Editorial: Esther, Gamaliel and Elder Wilson

(Spectrumbot) #1

Could anyone say the church’s current president bends to the wind of fashion?

Not reasonably.  In Utrecht, twenty years ago, many American and European delegates to the General Conference Session were arguing that the Bible supports gender equality in ministry.  Elder Wilson declared that an NAD effort toward the ordination of women would contradict Scripture and create “widespread factionalism.”  Every delegate, he said, should “vote against” the NAD request.  Still, upon becoming our leader fifteen years later, he did support a worldwide study process meant to give people on different sides of the issue a fresh opportunity for deep reflection.

No consensus emerged, and in that light the 2014 Annual Council voted to place this question before delegates to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?”
I know people who doubt that the majority of delegates will vote Yes on this question if it means going against Elder Wilson’s wishes.  Others think a Yes vote is possible irrespective of his wishes.  But Elder Wilson is our leader.  His opinion matters, and it matters because the stakes are so high.  The risk of injury to Adventist unity and morale seems greater now than it was in Utrecht, and divisional self-determination concerning the question of gender equality in ministry seems ever more ingenious.  For if anything has become clear, it is that such equality is a matter of conscience for an increasing number of Adventists.  For many who oppose the idea, their stand is also a matter of conscience.

If Adventists could now agree that the best option is intentional and loving openness to difference on this matter, we could leave San Antonio, I believe, fundamentally as one.  Everyone, after all, loves the international character of Adventism; and everyone wants to stand side by side in basic solidarity with Christ and one another.  It is well to remember, therefore, that at least for Adventists alive with Ellen White, sheer uniformity was never the goal.  The preamble to the 1872 statement of faith, meant to explain Adventism to the wider world, said pointedly that the document was not meant to “secure uniformity” of conviction among Adventists.  Our own story, it turns out, opens a door Elder Wilson could help us walk through.  He could very well, like Esther, have come into his influential role “for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).  

In loyalty to principle, Elder Wilson has shown backbone against the wind of fashion.  It seems likely (I don’t know for sure) that he remains dubious about the scriptural legitimacy of gender equality in ministry.  So if, to his fellow church leaders, he began advocating a Yes vote on the question that will come up in San Antonio, would that compromise his integrity?

Here another name in Bible history comes into play.  Gamaliel, one of Paul’s own teachers, sat with a council of Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Peter and the apostles for defying their order to stop teaching in Jesus’ name.  He rose up and said the council should “let them alone; if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin,” he went on, “it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”  No evidence suggests that Gamaliel himself was on the side of Peter and the apostles.  He just recognized that sometimes the best way to deal with disagreement is to let it play itself out, trusting the outcome to God.  And so he mustered the courage to recommend this approach to his colleagues.

Were Elder Wilson to emulate Gamaliel, it could spare the church much grief.  A Yes vote would erase the specter of forced compliance with a new policy.  Divisions could pour more energy into mission.  Everyone in San Antonio would sing “We Have This Hope” with roof-raising gusto, and the hallways and eating places would resound with words of relief and gratitude.  What is more, Elder Wilson would take a huge step toward leaving a legacy he can be proud of, rather than one that makes his name a byword for discord.

This is Elder Wilson’s Esther moment.  This is Elder Wilson’s Gamaliel moment.  Church leaders, especially Elder Wilson’s closest colleagues, should begin now to encourage him into seizing the moment.  In living memory, there has been no graver threat to Adventist unity than the one hanging over us today.  Nor could there be a greater breakthrough to renewed solidarity than the one that offers itself just now to all of us, and not least to our General Conference president.


Charles Scriven is chair of the Adventist Forum board, the parent organization of Spectrum Magazine.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6704

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #2

It’s incomprehensible to me why Elder Wilson isn’t making every effort to educate & prepare the church for a vote that will preserve unity. The outcome of the predictable No vote is also predictable: ongoing divisiveness & conflict. However, those of us who fear this tend to forget that such an outcome may be what Wilson regards as preferable. His long-term belief is that the ordination of women/elders is a perceived Biblical stance; waiting is then concession enough. As a Biblical stance, inevitably the sword must fall & those who disagree can be shaken out. It is the price of standing for his truth, however negative the consequences for the church,


This is the stance we should all take. Regardless of how the vote goes, we must trust that the outcome is the will of God. However, either way, there will be those who will not believe it is God’s will, unless it goes in their favor.

Myself, I will support the decision of the GC, regardless of which way the vote goes. We cannot keep ourselves distracted by these issues. We must concentrate on our greater commission which is to spread the gospel to the world so that our Lord can end this mess once and for all.

