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Santiago covers a brief history of race, slavery, and racism in the context of Christianity and Adventism. We look at the Bible, Ellen White's writings, and the history of how the Adventist church created a segregated conference system in the United States.
Race, Pseudoscience, and Science
Racism within Christianity and Adventism
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
[00:00:16] Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago, and today we're covering a brief history of racism and slavery in the context of American Christianity and more specifically, anti-Black racism and segregation within the Adventist church.
[00:00:34] We're going to start very broad, debunk some myths, read through relevant Bible verses, and then look at early and later Adventist attitudes. This will include some of Ellen White's writings, and more recent books and content by Adventists, which are all going to be linked in the show notes.
[00:00:53] I want to start by acknowledging that the concept of race is a human invention. Race is just a social construct. At the same time, racism is a very real issue perpetrated by individuals, systems, and institutions.
[00:01:11] There's still ongoing research on when and how the idea of race was invented, and I've linked to some of that info in the show notes. There seems to be a clear pattern of creating racial categories for the purpose of excluding, demonizing, and subjugating people outside of one's own group.
[00:01:31] This historical pattern includes 15th century Spain where the term "limpieza de sangre," or the cleanliness of blood, was used by Spanish Christians to exclude Jewish and Muslim people from becoming citizens of Spain, holding public office, and even studying in universities.
[00:01:53] But in this episode, we're going to look at more recent Western concepts of race and focus on how they've been used in the United States since that's where the Adventist movement got started.
Race, Slavery, and Racism in the context of Christianity and Adventism
[00:02:05] Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines race as "Any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits, regarded as common among people of shared ancestry." So unlike ethnicity, which can refer to a whole range of classifications based on nationalities, religions, languages, and cultures, race has often referred to people's visible traits. Like our skin color, the shapes and sizes of our skulls, noses, and other characteristics that we're born with.
[00:02:40] This focus on observable traits has led to many myths ranging from harmful stereotypes, to the American eugenics movement, and a core part of Nazi and White supremacist ideology. Just six years after the great Disappointment in 1844, a Scottish doctor and anatomist named Robert Knox claimed that "Race, or hereditary descent, is everything. It stamps the man."
[00:03:09] Robert Knox was not an Adventist, but I'm highlighting this timing to point out that just as Adventism was getting started, this type of thinking was still very common and would continue to be so. In fact, the term "scientific racism" exists because there were many doctors, scientists, philosophers, and others, virtually all of them White men, who promoted all sorts of pseudoscientific theories around race.
[00:03:38] Many of these theories were used to explain and justify their ideas of racial superiority or inferiority. Some, like Anglo-Irish scientist robert Boyle, believed that all races came from a literal Adam and Eve, and that Adam and Eve were originally White. German doctor and anthropologist Johann Blumenbach also believed in a literal Adam and Eve, that they were White, and that all other races where the result of corruption because of environmental factors like climate, disease, and diet.
[00:04:17] I want to pause here and let this sink in. If you've ever sat through an Amazing Facts or other Revelation seminar like I did, where they talk about evolution, you've probably heard them claim that one, evolution is false, and two, the idea in and of itself is very bad because the Nazis used Darwin's theory as an excuse for the Holocaust.
[00:04:43] Years ago, I ate that propaganda up and probably even repeated that argument. But the truth is even before the theory of evolution was first proposed, white men who believed in a literal adam and Eve, were coming up with racist theories to explain why in their view, White people were superior to everyone else.
[00:05:04] Genocide, colonization, and slavery all existed before the theory of evolution, including the Bible's own descriptions of genocide commanded by God. Charles Darwin undoubtedly held views that we would strongly reject today. At the same time, he did oppose slavery and was an abolitionist.
[00:05:26] In any case, let's see if you can guess this next person. He was an American founding father, a scientist, and enslaver. He wrote most of the US Declaration of Independence and was the third President of the United States. That man was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson proposed a theory that Black people quote "whether originally a distinct race or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the Whites in the endowments, both of body and mind."
[00:06:03] One important thing to note is that 12 US Presidents were enslavers and eight of them enslaved Black people while they were president. Thomas Jefferson enslaved the most, over 600 people, and George Washington, the first President of the United States followed closely with at least 577 enslaved people who were forced to work on his property throughout his life.
[00:06:30] To be clear, scientific racism is pseudoscience. It is not based in reality. Like we covered earlier, the very idea of race is a social construct. And there's no empirical evidence to claim racial superiority or inferiority. In fact, we have data from the human Genome Project completed in 2003, indicating that all humans are 99.9% genetically identical.
