A Destructive Kind of Unity

There are different kinds of unity. Some types of unity are positive and beneficial, other types are very destructive. It cannot be assumed that simply invoking the word “unity” to justify a particular action makes that action OK. Unity is not always an unmitigated good. It is imperative therefore that we look behind the word itself to analyze what is actually going on.

The standard for beneficial unity is found in John 17 – “So that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11 NIV emphasis supplied). The last part of that sentence, “As we are one,” makes the Trinity itself the measure of whether the unity we are pursuing is legitimate or not, Christian or not. Oneness within the Godhead is based on mutual love and respect. No member of the Godhead is beneath the others in status or standing. All three members are equally valued and honored. That is the acid test. Any call for unity that does not incorporate all of these essential characteristics is illegitimate and false.

Examples in history of destructive unity are all too numerous. The common denominator that runs through the vast majority of them is the fact that unity was achieved through the oppression of one or more groups of people. Such oppression was seen as necessary in order to achieve the common good. The end was viewed as justifying the means. The oppressed were told they should go along and not protest or make waves.

There is a wide range of examples of destructive unity in terms of severity and scope. At the extreme, we could site the days when many Southerners were unified in support of slavery prior to the Civil War. Many males throughout the United States were also unified in denying women the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Early on, many Americans were unified in their support of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s sordid attempt to rid our country of the “Red Menace.” A large percentage of Americans united against Japanese citizens who were denied their civil rights and shipped off to resettlement camps in the mid-west during World War II. History is replete with lesser instances as well.

Once such harmful unity was achieved, leaders in society usually followed a rather predictable process in order to solidify their gains. First they gathered about themselves a group of associates who were dedicated to promoting the leader’s agenda and speaking with only one voice.

Next they vigorously decried any criticism as exaggerated, outrageous, and not applicable, predicting catastrophic results if their critic’s advice was followed. Anyone who pushed back against leadership’s approach was labeled as “anti-unity” and “divisive.” Those who pursued a better way were portrayed as rebels.

Finally, if too many people broke with leadership, a “unity police” was often formed to monitor compliance and bring people back into line.

You would think that churches would shun such an injurious approach but that has not been the case. Extreme examples from the Crusades down through the time of Luther are well known. Less public, less notorious, cases occur all too frequently within denominational life where un-Trinity-like unity is promoted and pursued.

In recent years, we have heard many calls from leadership for unity within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In light of the pitfalls and dangers that calls for unity can involve, we as members have a responsibility to look behind the rhetoric and examine what kind of unity is being espoused.

A call for unity does not automatically become legitimate because it is frequently repeated. It does not automatically become biblical because it is issued from those high up in the church organization. It does not automatically become legitimate because it enjoys majority support. It does not automatically become legitimate because it is couched in religious terminology.

We have to ask, “Does it meet the acid test of John 17? Does it measure up to the kind of unity that exists within the Trinity?” Is any group being oppressed in the process?

My own analysis tells me that the kind of unity leaders are currently calling for within Adventism does not measure up at all.

At present, one of the most oppressed classes within the Seventh-day Adventist church is women in North America who have been gifted and called to the ministry by the Holy Spirit but are denied ordination based solely on the fact that they were not born with the officially approved X and Y chromosomes. We are told that not being ordained is the price hundreds of women have to pay in order for the world church to remain unified. They are told that, in exchange, the church is giving them the high honor of suffering for Jesus.

However, once we understand the dynamics and characteristics of destructive unity, this awful situation is not even a close call. It is clearly a glaring violation of the principles Jesus set forth in John 17. It has no resemblance at all to life within the Trinity.

