On March 25, 2015, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists affirmed the need for regional conferences in an official statement:
The North American Division has been given a mandate by both God and its constituency to serve one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. Since a request has been formally made to clarify the history and present role of its Regional Conferences, which have been a valued and integral part of our North American Division governance structure since 1944,
We resolve that:
Whereas the North American Division is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the World…
Whereas the North American Division is presently ministering in a racially-charged society…
Whereas, the effectiveness, challenges, and history of our Regional Conferences need to be better understood...
Whereas, there is a growing number of requests for the NAD leadership to clarify the history, mission effectiveness, and cultural relevance of Regional Conferences...
We vote, to affirm that the historical establishment and current role and function of Regional Conferences are structurally essential, mission effective, and relevant in reaching the diverse populations and urban centers within our division.
The Administration of the North American Division and the Administrations of our Regional Conferences are deeply committed to continuing our mission focus and evangelistic unity as we seek to fulfill God's commission within our territory.
Throughout our division we will continue to seek ways and means to further racial cooperation, understanding, and growth.
The statement comes in response to several recent requests and critiques of the current conference structure.
During a forum on state and regional conferences held at Andrews University on March 7, 2015, students unveiled the language of an official request to the NAD calling for a restructuring of conferences and/or an explanation of the reasons behind the current organizational structure.
Earlier in the year, on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Dwight K. Nelson, the senior pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church preached a sermon calling for racial unity within the church, and a subsequent petition on change.org asked Adventists to add their names to a list of believers who feel “it is high time we all come together ‘on the basis of love’ (Philemon 9) and model to society unity that only Christ can bring.”
Reactions to these requests were mixed. Just over 1,500 individuals have signed their name to the petition, with a majority of those signers observed to be Caucasian. Those who favored maintaining the current structure were quick to point to a perceived lack of “understanding of why and how regional conferences came into existence” and reminded fellow Adventists that “black conferences do not stand for segregation. Rather, they represent a revolution against segregation.”
On Saturday, February 28, the Allegheny East Conference held a town hall meeting on Regional Conferences entitled "Are We Still Relevant?" hosted by Pastor Frank E. Legette III. During the event, Legette and leaders of the Allegheny East Conference made a strong case for the continued relevance of and need for Regional Conferences, particularly in service of metropolitan areas.
The NAD’s statement reaffirms the importance of regional conferences to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.
Jared Wright contributed to this article.