The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States maintains a racially segregated organization in a society that has intentionally dismantled segregation in most of its organizations. The church needs to evaluate its current conference organization in light of this reality. The purpose of this study was to describe the perceptions of Seventh-day Adventist clergy and members in two conferences in the Southern Union concerning race-based organizational segregation in the church.
This study used a mixed method and was descriptive in design. Four focus groups were conducted to explore the dimensions of the research problem. This step was followed by the development of a quantitative survey, which was administered to clergy and members of a White (“state”) conference and the other a Black (“regional”) Conference of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
The study found that members of various ethnic backgrounds and ages in the church are open to the idea of changing the race-based organizational structure in the Adventist Church. Whether they are employed by the church or not, respondents are not comfortable with the current system. They strongly see God calling the church to integration, and they believe that the success of the church’s outreach to the culture demands such a change. They are concerned about how leadership positions would be equitably distributed in an integrated church, but those surveyed see the benefits outweighing these concerns. Respondents indicated minimal support for the idea that separate conferences are necessary for the effective prosecution of the church’s mission. They also seemed to feel that segregation does affect the church’s witness but are unsure of the level of strength of that influence. The respondents indicated that leadership issues rather than worship style may be the primary cause of Caucasians leaving churches where they have become the minority. Respondents perceived a real economic benefit in merging state and regional conferences, though they were uncertain about the impact a merger of conferences would have on job opportunities for clergy. There was no indication that respondents felt a need to hold strongly to the current system. Demographics had less of an impact on responses than was expected. In particular, age was expected to have far more influence than it did. It was expected that the responses of younger members would vary significantly from those of older members, but generally this was not the case. On the other hand, non-employees consistently responded more favorably toward integration than did conference employees. Ethnic groups, particularly African-Americans and Caucasians, were much more in harmony than was expected. Though there were small degrees of difference, there was no sharp disagreement as might be expected for such a sensitive subject.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/david-penno/5/