I wonder if any of those who advocate for the current situation have ever sat across from a female pastor and seen tears well up in her eyes as she tells her heart-wrenching story of being marginalized by the very church she loves. I wonder if supporters of the denomination’s current stance have ever heard a female chaplain tell them that she cannot talk about the ordination issue anymore because it is just too painful. I wonder if any of those who voted against ordination for women have imagined what their position would be if it was their own daughter whose dreams of ordination and denominational validation were being shattered. I wonder if they have ever seen a young adult’s chin quiver as they tell how they chose to leave the SDA church because they could not, in good conscience, support a system that is so out of sync with God’s plan.

In my mind, some of the greatest heroes among us today are the many women in pastoral ministry and chaplaincy who humbly go about their God-given task in spite of being given second-class status in relation to their male counterparts.

These dedicated women are often reluctant to speak up because it might be interpreted as self-serving or get them labeled. It is therefore up to the rest of us to no longer simply sit on the sidelines and complain. According to the apostle Paul, if we are truly the Body of Christ, then the suffering of one should be the suffering of all (1 Corinthians 12:26).

This is a time to let our voices be heard, to organize, utilize social-media, write letters, and become an active, persistent, courageous agent for change. Focus your attention especially on lobbying your conference and union executive committee members. Unions, after all, are the ones who hold the power to approve or deny ordination credentials. Also focus on delegates that might be elected from your church to constituency sessions.

Change must come from the people in the pews. Too many denominational leaders have been silenced by the threat of reprisals under the GC’s abhorrent compliance scheme. The leadership landscape is replete with foxholes.

It is time for everyone to call the current denial of ordination what it actually is — emotional and spiritual abuse. The denomination is, in fact, doing what is illegal in secular society!

I personally value unity very highly but not at other people’s expense. Unity that denies some people’s God-given destiny is not worthy of those who call Christ Master. It is a path our denomination should never have considered for a vote, not even for a moment. Knowing the inherent suppression it involved, that type of unity should never have been an option. General Conference leadership that promoted it should now be held to account.

Some other way needed to be found. A very viable alternative was, in fact, presented at the 2015 General Conference Session but was tragically voted down.* That plan should be resurrected and voted as soon as possible.

The ordination issue is about far more than labels. It is about knowing your sense of calling is affirmed and authenticated by the Body of Christ. It is about calling the church at large to live up to its profession of justice and equality. It is about maintaining the credibility of the church in the eyes of non-believers. It is about retaining our young people who are not impressed by the justifications offered for gender inequality. For many young people the church’s majority vote looks a lot like misogyny disguised as God’s will.

It is utterly callous to say that female pastors should not be concerned about being classified as “ordained” because they have the same basic privileges as male pastors (except being president at any denominational level and being able to ordain anyone). Suppose female physicians had the same training, responsibilities and expertise as their male counterparts but were not allowed to be officially classified as “MD’s.” Would you council them to be content? Wouldn’t we expect their male colleagues to rise up en masse and protest in every way possible on their behalf?

So why is such an uprising not occurring right now among our thousands of ordained male pastors on behalf of commissioned female ministers? With so much at stake, why aren’t our ordained pastors joining hands through social media to initiate creative, attention-getting, collective action for change? Words alone will not suffice. It is time to follow Jesus’ activist example in the temple, the same Jesus who overturned tables and scattered a bunch of hypocrites.

Our church needs to be reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. With some slight editing, the following section could easily apply to our own need:

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of [the Gospel]. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of [gender inequality] to the sunlit path of justice.”[1]

Notes & References:

*Click here for a Summary Report submitted by the North American Division Theology of Ordination Study Committee.

Kim Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Ishmael Sanchez on Pexels

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9825

Thanks Kim for such a nice piece. The issue has already been widely discussed, but no effective action has yet been taken to stop what you characterized as “emotional and spiritual abuse.” I happen to agree with you.


