Get off the bank

Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, is the associate editor of Ministry and an associate ministerial secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

We used to play a game at church socials called “In the River, on the Bank.” One side of a dividing line was the “river” and the other side was the “bank.” When the leader shouted, “In the river,” we would jump forward into the river. When the leader shouted, “On the bank,” we would jump backward to the bank.

What disturbed your flow was when the leader shouted, “On the bank,” then, “On the bank.” If you jumped when you should stay—or stayed when you should jump—you were disqualified. The key was to listen to the voice of the leader and be in the right spot at the right time.

Learning on the bank

Much has happened while we were on the bank. Millions have been affected by the deaths from an unknown disease, and millions have been impacted by the deaths of unarmed African Americans. Our leaders, civic and religious, have alternated between staying on the bank for personal health and jumping into the river for community healing. Should we be in the river or on the bank?

Sometimes it’s difficult to discern the voice of the Leader. The disciples stayed on the bank, obeying the voice of the Leader (Acts 1:4). David stayed on the bank, disobeying the voice of the Leader (2 Sam. 11:1). Neither the river nor the bank is intrinsically bad. The key is to do the right thing at the right time.

On the bank, there will be condemnation. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency stated, “George Floyd did not deserve to die. Ahmaud Arbery did not deserve to die. Breonna Taylor did not deserve to die. . . . The United States was founded on Christian beliefs but built on the backs of slaves. That paradox disgraces us to this day and shames all who do not speak out on behalf of equality and justice.”1

On the bank, there will be confrontation. The National Council on Family Relations acknowledge, “Now is a time to listen—to actively listen—and reflect. We must listen and learn from our Black, Brown, and other racial minoritized colleagues, students, and families we serve. And with listening and learning, we must strive to more deeply understand the complex issues of racism and inequality that systematically prevent racial minoritized families from enjoying the same freedoms and opportunities as other families.”2

Leaving for the river

When the Spirit comes—when learning has taken root—it’s time to get off the bank. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, NKJV).

In the river, there will be compensation. Ellen White stated, “The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement.”3

AdventHealth declared, “We must be humble enough to learn how to best equip our organization, and change our behavior, in order to meet needs. This morning, we started . . . listening to some of our organization’s African American leaders. . . . It is no longer good enough to personally acknowledge that we are not racist. We must become anti-racist advocates. Let us loose the chains of injustice, together.”4 They acknowleged it was a beginning.

Paul testified, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27, NKJV). You can be disqualified by oppressive conduct in the river. You can also be disqualified by inactive conduct on the bank.

  1. “Denouncing Racial Inequality in the United States,” ADRA,accessed June 16, 2020, https://adra.org/denouncingracialinequality.
  2. “A Response to the Death of George Floyd and a Call to Action From the NCFR Board of Directors,” NCFR, June 4, 2020, https://www.ncfr.org/news/response-death-george-floyd-and-call-action-ncfr-board-directors/response-death-george-floyd-and-call-action-ncfr-board-directors.
  3. Ellen G. White, "Am I My Brother's Keeper?" Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, January 21, 1896.
  4. Terry Shaw, “Silence is NOT an Option,” Adventist Review, June 8, 2020, https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story14999-silence -is-not-an-option.

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