On September 7 the College View Church in Lincoln (Nebraska, USA) celebrated its 125 years of existence. For this local church—the largest in the Mid-American Union—this was not just a time of celebration, but also an opportunity to take a critical look at the past. The leaders of this church made it very clear that in the past it had mistreated people of color. For a long time they could only sit on the balcony and at times they were even refused entry to the church.
Unfortunately, this church was no exception—and not just in the South of the United States. And even today the evil of racism has not fully disappeared, in spite of numerous apologies and statements which recognized that in many places the Adventist Church allowed discrimination and racism.
Of course, one might ask whether apologies, such as the one of the College View Church, are very meaningful. Should the current generation in a faith community, or people in society in general, apologize for what a former generation did? Must young Germans continue to say ‘sorry’ for what their grandparents did? Must I still harbor feelings of guilt for the fact that some centuries ago some of my countrymen earned a lot of money in the slave trade? Whatever one may think about this, it remains important that people know their history and are also aware of the ugly things of the past.
The fact that an Adventist church in the USA that celebrates a jubilee and uses this opportunity to openly state its regret about its racist past, is a good signal for other churches—and not just in the United States—that in the past have been guilty of discriminatory practices. Local churches do well to ask themselves from time to time whether they were perhaps times (either long ago or more recently) when they have allowed discrimination in their midst. Or whether discrimination perhaps continues to play a role—whether openly or underground. I think, for instance, about the relationship with groups of immigrants who have joined us in recent decades. Have we always welcomed them in all respects as our brothers and sisters? Of have we, at times, felt threathened by them and have we felt rather superior to them?
There is a group of people that unfortunately—also in my own country—continues to face serious discrimination. I am referring to the LGBTQ community. In many cases they do not find a ‘safe’ church, where they are truly welcome and where they can fully be what they are, and where their sexual orientation is not a serious barrier. Yes, we will have to accept that not all church members think alike about the meaning of some of the oft-quoted anti-homo texts in the Bible. But we cannot accept that this leads to discrimination of people who have a non-hetero sexual orientation. Significant numbers of men and women have left the church because they did not find a warm welcoming community, where they could be who and what they are. Are there perhaps local churches that want to say in all honesty: Yes, we were guilty of discrimination and we will do all we can to put a stop to this?