[00:07:01] 20 years later in March of 2023, the national Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced a report clearly stating that race is a social concept and that researchers should not use race to help describe differences in human genetics. Of course, these discoveries are all fairly recent. Pseudoscientific ideas have been around for much longer, and people who want an excuse to justify White supremacy and racism will use any excuse they want.
[00:07:36] That brings us to the Bible. Have you ever heard of "The Curse of Ham?" This story is found in Genesis chapter nine and comes after the global flood myth. The short version is that Noah got drunk and Noah's son Ham, the father of the Canaanite people, walked in on his naked dad.
[00:07:57] And Noah finds this out later and then curses Ham's son Canaan with eternal slavery. Some scholars have proposed this story's original goal may have been to justify ancient Israel's conflicts with the Canaanites. In any case, this story was later interpreted by some people to explain the existence of black skin and to justify the enslavement of Black people.
[00:08:26] The curse of Ham has zero ties to Black people, but this was a very common justification for slavery in the United States. And separately from that story, the Bible does give clear rules for both chattel and debt slavery. Chattel slavery is where people and their children are indefinitely enslaved, treated as property, and not paid for their work. This is the kind of slavery we had in the United States.
[00:08:57] Debt slavery is where a person is required to work in order to pay off some kind of debt. And they are supposed to be eventually freed. Christians will often claim that the slavery described in the Bible was just debt slavery, and that it doesn't describe the type of chattel slavery we had in the United States.
[00:09:18] My own Adventist pastor actually told me this when I openly questioned the New Testament's mentions of slavery during Sabbath school. But the truth is that the Bible describes both. Leviticus 25:44-46 gives us descriptions and rules around chattel slavery. Quoting from the NLT:
[00:09:39] Santiago (Narrating): You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.
[00:09:55] You may treat them as your property, passing them onto your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives must never be treated this way.
[00:10:12] Santiago: End quote. So here we have a clear endorsement of chattel slavery in the Bible. God's chosen people had permission to enslave foreigners and even pass them on as a permanent inheritance. Even the enslaved Hebrews didn't have it that easy. Quoting from Exodus 21:2-6:
[00:10:35] Santiago (Narrating): If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve you for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him.
[00:10:58] If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave and they had sons or daughters, then only the man will be free in the seventh year. But his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may declare,
[00:11:18] 'I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don't want to go free.' If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that the slave will serve his master for life.
[00:11:40] Santiago: End quote. So enslaved Hebrew men could be freed after six years. But if they were given a wife, and let's pause to really pay attention to that language. The woman is being treated as property and being given to her husband. If an enslaved Hebrew man was given a wife, she, and any children they had together would still belong to the enslaver, even after the man was set free. And if he wanted to stay with his wife and kids, he would be forced to serve the enslaver for the rest of his life. A bit later in Exodus chapter 21:20-21, we read about the physical abuse of enslaved people. Quote:
[00:12:31] Santiago (Narrating): If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished. But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished since the slave is his property.
[00:12:51] Santiago: Just let that sink in. Unfortunately, even if you read the New Testament, you'll see that it does not explicitly condemn slavery. In fact, it upholds it. Christians will sometimes point to Galatians 3:28 which says, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
[00:13:16] However, that verse is contrasted by ephesians 6:5 which says, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." So here, not only is Ephesians saying you need to obey your earthly masters with respect. You need to serve them as sincerely as you would serve Jesus Christ himself. And then in 1 Timothy 6:1-2, it says:
[00:13:50] Santiago (Narrating): Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder, because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.
[00:14:17] Santiago: Traditionally this letter to Timothy is believed to be written by the Apostle Paul, because that's what it claims at the very start of the letter. But modern Bible scholars actually believe it was written later by someone else pretending to be Paul. Conservative Christians reject that scholarship, so they have to accept that the apostle Paul wrote this letter to Timothy and encouraged him to teach everyone that slaves must obey their masters.
[00:14:47] In any case, even Jesus never directly condemned slavery in the Bible. In the book of Luke, Jesus actually tells several parables and uses enslaved people or servants as they're called in some translations, to illustrate a point. Quoting from Luke 12:47-48 in the NRSV:
[00:15:11] Santiago (Narrating): The slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.
[00:15:30] Santiago: End quote. So not only does Jesus uncritically describe the physical abuse of enslaved people and use that as an illustration, he says that someone who didn't know any better is still going to get a light beating.
