Policies alone are not enough

J.R. Spangler interviews Warren Banfield and Elias Gomez, directors of the General Conference Office of Human Relations. One conclusion: love, not policies, is what it is all about.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

Spangler: I'm talking to two good friends, Warren S. Banfield, who is director of the Office of Human Relations of the General Conference, and his associate, Elias G. Gomez. Pastor Banfield has served as a pastor, a conference president, and as an associate secretary in the Southern Union Conference. Pas tor Gomez has been a pastor-evangelist, chairman of the theology department at Northeast Brazil College, and most recently has served as director of the office of Spanish affairs in the Central California Conference.

Now, Warren, tell us something about the Office of Human Relations. It's a newcomer to the General Conference, isn't it?

Banfield: Yes. The office was organized by the Annual Council action of 1978. It is not a department in the traditional sense, because it has to operate across departmental lines and also deal in areas of administration, so it is actually a service organization for all entities of the church.

Spangler: Aren't you also, in addition to being director of the Office of Human Relations, a secretary of the General Conference?

Banfield: Yes, and that gives the office some administrative authority, as an extension of the North American Division.

Spangler: But what you are doing—your goals and objectives—probably would apply to the entire world field, wouldn't it?

Banfield: In principle, but our particular area of service is limited to North America.

Gomez: It isn't that North America is the only place that needs our attention, but we had to start somewhere.

Spangler: What are the objectives of the Office of Human Relations?  

Banfield: Well, one of our objectives is to help the church determine the best ways to meet the spiritual, economic, social, and organizational needs of the rapidly growing ethnic and cultural groups in our church. Also we want to help determine what improvements are needed in our changing society to provide opportunities for women to serve in the church.

Spangler: So the problems you deal with cross more than national or racial lines. Your office is to help any person or group who has particular needs in human relations, is that right?

Banfield: Minorities include more than racial and cultural groups. Women may not be a minority, but they are a segment of the church that has concerns that the church needs to be more aware of and to relate to. Handicapped people may be considered a minority. They're not a cultural or racial minority, but they are a minority that needs attention. I believe that the church has a responsibility in utilizing the talents and skills of the functionally handicapped members of our family.

Gomez: Coming back to the objectives of the office, I have come up with one that I think encompasses all of them. We are hoping to create such a sensitivity to the needs of others that we can relate to one another as Christ would. From our point of view this is the objective of all that we do.

Spangler: Now, Elias, since you have made that statement, may I ask you a loaded question? Aren't we all Christians? Don't we all love one another? And isn't it the duty of every minister and member in this church to love his brother? Surely this is so. Then why should we go to the trouble and the expense of organizing a separate office for human relations? After all, isn't that re ally what the whole business of Christianity is all about to effect a reconciliation between God and man and between man and his fellow man? Do we need a special office to accomplish something so basic?

Gomez: It's true that the purpose of Christianity is just as you have said. However, theory and practice have not gone hand in hand, as you know. The greatest wars and the bloodiest battles have been fought by Christians. Christians have not always loved everyone, even other Christians, as their brother. And this feeling is not unknown even in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, unfortunately. We may say that we love one another, but when it comes right down to practicing that love, we some times fail. This is a sin problem, and because of this problem we're not able to relate to one another as Christ would have us. We need Him to create in us this sensitivity so that we can see one another as He would. This is what we are trying to do.

Banfield: There is another factor here that I think is important for us to realize. Many of the conflicts that exist between cultural and minority groups often do not arise because of some overt, sinful attitude. Many times it's just a lack of understanding. People with different back grounds, different cultures, different styles of living, don't usually communicate with one another. The result is often conflict. You can have an honest heart and a loving spirit, but if you don't understand these cultural differences, you can unintentionally rub people the wrong way. Our concern is to deal with situations of that nature so that honest-hearted people will not have such a difficult time expressing their love because they misunderstand the needs of others. I really don't think most of our problems are a result of real, hard-core racism or bias. It's a lack of understanding of people.

Spangler: Now, tell me what methods or ideas you gentlemen have to help effect this understanding, this unity, this brotherhood, among us.

Gomez: One of the tools that we hope to use is a workshop in which we call in administrators, workers, and other interested people and give them some guidelines from the social sciences and from the Spirit of Prophecy on how small groups can discuss issues without getting upset at one another, thereby creating group cohesion.

Sometimes when we lecture, sub groups already exist in the main group. We have blacks together; Hispanics in a cluster; and groups of whites. What we would like to do is divide the larger group into groups of six or eight persons who are of differing backgrounds and races and who don't know one another very well, and have them become acquainted. They could work on some of the issues that we face as a church or that they're facing, and then create an understanding of how each one would attack the same problem. In a workshop we would be able to do this. We feel that a spirit of unity would be created where individuals could understand how people with different backgrounds could work together and solve the problems that we all face in the church.

There are many people who really don't know what the theological and religious teachings of this church are when it comes to their responsibility for Christian brotherhood and fellowship. The brotherhood of man is a fundamental doctrine of all Christian bodies, but somehow, in the minds of some, other doctrines take precedence, and it gets lost in the maze. So there are people who are unaware, and it's our job to disseminate this kind of information.

