By AT News Team, December 8, 2014: (Updated Dec. 9)   “I call on our pastors and lay leaders to speak up respectably in support of the safety and civil rights our young men and women,” stated Pastor Daniel Honore, president of the Northeastern Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The statement was in response to widespread disappointment among many Americans at the failure of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner.

A video of the incident “clearly” shows the officer “applying the banned chokehold procedure on the victim as he pleaded for his life,” the statement pointed out. For “millions of law-abiding citizens … there is a sense that justice has eluded us and that certain lives are valued less than others.”

Honore referred to Proverbs 14:34 and Isaiah 1:17 as a Bible foundation for his concern for social justice. The statement encouraged “participation in public forums, marches and non-violent events in which Seventh-day Adventists can speak up for peace and justice without compromising our religious convictions.”

“As I think of my own sons and the thousands of minority youths whose spiritual home is the [Adventist Church], I cannot but be compelled to join our voices to those crying out for a more just society,” said Honore. “I join those calling on the Federal Government to conduct its own investigation into the death of an unarmed black man.”

Demonstrations occurred last week on several university and college campuses affiliated with the Adventist denomination in the U.S. On most of these campuses the majority or a significant minority of the students are non-white young adults. Large numbers have expressed personal fear about the danger in inter-actions with white police officers across the country.

Adventist groups from across Ohio organized a demonstration at the state capital building in Columbus yesterday afternoon (December 7). They called for prayer about the social tensions in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City, and a number of other locations throughout the nation. “You can’t meet anger with anger,” said Pastor John Boston, from the Central Adventist Church in Columbus. “We want to meet anger with calm, protest with prayer.”

In addition to the events in New York and Missouri, two recent events in Ohio have involved police killings of black men. One was in the Dayton area and another in Cleveland, in which a 12-year-old boy was shot. In both cases the victims were holding toy guns but not involved in overtly aggressive or unlawful behavior.

“About 100 people … locked arms, swaying and singing hymns,” reported The Columbus Dispatch. As the groups returned to their buses, “several Columbus police cars arrived and parked on High Street, lights flashing.” Boston told a reporter that he “was threatened with a jaywalking ticket for crossing High Street” in a downtown area on the grounds of the state capital where crowds routinely gather usually much larger than this one.

Police told the newspaper that they were “called because improperly parked cars and blocked bus lanes.” But “no one got a ticket.” It is likely that the church buses were standing in the bus lane to pick up returning groups, a source familiar with downtown Columbus, Ohio, told Adventist Today.

Adventist Today has been told that there were Adventist groups involved in various demonstrations and statements on this issue over the last weekend, but details of any other such activities have not yet come to the AT News Team. The majority of the members of the Adventist Church in North America are from ethnic minorities and a high percentage of the white members reside in small towns and rural areas. This demographic reality plays a strong role in the attitudes of Adventists on the current issues about police-community relations in America.

Update on December 9

On the evening of December 8, the denomination’s North American Division (NAD) released a statement by Pastor Daniel R. Jackson, president of the NAD:  “The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Eric Garner and the heartache it has caused his family and community. We extend our deepest condolences and continue to pray for his family.

“The recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri, in the death of Michael Brown and Mr. Garner in New York City have stirred great emotions in the hearts of many Americans who question the equity with which all of God’s children are treated. Many citizens, including Seventh-day Adventist pastors, educators, and students have participated in non-violent marches, peacefully calling for equality and asking for change. We continue to support the right, which we are afforded in this country, to peacefully speak out and call for change.

“It is time for our society to engage in open, honest, civil, and productive conversation about the rights and equality of every member of our community. We pray that the tragedy of these two deaths will bring about much needed change and address the pain that many ethnic groups are facing in this country. We pray that awareness will lead to a two-way conversation that will lead to healing.

“We pray that those on either side of this conversation will speak with peace, love, and grace. We pray for the day when all of God’s children treat each other without suspicion, bias, and hatred. As the Apostle Paul reminds us: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’”