Can Our Leaders Become Theologically Paranoid? – Presidential Annual Council Sermon – 1


(system) #1

The recent Annual Council's presidential sermon has generated controversy and some worries in the Italian Adventist community. For immigrant Adventists now living and working in Italy the sermon's content and rhythm is perfect. It represents both what the church believes and the world needs to hear. But for many native, truly converted and engaged Italian Adventists that sermon instead represents the resurgence of a decadent, sectarian Adventism we naively thought was a relic of the past.

With due respect to all those in Italy and the world who praise that sermon as being the prototype of what we should be preaching, I feel constrained to offer a brief theological critique. My perspective is that of a Peruvian missionary pastor who has been working in Europe for the past twenty five years.

The church presidency, like any other department or sector, ought not to be above administrative and theological assessment. The administrative assessment is well understood and applied regularly every five years. There is an election. A theological assessment, however, instead is often skipped or undervalued. This is, in part, because the institutions that should be doing this (mainly the BRI and Andrews Theological Seminary) are somewhat distracted. They can become involved with the detection and control of more visible “heresies” around globe – or are themselves often accomplices of the same theological reductionism and unilateralism. In my view the necessary and continuous theological assessment of the GC presidency is a different sort of effort. It's not mandatory in its conclusions and involves no sanctions. But it should provide theological awareness, balance and orientation to the president's public positions – as often articulated in various sermons. And that is what unfortunately is not happening at present.

This theological assessment must not be obsessed with evaluating or weighing the president's individual words, initiatives or strategies, but rather general trends. Every church leader ought to have a legitimate latitude of opinion without being attacked or censored. But here, with this presidency, we have continuous, serious and problematic theological trends. No GC president should use the office as megaphone to his own personal convictions without any filter. And the issue is not progressive versus conservative ideas. A GC president has the right to be theologically conservative and we should learn to respect and appreciate that. But what he should do first, together with the church advisors, is a serious and deep theological, spiritual, social and cultural analysis of the general condition of the Adventist community at large and of the surrounding current cultures. Only after that should he elaborate a vision that will, necessarily in part but not totally, coincide with his own. When a president's public strategy and speeches correspond totally with his personal theological agenda and deep moral convictions – potentially contrary to the majority – we don't have a healthy and stable institution, even if the dynamism and the efficacy of the movement has increased. Moral coherence is a necessary but insufficient condition to have a noble presidency leading the church. In theology, like medicine, there exist differentiated and opposed anomalies. People can be sick by either a hypo (under) or hyper (over) functioning of the liver, heart or the immune system. Likewise, in theological thinking and practice, people can be “spiritually ill” or “religiously unbalanced” by being hypo-Adventist but also by being hyper-Adventist. But this presidency and leadership circle seem to act as very reductive “physicians”, diagnosing all the actual Adventist malaises as solely due to hypo-functioning of the Adventist identity.

Conversely, I would contend that some important problems we face today aren’t because we are not Adventist enough but rather because we have become much too inflexible as Adventists, institutionally and theologically. Thus, misleading diagnostic categories need to be urgently reviewed, and then rebalanced through a continuing dialogue with local churches and territorial educational institutions. This can't be reduced to disguised proselytizing activities, obsessed only with the transmission of acquired knowledge. It should also become, in part, experimental research to create new “present truth” in order to monitor and improve today’s Adventist message. From this perspective, initiatives like those provided by Spectrum – with all its limits, unilateralism and obsessions – nevertheless represent a richness and guarantee for the church as a whole to make it more credible.

The Adventist general trend today, so present also in this presidential sermon, is to see problems as located almost exclusively outside the church – in other churches or society at large. And the repetitive obsession with some traditional theological themes and the chronic unawareness of our main structural limits suggest a curious parallelism with paranoid dysfunction.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. And paranoid disorder is not monolithic. There are various degrees, clinical pictures and levels. On a first level paranoia is a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur. On a second level it is a personality disorder generally characterized by a long-standing pattern of pervasive distrust and suspicion of others. Someone with paranoid personality disorder will nearly always believe that other people’s motives are suspect or even malevolent. On a third level, paranoid attitudes may exist in normal and functional persons when the excessive suspiciousness and hostility is expressed in overt argumentativeness, in recurrent complaining, or by quiet, apparently hostile, aloofness.

Because people with this orientation are hyper vigilant for potential threats they may act in a guarded, secretive, or devious manner and appear to be “cold” or lacking tender feelings. Although they may appear to be objective and unemotional they more often display an emotionally unstable range of affect, with hostile, stubborn, and sarcastic expressions predominating. Such combative and suspicious nature may elicit a hostile response in others, which then serves to confirm their original expectations.

