Over the weekend of March 19 and 20, 2021, Detroit-area pastors of the Lake Region and Michigan conferences of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States led their congregations to study how the Bible addresses issues of ethnocentrism and cultural superiority among believers.
The event, entitled, “His Invitation: Reconciliation, Unity, and Latter Rain Power,” drew hundreds of Adventist participants online and in churches.
Keynote speakers Gregory and Carol Allen of Oakwood University and authors of Christ Has Welcomed You: A Biblical Case for Relational Unity in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, presented four lectures stemming from their research on the topic. Presentations traced the ethnic tensions between Jew and Gentile in the early Roman church and the biblical record of the apostle Paul’s appeals in the book of Romans and other pastoral letters. In these passages, he even-handedly addressed both ethnic groups and appealed for them to unite in Christ through His saving ministry.
In an effort to engage as many as possible, the presentations were made available in the congregational setting of participating churches and via Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook Live. Since some churches have not yet opened or are offering limited service options due to the continuing pandemic, digital engagement helped overcome various obstacles. It attracted Adventist viewers from as far away as Washington, D.C. and Washington State. For those who registered for the event, breakout sessions were facilitated by local Adventist leaders who posed discussion questions as attendees further considered the material.
The conference was the culmination of an organic, grassroots fellowship between pastors of the Lake Region and Michigan conferences, who began meeting together in spiritual fellowship in 2017. Recent racially charged events created opportunities for deepening fellowship, dialogue, and personal spiritual growth.
Carmelo Mercado, a general vice-president and multicultural ministries coordinator in the Lake Union Conference, served as the facilitator for the meetings and provided leadership to the group’s study and dialogue. At the recommendation of Dwayne Duncombe, district superintendent for the Lake Region Conference in Detroit, the Allens were invited to share their research. As this small group of pastors met virtually with the Allens, something began to stir.
“As the Allens shared from a biblical perspective, we were convicted that the broader church membership must be involved in some way,” said Darryl Bentley, district superintendent for the Michigan Conference in the greater Detroit area.
Duncombe noted that “what made the difference in our meetings was the Word of God. None of this was our agenda. As we studied the Bible together, God’s Spirit began to move.”
In a video promoting the event, pastors highlighted the history of ethnic tensions in Detroit and the biblical appeal from Ephesians 2:13-16 to answer ethnic tensions.
While surveys from attendees are still being collected, organizers received a number of positive reactions. Edwina Cookie Holley commented that the presentations contained “world-class teaching.”
At the conclusion of the event, attendees inquired about what is being planned for the future. Mercado asked the same question to the local pastoral leadership.
“I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit led us to have this convocation so we as a people can be on the road to fulfilling the prayer of Jesus — that His people may be one,” Mercado said. “I believe that’s it’s only when we come together in true [communion] to study the Word of God and pray that the walls that divide us can come down.”
Dwayne Duncombe agreed. “I am so convicted that what we did this weekend was something that Christ initiated. It was a lot of hard work, and there was a lot of planning, but [all of it] was guided by the Holy Spirit. I think that just as surely as the Lord led us to this place, He will lead us in terms of our next steps.”