Also, we get many calls from administrators for a person from some minority group to fill a position of leadership, a person who is oftentimes hard to find. One of our responsibilities is to develop a job-skills bank that we can draw from.

Spangler: Let me pose another question, one dealing with the minorities in our country. Warren, how many black church members do we have in the North American Division?  

Banfield: The latest figures indicate that there are approximately 122,000 to 125,000 black church members in North America. That is about one fifth of our church membership.

Spangler: Elias, what are the numbers ! for the Spanish membership in North America?

Gomez: I don't have the latest figures. In 1978 there were 23,000. I suppose there are about 25,000 by now.

Banfield: There is another significant factor, Bob, and that is the fact that most minorities are very aggressive when it comes to soul winning and evangelism. They have a burden in this area.

Spangler: Why do you think that is so?

Gomez: I believe that minorities feel a greater need for God; they often depend upon Him for needs that others are prone to take for granted. They see that God is working for them, and they work for God. Those people who don't feel such a great need of God—financially or otherwise—are not so prone to look to Him or to work actively for Him. The same factors make minority individuals outside the church more receptive to the gospel.

Spangler: Do you find that as an individual from a minority group achieves a more affluent status, he or she becomes less aggressive in soul winning and more indifferent to God? Also, is it harder to reach such an individual who is not a Christian?

Gomez: I think so. If you check the growth of the church among Hispanic people, you'll discover that membership in this country is growing most rapidly among people who are new arrivals to the United States. Third- and fourth- generation Hispanic Americans are as difficult to reach as whites.

Banfield: Evangelism and soul winning is probably the number one objective in all black conferences.

Spangler: Hope it doesn't change.

Banfield: One reason is that they don't have a lot of financial resources or other institutions to take their time and attention. Soul winning is the only thing they can really concentrate on.

Spangler: Other conferences should have these "problems"! Now, let's look at some practical points for our readers. What ideas can you men share that will help an individual who sincerely wants to be unbiased in his attitudes toward those of a different culture, race, or national background? What pitfalls should he avoid?  

Banfield: Bob, that's not an easy question to answer. It's hard to give advice in this area. Some people are so eager to befriend a minority group that they overplay it and turn folk off. Others are so fearful they'll do the wrong thing that they keep a distance that makes it hard to communicate. But if people can understand when they meet someone that he or she is really honest and sincere in wanting to understand, a lot of unintentional mistakes will be overlooked. There will be mistakes and misunderstandings. It's a process of trial and error. But if one has a desire, a willingness, to put forth the effort, he will soon grow to where he begins to get the feel of communicating with others. I don't think anybody can lay down principles in a one, two, three, four, five outline for good human relations. We should take advantage of opportunities of meeting together so that we can be in contact with one another.

Gomez: Communication—verbal communication, at least—is not everything. You may understand the word, but not know the hidden meaning. Association brings out real understanding. When you live with a person of a particular ethnic group, you learn to appreciate his back ground, and you gain insight in dealing with others who are different in some respects than you.

Banfield: There are one or two specific things I think we can do. We should avoid all racial jokes or slurs. We should also try to avoid stereotyping people and recognize that good and bad exist among all groups. Judge each person according to your individual knowledge of him. Don't condemn a whole group because of a few people in the group.

Spangler: Warren, you handed me a sheaf of actions on human relations that the church has taken.

Banfield: Actually, Bob, I don't think we need any more actions. If we just implement the ones that we've already voted, we'd be in good shape.

Gomez: I agree. I think, though, that the policies we have need to be distributed to our workers more generally. Many are not aware of the specific stands and positions our church has taken in this area. These need to get out to the church at the grass roots.

Banfield: It's one thing to have an action, but it's another thing to implement it. Some policies and actions require a change from the normal way of doing business. Whenever a change is introduced, some people become upset. Sometimes those who are responsible for implementing policies wish to rock the boat as little as possible, because they want to avoid change and the anxieties it produces both in themselves and others. So it's not enough just to have policies. We must have courageous leaders who are willing to stand by policies and to support those who are seeking to enforce them.

Furthermore, people—especially God's people—must be willing to be come obedient to the unenforceable obligations that are beyond the reach of the policies of the church or the laws of society. These inner attitudes and expressions and compassions cannot be regulated by policies or ratified by discipline. Such obligations are met by an inner law written in the heart. Human problems cannot be solved without the spirit of love and brotherhood. Love is still our most potent weapon for personal and social transformation.

Spangler: What you're saying, then, is that we all need a big dose of conversion on a daily basis.

Banfield: That's right. Policies alone will not do the job.

The complete fifty-minute interview of J. R. Spangler with W. S. Banfield and E. G. Gomez from which this article was prepared was included in the May, 1980, ASPIRE Tape of the Month. The single month's release, consisting of two C90 cassettes, is available for $5.00. Send check or money order to ASPIRE, 6840 Eastern Avenue NW., Washington, D.C. 20012.

 

 


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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

February 1981

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