[00:15:46] After going through these verses, you can maybe see why some Christians used the Bible to justify their racism and support the slave trade. Catholic bishops in the United States didn't really take a firm stand one way or the other, but Jesuits in Maryland were enslavers. In 1838, they conducted a mass sale of around 270 people they had enslaved, to help fund Georgetown University, which still exists today.
[00:16:17] And as I mentioned in episode two, The Southern Baptist Convention was founded by White supremacist Baptists. They split from Baptists in the Northern US to continue supporting the institution of slavery. And for context, the SBC was founded in 1845, just after the Great Disappointment, which led to the Adventist movement.
[00:16:40] Speaking of which, not all Christians supported slavery. The Quakers were among the first to openly protest against it, and the Methodists were also against slavery. In fact, Ellen White and her family were Methodists before getting kicked out for joining the Millerite movement.
[00:17:00] This brings us to the Millerites and the early Adventists. In a video called Why are There Regional Conferences, Dr Benjamin Baker, an Adventist historian, shows how the Millerites did have some racial integration from the start. This racial integration was actually one of the reasons why the Millerites were mocked by outsiders. Early Adventists from around 1845 to 1865 were also racially integrated as most of their activity took place in the Northern United States.
[00:17:33] We actually don't have evidence of segregated Adventist churches during this time. There was even interracial leadership in the early Adventist movement. One of the first Black Adventist pastors was actually the chair of a General Conference session in New York state. Back then, this was kind of the equivalent of a state conference, and these came before the General Conference that exists today.
[00:17:59] The General Conference, as we know it today, was established in 1863 while the American Civil War was being fought. Once the Civil War ended in 1865, the Adventist church was really eager to expand into the South to keep growing its membership. As Adventist evangelists went from the North to the South, they noticed that the people coming to their meetings were segregated by default.
[00:18:28] And unlike in the north, the Adventist leadership in the South started out exclusively White. One of those leaders was a man named Robert Kilgore. In 1890, Kilgore said, quote, "The work in the South for the White population will not be successful until there is a policy of segregation between the races." End quote. In other words, Kilgore wanted to prioritize White outreach and new membership over the equality of Black Adventists.
[00:19:02] This brings us to Ellen White. Ellen White can be seen as a strong abolitionist who did favor practical reforms while at the same time, making seemingly contradictory and even racist statements. Perhaps one of the worst statements made by Ellen White in this area was specifically about enslaved people. In 1858, she wrote in Spiritual Gifts Volume One, quote:
[00:19:30] Santiago (Narrating): God cannot take the slave to heaven who has been kept in ignorance and degradation, knowing nothing of God, or the Bible, fearing nothing but his master's lash, and not holding so elevated a position as his master's brute beasts. But He does the best thing for him that a compassionate God can do. He lets him be as though he had not been.
[00:20:02] Santiago: So much for an all powerful, all loving God. This is extremely sad to hear from a woman who was supposed to be God's end time prophet. This idea goes against what many modern Adventists would say about people who have never heard the gospel.
[00:20:19] The common belief that I grew up with is that God will judge you according to your knowledge and how you reacted to that knowledge. The White Estate is quick to point out on their website that a few pages later, Ellen White reported that she did see the quote "pious slave" rise in triumph and victory at the resurrection.
[00:20:42] In other words, the enslaved people who were taught about God and accepted that message would be saved. But to me that doesn't make the previous statement any better. Also like Kilgore in 1890, Ellen White pushed for segregation in order to keep growing the Adventist movement. She wrote in 1908,
[00:21:06] Santiago (Narrating): Let as little as possible be said about the color line, and let the colored people work chiefly for those of their own race. In regard to White and colored people worshiping in the same building, this cannot be followed as a general custom with profit to either part, especially in the South. The best thing will be to provide the colored people who accept the truth, with places of worship of their own, in which they can carry on their services by themselves. This is particularly necessary in the South in order that the work for the White people maybe carried on without serious hindrance.
[00:21:52] Santiago: So even though Adventists started out completely integrated in the North, years later, Ellen White was recommending that as a general rule, Adventists should be segregated. It's interesting to me that she called for segregation in general and not just in the South. Ellen White apologists say that she gave this guidance because the US was going through a very rough time, which is true.
[00:22:19] Physical violence, and even the possibility of death was a real thing. We saw this kind of stuff even during the civil rights movement where Black people and White people who supported them were literally murdered by racist, White supremacists. So physical violence and even the possibility of death was a real thing.
