We’re starting something this month that we hope will be a blessing to everyone in our territory. We’re beginning conversations about people’s diverse experiences and their life journeys. Our desire through these interviews is to learn, to grow, to understand and treat others better. —Mid-America Union president Gary Thurber
Heather, please tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in an interracial family. My father is black and mother is white. We lived in Berrien Springs, Michigan, which has a very diverse culture that impacted my experiences.
And what are you doing now?
Currently I teach communication at Colorado Christian University, a very conservative mostly white school. The field of communication has changed so much. It’s the vehicle of human interaction, which is really about relationship building. During my master’s studies I learned about communication theories we can apply, and now I’m nearly finished with my Phd in education.
What has life in the Adventist Church been like for you?
I always understood there is prejudice and racism, even within the church. And I’m passionate about understanding the journey. It’s holy work. It takes time and patience and forgiveness on both sides to navigate a conversation that is largely misunderstood and not talked about until you have to.
Minorities often get “tokenized” to speak for their peers. Micro-agressions are common and your experience is not validated. You have to learn to assimilate yourself toward whiteness in order to be successful. The race issue is largely a Christian issue because white Christians are not acknowledging racial problems. The church could, if it chose to, largely impact the entire conversation in the country.
What specifically could we do as a church to help everyone on this journey?
Adventism is unique. We have the opportunity now to lead. To challenge the conversation.
I’ve realized the gifts we’ve been given and how things could change if we activated from an organizational level. We need to teach pastors how to have these conversations. We should also be teaching classes for the community about the rights of families in regard to public education.
Adventism started as a very culturally relevant movement. We are part of a global church with diverse leaders at all levels. Our message to everyone should be: You are a human being made in the image of God and you matter!
Where could we begin?
There’s a continuum in the process of persuasion. You will never move someone more than two steps at a time outside their current anchor point. So I need to ask, “Where do you currently stand? How can I lead you two steps further?” Conversations—like the one we are having now—are the foot in the door. And then time and relationship are required to move those two steps. Most people just aren’t willing to do this holy work.
What should Caucasians know?
We would all be better if we were listening instead of just waiting to talk. Also, take the time to educate yourself. Watch documentaries and read books to help in understanding this conversation.
What would you say to your African American church family? I would validate their exhaustion. And also urge them to realize that people are opening their minds and hearts. Look for the similarities. Pray for the grace to go on the journey. Grace is always a gift you did not earn and do not deserve. It’s choosing to serve a person who doesn’t deserve it.
Any final thoughts?
I love making sure that I share with people the understanding that biologically there is no such thing as race. Race is a social construct that we have created in order to justify a lot of the atrocities of our nation’s past. We are all human beings. But right now, talking about “race” is allowing people to talk about their experiences. We need to say, Tell me more. How did that affect you? I want to learn.
Heather Thompson Day is an interdenominational speaker and associate professor of communication at Colorado Christian University.
Her new book will be released in the spring: It’s not your turn: What to do while you wait for your breakthrough
Connect on Twitter: @heathertday
Watch the full interview at YouTube.com/MidAmericaOutlook