incompentence is rampant.



Kevin Riley
2012-03-02 5:31 AM

So, can you explain to me again how these regional conferences differ from some 'regular' conferences, apart from the racial aspect?  I think I missed something.

Preston Foster
2012-03-02 3:01 PM

John,

As Kevin points out, mismanagement is not unique to black conferences.  It is, evidently, an equal opportunity trait.  Pioneer Valley Academy, Atlantic Union College, and other majority conference affiliated concerns have gone "belly up."  GC retirement "investment" funds lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Black conferences are the fastest growing Adventist entities (re: baptisms and tithe) in North America.  May we all be so "mismanaged."  It may be past time to integrate, but mismanagement by blacks is not primary reason. The perception that mismanagement is unique to blacks is, likely, a reason why many blacks -- and whites resist integration. 

Kevin Riley
2012-03-02 9:00 PM

Take a look at our system.  We elect trained accountants to be treasurers.  We then elect trained pastors to oversee them (i.e. a pastor is president = CEO).  We then elect a group of church workers and lay members to assist them and (theoretically) oversee the work of the conference.  Sometimes we end up with good business people who can support the treasurer, sometimes we don't.  Too often we end up with a strong-willed president who insists on getting his own way - anyone remember the name 'Wilson'?  Our overall system is, I believe, the best for our church, but when it comes to the details and how we apply them in practice, that can leave a lot to be desired.  Perhaps, in fairness to administrators, I should point out a fact that has been remarked on by many and various observers inside and outside administration: we could have avoided (and still could) most of the problems if we followed our own rules and policies.

John Andrew
2012-03-05 9:28 AM

I didn't mean to say that there are no problems outside Black Conferences in the Adventist structure. Our modus operandi is full of loopholes where short-sightedness and incompentence reign. (Ex.: Why should Hope Channel charge for their iPhone app.??)

Black conferences however, show contumacious mediocrity and incompetence in management and this has nothing to do with being black per se as there are hundreds of hispanic churches which belong to black conferences as well. I'm puzzled at the phenomenon and would like to understand why. I suspect it's because being ostracized from the mainstream organizational structure has bred a whole set of different disfunctions.

Thus let it be clear: I believe theior dysfuntion is an ecclesiological phenomenon, not a racial one which is one more reason to abolish these organizational aberrations from our midst.

Stephen Foster
2012-03-05 5:35 PM

As of December 31, 2010, of the nearly $90 million of tithe returned in the Atlantic Union, nearly $38 million (or about 42%) was from the regional Northeastern Conference.
 
For that time same period, of the nearly $117 million of tithe returned in the Columbia Union, nearly $38 million (or about 32%) was from the regional Allegheny East and Allegheny West Conferences (combined).
 
In the Southern Union, of the over $187 million of tithe returned during this same period, nearly $58 million (or about 31%) was returned from the regional South Atlantic, South Central, and Southeastern Conferences (combined).
 
In the Atlantic Union Conference during this period, the net membership growth total was 2,462. The net membership growth of the regional Northeastern Conference alone was 1,450. Of course, of the 101,498 members of the Atlantic Union Conference at that time, 47,865 (or 47.2%) were from the Northeastern Conference.
 
The net membership growth in the Columbia Union as of Dec. 31, 2010 was 3,246 over the previous period. The net membership growth of its regional Allegheny East and Allegheny West Conferences (combined) was 1,298. Of the 128,915 members of the Columbia Union at the end of 2010, 46,652 (or 36.2%) were members of either of the two regional conferences in that union.
 
The net membership growth of the 246,216 members of the Southern Union—of which 108,822 (or 44.2%) were members of one of the three regional conferences in that Union—was 2,766 for the period ending Dec. 31, 2010.  The net growth in the largest of the regional conferences in the Southern Union— the South Atlantic Conference—was 3,467. (This was more than offset, however, by the loss in net membership of 5,403 in the South Central Conference. The Union as a whole experienced a net loss in membership of some 660.)
This information is readily available on the North American Division website and reflects information on the largest North American Unions for which this information is applicable. The largest Union in the Division is the Pacific Union; which does not recognize any of its conferences as regional. Nonetheless, the churches in that Union are comprised similarly to churches elsewhere in the Division in terms of their heterogeneity or homogeneity of composition.
 
I am curious as to why you assume that regional conferences are managed less well than are other conferences, generally speaking?
 
If there is to be a disbanding of conferences, from a business management standpoint, wouldn’t those entities in which growth or productivity are slowest, rather than those which are growing fastest or are most productive, be the most likely candidates for elimination?

John Andrew
2012-03-05 5:49 PM

I am curious as to why you assume that regional conferences are managed less well than are other conferences, generally speaking?
-----

Because they are. I speak from experience, I've dealt with at least two of these. Numbers really say nothing, they are not a way to measure success in the kingdom.

We are talking about very basic notions of ethics, organization and honest approach. Regional conferences have churches anywhere in the country, they do not respect territory. Any church in the country can send them tithe, they'll accept it. Fledgling churches in their territory are allowed to hire pastors on their own and pay them on their own by the use of tithe. This has led to all kinds of abuses.

Morale amongst pastors is generally low because management is chaotic. In a particular state in the South, a regional conference is in constant conflict with the regular conference because of lack of due process in several aspects.

There's really no reason for segregation in the Adventist Church. We can do more if we're united.

