By Monte Sahlin, June 19, 2015: Some issues seem to never really get solved. It seems like only yesterday Americans had elected the first black president and there was brave talk about a “post racial” society. And now it seems like the clock has been set back nearly 50 years.
A young white man walks into a prayer meeting in a church and announces to the group of older black women and men, “You are taking over our country; you must go.” And proceeds to shoot many of them, killing nine people.
What kind of an America lets a young adult use his birthday money to buy a semiautomatic pistol, go to a black church, walk in the with the concealed weapon, sit in the back for an hour and then massacre a group of old people? What kind of an America allows a young white man to grow up thinking that because some equality and justice has finally been realized that it means other ethnic groups are “taking over” the country?
There is only one possible answer to these questions and I hope that this terrible event shakes enough white people to their core to get this lesson into their minds. This is the result of attempting to hold on to the privileges that members of the white majority had in America through centuries of slavery and “Jim Crow” (American Apartheid).
We didn’t give the freed slaves “40 acres and a mule” in the late 1860s to provide them with a little capital to get started in a new life. We lost interest after a few years of Reconstruction and left widespread poverty among whites and blacks in the South. We never paid reparations for generations of unpaid labor. We tolerated the Civil Rights Movement for a period of time and then began to grumble about “playing the race card” and “PC” and a lot of other stupid things that simply show that down deep we still resent any kind of level playing field.
The common idea among whites of a “color blind” society really means, “I don’t want to think about ethnicity.” And it is to the benefit of whatever remains of majority privilege to claim that it is not necessary or good to be observant of the culture of others that we interact with.
American society has regressed in recent decades. Political machinations have forced a situation where guns are simply too easy to get. In many places there are no restrictions on someone suffering from the worst kind of mental illness obtaining a gun. It is generally less difficult to purchase a gun than it is purchase a car.
Politicians make coded references to ethnic tensions and dislike of immigrants for the sole purpose of manipulating the masses into voting for them. The policy proposals of many in Congress would mean removing the Statue of Liberty and returning it to France if those politicians were honest.
The criminal justice system in many places appears to be simply a tool to oppress non-white citizens. As has been shown by the investigation after the police killing and resultant riots in Ferguson, Missouri, fines and policies are contrived to make money off the backs of poor people of color and give those on probation no real opportunity to turn their lives around.
All of this is simply delusional. It is a kind of mass hysteria. It is no wonder that some simple-minded 21-year-old took things into his own hands, bought a gun with his birthday money and walked into a black church on Wednesday night during prayer meeting to murder as many people as he could. He simply “drank the kool-aid” that is floating around in our society.
Is This Important to the Gospel?
For both practical and theological reasons it is absolutely essential for Adventists in America (and around the world) to address these issues. The Adventist denomination in America has already crossed over the threshold into a minorities majority church. White people make up only about 45 percent of the membership. We cannot survive as a faith community if the delusional ideas around us are allowed any space whatsoever.
It is really a matter of our heritage and the core of what it means to be authentically Adventist. James and Ellen White, Joseph Bates and the others in the founding group of Adventists were all antislavery activists. John Byington, the first president of the General Conference, defied Federal law and hid runaway slaves on his farm in upstate New York. Edson White, son of James and Ellen, built a boat and sailed it down to the South when Reconstruction was running out of gas to educate former slaves. The reason for the boat was so he could leave town quickly when mobs of angry whites came after his mixed-race team of teachers and Bible workers.
Revelation 14:6-12 says that the Remnant is made up of “every ethnic group, tribe, culture and people group.” The multicultural nature of our faith is part of its God-given identity. It is one of the prophetic marks of the people of God in these times. God’s tribe is made up of all kinds of people. It is inclusive, accepting, open and grace-filled. That is the mark of authentic Christian community. If it is not tangible in your local church, small group Bible study or Sabbath School class; that group lacks the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Real Adventists will take a decided stand against the delusional stuff floating around in American society. They will do what they can to prevent tragedies like the one this week by speaking up when they hear whining about loss of white privilege, by voting against politicians who promise unfettered access to guns and by reaching out to neighbors and fellow church members of other ethnic groups than their own to make friends and accomplish useful projects in the community.
We must all ask God to forgive us for narrowing the Adventist message, seeking to make it only about “spiritual” things, disconnected from the realities of life. Authentic Adventist faith connects with the pain and suffering of women and men, and especially children, buffeted by the turmoil of contemporary society and preyed upon by the unscrupulous, the violent and the delusional.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.” And, “whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.” (The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, 45 after He was asked by the apostles, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”)
Monte Sahlin has served as a Seventh-day Adventist minister for more than 45 years at all levels of the denomination. He retired from denominational employment last year and is executive director of the Adventist Today Foundation and executive editor of Adventist Today.