I was getting ready to do a Week of Prayer-back in the days when we still had them. I was packing my things in my office, when my daughter came in. She was a little girl then-maybe about 7 years old.
“What are you preaching, Daddy?” I named a sermon that I often used during Weeks of Prayer in those days – “Daddy!”, my little girl exclaimed. “Again????”
The month of February is Black History Month. And for at least some people who are not Black, the temptation may be to say, “Again??? Why do we have to have Black History Month?”
For at least some of our Caucasian brothers and sisters, there is a certain weariness and uncomfortableness about hearing how horrifically Black people were treated in the United States for so long (of course, if people are uncomfortable to hear about it, think of how uncomfortable it was to actually live it).
I remember sharing on social media about being present when our church honored Lucy Byard, a very light-skinned black Seventh-day Adventist woman who was kicked out of a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Maryland (though she was very ill-she died shortly after this incident) when it was discovered (apparently by looking at information she provided upon being admitted) that she was Black-instead of Caucasian. As terrible as it was, that Seventh-day Adventist Hospital had a policy back then against admitting Black people.
I remember one of my Caucasian friends responding to my social media post by saying that racism was terrible, but that we would “never get past it, if we keep talking about it”. The person who wrote that is not a bad person, but they had the bad idea that racism would disappear if only the talk about it would disappear. I can almost hear that person saying when Black History Month approaches-“Again??? Do we have to talk about that again?????”
The Governor of Florida recently took it a step further-by simply banning a Black History course from being taught in the high schools in that state. He went from, “Again??”, to” Never again!”
But it is not just Caucasians who feel that way. I had just finished a presentation on Black Adventist History and the history of Regional Conferences, when a young Black person came up to me and said that I was “talking about the past” and that was not what young people wanted to hear about today. In a way, they were saying “Again???”
So-why do we need Black History Month? Why is what happened in the past still important today? I would suggest there are at least 2 reasons:
1. Remembering What God Has Done in the Past Helps to Build Our Faith in God Now: There are a number of times, when God told the Israelites what to do on their last night as slaves in Egypt, He told them to institute the Passover service and to memorialize that service in perpetuity. On more than one occasion in Exodus 13, He told Israel to pass the story of what God had done to their children. Remembering their past helped them to remember the God Who had led and blessed them in the past.
In Ellen White’s well-known quote, she reminds us that we have nothing to fear for the future except we forget how God has led us in the past.
A large part of witnessing is one person sharing with another person what God has done for them in their life-i.e., that person’s personal history with God. When that is done, often the person hearing the testimony of what God has done for someone else in their past is encouraged to trust God in the future saying, “He did it for them, He can do it for me”.
In fact, it was Israel’s failure to pass on to their children the great things that God had done for them, that led to their downfall. Judges 2:10 says in the Common English Bible, “When that whole generation had passed away, another generation came after them who didn’t know the Lord or the things He had done for Israel”.
In other words, Israel failed to pass on their history to the generation that followed them. And what was the result? Verse 11: “Then the Israelites did things that the Lord saw as evil; they served the Baals.” This was the beginning of Baal worship in Israel-something that bedeviled the nation of Israel for hundreds of years. Worse yet, the worship of Baal led Israel to the worship of other false gods which eventually led to the destruction of their nation.
In other words, Israel’s failure to remember their past, destroyed their future. And that is the second reason why remembering the past is important:
2. A Failure to Remember Our Past Is Potentially Fatal to Our Future: When I first had the privilege of being asked to become a church administrator, I used to sit in meetings and listen to older administrators (people who then are the age that I am now-a sobering reminder of the inevitable passage of time) straitly warn us that the agenda of “the brethren” was the destruction of Regional Conferences. I took those warnings very seriously.
I do not doubt that my predecessors in leadership were sincere in their concerns but five years into this responsibility, I am convinced that the greatest threat to the future of Regional Conferences is not “the brethren”-but “the brothers-and the sisters”. In other words, I am convinced that the greatest threat to us, is us. The greatest threat to Regional Conferences is our lack of knowledge about the history of Regional Conferences and how the Lord has blessed us.
Regional Conferences are one of the great success stories in the Adventist Church. They have grown 4 times faster than the rest of the church in North America-despite operating with 60% of the tithe income of State Conferences. In other words, they have done more with less.
If Regional Conferences were a separate Union Conference, they would be the largest Union in membership and the second largest in tithe (and therefore, one of the largest unions in tithe in the Adventist Church).
Regional Conferences cost less to operate; in the territory covered by the 9 Regional Conferences, there are 30 State Conferences. Which do you think cost less-30 Conferences-or 9?
The Regional Conference Retirement Plan is the envy of the church in North America-far superior to the North American Division plan in terms of what it gives to its retired workers (a guaranteed monthly pension) versus what it asks from its worker (nothing-the contributions to the plan come from the 9 Regional Conferences).
The Regional Conferences have grown to the extent where it is my personal belief that the largest demographic group in the Adventist Church in North America are people of African descent.
But despite that, it is Regional Conferences who have to justify their existence-not just to people who do not look like us-but to us. In fact, I have the privilege of doing seminars on the history of and the continuing need for Regional Conferences all across this country. Occasionally, I have done them for Caucasian audiences. Inevitably-and without exception-the Caucasian audiences I have talked to have understood the benefits of Regional Conferences when it has been explained to them.
To the extent there has been some limited opposition to those presentations on Regional Conferences, it has always come from people in Regional Conference. And it does not seem to me at all that we have done a good job passing on the history of Regional Conferences to the younger generations.
It seems to me that young people understand that Black Lives Matter. Contrary to what our conservative brethren allege, no one is saying that Black Lives Matter more than white lives. It is just that the fact that the Tyre Nichols’ of the world always seem to be Black and the world has to be reminded that their lives matter.
But what we do not seem to have communicated very well to the younger generations is if Black Lives Matter, Black institutions matter, too. Oakwood matters. Pine Forge matters. Message Magazine matters. Black church schools-where children like my 7 year old grandson are taught about both their God and their history as Black people-they matter. No other schools are going to teach children both of those things-those schools matter. Regional Conferences matter.
All of these institutions are our institutions. And they will not really matter unless they matter to us. If Black institutions are going to survive and thrive in the future, it will be because Black people are committed to that happening. They will survive and thrive in the future-in part-if Black people remember how important those institutions have been in our past and how much they are still needed in the present-and how they will still be needed in the future.
Reminding us of that is why we need Black History Month-again.