Is the IBMTE Harmless?

A week before publication, the two unnamed persons who are the subjects of this account received a copy of what appears below. —Charles Scriven

I can’t put a pretty face on this story. Except as human hearts bend toward contrition, there will be no happy ending.

Since December 15, 2016, I have been inviting two church officials with responsibilities related to Adventist higher education to make an actual response to criticism of a General Conference-sponsored effort to monitor, and possibly discipline, Adventist religion teachers for what and how they teach. The attempt has accomplished nothing. So far these officials (both members of IBMTE, or the church's International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education) show no interest in conversation.

A currently employed teacher of religion at an Adventist college in North America, Daryll Ward, has offered the only published analysis of the substance of the “endorsement initiative,” as this effort is called. Ward notes that the initiative would require Adventist college teachers to demonstrate, at five-year intervals, their alignment with some 35 pages(!) of official text that bear on what and how they teach. They would also have to submit all of their publications to official review by (at least in theory) bureaucratic entities outside of their employing educational institutions. Ward argues that the rationale for all of this is “self-contradictory,” “alien,” “vague” and “corrupting.” It is thus “a stunning betrayal of Adventist identity,” and raises, indeed, the question of whether “Rome has reclaimed another one of her separated Protestant brethren?”

This analysis may or may not be illuminating. By no plausible standard is it trivial.

In the hope that progress may still occur, I am not now naming the two officials. My first email, dated December 15, summarized Ward’s argument and made a single request. Within the church (see Matthew 18), and certainly within academia, disagreement calls for conversation. I therefore asked that “one or both of you offer (soon, and for publication with Spectrum or some other entity) a point-by-point analysis of Ward’s essay; either that, or use your influence to assure that someone who supports the endorsement initiative does so.” One other option, I said, would be an interview conducted by Alita Byrd of Spectrum.

I heard no response. Nor has anyone in Silver Spring acknowledged Daryll Ward and what he wrote. I would have thought that responsible leadership would say, “Wait a minute. You are one of us, and we respect you. But we think you are wrong, and here’s why.”

Instead, nothing.

Church leaders know that the endorsement initiative disturbs Adventist religion teachers. In that light, I sent a second email on January 12, 2017, making my request again. In their own “self-reckoning,” I wondered, did these two realize how their “silence” concerning thoughtful criticism “constitutes a very costly self-indulgence?” I remarked that the Reformation, which we uphold as a providence of God, was largely shaped by “professorial dissent.” I noted, too, that “all our fallen minds are teeming with misunderstandings and self-delusion, not to mention grudges large or small, so that we all require, again and again, respectful correction by others.”

Invoking Matthew 18, I said further: “Spirit-led conversation that involves the centers of Adventist power is the church’s only hedge against cynicism, and against the pain and suffering it produces.” I even worried that the IBMTE’s initiative to monitor Adventist religion teachers from the top might hasten us toward “a papal, or even a totalitarian,” form of governance. “Vladimir Putin,” I said, “does not need to answer, or even to acknowledge, his critics.”

Again I said I would be grateful to hear from them. Again, neither responded.

On January 29, 2017, after telephoning the pertinent administrative assistants to confirm my contact information and to arrange to copy each of them on what I would be sending their bosses later that day, I sent a third email. I repeated some of what I’d said before (only a bit louder), and added that teachers and people like me live quite agreeably with church members we disagree with; we know that we need “exchanges with persons not ourselves, fundamentalist, conservative and otherwise; persons of any stripe who can nudge us out of our biases and sin.”

But what’s hard for us, I went on, “is effort to control thought from the top, and indifference to appeals for conversation.” How, I wondered, can we hold on to our sense of being a movement “if, despite the clear example of the Adventist pioneers, we stigmatize fresh thought and discourage exploratory conversation?”

This time one of the two officials did reply, assuring me that the year-long process for developing the endorsement initiative had been thorough and fair. But the official must know that this point in itself would be a matter of debate among Adventist educators. As for what I had asked about — the question of the substance of the endorsement initiative — he said nothing.

Later, some eight weeks ago now, I suggested in a fourth email to these church officials that a phone call might be in order. We could talk about these matters. I left my number; neither responded.

All this has been going on since December 16. By now someone will be marveling at my naiveté. How can I not get it when these leaders are blowing me off? Well, I have persisted because I do not relish the hypothesis their refusal suggests. It suggests either astonishing intellectual poverty at the top of church bureaucracy, or drift into ever more cynical authoritarianism. Either of these bodes ill for the church’s future. Can communities whose leaders are incapable of rigorous, out-in-the-open conversation keep their movements strong? Can communities that careen into religious authoritarianism maintain a capable membership, one ready to meet new challenges?

