A Hill to Die On

Kevin McGill writes from Seattle as senior pastor of the Green Lake Church. He reflects on the 2015 vote denying women equality in Adventist ministry, stating:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12257
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I’m clearly not the person to ask, having given up on organized religion some forty years ago, but while I had heard that SDA’s had rejected WO some time ago, I did not know that the defeat of the measure had been greeted, not with prayerful “Amens”, but instead with raucous cheering and derisive shouting in a public sporting arena, no less.

Reading this account now, I am sickened by a mental image which I cannot unsee, similar to that of Romans rooting for the lions in their battles with defenseless Christians in The Coleseum.

Further, and as if it were necessary, I find my decision to have no part in such irrational noise and senseless prattle, reaffirmed.


It is impossible for me to affirm, in one and the same breath, that SDA’s have a “special, end-time message” for the world that includes the non-Biblical affirmation that women cannot be given the same ministerial status/authority as men. NO ONE was ever ordained in the early Christian community in any sense we use that concept today, And the arrogance of any evangelist making the statement referred to disqualifies him (no doubt) from ever making pronouncements to the public again.


This could also be viewed as one of a string of decisions striking back at societal movements which recognize the rights of those to whom rights have been denied. The latest seems to be the evangelical/political reaction to fuller gay rights by Tennessee’s recent legislation aimed at the gay population of that state and the threat of legislation elsewhere in the United States denying abortion even to victims of rape and to women whose health is endangered by a continuation of their pregnancy.


I suspect it has only gotten worse for Kevin over the last 9 years.

Having spent some time actually paying attention to how the SDA church leadership behaves, it sure has for me.


but the fruit of the Spirit was not apparent to me in the Alamodome in 2015.

Having attended and/or participated in hundreds of SDA committee and board meetings, not once has the Holy Spirit ever showed up in attendance, despite the perfunctory invocations and invitations for him/her/it to attend being uttered at the commencement of all such meetings.

Could it be that the Spirit is simply disinterested in the petty power politics practiced by SDA church administration?


i really wish now that i’d attended San Antonio…i had a feeling it would be a major, historic time, and i came so close to flying down…but in the end, i had many responsibilities that my prudent side said would be reckless to abandon…i’ve only witnessed one truly historic moment in our Church - the Ford AF meeting at PUC in 1979 - and it was completely accidental and unexpected…i’m very glad i was there…

there will probably never be another GC like San Antonio…i think now that it’s better to do what you really want to do and be a part of history, even if it wrecks things temporarily, than to forever wish you’d done things differently…we just can’t ever go back in time…and taking things in second hand can never be the same as actually witnessing it…

As it turns out, not so much.

SA was a “tempest in a teapot” joke for anyone with a grasp of historical perspective.

Almost as silly as me calling The Washington Post and telling them that I, a local NoVa boy, beat my sister best of seven at “King of The Mountain”!

The vast majority of people watching the national or world news that night, if they event was covered at all, thought “Ho hum, the Adventists are misogynists. That’s kinda funny. I thought their cult was started by a woman. Oh well. Maybe next, Tom Brokaw will be do an in depth piece about how the KKK doesn’t like any skin color other than white.”




One of the big perspective shifts I dealt with was when I was struck by the truth that “the world” doesn’t care about adventism. I was told in church that “the world” was watching us, that we had a special responsibility as examples, and that the papacy was particularly concerned with SDAs because of “sabbath”. The reality is that almost nobody cares. Nobody outside of adventism is watching adventism. The Catholic church doesn’t care about adventism, nor do they view the SDA ‘sabbath’ as a threat

But this is symptomatic of institutional narcissism. SDAs are socialized to believe everything is about them. They believe a handful of isolated incidents in sparsely populated 19th century rural New England were of cosmic significance to the entire world and universe. They believe that the 19th century New England anti-Catholicism is of relevance to 21st century India, China and Indonesia. They believe Daniel and Revelation are about the USA and Seventh-day Adventists. They believe the irrelevant 1888 general conference session altered the history of the universe. They believe the San Antonio vote was of cosmic significance. It’s quite strange.


I’ve heard it reffered to as “naval gazing”.


but you do understand that SA was a big deal in adventism, and this site is about what goes on in adventism, right…


I understand this is an Adventist website just as I understand adventist arrogance and condescension.

Do you understand how insignificant all of that is in relationship to what most people consider to be “real world problems”, like getting something to eat and having some place to live?


