Seventh-Day Adventist and Nazi Party views on African-American music – Part Three

If you have not read Part One and/or Part Two of this multi-part blog, then it could really be a good idea as you will lose a great deal of context and background.

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Now, the idea is not and has never been to assert that all forms of music are equally valid and useful and spiritually applicable. This is a running argument that I have had with significant numbers of thinking and biblically-literate musicians from non-SDA churches  – but we do also have Adventists who think that there is no genre beyond redemption (and some are conservative – but not British).

Since the posting of Part Two of this post I have realised that there is limited purchase power in trying to enlighten SDA church members about musical technicalities if they do not already understand those through advanced and rigorous training. Those who know do not need to be convinced of what they have already understood, and those who don’t know might sometimes be genuinely willing to go on an arduous journey of thought to understand something new – but most of the time – in my experience – this is not the case.

I have written a personal introduction to jazz for Seventh-Day Adventists – again, it could be really good to look at that before continuing. Some of you might be wondering what the point is of any of this when these were Nazi stipulations against ‘dance bands’ and ‘light orchestras’ – both types of ensemble playing secular music of spectacularly little relevance to many conservative Seventh-Day Adventists. That is a very reasonable point on the surface – except that in this case, the point is not to ‘promote’ the music that the Nazis were so against. The point is to explore the similarities between the musical ideology of the Nazis and the musical ideology of Seventh-Day Adventists – because this author is far from alone in having recognised some very disturbing parallels…

It is also clear that each of these points deserves a blog post of its own. And instead of writing 10 blog posts of between 1000-2000 words, it is time to add these ideas to the book I am writing on the subject of music for SDA readers. As such, this will be the last post in this particular series, because what needs to happen here is too big for the blogosphere – even by this writer’s usual standards!

Here are the rules:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;

  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;

  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);

  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);

  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);

  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;

  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);

  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

As an example of what is to come, lets’ appraise the very first one:

  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands.

A proper lesson on American musical history in the first half of the last century can’t really happen here. However, there is a difference between the ‘swing’ that we now know as ‘early swing’ before it became modern jazz as we know it, and the ‘swing’ that is characteristic of jazz itself. This stipulation refers to the latter, but even at that time ‘foxtrot’ and ‘swing’ would not have been synonymous, so the Nazi Gauleiter writing these rules betrays his ignorance – not least because technically there is no such thing as a ‘foxtrot rhythm’ in a musical sense – only in a ‘dancing’ one. The Nazis wanted as little of the fast foxtrot dancing as possible, but their reasoning was not one of ‘morality.’ It was ‘ideology.’ Remember, Nazi ideology privileged the Aryan race = white superiority = morally obliged white supremacy. Continental Europe had its own tradition of what were called ‘salon orchestras’ that entertained people and facilitated dancing. So there was no ‘need’ to look to the USA – much less black America – for inspiration to dance! BUT – the fact that people who were neither black nor American actually wanted to dance to this music makes the point that its organic appeal was not solely restricted to its ‘native culture’ – because as the descendants of enslaved Africans, there was no way that this music could be ‘native’ in the prototypical sense of the word. The black Americans had made a new tradition that itself could not have existed without Western European musical theory – but at the same time, would never have been created by proto-European musicians! So the Germans – along with every other country where jazz had been exported by radio (they were listening to jazz on the radio in South Africa in the 1920’s!) – heard themselves in the foxtrot, but they also heard something very un-Germanic but which they really liked! The Nazis had good reason to fear this music – because whereas a conservative Adventist who has been trained to shun everything apart from the music they play on 3ABN or Bill Gaither or ‘classical music’ has no real framework to think independently about music and so ends up only being able to see as ‘holy’ what s/he has been taught to understand as ‘holy’ – the people around the world responding to this early swing music heard something more than mere ‘jive and dance and sex’ – they heard the music of a people who had found a way to express themselves despite the trauma, disenfranchisement, marginalisation and inhumanity of segregation…

…because the musicians had found a way to be free, and a global audience HEARD that. This stuff cannot be faked!

But the musical language of celebration early swing was never going to be enough, and that’s how the jazz that musicians like me play developed. As a Seventh-Day Adventist jazz musician, my job is not to entertain audiences. It is not to make people ‘feel good.’ It is not to induce them to buy more drinks. It is not to promote a secular agenda. My job is to make people THINK. [And yes: secular listeners who did not know me from Adam have been able to work out that I am a Christian by the way in which I play – even when I have not been playing actual sacred music from the Christian tradition!]

In the 1920’s and 30’s it was all dance and swing. But by the 40’s the earlier music was being explored outside the USA while ‘swing’ was becoming ‘jazz’ and audiences were moving from dancing to listening to thinking, and by the 1960’s when African-Americans sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the whole world could sing along with them – and white Americans found themselves disenfranchised. You know the rest: segregation ended and apartheid South Africa found itself at the wrong end of the world’s wrath. You know how that ended as well!

Just before certain types of mind think that I’ve gone off on a ramble and lost the plot – what was happening with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church through all this?

Does anyone think that as a church with an identity of God’s chosen remnant with an end-time message for a broken and dissolute world crying out for the gospel, we were different to all of that?

Well, I understand. That’s kind of what would be expected – which is why the fact that in 1944 the North American Division voted for regional conferences (i.e. to have black and white conferences). This article will give those of you not aware of this history a little more of an idea.

So instead of being light and salt, as you will read in the above article link and elsewhere,   white North American Adventism has capitulated to the prevailing culture and in 1943 a black woman dies because an Adventist hospital won’t treat her. Instead of getting on their sackcloth and ashes, the NAD papered over the cracks by offering black Adventists a route to power.