I would like to briefly highlight two elements that seem to characterize these paranoid psychological profiles: Ego-syntonicity and allo-plasticity. Ego-syntonicity means that the person/patient does not, on the whole, find their personality traits and behavior to be objectionable or disagreeable. He or she feels perfectly ok. Allo-plasticity means that the person tends to blame the external world for their misfortune and failure. In stressful situations there is an attempt to preempt a (real or imaginary) threat, change the rules of the game, introduce new variables, or otherwise influence the external world to conform. The person feels that others have to change and he or she wants devotedly to help them.

Now, in a hypothetical move let's take these two descriptive categories and, crossing the hard fences of theological isolationism, let's try an epistemologically hybrid application.

1. Theological ego-syntonicity

Here is a quotation from the president's sermon that, I suggest, fits into this first anomaly:

“This prophetic movement, described in Revelation 12:17 as God’s remnant people who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus,” is constituted in only one body of faith today: the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Thus it is no surprise to see Satan warring against us with unbridled fury.”

There is theological ego-syntonicity as anomaly, when Adventism feels ok despite objective evidences, outside and inside the church, that clearly show we have serious theological imbalances.

2. Theological allo-plasticity

Another quotation from the President's sermon that fits the second anomaly:

“As you look at how the world is falling apart in every area — politically, economically, socially, ecologically, and ecumenically — could there possibly be any doubt that we are seeing the signs of Jesus’ soon return?...We are also told that society will become like Sodom and Gomorrah just before Jesus’ return. This is happening now, as well. We are seeing the general, popular acceptance of the sins that brought down fire from heaven destroying cities. Lying and deception of all kinds have entered every phase of our society. Predictions of financial collapse are heard on every hand. Natural and man-made disasters are seen throughout the whole world.”

There is theological allo-plasticity as anomaly, when Adventism describes others: current societies and other religious communities, as completely wrong and bad, despite objective evidences that show, not only that such other communities often do better than us, but also that we Adventists are not behaviorally and theologically so balanced and healthy as we pretend to be. Religious and theological health is much more than having principles and doctrines correctly written in a theological creed. Inferring a perfect creed has the air of idolatry. It is one thing to be inspired and write our own creed. It's another to consider that creed as completely right. It's not a deadly sin to have an imperfect creed. But it is a serious one to not to see our own theological imbalances.

Can our leaders become theologically paranoid? My answer is yes, they can. I'm not saying they already are, but some signs go in this direction. If that were to happen I hope that the membership will be strong enough to resist. If it may be too much to ask the community to educate theologically delusional leaders, at least we can ask the community to avoid electing them. But in the actual myopic apocalyptic effervescence of the Adventist general mood even this may be too much to ask.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. Currently he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6416

(Elaine Nelson) #2

For another review of Wilson’s address go to Adventist Today website. It is even more scathing in detail.


(Frankmer7) #3

It seems that the characteristics of such leadership are a reflection of the theological culture from whence it springs. Adventism, as an apocalyptic movement, has conspiracy theorizing aligned with an externalizing of evil in the form of Catholicism and apostate protestantism, as part of its traditional DNA. Its self view, as the remnant church of Bible prophecy, which comes from extremely suspect handling of the biblical text, lends itself to a construct of end time scenarios involving institutional persecution and/or superiority…often surrounding the issue of Sabbath worship.

Never mind the Christians all over the world who are persecuted for their faith in Christ, now. And that it is real for them, now…having nothing to do with Sabbath, denominational names or claims, or projected times of trouble in the future.

Thanks…

Frank


(Sirje) #4

Exactly. Nothing has changed; and maybe that is the problem, as stated in this article. Wilson’s sermon sounds like any other SDA sermon floating out of airwaves of the 50’s, when I first heard them.


(Peter) #5

Adventists are a self-identified remnant. The Bible, the “clear” “just-as-you-read-it” Scripture does not specify who the remnant really is. Nor does it say that it is a “church”. Perhaps it is simply a diverse group of people from every tongue and nation, not necessarily belonging to one church. I have had the growing belief that this denomination is infected with systemic “conceit” that harms it and causes a barrier in “attracting” others to join.

I think Adventists have erred on the need to self aggrandise to bolster their courage as new, maligned, paranoid group of people with a peculiar message.