A problem underlying a “Destructive Kind of Unity” is actually
proposed on AdventistToday with the Question and Answer
article on why under 30’s are leaving the church.
Much of the Reasons for disenchantment with “the church” has
to do with Theological Committees that meet in the Ivory Towers of
Silver Springs, and places prior to Silver Springs move.
These Committees make Theological Decrees for the whole world
wide church without representation from other disciplines and so
these Committees discuss topics they know nothing about, and
VOTE, demanding the Church comply – all the way down to the
Local Pastors, and the Local Laity.
They REFUSE to allow Fully Fledging of all members – women in
They REFUSE to allow ALL of God’s Children to enter the Kingdom
of Heaven. And if they do, make so many rules that to become a
Full-Fledged Member is impossible for these persons.
These Committees have created EVIL in the church. Some have seen
the EVIL and are “rebelling” [like Jesus did], are speaking out, and are
Acting on their speaking to change the way the church operates in their
corner of the World Church.
The modern-day Scribes, Pharisees, leaders of the Synagogues railing
against Jesus in His day, are doing the same to these persons and
congregations in our day. Trying to quench the Holy Spirit, and trying to
keep the Children of God, from entering the Kingdom of God.


Is the answer to the seeming lethargy – FEAR!??
Also, laity as a general rule are “brain washed” with the idea that
Theologians [those in the Ivory Towers, and those leading the
local congregations] are to be obeyed because they are “smarter”,
“closer to God” than any one of them.
So their Thinking, Comprehension, powers are “turned off”.
FEAR in the Pastorate I believe could be very real. Being called into
the Conference Office to face a Committee could be very Traumatizing,
and evoke the “Fear of God” in any pastor who would want to have
an “all inclusive” congregation and to develop an “all inclusive” mind-set
in their congregation.


:Male leaders must start the healing process by intentionally seeking out female input. Women have an incredible wealth of wisdom, insight and parallel perspectives to offer the Church and the world—as men do. Imagine what the Adventist Church could look like if it paired the contributions of both together. And pastors, many of the women in your congregation are just waiting to be asked. Be intentional about including women among your advisors, and prodding for female attendees’ perspectives.


When we want to divert attention, we make sure the issue is something that can keep people in discussion, and distracted. We don’t care about the consequences, just hoping that is vanishes or is forgotten about, or people become radical so as to justify action.
But want is the real issue, maybe one must consider that the " pastorhood society " is scared that they might be no more, look what happened when Jesus Christ walk this earth, God created the " us society". Yes, Jesus Christ closed the priest structure and created in it place the "us ", ordinary people structure, male or female to do the work of evangelism, and this did not go well with the Priest. Power, control and position is something that many people find hard to give up, especially when they have been milking the system, because once a different system starts, they are affraid that people will see how they abused the church.
Now, Imagen a female worker who has to pay her child’s medical bills, dentist’s, doctor’s, specialists bill, operation bills, school bills, housing, just because she is female, while the male get all paid for him.


Being just “obfuscated” is in itself already pretty bad. A major problem is that many religious organizations adopted and perfected a culture of control of people’s thinking and expressing. Control of conscience. In all those past years I have seen several instances of this disgraceful fact where some people tried to be the manipulators-in-chief of the crowds’ thinking, acting as if their mission was to make others accept their way of thinking, believing, and expressing.

And, of course, those who don’t bow down will always be targeted in some way, often called heretics. apostates, weak, devil’s agents, etc. Ultra-conservatives have this goal on the very top of their agendas, always passing on the impression that those who do not believe as they do are missing spirituality, etc. If and when possible, they will make all efforts to silence those who “dare” to disagree with them. This has been happening for millennia. Respect for others’ ideas and views is not the conservatives’ “forte.”


This will take a long time to happen - if ever!


When/if someone is honest about unity and equality, they don’t only talk about it, they actually work toward it. Otherwise, it’s all fake, just a worthless façade.


Correct George. The church has to be really honest about it , because it will self implode eventually. In many countries the congregation are dependent on the " pastors" (thief’s) to do their thinking and decision making. This is wrong, like any relationship, because making a church codependent on someone is immoral and ethically wrong.

Women are be " held ransomed" by some church structures, using the guilty factor to ensure compliance and submition.

