It’s tempting to imagine that the Seventh-day Adventist Church—a global movement present in more than 200 nations of the world—exists in a post-racism era, and that members no longer value and judge others by their race or color.
But we all know differently. While many of us are proud to embrace brothers and sisters from all races and ethnicities, others struggle with painful and distorted viewpoints they inherited or were taught by their families or cultures,
Should believers, in fact, be “color-blind?” We spoke with Adventists from different backgrounds to hear their perspectives on the color blindness many imagine as the goal of racial reconciliation. —Editors
Growing up, I always heard the expression “I’m color-blind; I just see what’s inside,” and I may have used it a time or two myself. That is, until the past decade or so. It’s important to acknowledge skin color and other differences in each other, and honor and respect it from the heart. God made us all beautifully different, and we should celebrate our differences and learn from each other. We all have something to learn from our fellow neighbors. None of us know it all. We do not know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We may think we know, but every walk is unique. That’s why it’s important to commune with folks who don’t look, eat, dress, or speak like us. Heaven will look like the United Nations, and what a beautiful sight that will be. It’s our duty, while on earth, to really “see,” celebrate, and honor each other.
Anissa Perez is a third-generation Seventh-day Adventist Christian and a second-generation Latina American. She is passionate about immigration and ensuring others understand the perils of racism, as well as the beauty of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is an advocate for the “least of these.”
Color blindness is a simplistic framework for relating to the complex realities of contemporary life. It often betrays our inability to see God’s image in those not in our image—whose color, culture, and ethnicity are different from ours.
It exposes the belief that if people don’t notice color, color will no longer matter. The claim not to see color could also be a way of saying, “We don’t see our color, because our ethnicity or culture is at the center of the universe.” Where it exists in the church, color blindness is an obstacle to honest recognition that national and ethnic differences are real and that they matter. It is also an impediment to receiving the wisdom, traditions, perspectives, and insights from people who are unlike us but who can enlarge our world.
The Adventist Church should not, therefore, be color-blind, but instead acknowledge and value the lived experience of all people of all colors. We are all shaped by our national, cultural, and communal experiences—experiences of privilege and discrimination, of equity and disparity, of advantage and disadvantage, of opportunities and limitations, of freedom and subjugation, of entitlement and marginalization. Attempts to homogenize people serves as a device to deny or disengage from uncomfortable systemic realities. It also fails to acknowledge that even within a particular ethnic or cultural demographic, individuals are unique and experience particular social, economic, and relational realities. I consider color blindness to be an ideology that is more of an obstacle than an asset to facilitating constructive relationships and equitable policies.
Raj Attiken, D.Min., is an adjunct professor of religion at Kettering College, the Adventist denomination’s health-sciences college in southwestern Ohio, and a frequent speaker on faith, spirituality, and leadership. He is an ordained minister who served in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for 42 years as a church pastor, conference department director, conference secretary, and for 16 years as president of the 11,000-member Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He was born and raised in Sri Lanka.
Should the church be color-blind? Absolutely not! When a church is color-blind, it becomes blind to God’s image on display. It neglects to highlight the uniqueness and the beauty in every person, people, and culture. Our Fundamental Belief 13, “The Remnant and Its Mission,” and 14, “Unity in the body of Christ,” emphasize that every believer is called to have a personal part in this worldwide witness. “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6, NIV). It also states in our Fundamental Beliefs that: “In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation.” Being color-blind in the Adventist Church takes away the uniting power of the everlasting gospel. To be color-blind is to compromise our mission to effectively reach every nation, tribe, language, and people.
One reason that some Christians embrace color blindness is the belief that unity means similarity. The colonization that came by way of the missionaries who brought the gospel to the Pacific Islands neglected the fact that Christianity fits into all cultures uniquely. The goal was not to have islanders look and dress like Europeans but to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. The basis for unity is not found in similarity, but rather in Christ. The beauty of the gospel is different ethnicities and cultures being brought together to reflect the image of God in all His glory. So to be color-blind is to be blind to God’s image as it is distinctly and uniquely revealed in each culture and ethnic group.
