Editor resigns over alleged racism of some in BSA directory
By Mac Overton
BIG SANDY, Texas--A member of the board of directors of the Bible Sabbath Association has resigned because he thinks the BSA should not list what he calls "racist organizations" in its directory of Sabbath-keeping groups.
Royce Mitchell of Houston, Texas, who also served until his resignation as editor of the BSA's flagship publication, The Sabbath Sentinel, told The Journal he quit because "I could not get the fellow members of the [BSA] board to understand, with a few exceptions, that a dangerous condition existed in the manner of publication of the directory of Sabbath-keeping congregations."
Sidney Davis of Chicago, Ill., president of the BSA, who happens to be black, said he respects Mr. Mitchell as a man of conviction but thinks his resignation was "extreme or hasty."
He said the BSA shouldn't "police" the various Sabbatarian groups and should not tell Sabbatarians with whom they should or should not worship.
"I have not yet resigned from the Bible Sabbath Association," said Mr. Mitchell. "A nonrefundable $500 donation was made within a year's time, and therefore I am considered a lifetime member."
Mr. Mitchell says members of "Christian Identity" groups that are also Sabbatarian are dues-paying members of the BSA.
"They also claim to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior," he said. "However, some of them teach a message of hatred, whether it be against the practitioners of the Jewish faith or against people who are nonwhite.
"While on paper these groups appear to fit within the basic parameters established for the BSA, the fact that they promote hatred is diametrically opposed to the statement of Christ that His followers would be known by their love for one another."
Mr. Mitchell said the Identity groups are not the only Sabbath-keeping "hate" groups that worry him.
"There are black groups that hate all whites and assign the seed-of-Satan hate doctrine to whitey," he said.
"Seed of Satan" refers to a doctrine based on an esoteric interpretation of Genesis 3:15 that claims that the "seed" of Eve is white, and the "seed" of the serpent, the devil, is the non-Caucasian races.
Believers in the seed-of-Satan teaching draw the inference that the nonwhite races are the result of a sexual union of Eve with the serpent. A variation, taught by some black racist groups, is that the "seed of the woman" is the black race, while nonblacks are the seed of the serpent.
Mr. Mitchell said he grew concerned that a Sabbatarian of a color that might be considered "unacceptable" to certain allegedly racist BSA members might inadvertently "walk into a congregation that teaches hatred of blacks."
Mr. Mitchell's concerns, he said, were shared by three members of the BSA board, but he decided to resign his editorship anyway "because I could not get the majority of the board to understand."
His request of the board "to run a simple check on the groups asking for inclusion, with veto power on any hate group found, was arbitrarily refused.
"The reason for my resignation from both the board and the editorship are identical, and the resignations happened simultaneously. I could not, in good conscience, have my name attached as a board member to something which I fear could put brethren in the dangers described before."
If the BSA proceeds with its new directory without checks to eliminate "hate groups," said Mr. Mitchell, he will cancel his lifetime BSA membership, he told The Journal.
Mr. Mitchell admits that board members are on record as recommending that Sabbatarians interested in the BSA "exercise discretion" by investigating any group they don't know about before fellowshipping with them.
"However," he said, "it is my belief that most people, including the brethren, don't know how to investigate such things or that such things even need to be investigated. They trust the BSA with its long history of service. Including groups that could cause damage is a betrayal of that trust."
Mr. Mitchell discussed the situation with board members Calvin Burrell of Fairview, Okla., June Narber Harrison of Raleigh, N.C., Dr. Davis in private and in board sessions and determined, he said, that "the board did not share my concern.
"It was then that I made the decision to resign."
Whom to list
The Journal asked Dr. Davis, BSA president, about Mr. Mitchell's resignation. Is Dr. Davis worried about hate groups infiltrating the BSA's directory?
Dr. Davis responded that "when we were discussing the directory it became a matter of concern as to who we included, whether to list so-called hate groups."
He said the discussion eventually focused on what criteria to use to identify what constituted a hate group: "the type of criteria we should use to screen certain Sabbatarian groups."
He said when Mr. Mitchell resigned "we had not actually come to a decision as to what criteria we would use. Before the board made a decision, he resigned. We as a board discussed it."
Dr. Davis said he did not have a chance to deliberate with Mr. Mitchell his resignation from the board and as editor of The Sabbath Sentinel.
Mr. Mitchell resigned as the board was considering "what was the purpose of the directory: the goals and aims of the Bible Sabbath Association," said Dr. Davis. "Royce felt compelled to take the action he did. I felt it was extreme or hasty. I feel it would be misleading to put it the way he did."
The issue is not one of racism or hatred of whites, blacks or ethic groups, said Dr. Davis. The BSA's directory has traditionally served as a sourcebook without specifying specific doctrines. Besides the directory, the BSA has a manual that lists beliefs of certain groups without statements of judgment as to whether those beliefs are "orthodox."
"The directory does list what doctrines they have," he said. "It's just a listing like the yellow pages. We don't serve as a sanctioning group. We're not a policeman."
He said, however, that the BSA will not lists groups "that are blatantly immoral in their teachings."
An issue the board did consider, he said, is the criteria that should be used to identify "hate groups."
"The government has a list of hate groups," said Dr. Davis, who is a Seventh-day Adventist.
"One group they list is Black Hebrew Israelites, a denomination. But I myself am a Hebrew Israelite [by ancestry]. I am a descendant of Ethiopian Jews."
As president of the BSA, Dr. Davis attended a general conference of the Black Hebrew Israelites and invited them to join the BSA.
"At their association meeting there were several white people there. They came together in unity, yet there were whites there.
"They are no more racist in their doctrines than Herbert W. Armstrong's teaching that white folks are the true Israelites."
In the final analysis, said the BSA president, the BSA's directory simply lists groups.
"We are going to put a disclaimer in there, however. I don't see the BSA as a church with a list of recommended doctrines.
"We can't say that if you are going to worship then worship only with these types of Sabbatarians."
Dr. Davis believes Sabbatarians should "get out there and try to be a missionary [for the Sabbath] and actively fellowship and share our conviction and beliefs."
He is a good friend of SDA scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi of Berrien Springs, Mich., whom he views as "a great advocate for the Sabbath."
Mr. Mitchell is a control electrical engineer, currently running a variable-speed-motor-control company for another company.
He attends the Houston (Texas) Church of God Fellowship and speaks in other congregations.
Dr. Davis works as an atomic absorption analyst for the U.S. Navy. He was ordained a deacon in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in January 1999.
Ken Westby--who along with Dr. Davis was in the running for the BSA presidency last year but then withdrew his candidacy to break a tie-vote deadlock--said he admires Mr. Mitchell, but "I think Royce made too much of the issue."
Although legitimate issues were raised, Mr. Westby said, he thinks the concerns should be resolved through individual responsibility.
He said the new editor of The Sabbath Sentinel is Ken Ryland of Wichita, Kan., an Ambassador University graduate who is employed in media and public relations for the Beechcraft Corp.
Mr. Westby said Mr. Ryland has done translation work for Sabbatarian Church of God publications as well as for Dr. David Dobson's Focus on the Family organization.
The BSA was founded in the late 1940s in Fairview, Okla., to promote the Sabbath and unity among Sabbatarians.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God