While many males steal from the church, many women loose their jobs because of them, yet these males continue working for the church, almost like a freemasonry club for men.

In many countries the church is walking a tight rope, actually the have broken the law, but the government hasn’t fully comprehend the issue, but when found out, it will go bankrupt, with all the lawsuits against it. Not paying equal wage and benefits is a criminal offence, and there is back pay.


With all the terrible things that you have told us, sounds like it should.


Unity in the SDA denomination and Christianity in general is a fantasy joke.

When one has 7000 waking minutes in a week and the vast/greater majority of that time is spent on secular/cultural input that counters the will of God and mission of JESUS…


Kim, you make several interesting points in this essay. Among them is: “A call for unity does not automatically become legitimate because it is frequently repeated…It does not automatically become legitimate because it is couched in religious terminology.”
I am among those women who are tired and even a little fearful…not of what others can or will do to me, but of what is underneath the issue that we cannot see.
It is only a matter of time…but 1) want will be lost in the wake of that waiting? and 2) what will replace it once remedied? There is so much we cannot see…

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Oh we have unity alright.
The only unity we have perfected is our individual and utter disunity

Our individuality is what we have been blessed with, and that is what we will keep. Only a narcist will force someone to give up their individuality so that one must think like them. God has given us the ten commandments which is what unites us, and the love of God. Only the weak in spirit will use force to obtain unity this way, it doesn’t reflect God’s personality, but a frail human mentality.

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So much innocent people have been injuried, and some many women debased and their integrity destroyed by these people. Yet, each Sabbath they smile and preach sermons, pointing our the sins of others, yet not seeing theirs. Forgiveness and justice must be served. It is not revenge, but a wake up call that God died for everyone. His sacrifice is not gender based, but based on love.

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It’s hard for me to understand why people attend a spiritually abusive church, especially one to the degree that you are talking about. Do you see anything that can be done to stop this horrible behavior? Do you think that people should continue to support this kind of church?

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Can anything be done, yes. But it will have to be like Jesus 101, learning from scratch that God is love. One might be surprised, but when humans have a wrong idea of who God is, it effects their understanding of love, and how God has expressed it. When people ignore what happened to Lucifer, and forget the lie Lucifer sold to the angels and then Adam and Eve, human beings will start to reflect the character of Lucifer.

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Of course women are affirmed. The NAD allows for credentialing that is ordination just without the name.

But that will never do. It’s the principle of the thing, and to allow for the third world’s view (were all the growth is) is destructive. And if you do not go along, the author says your admonition for unity is destructive, you are a bigot, calloused and a hypocrite; not like MLK, and are shrouded in darkness.

And you cannot maintain credibility, and retain our youth!

Anyone show does not go along is in darkness and is not on the path to justice.


Those anti WO folk are, it sounds like, pure evil!

If a person says that the church’s view on unity is destructive, their conscience should impel them, I would think, to separate from such behavior, especially if it is as described above. Isn’t staying an act of betrayal, and a violation of said conscience?

I think you have to put your money where you mouth is. If one is going to describe their fellow believers who disagree with them in such terms, it is time to divorce yourself from them. To refrain from doing so is to deny what you really believe.

The rest of you here agree with the author. Fine. Talk is cheap. Do you really believe it? If the church is so evil to do what it has done, then you really need to think about your behavior when you stay.

I am not telling you to leave, but to constantly criticize, and be negative just will not do. Not good for you or the church. Might be time to really think this thing through.

See CFowler’s comment above.

Such a pastor can handle this in two ways:

  1. She can do the work of a minister, rescuing the perishing, caring for the dying, raising up the fallen, pointing to Jesus, mighty to save.

  2. Or she can complain and weep about the things she can’t do. And mention these to her congregants and how unfair it all is.

The first is the best argument for ordination, while the second will eventually get you laid off.

The old song goes, “…accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…” It’s a good policy for survival and great results in the work place.