Black and White

On September 22, 1943 the 66-year old Lucille Byard was brought by her husband to Washington, DC. She was suffering from liver cancer in a terminal phase. Through her pastor contact had been made with the Washington Adventist Hospital. The response had been positive: Lucille could be admitted. However, the request that Lucille would be admitted to the hospital had not indicated that she was black, and the rules of the (Adventist) hospital did not allow for admittance of black patients. When James Byard and his wife Lucille arrived at the doors of the hospital, after a long and tiring journey by train, the color of Lucille’s skin proved to be a insurmountable barrier and they had to find another hospital where Lucille would be welcome.

In his recent book about the history of racial issues in the Adventist Church[1]. Dr. Calvin B. Rock mentions this sad occurrence as one of the incidents that stirred the emotions among the steadily growing number of black Adventists in the United States. Dr. Rock (now retired) was a prominent black church leader, who served from 1985 to 2002 as a General Conference vice-president. As no one else Rock was able to acquaint us with the equally fascinating as tragic black (in a double sense) pages of Adventist History—the record of the struggle for equal treatment in and by the church and to have a fair share in the governance of the church.

I feel deeply ashamed to know that my church was much slower than most other Christian denominations in correcting the flagrant injustices Black members were subjected to, just because they were not White. Several of the earliest leaders of the church were ahead of their times regarding the issue of racial equality, but later generations of leaders tended to walk to a very different tune. Unfortunately, we discover time and again that all forms of racial inequality in the Adventist Church do not yet belong to the past.

Did we learn our lessons from this sad state of affairs in the past? In answering this question we much be careful not to fall into generalizations. However, sadly enough, once again the Adventist Church is slower than most other Christian faith communities with regard to discrimination. Today we still see discrimination in particular on the basis of gender. Even today men and women are not treated as fully equal in many parts of our church. The issue whether women, just like men, can be ordained as pastors hides the underlying refusal to fully emancipate women. As a member of the Adventist Church and as a (male) pastor this fills me with shame. The Bible texts that are usually cited fail to impress me. They were written in a very different social context. And those who refused to admit Lucille Byard and those who were against black leadership were also able to quote their Bible texts.

I have long ago concluded that such a use (or abuse) of the Bible is squarely condemned by the third of the Ten Commandments. It is a ‘taking of the name of the Lord in vain’ or: a scandalous misuse of the Word of God!  This commandment is not just about swearing but about linking the name of God to things that are utterly wrong and indefensible.

[1] Protest and Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity(Berrien Springs, ML: Andrews University Press, 2018).

One thought on “Black and White

  1. Sven Brian Ito-Frederiksen

    It is very disheartening to read about such an event.
    I remember during my time in Uganda back in 1991 and 1992, how certain white Adventist working there, were speaking bad about the black people both in Uganda and elsewhere. I am aware that some of the black people misused their positions, but I think that is accounting for some white fellows too. I wish that we could learn to treat our black brothers and sisters the way I was treated by them in Uganda.

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