[00:22:41] But I'd argue that the country was also going through a very difficult time during the civil war, and they were integrated then. So why take a step backward? Again, she seemed to echo Kilgore's concerns from almost 20 years earlier, being more concerned with their ability to keep recruiting White people. She makes this pretty clear in a 1903 letter. Quote:
[00:23:10] Santiago (Narrating): Let white workers labor for the white people, proclaiming the message of present truth in its simplicity. They will find openings through which they may reach the higher class. Every opportunity for reaching this class is to be improved.
[00:23:32] Santiago: End quote. Ellen knew that to keep growing, the Adventist movement needed to follow the money. One of the wealthy White people recruited to the movement was John Preston Kellogg, the father of John Harvey Kellogg who helped invent Kellogg's corn flakes. John Preston was also an abolitionist and joined the Adventist movement in 1852. At one point, the Kellogg family had a farm and 320 acres of property just outside of Flint, Michigan.
[00:24:04] Later they sold their property, moved, and John Preston eventually started a broom factory. He was an important financial supporter of the early Adventist movement and actually helped convince Ellen and James White to move to Battle Creek, Michigan.
[00:24:21] He helped pay the cost of moving the Review and Herald publishing office from New York to Michigan, and later donated money to help buy the land which the Battle Creek Sanitarium was built on. I've already spoken about John Harvey Kellogg and his wild, unscientific beliefs about sex and masturbation in episode four. If you haven't heard it, highly recommend you go back and listen to that.
[00:24:46] In that episode, I briefly mentioned that John Harvey Kellogg supported eugenics and started something called the Race Betterment Foundation. John Harvey bought into and promoted the scientific racism of his day, and held a conference in 1913, focused on eugenics at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. The American eugenics movement that Kellogg was a part of actually helped inspire Nazi Germany. In 1933, the Nazi German government passed a eugenics law closely based on a model by Harry Laughlin, who was a speaker at Kellogg's eugenics conference at the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
[00:25:32] The Battle Creek College, today known as Andrews University, yes that Andrews University, also supported Kellogg's vision of quote "race betterment" and eugenics. And the students and staff there were expected to support it, too. While this definitely is not a reflection of the world church, some Adventists
[00:25:55] in Nazi Germany did support the fascist government. In 2005, Adventist leaders in Germany and Austria published an apology, admitting that Adventists there had failed to denounce Nazi ideology. In fact, they found articles in Adventist publications that were glorifying Hitler, and agreeing with antisemitic propaganda.
[00:26:21] Before we move on to more recent history, I do want to give credit where credit is due. While some Adventist members and leaders were such strong segregationists that they even talked about a quote "colored section" in heaven, Ellen White did speak out about that. She explicitly stated that there were not separate heavens for Black and White people. And in an 1891 speech to Adventist church leaders, she said, "The Black man's name is written in the book of life beside the White man's." She's also been quoted as saying:
[00:26:59] Santiago (Narrating): You have no license from God to exclude the colored people from your places of worship. They should hold membership in the church with the white brethren. Every effort should be made to wipe out the terrible wrong which has been done them.
[00:27:17] Santiago: End quote. But in the very next sentence, she wrote:
[00:27:23] Santiago (Narrating): At the same time we must not carry things to extremes and run into fanaticism on this question. Some would think it right to throw down every partition wall and intermarry with the colored people, but this is
[00:27:40] not the right thing to teach or to practice.
[00:27:44] Santiago: So at least in this statement, Ellen White was clearly against interracial marriage. Ellen and the Adventist movement, again, were a product of White American Protestant culture. Interracial marriage in the United States has been looked down upon for very long. It wasn't until 1967 that the US Supreme Court ruled that laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional.
[00:28:13] But even today, some people still look down on it. If you grew up Seventh-day Adventist in the Southern United States, chances are you were discouraged from dating and marrying outside of your race. Both Abby and Amy experienced this firsthand, and you'll get to hear them talk about this in the next episode.
[00:28:34] Adventists have quoted 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says Christians should not be "unequally yoked." The original point being made there was that Christians shouldn't be in an unequal partnership with non-Christians. But some people have used this verse to support their racist ideology and oppose interracial marriage.
[00:28:57] Some Adventists, in opposition to interracial dating and marriage, have even quoted an obscure quote from Ellen White, which I hadn't heard until after I left the church. She wrote about the quote "amalgamation of man and beast," which she claimed resulted in different species of animals and races of men. We don't have time to unpack that wild quote today. So I'm just going to leave that there for now, and we'll do a deeper dive in the next episode.
[00:29:32] The last thing I'll mention specifically about Ellen White's writings is that unlike most Americans today, she actually seemed to speak in favor of reparations. In the United States, there has long been a debate on whether enslaved people and their descendants should receive support or compensation for the unpaid forced labor that took place for centuries.
