The South African Great Disappointment

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On 23 October 2005, “161 years plus 1 day after the 22 Oct. 1844 great disappointment,” the Cape Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted 56% in favour, and 44% against, a dissolution of their conference, and a merger with the Southern Hope Conference.

Unfortunately, a 66% majority is required, so the motion was not passed, and the two remain separate.  Update 2013: The two appear to have merged into the Southern Africa Union Conference.

The Cape Conference serves white Adventists in the Cape, South Africa, while the Southern Hope Conference serves black and coloured Adventists.

Both form part of the Southern Africa Union Conference, which, in turn, forms part of the Southern Africa – Indian Ocean Division, both of which seem to be disappointed with the outcome.

This has sparked considerable debate on the Yahoo group sa-sda ([now defunct] SA-SDA was a mailing list for Seventh-day Adventists around the world with a primary focus on SDA’s in Southern Africa.)  A thread entitled “The Great Disappointment..CC Session” [defunct] gives some interesting insight into the feelings of Adventists in South Africa.

From this post:

“The Afrikaans constituency showed that they are not willing to make the move. Fears (mostly perceived) and horror pictures about the demise of the Afrikaans minority and language in the proposed conference were painted. There was a lot of lobbying and campaigning that took place before the session to mobilize people to vote NO.”

This fear seems to be the major reason for the vote, as expressed in this [defunct] post:

” … they raised the issues of fears of being marginalized. Some even used the phrase..”we are being swamped by the other cultures.” But I also saw a well orchestrated, well planned, well distributed and well executed plan conducted to stir up fears, paint horror pictures of the end of Afrikaans culture in the SDA church.

“There are real fears and I believe the church leadership at all levels accepts and understands that and they have tried to assure that Afrikaans culture in Adventism will not be marginalized …

“But some people took advantage of these natural fears of change and conducted a well organized campaign weeks before the session to mislead and misinform people. Therefore some people who voted NO did so really believing the “horror stories” they were told by some people who had an agenda.”

The Transvaal Conference (update 2014: now the Northern Conference) has also decided against such a merger.

In this thread [defunct], one pastor said this: “Separation along racial lines in the Adventist church is a world wide phenomenon.”

One question raised in the discussion [defunct] was: “Is the SDA Church more racist than others because it has a large 3rd world contingent?”

I say no – look at the Catholics, the Anglicans, and a host of others.  They are not affected in this way, in spite of a large 3rd world following.  Colonialism – maybe, but the Anglicans survived that, and they have strong British roots.

And this stark admission [defunct]: “I believe that Ellen G. White supported this propagation of inferiority about African-Americans.”

Of course, much agreement and disagreement on many issues abounds in the discussion.

Apparently, according to one poster [defunct], Samuele Bacchiocchi’s “opinions about the merger and transformation in the church, played a major but unfortunately adverse role.”

And here [defunct]:

“Almost every pastor and elder with an email address received at least 4 emails a week before the session, painting horror pictures about the proposed merger.

The Bacchiocchi document, an ENDTIMESNEWSLETTER NO.130 which can be viewed on (, which he wrote in May after his visit to South Africa and was widely debated on this forum, was widely circulated and used as as “proof” that “cultures/races should remain in separate conferences”.

This Bacchiocchi document has so many factual errors and Bacchiocchi is so naive to think that two weeks in South Africa made him an expert on South Africa (although he even got South African unemployment statistics from a taxi driver!! ). But it was used as an “academic paper from a learned man” to instill fears.”

Extracts from Bacchiocchi’s report:

In Cape Town, the security guard at the hotel, warned me not to venture out for a walk at night, because I may not come back alive. The black South African driver who drove me to the airport summed it up well, when he said: “We have gained political freedom, but we have become victims of crime.”