Meshach Soli serves as pastor of the South Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Diego, California, He has been in pastoral ministry for nearly 15 years, with an emphasis on youth and young adult ministries. Pastor Soli travels extensively, preaching and teaching about what it means to have an authentic relationship with Jesus. Soli is also a certified Growing Young speaker, partnering with the Growing Young Adventist team to foster cross-generational churches that are intentional about creating healthier environments for both young and seasoned members. He is of Pacific Islander descent, with his ethnic roots in Samoa. Pastor Soli is also the board chair for The Two Percent Ministry, an evangelistic and discipleship platform for Pacific Islander communities/churches.
Near the beginning of my Bible is the story of Creation, in which God created a garden. In that garden were a variety of flowers of different colors and fragrances, and each flower had and has a unique set of characteristics that set it apart. As these flowers, even today, grow in gardens, they provide beauty, a sense of calm, happiness, and sometimes wonder. Their collective beauty is incredible and their fragrances heavenly. Near the end of the Bible, the apostle John sees a great throng of people at the end of time that he reports are from every kindred, tongue, and people. All are wearing white robes and holding palm branches. All are dressed the same and wearing the same color that represents purity, but are themselves of different color, ethnicity, and diversity.
How do I ignore these things in the Word of God? How do I allow the culture of the day to put out my eyes to not see the beauty and wonder that my sovereign God has created? How do I ignore the fact that in heaven every color, nation, tongue, fragrance, and people will live, love, and thrive together in harmony?
I once had the privilege of working with the office of the mayor of Baltimore on a project for the inner city. At one point a tractor-trailer decorated by a local radio station to look like a boom box was driven to the center of the projects, and ethnic music was played to draw people out to listen to the mayor speak. As the music moved through the community, I watched from afar and saw the most wonderful sight. The people formed, without direction from anyone, into a large circular formation, performing what I learned later to be the African boot dance. It was like watching a flower bloom in fast motion. The singing and the music went to my heart. I have seen the same reaction from those who are not from my Native American heritage when they see us do the welcome dance, or sing to our Creator in thankfulness for the moon, the stars, and all that He has made.
Let us pray that we, as members of the church, will always celebrate our brothers and sisters of all races and enjoy the wonders of each other as we draw closer to home. My dearest friends are from a variety of different ethnicities, and I will not disrespect them nor my Savior God by not loving every good thing about them, their distinctive personalities, cultures, ethnicity, and color.
Robert Burnette is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation. He has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church as chair of the Business Department at Washington Adventist University, vice president of Home Study International/Griggs University, and director of Native Ministries of the North American Division. He currently serves as assistant to the president of the Oklahoma Conference, and executive publisher of American Indian and Alaska Native Living media.
My husband and I were talking about how the Adventist Church differs from much of mainstream Christianity regarding the idea of being color-blind, because we have always been a global church. We championed social issues in the past, and we emphasize spreading the message as a worldwide church. My eldest child and I feel the term color-blind does not give credence to the person. We like the term color-appreciative better. I feel that if we study different cultures and races in the world, we get a more complete picture of the Creator. I think that treating people equally can be done by appreciating all our differences.
Myra Gallego Tongpo is married with three children. Born in the Philippines, she was raised in Rwanda and Ghana as a missionary kid. She works as a NICU nurse at Loma Linda Children’s Hospital.
Color blindness is a concept that some people suggest is the way the church should be—treating people like God’s children no matter what color skin they have. While it’s important to treat people with love and respect no matter what they look like, it is also very valuable to notice and celebrate the differences that each race and culture bring to the church and world. Our differences should not divide us, but should enrich our experience as a church.
Clayton Koh is the children and family pastor at Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ohio. He is a Malaysian-born Asian American with Chinese and Indian heritage. Clayton is married to Lindsay Koh, and they have two young children, with a third child on the way.