[00:29:59] Quakers were among the first to insist that formerly enslaved people were entitled to compensation from their former enslavers. And at one point, there actually were plans to give land to formerly enslaved people. The phrase "40 acres and a mule" refers to a wartime order given in January 1865 to confiscate 400,000 acres of land in
[00:30:27] South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, allowing newly freed Black people to live and farm on the land. There was even a government agency called the Freedmen's Bureau that had the authority, although not the budget, to redistribute land in parcels up to 40 acres.
[00:30:49] While Black people did settle the land, the president who came directly after Abraham Lincoln's assassination overturned the order less than a year after it was given. Unsurprisingly, that man was an enslaver and was a Southern sympathizer. The land was returned to the former Confederates who had owned it, and the promise was broken. Years later in 1896, Ellen White argued that reparations were not only the right thing to do, but claimed that God had actually demanded it. Quote:
[00:31:29] Santiago (Narrating): The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people, are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement.
[00:32:02] Santiago: So in other words, Ellen White actually argued that everybody in the United States, even people who took no part in enforcing slavery, had a responsibility to make it right. There are tons of reasons to criticize Ellen White, but in my view, she was actually right on this issue. Just imagine how different things might've been if the promise of 40 acres and a mule had been kept. It wouldn't have gotten rid of racism, but it could have seriously changed some of the income inequality and generational wealth disparities that we see today.
[00:32:44] Now I want to shift our focus to somewhat more recent history, starting with a book and speech titled Protest and Progress, by Dr Calvin B Rock. Dr Rock was a pastor, served as President of Oakwood University for over a decade, and also worked for the General Conference as Vice President. In the preface of his book, Dr Rock described having incredibly deep Adventist roots on his mom's side of the family. His maternal grandmother actually worked directly with Ellen White at one point.
[00:33:21] He also mentioned that his maternal roots go back all the way to enslaved people in the United States. Growing up, Dr Rock personally experienced racism and also witnessed it through stories and the news. By the time he was 13 years old, he couldn't bring himself to repeat the words "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," as part of the pledge of allegiance.
[00:33:47] Those words didn't ring true for him, and that's completely reasonable. So with that background, I'm going to play a few snippets of a speech by Dr Rock from February 2017. The link to the full speech is in the show notes, and I highly recommend listening to all of it.
[00:34:06] Dr. Calvin B. Rock: Unfortunately, the socially liberal attitudes of our Adventist pioneers had, by the turn of the century, given way to prevailing attitudes of White Protestant Christianity. The people of promise, anxious to not offend their White audiences or to break the nation's socially restrictive laws, offered them what can only be described as overtly repressive second class membership.
[00:34:41] The arrangements included assignment of White leadership to administer Black church affairs well into the forties. The refusal of Negro students at our colleges well into the fifties. And when they did open up, acceptance by quota with mandates to room only with Blacks, avoid interracial dating, and assignment to cafeteria seating, where at lunch or dinner or breakfast, they sat with Black students only.
[00:35:18] The refusal of jobs as well as services at many Adventist installations, hospitals, publishing houses, et cetera, well into the seventies. And when I say refusal of services, at age 86, I can tell you I experienced that more often than I like to recall. The refusal of membership in white churches in many sectors of the country, well into the eighties, if you can believe that.
[00:35:57] Santiago: I just want to pause here and recap everything Dr Rock listed. White people administered black churches well into the 1940s. Black students weren't allowed into Adventist colleges well into the 1950s, with just one exception, and even then, there were quotas, segregated housing, and bans on interracial dating.
[00:36:21] Black people were denied jobs and services at many Adventists institutions well into the 1970s, and on top of that, in some parts of the United States, Black people were even denied membership in certain majority White churches, as late as the 1980s.
[00:36:41] If you listen to episode 14, where I interviewed Adam Kyle Jones, you may remember that when his mom was a girl, she and her family were turned away from a white Adventist church and were basically told, "There's a Black church down the street, maybe go there." Back to the speech.
[00:37:02] Dr. Calvin B. Rock: A glaring example of such indignities was not allowing FL Peterson, the first Black to graduate from PUC, 1916, and the first Black to be elected as a General Conference Vice President, 1962. At the beginning of his tenure there, at least, not to eat in the General Conference cafeteria.
