Helping the World Church to See Clearly: A Report on the Sabbath Sermon by Ella Simmons at the Adventist Society for Religious Studies

Dr. Ella Simmons, the only woman ever elected to be a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, spoke to people in a packed room on November 23, 2019 during the worship hour at the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) conference in San Diego.

With a nod to the ASRS conference theme, “1919 and Its Impact on a Century of Religious and Social Transformation,” Simmons began with humility. “My words are not inerrant or infallible or the last word on anything.” Then she moved to the proverbial elephant in the room, stating that in her view, “The 1919 Bible Conference has failed the church in many ways. Instead of launching transformational momentum, it showed a lack of courage and faith.” Rhetorically she wondered, if leaders believed God led to the conference, did they trust future Divine leadership?

Simmons made the distinction between locking a manuscript in a vault for confidentiality versus choosing to withhold new knowledge. “Can we hold what is in the back of our heads to ourselves and still be true to faith and to God?” Simmons lamented a present fear of transparent communication and anxiety related to inevitable human differences.

Moving to practical matters, Simmons reminded the audience that while Adventists were deciding what to do with issues discussed at the 1919 Bible Conference, Gandhi was preparing to lead non-violent resistance. “How do we live as religious persons? How do we imitate Christ?” Simmons stated that, for Gandhi, a virtue receives power only in its application and is no use if it serves no purpose in daily life. Simmons likes to say to doctoral students, “So what?”

Word battles back and forth in religious groups, but so what? “Keeping unity is not in the context of a denomination or leader, but of the Spirit — who we are trying to throw out.

When all is said and done, I must answer to God, not to any church.”

Simmons spoke to Adventists saying that many members don’t accept the unique denominational beliefs, and then many of those that do embrace the unique message don’t live out those beliefs. She then referred to the Mission Statement from the website of ASRS and asked, “So what?”

The Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) is a Seventh-day Adventist scholarly community whose purpose is to provide intellectual and social fellowship among its members and encourage scholarly pursuits in all religious studies disciplines, particularly with reference to the Seventh-day Adventist tradition. It was formally organized in New York City, 1979.

Simmons confessed that as she prepared to speak, an internet search had initially led her to the American Society of Retinal Specialists, and when reading the mission statement of the “other,” more well-known ASRS group, she felt an awakening of instruction from the Holy Spirit.

Simmons characterized the “other” ASRS as a group that sought to promote inclusiveness, education, research, fellowship, and service. The “other” ASRS was about “seeing” clearly. Simmons then presented a potential diagnosis: the condition of the Adventist Church is one of “retinal dysfunction.” She painted the possibility that the ASRS to whom she spoke could be the retina, the thin tissue that lines the back of the inside of the eye — near the optic nerve — that functions to receive the light on which the lens has focused. The retina converts the light to signals. Simmons said, “To Adventist scholars here, you can help the world church see. Is what you are saying worth a man’s risking his life to hear? We need you. God calls you as never before to help this church see the message clearly.”

Simmons urged scholars to guide in a trajectory from theological study to practical application. She said we have too many rules and policies, but the church needs vision and assistance in praxis. Any Adventist study should lead to transformation to a Christlike life. Quoting from Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible paraphrase, she read:

Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul. —2 Timothy 2:14-16

What does God expect from ASRS? Simmons said, “To be eyes to the blind.”

Referring to attrition and conflict, Simmons asked, “Are we shooting our own? Gunning down our own to maintain control? I came to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in search of truth and found it. Now, more than 50 years later, I feel caught in a crossfire in a desert spot.”

Pointing to the need of the Holy Spirit, Simmons asked, “How can we preach the Great Commission of Matthew 28 with the omission of the commission in Matthew 25? How do we focus exclusively on the written word and ignore the promise of the Holy Spirit to write the word on our hearts?”

Skirting on the issue of inequality in the denomination, Simmons said,

“Words show value. No one says you are inferior but the words chosen can communicate quite clearly… I wonder, I wonder if we are all equal in Christ, how can we treat some members as second class citizens? Psychological slavery is worse than actual slavery. If you convince a person she is second class, she will believe you. If there is no backdoor, she will find one. If each member is to employ a loving ministry for the common good, how can we by ecclesiastical order approve or negate what He has bestowed?”

Simmons finished the sermon with an admonition to use one’s voice and follow one’s convictions. “You cannot be silent. Some say while Gandhi preached national unity, he wanted the rich to be trustees. Capitalists welcomed this. Gandhi neglected to speak against the caste system.” Simmons spoke to Adventist scholars, “You cannot be silent. Read critically, write conscientiously. Speak clearly. Tell your truth.”

Simmons said, “Silence is not about picking your battles, but let them pick you. Feel the tap on your shoulder. Your battle is picking you. You might as well have taken a vow of silence if you do not speak up.”

Giving those present a sense of meaning and affirmation, Simmons said, “It is imperative that you tell the straight truth. It doesn’t matter how many times your words are refuted and doors are slammed. You have been called.”

Carmen Lau is board chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Image of Ella Simmons by Pieter Damsteegt, courtesy of NAD Communication on Flickr. Photo taken during the 2019 North American Division Year-end Meetings, Nov. 5, 2019.

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Refreshing indeed!
Some of her ideas may actually make TW very uncomfortable. This is the same person whose speech time was aborted at the end of those fake meetings on homosexuality in Cape Town years ago, isn’t it?

