Here I Stand — A Proposal for Constructive Response to the General Conference


(Spectrumbot) #1

The General Conference’s 2018 Annual Council has voted a document that constitutes legislation to deal with non-compliance by more local entities. This action has its roots in the controversy over women’s ordination and the choice by multiple Unions in various world fields to continue to ordain women and maintain the ordination of those women previously authorized. The pro ordination position rests wholly on the principle of human equality, and understood to be supported biblically. The con position rests mostly on the need for the minority of the world field to accept the position of the majority — as voted at the 2015 session in San Antonio. There is a secondary reason espoused by some of the con supporters — belief that the doctrine of Male Headship is biblical, and thus normative for the church. Headship has never been an Adventist doctrine to date, but some feel this is a mistake that ought to be corrected. And the female ordination controversy provides such an occasion.

Many have been disappointed by this outcome. They feel that the General Conference has taken a position contra human equality and is hierarchically authoritarian, thus violating core Christian principles. And, to some, it even emulates a Catholic governance structure. In the aftermath of the vote such reactions have spawned various ideas for resistance to any follow-on actions by the GC to ensure compliance.

There are two levels where resistance can be manifested: individual and organizational. As individuals, some have stated their intention to leave the church. Others are suggesting tithe diversion. Whatever people individually decide, with their conscience and before God, should of course be respected. My concern here is what the organizational responses ought to be to this GC vote, primarily at the Union level, but perhaps also by conferences and local churches.

And there is no shortage of suggestions for regional level organizations to consider. They invariably have included some sort of proactive pushback against the General Conference, with vague references to legal action, or considerations of a regional structural change to reshape the global SDA organization into a looser confederation of semi-autonomous fields.

The phrase “Here I stand; I can do no other,” many recognize, is attributed to Martin Luther.1 It was supposedly spoken before the Diet of Worms, where Luther calmly provided a morally-grounded case for why he could not recant his position. It has become a shorthand stand-in for the general idea of unwavering adherence to one’s conscience, irrespective of consequences. And this, I believe, is the mental model that the various regional church entities understand they are following in taking their reluctant, and deeply uncomfortable, position in opposition to the General Conference’s pressure for conformity. Obviously, many other Adventists see the “stand” differently — as rebellion against the established order of the church.

But if this “here I stand” philosophical posture is what roots the Adventists who oppose the compliance commissions (and, more fundamentally, affirm the equality of women in ministry), then some forms of proactive pushback are problematic. Legal action and/or organizational restructure initiatives would, at minimum, harden the positions in this disagreement and could, at worst, fracture the denomination. Those who favor these types of counter-action ought to recognize two important factors:

1. If the reason for the “here I stand” posture is moral, then if regional reactions to the GC action are, instead, legal/organizational/political, that undercuts the high-ground principle from which the stand was taken in the first place.

2. It is not the case that these regions seeking to ordain women have their membership totally behind them, and likewise those regions opposed have many who disagree with their leadership and would align with the pro-women’s ordination, compliance committee-resisting position. Thus a significant but underappreciated aspect of this difficult time is that there is an evaluative activity, even a moral wrestling, now active in the world Adventist “court” of public opinion. If, for example, those unions at the forefront of resisting the General Conference were to proactively seek some sort of organizational separation, I believe it would be a “bridge too far” for many members in their territories. They would lose membership support by ceding the high-moral ground, as noted above.

A better model, I believe, comes from the historical examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. While all analogies are imperfect, the salient component in those analogs is non-violent resistance in the face of legal pressure. In both of these situations — British India, and a segregated southern U.S. — the resistance was grounded in the moral position of human equality. The counter position had the rule of law. Gandhi wisely recognized that he was appealing to a universal ethic, with an evaluating audience primarily in Great Britain. King absorbed the lessons from Gandhi and recognized the analogous situation in his choice of approaches to deal with Southern racism.

