A young man covered in tattoos.
An elderly man in shabby clothing.
A Jewish child.
What do these three people have in common? All are examples of prejudice getting in the way of the church’s mission.
Their poignant stories were among the case studies discussed by senior church leaders at a two-day conference aimed at finding ways to overcome prejudice to fulfill the church’s mission of proclaiming the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 that Jesus is coming soon.
The Global Mission Issues Committee, comprised of leaders from the General Conference, the church’s 13 world divisions, and other church entities, voted to recommend the establishment of an official permanent working group to address these issues.
“The task of this working group will be to keep these issues high on the church’s agenda and strengthen the church’s ministry of reconciliation,” the recommendation said.
Proposed methods of addressing the prejudice and other forms of discrimination include emphasizing cross-cultural mission and intercultural reconciliation through church media; organizing training in conflict resolution, cross-cultural mission, and intercultural reconciliation; and working with the General Conference’s communication department to develop and implement a set of protocols for the world field to prevent prejudiced messaging from creeping into church publications, media, curricula, programming, and church worship and practice. Adventist Mission, which oversees the Global Mission Issues Committee, would work with other church entities to implement the proposals floated at the conclusion of the two-day video conference on April 7, 2021
Church members need to seriously examine their own hearts because every person is guilty of racism, tribalism, casteism, antisemitism, or other forms of prejudice, church leaders said.
“This is one issue that is continually coming up. These ‘-isms’ are getting in the way of mission,” said Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission.
A highlight of the conference — titled “Missional Implications of Prejudice, Discrimination, Favoritism, Tribalism, Casteism, Antisemitism, and Racial Intolerance” — was a series of case studies of lingering prejudice within the church.
Tattoos and a Plush Pig
In a video interview, Dante Marvin Hermann, a former tattoo artist studying at the Adventist seminary in Spain, described the prejudice he has encountered when church members see his tattooed arms. Some people label him as a rebel or a liberal and, when he preaches, they openly express surprise about his knowledge of the Bible. When he first started attending an Adventist church, a pastor suggested that he might prefer attending a Pentecostal or evangelical church instead.
In another case study, a church planter spoke about an elderly man in shabby clothing who showed up at Sabbath worship services. The church planter described his discomfort, declaring that the man wasn’t the kind of person whom he was seeking to attract to the church. Later, the church planter was stunned to learn that the elderly man was wealthy and highly respected in the community, and he voiced regret for his earlier rush to judgment and associated prejudice.
A third interview featured a young Jewish boy who felt uncomfortable in Sabbath School after being asked to carry a plush pig into the ark in a play about Noah. Having been taught that pigs are unclean, the boy asked the teacher for another animal, but the teacher refused and told him that he had to accept the pig or he would lose the role of Shem in the play. The boy ended up losing the role. When his father spoke later to the teacher, she replied that she had thought that the boy was being obstinate and had wanted to carry a different animal.
In presentations, conference speakers recalled the history of ethnicity and racial diversity in the Adventist Church. David Trim, director of the Office of Adventist Archives, Statistics and Research, provided North American examples of Adventists who stood up against racial discrimination and others who more closely conformed to societal expectations of the day. Ella Simmons, a general vice president of the General Conference, described racial discrimination in the cafeteria policy of the Review and Herald Publishing Association in the 1940s and noted that a former Adventist leader was convicted of participating in Rwanda’s tribal genocide in 1994.
Cross Is Great Equalizer
Prejudice has no place in the heart of God or His followers, said Elias Brasil de Souza, director of the Biblical Research Institute. The reason, he said in his report, is because God created all people in His image; the cross is the great equalizer that shows that everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness and redemption; and Jesus will return and create a kingdom where everyone is equal.
“Missionaries should take a biblical approach to the issue of racism and tribalism,” he said.
Several speakers emphasized that prejudice does not fit into the three angels’ messages, which begins will a call for the everlasting gospel to be preached “to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6; NKJV).
“The first angel’s message is … incompatible with racism, tribalism, ethnocentrism, casteism, classism or colorism,” said Ganoune Diop, director of the General Conference’s public relations and religious liberty department, in his presentation on equality and justice issues. “Christ is coming against to reunite the one human family.”
Participants acknowledged that prejudice will exist until Jesus returns but expressed hope that the proposed working group would help the church break down the barrier of prejudice, which impedes the church’s mission, which includes forgiveness and reconciliation.
“If we as a church cannot love those who are different than we are and advocate for them, we’ll never be able to reach them and make them disciples,” said Jose Cortes Jr., associate director of the North American Division Ministerial Association. “Jesus came to love, seek, and save all who are lost, not only the ones that look like us and act like us.”