If a woman can be a GC Vice President, what prevents her from becoming a GC President? I don’t get it, can anyone please explain it to me using intelligent verbalization? (No Beautiful Statements, please!)

By the way, membership at the ASRS is only $50 a year, with access to all their papers.


Never met this leader; wish I had. Wish even more that I knew her.


Her use of the Retina is scary.
Colorless light comes in, shines on the Retina.
But the Retina recognizes it as Diversity. Diversity in
frequencies. Accepts them. Allows them.
And from Diversity forms a Unified picture.
However, they HAVE TO REMAIN in Diversity to
complete the picture and to maintain its Integrity.
If a Diverse Frequency is Missing the image is
ruined and could be worthless.
Yes SCARY! If we relate it to the Church.
As it is now, Leadership sees Diversity as
dis-unity. Something to be feared. To be fought
In the scheme of things having only Black and
White vision is very limiting. It is not very useful
for most necessary activities and enjoyment.
YES! Ella is a Very Scary Person.


Ella Simmons is a crystal clear prophetic voice that calls for committed action.

We must leave the safety of our mutual admiration societies of Spectrum and Adventist Today to fight the battle for justice and fairness for all.

Our conscience must compel us to action!

We must walk the talk!

Jesus was a revolutionary. Let us follow Him!


I nominate Ellla Simmons for GC President!

While I attend an SDA church that is fairly liberal on issues of WO (and mixed on LGBTQ), I find myself today wondering if participating in this church means I am accepting of the GC view of the world regarding these issues and others. I do not know where those thoughts will take me. I see Sandy Roberts and others working within the system, but not sure if that is the proper place for me.

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it is indeed complicated. I sometimes think,“How can I invite someone to my Church? What if they get interested? Will I tell them about plagiarism, fake visions (like the “Shut Door”), un-biblical doctrines (like 1844, etc.), and many crazy things that happened in our 175 years old history?”

Haven’t found an answer yet.


Yes. To use a business buzzword, Spectrum and Adventist Today and even Fulcrum7 often seem to function as “silos.” The groups are insular and many of the people in them may not be interested, or haven’t yet discovered effective ways of communicating with those in the wider church organization.


One does soon learn one has to be careful who one speaks to
in the church congregation.
Couple of years ago at church officer nomination time, I proposed
a couple of women to be nominated as Elders. I was quickly told
that women ARE NOT to be Elders.
I even put their names under the pastors office door for consideration.

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I cannot evangelize for my church and that makes me sad. I don’t believe half of the doctrines that I was taught as a child, and most of my friends who are pastors don’t either. At seventy, I struggle as I journey to church Sabbath after Sabbath, but I am being patient.


Would you please elaborate a little more on this?

Which doctrines are you referring to? I can understand your position, but curious as to which ones stand out as problematic to you, and which ones are a problem for the pastors that you know?


In business the term silo is used when different departments within an organization do not share the same goals and priorities for the advancement of the organization. This is often done in an unacknowledged or unrecognized manner. I realize that the entities I mentioned, AT, Spectrum, and F7 are not departments or formally connected within the church as unions, conferences, etc. are, but as Adventist entities, broadly speaking, they (AT and Spectrum, I’m not sure about F7) haven’t found effective ways of feeling they are contributing to the church’s common goals or in joining together with other groups within the church to advance some of the these goals. In the Spectrum blog the frustration expressed from feeling or being made to feel separated from the church, not valued, and not being able to contribute to its advancement is an everyday subject in its conversation. The GC, as the voice of the church, with its currently wacky priorities, makes the task of integrating, communicating, working toward common goals, exceedingly difficult.

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Michael –
If you will notice here at Spectrum at least there are “Lurkers”. Persons
who read and enjoy, but do not sense a need to converse or comment.
As you will notice some articles will have up to several thousand who
have looked at them. And this goes on month after month after month.
So the following is much larger than just the ones who post comments.
ALSO, one has the ability to post articles on their Facebook page for
their friends to look at.


Yes, Steve. And there are other types of “lurkers.” Like me, who contribute to the conversation, feel a family-like affinity, may be interested in the theology and sociology of Christianity and Adventism, but can’t be classified as a believer.

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My family unfortunately has several crippling eye conditions in the family. My Grandmother went blInd in her last years. Two of her daughters were able to control or delay the harmful advance of glaucoma, by appropriate eyedrops.
A younger brother, my late Dad, during his last thirteen years had both glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, a retinal condition that limited what vision the glaucoma spared. Two of my male cousins, of four in an aunt’s family on my Dad’s side, suffered from retinitis pigmentosa (the baneful “tunnel vision” ). I myself just started on medicated drops for incipient glaucoma.

Yes, sadly. “if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

May God grant us short-sighted humans clear and visionary 2020 ocular and spiritual vision in the coming year for all the world’s peoples, the leaders of faiths and nations, as well as us as individuals, in year 2020.


Michael –
One’s Membership is in Heaven anyway. Not here on earth.
In a way, a Church congregation is much like a Support Group
for some type of problem. To provide fellowship and encouragement.
as one lives with, or is able to resolve the “problem”.

Can someone please tell me to what she was referring to when she said " hiding documents".

The church was not aware of issues that had been discussed in 1919 about the inspiration and writing practices of Ellen White. The transcripts from that conference, which occurred just 4 years after her death, were found in the 1970s and were published in Spectrum. The motivation for hiding the documents cannot be known.


I will state three… Sanctuary, ordination, Black and White Conferences