Terence Roberts, one of the nine black students who desegregated the Little Rock Central High School in a tense and dangerous confrontation fifty years ago that proved to be a decisive moment in the struggle for racial equality, was a Seventh-day Adventist. In fact, the segment on Little Rock in the Eyes On the Prize documentary series includes a clip from a press conference in which Roberts (pictured at right facing two Arkansas National guardsmen, September 4, 1957) made a point of identifying himself as an Adventist.
In an interview with Adventist Review associate editor Roy Adams, featured on the cover of the February 21 issue, Roberts talked about some of his struggles with the church in recent years, as well as his hopes for it. By the early 1990s, says Roberts, he and his wife Rita had become "rather disenchanted with the church because of its slow movement on racial issues….What had kept us in the church for a long time was the church’s emphasis on health and education. It made so much sense! But we always sort of chafed over our inability to move faster on race."
When asked by Adams what one brief message he would give to Adventists, based on his experience, Roberts responded:
I would say that the message of Jesus Christ (as I read it) is that we have to become involved in issues of social justice. We’ve got to look out for people in society who, because of the oppressive forces, aren’t doing well. That’s what Jesus seemed to do. He went about helping the downtrodden. It’s important for us as Adventist people, as Christian people, as spiritual people, to understand the need to work toward social justice. (And in many ways Adventism is heavily involved—involved in humanitarian work, in work with refugees, etc.) I recently ran across a concept, out of the Hebrew tradition, called tikkun olam. It means “repairing the world.” The idea is that all of us are called upon to help repair the world, even though we know in advance that we probably would not complete the job.
Dr. Terrence Roberts is a clinical psychologist and a professor at Antioch University (Los Angeles campus).