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The North American Office of Human Relations

From the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996, Review and Herald Publishing Association)

HUMAN RELATIONS, OFFICE OF.  The North American Office of Human Relations, with its director and its advisory committee, is concerned chiefly with the strengthening of the bonds of unity among the diverse people groups within the churches and institutions of the North American Division. It is a service that works with Division and union administration in the work of reaching people within its assigned territory and helping to transform the diverse racial and ethnic people groups of the church in North America into a new people, a new community, and a new society based on love and peace.

The office sees four major objectives as essential to its work: (1) promoting fundamental belief 13 as the church’s official statement of oneness and encouraging the membership to take aggressive steps to achieve unity; (2) promoting Policy C-50 as the church’s official position on the harmonious blending of its diverse membership in the total life of the church, and affirming the seven principles of this policy as (a) those by which the North American Division will conduct the activities of the church, (b) those to which its employees will ascribe, and (c) those that the NAD will encourage among its membership; (3) developing a multicultural relationship model and working for its acceptance as a new paradigm for achieving oneness in the fellowship; and (4) promoting the Conciliation and Dispute Resolution Procedures model as a tool for settling differences that occur among the body.

Organizationally, the office works with the division and union leaders in the promotion of human relations goals, objectives, and activities, but its work is not limited to these areas. The office does share information and provide counsel and guidance to persons on the local level as well as in the churches when such is sought.

Statistics: The following statistics were compiled by the Office of Human Relations, Archives and Statistics, and other departments in the General Conference and North American Division in 1991. The membership statistics for multicultural groups and other data relative to administrative and support employees of the division are customarily compiled by the Office of Human Relations.

In 1991 the membership of the division was reported as 776,848, with statistics for the multicultural groups as follows: members of African descent, 223,599, or 28.78 percent; members of Asian descent, 19,898, or 2.56 percent; members of Caucasian descent, 462,552, or 59.54 percent; members of Hispanic descent, 66,418, or 8.54 percent; Native Americans, 1,757, or .22 percent; others, 2,635, or .34 percent.

In the North American Division area (total population about 285 million), the African-American population is more than 30 million. Churches and companies that are of African-American descent and located within the nine regional conferences of the NAD were 773. The membership for the regional conferences (along with the African-American work in the Pacific and North Pacific unions and Bermuda) in 1991 was 200,836. Other data include church schools, 177; ordained ministers, 435; licensed ministers, 85; Bible instructors, 40; teachers, 515.

Tithe income in 1991 was $75,777,066; world mission offerings, $2,270,209. Baptisms were 10,850 for that year.

Institutions: Northeastern Academy; Oakwood College; Pine Forge Academy. There are junior academies in the following cities: Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Selma, Alabama; Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Hartford, Connecticut; Wilmington, Delaware; Fort Lauderdale, Hialeah, Jacksonville, Ocala, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Florida; Albany, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Lithonia, Macon, Savannah, Georgia; Chicago, Waukegan, Illinois; Gary, Indianapolis, Indiana; Kansas City, Kansas; Louisville, Kentucky; Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Hammond, Pineville, Shreveport, Louisiana; Baltimore, Hyattsville, Maryland; Cassopolis, Detroit, Flint, Inkster, Michigan; Jackson, Mississippi; Kansas City, St. Louis, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska; Hillside, Trenton, New Jersey; Bronx, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Laurelton, New Rochelle, Newburgh, Rochester, New York; Charlotte, High Point, La Grange, Raleigh, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Cleveland, Cincinnati, Ohio; Anderson, Florence, Greenville, Greenwood, Orangeburg, Sumter, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Tennessee; Dallas, Houston, Round Rock, Texarkana, Texas; Newport News, Richmond, Virginia; Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Regional Conferences: There are nine North American regional conferences, most of them organized in 1945 or 1946, that have a leadership and constituency largely African-American. These are called regional because of their distinctive geographical arrangement. Each regional conference is organized with the existing administrative structure of a union conference, and covers not merely one portion of the union area, but all the African-American churches in the entire region of the union, except in the Southern and Columbia unions, which contain two regional conferences.

