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The Man Who Was Almost the Barack Obama of Adventism

On his site, BlackSDAHistory, Benjamin Baker reminds us that race-relations within Adventism have been stormy, and that this has often been reflected in the fights over who holds power in the denomination. Beyond the lingering regional conference structure, African-Americans have held key boards positions and even run non-regional conference, and been General Conference vice presidents.

But Baker writes: “There has not yet been a black General Conference president though, despite the diversification of the worldwide Adventist church and the overwhelming influx of Adventist converts in Africa.”

By the Indianapolis session in 1990, the incumbent General Conference president Neal Wilson had held the chief post for twelve years yet chose to submit his name for nomination once again. Highly respected by the constituents, the church made significant progress under Wilson’s leadership. He was especially supported by delegates outside of the North American Division—particularly Europe and Africa. After the General Conference nominating committee took several ballots, two names emerged as frontrunners: Neal C. Wilson and George W. Brown.

He continues the story.

George Brown was born on January 11, 1924 in the Dominican Republic to an Antiguan father and Dominican mother, and spent his early years between the two islands. His native language was Spanish and he was a third generation Adventist. Earning his bachelors degree in Theology from Caribbean Union College in 1948, he served as a pastor and evangelist for a decade. In 1952 Brown married Carla Charmes of Suriname and the couple had four daughters. Brown earned a masters in Systematic Theology and doctorate of Divinity from Andrews University and was the president of the University of the Southern Caribbean.

Assuming the presidency of the Inter-American Division in 1980, for a decade the multilingual Brown provided extraordinary leadership, at once conservative and progressive. The Division experienced unprecedented growth during this decade and adapted with innovative structuring and programs. Brown was known for his adroitness at reconciliation and unification and for spiritual leadership. His tenure as president was undoubtedly formative for the modern Inter-American Division.

The delegates at the Indianapolis General Conference Session had a decision to make between five more years of the esteemed Neal Wilson or a new leader in George Brown. Many saw Brown as reflecting the diversity of the new church and the ability to unify the different segments divided over the issues at hand. The delegation voted decisively for Brown, 130 to 81 for Wilson. The church had made a statement: It wanted change.

Read what happened next.

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