Shared convictions matter; boundaries matter. Any community must find a constructive way to discipline members who mock its values and tear down its solidarity. But no community can afford the dazzlements of self-satisfaction. Nor can any community afford, over the long term, thoughtlessness and arrogance at the top.

I think the two persons I’ve been communicating with might agree with this last paragraph. Then why won’t they, or someone they delegate, stoop to the level of the rest of us and actually carry on a conversation?

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7956
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Why won’t they participate in conversation?

–Fear
–Sense of their “right-ness”
–Preservation by fiat of the purity of religious education
–Dislike of challenge
–The conviction that they are right and answer to no one
–Disdain and disrespect for Spectrum and its readers
–Sense of superiority over all educated religion professors
–Need to assure conservative donors they are doing everything in their power to keep religion education at their institutions conservative and consistent
–Continuing their desire to overpower Boards of Trustees to control certain content

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They won’t reply because they are fearful for the hazards to their economic well being.

Walter Rea, after years of dedicated ministry, was despicably denied his pension by Neal Wilson ( father of Ted ) when he dared to publish what was later, authenticated by other sources, EGW’s plagiarism.

Rea’s pension was only restored on his promise of no further publications, thus he was effectively MUZZLED.

The apple does not fall far from the tree, and Ted Wilson will have no compunction of vindictively financially penalizing any employees who stray from the "straight and narrow ".

On researching multiple college rankings to assist my grandson on his university choice, I found some interesting facts about Adventist higher education:

None of our NAD Adventist universities had any ranking in the category of ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.

But of the four thousand colleges in USA, three of our Adventist schools, ranked in the top FIFTY, for those graduating students who had the highest student DEBT.

This medieval approach to vetting our teachers is reminiscent of Galileo and the Catholic hierarchy.

Our high priced colleges, graduating students heavily in debt, are already
UNRANKED in the category of excellence.

A further decline in quality will occur with the IBMTE initiative, as academic freedom is the HALLMARK of all prestigious institututions.

This should be a RED FLAG to all prospective students.

They would be better off at the nearest and cheaper public school/university where teachers are not muzzled, and where freedom of discussion and thought is a high priority.

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Unfortunately the liberals’disdain for church doctrine has made it come to this. I’m all for it. The real Adventists have nothing to fear.

[quote=“pagophilus, post:4, topic:13267”]
The real Adventists have nothing to fear.
[/quote]. Just wondering how Jesus would have responded to the real Pharisees of His day if they had tried to IMBTE Him to protect their orthodoxy? I suspect that the Good News of the Gospel stands the test of academic freedom. As Jesus noted in John 5:39, “they are they that testify of Me.” Jesus encourages independent thought rather than following the system.

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Even now the Gospel is not a factor in this dispute. the first angel has the Everlasting Gospel and immediately Adventism declares it is a day, not a redemptive act. With that as a given, it assumes the authority to mind control over every jot and tittle of the 28 plus SA. Job security has a mighty pull.

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Daryll, maybe you don’t remember me, but I remember you as an undergrad. And I agree completely with you on this. Don

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@pagophilus, I beg to differ on serveral counts with your statement:

  1. You seem to know who the “real Adventists” are … that is dangerous in and of itself - because it makes you judge. Let me just tell you, that especially my brethren from former East Germany (who suffered for their faith more than we ever did) would say: we won’t let certain groups define “Adventism” in order to push us out of our church home.

  2. You assume, it is fear that drive those who are opposed to the endorsement. If you were right, you would hear much less from our Adventist educatonal institutions. It is not fear, but rather disagreement in terms of
    a) need (all academics are thoroughly vetted by AAA, religion teachers ususally also by the credentialling process),
    b) appropriateness (the mandate of teachers in higher education is to do research, find “new light”, reformulate and communicate our positions - thus the endorsement process - especially its intention - is diametrically opposed to the mandate of scholars.
    c)organizational procedure (endorsement usually is something you get for outside employment - e.g. military chaplains, employed and paid by the military need an endorsement to document they are authorized by the church, even though not employed.)

  3. Last but not least … you give a lot of power to the “liberals” when you claim it is their “disdain for church doctrine” (a claim I strongly refute) that “made it come to this”. They do not have this kind of power, never had. On the contrary - the whole endorsement issue is a show of power of those who no longer want dialogue, development of our understanding… or to put it into the pioneers’ lingo: new light,

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So well stated. Thanks for this articulate perspective.

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Just to repeat Tom Z’s comment…it may disappear, but it is too important to not be read.