The nine regional conferences in North America are: the Allegheny East Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Delaware, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey, and eastern portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia (office: Pine Forge, Pennsylvania); the Allegheny West Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Ohio and western portions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia (office: Columbus, Ohio); the Central States Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and western New Mexico (office: Kansas City, Kansas); the Lake Region Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (office: Chicago, Illinois); the Northeastern Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont (office: St. Albans, New York); the South Atlantic Conference, embracing the Black congregations in North Carolina and South Carolina and Northern Georgia (office: Atlanta, Georgia); the South Central Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and western Florida (office: Nashville, Tennessee); the Southeastern Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of eastern Florida and northern Georgia (office: Altamonte Springs, Florida); the Southwest Region Conference, embracing the Black congregations in the territory of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and eastern New Mexico (office: Dallas, Texas).

The North Pacific and Pacific unions and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada have no regional conferences, but the Pacific Union Conference has a Regional Affairs Department serving in an advisory capacity to all the conferences in which there is a considerable African-American membership, and the North Pacific Union Conference has a Health and Temperance and Regional Affairs Department, as well as Multi-cultural Ministries and Native Ministries Northwest departments, serving in a similar advisory capacity. In Canada there are separate Black congregations as well as churches with Black constituents in their memberships; in Bermuda most of the churches have a majority of Blacks. Missionaries called from responsibilities in the regional conferences have gone to India, South America, Africa, Asia, and the West Indies.

The regional conferences were formed in the hope that the new organizations might, with concentration on work within a specific ethnic group, achieve greater results in a shorter space of time than would be achieved under the previously existing organizations (in some cases under a departmental or mission arrangement). The plan has been responsible for an evangelistic penetration into the African-American community that had not been possible under the organizations that formerly administered the work among the nation’s African-American membership. The regional conferences also have created more opportunities for leadership and participation by gifted and trained African-American young people of the church, whose selection in the same or similar capacities had not worked out in the years prior to the formation of the regional conferences. Another practical result has been that African-American members of the SDA Church have been more readily and more naturally represented in elected offices and on boards and committees outside the regional conferences than appears to have been true formerly.

History: Origin of Work Among Black Americans. Before SDAs existed as a group, there were African-American adherents of the Adventist (Millerite) movement.

Adventist leaders in the beginning were identified as antislavery in sentiment. Some of them had actively aided Blacks in their struggle against the severe system of slavery: both John P. Kellogg (father of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) and John Byington, who was later the first president of the General Conference, had operated stations of the Underground Railroad on their farms in Michigan and New York, respectively, and thus aided fleeing slaves to reach freedom in Canada. Byington was well acquainted with Sojourner Truth.

The first Black Seventh-day Adventists were probably in the North, where the church originated, but they are not noted separately in the early accounts, since they would naturally be members of the same churches with the White people, according to the social pattern in that region. Not until SDAs began to move into the South did they encounter Blacks in any number and in a social pattern of segregation. In trying to fulfill the primary objective of the church—to preach the message “to every creature”-these newcomers made converts from both Whites and Blacks and carried on work in some places especially for the latter.

For the work for African-Americans in the South, begun in Tennessee as early as 1871, see South Central Conference; in Texas and Georgia as early as 1876, see Southwest Region Conference and South Atlantic Conference. In North Carolina the work was begun in 1877 by papers sent through the mail.

In the West, C. M. Kinney, reputed to be the first African-American ordained as an SDA minister, was won in 1878 by J. N. Loughborough in Nevada, and became a charter member of the Reno church. Later he preached in the South.

No Black Churches at First. In entering the South, the White evangelists encountered a social system based on the separation of the races, though at that early time (the 1870s) the separation was less complete than later. C. O. Taylor, the first SDA minister to go into Georgia, preached in a rural Baptist church in which he found Blacks attending along with the Whites, though seated separately (Review and Herald 49:8 [i.e., 7], Jan. 4, 1877). D. M. Canright, preaching in Kentucky, reported three Black Sabbathkeepers, “members of the church with the others” (ibid. 47:174, June 1, 1876).

