June 4, 2020

A Call to Stand Against Racism

Gary Thurber, President, Mid-America Union Conference

The following statement by the Mid-America Union Conference (MAUC) president Gary Thurber was released on June 1, 2020. MAUC is a Seventh-day Adventist Church region encompassing nine states in Mid-western United States, including Minnesota.—Editors

Greetings Mid-America Union Family,

It’s been nearly a week since we witnessed the unnecessary, heart-rending murder of George Floyd. We have all been impacted by this tragedy but for obvious reasons the pain has been acutely felt among our brothers and sisters in the greater Minneapolis area. We have many members who worship together in nearly 50 churches in that region.

Yesterday, I spoke with some of the pastors of our frontline churches in Minneapolis and with Roger Bernard, president of the Central States Conference, and Justin Lyons, president of the Minnesota Conference. I learned that the churches from both our conferences and the Lake Region Conference in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area are meeting together to lay plans to minister to their broken community.

The Mid-America Union Conference, on your behalf, has committed to provide financial resources for the pastors in that region to help them build bridges in the community through their outreach efforts. If you would like to send additional support, above and beyond what Mid-America will be offering, you may send your check to either the Central States Conference or Minnesota Conference (or go to Adventist Giving online) and indicate that the funds are for Minneapolis Outreach.

Soul Searching

Church family, I wrote a message to share earlier but have rewritten it. It was heartfelt, too. But then my wife, Diane, challenged me to watch the full video of George Floyd’s murder. I did. I saw his face smashed into the pavement. I listened to him cry out for water. I listened to him plead that he could not breathe. Again and again. I saw him writhe in pain. I saw blood run from his nose. I saw him lose bladder control. I heard him cry out to his mother. I saw his body go limp. I saw three white officers bearing their weight on his body. I saw one of the three white officers kneel on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, and even after his body appeared to be lifeless. I heard the crowd around the scene cry for mercy, for intervention for George Floyd’s needs and for his very life. This scene stirred me to the core.

This tragedy comes on the heels of other devastating losses we have experienced, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

I had to do some real soul-searching this week.

I had to ask myself how they could happen in “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve come to understand that for many the words of these patriotic icons don’t have the same meaning as they do for those of us who haven’t had to live with the injustice of profiling or feeling targeted for our skin color.

And then I had to ask myself why I have been as silent as I have and why our church has been silent so many times rather than entering the battle for our Black brothers and sisters who have valiantly been fighting a battle for justice and mercy since slaves arrived on U.S. soil involuntarily. I regret I have not always been a stand-up guy. Too many times I have been on the sidelines.

I am going to share some hard things now, church family. What I have to say has nothing to do with politics. This, rather, has to do with the human condition, and the evil we see and battle daily in a broken world. So please, I am talking to myself more than anyone as I continue further.

As a church, there have been periods of expressed support for justice and fairness for African-Americans when Ellen White was among us and at a few other times. I realize there have been some apologies when the Seventh-day Adventist Church acknowledged racially-biased policies and practices. But still racism abounds in our land and in our church. Many of us who are not impacted by the prejudice and hate our Black brothers and sisters encounter, on a daily basis, step out of the battle when we are not affected. We may not intentionally add to the pain, but we also do not consistently come alongside to support and defend our Black citizens and church members, when there is racism and injustice.

Because our church has been fairly quiet, we have contributed to the pain, suffering, anger, and battle fatigue that has been building for centuries. We have let our God down. I have let our God down. I have let my Black brothers and sisters down. We have not represented the love of Jesus as we are challenged in Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Friends, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. I encourage each one of us to learn what we don’t know, so we can be part of the solution to bring peace and healing to our land and in our church.

But Where Do We Start?

We start by praying to the One who shed His blood for all humanity. We need to ask Him to help us search our hearts to reveal the prejudice and attitudes that reside there, and then ask Him to create a new heart within us.

We need to say I’m sorry to those we have harmed by our actions or by our silence. This may not be easy because we may have inadvertently caused pain in situations of which we are unaware. We will need to be willing to have conversations with those close to us and in wider forums to ask what we need to know and then focus on how to bring healing and restitution. This means we listen to others’ experiences and pains. We listen to learn. And then the all-important question is “How can I help?”

We are the family of God. We need to look for opportunities to come alongside our Black brothers and sisters in our communities and churches to offer support and to be part of the solution for change. Right now, we don’t know what that may mean. It could mean realignment of our time. It could mean realignment of our resources. It could mean losing friends and family and coworkers who will not agree with us. It could mean laying down our very life for our Black brothers and sisters.

Our son, Justin, shared from his heart recently in a Facebook post. He wrote, “We have a responsibility to speak out against White on Black racism not just today, but next week, and the week after, and as long as it takes. It is easy to let empathy fade if we don’t tend to it.”

This is true, and just as Jesus is long-suffering with each of us, we must be long-suffering and devoted to the sin problems we face in the world, too. We need to each lift our voices to help eliminate the pain and suffering White on Black racism causes. In our homes. In our social circles. In our church. In our community.

Friends, we need to remember that since the beginning when sin first raised its ugly head, we have been wrestling not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The devil wants to keep us divided. He wants to keep disharmony in our church and communities. He wants to drive a wedge between relationships. He wants us to be distracted from mission. He wants to keep our eyes off Jesus.

Knowing and Doing Better  

Maya Angelou, beloved American poet, author, and civil rights activist, is attributed with writing, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Let us each commit to doing and being better than we ever have, by the grace of God. May we see the beauty and harmony of being one, just as Jesus and His Father are one. If we do, the world will be astonished and will want to be part of the fellowship they see as our beautifully diverse Adventist Church family surrounds each other with love and grace.

The good news is, I know when we open our hearts to our Savior, let Him teach and lead us, using His measuring rod of love and mercy, that great things can and will happen. This is not a time to be discouraged but, rather, to seize the moment to come alongside one another, all of us as children of the heavenly Father. As that old gospel song says, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord… and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

This statement was posted on the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook magazine.