Public opinion is usually mixed at the outset of a specific conflict, and typically there are also partisans who are more interested in pushing a position than in dispassionately finding the “best” solution. Here is where “spin” enters the discourse, which complicates the evaluation process by the broader constituency. Disambiguating this takes time for people of good will to reach personal, principled conclusions. And, in the Adventist setting, there is also the widely-held belief that there will be a church “shaking” in the last days. Thus it is very tempting — because it is a simple argument — that whoever seemingly threatens organizational cohesion is therefore instigating this expected shaking.

However wrongheaded that conclusion might be, when aligned with the specifics it is a serious risk to the cause of affirming women’s equality without precipitating a church split. This is a fine line to walk, but as soon as power is appealed to, the grounding of a conscience-based rationale is compromised. The best path forward for the regional organizations in dispute with the General Conference is to make “here I stand” the operating principle. Stand, but not react in any way that could more strongly be construed as “rebellion.” For the regional organizations, this means they must stay squarely and solely in the arena of conscience. Organizational pressure may come from the GC but, like with MLK and Gandhi, this would only eventually show the difference between the two grounding philosophies. Protest activity — in argumentation appealing to conscience — is quite appropriate, but organizational escalation ought not to be initiated.

Notes & References:

1. Some historians believe Luther did not actually say this. For my purposes, that doesn’t matter.

Rich Hannon, a retired software engineer, is Columns Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.

Previous Spectrum columns by Rich Hannon can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/rich-hannon

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9153

(jeremy) #2

i think this article captures well what needs to be at least considered in our current church situation…but as i see it, defensive litigation, in the event of GC aggression, isn’t necessarily an example of initiating organizational escalation…it’s the way things are done now…i’m not sure luther, ghandi or MLK really had this option, which means they may not be effective analogs…in addition, no-one can say that the threat of defensive litigation wouldn’t be an effective deterrence…

but regardless, any effective defense strategy would need to include an advance knowledge of which unions and/or divisions would stand with the so-called non-compliant unions in the event of a legal show down…and the important variable of membership allegiance should probably be determined through church by church surveys, using a generous built-in margin of error…i would think that these types of calculations ought to be engaged in now…


(Darnley Thomas) #3

What exactly would the actions be that would ‘not be construed as rebellion’? Unions continuing to ordain women? Withholding tithe to the higher organization? Ignoring calls to form compliance committees? These actions would not be considered “rebellion”?. Just the exercise of conscience! Ted Wilson and his enablers would certainly not consider these actions “rebellion”.


#4

A careful, nuanced argument from Rich Hannon that should not be ruled
out as one of the possible options in resolving the issue(s) at stake.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

Conversion means that one has turned from self to a Creator, Redeemer, sustainer God. institutionalism is only available for like minded. Many denominations, Adventist included are bold in asserting that their mantra is an absolute requirement. From this posture penalties can be applied to none conformity., If that is an absolute Then only those who live in a century old dictum are “safe”.


(Chris Blake24) #6

Thank you, Rich. This is an elevated response in itself. An appeal to conscience is, naturally, going to be difficult for any compliance committee to gainsay.

The rub comes in what is perceived to be rebellion. Gandhi and King were certainly both regarded as rebellious lawbreakers; hence, they served jail sentences. Of course, so was Jesus of Nazareth, executed for His crimes. What distinguished them from other criminals–what fomented broad and lasting impact–was their posture, their love, their inclusiveness, their dignity, their lack of peevish pushback.

May the same be said of us.


(George Tichy) #7

Rich, I applaud your intent of finding a more conciliatory way to resolve this ugly situation created by the GC. However, it appears to me that this GC admin already made their mind, and they are determined to exterminate all and any people who do not bow down to their radicalism, those who “dare” not to talk and act as discriminators of women.

Therefore, in my opinion, the resistance has to be clear and swift. The more the Unions wait, the worse it will be for them. I think that the Unions that make a clear declaration that they will NOT support discrimination of women have a better chance to keep the enemy more reluctant to attack.

Make a declaration, get your attorneys ready, and wait for the KGC’s attack. I don’t think the GC will actually dare to attack, because they know they have no legal rights to do that. The GC is counting more on their self-conferred religious authority than on legal grounds.