James Edson White, apostle to the African-American communities along the lower Mississippi River, remarked that for Blacks to be members of White churches had been the custom in pre-Civil War days, when slave church members had belonged to their masters’ congregations (ibid. 78:265, Apr. 23, 1901), and it was after the war that Blacks formed their own churches and employed their own ministers (Gospel Herald, February 1906, p. 6).

But by the time White reached the South, in the 1890s, he noted that a separation in terms of race was on the increase and that because of opposition—both by local Whites who opposed the education of Blacks, and by Blacks who did not trust Whites and feared exploitation—the work of the Southern Missionary Society became increasingly difficult (ibid.). In one place in 1899 his work was practically closed, and the society had to staff its Mississippi schools with African-American teachers because of local opposition to Whites teaching Blacks (ibid., October 1899, p. 87; July 1900, p. 63).

In Texas in 1876 D. M. Canright reported that there was no objection to his working for the African-American people so long as he worked among them only (Review and Herald 47:166, May 25, 1876). In 1887 J. M. Rees in Tennessee reported that there was no trouble regarding White and Black members in the SDA Church, but that if ministers tried to preach to both races in their meetings for the general public, they would have no White people to speak to (General Conference Bulletin, Nov. 14, 1887, p. 2). When O. C. Godsmark and his brother attempted to preach to both in Georgia, their evangelistic meetings were deserted by both White and Black listeners. On the other hand, even many years later, Black evangelists sometimes preached successfully to White and Blackcongregations. J. G. Thomas reported such meetings in Jackson, Mississippi; Gainesville, Florida; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Columbus, Georgia, where 90 Blacks and 37 Whites were baptized from his meetings. F. S. Keitts, in Nashville; W. W. Fordham, in Jacksonville; and L. B. Baker, in El Paso, reported similar experiences.

Increasing Opposition in the Nineties. The early attempts at interracial churches in the South were abandoned in the face of opposition from outside. J. E. White, in explaining why the Southern Missionary Society conducted work for Whites and Blacks separately, declared that they had been forced by necessity to adopt that policy. “We preferred to live and work in such lines as we could than to force the issue and be cut off from the work” (Gospel Herald, January 1901, supplement, p. 4). He added that Seventh-day Adventists, who teach an unpopular doctrine, “cannot do work in many lines that would be tolerated in others,” and remarked that racial feeling was deepening (ibid.). It may be assumed that much of the problem encountered by White and others stemmed from the fact that they were Northerners coming South to work for Blacks, but it is also a matter of record in American history that in the 1890s, in a period of economic and political unrest, segregation increased sharply, and many legal restrictions date from that time.

Increased opposition to the work in the South was noted by Ellen White, who for many years had urged the evangelism and education of the African-American people. In 1891 she read a manuscript, “Our Duty to the Colored People” (released Mar. 20, 1891, and later printed as a pamphlet by J. E. White), to the General Conference Committee at Battle Creek. In this she said that Black members should be received into the White churches (p. 11). Speaking of the White members, she said that “if a Colored brother sits by their side they will not be offended or despise him,” for they are journeying to the same heaven (p. 9). “If Jesus is abiding in our hearts we cannot despise the Colored man who has the same Saviour abiding in his heart” (p. 9).

But by 1895 she urged caution in the South, saying that in the future the missionary work among Black people “would have to be carried on along lines different from those followed in some sections of the country in former years” (9T 206).

The reason given repeatedly by Mrs. White for the change of method was the strengthening opposition (ibid. 205) from outside the church. She used phrases such as “danger of closing the door” to the work (ibid. 214); “we shall find our way blocked completely” (ibid.); “Do nothing that will unnecessarily arouse opposition” (ibid. 208).

Separate Churches a Concession to Necessity. On the one hand, she laid down the principle of unity in Christ, who “laid the foundation for a religion by which Jew and Gentile, black and white, free and bond, are linked together in one common brotherhood, recognized as equal in the sight of God” (7T 225).

