I was working at Agona-Ashanti Secondary School in Ghana when it happened. While I was speaking with Dr. Joseph Addai, the school chaplain, his son suddenly burst into tears.
“Why is he crying?” I asked. The father conversed with his son, then turned to me, laughing.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He said, ‘I fear him, the white one.’ ”
Somehow, the sound of my British accent emerging from the mouth of an African Caribbean was too much for him to bear. I wondered to myself, Little man, what do you see? I am not a white one.
I realized that, as convicted as I may be about something, it’s possible for someone else to see it differently. Then what will be my response? My choice is either insistence or deference. The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve learned that not everything in church is worth insisting on.
One hundred years ago, the 1919 Bible Conference confronted our pioneers with the question, How will we regard the counsels God sends to us through His prophets? Opinions differed greatly.1 Today, church leaders still have to grapple with how to lead persons under their charge holding convictions different from theirs.
One day Jesus touched the eyes of a blind man and asked him what he saw. The man replied, “I see men as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24, KJV). Just because Jesus is present does not mean everything will be crystal clear. Paul says this enterprise we call church is a great mystery. He supports his assertion by pointing to marriage. Marriage certainly is a mystery.2 In fact, when a couple stands before us as pastors to get married, it is not two persons that we see, it is six. There is the man that he thinks he is, the man that she thinks he is, and the man that he really is. And there is the woman that she thinks she is, the woman that he thinks she is, and the woman that she really is. The task of marriage is to try to figure out who in the world have I married.
Marriage is a mystery, but it is also a marvel. We maintain that “God has designed marriage in a particular fashion. It is impossible for one partner to suffer and the other to prosper. God has arranged marriage in a unique way. It is impossible for one partner to be down and the other up. . . . It is now impossible for your spouse to be sad and you to be happy. Therefore, don’t try to defeat your spouse, because if she is defeated, you are defeated. It is to your advantage to have win-win situations wherever there is conflict.”3 So in the church, leadership can never be about winning—unless we are winning together.
We have all made mistakes, but with 2019 behind us and 2020 before us, we can declare, “The old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, RSV). I chose to listen to Dr. Addai’s son’s perspective over insisting on my conviction. I came to a startling conclusion: from his cultural standpoint, I am a white one.4
As we begin a new decade, how will you handle different perspectives? In other words, Pastor—what do you see?
- See Michael W. Campbell, 1919: The Untold Story of Adventism’s Struggle With Fundamentalism (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2019).
- Eph. 5:32; see also 1 Cor. 13:12, 1 John 3:2, and Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 2005).
- Jeffrey Brown and Pattiejean Brown, The Total Marriage: A Guide to Successful Marriage (Grantham, UK: Autumn House, 2016), 75–78.
- “Oburoni (or Obroni) is the Akan (or, more specifically, the Twi language) word for foreigner, literally meaning ‘those who come from over the horizon.’ It is often colloquially translated into ‘white person,’ ” Wikipedia, s.v. “Oburoni,” last modified April 28, 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oburoni.