Editorial: Go Set a Watchman

After reading Harper Lee’s recently-published novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” I wonder if many of us are feeling as Scout did when she stumbled upon piercing flaws of her much admired father, Atticus. At the 2015 General Conference Session, the capacity for instant communications and quick analysis displayed the limitations of administration within our massive church organization, perhaps for the first time. Many people have felt troubled, as they try to reconcile a long-standing love and respect for the church with displeasing procedural machinations.

For some of us, the once highly admired church seems shockingly weak and vulnerable. Lay members and lay delegates, accustomed to standard corporate best practices, spoke of bewilderment by leadership’s lack of stamina in striving to reach the simple goal of ensuring private electronic voting for a mere 2000 people. This incident was seen as emblematic, and as a sort of eerie foreshadowing, of an unraveling trust in the whole process. In the course of the meetings, delegates were promised that sensitive votes would be secret ballot, yet it was unclear if leaders did accurately identify all the sensitive votes. Observing uneven preparation and delegate commitment to the issues at hand lessened the notion that the General Conference in Session speaks for God. Many church members have experienced a deep sadness and disenchantment and an initial guttural urge to distance themselves from an institution that they love yet has disappointed them so deeply.

Though not as well written as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s new release might offer us a helpful way forward. The last chapter of “Watchman” portrays a thinly developed discussion between Scout and her uncle, alluding to the inevitable ego separation that should be expected to come to healthy adults. Urged by her uncle to strive for maturation by following her own conscience, Scout is able to move toward love and some understanding for Atticus. It is implied that Scout should acknowledge Atticus’ context and inherent limitations. Similarly, we should establish an ego differentiation between our local fellowships and the massive organization of which we are a part. We are part of that gigantic institution, but it cannot define our spiritual community. Despite the claims to power, we would be misguided if we were to believe that structural procedures, machinations, and creedal parsing would be capable of producing fertile ground for kingdom growth. Like the fictitious Scout in Maycomb County Alabama, we are each responsible to set a watchman in our own sphere.

But, to what extent can we be watchmen? Harper Lee’s title, taken from Isaiah 21:6, offers a small insight for us as well. As a board member of Spectrum, I do feel a measure of satisfaction that over time our organization has functioned as a sort of watchman within our denomination. Yet, such a flat description misses the depth of what Spectrum has tried to achieve. Perusing articles over decades will show that Spectrum has attempted to provide information about milieu, background and history, as well as a fresh lens from which to view dogma and events in the church. Such broad observation and perception is akin to the sweep of history that we call “The Great Controversy.” Over millennia, we see how God has dealt with people, their mistakes, their evil surmisings and how He blessed small efforts of faith. Time shows that God is worthy to be praised. This is the sort of watchmen we are urged to be; recognizing the value of an individual to observe, perceive, and then act accordingly. We are called to a comprehensive walk with God. We are to relax in our strong faith in our Lord, trusting that He will follow through. With hope we are to expect an adventure of surprises, paradoxes and opportunities, and then we feel joy when experiencing God’s love.

Jesus constantly urged people to see a deeper context. When Jesus’ disciples reported that those not of their group were casting out demons in His name, Jesus admonished them to view the situation in a broader framework. Jesus did not support the notion that each follower is to watch over the other, merely functioning as sentinels or tattletales. Repeatedly, He alluded to facts and issues that were unseen and immeasurable. Jesus’ followers could not know the widow gave her last mite. Jesus’ followers did not know that those wanting to stone a woman caught in adultery were actually guilty themselves. Jesus’ followers were oblivious that Zachaeous had a heart ripe for transformation. In the spirit of Gamaliel we must trust that what is of God will ultimately succeed. Quick observations won’t reflect the whole story.

Unfortunately, for many people the convocation that was GC 2015 appeared to be a series of political maneuvers. Yet, we would do well to continue to watch. Watch for context. Watch for success. Watch for the fruits of the Spirit. Watch ourselves, especially. Without a doubt, the whole chain events can become a blessing. That is God’s way. He turns our bungling into something else. An important consequence may be that we will be able to see clearly the reality that the mighty Lord of Hosts is our leader. Despite loud music and constant claims of institutional importance, we have been confronted with the frailties of humanity. Many of us have a dwindling confidence that a shrinking number of top executives will be able to set the tone for the church and execute goals effectively. A healthy response to the incongruence and disappointment to the weaknesses of human organization will be to choose to grow and thrive on our journey with our fellow believers in our communities. A truly God fearing watchman will testify that when we are weak He is strong. Spiritual growth is about kindness, faithfulness, trust, reliability, fellowship, prayer, and learning. These tangibles are key to Gods kingdom and a local faith community is the venue in which such a kingdom will sprout.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

Can’t stop the dawn.