“The religion of the Bible recognizes no caste or color. It ignores rank, wealth, worldly honor. God estimates men as men with Him, character decides their worth. And we are to recognize the Spirit of Christ in whomsoever it is revealed. . . . He who is living in the atmosphere in which Christ lives will be taught of God and will learn to put His estimate on men” (9T 223).

She looked forward to a time “when the Holy Spirit is poured out,” when “human hearts will love as Christ loved. And the color line will be regarded by many very differently from the way in which it is now regarded. To love as Christ loves lifts the mind into a pure, heavenly, unselfish atmosphere. He who is closely connected with Christ is lifted above the prejudice of color or caste” (ibid. 209).

On the other hand, in the face of an increasing racial feeling, she also warned that discretion is the better part of valor. She cautioned against contention or inviting opposition unnecessarily, for Adventist workers would have enough opposition from other sources (ibid. 211).

“The time has not come for us to work as if there were no prejudice. . . . If you see that by doing certain things which you have a perfect right to do, you hinder the advancement of God’s work, refrain from doing these things” (ibid. 215).

She counseled that, on account of the changed situation, the Black believers should have their own houses of worship, “not to exclude them from worshiping with white people,” but “that the progress of the truth may be advanced” (ibid. 206, 207). She advised providing separate churches as “the course of wisdom,” “where demanded by custom or where greater efficiency is to be gained” (ibid. 208), and “until the Lord shows us a better way” (ibid. 207).

A. W. Spalding reported that the method of dealing with the evangelism of African-Americans had been debated in General Conference sessions from time to time, “most speakers maintaining that as God is no respecter of persons, Christians should not allow social questions to affect their church polity” (Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, vol. 2, p. 188), although no action was taken. In fact, the 1877 session voted not to take action on the subject. Spalding records that when R. M. Kilgore (an Iowan who had preached some years in Texas) was made head of the SDA work in the South about 1890, “though brought up with the Northern conception of the problem,” he “advocated the separation of white and colored churches. In the end this view prevailed” (ibid.).

Spalding wrote, around 1924 (in an unpublished manuscript, “Lights and Shades in the Black Belt” p. 142), that the church had taken the position that it should “recognize and conform to existing conditions which do not involve transgression of God’s law.” This attitude, he explained, though apparently “shaped by policy instead of principle,” was “built upon the principle of policy” that the church in its social relations should defer to public opinion so “that the gospel may not be hindered.”

The policy of separation, at first adopted for the sake of advancing the gospel, eventually came to be so taken for granted that probably a majority of SDA members in areas where segregation was the custom believed it to be a fundamental teaching of the church. The carrying out of this “principle of policy” over a period of years was not always understood by African-American members. As a consequence, some individuals and groups (see United Sabbath Day Adventists) became disaffiliated with the church, although many of those who went out returned to the original body.

Because, as Mrs. White pointed out, “in different places and under varying circumstances, the subject will need to be handled differently” (9T 213), the practice of separate African-American congregations has not been uniformly followed. In many parts of the country there are no separate churches, and even in areas in which the regional conferences operate, not all African-American members are in the regional churches. In some places the Black congregations were established by members who chose to withdraw from White congregations in order to have their own groups and work better for African-American evangelism; in other places, “where demanded by custom,” the separation was the result of local necessity.

Development of Black Churches. The first African-American churches originated in the 1880s, and the next few in the 1890s, in the period of increased separation that resulted in the change of SDA method.

The first congregation of African-American Seventh-day Adventist believers was organized as a company in November 1883 and as a church in 1886 at Edgefield Junction, Tennessee. Its pastor was Harry Lowe, formerly a Baptist preacher. The second church of African-American believers, with 10 charter members, was established in Louisville, Kentucky, Feb. 16, 1890, where the work had been begun by A. Barry, who had accepted SDA teachings through reading the Review and Herald. The third was organized at Bowling Green, Kentucky, in June 1891. These first three, and also the fifth congregation, which was organized at Nashville, Tennessee, in September 1894, were in what is now the South Central Conference. The fourth, established by C. M. Kinney in New Orleans (organized June 1892), was the first in the present Southwest Region Conference.