I live in Cape Town, and have little fear of this – I have even driven through some more dangerous areas (Guguletu, Nyanga, Mfuleni) without a problem.  Yes, crime is high here, but I don’t pay much attention to the type of warning issued by that security guard.  I wonder which hotel he stayed at, and where it was located.

The Situation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

The socio-political problems of South Africa are reflected inside the Adventist church. While in the USA the black and white conferences function independently within the same Union, in South Africa a forced integration of our white and black conferences is currently being promoted. This plan is creating considerable apprehension, because white churches fear the loss of their identity.

Helderberg College used to be a predominantly white college. Now, it has become a black college. Of the 400 students only half a dozen are white. These are Filipinos whose parents serve a missionaries in Botzwana. This means that while the blacks have two colleges, Bethel and Helderberg, the white young people have no longer a white college to attend.

In America the problem is less felt, because there are more colleges to choose from. For example, if  Atlantic Union College is becoming predominantly black, parents have the option of sending their sons and daughter to Southern University—the fastest growing Adventist white university in the USA.  Such an option is not available to South Africans, who end up attending secular universities.

The future of the white Afrikaan SDA church in South Africa looks bleak. As the older members gradually pass away, there will be fewer new members to take their place. Ultimately our Adventist Church in South Africa will become a predominantly  black church, like in England. Let us pray for our leaders and members in South Africa. They need to be empowered with wisdom and grace to fulfil the Gospel commission in the midst of social, political turmoil.

In his following Endtime Issues, number 131, he says:

Another comment that was misinterpreted is my reference to the pressure of the South African Union to merge together the black and white conferences.  I found that our leaders and pastors of the Transvaal Conference are very apprehensive about this development. The fact is that in America, black Adventists have chosen to organize themselves in separate regional conferences. In California where black churches do not have a separate regional conference, in recent years repeated attempts have been made by some black leaders to organize their own separate regional conference.

If the policy adopted by the Southern Africa Union to merge black and white conferences, was to be implemented in the United States, by pressuring, for example, the Michigan Conference to merge with the Lake Region Conference, the result would be an upheaval. The reason is that experience has shown that black and white conferences serve better the needs of their constituency, when they are organized as independent conferences.

Objectives of this Study on the Bible and Race

The purpose of this Bible study is to look at the present racial situation from a biblical perspective. The popular assumption seems to be that the Bible does not sanction the existence of churches or conferences divided along racial lines. Since we are one family in Christ, ethnic and racial distinctions should be abolished and a full integration should be achieved.

Is this what the Bible teaches? Is this what Paul meant when he said that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female”? [Gal 3:28]?  Did the Apostolic Church understood this text to mean that the ethnic distinctions between Jews and Gentiles were abolished and consequently believers should function as ONE integrated church?

Later in this issue, in his study entitled “The Bible and Race,” he says:

What I wrote in my report about my South African lecture tour was simply based on what I saw, heard, and read during the 20 days I spent in that country.   I never intended to defame the new government, or to criticize our Adventist leaders, or to disparage the black race.

The accusation that I am a racist, is totally unfounded, because I have always accepted people of all races.

The assumption seems to be that white students should have no problem to study in at a predominant or total black institution, because the acceptance of the Gospel eliminates all racial, ethnic, and social distinctions. This popular belief has been expressed in several of the messages  I received.

In spite of its popularity, this teaching is foreign to the Bible.

The Gospel did not perform the miracle of eliminating all racial and gender distinctions in the Apostolic Church. Greeks remained Greeks and Jews were still Jews. Males and females were not transformed into unisex beings. The text teaches us that all races have equal opportunity for salvation and to become part of spiritual Israel. But this does not mean that God wants everyone physically melded into one race.

We’re not talking about race, or culture.  We are talking about unity in the church.  If losing one’s culture were what was expected, then the fear of the Afrikaans SDA community IS justified – and nobody in the South African SDA church who supports such a union wants this loss of culture.  So this is a red herring on the part of Bacchiocchi.  As, indeed, is his article.