"Real Christians have nothing to fear. They build upon the Rock of Ages, while Adventism builds on Dan. 8:14

Christianity is built upon the Cross, not a tent.

Amen to that!

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Yes, I do remember you. Thanks for your concurrence! Those were great days at AU now half a century ago.

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In 1991 and 1992, Enron and WorldCom went bankrupt. There was accounting fraud. People went to jail. One of the world’s preeminent CPA firms went out of business after a tiny few of its audit employees were found complicit in the Enron debacle. Congress reacted by passing legislation setting new standards for corporations.

What has followed since has been an intense focus on better governance and corporate accountability. Buzzwords emerged. “Tone at the top.” This terminology came into being because top executives at both Enron and WorldCom were found guilty of fraud, and they had set a tone in their companies that ensured their flawed values and attitudes were built into the corporate culture. That turned out to be disastrous. Ever since, corporate governance responsibilities include evaluating the tone set at the top by senior management as part of appropriate internal controls on business activity.

Thinking about “tone at the top” in the context of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we should not be surprised at the events described in the article above. There is a definitely a tone being set at the top.

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“TRUTH IS PROGRESSIVE” :
“The great principle so nobly advocated by Robinson and Roger Williams, that truth is progressive, that Christians should stand ready to accept all the light which may shine from God’s Holy Word, was lost sight by their descendants. The Protestant churches of America—and those of Europe as well—so highly favored in receiving the blessings of the Reformation, failed to press forward in the path of reform. Though a few faithful men arose, from time to time, to proclaim new truth, and expose long-cherished error, the majority, like the Jews in Christ’s day, or the papists in the time of Luther, were content to believe as their fathers had believed, and to live as they had lived. Therefore religion again degenerated into formalism; and errors and superstitions which would have been cast aside had the church continued to walk in the light of God’s Word, were retained and cherished. Thus the spirit inspired by the Reformation gradually died out, until there was almost as great need of reform in the Protestant churches as in the Roman Church in the time of Luther. There was the same worldliness and spiritual stupor, a similar reverence for the opinions of men, and substitution of human theories for the teachings of God’s Word.” {GC88 297.1}

LIES ARE “PROGRESSIVE” :
“The Bible declares that before the coming of the Lord, Satan will work “with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness;” and they that “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved,” will be left to receive “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” [2 Thessalonians 2:9-11.] Not until this condition shall be reached, and the union of the church with the world shall be fully accomplished, throughout Christendom, will the fall of Babylon be complete. The change is a progressive one, and the perfect fulfillment of Revelation 14:8 is yet future.” {GC88 389.3}

What ‘grade’ did Moses or John the Baptist get in ‘Theology’ classes ?
What ‘grade’ did Solomon or Jesus get in ‘Science’ classes ?

Until freedom from conformity to a textbook’s, or to a teacher’s, incomplete opinion of Religious or Scientific ‘truth’ --simply in order to get a passing ‘grade’, a diploma, a degree . . . and a high-paying job that can pay off a deadly student loan – is given to every student, there is no legitimate argument against the SDA GC IBMTE attempts to control scriptural ‘truth’. If SDA teachers wish to have intellectual freedom from IBMTE oversight, then they must grant intellectual freedom to their students, and cease awarding or withholding ‘grades’ and ‘degrees’. Simply teach students to think and to feel and to act independently as healthy individuals, taught by the same Spirit of Truth that taught the Bible writers.

I see SDA ‘pots’ calling ‘kettles’ ‘black’, here . . . and all such ‘vessels’ are also leaking badly from ‘separation’ damage.

Not only is ‘truth’ progressive, but ‘Advent Movement’ truth, especially, involves BOTH ‘Scriptural religion’ AND ‘Creation science’, which were intended to ‘blend’. ‘Scientific’ truth has advanced rapidly since the ‘separation’ of the education of healers and ministers (especially after the early 1900s) while SDA ‘religion’ has steadily retreated toward ‘blending’, instead, with ‘Babylon’. ‘Ministers’ and ‘Theology’ teachers are being targeted ( or exalted ) unjustly.

If there is to be an SDA GC ‘International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education’ standard for SDA teachers of religion, then there must simultaneously be an SDA GC ‘International Board of Healing Arts and Scientific Education’ standard for SDA teachers of the sciences, and both boards must work together as ‘one’, or the SDA GC ‘kettle’ can never ‘hold water’, at-once, as-one, and lead us to the ‘New Jerusalem’, hand-in-hand.

