Some Thoughts On Black Representation In The Leadership Of The Seventh-Day Adventist Church - (written on July 4ish, 2010)

I stood with two preachers outside the Georgia World Congress Center on Wednesday evening and joined them as they shared their reactions and sentiments concerning the recent elections at the General Conference Session in Atlanta. Both were Black pastors serving in two different Regional conferences. I’m 37. One was a bit older than me while the other was a bit younger than me and although I hate to admit it, some would say he was a generation behind me (even though he graciously included me in his).

“I was hoping that this was going to be a year when we would finally experience change.” The older pastor spoke of Black representation in the upper echelons of denominational leadership. He spoke with a palpably pained disappointment. He went on to hammer home the idea that if the Seventh-day Adventist world church is now “nearly 90% black” (or ‘black-ish’ is what I inferred), then that ought to be reflected in the skin tones and hues of those appointed to leadership.

The ultimate end of this portion of the discussion seemed to be that he longed for a Black General Conference president, or at the very least, a Black North American Division president, if not both.

The ensuing discussion revolved around the legitimate banter of not having done much within the Black SDA community to intentionally groom our young men and women to assume denominational leadership roles outside of the regional conferences. An unfortunate reality. This of course led to the discussion that the same is generally true when it comes to grooming our young men and women to assume leadership even within our regional conferences.

And then I had my “ah ha!” moment. It came on the heels of my “so what?” moment. And that moment came as a result of putting this whole conversation in the context of mission.

“So what if the GC president is Black?” I asked myself. Exactly how does that either help or hider the accomplishment of the mission of the church and particularly of my local church? And what if this Black GC president is Black, but not female? Where does female representation fit in? But then again, so what if the GC president is female? Or Asian? Or Latino? Or purple polk-a-dotted? When is the last time the GC president, or the NAD president for that matter did or said anything in the last 14 years of my ministry that affected anything I could or could not do in my local church anyway? Sorry, but I couldn’t come up with a single instance.

Further, I countered, to myself, we have Regional Conferences (that’s code for Black Conferences). There is typically nothing but “Black representation” in the upper echelons of Regional conference leadership. Yet, ironically there have been plenty of Black conference presidents that many Black pastors would passionately argue have done more to hinder mission than to facilitate mission. That fact, inadvertently, seems to do significant detriment to the “Black representation” argument, at least if it’s sole basis is skin tone and hue.

While I realize that may be an over simplistic characterization of the “Black representation” argument, here’s where I landed at the end of this conversation.

I don’t care. If I have “Jesus representation” in the upper echelons of the denominational hierarchy, then I’m good. I know there are those who will have “pragmatic” and “let’s just keep it real” rebuttals, but in the end, I am a 2
nd generation Black Adventist pastor, and a 3rd generation Black Adventist, and I am very well capable of articulating those arguments of institutional racism, inequity, and injustice just as well as anybody else. But, I didn’t because it’s not leadership’s skin tone and hue that fixes those still very real problems.

- cap
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