In 1895 when Edson White and his family and his colleagues built and boarded the Morning Star steamboat, our church ascended to a new level of commitment and service to God and to the mission of the gospel.
In response to her son’s outreach Ellen White wrote that, “The hand of God is to be stretched out for the poor, degraded race.” Mrs. White had been speaking and writing and urging the church for thirty years, since the end of the Civil War, to engage in ministry to black folks, but the Morning Star established a precedent that would set the course for the future challenge of carrying the Three Angels’ messages to the world.
The Three Angels’ Messages are universal and culturally-relevant in that they are to be shared with “every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” And the message to be shared is the good news of the gospel that frees mankind from all of the constraints of sin and suffering in this life as well as the constraints of human society. Those constraints include oppression (as we see in Revelation 13 and Revelation 18) that has been imposed by a satanic system that seeks to destroy God’s people. It is a system of social, political and economic oppression and injustice that refuses to allow men and women “to buy or sell” unless they conform to the oppressive and repressive order of the day. This system also uses and abuses the weak for the gain and the benefit of the powerful.
God has said that he “is always on the side of the oppressed” and that he “sets the captives free.” Oppression, in all of its forms, is an affront to God, and a repudiation and reversion of the gospel.
This is the basic premise of the gospel; that we were created to be free and truly free, and that the gospel reaffirms our claim to justice in the world. As proclaimers of the Three Angels’ Messages, we are responsible for helping to ensure that justice is carried out on “Earth, as it is in heaven.” This is who we are as Seventh-day Adventists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report stating that there had been just under 900 cases of violence and racial outbursts already in only ten days following the presidential election. This mantra of “Make America Great Again’ and the racist and bigoted rhetoric that goes along with it seems to have given rise to outlandish outbursts of racism and bigotry. This bigotry calls us to reaffirm our commitment to justice, equality and freedom for all mankind.
I recently read about a man who was banned for life from Delta Airlines flights because he screamed on a plane that anybody who doesn’t like that Trump has been elected is just going to have to deal with it and so on. Another young lady who had a similar outburst at a Chicago-area Michaels store that Trump has been elected and thus demanding that the black store clerks ensure that she get her way despite her request being against policy. A white lady who was watching and filming the exchange was so hurt by what she witnessed that she started a Gofundme account to raise money for the store manager (as a way to say I’m sorry for what happened to you) and raised over $30,000 in a matter of a few days.
I’m hoping and wondering if we, as Seventh-day Adventists, with such a strong legacy and commitment to the proclamation of the gospel and the power of God’s justice and righteousness, will stand up, declare and affirm our commitment to this kind of beloved community.
So how do we make Adventism great again? Now, let me first say that I’ve written quite a bit about this lately, but I’ll take another stab at it and put it in very simple terms.
Pray: First of all, we pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love and a renewed passion for mission and for ministry service.The only One who can convict, equip and empower us for this work is the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for God renewing and quickening power to make us fit for the ministry.
Speak up: The second thing is we have to speak up and speak out against injustice and bigotry. When we see injustice and oppression in any of it’s form and fail to speak against it, then we become complicit in the evil and help to perpetuate it by silence and inaction. Whether it be through preaching, personal conversations, publications or public demonstrations/protests we must raise our voice to speak th\\for those who are being silenced and abused.
Partner: The next thing we have to do is partner with those who share our commitment to justice, equality and freedom. We don’t have to agree with everything they ascribe to, as we do not have to participate in everything they do, but we can affirm the values that we espouse. Whether it be in specific small projects, lending space for meetings or simply signing a petition, we have to promote solidarity along the lines of causes that we value by lending our support.
Invest: Then we have to invest time, resources and energy to working for the freedom of those who are oppressed. We must commit ourselves to working towards creating new paradigms and new systems and a new culture within our communities and in our government that promotes justice and equality.This work is not going to be accomplished overnight, or with one voter registration drive. This will demand consistent, sustained effort and committed investment. Let’s determine to take up the plow of social engagement and not look back.
And here’s the disclaimer: This world is not our home. Do we believe that the entire world and particularly the secular government will follow after the ways of God? No, we don’t. The Bible makes it clear that that is not where this is heading. However, because we are called to be salt and light, it is our responsibility to engage the local, secular context for the good of the Kingdom and the glory of our Christ.
This is the kind of just and equitable society we must be part of building; where all men are created free and all men are affirmed and respected, no matter their color, no matter their culture, no matter their creed. Some Adventists have become resigned to the present state of things, arguing that these are the signs of the times, that we are to shrink and sit back and wait for Jesus to come. But scripture tells us that that would be a grave mistake. Jesus said, “occupy till I come” and “blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find waiting when he comes” (the context seems to imply working and watching). He also says that when he comes we will be judged according to what we have done for “the least of these;” particularly those who were in prison and those who were victimized or had lost particular or certain freedoms. He says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Thus, we are judged according to how we respond to those who need our advocacy the most.
The neighborhood where I live and pastor is in the midst of a major redevelopment process which involves major renovations, new construction and demolition of housing and businesses. There are tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that are being discussed for housing end undoubtedly much more millions in private development dollars that are potentially coming to the neighborhood. With this great change and opportunity comes a possibility that many impoverished minorities, who are indigenous to that neighborhood could be displaced as a result of the redevelopment.
At a recent community hearing, with over 150 people in the room at a local community center, the sound system and the acoustics of the building made it really difficult to hear what the facilitators were saying. To make matters worse, community residents asked incessant questions about where and when they’d be forced to move. After over an hour of missed and mixed messages, the organizers finally decided to just reschedule the meeting for another date. I left the meeting disturbed by the thought that maybe the residents weren’t being heard. What’s worse, is that besides myself, there was only one other Adventist (who is actually not even a member of my church). I’m afraid that in such a tenuous climate of change and upheaval that our people are not engaged with the needs and the challenges of those who constantly shoulder the greatest risk of loss and that we’re not positioning ourselves to serve them.
I long for the day and I hope that it comes soon, when we will make Adventism great again. I look forward to the day Adventists will stand up and boldly perform the work that God has called us to do. I look forward to the day when we will fight for justice for those who are powerless to fight for themselves. I pray that the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit will make Adventism great again!
Maybe now is the time to pray for the latter rain to fill our hearts that we might sense a need and a passion for God’s righteous justice and for the tools, resources and skills to serve those who need the complete freedom of God’s gospel.
We need to pray for God’s people to perform our God-given purpose “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free” “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”