[00:37:32] Another example of institutionalized bias was in prominent display in the Atlanta Constitution, April 3rd, 1948. The newspaper's byline read, "Adventist upholds racial segregation" and proceeded, I quote, "Doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man have no place in the Christian church and are altogether untrue,
[00:38:07] Carlyle B Haynes of Washington DC told a congregation here at the Beverly Road Seventh-day Adventist Church." Haynes upheld racial segregation, maintaining it was originated by God and set forth in the Bible as a divine way for races to get along together. He regularly expressed to Black audiences his appreciation for their musical ability and anticipation of one day going over to the colored side of heaven to hear them sing. What is not surprising is that such attitude, such repressive practices, produced a number of vigorous protests through the years by Black church leaders. One should not be surprised.
[00:39:01] Santiago: When I heard that, I was floored. I can see why Ellen White felt it was necessary to clarify that there would not be a White section of heaven and a Black section. It's because some Adventist members and leaders apparently believed this. And if you didn't catch it, the cafeteria in the General Conference building was segregated in 1962, even after they elected the first Black Vice President. He was not able to eat in the cafeteria when he started working there.
[00:39:39] Dr. Calvin B. Rock: Progress of Black Americans to their present state is a journey, it should be noted, that closely parallels that of Black Americans in our nation in general. That struggle, has in a word, been the effort to achieve equal opportunity, equal access,
[00:40:07] equal pay, and equal recognition otherwise for service. The journey has been made arduous by a number of factors. Two that are primary are first the fear, and until recently, the fact, that the presence and participation of coloreds, negroes, african Americans, Blacks, as defined over the decades, would stunt White Adventism's witness.
[00:40:46] The second as indicated, has been the penchant of the church over the decades to fearfully, I dare say, slavishly, obey the racially restrictive laws of the land. In particular, the dehumanizing regulations of "separate but equal" that gripped this country from 1896 to 1954. Imprinting the worst of human tendencies and legally legitimizing a biased sociopolitical personality for our country, and unfortunately, in the main, for our church as well.
[00:41:42] That's attested by the fact that we were the 61st of recognized denominations in the country to speak out in favor of the repeal of separate but equal and the activities of the civil rights movement. We didn't speak until it was very safe, in fact, to do so, in the early sixties.
[00:42:12] Santiago: So to recap these last clips, the progress of Black Adventists has closely paralleled that of Black Americans in general, which has been a real struggle. Especially because one, white Adventists have long been afraid that the full inclusion of Black people would hurt their growth among other White Adventists. And two, the church willingly obeyed the racist laws of the united States that imposed segregation.
[00:42:44] And I want to reiterate the last point made here by Dr Rock, which is that the Adventist church was the 61st denomination to speak out in favor of the American civil rights movement, and ending segregation. 60 other denominations spoke up before we did. Again, I highly recommend listening to the full, unedited speech, which is linked in the show notes. And I also recommend reading Dr Rock's book if you want a deep dive into this subject.
[00:43:17] With all of this background, it makes perfect sense that the lack of inclusion and representation in leadership, eventually led to segregated conferences. Black Adventist leaders would write to the General Conference talking about how they needed resources, but they were being brushed aside to put it nicely.
[00:43:39] The first documented suggestion of separate conference systems actually came from the very first Black pastor to be ordained in the Adventist church. He attended a camp meeting in Kentucky that had segregated seating and he said that if the segregated seating continued, Black people should create their own conferences.
[00:44:02] Then in the 1920s, the idea for separate Black conferences was proposed by J K Humphrey, a Black Baptist minister who converted to Adventism. That idea was rejected and he, and about 600 members from the Adventist church that he was leading, decided to leave the denomination and were expelled from their conference. After that, Humphrey started his own denomination called the United Sabbath Day Adventists.
[00:44:33] Now let's forward about 20 years to 1943. Black Adventists have been treated like second-class citizens for far too long, and this story as Dr Baker describes it, was the straw that broke the camel's back.
[00:44:51] Lucy Byard was a pioneer of the Adventist church in the New York city area. She played the organ, taught piano lessons, and directed a church choir. She was also known to be a great cook and an incredibly hospitable person. In the end, none of that mattered when it came time for the Adventist system to return the favor.
[00:45:14] She developed liver cancer in her mid sixties and sought multiple different treatments. As a last resort, she wanted to go to an Adventist sanitarium in Washington, DC. They received a confirmed reservation, and then she and her husband traveled to DC by train. What they didn't know was that
[00:45:36] before 1943, Black people had only been treated there on a very limited case by case basis. And even when they were admitted, they were put in the basement of the sanitarium and cared for by off-duty staff. As if that wasn't bad enough, the policy was changed, so that literally zero Black people would be allowed in the sanitarium.