Southern Missionary Society. The work of the Southern Missionary Society (incorporated in 1898) began in 1895 in Mississippi. It was founded by James Edson White, who went south in his Mississippi steamer Morning Star with a group of dedicated colporteurs, teachers, physicians, and Bible instructors from churches in the North, to bring the SDA message to African-American people along the Mississippi River. They were successful in establishing small churches and schools in Mississippi and other states. For the story, see Gospel Herald; Morning Star; Southern Missionary Society. White’s printing firm was a forerunner of the Southern Publishing Association.

Other developments in the South included the establishing in 1895 of a school (see Oakwood College) and for a time (1906–1923) a sanitarium at Huntsville, Alabama, and two attempts at the establishment of a sanitarium in Nashville, Tennessee, between 1901 and 1909 (see Riverside Hospital).

Meantime work was beginning in earnest in cities of the East, beginning in New York City in 1902 (see Allegheny East Conference; Northeastern Conference).

Work in the West began in Los Angeles in 1906, when Jennie Ireland, a member of the White congregation in the city, began missionary work among the Black population and gave Bible studies to interested people, with the result that in 1908 the first Black church west of Ohio was formed (see Southern California Conference). Among those interested by Miss Ireland’s work was the Temple family, whose daughter Ruth later attended medical school at Loma Linda and became noted as the original promoter of the idea of Health Week in the Los Angeles municipality’s Health Department. Another was the Troy family, whose son Dr. Owen A. Troy became a pastor and evangelist in the West and Midwest, then associate secretary of the General Conference Sabbath School Department.

Departmental Organization.  In 1894 there were about 50 Black SDAs in the United States. When the membership reached 900 in 1909, it was felt that to make a more noticeable impact on the growing African-American population some form of organization should be effected. Hence, at the General Conference held that year the North American Negro Department was organized. J. W. Christian, A. J. Haysmer, and C. B. Stephenson, in that order, were the first departmental secretaries. In 1918 the secretary reported that there were a total of 3,500 African-American members in the United States.

When the General Conference department was set up, union and local departments or missions were organized also. In the Southern Conference, the Southern Missionary Society formed the nucleus for the organization of a Southern Union Mission. The Southeastern Union set up a union Negro Mission Department, and for a time the Southwestern Union had a Southwestern Union Mission for Blacks. Most local conferences in these unions had a African-American department or a committee.

The first Black minister to head the General Conference department was W. H. Green, formerly a lawyer in the District of Columbia who had argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. He held the position from 1918 until his sudden death in October of 1928. To fill the vacancy, the Autumn Council of 1929 appointed George E. Peters as departmental secretary. After serving briefly, Peters went to New York City to stabilize the work there because of the grave situation after the United Sabbath Day Adventist crisis. Peters was succeeded by Frank L. Peterson, a pastor in Boston, Massachusetts. Peters was again elected to the position in 1941, and in 1951 was made a field secretary of the General Conference, the first Black to serve thus.

The name of the department was changed at the Autumn Council of 1942 from Negro Department to Colored Department, as the nation grew more concerned over integrating its African-American minority into the main current of American life. The term Colored somehow appeared less harsh, less divisive. To help with the medical needs of the various schools served by the department, Geneva Bryan, R.N., was made an assistant secretary of the department in 1942 and served until 1947.

Regional Conferences Organized. In 1944 the recommendation was made to organize full-fledged conferences of the African-American churches, a plan that had been requested some years earlier by Black leaders but had not then been considered feasible. The General Conference Committee in its Spring Meeting voted: “We recommend, 1. That in unions where the colored constituency is considered by the union conference committee to be sufficiently large, and where the financial income and territory warrant, colored conferences be organized.

“2. That these colored conferences be administered by colored officers and committees.