Stephen Foster
2012-03-05 6:40 PM

In fairness John, you really ought to name names and identify specifically what these incidents are, and how they a) breach official policy and b) are uniquely anomalous from the practices of any/all ‘other’ conferences; since you are speaking from personal experience.
 
The numbers are relevant to the extent that the rates of growth of these conferences and the contributions of the members of these conferences are suggestive of a degree of competence and effectiveness and productivity.
 
If you are talking about corruption (as opposed to "mismanagement"), you should be specific and not paint with a broad brush.

John Andrew
2012-03-05 7:08 PM

I don't think it has to do with "corruption" per se. It's just a different approach, to some people more "laid back", to others, it's right down chaotic. Again, this has nothing to do with race.

This is a debate of ideas Stephen, no need to name names. You should be able to do your own research and verify what I've been sharing here.

Stephen Foster
2012-03-05 7:25 PM

John,
 
I have not mentioned or hinted or implied that you are saying that this has anything with race, have I?
 
Any burden of proof of your claims is, in all fairness, on you; as you are the one who brings these allegations, and are speaking from personal experience.

Kevin Riley
2012-03-05 7:27 PM

The word you are looking for is 'culture'.  Having a cultural 'fit' between administration, workers and members can reduce frustration - and complaints - significantly.  It is often a matter of focus.  A system that focuses on personal relationships often seems 'chaotic' to those who are used to a 'system and programs' approach'.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Kevin Riley
2012-03-05 7:40 PM

One additional thought: while race-based divisions are not to be encouraged, allowing different cultural groups to work differently within the one system is not a bad idea. 

Stephen Foster
2012-03-05 8:13 PM

You are absolutely correct, in my view. This was what I said in my blog on this subject back in 2009.

mark mccleary
2012-03-08 10:16 AM

I just became aware of this brief article, but noticed recent dialogue is still alive so here is my two cents and more. Charles writes from an assumption that the "two" are understood by his readers as phenomena located east of the California Conference jurisdiction (i.e, Midwestern and Eastern USA). I share his lack of historical certification, however I have matured and manuvered within Regional conferences all my SDA days therefore I am confident I something say. I concur with him that evangelism among Blacks in the 1940's may have set the stage for separate conferences, but strongly disagree that expansion since is due to self-interest and AA wanting to hold on to authority positions. I further express dissonance with his use of "incovenience" as a reductionist misinterpretation of comments cited without respect of their valuable context. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so perspective is subjective and personal. I Therefore, understood the same citations meaning "relevance" "productivity and job security". These are the same self-interests of White SDA brethren and human nature, for that matter, seeking to survive in social organizations. Space doesn't permit some of the horror stories shared with me by the late W.W. Fordham and E.E. Cleveland or still living C.D. Brooks of their inequitable treatment by the Brethren that contribute the continued separation. In closing, I suggest you might want to follow up this article by starting an initiative for dialoguing among grass roots SDA's. I offer my church as a launching site. Perhaps, some face-to-face, passionate sharing will rekindle pre-Pentecost's Upper Room espre de corp.

Kevin Riley
2012-03-08 5:55 PM

While face to face interaction can at times help, there are other times when it is better for people not to meet and so continue to think well of the other.  Sometimes getting too close simply leads to the realisation that the 'other' is way more different than we ever imagined.  Some people are simply not able to cope with that.  I could cite the occasions when liberal and ultra-conservative members of this group have ended up with worse opinions of each other after a 'frank' discussion as an illustration, but perhaps that is getting too personal.  Perhaps a better example is the view many people in the 'developed' world have of people in the 'mission field' as 'simple people with simple faith'.  It is a long way from reality, but if it allows both groups to get on with life in relative harmony, why unsettle things by muddying the waters with the truth that becomes inescapable in a face to face situation? 

Kevin Riley
2012-03-08 5:45 PM

If you want to know what some sections of the church really think about those from different races/cultures, it is interesting being of mixed 'heritage' but blending into one.  From a couple of conversations with people who are in a similar position but 'blend in' with a different group, I would say that blaming one group for the problem is simplistic - in fact, just plain wrong.  I sometimes wonder how many churches (or committees at higher levels) have come to the conclusion "we don't want 'those' people here, they just wouldn't fit in".  It makes for interesting ponderings when 'those people' happen to be almost all relatives of yours [or your father, as my mother would put it :) ].  I know it is human to want to be mostly with people 'like us', but it is the disregard with which some 'good' Christians can treat others that bothers me.  To say that some people (not necessarily differing in race) wouldn't 'fit in' with the current membership of the church may be a valid observation, but to continue to do nothing to in any way share the gospel (or even the love of God) with them seems wrong to me.  I have not yet found a way to share my thoughts with people who say such things without them getting the (admittedly correct) impression that I am considering their words and actions to be 'racist' and not entirely Christian, and that leads to defensive justification rather than actual listening.  So I usually say little, or nothing, which isn't easy for me.


mark mccleary
2012-04-03 2:32 PM

Lack of face is the problem because such practice perpetuates hiding and God is about showing His face. Anyway, how can I communicate in a healthy manner w/o showing  my face and seeing the other's face? Difference is observable, but should not be an impass. Openness is key, but Satan instill rationale for hiding and shadowy presentation of self. History is important for understanding, but not the only source of knowledge. In closing, Jesus is so other from humans, but incarnated to communicate the Goodnews. If we're to live with Him and his various different from us disciples, we'll have be as inclusive and communicative as He was by facilitating showing and seeing each other's face.

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