Justice to the Stranger
The Old Testament, in particular, is filled with admonitions against oppressing and committing injustice against strangers—those who today we would call immigrants. The law of Moses was exceedingly clear on this point, in such passages as the following:
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 22:21).
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him, but the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:33-34).
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:19).
In other words, Israel was commanded to dispense justice to strangers because of Israel’s own experience in Egypt as strangers who suffered injustice and oppression through slavery. The parallel with the United States of America is easy to draw.
The assimilation of non-English-speaking nationalities into American culture has never been easy—ask the millions of Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, Jews, Irish, Swedes, Poles, and so many others who braved ethnic prejudice and discrimination when seeking a home in the United States. The hatred and bigotry now being flung at Hispanics and Muslims is a toxic, perverse, yet age-old American tradition. But in time, the hated groups have constrained their co-citizens to acknowledge the beauty and value of their contribution to American life, and to form their varied parts of the multi-ethnic mosaic that American civilization has become.
Moreover, it must ever be kept in mind that many ancestors of current American citizens, Caucasian or otherwise, didn’t come to these shores through means generally recognized as legal. In case some have forgotten, the Pilgrims had no passports. And if you have any doubts that they came here illegally, ask the natives!
Just as God admonished the Israelites to be just and merciful to the strangers who sojourned among them because Israel too had once been strangers suffering oppression in Egypt, so Americans can rightly be admonished to do justly to those coming from other lands who—like all except the natives who were here when the Europeans arrived—qualify as strangers seeking to sojourn among us.
Moses commanded that those sitting as judges among God’s people were to demonstrate justice toward both their brethren and the strangers who lived among them:
And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him (Deut. 1:16).
One can’t help recounting the following lament of the psalmist when pondering the venomous, hate-inspiring words from the summit of power in America just now—not to mention the recent heartbreaking spectacle of the Salvadoran father and his little girl, drowned and left to die seeking the promise of America:
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show Thyself. Lift up Thyself, Thou Judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud. Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thine heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless (Psalm 94:1-6).
Do not the following indictments from the ancient prophets apply with equal force today as of yore, especially when those crossing our borders seeking a better life see their families torn apart, constrained to sleep in filth, locked in cages, and forced to drink from toilets?
The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy; yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully (Eze. 22:29).
And I will come near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not Me, saith the Lord of hosts (Mal. 3:5).
In His parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus identifies with the stranger, declaring to His faithful in the day of judgment, “I was a stranger, and ye took Me in” (Matt. 25:35), and to the unfaithful, “I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in” (verse 43). In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul applies the metaphor of “strangers and pilgrims”—those seeking a better country—to the heroes of faith across the centuries:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city (Heb. 11:13-16).
Race Relations in the Adventist Experience
It is quite beyond the scope of this article to review at length the story of Adventist race relations, except to say that candor regarding our misdeeds and shortcomings is imperative if we are to right the wrongs of both past and present. Empathy, sensitive dialogue, and a healthy dose of listening will be necessary as we seek full reconciliation regarding this issue.
Ellen White’s testimony on the racial issue is as unambiguous as the testimony of Scripture. What is important for us to recognize in reading the statements of Ellen White and the Adventist pioneers regarding slavery, abolition, and race relations, is that the position taken by early Adventists on these issues was considered in its time to be radical extremism. How easy it is for so many of us, from our present harbor in history, to think of opposition to slavery and the open mistreatment of persons because of their race as a morally obvious principle of human decency. But it was not always so. And as recent events have tragically and painfully demonstrated, for many even today it is not so.
Consider the following words of Ellen White regarding the infamous Fugitive Slave Act, which required American citizens in all states and territories to return an escaping slave to his owner:
The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God’s workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own.
Here’s another one:
Many Sabbath-keepers are not right before God in their political views. . . . These brethren cannot receive the approval of God while they lack sympathy for the oppressed colored race, and are at variance with the pure, republican principles of our Government.
It is thus not true to the facts to claim that Ellen White instructed our people, without qualification, to “stay out of politics,” or that none of our political beliefs make any difference to matters of spiritual faithfulness. In another statement Ellen White is clear which political issues we should avoid being public about in the church so far as our personal convictions are concerned:
Whatever the opinions you may entertain in regard to casting your vote in political questions, you are not to proclaim it by pen or voice. Our people need to be silent upon questions which have no relation to the third angel’s message.
Notice she is speaking here about “questions which have no relation to the third angel’s message.” Obviously, when one consults the totality of Ellen White’s counsel, this did not include such issues as slavery or the prohibition of alcohol.
Some have recently drawn attention to Ellen White’s statements which speak of the saved in heaven being “as white as Christ Himself.” A recent article has rightly noted that when taken in context and alongside similar statements by Ellen White, the “whiteness” here described refers to the character perfection the saints will possess in heaven rather than the color of their skin. From my perspective, what God does with our physical persons when we get to heaven is entirely up to Him. One thinks of the complaints heard at times regarding Jesus’ statement about the abolition of marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:30). My response has always been that the God who created the wonders, beauty, and joy of our sexuality is fully capable of replacing it with something better. I just want to get to heaven and find out what it is!