[00:46:01] When they made the reservation, the sanitarium did not know that Lucy was Black. So when she arrived, the staff told her and her husband that they were not welcome there. This sanitarium was partially funded by Black members' tithes and offerings, and yet they had this racist policy in place. Lucy had to end up going to the Freedmen's Hospital, a hospital created to care for formerly enslaved people.
[00:46:30] She died about a month after being denied entry to the Adventist sanitarium. When Black Adventists heard about this, there was an uproar. 16 members from Lucy's church, including her husband, signed a letter to the General Conference, calling the institution out for inhumanely turning her away, asking for her expenses to be paid immediately, and threatening a lawsuit if their demands were not met.
[00:47:00] One of the attempts at damage control backfired in a major way. The president of the North American Division, a White man named WG Turner, gave a sermon at the largest Black church in the Washington DC area, just weeks after Lucy was denied entry. His sermon was based on 1 Peter 4:12-13. Quoting from the NLT:
[00:47:28] Santiago (Narrating): Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
[00:47:54] Santiago: This is one of those verses that Christians will sometimes use in a move of toxic positivity, that does absolutely nothing to help people in need. Here was a community, grappling with years upon years of mistreatment, and the NAD president told them to be happy, because they were suffering along with Jesus.
[00:48:18] Initially, the protest that resulted from Lucy Byard's death was all about full integration and acceptance. Black Adventists just wanted to be fully accepted within the Adventist movement.
[00:48:31] But in the aftermath, White Adventist leaders concluded that the best path forward was to establish separate conferences and Black Adventist leaders eventually rallied around that idea. Not everyone was in favor of that idea though. One Black pastor gave a speech where he spoke strongly in favor of the status quo. Another spoken favor of coming together. Ultimately, the majority were in favor of having separate conferences and the regional conference system was approved in April 1944.
[00:49:09] Before we move on, I want to highlight an important fact that I missed in my initial research, and to say thanks to the listener who pointed this out. And that fact is that the SDA church remained segregated 11 years after there was no legal excuse. In other words, they stayed segregated willingly.
[00:49:31] Earlier, you heard Dr Rock mention the term "separate but equal," which refers to laws permitting and even requiring segregation in the United States. These laws meant that both private and public institutions, like private railroads and public schools, could legally discriminate.
[00:49:52] And as Dr Rock pointed out, this was the case until 1954. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in a case called Brown v Board of Education. So before 1954, Adventist institutions could point to laws in the United States as an excuse for their segregation and discrimination. But after that ruling in 1954, Adventists no longer had a legal excuse.
[00:50:27] Because Adventist institutions are privately and not publicly run, they weren't legally required to de-segregate and give equal access to Black people. But again, after that ruling in 1954, they could not point to the law as an excuse, either. It took the Adventist church 11 years to announce their full desegregation, after the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education. And even then, it didn't happen willingly.
[00:51:01] What I'm about to share comes from another book called Seventh-day Adventists and the Civil Rights Movement by Samuel G London, a historian and professor at Oakwood University. This will also be linked in the show notes. During the civil rights movement, Charles Dudley, a Black Adventist pastor and President of the South Central Conference, participated in multiple protests against racial discrimination.
[00:51:29] In 1965, Dudley heard about two women from Oakwood University who tried visiting the Huntsville Central Seventh-day Adventist church in Alabama. They weren't allowed to stay, and so the next week, a group of Oakwood students tried visiting the same church. This time, a White deacon stood at the church door and told them, quote: "I have a gun in my pocket that has six bullets for six N words." And I'm not going to repeat that word.
[00:52:05] This shocked Dudley and encouraged him to keep fighting against racial discrimination. So that same year, he supported members in his conference who sued the Adventist denomination because many Adventist academies still refused to admit Black students. US Attorney General Nicholas Katzenback and a local branch of the NAACP joined the lawsuit.
[00:52:31] Katzenback personally called the General Conference, saying that he was disappointed that 11 years after the Supreme Court case, Adventist schools were still segregated. He asked the General Conference point blank if they planned on integrating, and they stayed quiet. After a long pause, he made it clear that they didn't have to desegregate, but if they remained segregated, they would lose assistance from the US government, like certain tax exemptions. Eventually, they caved.
[00:53:09] So it took a lawsuit, a personal phone call from the Attorney General of the United States, and the threat of losing special tax benefits that finally got the Adventist church to issue a resolution for desegregating all Adventist institutions. Again, I highly recommend the books by Samuel G London and Dr Calvin B Rock if you want to learn more.
