by Stephen Foster, November 4, 2015: The amazingly under-told story in this Carson saga and how Adventists and Adventism are now being discussed and perceived, particularly by one of Carson’s competitors for the GOP (Republican) nomination, is that Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Barry Black, PhD. has been serving with distinction as the chaplain of the United States Senate for a number of years, without fanfare regarding his denomination.
It is certain that Dr. Black is as close to being universally admired and respected among his fellow Adventists and on Capitol Hill as anyone; and that unlike Dr. Carson, he has not said or done anything of a particularly controversial nature during his public service.
I would submit that Dr. Black is more representative of the ethos of Seventh-day Adventists in the United States than is Dr. Carson—and that it is not even close.
The reason for this is as politically incorrect as can be. Despite the headlines and findings of the recent Pew Research Study on religious diversity, the reality is that from a demographic perspective, in North America, as elsewhere, Seventh-day Adventism is now largely a black and brown denomination.
The simple math: as of 2013, fully 25% of the 1.167 million Adventists in the North American Division, or 293,350 Adventists, were in the nine Regional Conferences. This does not include any of the black or brown members in the entire Pacific Union Conference; nor does it include any of the black or brown members in Canada, Bermuda, or the Greater New York Conference; nor does it include any of the literally countless black or brown members who attend churches that are not in Regional Conferences in metropolitan areas across the United States, including the Potomac Conference and the Florida Conference.
In other words, the fact is that there is absolutely no mathematical way, given these realities, that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America is not majority black and brown, as it is in the aggregate in the rest of the world. And while Seventh-day Adventists of African and Hispanic descent are arguably as culturally conservative as any groups of Americans, I would say that—at least for American Adventists of African descent—their outlook on the temporal, political and ideological issues upon which Carson, in his current occupation as a full-fledged politician, has now commented is by-and-large quite different from Carson’s.
This is frustrating to many of us, and admittedly to me personally, because Dr. Black is a product of the African American Seventh-day Adventist educational system and culture, having attended Adventist elementary school, and having graduated from Pine Forge Academy and Oakwood University (then-College), and is therefore an advertisement for those institutions and what they represent.
It therefore would’ve been preferable, from my perspective, had much of the public been introduced to Seventh-day Adventism by way of the public service of Barry Black, rather than by Ben Carson’s statements on the constitutional propriety, or more accurately, the constitutional impropriety, of hypothetically having a Muslim President of the United States, for example, or from Carson writing on Facebook that “…I never saw a body with bullet holes more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away,” or by Carson’s statement that the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing that has happened in America since slavery.
But to be fair, Dr. Carson has not, to my knowledge, to this point thrown Adventism or Adventist beliefs “under the bus,” and has conducted himself with a decorum and a demeanor that have reflected well on his faith and his faith community…no matter what he has said. So far so good on that score; so good, in fact, that the best case scenario at this point, at least from this black Adventist’s perspective, is that Dr. Carson continues to run a relatively dignified campaign, and refrains from saying anything (else) that, upon (any) further reflection, might sound naïve or astonishingly unenlightened or misinformed; and that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination takes advantage of the goodwill and good publicity that Ben Carson’s notoriety and demeanor—and Barry Black’s career of exemplary public service—will have provided it.
We have this hope.