Just Something that Happens Every Five Years

To be completely honest, I never questioned the General Conference Session – it’s just something that happened every five years. I understood it to be a place where church leaders, who I figured were much older than me, went to make decisions on how I could or couldn't lead my life. Don't get me wrong – I didn't merely see it as an arbitrary ritual, but in essence that was the place where the details of how my everyday life was to run were voted on.

God gave humanity holy inspiration through Biblical scriptures, however it is clear that there are many issues that have arisen today that were not applicable in the context of Biblical life. The more I meditate on the General Conference and the purpose it serves through its numerous councils, committees, and quinquennial sessions, the more I realize that it's been responsible for shaping how I lead my life, and for the answers I give to major ethical issues.

On October 12, 1992, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists' Executive Committee at the Annual Council session in Silver Springs, Maryland voted on the guidelines to abortion, taking a stance against the practice and stating, “Abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection, or convenience are not condoned by the Church” (full statement here).

On September 27, 1998 in Iguacu, Brazil, the Annual Council of the General Conference's Executive Committee voted on human cloning. It took a stance against the issue stating, “Given our present state of knowledge and the current refinement of somatic cell nuclear transfer, the use of this technique for human cloning is deemed unacceptable by the Seventh-day Adventist Church” (full statement here).

On October 3, 1999, in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Annual Council of the General Conference's Executive Committee voted on homosexuality. The church took a stance on this issue stating, “Seventh-day Adventists believe that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman” (full statement here).

Reflecting on these different issues that shape the way I lead my life as a Christian today, I can’t help but think that when these major decisions were made I was too young to comprehend what they meant. I was not part of the discussion within my church when these major determinations were made.

I am no expert on Christian ethics, specifically those that pertain to the Seventh-day Adventist church, however I only know one thing to be true: I seek to live my life in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, and I hope to fulfill his purpose for me on Earth in all that I do. Does the latter mean I need strict guidance from the decisions made by the General Conference? I’ve grown up with these determinations already put in place, and because of this I never questioned them, and I didn’t know what life would be like without most decisions regarding my beliefs already made for me. However, how did those who grew up before issues were officially reviewed by the Church’s Executive Committee feel about ethical dilemmas? How did they govern their lives?

As Christians, how to do we determine the extent of our moral conscious? Is it by waiting to see how things are voted on by the General Conference, and then taking a passive approach by letting these decisions blindly guide our lives? Or should we instead address the issue proactively and seek to find God’s foot prints in what we do because we love him and not just because we have to or because someone years ago before our time – someone else – voted on it?

Arleni Calderon is a senior studying toward a BBA in Management at Andrews University.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6914
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This question was answered for me in a park by a little old school Asian lady. I never met here before or since.
I was at the park with my daughter who was 4 at the time. I had read the books on letting children make decision and give them lots of room to grow. My daughter would not listen to me or obey anything I was suggesting she do. This little lady is watching this happen. I start to explain my hands off parenting. She listen, then looked me right in the eyes and said,"You being lazy, Your job is to teach her right and wrong. When she grown then she will make good decisions. You just being lazy."
That 20 seconds of tough love and wisdom changed my life. I became a tougher and more loving parent. My guess is your parents had something to do with building your moral conscious. It was part of their job.
PS. when your mom was all in your business growing up. That was her business.

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The Executive Committee has the task to sum up and express our understanding, position and belief based on the Bible. They don’t determine anything, they just say again what the Bible says and if they don’t then we’re not supposed to listen to them, because we did not baptize in the name of the General Conference, but in the name of Jesus Christ who is our Lord. Our morals are based on the Scripture, which we call Bible and I cannot think of an issue that is not adressed there, or something of which we can’t see a clear model presented in the Bible. People who reject God and truth don’t know where they go, that is what the Bible says, it is also what we see, so if we go by what they tell us, we are surely going to end up in some bad place, that wasn’t God’s will for humanity. So stick to the Bible, search the Scriptures, because in them we have eternal life, as they are, that testify of Jesus.

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My parents also raised me with good morals and the importance of integrity and principles. But there are numerous questions faced today that were never even imagined, or spoken of.

IVF was unknown; same sex marriage was unknown; even racial discrimination was part of the culture of the Deep South where I spent all my childhood. The answers the church gives today were not the questions raised yesterday.

But if someone has been taught to have good moral and ethical principles, she should be able to make judgments and decisions personally, rather than have any church or entity to make that determination; the church can only make statements that the church has agreed upon. To defer to any other authority is to abandon your own conscience.