(Rheticus) #4

A great deal of wisdom and insight in the article. There is one issue though…

Wrong. He is an administrative servant, not a theological leader. His role is to manage the GC as it responds to requests from the Union Conferences, not to set policy or decide theology.

It is interesting that the USA seems bent on turning its president into a Czar, and the SdA seem bent on turning their president into a Pope.

(Figobay) #5

I am pretty sure Elder Wilson is in favor of the YES vote; actually, I know so. But at the same time I find it difficult to expect him to lead the way to a yes. He will sit back, probably, and let it play itself out, so that whatever the outcome, he can still stand as someone neutral. And I would respect that.
Regardless, I am fairly sure there will be a YES vote this summer.

(Allen Shepherd) #6

First of all, the vote will be yes: the world is weary of this problem, and the West’s refusal to let it rest. And, it is not a moral issue. One poster recently said, when it was pointed out that Jesus and Paul did not ordain women, when they had the opportunity to do so against cultural norms, that they were given a “pass”. So, actually, to this individual, the morality of the issue was not determined by Jesus or Paul, but by him. Are supporters of WO thus above Jesus’ example?

The stakes are only high because of liberal intransigence. Liberal conferences have refused to refrain from ordaining against church policy, and even electing woman presidents. Is this such a vital issue that that is necessary? As I said once before here, the liberal position is D— the torpedoes, full speed ahead. We are RIGHT, and we will divide the church if necessary to get our way. But it will not happen. The other folk are more tolerant of rigid stubbornness.

And what it the basis for this “matter of conscience”? Western liberal thinking. That is the only foundation. The scripture is ambiguous, as is Ellen. Certainly WO is allowed, it is not forbidden. But why the moral certitude? Only one reason. The desire to conform to Western thinking and avoid the embarrassment that having the present policy entails. If you can show a reason, that is really Scripturally based, or a Clear thus saith the Lord from Ellen, then it is a matter of choice and not conscience.

And if we can’t? TW has been accused of warning of “grave consequences”. Is Chuck giving us his warning now? If we don’t vote the way he thinks is best, well, we might not walk out singing Kumbya, but, a tune of another color.

Wow. You better watch out, Ted. Just think of the blessing that could be poured out if you would only fall in line. This sort of talk is from someone who feels that WO is God ordained and Spirit led. That is an assumption. Now if may be, but the tactics of the proponents sure do not say that to me. Chuck, don’t you see the railroading and threatening posture here? If you think this is such a good idea, do you really need to write like this?

Completely brought about by those advocates who will not listen to their brothers that disagree with them.

A couple of more things

  1. Ted has allowed this vote. If his control were so powerful, and he was so against this, the vote would not be scheduled.

2 Articles such as this and its threatening tone really harm the case of those who are for this. I find such writing counter productive.

(Carolyn Parsons) #7

Since I can remember, The presidents of the church have acted as theologians in chief. Elder Wilson may have taken this to an exquisite level. Many people around the world hang on ever word that comes out of Elder Wilson’s mouth and pen and he speaks a lot around the world and writes many columns for Adventist Review and Adventist World.

On the other hand, to be a proper pope these days, he needs to eat with alcoholics at a soup kitchen and live in a modest apartment. :slight_smile:

(Thomas J Zwemer) #8

yes without a wife. Tom Z

(Allen Shepherd) #9


Mr. Obama wants to be a Czar.

And it is clear that Ted is not looking to be pope.

Liberal folk put so much responsibility on him when it is the conservative votes of the body that give his policy power. He was voted in by a large majority, folk who believe his thinking is correct. He could be voted out next time, but likely will not be. Although Spectrum folk are rabidly against him, the rest of the church does not feel that way. I think the vote will be yes, and he will be the next president as well. (I don’t know if there is going to be an election)

(Tihomir Odorcic) #10

I already predicted that option. It could be his last concession: “This I would still tolerate, but nothing more,” he will say, "No concession in FB 6, no concession in LGBT issues, no concession in EGW canonization, no concession at all. I gave you the women ordination and that’s all, folks. Let’s go home and carry on the mission of the Church."
He’ll get five more years, and we’ll get only WO and a persevering president.

(jeremy) #11

figobay, your view is exactly my view…if ted hadn’t matured in his view on wo, he’d be twisting arms every opportunity he gets, and he’s been getting a lot of overseas opportunities…his silence is evidence that he’s pro-wo, and doesn’t want to be perceived as influencing the delegates either way…

i think we need to remember that mark finley is ted’s advisor, and mark finley is definitely pro-wo…

(Allen Shepherd) #12

I think you are right as well. I don’t know that he is pro, but will let it go, as it is not a moral, make or break issue for the church. the others that Tihomir mentions are. He has a pretty negative view of the man, but I think TW is a better leader than most of the folk here realize. Good post.

