Black Panther and the “Problem” of Black Conferences
Black Panther has inspired amazing interest in black consciousness, self-determination, and all- things African. For many, it wasn’t enough to buy a ticket to the movie, they bought entire African-inspired outfits, and posed for pictures in front of life-sized Black Panther posters. It was an event.
But I noticed something interesting as I read comments from several Adventists who attended Black Panther. It seems that a number of people who took pride in Black Panther have problems with black (Regional) conferences. Interesting. There’s seems to be a disconnect here.
How can you applaud black self-determination in a movie and criticize that same black self -determination in the church? How can you applaud black ingenuity and black invention and black institutions in a movie and not support them in the church?
Regional conferences were formed in the Adventist Church in 1944, at a time when the church and country refused blacks full participation. Their growth over the years is nothing short of a miracle. Stanford Economist Henry Felder noted that between 1945 and 2008, the Adventist church in North American grew 242%. But the growth in Regional Conferences over that same period was 1059%. Amazing!
But Regional Conferences have become a “problem” for some in the church because they seem divisive and dated. Doesn’t Christ want us all to worship together? Haven’t we reached the point where black and white conferences are unnecessary? As I often say, this is a blog and not a paper. The issues of Regional Conferences and missional structures and Adventist ecclesiology are far too complex to be handled in 1000 words, but let me share some comments and you can share yours.
Regional and State Conference are BOTH Multicultural
It is a passion of this present generation. The desire for different cultures to work and worship together. Well, it’s the reality of both Regional and State conferences. They are open and welcoming to all cultures, and cultures across the spectrum are represented.
Now the labels might be a bit confusing if your assumption is that State=White and Regional=Black, because things have changed. If you attend a camp-meeting in the Greater New York Conference, a State conference, you’ll probably see fewer white faces than in some Regional Conferences. It’s rapidly approaching the same situation in the Florida Conference, the Potomac Conference, and other State conferences. It’s already the case for State conferences in all of the major urban areas: Atlanta, Orlando, New York, Chicago, etc.
Here’s the thing. If your passion is desegregation, then you’ll be happy to know that all State and Regional Conferences are open and inviting to all. But if integration is your passion, not so much. People continue to choose to worship in their own ethnic and cultural groups, regardless of conference affiliation. Why is that? This blog’s not long enough.
The “Colonizers” Are Back!
The rumor was that our racial problems were over when we finally elected a black president. “Post racial” was the term. But there was a backlash during the Obama presidency and a total collapse with the election of Donald Trump. Now the rate of hate crimes has exploded, frat boys are marching with tiki torches, Muslims are demonized, and the “other” could be anyone from a white liberal to a black professional.
“Colonizers” Come To Church
As amazing as Regional Conferences have been, they weren’t what Black Adventists requested in 1941. They requested full integration and participation- and they were denied. Why? Because there’s no racism like religious racism. Then and now. There were two organizations that gave Donald Trump 83% support in the 2016 election – The Ku Klux Klan and white evangelical Christians.
And frankly, if you look up the word “colonizers” in the dictionary, you might find a picture of the Adventist church. Why? Because you can’t fix a problem that you refuse to face.
Colonizers Offer Suggestions, Not Sacrifice
Some suggest closing Regional Conferences because they “duplicate structure.” Now, State Conferences and Regional Conferences are both legitimate church structures. Both welcome everyone. Both advance the mission of the church. But an argument can be made that Regional Conferences do it more efficiently.
9 Regional Conferences cover the same territory as 42 State Conferences. Historically, they have done more and grown faster for less. So, if duplication is the problem, then some State Conferences should be first in line to be closed. And if we’re talking mergers, why not merge the low performing State Conference into the local Regional Conference? But that’s rarely the discussion. Why? Because it’s easy to talk about sacrifice if you’re not making it.
“Colonizers” Come In All Colors
“Colonizers” do more than capture territory, they capture minds. I support the freedom of choice. Attend the church that allows you to serve most effectively. I pastored for years in Regional and State conferences. My churches were predominantly black in both settings. That’s my call. That’s my passion. I have no desire to pastor a Korean church or a Spanish church or an Anglo church, although I support those who do.
But I was always amazed by black people who would argue the value of multi-culturalism and the evil of black conferences- while continuing to attend black churches! It’s hypocrisy 101.
No one can advance the agenda of the colonizer like the brother that’s been colonized.
It’s All About Mission
I am a pragmatist by nature and a missiologist by trade. My mantra is, “form follows function.” I am for the structure that most effectively advances the mission of the church. The mission of the church is to make disciples-fully developed, fully devoted followers of Christ.
That is why I challenge both Regional conferences and State conferences. I support churches that are missional, and I support closing or merging churches that have demonstrated- over time- that they are not. Same for conferences. There is nothing- absolutely nothing- sacred about structure. They all need change!
But that’s me. What do you think?