The ‘Advent Movement’ is not just about ‘religion’. If it is, then why not dump all the rest of the Adventist hospitals on the Catholics, too, ASAP ? We have been divided, and we are being conquered, because our understanding and teaching of ‘Truth’ has been separated, and not ‘blended’.

Do SDA GC leaders typically have ‘ministerial-theological’ educational backgrounds, or ‘healing-science’ educations ?

I recently saw a You Tube video of a lecture given by Robert Wieland. I could understand him perfectly when he said that after he had his trials with SDA GC leaders over the ‘1888’ episode, he was surprised to find that he was no longer afraid of them.

In 2009, before re-joining the SDA church, I read Herbert Douglass’s 2008 book, A FORK IN THE ROAD, regarding the bad theology (and science) expressed in the ‘QOD’ book he was helping to edit as a younger man in 1957. In it, he expressed a wish that some younger generation would straighten out the mess he had been involved with. (In fact the ‘DNA’ scientist, Francis Crick, was doing just that in preparing for his scientific publication – presented just 8 months later – ‘On Protein Synthesis’ . . . just as Herbert Douglass was told to stop editing ‘QOD’, and it was published and distributed.)

In 2010, I Googled ‘Herbert Douglass’, and found his website, with a phone number. I had stumbled across new ‘scientific’ discoveries that pertained to his book and his expressed wish, so I simply phoned him to share the good news. He was ‘too busy’, and brushed me off like I was an infected mosquito.

Later, in 2015, I tried to give the same information to a prominent SDA ‘ministerial’ ‘1888’ website, by email, lamenting that Herbert Douglass had rejected hearing it.

Their response :
“Herbert Douglass was right. Go waste someone else’s time.”

It is impossible to reject the scientific truths of how we were Created, and may be Redeemed, without simultaneously rejecting the religious truths of how we were Created, and may be Redeemed.

As a result of my unhappy encounters I, too, am no longer ‘afraid’ of my more highly-educated – more highly-conformed – SDA ‘betters’. I have learned that far too often they are simply ‘degree-d’, but ‘divorced’, and pathetic ‘parents’ who nonetheless long for my un-divided, helpless and ‘childlike’ attentions to their pet bias. The only way to retain my ‘Advent Movement’ in-divid-uality is to think and feel and progress in ‘all truth’ – symmetrically – without them.

I was baptized about 50 years ago by Daryll Ward’s father to the song ‘I Surrender All’. I had ‘passed’ the baptismal class. I knew who was ‘the Beast’ and I knew who had the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’. But, it was still one of the worst and guiltiest days of my life. It took me over 25 years to figure out that I did not know what to ‘surrender’, or to Whom, and I officially ‘left’ the church to find out on my own, away from GC-endorsed SDA distractions. (church offices, quarterly, Sabbath bulletin-worship . . .) I ended up returning – alone, in spite of the GC – to ‘1888’, and soon realized that the great ignoring of basic ‘science’ truth among SDA ministers was a continuing, confusing, truth-denying tragedy. . . no matter how ‘degree-d’ they may have been in ‘Theology’.

I’m back in membership, now, and I’m still amazed that serious theological arguments involving the future of the whole SDA church, still exclude God’s first, unscripted, but universally-understood ‘Word’ of Creation ! Can God’s ‘Words’ ever disagree ? Then, can they not settle disagreements, if considered together ? Both the ‘Spiritual Formation’ GC argument, before 2010, and the ‘Women’s Ordination’ GC argument, ongoing since before 2015, had brand new pertinent ‘science’ discoveries to consider, but the GC clearly failed to seek out and bring those discoveries to the attention of the church.

It was also the suppression of true ‘science’ – not merely of ‘scripture’ – that made the ‘Dark Ages’ as ‘dark’, as the ‘Advent Movement’ is quickly becoming. Yet, ‘sola scriptura’, even, immediately directs the reader’s attention to the ‘light’ of Creation, as does the ‘First Angel’s Message’.

Job had ‘heard’ of God. He had plenty of Theological discussions with friends. But it wasn’t until he ‘saw’ God working mightily and tenderly in Creation – such ‘Science’ providing a second, cor-rect-ive witness – that he ‘repented in dust and ashes’. And, as a result of that corrective ‘vision’, Job’s troubles were soon over. All because he saw God as God truly is – Creator AND Redeemer, simultaneously – and refusing to condemn such a whole God to justify his formerly un-whole self, he was then able to pray for his relatively blind, un-scientific – merely ‘Theologian’ – friends.

