Preface: The intent of this article is not to display insensitivity towards the families who have senselessly lost loved ones due to the murders perpetrated by police officers who were not indicted or held accountable (by all earthly accounts) in any way for their actions. Murder is inexcusable and those who commit murder should be held accountable by the civil authority. My deepest and most heartfelt sympathy goes to the families of those who have lost their loved ones, and I can not even imagine what it would be to live the reality that these family members have to cope with everyday. Additionally, I am not so ill-informed to acknowledge the truth that racial profiling exists, as well as abuse of power by law enforcement which includes, but is not limited to police brutality, and the use of excessive force. I am also aware that while some of the subsequent demonstrations have been peaceful, other responses have been criminal activities, that should not be overlooked—vandalism, looting, arson, violence, destruction of property, assaults, etc. Hatred should not be met with hatred, violence with violence, criminality with criminality, for thus the cyclical perpetuation of that which is being protested, and a deeper polarization of America.
Neither is it the purpose of this article to diminish the reality that injustice prevails in the United States; in many regards the justice system is corrupt and broken. It is however, the determined objective of this piece to look at the recent incidence of civil unrest, riots, and social disorder due to the recent preponderance of unarmed African American citizens being killed by caucasian police officers, the subsequent lack of culpability for the officers and how Christians should respond, react and relate to these issues. It is the author’s endeavor to address whether or not Seventh-day Adventists should lead out and/or participate in protests and demonstrations for social justice; should they stand aloof and allow the civil authorities to continue to handle these cases, or is there perhaps another, better way of fighting and speaking out against abuses and injustices. What protests should God’s people now be taking up? Does the Bible speak to these issues?
Article: Since August of 2014 there have been protests, some peaceful, others violent, in Ferguson, Missouri and nation-wide after an unarmed, African American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson, a Caucasian. The rioting escalated when a grand jury ruled, on November 24, that Wilson would not be tried for the murder, and to date have been ongoing. The protests, demonstrations, and riots have spread throughout the United States, resulting in incidents of looting, arson, arrests, tear gas, standoffs, and the like. Further igniting public outrage across the nation and intensifying the ongoing protests was the failure of a Staten Island grand jury on December 3, approximately a week after the Grand Jury’s decision in Ferguson, to indict a Caucasian police officer, Daniel Panteleo for the chokehold he put on 43-year old, African American, father of six, Eric Garner, July 17, 2014. A video that went viral reveals Garner screaming eleven times “I can’t breath.” New York City Police Department guidelines state that chokeholds are banned. The circumstances surrounding the cases—the appointment of the grand juries, the timing of the decisions, the failure to indict, and the lack of justice (in many minds)—have sent a wave of protests, not only in Missouri, and New York, but in cities throughout the nation—Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C., Oakland, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and scores of others; the protests have even spread worldwide. “The protests, which demand a focus on civil rights and accountability for police brutality, are sprawling outward from the United States and internationally. On Saturday, activists in Tokyo took to the streets in protest. Demonstrators held up photos of the late Michael Brown, as well as signs reading ‘Tokyo stands with Ferguson’ and ‘America, the world is watching.’ No arrests have been reported. Revolution News reports that Ferguson demonstrations were held in Melbourne, Australia on Saturday.” 1
Seventh-day Adventists have not been silent regarding the matter. Oakwood University students were instrumental in organizing a demonstration (#ShutItDownHSV), which took place December 5, in Huntsville, Alabama, and again on December 7, “… 200-300 students marched through the streets of Huntsville amid light rain with signs and placards, and chanting ‘Hands Up, Don't Shoot.’2 December 6, “hundreds of students at Andrews University marched two miles from campus to the Berrien Springs Police Department, chanting and singing ‘We are soldiers/In the army/We have to fight/Although we have to die.’ When they arrived at the police station, they observed silence for a period signifying the time Michael Brown lay dead in the street after being shot to death.” 3 “Also on Saturday, Adventists from the Allegheny West Conference met in cold weather at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio for a day of prayer led by… Allegheny West pastors from Columbus.” 4
December 8, 2014, president of the Seventh-day Adventist church in North America, Daniel Jackson, issued a statement saying “Many citizens, including Seventh-day Adventist pastors, educators, and students, have participated in non-violent marches, peacefully calling for equality and asking for change. We continue to support the right, which we are afforded in this country, to peacefully speak out and call for change.” 5 The president of the Northeastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, Daniel Honore, expressed similar sentiments. Again, is this type of activity sanctioned by God’s Word?
According to the end-time prophecies, the corruption of civil leaders, courts, and governments, oppression of the poorer classes, murders, and the state of unrest and rioting will be prevalent, just prior to the second coming of Christ. See Isaiah 59:4-15; Hosea 4:1-4; Matthew 24:12; James 5:1-6; and 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
The condition of things in the world shows that troublous times are right upon us. The daily papers are full of indications of a terrible conflict in the near future. Bold robberies are of frequent occurrence. Strikes are common. Thefts and murders are committed on every hand. Men possessed of demons are taking the lives of men, women, and little children. Men have become infatuated with vice, and every species of evil prevails. 6
At the same time anarchy is seeking to sweep away all law, not only divine, but human. The centralizing of wealth and power; the vast combinations for the enriching of the few at the expense of the many; the combinations of the poorer classes for the defense of their interests and claims; the spirit of unrest, of riot and bloodshed; the world-wide dissemination of the same teachings that led to the French Revolution--all are tending to involve the whole world in a struggle similar to that which convulsed France. 7
Try as one might, it is impossible to ignore these frequent occurrences, especially with the ongoing media attention and hype. But again, how would God have Seventh-day Adventists relate to the social issues of the day; what are Seventh-day Adventists to be contending for, and protesting against? What is our work in these last days?
