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Bridging the Racial Divide
By EuGene Lewis
Maya Angelou writes, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”
Recently, I attended a caucus meeting for African American leaders in the North American Division. I sat and listened to division, union, conference presidents and other African American leaders discuss the plight of the African-American work in the NAD.
There were questions that arose like, “What formula should the NAD adopt in distributing regional capitol reversion funds in light of the impact gentrification has had on Regional and Non Regional Conferences? What are the potential opportunities and risks associated with the overall strategic plan? And, how do we best develop and utilize our human capital within the Regional work?
While finding the dialog provocative and most important, I was more interested in what was not being said. Are Regional Conferences even relevant anymore? If so, what is their current role within the NAD organizational structure?
Heart of the Issues
I realize at the heart of these issues is money, power, and white privilege found in the church past and present. They are the same issues that gave rise to Regional Conferences in the first place.
I would like to address these issues by offering some solutions to these questions geographically; from the perspective of the Pacific Northwest where there are no Regional conferences. In doing so, I will focus on two aspects of evangelism that I believe lie at the root of this challenge: (1) worship and (2) specificity as it relates to the gospel commission and the great multitude found in Revelation 7:9 – After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred’s, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands”.
I hope you notice they are standing equal in value no matter what their color. I believe these two principles provide an answer although not the only one to the question that is fundamental to all conferences that are changing congregationally due to gentrifications or cultural population shifts. Notwithstanding, the multi-cultural adaptations that are prevalent within in our unique sub-cultures here in the Pacific Northwest, all of which provide for a reasonable role of specificity in the regional work that is relevant, wise, and biblical.
Worship is about community, and the goal of community is to experience worship as John saw it. The people standing before God are all the same yet they are different. They come from every nation, tribes, and people to worship. They are secure in their own identity; therefore they are able to move freely into worship with others.
Worship matters to God, and so should it matter to us. It goes beyond sharing our stories, music, and worship styles. At heart, it should cause us to not lose sight of the fact that God has called us to live as though his kingdom is already here!
The Christian church of the first century did this. They were known for their diversity. Jews, Gentiles, and Greeks worshipped alongside women and slaves. Some scholars suggest diversity was one of the reasons why the church grew so fast and large during that period. Conversely, Roman society was characterized by rigid ethnic and class divisions.
Albeit we have been called to go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, (Matthew 28:19), we cannot afford to divorce worship from that command. The black church as well as the white church in Adventism as it is in America have long been divided over this issue. The effect of this division has been a community that mirrors the image of Roman society and not the first century church.
While there are many reasons for this division; cultural and otherwise, we know the chief reason for this divide is worship. The theme of Revelation 4 through 6 is worship. The great controversy itself (between God and Satan) is about worship.
Worship is the great continental divide in our church. Specificity in our outreach is a tacit acknowledgement that while we are committed to the gospel commission, we lack the spiritual courage needed to replicate what the first century church did, and experience what John later saw. Although specificity may not be the preferred way of doing evangelism, it’s still a thread that weaves its way through weak human nature and the carnage of the great controversy.
Specificity Within the Diverse and Rich Tapestry of the Gospel
Specificity as its goal is racist, evil, anti-Ellen White, and biblically impotent. However, specificity with an open mind to the gospel can be an open door to the Holy Spirit leading, a blessing, and the impetus to racial and ethnic reconciliation.
That’s how the first century church got started. The disciples were given specific instruction to start their work among their own in Jerusalem, and then go to all nations, tongues, and peoples. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and their cooperation with the same, what started as a regional work ended up becoming the key that opened the door to inclusion and diversity. It happen with the first century church, and I saw it happen once right here in the Pacific Northwest.
God’s Fishing Plan
I started my ministry as the associate pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama. An historical black university and mecca for black Adventism. Worship was great and I enjoyed it. Shortly thereafter I received a call to return to the Pacific Northwest to build up the work among African Americans in Spokane, Washington. With the urging of the president of the Regional Conferences and my senior pastor, I accepted the call.
We started our work with twelve souls: Seven whites and five blacks, and no church building. The census at that time showed Spokane population by race/ethnicity were approximately 86% White Americans; 2% African American, 2% Native/Inuit/Aleutian, 2.1% Asian Pacific, and .7% all other. It was estimated that 75 percent of Spokane County minorities, lived on the east side of Spokane. My task was to evangelize the 2% of African American living on the East side.  
I shared the mission with the group. The whites in the group told me they didn’t know how to share the gospel with African Americans. However, they were willing to learn if I was willing to teach them. So I held Sabbath afternoon classes with the group, and taught them all how to witness to African Americans. Basically, what not to say. Although our goal was to specifically reach out to African Americans; the Holy Spirit had something else in mind.  
We went fishing for African Americans but the Holy Spirit brought others into the net relative to the ratio we started out with. The church grew from our original 12 members to 171 souls: 92 white Americans, 73 African Americans, and 6 Native American in less than four years without ever running a crusade. We never lost our focus of reaching out to African Americans. With the help of the Holy Spirit, that which could have divided us brought us together. What began as an ideal, a specific thread, weaved itself into a diverse and rich tapestry of people of equal value worshiping and working together to the glory of God.
Diversity matters to God. John will attest to this fact. He saw a “multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindred and people and tongues standing before God” Rev. 7.9. As long as we are content to leave things as they are, worship as we now do, there will be a need for specificity.
Until we are willing to replicate what the first century church did, do away with Roman society values, privilege and otherwise, there will always be a need for specificity and Regional Conferences.
Changing structures doesn’t change hearts. People will go where they are comfortable. And, at the root of comfort, is how we treat one another. If you treat me as a brother or sister in Christ with all the rights and privileges you hold in the church, I will come back. If not, oh well, I will go where I can specifically find it. God help us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
EuGene Lewis is senior pastor of the Emerald City Church and regional coordinator for the Washington Conference