Carmen Lau is a member of the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board of Directors.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6984
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Just to be clear, the church is not God - the church does not speak for God. For those who need “Thus says Ellen White”, there is the following quote:

We have heard that the voice of the General Conference is the voice of God. Every time I have heard this, I have thought it was almost blasphemy. (Manuscript 37, April 1, 1901)

…that these men should stand in a sacred place, to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be, this is past. (GC Bulletin 1901 pp. 23, 25)

So let’s not go there again. The church is a vehicle we use to commune, to share, and encourage. It has always been in danger of going far beyond its intended role. Perhaps too many members see their relationship to God through their relationship to the church. Over time, the distinction blurs, perhaps even more so for those who are in charge of the machinery within it.

We seem to be very enamored with status (who will sit on the right side of Jesus); and harken back to the time of robes and bells and crowns. We are only to look at some of the other groups to see how far that can go. Let’s get a grip, and focus on what the structure is actually for. If some insist on platforms and pulpits, and the corner office with a view, let’s show some pity, and take them aside, like the Bible tells us to do, and have a little talk. Jesus did more than that, however, he turned over some tables and threw the money changer right out.

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Thank you, Carmen, for ending on this positive and personal level. May increasing numbers of us choose to be this kind of “watchman”, is my hope as we turn now to the realities of living Christian lives that will indeed lift Jesus up so many will be drawn to Him.

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The same speedy communications you write about can work in ways that encourage quick change to correct the injustices that the church intends to tolerate. We can thrive with fellow believers in our communities and through our giving patterns send a simultaneous message to the GC and other entities that intend to follow its lead. It is necessary to make reasonable decisions and lay aside our anger and hurt, before the negative emotions “get the best of us.” .

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i admire the optimism and long-line perspective in this article, but when a majority of our general conference delegates vote directly against the bible, egw, our biblical research institute, our andrews seminary, the general conference appointed tosc, a previous general conference president of 11 yrs, and the counsel of seasoned church leaders with global experience, i think we have a crisis on our hands…how can god possibly use us when the majority of our delegates are so tone deaf…

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The bigger the corporation becomes the worse it looks.
The one thing I could never understand is those people playing politics with straight face, all in name of religion and pretending to be God’s representatives. It is just preposterous!

No, please don’t watch anymore. The more we watch this incongruence the more disturbed we become. It’s time to stop watching at the GC and its politics; those who want to remain spiritually stable need to focus on their local churches only.

I am starting to believe that the only way to heal from that fiasco in SA is to forget it asap, and keep focusing exclusively on one’s local church. Otherwise that nightmare will haunt us endlessly. Th GC is irrelevant anyway, so why allow it to torment our minds and souls?

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Jeremy,
I can hear your discouragement and frustration.
However, be prepared for the fact that it is not going to change. It will rather get worse.

I know your opinion about TW as an administrator, and I respect your point of view. But honestly, the church is getting out of control,because since day one that man embarked in a trip that some knew will be disastrous - as it actually is right now. The craziness is just overwhelming and frustrating.

Is there any cure forms situation? I do’t thing so. For the next five years people will have the administration they chose, therefore they deserve it!

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George and Carmen

I was sad and disenchanted with some things that went on at the GC. And yes, it seems that our instantaneous communication mediums only magnifies the foibles that are apparent! I, for one almost lost myself in the jungle of messages emanating from the GC Session.

Yet I am still happy to believe that God works through the process, as broken as it may be at times. I think God at times takes us on providential detours. In the end, he will fulfil his purposes. Many times we humans may get in the way but God will see his plans through to completion.

I am comforted by the thought that no one is able to bind the conscience. If this were the objective of some, it will not be realized especially with over 40% voting for regional decisions on WO.

As far as WO is concerned I believe that since we cannot undo the vote, it is time to look at the bigger picture of ordination in toto. Adventists must build our whole theology of appointment to leadership and associated practical guidelines from the foundation up. As useful as the TOSC process was it didn’t attempt to do this.

There are people with different perspectives who are calling for cultural sensitivity as we build such a theology of appointment. Some would even suggest that the issue of women in ministry is now in a better position now than before the GC, not least because of the GC President’s affirmation of women elders and commissioned women pastors as the status quo.

I would not be too quick to fault Adventist leaders for the failure of electronic voting. It appears to me that the floor of the Session was a miasmic pea soup of electonic signals. Very few conventions would have the amount of translation going on that we had, and presumably each language was broadcast on its own frequency. It is much more important to bring the points of order to manageable levels by vetting them on the floor before they are made public, than to have electronic voting.

To have a total of only 40 speeches, equalled divided between YES and NO and yet to have a total of 35 points of order would be unimaginable in most any other context (except perhaps on the floor of Parliament or Congress). This means that in perhaps 3.5 hours or 210 minutes (from 11am -112pm; and from 2pm -4.30pm) of time allocated for debate on the motion on Wednesday, 8 July 2015 there was less than 100 mins of debate [32 speeches in English x 2 mins + 8 translated speeches x 3 mins + 2 extra minutes for Jan Paulsen = 90 minutes in total]. That is to say, less than half of the time alloted for debate on Wednesday was given over to that debate. This is just not good enough by any measure.

I certainly don’t fault the GC organisers for this obvious deficiency, but it needs to be corrected and quickly.