Christ, our example in all things, including social relations, has set forth a model of how we are to relate to civil and social matters.
The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses,--extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Savior attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart. Not by the decisions of courts or councils or legislative assemblies, not by the patronage of worldly great men, is the kingdom of Christ established, but by the implanting of Christ's nature in humanity through the work of the Holy Spirit. ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12, 13). 8
The above statement expresses the solution of such injustices, which is the implantation of Christ’s nature in humanity, through the working of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of men, combined with evangelistic methods. For emphasis and further clarity, a portion of the statement is here reiterated: “He [Jesus] attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.” 9
Jesus did not contend for His rights. Often His work was made unnecessarily severe because He was willing and uncomplaining. Yet He did not fail nor become discouraged. He lived above these difficulties, as if in the light of God's countenance. He did not retaliate when roughly used, but bore insult patiently. 10
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2:19-23).
If Christ felt it not necessary to contend for His personal rights, neither did He attack national abuses, should His followers be doing such, or should they rather be seeking souls, on an individual level to be set free from the oppression of sin? “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). The Word of God lays out the principle that Christ’s followers should leave justice, judgment, and vengeance in God’s hands; notwithstanding there are civil magistrates and other officials that are put in place to carry out the laws of the land. When such fail to execute justice in civil matters, Christ’s representatives are not to take justice into their own hands or confederate with the protesting throngs, but rather leave judgment to Him that judges righteously.
It will now be mentioned, as an aside, that when individuals join mobs or crowds rallying for particular issues or reforms, a phenomenon takes place known in sociology as “groupthink.” Defined as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics,” participants of groupthink, also known as the “herd mentality” (oftentimes unbeknownst to themselves), lose the ability to think rationally or logically, are highly emotionalized, lack the sense of personal responsibility for actions or decisions carried out by the group, fear the consequences of nonconformity with the group, and therefore silence their individual voice; they are also easily influenced by their peers.
It must also be remembered that when the mob, under the persuasion of the Jewish religious leaders, gathered to crucify Christ and carried their murderous scheme to Pilate, the Roman governor, there were demons present in the form of men influencing others in the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and crucify Jesus. See Matthew 27:17-24. A commentary of the scene in which the clamor was made for the crucifixion of Jesus is recorded in The Desire of Ages.
Like the bellowing of wild beasts came the answer of the mob, ‘Release unto us Barabbas!’ Louder and louder swelled the cry, Barabbas! Barabbas! Thinking that the people had not understood his question, Pilate asked, ‘Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?’ But they cried out again, ‘Away with this Man, and release unto us Barabbas’! ‘What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?’ Pilate asked. Again the surging multitude roared like demons. Demons themselves, in human form, were in the crowd, and what could be expected but the answer, ‘Let Him be crucified’? 11
Satan will use these confederacies and unions to his advantage as he will strongly urge all to unite on the premise of peace, morality, universal love and equality-- a union that will inevitably involve all classes of men and will trample upon God’s laws and those who hold to them. “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (Revelation 13:15 and 16).
Naysayers would condemn such a position as the one taken in this article as one of indifference towards the struggles of the oppressed and ingratitude towards the civil rights movements of the past. However, national reform comes not from meeting hatred with hatred, demanding your rights, whether peacefully or violently, but from righteousness and knowledge of God which leads to sanctification. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). It is the everlasting gospel, taught and exemplified, that will work reformation in the hearts of men. The entire world will not be reformed, but individuals, through the accepting of the Three Angels’ Messages will be set free. Have strides been made historically as it relates to equality for all people in this country? Absolutely; has equality been achieved? Absolutely not! There must be another way. That way is the promulgation of the Everlasting Gospel, by voice, by pen, and by lifestyle.
Seventh-day Adventists should let their voices be heard in the proclamation of the Three Angels’ Messages—this is the present-truth that the churches and the world need.
In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import--the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels' messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. The most solemn truths ever entrusted to mortals have been given us to proclaim to the world. The proclamation of these truths is to be our work. The world is to be warned, and God's people are to be true to the trust committed to them. 12
Indeed, Seventh-day Adventists are to contend, but what are they to contend for? “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Additionally, Seventh-day Adventists have been raised up to carry forward and to finish the Protestant Reformation. The following statement briefly encapsulates the mission Seventh-day Adventists are to carry forward until the close of time.
‘The principles contained in this celebrated Protest . . . constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this Protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate, and the authority of the word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles, 'We must obey God rather than man.’ 13
What and who are you standing for? May God find us faithful in building up His kingdom and not the kingdoms of this world!
- White, Ellen. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, (1909), page 11
- White, Ellen. Education, 1903, page 228
- White, Ellen, The Desire of Ages, 1898 page 509
- White, Ellen, The Desire of Ages, 1898, page 89
- White, Ellen, The Desire of Ages, 1898, page 733
- White, Ellen, Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, 1909, page 19
- White, Ellen. The Great Controversy, 1911, page 203