I pray that the GC and IBMTE either quickly ‘behold’ that mighty and tender-hearted Creator AND Redeemer that Job saw and are changed into His image, ASAP, or that they rise up and fall with ‘Babylon’. Then they will stop obstructing and confusing the view for the rest of the hurting world. There is One Mediator between God and Man – the Christ, Jesus. We would see that Jesus in His wholeness, not in partiality, not in argument. And we would see that Jesus individually – face to face – not through the fragmented medium of an IBMTE or GC ‘vote’.

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MY guess is that the reason these two individuals refuse to enter into a conversation about the endorsement of religion professors “every five years!” is that they know that the rationale given to it from the beginning was a smoke screen that any intelligent readers could see through, and they know in their hearts that having a board of inquisitors is not the way to preserve a healthy church community. In other words, they are intelligent enough to know that they cannot defend what the committee to which they belong did. This means that if they were to enter into a conversation about these endorsements, they would have to make public their own positions on the matter.
Asking someone else to enter into the asked-for conversation would probably do the same for those others.
One of the above commentators said it best when he said the pressure comes from wealthy donors who wish to keep the Adventist church in its XIX century garb. When it comes to ecclesiastical policies, the dominant voice is not that of the Bible or Mrs. While, it is the voice of the mighty dollar.

By the way, I also thought that my good friend Daryll Ward, as usual, did a most insightful analysis of the damn policy.

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Come out of her My people, that you be not partakers in her sins.

What, exactly, is achieved by not naming those two officials? “In the hope that progress may still occur, I am not now naming the two officials.” With all due respect, we are all old enough to know that this is a false assumption; we have no experience, otherwise.

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And we could all probably name all three of those owners of “the mighty dollar” who obfusticate.

The unavoidable conclusion implied by the IBMTE’s action is that our present understanding of truth is static. It suggests that we as a denomination have arrived at a full understanding of everything there is to know about God and his workings. How could a truth-seeking professor ever advance in their thinking if bound by a signature that anchors them to that which is presently believed?

EGW seemed to think otherwise about all of this. In Counsels to Writers and Editors, pp. 33-51, there is assembled some of her most challenging comments against this kind of thinking. Each person genuinely concerned about this issue needs to read this entire chapter. Here are a few excerpts:

“But we are not safe when we take a position that we will not accept anything else than that upon which we have settled as truth.“

“Let no one come to the conclusion that there is no more truth to be revealed. “

“Long-cherished opinions must not be regarded as infallible. It was the unwillingness of the Jews to give up their long-established traditions that proved their ruin. “

“Those who sincerely desire truth will not be reluctant to lay open their positions for investigation and criticism, and will not be annoyed if their opinions and ideas are crossed. “

“When new light is presented to the church, it is perilous to shut yourselves away from it.”

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I was honored to be asked to contribute to the 2016 Annual Council in Silver Spring by contributing two articles related to accountability of education institutions including higher ed. I am a professor and department chair at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary so am among those confronted with the IBMTE initiative. After researching and writing the two papers I find myself yet pondering the organizational attitudes and behaviors that collide in the effort of our General Conference to assure orthodoxy and loyalty to the mission of the SDA Church. I am going to limit this response to the context of higher education.

  1. The General Conference assumes in the IBMTE endorsement plan to impose a standard of accountability that has already been entrusted to the college/university board of trustees. The boards of trustees are elected or appointed in various ways but the most common approach seems to be the election of trustees at a general session. For instance, the board of trustees that serves Andrews University is elected at the General Session by duly appointed delegates (BA 25 30 Organizational Structure of Legal Entities) and are charged “to advance Seventh-day Adventist mission and identity” within the organization. Superimposing an accountability process on top of an existing accountability process could be interpreted as a lack of trust or confidence in the board of trustees to carry out its assigned duties to evaluate and impose change where needed to assure adherence and commitment to church values and mission goals.

  2. I also perceived a strong sense of need to enforce compliance along a very broad spectrum. There seemed to exist a general sense of distrust of those called and tasked with theological education. This raises my concern for the continuation of our “hierarchy of order” structure that has been the historical SDA organizational norm by gradually morphing it into a hierarchy of power that assume enforcement authority over the entire system. This reveals a growing attitude at the GC level of a move toward a “hierarchy of power” that is inconsistent with the power limiting model voted in 1901. The fact that our GC president has adopted the title “President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (see article bylines in Adventist World) rather than President of the General Conference raises my concern that the authority to enforce values and behavior throughout the system is a reflection of increased commitment to an emerging power hierarchy. We were organized as a distributed leadership model wherein authority is limited to determined boundaries and each entity is responsible for values accountability and enforcement. I fear for where this may be taking us as a church.

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Are you serious?!! Try teaching anything other than liberal orthodoxy in a public university and see how long you remain in their employ!

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