By Ed Barnett — With all of the talk and concerns about social justice today, I couldn’t help but stop and ask how it applies to the church. Do we have areas that we need to improve in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? How have we done in the past when it comes to social justice? To be totally transparent, I think we have done poorly in many ways.
Addressing unity in the church, Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12,20: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. . . . But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.”
Today, scattered all over the world, our church has 21.5 million members. They are believers of every color, culture, and status in life. In the Rocky Mountain Conference, with 18,000 members, we belong to the worldwide Adventist family. Some of us may say that we have endeavored well in taking the gospel to the world. Yet, we need to ask ourselves how we’ve done locally? How have I done as an individual called by Jesus to share the gospel? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Locally, how well are we doing in reaching out to everyone from any nation, every status in life? How are we responding to the poor and the rich? What about those who look different than we do? How are we at reaching out to the LGBTQ community? Has ethnicity caused us to carefully sort out whom we reach out to?
When reading the Gospel Commission, I hear Jesus saying it is our job to take Him to the entire world, not just to those we would like to have in the church or to those who look like we do.
When considering the situation in Denver, I am amazed that we don’t have a single church in the downtown area. Across the North American Division in general, we have done very poorly in the big cities. We struggle to reach those who are down and out. We are afraid to address issues of race and inequality as we struggle to reach the many ethnicities next door to us, especially in the metropolitan areas. We do much better in the suburbs where we reach out to those who look like us.
Sad as that is, I believe it is a true assessment of how we are doing with social justice in many areas across this continent. Perhaps the saddest commentary on this is the fact that
our church in the United States is divided into two separate conferences—one for (mostly) white people and one for mostly Black people. In my view, besides not being right, this is also a waste of money. Historically, I understand its beginnings, but today, there is not much of a rationale for having separate conferences based on skin color. I think this would be abhorrent to Jesus.
Recently, one church from our conference, the Littleton Church, joined with a church from Central States Conference (a Black conference) to hold a united worship service. Weeks since, many church members still talk of an inspiring, tremendous Sabbath gathering.
This shouldn’t be a special day for Adventists, but a common Sabbath occurrence. We have done poorly with Adventist mission presence in the big cities because we have left that work to someone else to do. We’ve left it to our brothers and sisters in the Black conferences. We would much better represent God’s love for everyone if we were united with all our brothers and sisters, learning about each other and from each other how to reach out to all.
Someday soon, Jesus will be coming to take His children home. In Revelation, Jesus says: “And behold, I am coming quickly, My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
When Jesus says “to everyone,” I think He is talking to His disciples from all of the nations.
Can we do better at social justice and equality in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? I believe the answer is yes! Think about what you can do as an individual member to reach out to every child of God as you fulfill the Gospel Commission.
–Ed Barnett is RMC president. Email him at: [email protected]