[00:53:36] For a look at more recent Adventist perspectives, I got another book called House on Fire: how Adventist Faith Responds to Race and Racism. It contains work from about 20 different contributors and takes an anti-racist stance from an Adventist perspective. Chapter one, written by Janice De-Whyte, is titled Burning Bethel and includes the following paragraph:
[00:54:03] Santiago (Narrating): As we tell the truth and bear witness to the rampant reality of racism, we are drawn to the work of destruction. Yes, destruction. The destruction of damaging policies and practices that have created and sustained legacies of oppression through successive generations. Deconstructing injustice involves the holy and faithful work of disrupting, dismantling, disempowering, and destroying the structures and systems that support and sustain racism and other manifestations of injustice.
[00:54:45] Santiago: Chapter two, by Olive Hemings, references the book of Revelation and has this strong warning that appears to describe the conservative Adventist and broader Evangelical Christian leadership of today. Quote:
[00:55:01] Santiago (Narrating): The church that reinforces its exclusivist policies and fights its ideological battles through the political system in a partisan way has made its bed in Babylon. A church that is consumer-driven in its missiology by prioritizing soul winning over soul growing and defining unity in terms of denominational self-preservation, is pursuing its own interest. It is yet to observe Sabbath as resistance to greed and systemic injustice.
[00:55:39] Santiago: Chapter six, by Angela Li, is provocatively titled Creating Race and Other Creation myths. And I say provocative because it could be interpreted as an acknowledgement that the creation story in Genesis is actually a myth. In any case, Li also does not mince words in her critique of traditional Adventism. Quote:
[00:56:05] Santiago (Narrating): Does Adventism breed feelings of superiority? I believe it does. The attitude of superiority rooted in societal and ecclesiastical powers contributes to the core problem of kyriarchy, poisoning the Adventist church. The so-called "curse of Ham" introduced the world to the idea of an inferior civilization. But the true curse is found among those who choose to believe themselves to be better than others, and this mindset of superiority exists in and affects most cultures. All ethnic backgrounds can be guilty of racial and gender discrimination.
[00:56:51] Santiago: End quote. A quick note on the word kyriarchy, this term was actually created by a Catholic feminist theologian named Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992, to describe a set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. And it goes beyond just patriarchy, which we've talked a little bit about on this podcast. It also encompasses racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, and much more.
[00:57:25] Just from these few paragraphs from the book, I think it's safe to say that most conservative Adventists would want nothing to do with it. But liberal and progressive Adventists who are open to learning outside the SDA bubble, and actually care about social justice, will probably feel right at home.
[00:57:46] I have to admit, I was a bit impressed to see the level of representation and the language used in this book. Again, I don't think traditional conservative Adventists would want anything to do with it. But if this is any indication about the potential future of the Adventist church, maybe, just maybe they can stop the bleeding in North America.
[00:58:10] I personally think that we can address all of these issues without needing the lens of theology. But I do appreciate the efforts by these authors to try and push Adventism closer to the radical stance it had in the early days, when it was in some ways, more egalitarian than even the secular world.
[00:58:31] As we wrap up this episode, I want to acknowledge again some of the sources I used starting with a website and YouTube channel called Black SDA history, started by Adventist historian and educator, Dr Benjamin Baker. If you're interested in a better understanding of why the separate conference systems were created, I recommend watching his video, which is linked in the show notes, as well as the book and speech I referenced earlier, Protest and Progress by Dr Calvin B Rock.
[00:59:02] Finally, I want to look briefly at the concept of anti-racism. Have you ever heard someone say "I'm not a racist," before? You might've heard someone say that if they were accused of being racist, or you might've heard that followed by the word, "but." As in, "I'm not a racist, but..." insert racist comment or joke. The idea behind anti-racism is that it's not enough to simply not be racist. Racism, in so many societies, is deeply ingrained into how we think as individuals, how our societies operate, and how our government and other institutions create and enforce their laws, policies, and procedures.
[00:59:51] If we want any hope of overcoming the problems and injustices that stem from racism, we can't be complacent and neutral in this area. We have to actively call out and oppose racist actions and policies, whether at school, work, or in government. If you're not already familiar with the book How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi, I recommend that as a starting point. That book, along with all the other books and sources I mentioned, is linked in the show notes.
[01:00:25] In spite of everything we've talked about in this episode, I'm cautiously optimistic that as a society and as a species, we will continue making progress and doing away with myths that have caused so much harm. In 1968, Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." As slow as that bend toward justice is, I'm hopeful that we will continue learning from the past, and do better going forward.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[01:01:04] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio (that's H E L L dot B I O) or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!