The same holds true for our physical appearance in the courts of glory. What matters most is that racial distinctions will make no difference in God’s eternal kingdom and that whatever happens to our physical features when we get to heaven, the inspired pen is clear that “friend will recognize friend.”
To be fair to ourselves as Adventists regarding this issue, it should be acknowledged that whatever faults still need correcting in our denominational circles on the issue of race, one is heartened by such reports from the outside as the following from the Christian Post Recorder, regarding a survey conducted several years ago:
On a scale of 1 to 10, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in America is at a 9.1 when it comes to racial diversity and that number makes it the most diverse religious group in the United States, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
In the new analysis looking at 29 religious groups including mainline Protestant denominations and others, the Pew Research Center measured the distribution of Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, blacks, Asians as well as mixed-race Americans and concluded that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the most diverse of all….
The church is so diverse, it had a higher diversity index than the U.S. itself.
Some years ago, a biography of Malcolm X, written by one Jack Rummel, whom I’m sure is not an Adventist, described the Seventh-day Adventist Church (in which Malcolm was raised during his early years), as “one of the few mainly white religious groups that ignored America’s color line.”
Listen to the following statement from the late civil rights icon Dorothy Height, in her autobiography Open Wide the Freedom Gates. Here she recounts a civil rights meeting that she and her fellow activists organized in Tennessee during the 1940s:
After a while, Dr. Smith indicated that it was time to connect with Augusta Roberts, and the three of us proceeded to the Seventh Day Adventist college—one of the few local places that would allow an interracial meeting.
It helps to keep in mind that those were the days when holding an interracial gathering could result in the infliction of grisly violence on the part of those organizing or even attending such a meeting, along with deliberate indifference to such crimes on the part of local law enforcement. The fact that a local Adventist college was willing to host such a gathering during that time can only be described as an act of notable, even heroic courage.
While it is true that Seventh-day Adventists still have a distance to go in achieving the full racial togetherness God desires of us, these observations from the outside give us cause for encouragement.
Conclusion: The Imperative of Racial Reconciliation
It is imperative that persons of all races and ethnic traditions in the Seventh-day Adventist Church open their hearts and minds to one another, thus enabling the demolition of those lingering barriers which continue to keep us apart. Especially is such a course imperative among those of us who chance to be among history’s and society’s favored classes.
Because the message given to Seventh-day Adventists is uniquely dedicated to the full restoration of Bible truth and moral rectitude in the faith and lives of believers, our denomination holds an unparalleled potential to demonstrate before the world the racial oneness embodied in the Biblical message. The unity God seeks between every racial and ethnic heritage on earth is, as we have noted, depicted in the introduction to the three angels’ messages, in the summons of the everlasting gospel “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6). There cannot be the slightest hint of racial injustice, hostility, or tension in such a movement.
Finally, we must hold before our people, our society, Christendom, and the world the promise of the closing verse in the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14:
Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12).
Commandment-keeping and racism are mutually exclusive, regardless of the sincerity of those who hold, and have held, racist views in professedly Christian circles. Racism remains one of the ugliest, most degrading, most despicable sins yet devised by humanity. Yet the most glorious promise of Holy Scripture—the most precious assurance made possible by the gospel, the blood, and the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ—is the promise of total victory, in this present life, over all and every sin.
The Bible declares:
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Cor. 7:1).
Racial injustice is certainly part of the filthiness of the human spirit that God’s grace promises to purge out. Both Old and New Testaments promise the rise in the last days of a final, triumphant, victorious generation, arrayed in the spotless robe of our Savior’s practical, visible, sanctifying righteousness.
Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in His steps, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (I Peter 2:21-22).
The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue by found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid (Zeph. 3:13).
Wherefore, brethren, seeing that ye look for such things (Jesus’ return), be diligent that ye be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless (II Peter 3:14).
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (I John 3:2-3).
And returning to the words of Zephaniah, John the Revelator declares the following regarding God’s final generation of the faithful—the 144,000 who will be translated to heaven without seeing death:
And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of God (Rev. 14:5).
Every race, every ethnicity, every national heritage on earth will be represented in that group of triumphant saints (Rev. 14:6). And as the modern prophet declares:
If you are to be saints in heaven, you must first be saints upon the earth.
 Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 202.
 Ibid, p. 533-534.
 Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 336.
 Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 202, 253-260, 264-268, 355-368, 533-534.
 Ministry of Healing, pp. 337-346; Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 337.
 David Hamstra, “Will We All Be White in Heaven? Dissecting a Strange Statement from Ellen White,” Aug. 22, 2019.
 Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1093; see also The Desire of Ages, p. 804; Heaven, p. 40.
 Leonardo Blair, “The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the Most Diverse Church Group in America, Says Study,” Christian Post Recorder, Aug. 4, 2015.
 Jack Rummel, Malcolm X (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989), p. 25.
 Dorothy Height, Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir (New York: PublicAffairs, 2003), p. 106.
 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 145.