More from his article:

In the Bible there are a few examples of interracial marriage. A notable example is the Cushite (Ethiopian) woman that Moses married (Num 12:1). No clues are given as to when and why Moses married this woman, whose name is not even given. The only thing that we know is that she was not well-accepted by Aaron and Miriam.

Another example is the marriage of Ruth, the Moabite, to Boaz, an Israelites. Prior to her marriage she expressed her faith in the true God (Ruth 1:16). These examples of interracial marriage in the Bible are the exemption, rather than the rule. The rule was to avoid marrying foreigners because of the danger of apostasy.  “You shall not marry with them [Cananites], giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.  For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7:3-4; Ex 34:10-17).

Note the reason for the rule.  It was to establish religious purity, NOT racial purity.  To use this passage to condemn interracial marriage, and especially to promote divisions by race within a community who share the same beliefs, is completely unjustified.


The Jews were instructed not to marry foreigners, because people are conditioned not only by culture and education, but also by racial and genetic patterns.

No, “For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.”  What “other gods” are the black Adventists going to corrupt the white Adventists with, or vice versa???  This is absurd.


Racial Distinctions in the Apostolic Church

The Apostolic Church understood that accepting people of all races as equal in Christ when it comes to salvation, does not eliminate racial or ethnic distinctions. This principle is exemplified in the division of the Apostolic Church between THE CHURCH OF THE CIRCUMCISION, that is, JUDEO-CHRISTIANS, and THE CHURCH OF THE UNCIRCUMCISION, that is, GENTILE CHRISTIANS.

Paul himself admits that he was commissioned to minister to the Gentiles (the uncircumcised), while Peter to the Jews (the circumcised) [Gal 2:8]. The two churches co-existed side by side in mutual respect during the first two centuries. No attempt was made by the apostles to integrate the two churches, because Scripture teaches that God has created us equal, but different.  The Apostolic Church understood that differences in gender and race have to be respected.

To quote Bacchiocchi, “Is this what Paul meant when he said that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female”? [Gal 3:28]?”  Respect, yes.  Two separate churches, no.  And the commission is not an absolute separation in their ministries – Peter, the Apostle to the Jews, had a vision about Gentiles, and Paul himself made himself a Jew to the Jewish people, and a Gentile to the Gentile people.  Acts shows several interactions between him and the Jews.


This preliminary investigation has shown that the unity in Christ proclaimed by the Gospel, does not abolish racial, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic distinctions. The Bible teaches us to accept and respect as members of the family of God, people of all races, languages and culture. Since racial distinctions have been established by God, they are to be accepted and respected, not abolished.

Quite right – it does not abolish these, and we are to respect them.  But Christians, for 2000 years, have had harmony between races within one congregation.  In spite of Italians dominating the papacy, there has even been at least one black pope.  Many black bishops.  And the late Cardinal McCann was threatened with legal action for allowing black priests to stay on his premises.

The Adventist prophetess Ellen White had the following positive things to say on racial issues, posted here in this thread in the Yahoo discussion [defunct]:

From Personal Ministry (PaM) Chapter 16 : Relationships with People of Other Cultures – by E.G. White:

Racial separation is not permanent. – Walls of separation have been built up between the whites and the blacks. These walls of prejudice will tumble down of themselves, as did the walls of Jericho, when Christians obey the Word of God, which enjoins on them supreme love to their Maker and impartial love to their neighbors. . . . Let every church whose members claim to believe the truth for this time, look at this neglected, downtrodden race, that as a result of slavery have been deprived of the privilege of thinking and acting for themselves. – RH Dec. 17, 1895. [PaM 93.4]

We must not build up separate interests between different nationalities. – I felt urged by the Spirit of God throughout the meetings to impress upon all the importance of cultivating love and unity. I tried to present the danger of building up separate interests between different nationalities. – RH Nov. 3, 1885. [PaM 94.3]

They still have a lot to learn.

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