During a ceremony celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Lake Region Conference (one of five conferences that make up the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota), Lake Union president Don Livesay shared a statement of apology for racism that led to the creation of Lake Region Conference in the 1940's.
Reading prepared remarks, Livesay, who was flanked by executive secretary Gary Thurber, treasurer Glynn Scott, and general vice-president Carmelo Mercado, recounted three reasons the Seventh-day Adventist Church changed its approach to ministering in the Black community in the mid-1940's, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Lake Region Conference within the Lake Union. The first was mission—including the belief that Black individuals could work more effectively in the Black community than could white individuals. The second reason, Livesay said, was the idea that the Lake Region Conference would advance leadership opportunities for Blacks within the Adventist Church. However, Livesay acknowledged that racism was a third, significant reason that the Lake Region Conference was created:
A simple, honest look at the segregated Church of the past, the segregated General Conference cafeteria, the Negro Department of the General Conference that was first directed by White men, the segregated hospitals that we know led to the death of Lucy Byard, the dismissive attitudes and actions… These and more issues were also major contributors to the establishment of the Regional work. That look, that review and recalling of history, takes a simple heartbeat in time for us to recognize the Church failed the Black community, specifically the many loyal pastors, teachers and members who stayed true to the message and mission of this Church in spite of its deep and many failures.
Livesay said that it might be easy to dismiss the racism of that era as simply a reflection of the broader culture in the United States at the time, but he hastened to add that God has always held the Church to a higher standard.
One could say that the White Church—the White members and leadership—merely reflected what was going on all around us. But God has not called His Church to reflect the evil of the world; God has called the Church to reflect His character, to treat each other in love—with the Golden Rule, in respectful ways, and to honor each other and all of God’s children.
Livesay acknowledged that racism in America is not only a problem that plagued the nation in the past:
It is clear—even that significant event (the election of President Barack Obama) did not mean we had arrived. Awareness of our lack of racial equality and social justice has been heightened as Black lives have been needlessly and carelessly taken in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and other locations, both recently and through the years. And now, Charleston."
On behalf of the leadership of the Lake Union, Elder Livesay offered a formal apology for the racism that influenced the shape of Adventist work within the territory.
I come to you, along with my fellow officers of the Lake Union, with a heart that compels us not only to bring our joy in the successes of Lake Region but, also, to bring a personal and official apology to our brothers and sisters of the Lake Region Conference on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Lake Union.
We apologize with sorrow for the failures of the Church in regard to race, for individuals disrespected, for the lack of time taken to understand, for those mistreated, the leadership marginalized, for students in our college only able to sit with fellow Black students in the cafeteria, for Lucy Byard, for the slowness, reluctance and stubbornness to do the right thing. We are sorry that we as a Church did not rise up above the sins of the society that day. And we are sorry for the lack of progress our Church has made in the 70 years since the establishment of the Regional work.
Our apology is from our hearts, but we recognize it is not enough. We also are committed to seek a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each other, more sensitive approaches, more inclusiveness and stronger partnerships that will make us more united as God’s people and for His cause that we may come closer together, march together arm and arm now, and then into the Holy City, to spend eternity with our God and each other."
Livesay's remarks were met with applause, many appreciative remarks, and some tears.
R. Clifford Jones, president of Lake Region Conference, responded on behalf of the conference to Livesay's remarks.
On this historic occasion — in the wake of what took place this week in South Carolina, the fact that we were all shocked, shaken and shattered by the senseless killings of innocent brothers and sisters who were simply aspiring to dig deeper into the Word of God only to have their lives snuffed out, we want to thank our Union president for his courage, for looking at the history of our people in this Church, God’s Remnant Church, and for offering this heartfelt and meaningful apology. Mr. President, on behalf of the officers, the departmental directors, pastors, Bible instructors, principals, teachers, all of our committee members from the Executive Committee on down, and on behalf of the constituency of the Lake Region Conference, I’d like to say, 'We accept your apology.' And as you’ve stated, an apology is good, but let’s work aggressively and vigorously and intentionally now to eliminate this scourge of racism that is so prevalent and pervasive in our land, yea, even in our Church. Let’s work together!”
Among those in attendance was Charles E. Bradford, the fourth president of the Lake Region Conference and the first Black president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Elder Bradford, who is now retired, offered a prayer along with Elder Livesay.
WATCH: "LUC Apology"
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.