(David R Larson) #8

I agree that “ecclesiastical disobedience” along the lines of the “civil disobedience” of Thoreau, Gandhi and King is the best way forward, both ethically and pragmatically. I hope that the author of this excellent reflection will follow it with a summary of some of the vast literature on the topic. A review essay about one good book would do this very well. Another approach would be to summarize one more theoretical publication by all three of these leaders. Nothing is more practical than a good theory. Thank you!


(Joselito Coo) #9

Since according to official Working Policy the hiring of qualified women and men pastors is a decision that is made between local conference and local congregations, I submit that protests based on conscience is best done right at these levels. To cite two examples of successful “non-compliance” based on conscience are, namely: the Southeastern California Conference model and numerous local congregations in mainland China.


(Steve Mga) #10

Apparently ONLY SDA African Men refuse to allow [have] women as Pastors.
Sunday we had a guest speaker from the Episcopalian “Conference” in Atlanta.
He grew up in Ghana and became an Anglican Priest over there before he and
his family came to the States.
After services I asked him if there were any Anglican women priests in Africa.
[I explained that although I had been attending for 13 years I wasn’t a member, I belonged to another Denomination.]
He said Ghana had ordained women 7 years ago, and that South Africa, Kenya,
Uganda had been doing so MUCH LONGER than that.
So Apparently, ONLY SDA MEN in Africa are AFRAID of women as pastors.


(Steve Mga) #11

I wrote this on another site.
Does the Local SDA church congregation have ANYTHING to offer that would ENTICE
other Christians to WANT to leave theirs and begin worshiping with a group of “strangers”?

Just like SDAs there is a family tradition of worship – 3 and 4 generations in the same
church congregation. This is a very difficult decision to break on the emotional level.
So, again, the SDA congregation needs to ASK — WHY would ANYONE break those
ties and join OUR Local SDA congregation???


(Tim Teichman) #12

Oh, can I answer? Pick me! Pick me!

image

And would you like an apple? Can I clean your whiteboard after class?


(Cfowler) #13

Steve,
What do you think the SDA church has to offer, as opposed to people/churches who are already Christians? What more needs to be added?


(Cfowler) #14

I’m not Steve…but, I pick you…


(Sam Geli) #15

Rich, this article is s map for real positive change! Thank you.


(Tim Teichman) #16

The main reason someone would leave their church is because we are right and they are wrong. It’s rightness that people want in a religion.

For example, we are right and we know that the dead are asleep (despite many biblical examples to the contrary) and that is just so, so much better than what other churches teach. It’s compelling. It’s revolutionary.

Why we are so right we’ve discovered that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. And that’s super important, too! Even though it appears to be 5 billion years old… it isn’t! It’s amazing! It and our sun and all the other planets (presumably) just popped into existence 6000 years ago, unlike the entire rest of the universe, which has been around for 14 billion years.

Oh, and also you can’t eat shrimp or pork, which is hugely attractive to other Christians.


(Cfowler) #17

The good thing now, people have access to info, right at their fingertips for most people. Maybe they aren’t as easily swayed…not that I think they were anyway, but they can check out the SDA beliefs and doctrines and see the problems that reside there.

Yes…that is a big draw! Who doesn’t want to follow food laws!


(Tim Teichman) #18

Right. But only half-way.

  • Only each kosher animals? Yes!
  • Only eat meat prepared according to the bible (from the same laws that indicate which animals to eat?) Well, no.

Also, don’t forget… No wine! (Also completely un-biblical, but hey, who’s really paying attention?)


#19

(don’t worry I get what you are saying)

lol…but but I thought Jesus made wine as his first miracle…no son that was vegetarian wine, not the stuff available today
(I was told this as a child)


(Tim Teichman) #20

LOL. Ironically, having worked in the wine industry in the Napa valley while attending college upon the Holy Hill, I learned that there really is no such thing as vegetarian wine - or grape juice. Both include a variety of material that is not a plant. They’re full of whatever creatures got swept up with the grapes, like spiders, various other bugs, worms, bacteria, and so on and so forth. And dirt. Lots of dust on everything. It all goes into the crusher unwashed from the fields. The bugs and dirt gives the juice a nice zingy taste.