Why Adventist Ministers March
It was 6 am Monday morning. I was dog tired, but on a plane to Washington D.C. For a moment, I wondered if I’d made a smart decision. Classes just started and I was also conducting a 2- week revival. I only had time to fly in and fly out. But it turned out to be a day that I won’t soon forget.
Al Sharpton and the National Action Network had invited 1000 ministers to celebrate the 54th anniversary of Dr. Martin King’s March on Washington. They wanted to bring attention to a number of issues, including:
- A nation still struggling with issues of race and class.
- The racist “tiki- torch” march in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer.
- The growing problem of voter suppression.
- The plague of mass incarceration and a broken criminal justice system.
The plan was for 1000 Ministers to march from the King monument to the steps of the Department of Justice, with a rally to follow. The number of registered ministers had grown to over 3000 well before the march even began. The sight was amazing. There were ministers from numerous faith traditions. Some in robes, some in collars, some in suits, some came casual. There seemed to be almost as many Anglo ministers as ministers of color. And the number of Adventist ministers was obvious and impressive.
That’s right. The Adventist ministers were out in force. Ironic, because the Adventist community has a well-earned reputation for avoiding social justice issues. A younger generation has brought a different sensibility and things are changing. But let me give you a few reasons that Adventist ministers have marched in the past and continue to march today.
Because We Missed Too Many Marches
In the spring of 1999, I was the director of a steering committee addressing police misconduct in Southern California. I was asked to participate in a press conference conducted by CNN. When the moderator identified me as a Seventh Day Adventist, the CNN reporter said something I’ll never forget. He said, “The Adventists are involved? Everybody must be on board!!” That was Not a compliment.
There are dangers when justice is your passion. The actors and issues and camps change at lightning speed. Sometimes you can find yourself on the wrong side of certain ethical issues. But the danger of being written off by the community as selfish and unconcerned is just as bad, if not worse. We were largely on the sidelines of the civil rights movement and our reputation will never fully recover. We can’t make that mistake again.
Because We Honor Those Who Did March
I am excited about a new generation of social justice activists in the Adventist church. But it’s clear that many of them don’t know their history. At a time when the church was as racist as the crowd that King marched against, we had a “remnant” that spoke truth to power inside and outside the church. The names Frank Hale, Randy Stafford, Earl Moore, Jacob Justice, J. Paul Monk, Warren Banfield, Mylas Martin, and Charles Joseph are a few that come to mind.
Because Marching Can Still Make A Difference
Charlottesville proved that. It’s hard to get the images out of your head. Marches can still make a powerful statement-positively and negatively. They are smaller and less meaningful today than in times past, but that’s understandable. The issues have changed. When you are marching for concerns that affect you personally and painfully, like desegregating schools and ending the Vietnam War, then you can expect larger, more passionate crowds.
Marches aren’t the only way to make an important statement, and in many cases, not even the best way. I think local activism, voter registration drives and targeted economic boycotts are more effective. But when they are carefully connected to future plans, marches can still be the catalyst for lasting change.
Because Jesus Was At The March
How do I know? Because the theme lined up with His mission. In Luke 4 and Matthew 25, Jesus made his priorities clear. He came to heal spiritually and physically. Follow Jesus and you find him:
- Defending the oppressed.
- Feeding the hungry.
- Standing for women’s rights in a sexist culture.
- Identifying with those behind prison walls.
- Speaking for widows, orphans, and immigrants….I mean strangers.
I repeat. There are real dangers for ministers and churches involved in social justice issues. Your witness can be weakened when people lump you into a particular party or movement. Your time can be consumed by never ending problems. It’s not for the faint of heart. But Christ’s simple charge to us is, as the father has sent me into the world, so send I You. John 17:18
My plane hadn’t landed at home before the predictable criticism began.
- “That’s not what Adventist ministers do.”
- “Why are you involved in secular fights? Let God take care of it.”
- “It’s just a lot of race baiting.”
- “Let’s not get involved in politics.”
I appreciate the counsel. That’s the beauty of America. We can agree, disagree, or agree to disagree. I support your right to criticize marchers. In fact, if anyone ever tries to take away your right to criticize marchers…..we’ll march against that!