Adventist Denominational Leaders Address Issues of Ethnicity & Structure
By AT News Team, March 26, 2015: The leadership of the Adventist denomination in North America has voted a statement addressing recent discussions on the topic of how the organization deals with ethnic minorities. The statement affirms “the historical establishment and current role and function of Regional Conferences [as] structurally essential, mission effective, and relevant in reaching the diverse populations and urban centers within our division.”
The statement is in response to a March 7 event at Andrews University which questioned organizational arrangements in which historically African American congregations east of the Rocky Mountains usually are affiliated with Regional Conferences instead of state conferences in the same area. Dr. Dwight Nelson, senior pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church on the university campus, had called for some form of reunification of historically “black” and “white” conferences in a January sermon, though he as since clarified that he did not mean for Regional Conferences to simply be disbanded, with all member congregations joining the respective state conferences.
Regional Conferences were first established in the mid-1940s in order to increase the effectiveness of outreach in African American communities, given the racist policies and practices within the denomination at the time. Most congregations in Regional Conferences are historically African American, though there are a number of Hispanic congregations and those of other ethnic composition as well.
Regional Conferences and state conferences cover overlapping territory, although Regional Conferences encompass larger areas. For example an African American congregation in Chicago would belong to the Lake Region Conference and a nearby congregation of a different ethnic majority might belong to the Illinois Conference. Both of these conferences are part of the same Union Conference.
The questions about the role of the Regional Conferences have increased as these conferences have become more diverse. Two of the Regional Conferences, the Northeastern Conference in the Atlantic Union Conference, and the Southeastern Conference in Florida, no longer have a majority of members who are native-born African Americans. In fact, the demographics of the Northeastern Conference is similar to the demographics of at least two of the conferences with which it shares geographic territory. This demographic change in both of these Regional Conferences has come largely from immigration.
The complete document voted by the officers of the North American Division (NAD) of the denomination on March 25, 2015: “Affirmation of the Mission Role of North American Division Regional Conferences
“Responding to requests, the North American Division Administration voted the following action concerning Regional Conferences:
“The North American Division has been given a mandate by both God and its constituency to serve one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. Since a request has been formally made to clarify the history and present role of its Regional Conferences, which have been a valued and integral part of our North American Division governance structure since 1944, “We resolve that: “Whereas the North American Division is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the World… “Whereas the North American Division is presently ministering in a racially-charged society… “Whereas, the effectiveness, challenges, and history of our Regional Conferences need to be better understood… “Whereas, there is a growing number of requests for the NAD leadership to clarify the history, mission effectiveness, and cultural relevance of Regional Conferences… “Voted, To affirm that the historical establishment and current role and function of Regional Conferences are structurally essential, mission effective, and relevant in reaching the diverse populations and urban centers within our division. “The Administration of the North American Division and the Administrations of our Regional Conferences are deeply committed to continuing our mission focus and evangelistic unity as we seek to fulfill God’s commission within our territory. “Throughout our division we will continue to seek ways and means to further racial cooperation, understanding, and growth.
The NAD’s statement did not reveal how the division will seek to further racial cooperation, nor how it will promote an understanding of the effectiveness, challenges and history of the Regional Conferences.
Related News Story: Adventist Institutions Confront Racism, Consider Way Forward (AT News Team, March 12, 2015), https://atoday.org/adventist-institutions-confront-racism-consider-way-forward.html.