“3. That in the organization of these conferences the present conference boundaries within each union need not be recognized.

“4. That colored conferences sustain the same relation to their respective union conferences as do the white conferences” (Actions of the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee, Apr. 10–16, 1944, pp. 15, 16).

The first to act was the Lake Union Conference, which called a meeting of the African-American constituency in September to organize the Lake Region Conference (begun Jan. 1, 1945). Others followed, until in 1946 there were five such conferences. Two missions (Central States and Southwestern), which soon became conferences also, each with a full staff of officers and departmental secretaries, started in 1947.

In 1951 the North American Colored Department was enlarged by the addition of an associate secretary, Calvin E. Moseley, Jr., who succeeded G. E. Peters in 1953, both as secretary of the department and as a field secretary of the General Conference.

In 1954 Frank L. Peterson became secretary of the department and also associate secretary of the General Conference. Moseley was named associate secretary. The same year the name was changed from Colored Department to Regional Department as a further attempt to soften terms that seemed primarily to designate members on the basis of color.

In 1962 Frank L. Peterson was made a general vice president of the General Conference, and Harold D. Singleton, former president of the Northeastern Conference, became the Regional Department secretary, with Frank L. Bland, former president of the South Central Conference, as associate secretary.

In 1966, when Frank L. Bland succeeded the retiring Frank L. Peterson as vice president, Walter W. Fordham, president of the Central States Conference, was elected associate secretary of the Regional Department.

Recent Events. In many places in which the social pressures have lessened, previously all-White congregations have opened their membership in recent years. In the 1961 Autumn Council, the General Conference Committee voted a statement on human relations, quoting three of the extracts previously cited in this entry (7T 225; 9T 223, 209); and in the Spring Meeting of 1965 voted recommendations as follows: “We recommend, That the following principles and practices be adopted and carried out in our churches and institutions:

“1. Membership and office in all churches and on all levels must be available to anyone who qualifies, without regard to race.

“2. In our educational institutions there should be no racial bias in the employment of teachers or other personnel, nor in the admission of students.

“3. Hospitals and rest homes should make no racial distinction in admitting patients or in making their facilities available to physicians, interns, residents, nurses, and administrators who meet the professional standards of the institution.

“It is further recommended that these recommendations be given very serious consideration and that every effort be put forth to implement them as rapidly as is consistently possible” (Actions of the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee, Apr. 13, 14, 1965, in Review and Herald 142:8, Apr. 29, 1965).

In 1970 the General Conference Committee, at its spring session, in response to the desire among Black Seventh-day Adventists for a fuller involvement in leadership, passed what is generally referred to as the “16 points.” Among these is an action stating:

“8. On the union conference level positive steps should be taken to open doors in the area of administrative and departmental leadership for those who have demonstrated their ability and qualifications to serve all segments of the church. In unions where there are Regional conferences or where there is an organized Regional department, the administrative officer level should include black leadership.”

As a result, the seven unions with large Black memberships have elected officers and departmental secretaries from among their Black constituencies.

Another of the “16 points” provided for a Regional Presidents’ Council, which meets twice a year under North American leadership and deals with problems distinctive to the regional work.

In 1975 the General Conference staff in Washington, D.C., included 17 persons elected to their positions from the Black constituency of North America, including two vice presidents and an associate secretary. There were also two persons in appointed positions.

Departmental Secretaries: J. W. Christian, 1909–1910; A. J. Haysmer, 1910–1914; C. B Stephenson, 1914–1918; W. H. Green, 1918–1928; G. E. Peters, 1929–1930; F. L. Peterson, 1930–1941; G. E. Peters, 1941–1953; C. E. Moseley, Jr., 1953–1954; F. L. Peterson, 1954–1962; H. D. Singleton, 1962–1975.

Director of the Office of Regional Affairs: W. W. Fordham, 1975–1978.

Director of the Office of Ethnic Relations: W. S. Banfield, 1978–1979.

Director of the Office of Human Relations: W. S. Banfield, 1979–1989; Rosa T. Banks, 1989– .