Get this straight: only deeply mentally-culturally impoverished UK Blackventists could be uncritically soaking up everything that conservative North American Adventism exports. As you will read, the black church members asked for integration WITHIN THE CHURCH and got segregation. HOW DOES ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND THINK THAT A CHURCH THAT MAKES THAT KIND OF DECISION IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IS GOING TO EASILY/QUICKLY APPEAL TO SCEPTICAL-CRITICAL ANGLO-EUROPEANS?!?!

And especially when both black and white leaders continue to defend this decision in the 21st century?!?! What is the message being sent to our seekers, new attendees and also our baptised members?!

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So the Nazis were down on black Americans. White North American SDAs were down on black American SDAs. But it really does get worse. What does anyone think that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church was doing during the third Reich?

The German Adventists continued to support Hitler and his regime until the end of World War II. The Adventists served loyally in the armed services, but most served in combatant positions and rose within the ranks.[76] This went against the denomination belief that if Adventists participate in war it must be in a non-combatant position. The Church leaders claimed, “the pastors and members of our Church stand loyally by their Volk and fatherland as well at its leadership, ready to sacrifice life and possessions.”[77] They were willing to sacrifice their life and possessions for the fatherland, but they were unwilling to do the same for their religious beliefs. The racial policies of the Nazi regime went against what Adventists believe, but the Adventists did not voice their concern. They also did not voice their objections about not having religious liberty in Nazi Germany. The German Adventists may have served their fatherland loyally, but they did not serve the Seventh-day Adventist denomination loyally.

After the War

The German Adventists continued to believe they had done the correct thing by compromising with the Nazi government. The survival of the church was what was important to the German Adventist leaders, and in order to survive they needed to compromise. Only in May 1948, did the General Conference take a closer look at the German Adventists’ actions during the Nazi regime. The reason why the General Conference took interest was because of a letter written by Major J.C. Thompson, chief of the Religious Affairs Section of the American Military Government in Berlin.[78] The letter wanted to know why the Adventists had not removed all the Nazis from their leadership positions within the denomination.[79] It also compared the Adventists to the Catholics, saying that the Catholics did not have to remove many people because of their strong opposition during the Nazi regime. There was no opposition from the Seventh-day Adventists.

The German Adventist leaders were upset with the General Conference for ordering members to step down from their positions because they had joined a Nazi organization. In order to survive in Nazi Germany, they argued, people had to join Nazi organizations. The German leaders believed the General Conference had no right to make judgments about them because of their actions during the Nazi regime. They were especially upset because the General Conference had “adopted and enforced a policy that prevented publication of any commentaries about Nazism or even fascism,”[80] in order to assist the German Adventists. The German Adventists did not like the fact they were being blamed when the General Conference was assisting them in their survival.

The General Conference had become alarmed in 1939, when they estimated that 10 percent of the German Adventists were working on the Sabbath.[81] The Sabbath is one thing that defines the Seventh-day Adventist church. With the start of World War II there was nothing the General Conference or the German Adventists could do. The German Adventists had sent out a circular telling its members to submit to the authority of the government. While this did not meet the demands of the Nazi government, it was used as evidence in the General Conference case against the German Adventists.[82]

You can read the whole article here and follow its origins and citations.

So for those of you – including some friends – who think that this whole direction of blog post was OTT and that I was trying too hard to make links where they might not exist – you may still think that. But here we have two massive examples of situations where black people are regarded as something-other-than-equal by white Seventh-Day Adventists in both Europe and North American (and those Euro-Americans are also ‘Europeans’ – see the point I’m making?!).

Three closing points:

  1. Martin Luther was very far from the complete package as a role model for Seventh-Day Adventists. He certainly held anti-Semitic views (that was a bombshell when I learned about that while studying Kierkegaard) and he also believed in transubstantiation. Dr. Fernando Canale has also spoken about some theological challenges that we have had handed down from Luther in Secular Adventism. Was all of that enough to stop EGW from referring to Luther in the most glowing terms in The Great Controversy? Hmm. For all the things that did not work, Seventh-Day Adventists have not unilaterally decided to make a pariah out of Luther, and that is absolutely right.
  2. That takes us to the small matter of music which in some way originates from the African continent or African diaspora. Are there some aspects of some of these music forms and contexts that are deeply and profoundly against God and His best will for humanity? Yes, no question. But do we then say that there is NO GOOD WHATSOEVER that can come out of any of these music forms? And only Europe – the same Europe who enslaved black Africans and who produced the Anglicans and Episcopalians who sang hymns whilst treating black people as chattel goods and who then produced white leaders and church members who could not see past race enough to integrate the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the USA at a time of stupendous social darkness? Has no-one noticed that the black Adventist speakers who are popular with both black and white Adventist listenerships are those who promote what is still – after all these decades – a neo-colonial brand of Adventism?
  3. I have put my hand up as a Seventh-Day Adventist jazz musician. I am grateful and humbled and proud to have been brought into this church by God. I am surprised and humbled and grateful and proud to be able to be not only a jazz musician but a conductor of classical music and a leader of gospel music whose work in all three genres is more recognised outside than inside. That’s fine with me. But please note: I am not down with most of the contemporary groove-based music that I hear in English-speaking Adventism most of the time, the majority of which would have been more edifying if it had never been thought, never mind played.

So: if you ever wondered where this incessant antipathy (from white and other Adventists) against contemporary music forms (black as well as other) has come from in conservative Adventism, by God’s grace you now know more than you did before. Put the rest of it together for yourself.

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