Public Affairs and Religious Liberty: An Enduring Legacy (Pt.2)

Edward Woods III
This is part two of a previous post by Edward Woods III. If you haven’t read part one go back and do that now, then come back here and read this concluding piece. Also, be sure to read all the installments in the Marching On series. 

Through the understanding of biblically based passages and quotes from Ellen G. White, we glean the impetus for the black Adventist PARL pioneers in implementing the PARL ministry through their local churches and communities.

Black Adventist PARL Pioneers

London (2009) referenced the unity of black Adventists with the sociopolitical causes of African-Americans as community awareness. In looking at our earlier definition of public affairs, we view the similarities. In order for the public affairs aspect of the PARL ministry to be effective, it requires the church to assess and evaluate the sociopolitical concerns plaguing the community and consider how it can help. For example, if the community had literacy challenges, the church would start or engage a partner to start a reading program.

In identifying black Adventist pioneers, London (2009) shared the stories of the following:

  • In the early 1900’s, Pastor Matthew C. Strachan led efforts to educate black residents in Jackson, Mississippi by raising funds for a building that functioned as a church and a school. He also addressed the need for long-standing economic security and employment, and later served as the president of the Tampa NAACP.
  • Pastor James Humphrey created the Utopia Health Benevolent Association to foster a nonsectarian health, retirement and recreational facility controlled and owned by Blacks for their exclusive use. As a benefit, this association would create jobs for Blacks during the Great Depression Era.
  • Before Rosa Parks, Irene Morgan refused to give up her seat on the bus, which led to the Supreme Court banning segregation on interstate travel in Morgan v. Virginia.
  • Alfonzo Green led efforts for Blacks to vote in Montgomery County, North Carolina, and participated in Huntsville’s Selma Sympathy March in response to the Bloody Sunday March that occurred a week later.
  • Terrance Roberts was a part of the “Little Rock Nine” that integrated public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • Frank Hale played a role in integrating public facilities in Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Pastor Charles Dudley integrated Seventh-day Adventist institutions and led a delegation that participated in the Poor People’s Campaign.
  • Pastor Charles Joseph strived for desegregation and voting rights in Mississippi as a member of the National Urban League, the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality.
  • Pastor Earl Moore engaged in sit-ins for desegregation in Nashville.

Despite the participation of these black Adventist PARL pioneers and more, the church as an institution missed an opportunity to deploy the PARL ministry during the civil rights movement.

Civil Rights Movement

In providing an explanation for the church as an institution remaining silent during the Civil Rights movement, London (2009) gives the following reasons.

  1. Evangelism—the primary goal of the church was to disseminate the gospel for the salvation of souls. This implied that the church did not view the public affairs component of the PARL ministry as evangelism
  2. Individualism—this champions the primacy of the individual over collectively society. As a reference to “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps,” this ignored the role that God plays in our lives.
  3. Pragmatism and Church Interest—The process of decision-making in which one seeks to advance his or her own cause. This seemed contrary to being our “brother’s keeper” and our command to advocate as referenced in Proverbs 31:8-9.
  4. Conservatism—an ideological point of view that promotes maintaining the status quo. This calls into question whether or not the church represents a spurious religion.
  5. Christian Fundamentalism—faith is in the infallibility of the Bible and its relevancy in modern society. This challenges whether or not Christians actuate the love of Christ.

Even though the church as an institution was reluctant to participate in the Civil Rights movement, it still references the Civil Rights Act in its quest to obtain Sabbath accommodation for its members, regardless of race. As you ponder the irony of the previous statement, let’s consider who the oppressed are today and how we can revitalize and apply the PARL ministry to reflect Christ.

Today’s Oppressed

In considering who represents the socially oppressed in today’s society, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (2013) delineated the following groups:

  • Racism—advantages of being defined as white and the corollary disadvantages of not being defined as white.
  • Classism—disadvantages based upon social and economic class.
  • Religious Oppression—focuses on the application of Christian hegemony and Christian privilege in comparison with the non-Christian.
  • Sexism—targets how gender roles, gender socialization and gender identity oppresses women and girls.
  • Heterosexism—enables a comprehensive system of advantages conferred on heterosexuals based on the institutionalization of heterosexual norms, standards or ideology.
  • Transgender Oppression—refers to a system of oppression that attacks and defames people who are transgender in the broadest sense.
  • Ableism—discrimination and exclusion of people living with disabilities.
  • Ageism—biases on the elderly by youth and adults.
  • Adultism—biases on young people placed by adults and the elderly.

As you have already gathered, this list represents the now commonly, and maybe not so commonly, accepted “isms” of the 21st century. In being oppressed, they could benefit from seeing in action the biblically based PARL ministry.


In order for the church to maximize the PARL ministry, it needs to take into consideration the lessons learned from black Adventist pioneers to revitalize the PARL ministry and make it relevant for the 21st Century. Below are some recommendations.

  1. The PARL ministry has to move beyond a service for Adventists to a ministry beyond the walls of the church for the community to ensure evangelism. It cannot afford to be tardy or delinquent when it comes to social justice issues. Baker (1990) cited how Southern College admitted its first black student five years after the last state university, Alabama, had integrated its campus. In 2015, the Adventist education system still struggles with finding solution for kids with special needs to attend their elementary and secondary schools
  2. Pastors need to join and engage their local ministerial alliance and community service organizations as stated in the Seventh-day Adventist Minister’s Handbook to addresses both the public affairs and religious liberty aspect of the PARL ministry. How is the conference administration holding their pastors accountable in joining their local ministerial alliance and community service organizations?
  3. Each church needs to identify the concerns and/or the oppressed in their community and decipher how their PARL ministry can become a part of the solution. This requires building relationships beyond the contact being made, if at all, during the evangelistic season.

In considering the biblically based PARL and prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, it could be argued that the PARL is the ministry that will hasten the Second Coming of Christ. Because of its unique aspect of being compassionate, seeking justice and advocating liberty of conscience, it enables a daily evangelistic tool, Christian behavior, where Christians can lead souls to Christ through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. If it can work for the black Adventist PARL pioneers during the Civil Rights era fifty years ago, it can work for us in dealing with the oppressed of the 21st century.


Edward Woods III
Edward Woods III

Woods III

Edward Woods III is the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He can be reached at ewoods@lakeregionsda.org, or you can follow him on Twitter @EWIII.

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