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Justice and Mercy are among the TWO greatest Issues in the Bible.
Providing Justice, giving Mercy to others, giving Forgiveness to others.
Providing Justice, giving Mercy to myself, giving Forgiveness to myself.

Wrapped up in these three are most of our Moral and Ethical issues that we face.
Providing these three requires Knowledge and Wisdom.
We also have to understand that the ability to KNOW changes with time. New information, new facts, new understanding. And we have to allow old decisions to be discarded in the face of the NEW. It is WISDOM that allows us to put into practice this NEW.
Organizations that just meet every 5 years CANNOT possibly keep up the NEW. This is the dilemma of being a part of an Organization where we regulate our life by their pronounced “Rules”.
This is why we have to study the Bible for ourselves. So we can receive Wisdom on how to apply the Principles of Life found there in for ourselves.

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The challenge is that The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about bicycles, Scrabble, chemotherapy, or the internet: one has to go back to principles, and the implementation of principles is interpreted and determined by culture.

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Excellent point!! We will not be judge as a group. Gods judges the individual.

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Is this true? There are verses in Proverbs telling us how we should use money and how we should not. That would give you an answer to the bicycle “issue” I think. It is the point which EGW presents. Scrabble - never heard of such an issue before?! If Scrabble is a reason for altercation or envy, or hatred, violence - even with words only - then don’t play it, simple as that.

And what is with chemeotherapy? Not doing it wil kill you, doing it might kill you too, and is connected with great amount of suffering. I wouldn’t do it if I had cancer, I see no ground to call this a sin. If somebody does it, I won’t consider him sin either. Even to discuss chemeoterapy as an issue of right and wrong is wrong, I see no ground for this, give me a hint.

Internet is a way of transporting information. The rules we have for analog media apply for digital as well, nothing challenging here either.

Often it is not the Bible that is unclear, be we and our cultural influence indeed.

I will give you an example, that I don’t preach, because I know, people won’t listen. But I won’t watch football (soccer) game or go to the stadium etc. Not only that it is a waste of time, that it may cause addiction, that the extreme of it turns violent, but in the sport itself is too much aggression, hatred for the other team, mockery, lies, cheating, doing everything to win, and some distorted values mixed within. I don’t want to be part of this. Leveticus 19 tells me clear that is not where I am supposed to be and it is not what I am supposed to do. And I live a happy life. I do sport myself, I go mountain biking, inline skating, used to go jogging, and I enjoy life and nature and training without competing with others, I found this to be good and I based it on scripture. So the Bible is clear, we are not.

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I am glad that you make principled decisions. I think this is how we should make many decisions in our lives. I do the same thing and my goal is to be more thoughtful of decisions all the time.

Having said that, I fail to see how biblical principles guide us on embryonic stem cell research and abortion for some cases but not others. These examples feature balancing acts that include non-biblical principles that come from our modern understanding of ethics, science, technology and medicine. There are principles involved that don’t come from the bible.

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Well, to begin with, I was speaking metaphorically—by use of metonymy, precisely—to refer to popular mechanisms for sport or transportation (no Biblical mention of Segways, surf- or skateboard, either), harmless games, contemporary medicine, and the knowledge economy driven by technology; second, my point has been made: the Bible (and a good share of Sister White) gives us principles. We should not allow poor management of resources, avoidable life-threatening conditions, or damaging addictions affect our lives or the lives of others adversely.

That’s a principle. Football promotes violence, for example, as you pointed out; television can be addictive (don’t know, exactly what the Bible says about addiction—we have reason to believe the use of opium medicinally and recreationally was common during Biblical times, although nothing about what we would call “drugs” today is mentioned); tickets to professional sports events are often a drain on finances, never mind the time a person could spend reading books, which helps us identify creative, imaginative, figurative, literary language. Our minds were not made to write textbooks and user-manuals.

Mountain biking, inline skating, and pushing a human body beyond normal limits can be a drain on health, and on psychological and financial life and can also be addicting. The same goes for internet surfing, which has serious deleterious effects on many aspects of life. Again: principles, not directives. All of this is contextualized, historicized. We look for Biblical principles.

Again: principles—and you just pointed that out. By the way, the bicycle issue brought up by Sister White and later Doctor Kellogg was not so much a warning against a misuse of family funds as a proscription for women, specifically—too much of a possibility for homo-eroticism, which they thought would drain a person of intellectual energy. Today, few families would outlaw bicycles in the family but would encourage their use for health’s and the environment’s sake. Culture at work.

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