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Discussing Race from the Pulpit

Discussing Race from the Pulpit

By Naomi Boonstra

Discussing race can be sensitive, and often people in religious leadership don’t feel comfortable speaking about it from the pulpit. Dr. Pedrito Maynard-Reid and Pastor Andreas Beccai have different approaches to the discussion of race.  

Dr. Pedrito Maynard-Reid, theology professor and the director of campus diversity at WWU, compares diverse worship experiences to a fruit salad. “We don’t always want to be crushing up the mango and making a smoothie,” he says, “it’s the same thing when it comes to worship. It’s a cultural experience, so you can’t have a Black cultural experience in the University Church week after week. Most people would leave because that’s not their culture, right?” [1] 

Maynard-Reid has an outspoken style when it comes to defending people against injustice. He’s passionate about protecting those who are marginalized. “I teach Bible, and the Bible is so filled with, especially in the New Testament, with the racism against the Samaritans, racism against the Gentiles, racism against all these people. Jesus is always attacking the scary scribes and Pharisees, and how they treated these others.” [2] 

Caption: Maynard-Reid was raised in Jamaica, where racism was not nearly as rampant as in the United States. He’s used this privilege to defend those who have not been sheltered from the effects of racism and discrimination. 

When Maynard-Reid is told that he’s too political, he responds, “Yeah, I was born political because I was still speaking against any political powers and any religious powers and any academic powers that were against people that are made in the image of God.” [3] 

Except for the time of year that the University Church celebrates Black History Month, it’s typically not a Black church experience, as Maynard-Reid put it. Pastor Andreas Beccai, senior pastor of the University Church, takes a more subtle approach to discussing race. He says that his duty in serving the congregation includes being open to racial discussion, but it is not limited to that. [4] 

“My experience is an interesting one because I am not African American,” says Beccai, who was born in Ghana and then moved to England. His experience with non-Black people within the church was limited, as Seventh-day Adventist churches in England tend to be predominantly Black. [5] 

“We would ask what happened, and we’d be told stories from the ‘60s and ‘70s,” says Beccai. In 1948, the MV Empire Windrush ship docked in the U.K., bringing workers from Caribbean islands to help fill labor shortages. [6] Thus the “Windrush generation” came to be, arriving with a desire to be a part of the Seventh-day Adventist church in which they’d been raised. “It was difficult for them to be given any sense of partnership. There was a lot of resistance for there to be Black leadership or for there to be a Black voice in England.” [7] 

Caption: Beccai was raised in England, where he didn’t suffer heavy racial discrimination within the church. He uses this experience to be a more comfortable person for people to process their questions about race with.  

The white leaders of these churches moved to rural areas as they became older, and it’s still uncommon to find an urban Seventh-day Adventist church in England that is not predominantly Black. Although that produces an environment of inclusion for the people growing up in them, it was born of the concept of “white flight.” The reason that the Black people of English Adventist churches became leaders was because of the previous white leaders’ intimidation by their presence. [8] 

Both Beccai and Maynard-Reid grew up in home churches where they were not the minority and weren’t as adversely aware of the effect that racism has until coming to the United States. It was when Beccai began attending Andrews University in 2009 that he began to realize the different experiences of African Americans who had come from Oakwood University. “Frankly, I was shocked,” he says, because in his experience, he’d been given a voice. “I would hear stories about cross burnings within the Adventist church, or the General Conference cafeteria excluding Black people during the civil rights movement.” [9] 

Beccai says that his upbringing allowed people to view him as somewhat removed from the heart of racial issues in America. “They recognize that I have a different experience, so there have been people who have been perhaps a little more comfortable processing some of their questions around race with me in a way that they might not feel comfortable processing it with someone who has a different experience to me, someone who may have grown up here and who’s Black and African American, and who, very rightly so, might have some more trauma and anger.” [10] 

In every movement, there are those who push forward as strongly as they can like Maynard-Reid, and those who are able to tactfully lead people who aren’t as far along, like Beccai. Both are necessary for reformation. Jesus both speaks out for the oppressed and bridges the divide between them and their oppressors. In reforming within the church, we follow Jesus’ example in gently leading along the children, but also throwing tables when the situation calls for it. 

[1] Teams interview with Pedrito Maynard-Reid, 2/5/21. 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] Ibid. 

See Also

[4] Teams interview with Andreas Beccai, 2/4/21. 

[5] Ibid

[6] BBC News. (2020, July 31). Windrush generation: Who are they and why are they facing problems? https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43782241. 

[7] Ibid. 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Ibid. 

[10] Ibid. 

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