MLK Jr and the SDA Church
On this weekend when the nation recalls the life and mission of Martin Luther King, Jr.—frail like every life, but focused like a laser on a mission towards the equality of all—it is appropriate for this community of faith to ponder that mission in the light of our own. Were Dr. King to join us around our communal table, what would be the conversation? In fact, let’s pull up another chair to the table and invite President Barack Obama to join in this table talk. Would the conversation change that much? If our chatting drifted toward the judicatory organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, and these two African-American leaders (one deceased, the other very much alive) began to question us as to why we are organized the way we are, how would we respond? What would be the line of reasoning we would put forth to defend regions of this nation divided racially (essentially) into “separate but equal” conferences or ecclesiastical units of administration? How would we justify the organization of separate (but equal) black and white congregations in the same city based upon the prevailing racially distinct conferences? Would recounting the history of our faith movement in this nation and our own accommodation to the prevailing social norms a few generations ago be helpful in defending our present course? Would the suggestion that our ecclesiastical division is a provision so that “all” might enjoy the prerogatives of administrative leadership be persuasive? Would Dr. King and President Obama find our logic strong and our rationale convincing? But never mind those two leaders—let’s ask it another way. Would society today—does society today, the American public at large, lend much credence to “the way we’ve always done it” defense in matters of racial equality? The truth is—history may be our mother, but it doesn’t have to be our master. We yield allegiance to another Master, which was precisely Paul’s stunning point to the church in Galatia two millennia ago: “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NRSV). Paul’s declaration did not minimize the massive challenge that preexisting walls were to the church of Christ. But his assertion means that the community founded upon Calvary can never peacefully coexist with such dividing walls—no matter how difficult their disassembling may turn out to be. Besides, if “revival and reformation” are the watchwords of our third millennial community of faith, then would it not follow that as a prerequisite to such a revival we would join together in tearing down any walls, all the walls that divide us, whether on paper or in the heart? For how can the Holy Spirit possibly be poured out, when a wall blocks the way? And so I am praying that God will raise up a new generation, passionate for the unity of Christ and willing to do the hard work to rewrite a future without walls. Not for the sake of Martin Luther King, Jr.—but for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord, who upon the eve of His own death, prayed for us all: “Holy Father, that they may be one as We are” (John 17:11).