It’s so true…the vast majority of people have never heard of Adventists, and the very few who know of SDA’s, in any small way, don’t care about what SDA’s think, believe, do, or say. I joined the church at age 24 in the mid 70’s. After being in the SDA church for a few years, I came to see how they believed exactly as you said…the world was watching them, etc. It was so ridiculous, I knew that was absolutely not the case, at all. Glad to have re-entered “reality” 25 years ago.

I liken the SDA bubble to the movie “The Truman Show”. Except people really were watching the Truman Show. :wink:


great…then you understand that it doesn’t matter what the world’s population thinks of SA, if they’ve even heard of it…

Nice try at taking what I said out of context and trying to put words in my mouth.

Because the above quote has nothing to do with what I said “yes” to.

Besides, and based on what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure that what the world thinks of Adventism, it’s fallacious assertions and farcical trappings is very important to you, otherwise you’d feel absolutely no need to vociferously defend its debunked prophet or explain away its inherently contradictory theology to anyone, particularly given that this in direct contravention of Jesus’ expressed desire that his followers not do so.

But then again, you can help prove me wrong by NOT responding to this comment.

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i’m focused on my train of thought, nothing else…you originally stated that SA was a “tempest in a teapot” joke for anyone with a grasp of historical perspective…my point is that this is only true if the non-adventist perspective is used to define what is purely an adventist concern…

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Thanks for helping prove my point.

you’re welcome… :slight_smile:

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Is Our Collective Memory of Paulsen Being Booed Inaccurate?

Jeremy et al., while not the same as being there, transcripts are available. So is video footage of at least parts of the 2015 GC session, and these are more reliable than edited transcripts (also, transcripts don’t report audience reactions). These allow us to closely examine the popular narrative of Paulsen being booed for his views on women’s ordination (WO) at the 2015 General Conference (GC) session in San Antonio and find a different interpretation than the one popularly reported.

I was there for the WO discussion and vote. I had gone primarily because of my interest in the discussion on FB#6 but took in the WO discussion as well. I personally thought the motion was good for the church and should be adopted, so I was disappointed by the vote. I was simultaneously puzzled and appalled by the behavior of delegates who booed Jan Paulsen. However, I think the reporting on this has been inaccurate. I’d like to add a bit of nuance here. I am not disputing the part of the reporting that notes the applause and cheering when the vote was announced; I am specifically addressing the Paulsen booing episode.

Kevin McGill’s account cites a Spectrum article by Alisa Williams. Williams wrote, “When Elder Jan Paulsen was given a reserved speaking spot, he was booed from the floor by delegates who were furious that he spoke in favor of ordaining women.” This could be misinterpreted in several ways.

First, Paulsen was not booed from the floor in the sense of “booed off the stage.” He was booed by delegates seated at the Alamodome. This occurred about halfway through his speech, which he completed without pause.

Second, I have seen no evidence that he was booed because he had a reserved speaking spot. Williams’s statement could be misinterpreted that way.

Third, there are contextual reasons to doubt that he was booed directly for speaking in favor of ordaining women. An alternative interpretation is that he was booed for what may have been perceived by some delegates as him expressing a colonialist, patronizing attitude towards Africans or even disparaging Africa and the time he’d spent there. In support of this interpretation is the fact that he had announced at the outset of his speech that he supported the motion (for regional decisions on WO), but was not booed then. Neither was he booed in the rest of the first two minutes. It was only at about 2:00 in his speech that the booing occurred. And then after that moment, he was not booed during the remainder of his four-and-a-half-minute speech, nor at the conclusion.

So what happened at about 2 minutes? That was when he specifically addressed the African delegation, prefacing his remarks to them and others to trust regional leaders by saying: “I love Africa. Africa is a part of me. I have spent too much invested a lot of my life there.” [sic]

It sounds like he was starting to say, “I have spent too much of my life there not to love Africa,” or something like that. But then he changed midstream to say he had invested a lot of his life there. By changing mid-sentence, it had the unfortunate effect of sounding like he had started to say he had spent too much time in Africa, i.e., possibly interpreted as “wasted too much time” there, and then that he quickly covered up a Freudian slip by saying he’d “invested” years there. I believe Paulsen’s verbal slip was entirely innocent, but I understand how it could be confusing to some listeners, especially those for whom English expressions might not be so familiar, and how some delegates might thus interpret it as disparaging Africa(ns). Keep in mind that the reaction was nearly instantaneous, not a response after careful reflection on what he said.

