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August 3, 2020

Who is My Neighbor?

In light of the murder of George Floyd and a renewed highlight of historical and current systemic racism endured by African Americans in America, a number of believers have been asking the question, “What can we do? Where do we go from here? And what is the responsibility of the church, especially for Christians who identify as Seventh-day Adventists?”

In keeping with our Bible and Spirit of Prophecy traditions, I would like to implore us to answer these questions within the context of Luke 10:25‒27 and recommendations from Steps to Christ. 

In Luke 10:25‒29, an expert in the law asks an important question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asks him, What is written in the law and how do you read it? The expert answers, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus instructs him to do this and he will live. The expert of the law wanting to justify himself poses the question: And who is my neighbor? Jesus responded by telling a story of a man traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who is beaten, stripped of his dignity, robbed of his humanity and left for dead. A Levite and a priest walk by, leaving the man in his same condition. Perhaps they did not believe the role of the church was to engage with the man. Perhaps they were in a rush to fulfill their “religious” duties, or maybe they just simply didn’t know what to do, but they both went on their way, leaving him there. 

A Samaritan, however, long thought of as irreverent, blasphemous and without knowledge of the truth, stopped and cared for the man's wounds, then pays an innkeeper to take care of the man saying, “Look after him, and I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.” Then Jesus asked the expert of the law, “Out of the three, who do you think was a neighbor to the man?”  

What does this have to do with our current climate or the role, if any, of our individual church members or our church as an institution? I personally think, everything. My contextual interpretation of this text is that the man represents the descendants of enslaved Africans. There is enough historical evidence of the oppression of African Americans that an in-depth inquiry is not required for anyone in earnest search of enlightenment.  

For too long the “priests and Levites” (church members and leaders) have not only ignored the cries of their Christian brethren but have crossed over and walked on the other side. Historical evidence in our own church history even suggests that not only has the church represented the priest and the Levite but joined the robbers in the parable of stripping the African American people of their dignity. Even those in the church have for too long acted just as the world has in the mistreatment of their Black brothers and sisters. 

Christ in His loving mercy is the good Samaritan. He is the one who has taken care of this “man,” oftentimes enlisting the help of the very people whom some believe to be abominable. It is undeniable that, in this area, the church has fallen short of the glory of God. Yet still now more than ever, Christ is calling us individually and collectively to be innkeepers, offering the gift of eternal life.

Many in the church must repent for the sin of racism, including our structural and individual racism. In her timeless classic, Steps to Christ, Ellen White provides us with a framework for reconciliation. She says, “Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see it’s sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in life” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p.23). 

“Confess your sins to God, who only can forgive them, and your faults to one another. If you have given offense to your friend or neighbor, you are to acknowledge your wrong, and it is his duty freely to forgive you. Then you are to seek the forgiveness of God, because the brother you have wounded is the property of God, and in injuring him you sinned against his Creator and Redeemer” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p.37). 

We cannot continue to expect people to forgive if we willingly choose not to deeply acknowledge and publicly confess how we have done harm, both personally and publicly. We need to be clear and specific. Only then can true forgiveness take place.  

In the times of the past when the people of God have asked what should we do? God has answered emphatically: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17). Micah 6:8 says, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 

I wonder what it would look like if the church, from the local level to the General Conference, engaged in 30 days of fasting and prayer for racial reconciliation beginning August 1, 2020? If we are honest and earnest, I wonder if God would pour out His Spirit on us at a time when the whole world is at a standstill. 

Who is your neighbor? The American descendants of Africans who have suffered far too long.  

Jeff Aguy has a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial–Organizational Psychology from Oakwood University, a Master of Arts in Leadership from Andrews University, A Six Sigma Black Belt certification, and graduate internships from Harvard and Florida Hospital Innovation Labs. The Glendale (Minneapolis) Church young adult recently served as the vice president and Economic Development chair for the Minneapolis NAACP.