(Ed Reifsnyder) #13

Actually, one could consider the “yes” option as the neutral position. It accomodates both perspectives on the issue. The “no” option accomodates only one side.

(Rheticus) #14

On the contrary, it is clear that Neil Wilson (then) and Ted Wilson (now) both are trying to reverse the flow of authority from the original congregations-up model to the Roman Catholic top-down model.


The plain and undeniable fact is that the Seventh-day Adventist church is most assuredly not a ‘congregational’ one (although it contains elements of congregationalism) but is clearly of the…‘hierarchical’ variety." - Neal C. Wilson is usually the attributed author for this remark, although it is not clear at this anti-SdA website. I’d like to refer to a less biased location, but don’t know of one.

By having the GC even vote on this issue, the GC power grabbers are trying to get the Union Conferences to acknowledge the GC has authority over them - which it does not have.

Curiously, having just made the above generality, the brief goes on

Each unit has a large amount of autonomy. Local congregations elect lay elders, deacons and other officers; the local conference office supervises all local pastoral and evangelistic work and relations and pays all pastors and other workers in its territory from a central fund. Theirs is a highly representative form of government."

(Allen Shepherd) #15

I don’t think Ted can do anything about the representative form that we have as you have mentioned. You think he has more power than he does. It is the church in session that has voted the actions. Now he can sway folk. But I think you put more stock in him, as if he was the one pulling the strings. Believing he has such power accommodates a posiyion that it is not the church but him that is the bad guy. The church voted in '95.

Now I have never been a fan of Neil. Think he was heavy handed. But I don’t see so much of that in Ted. Besides, the president has so little to do with the day to day operations. You guys think of him 100 time for each time I think of him. And my members never do. So, I think he is a liberal bugaboo, when the rest of us just see the regular workings of a conservative church.


Few doubt that the current President is hostage to his own convictions.

Convictions that were published in a thesis of 30 years, and are predictable motifs in mantras. While stating preference in the WO forums, in both the Columbia and Pacific Unions the leader made the issue a matter of personal loyalty. Have we heard evidence that lessons were learned? The composition of TOSC was composed to guarantee dissent.

The challenge with conviction politicians is that they predicate divisiveness.

When the adventist historians of the future write up this era:

Will they consider sustainable Revival and Reformation to have happened?

Will they concur that the distribution of millions of Great Controversy precipitated a turning point in Christ centred affinity?

Will they concur that the suppression of literary depth and breadth contributed to the demise of Review and Herald, media outlets and academies?

Will they consider that Adventism became a communal force for good in major world cities?

Will they consider that foundations for integration in the thought challenges of the 21st century were laid with regard to Science, Technology and its moral and ethical consequences?

Will they find it a period when a passion for the poor, the weak, the oppressed were championed expressed in unrivalled growth and subscription to the likes of ADRA?

Will they recognise that this was a period when thought leaders inspired deeper contagious forms of faith and belief?

Will they recognise a church distorted by the impact of celebrity egos?

Will they conclude that leaders in the household of Silver Spring drew together in ever closer purposeful ness?

Will stewards be able to say that they honoured that which was given, used power with a sense of grace, and served purposes greater than themselves to quote Peter Block.

The answer to these questions will not depend on a tribal liberal or conservative personality, but an openness to learning and adaptation that expresses the highest of Kingdom values.

(Carolyn Parsons) #17

I have to disagree Alan. Elder Wilson is immensely popular outside the US and Europe among some of the most conservative SDAs in the world. People quote him often and speak about his leadership in glowing terms. They believe he is taking the church in the right direction toward a more conservative theology. Even without official power he holds psychological and theological power in the lives of millions around the world.

(Allen Shepherd) #18

Do you really think this man has that kind of power?

How can there be purpose when there is constant agitation about one issue, WO? I think the historians might see it as something that distracted.

And there is a certain sense that it does not matter what the historians thought, but what Jesus thinks.


One might point out that assuming God is dictating people’s votes is a wrong-headed notion. The GC is not more of an ordained meet up than a prayer group down the street that has already prayed and been inspired in one direction. Let us never have the pride to say that our method is God’s method and let us never discount social justice.

(Allen Shepherd) #20

But don’t you see, if the majority want to go in that direction, it is THEY who are the movers and shakers, not Ted. He just reflects their desire and thinking. That is why I say these things, I agree with you. Ted just represents the thinking of many, and likely most of the members.

I don’t have a problem with him, and many in the NAD don’t either.

What I am says is that it is not Ted who is the problem, much as many here would like to think. It is the church as a whole. He just stands for that mindset.

It not that he has “psychological and theological power” but that they believe in the position he holds.