Alternatively (or additionally), the general comment may have been perceived as hearkening back to a colonialist past where white men led the church in parts of Africa before Africans assumed leadership roles. If his personal comments about his investment in Africa were perceived as trying to pressure them to accept his views as a superior white man who had led them in the past, that could have triggered the booing. Because the boos came immediately after the mid-sentence slip and not before, I lean towards the verbal slip as the trigger, but haven’t ruled out anti-colonialism as a factor.

While the overall context of the speech was, of course, the discussion of WO, there are problems with attributing the booing specifically to his stance on WO. The timing of the booing episode is too closely tied to his personal comments on Africa, which were not directly related to his points on WO, for me to think that they were a direct response to his position on the WO motion that was under consideration.

Fourth, and finally, I have seen no evidence that the booing delegates were “furious”; that may be hyperbole on Williams’s part.

The speech is available for your own analysis. I have listened to this part of the speech many times and compared the audio to the visual movements; I don’t see any sign of editing out part of the speech, so I believe there truly was a mid-sentence verbal slip and that this isn’t a video artifact of editing to remove a portion of the speech. The video recording agrees with my memory of the event, where I was confused as to what triggered the boos at that specific time. Only with analysis of the video have I arrived at the alternative interpretation described above. I encourage you to view it for yourself and see if you agree that the booing was not specifically directed at Paulsen’s position on the motion.

The booing was widely reported by unofficial Adventist media such as Spectrum and Adventist Today. I think it shocked many of us, but especially those sympathetic to WO were inclined to view it as a direct repudiation of Paulsen’s advocacy of WO. (I recall some anti-WO commenters at the time saying they thought it was because delegates thought it was inappropriate for a former GC president to express a partisan view on the matter, but–again based on timing–I doubt that). Former Review editor William Johnsson said this episode was a motivation for his writing the book, “Where Are We Headed?: Adventism after San Antonio” (pp. ix, 1, 2). He wrote, “The events of the fateful day troubled me greatly. When a former General Conference President, someone who served with distinction and who with his spouse gave many years of mission service to the people of Africa, is hissed and booed because he makes a speech in support of women’s ordination, I have to ask: Whatever is going on? Is this my church? I waited for a public apology from those in leadership. None was forthcoming, at the time or subsequently.”

While I found the behavior appalling and agree that an apology was due, I believe that proponents of WO were inclined to report the event as a rejection of WO because attributing appalling behavior to the “other” is natural. However, as I have argued above, I think that a careful analysis of the speech and the booing event suggests a visceral reaction to specific things Paulsen said that were not related to WO. That an innocent (I believe) verbal slip may have contributed to this instinctive reaction is an unfortunate aspect of the episode, and one which Paulsen may regret. (OTOH, he may find this alternative interpretation personally encouraging since it suggests the booing was due to miscommunication and not a personal repudiation).

If Kevin McGill or Spectrum agree with my interpretation, I encourage them to correct the record on this unfortunate event that has been so often misreported (I believe). If any delegates who participated in the booing or were seated among booing delegates are reading this, it would be helpful to hear their version of events and why they or their neighbors booed.

However, I suspect that the “booing against Paulsen’s WO stance” interpretation of this event is probably too deeply seared into progressive Adventist memory for the historical record to be corrected. After all, many of us watched the episode in real time and “clearly remember” Paulsen being booed for advocating women’s ordination. But do we?


i think you’re onto something…i’ve seen the video, and i do think Africa’s reaction had more to do with a perceived racial slight than it had to do with Paulsen’s pro-WO views…i think you’re right that there was a hint of a midstream correction in Paulsen’s delivery to Africa…to me it sounded like he suddenly understood that he was sounding like he was lecturing Africa, and quickly switched to a less patronizing tone…

Paulsen was in earnest as he spoke…perhaps his pro-WO earnestness got the better of him, and he forgot he wasn’t talking to fellow Norwegians (i think Paulsen is from Norway - he doesn’t look Dutch to me…my grandpa was Dutch)…it’s a delicate thing for a White person to talk from a position of knowledge to a Black African…it’s almost impossible to avoid the perception of patronizing disdain, even when it isn’t intended…i was looking carefully at Paulsen during this whole exchange…i didn’t detect any intent in Paulsen to come across as even remotely racist, but i don’t think he did as much as he could have to make that plain…

perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is:

Is Our Interpretation of our Collective Memory of Paulsen Being Booed Inaccurate?

this is an example of a moment where actual attendance, and taking in the feel of the crowd in the hall, would have left no doubt as to what was really happening…it’s one thing to see and hear recorded, accurate reality…it’s quite another thing to feel it as a result of actually witnessing it…for me, the feel of a situation has always been the most meaningful and reliable…

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