Can Adventists truthfully claim that they alone give the “testimony of Jesus”. Come on. Many Adventists today do not believe the “The Testimonies”, a collection of letters written by Mrs. E. G. White to specific people and not originally intended to be published in book form, are what the writer of Revelation was referring to. Cry out, David and Kevin. But more and more Adventist pastors are courageously pointing out the “testimony of Jesus” is not necessarily or exclusively the writings of any one person or the exclusive property of just our denomination.

And dare I even touch on the sins of Sodom? The Bible “clearly” says in Ezekial 16:49 what those sins were: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Do you really think that is what Elder Wilson was referring to when he said that "we are seeing the general, popular acceptance of the sins that brought down fire from heaven [destroying Sodom]? Really? The world is, in recent times, becoming more arrogant, overfed, and failing to help the poor and needy? Is that a recent problem? There is probably more concern now for the poor and needy than there has ever been. Doesn’t Ted know his Bible any better than to even infer otherwise? He is preaching a message here that is clearly in disagreement with the “clear word of God”. This is misuse of the word of God!

We deserve a GC President who has a far better understanding of these things and understands the importance of not using the tool of fear as a means of attracting people to Christ or retaining their loyalty to Him.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

a charming way to say the man is a loose canon. Tom Z


(Cfowler) #7

Scripture says that, “But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake.” John 15:21

See also, Matt 10:22, Matt 24:9, Mark 13:13

Persecution will/may come because of Christ, not Sabbath. Scripture is clear on this.


(Elaine Nelson) #8

You who are still officially members of the SdA church, how do you feel when this is given world wide publicity to answer that you also belong to that church; and since it’s no different than when you joined, how can you not be embarrassed at its wide publicity?

Each and every time he speaks, and he is only saying what has been taught since its beginning, also have the same paranoid SOP-quoting preaching, it gives even more reassurance that severing all connections with such a cultic denomination was one of the wisest choices ever made. It has to be mere culture and tradition that immobilizes some to stay. Is it fear? Cowardice? Claiming it’s not what you believe but being Christian is insufficient? Can anyone offer good reasons for belonging to such a religious group?


(Kevin Paulson) #9

To translate this blizzard of high-strung rhetoric into simple words: Elder Wilson’s sermon at Annual Council hit the mark once again, and so-called “progressive” Adventists are terrified that their erstwhile “safe space” in the church is cracking wide open. Yes indeed, as this author claims, certain ones “naively” thought the Adventism proclaimed by our president was a “relic” of the past." Their rude awakening is only beginning. San Antonio is coming.

Interesting that this site took so long to analyze the president’s very powerful message. Perhaps it was assumed that if ignored, its impact might be diminished. Vain hope indeed.


(Kevin Paulson) #10

Peter, are you aware that the Testimonies of Sister White were published while she was still alive? On what basis do you claim they were “not originally intended to be published in book form”?

And do you think those of us who still hold to our distinctive faith are not aware that many Adventists today no longer believe the Testimonies? As if that’s anything new. When have prophets ever been popular? (Think Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist.(

Like other so-called “progressives,” you quote the Bible selectively. I am quite confident Elder Wilson recognizes the prevalence of the sins of Sodom as identified in Ezekiel. Yet he also recognizes the other sin of Sodom, the one identified in Jude 7, which unlike the ones identified is Ezekiel is a very accepted sin among so many who blog here. Sins merit more conspicuous mention when they become popular, as the Biblical record demonstrates.

You folks just can’t quite program into your system the fact that we finally have a General Conference president who unashamedly upholds our distinctive message, which so many here have chosen to cast aside because its doctrinal and moral demands they find culturally and personally inconvenient. But we do indeed have such a leader, and he will continue to lead in the direction of unqualified revival and reformation—a fully recovery of our classic faith and its changeless relevance in the chaotic world we presently inhabit.

“David and Kevin” aren’t the only ones “crying out,” thank the Lord. Many more, including multitudes of the young, are doing so. And the crescendo is growing.


(jeremy) #11

i’m praying almost every day now that ted will be re-elected in san antonio…i can’t imagine the damage that would result if he were replaced…everyone i personally know is behind ted 110%…the only negativity i’ve seen with respect to ted is here on spectrum, and it’s always from the same handful of people…

one thing i genuinely appreciate in ted is his singleness of purpose, despite obstacles - each of his three daughters has experienced recent or ongoing tragedy with their children in the form of serious illness…yet ted never complains…he always has a spring in his step, and a smile to share…ted is a rare gem…he’s completely true to principle, despite personal hardship…i really respect people who go the distance like this…he completely outshines his critics…


(Pagophilus) #12

Is not Ted Wilson simply reiterating traditional Adventist beliefs as found in both the Holy Bible and the writings of Ellen White? I think the problem is that he actually stands for something, rather than allowing continual discussion with no resolution.