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And what if your local church is a very small one or if it is lost in fundamentalist and traditionalist talks and actions? Don’t forget that you are member of a vibrant and big local church. In the same time many of us here on Spectrum, especially those of us from Europe, aren’t.

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That can be frustrating; but we do have the internet and a world community at our fingertips. The church Jesus established on the rock of Peter’s declaration (THOU ART THE CHRIST) has no walls or boundaries. It spans the globe and it spans time, making us all part of a “vibrant local church”.

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I know the feeling. And yes, you are screwed up with this kind of "local church."
Many years ago I decided to never ever again be part of a church like the one you described. As I say, if I had to move to a place where the SDA church were “retrograde” like that, I would certainly do what Tom @tjzwemer did!

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Peter,
I do not share this happiness with you because I can’t in any way believe that God has anything to do with such a flawed process. To say that God was leading that absurd process would be to just try to justify the mess blaming the invisible Divinity for the tragic actions of the visible humanity!

And we don’t have to! The vote means absolutely nothing. Read the famous infamous question again. And don’t fall for the trap, i.e., for the attempt of many to convince the public that the vote was against WO. WO per se is NOT part of the vote because it’s not what the question addressed.

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I don’t know, George. It seems God has been working through flawed processes all along. Anything with a human component is flawed to some degree. I tend to believe that God was present in the process along with other heavenly agencies seeking to express His will for His people: flawed process and flawed people to boot. I don’t believe that the vote expressed God’s voice to be sure. As much as God was present many hearts were not sensitive to it, or at the very least not as sensitive to it as should have been. (This is why the simple majority vote was disastrous. It doesn’t seek consensus.) Anyway, my point being God is still on His throne working often times in spite of his dueling children. Though God is at work, we can’t put our trust in men, but try and discern the movements of God and act accordingly to them. I am heartened by the division responses to Ted Wilson’s clarification. There are among us, in leadership, who are seeing God’s leading and still acting upon it despite that ill conceived and executed vote.

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Some of your words show that you are very close to my position, but still reluctant…
I understand, it’s difficult to say it the way I said it. Many people will accuse me of “lacking faith,” etc. This is not about faith in God but rather about human dysfunctionality.

One of the biggest problems is always humans making their decisions based on their own views and beliefs, then attaching “God’s will” or “the clear Word of God” to it just to make those who disagree feel guilty! It’s an old trap used in Church for ages!

I stand by my belief: God has nothing to do with those decisions in SA It’s just human business as usual.

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Reluctant because God uses flawed individuals. He allows the messy process and often times so muddled that we cannot hear His voice. Wish I could say all of my decisions and work as a pastor in churches was a clear demonstration of God’s desire! If I did I would be delusional. (hum, did I just admit I am delusional by saying that? :flushed:)

Now, I agree, as I think you are suggesting, that not everything handed down in that camp meeting on steroids was God’s doing. I believe we are in agreement that just because God’s people assemble in the name of God and conduct business doesn’t mean God’s will was expressed in each decision. I got so tired of that phrase “sweet spirit” that I wanted to scream. Just because we use words to make things sound positive, when the environment is anything but expressing that “sweet spirit,” doesn’t make it so! From the get go since 2010 I have seen little of God’s Spirit manifest in the proceedings and process that led to the vote at SA. I have seen ideology driven manipulations to achieve a personal result so you could call it God’s voice that was conducted. And that is what I think you are saying, so maybe we aren’t too far apart, George. Maybe a little closer! :blush:

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I enjoy your honesty and flexibility. At this pace it will take you no more that two further posts to fully agree with me ! :slight_smile: :laughing:

Don’t worry about the “delusional” part. @elmer_cupino (the couch guy…) and I will take care of it for you (on the house).
Look at Elmer’s new couch waiting for you, and he is ready to take notes!

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Peter… given your accurate analysis of the procedures followed, I find it incomprehensible that you made your last statement. It seems to me that given the evidence you saw… plus many other things as they happened… that you would not put the “fault” clearly on the “organizers” who directed this whole fiasco.

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In my view, there is absolutely no need for all those delegates to talk at the time of the voting. That’s all baloney. If they can’t vote without talking, they should not vote at all - just go home!.

What role does the “talking” have in the process besides being just disruptive and inconvenient? Left alone the booing…

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Wish our leaders would realize that. However, it is not uncommon for our leaders to refer to this as “God’s calling” under the rubric of “GC in session.”

Good for you. As for others, it serves as a soothing lubricant akin to hypnotic effects.

@GeorgeTichy

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This that @Sirje wrote, is… IMO… and practice… the only real answer to the question of the identity of the “church Jesus established”… including the SDA church… which then gives each of us the identity of belonging to the SDA church… no matter how strained and errant any particular leader or group may be. This, combined with the availability of on-line church services, is what provides me with my sense of “belonging” to an Adventist church… while the suggestion that @George made in another place and that @tjzwemer and @niteguy2 have taken… that of finding a local church of some other communion seems like a good one for service and social needs.

@petersomerset @kjames @elmer_cupino @mwortman1 @Carmen @ageis711Oxyain and any others I missed…

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