It doesn’t take much to get a discussion going regarding “regional conferences” and “non regional conferences.” I was on Facebook and pointed to this article where a Black and a White church decided to come together to have a worship service. It was an interesting story in and of itself. But in the comments section the discussion quickly turned to a discussion of the Black and White church and Black conferences. This was particularly interesting to me in that the original story was not about Adventists. In addition is wasn’t about dismantling anything. It was only about worshiping together.
Black Churches and Regional Conferences Are Separate Issues
Upon reflection a few points came to mind. the first thing this told me was that we cloud the issue of Regional Conferences[1. Regional Conferences was the name given to the conferences made up of predominantly Black churches. They were called regional because they had jurisdiction over “regions” rather than “states” as the old conference structure of the Adventist church in North America.] and Black Churches.
We had Black churches before regional conferences and we will have them after. Whatever we do about regional conferences will not remove the black church. Arguments that we should worship together are only tangentially related to the “regional conference question.” I think it is interesting that there are black churches in the non regional conferences. So don’t get into a long discussion of how we should worship together and then jump to Black conferences…it is two different issues.
The existence of Black Conferences do not constitute forced segregation. To use the language of “segregation” is to imply that people cannot worship where they please. Are there any black people in the predominately white church in town? Are there any white people in your predominately Black church? Most likely the answer is yes to both of these questions. What is really interesting is that there are Black employees of non regional conferences now and even non black employees of the regional conferences. We all may agree that it is not best that we had to create these conferences, but to compare them to “segregation” is really not a correct comparison.
Our Ability To Work Together Is Questioned
Now I do agree, as noted above, that having these conferences working the same field is not our ultimate goal. The existence of regional and non regional conferences says something about our inability to work things out. Yes all sides had a role to play in this, but be not confused, the split between non regional and regional conferences happened because we allowed white racism to go unchecked. We must look at that history before we can move on.
More than that, it says something that the Black work was being undeserved before the creation of regional conferences in the south. We have seen the African American work blossom as money and resources were now going straight into the inner cities much more than before.
The Split Kept Us Together
But we also must recognize that the creation of regional conferences probably saved a split in the denomination. Look at other denominations in the United States. The Methodists split over the race issue. Baptists split. Presbyterians split. Most have different denominations. Just about everybody split. But we found a way to hold together. I agree that the existence of regional and non regional conferences in the same areas is not best, but it is better than the total split that we see in other denominational bodies.
Can We Understand Each Other?
Some Black folks support the continuance of the regional conferences because they do not trust that their issues will be treated fairly as in the past. Now some folks deny that we should fear that. Some folks get mad that some fear unfair treatment. Some folks will say that “Black folks need to get over it!” But let us for the sake of argument say that some Black folks fears are unfounded. If you don’t understand the fear and apprehension that that group would have then I question if you have done much study at all into the race question in this country.
Some white folks attach the existence of regional conferences to racism and thus accuse any Black person who supports their continuance of promoting racism or playing the race card to the detriment of the church where, according to them, race should not matter.
These white sisters and brothers want to point to a “Post Racial Church” where race does not matter and even appeal to President Barak Obama’s election as a sign that we have reached a post racial place in America. And they think the best resolution of our problem is to ignore race. Many of our Black sisters and brothers believe that racism still exists and that the call to ignore race is at best naive.
Where Do We Go Now?
So here we are. Many of our Black sisters and brothers fear that they will not be treated correctly. They have history that informs that fear. Many of our non black and international sisters and brothers think that they treat all equally and that the call of racism is something that we have largely overcome in the past.
What can we do? It is past time that we come together. It is past time that we have real conversations with one another. It is past time for our African American sisters and brothers to have space to talk about the alienation that they feel. It is past time for our sisters and brothers of other elasticities to give their perspective on the issue. Yes it is past time for us to come together and be real about why the church started these conferences. It is past time that we talk about when is the right time to remove this structural separation.
The answer is not in a top down “You will get rid of these conferences.” Neither is it in the attempt of the previous GC president in telling the young African Americans to tell their presidents that they don’t want these conferences (as if the whole reason for their existence is a “black problem.” The answer is for us to have space for dialog. Before we do anything, let us first talk. Can we stop pointing the finger…and recognize that no side can claim complete innocence…and even more than that recognize that providence has placed us together, because we need each other…