Inflexible? Should we be flexible and do what Israel was doing in OT times- incorporating the sins of the surrounding nations into their practice? What exactly is inflexible? Creation in 6 days around 6000 years ago, the IJ and 2300 days and 1844 etc? Homosexual behaviour is a sin, as is any sex outside of marriage. Do you not believe in these anymore? These are the core of Adventism? Do we need to bend these a little to try to gain credibility in “modern scientific” circles?

What “new present truth” exactly do you think we can formulate? You see, we as people do not formulate truth. God does, and He has given it to us through His prophets, including those who wrote the Bible and the one who lived a bit over 100 years ago in the USA. If we write our own present truth, we’re on seriously dangerous ground (and seriously misguided).


(Tim Teichman) #13

Great article. Painful quotes from Ted’s sermon.

A very grim viewpoint. I don’t see it this way. I see progress in medicine, science, technology, lower violent crime rates, people around the world being lifted from abject poverty, and advances in theology and in biblical study and knowledge.

Of course, there can be great doubt. We know not when Jesus will return, and have been instructed not to speculate (by Jesus) but yet Christians have been predicting his soon return for about 2000 years. IMO it’s getting kind of old, all this waiting around. Perhaps we should go out and be good Jesus-followers instead.

And…exactly none of this is new.

  • People have been lying since the very beginning, according to scripture. Staring in Genesis 1, and then throughout the entire bible many of the stories involve deception. And these are the biblical heros.
  • Predictions of financial collapse? Finances have been collapsing since there were finances, and in most all cases today those collapses are not nearly as bad as they were 100 years ago.
  • Natural and man made disasters are always in the world. They’re just easier to find out about now with CNN humming along 24 hours a day. True that global warming is something new and scary, at least for us as humans, but even that is not new. The planet has been warming up in general since the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. We’re pushing it along with our incredible economic prosperity.

(Tim Teichman) #14

I searched there for 5 minutes. Site looks broken and under construction. Finally found a link: http://www.atodayarchive.org/article/2791/opinion/hanson-andy/reviewing-god-s-prophetic-movement-message-and-mission-and-their-attempted-neutralization-by-the-devil

Also, a link to the transcript of the sermon:
http://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/‘god’s-prophetic-movement,-message,-and-mission-and-their-attempted-neutralization-by-the-devil’

My fave quote from the sermon:
“Leaders in God’s church, encourage your pastors to avoid inviting clergy of other faiths to preach to our churches on Sabbaths. While it is important to be friendly to those in other churches including clergy and provide opportunities for spiritual growth, we must not ask those who do not know God’s full truth to preach sermons from our pulpits.”

I’m so glad to know that Ted thinks my pastor know God’s full truth. My pastor doesn’t think he does, but good that Ted thinks so.
I actually didn’t realize that we know “God’s full truth” (and no one else does), and when I think about it I don’t know what that even means exactly. To know the full truth, to know all things, wouldn’t we have to be god-like, be gods ourselves? That’s tempting. :wink:


(George Tichy) #15

Man, the water must have been very hot when you wrote this. Try cooler “baths”…

By the way, one technique to discourage people from voting is to shout that their candidate’s opponent is winning. But it’s not going to work this time, since my campaign is really going in a nice crescendo! It’s sad you are supporting my opponent…


(George Tichy) #16

Of course it’s not new. It’s all based on the same source, “The Boox.” Same old, same old stuff.


(Kevin Seidel) #17

7 billion people is new and the impact of 7 billion is significantly greater than we have had before. Otherwise, essentially correct. “Wars and rumors of war, but the end is not yet”


(Tim Teichman) #18

God knows the end from the beginning already. Do you expect him to change it?

I’ll counter your prayer with one that asks for Ted to be summarily dismissed before he drives the church into the ground, which I believe he is doing, though not intentionally.


(Robert Sonter) #19

Thank you Hanz, brilliant anaylysis


#20

For me, it was plain to see from the scriptures who the remnant Church was. All I really needed was 2 verses, that didn’t make it easy though, to join this Church at first (with all bad publicity out there). But I believe God led me here.

And those 2 verse are, which you all know:

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev 12:17)

And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev 19:10)

Find the Church that has these 2 things, commandments of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ, which is the Spirit of Prophecy we are told. And join it. And, yes, you will find some Churches out there that will say we have the commandments of God too, all 10, which is true, and you will have others, I’m sure like the JWs, who will say we also have the spirit of prophecy.

Unless I’m wrong though, there seems to be only one Church (in the entire world) that claims to have both…only one.