My Observations on an Annual Council Decision

Delegates gathered during October at the General Conference (GC) headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., for the 2017 Annual Council meeting of the world church executive committee. On Monday, Oct. 9, the agenda included discussion on a document that proposed to lay out enforcement procedures for issues of church governance and policy compliance. You can read the full document that was proposed HERE. Following is a report from John Freedman, North Pacific Union Conference president, with his personal observations as a delegate to that meeting.

This past Sabbath, many of us around the Northwest joined together, each in our own way, to pray that the Holy Spirit would be present during this year’s Annual Council meetings for the world church. Specifically, we wanted the Spirit to lead in a proposed discussion on matters of church governance and compliance. Monday’s agenda brought that topic to the forefront. I participated in that discussion, and many of you watched and prayed via live stream on the internet. Here is my quick report on the proceedings, and why I believe our prayers for a Spirit-led decision were answered.

Monday’s discussion on a proposed document from the world church’s Unity in Mission Oversight Committee was honest, insightful, and discerning. The central purpose for such a document was to bring about conformity to all General Conference (GC) fundamental beliefs, policies, and voted actions. Some delegates had requested that the material be given out ahead of time to allow for more prayerful consideration. That request was denied. Instead, delegates were handed the 14-page document just as Monday afternoon’s discussion began. This was immediately concerning to many of those present, including me. We all need adequate time to pray over and study important documents which have long-term implications for our beloved church.

Prior to discussion from the floor, G.T. Ng, GC executive secretary, acknowledged that the catalyst for this push for compliance was the ordination of women. Ted Wilson, GC president, who chaired the meeting, explained, however, that the proposed document also dealt with compliance issues at every level of the church around the world. It is indeed true that policy compliance concerns, including financial practices, are a challenge around the world field well beyond just the issue of ordination.

Tom Lemon, a world church vice president, reviewed actions that had been initiated in response to the 2016 Annual Council, stating that he had meetings with every division and union determined to be out of compliance on ordination. Lemon made special note that all these meetings were very cordial and insightful — centered on prayer and efforts toward mutual understanding. He found a strong commitment to our fundamental beliefs and an inspiring focus on mission. As he listened to the comments from union conference leaders in these meetings, he observed "not one person gave any hint of being in rebellion. Rebellion is an attitude before it is an action. I didn’t hear that anywhere. Concern but not rebellion. I want to allay that fear. We are children of God and we are in this together.” This was very encouraging news to me.

I was also glad to hear Dan Jackson, our North American Division (NAD) president, dispel rumors that the division is preparing to break away from the world church — conjecture fueled in part by the recent NAD move out of the GC headquarters building to another location. There are indeed differences in how our church's mission is being applied to the various regions around the NAD, but there is no sanctioned spirit of rebellion here either.

As delegates perused the document being proposed by the GC, they began to note potential conflicts in the proposed steps with existing content in the world church constitution and bylaws. Some pointed out that the proposed document significantly limited freedom of speech and the ability of church leaders and representative delegates to express differences of opinion. One delegate observed that, under the proposed provisions, even Ellen White would have been forbidden to speak against any issue, policy, or voted action at an Annual Council. Another person pointed out that the document, as presented, was a direct move away from our denomination’s Protestant roots—an ironic and troubling commentary, in light of this year’s 500th Anniversary celebration of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

I do want to point out that there was clear understanding among delegates in the room about the need for our world church to have policies and voted actions that help govern the church and move it forward in mission. That was affirmed many times. And all understand the need for unity in our church. The question on Monday was: Is this 14-page document focused on enforcing conformity really the road we want to go down? Is there a better way?

Policy enforcement indeed is necessary at times. But I don’t believe enforcement is the best or most productive pathway to unity. Instead, it often only causes more division. Ellen White understood this. She said, "The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement." E. G. White, MS 24, 1892. I agree with her. There is a better way.

While the discussion on Monday was long, the spirit in the assembly was very good and respectful. After six hours of thoughtful discussion, delegates voted 184 to 114 to send the report back to the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee for further review and work. This will likely delay any further official decision on world church policy compliance until the 2018 Annual Council.

This gives us an opportunity to pray for the members of our world church Unity in Mission Oversight Committee as they rework the document. May the Holy Spirit anoint and guide them in their work and help them find a better way forward. Pray also for our GC leadership, that God would help them to effectively lead our world church in a manner that honors the principles of His Kingdom. They have a daunting responsibility.

This article was written by John Freedman, president of the North Pacific Union Conference, and originally published on the union’s news website, GleanerNow. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image Credit: GleanerNow

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8319
1 Like

Yes John! You are correct!

The Spirit did lead the discussion to a useful conclusion. Praise the Lord! I am one of those people that believe that both the San Antonio vote and the Annual Council vote evidence the hand and the voice of God in their deliberations and final resting places.

San Antonio has rejected a disjointed, regional solution to the equality of all in ministry. And now the Annual Council has reminded us all that policy enforcement must not take centre stage as we search for unity on the issue of equality for all in ministry.

I suggest we build a new paradigm of pastoral leadership that incorporates “collegiality for all believers.” Such a new paradigm will be used to educate our members. It will involve new policy development but not be limited to that.

This collegiality for all would seek to create a renewal of biblical understanding in respect to
1. people from all world regions of the church having an equal input. We need each other as real partners and collaborators. We must not disenfranchise people because they speak a different language (Spanish, Portuguese, Swahali, Russian, Korean etc). Perhaps one way to achieve this would be to get delegates and committee members of General Conference deliberative bodies, for whom English is not their first language to send their debating points to the AV team who would then scroll these on giant screens during deliberations.
2. disciples of Christ whether salaried or non-salaried persons. Adventists must forget the old paradigm of clergy or laity. Such terms carry as much baggage as the term “ordination”. The whole people of God is not to be divided into a two tiered caste system.
3. both men and women. Both genders are to be accepted equally in our movement as pastoral leaders if that be their calling.

God calls all believers to service and to ministry. The calling of God is enfolded in the gifts of God. Much work still must be done in regard to creating a true “collegiality of all believers.”

@oldabe
I ask you to accept the decision at the Annual Council 2017 as readily as you accepted the San Antonio decision. It is possible. More than that it is very wise!

3 Likes

Elder Wilson recognises the SDA church has a problem
and proposed a solution to it.Unfortunately the majority at the meeting prefer to live in a dream world and will not deal with the reality facing them or rather the church

As other denominations have demonstrated female ordination is the start of the journey away from the plain word of God and eventual openly gay clergy in the pulpit

With this repudiation of Wilson’s leadership I see he would have little choice but to step down or else lead the few dedicated believers out of an obviously fallen church

But my guess is that he won’t as the earthly perks of office far outweigh the maybe of eternal life

Beware of the openly gay and openly female!

How about the openly bigoted?

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What is it about that 14-page document that needs another 12 month of “further review and work?” Does anyone really believe this document in its current form can be revived and resuscitated and be useful outside of self-help group Paranoid Anonymous? This reminds me of that tennis player who sarcastically challenges the umpire with “You cannot be serious, man!”

That “six hours of thoughtful discussion” was a matter of fact 5 and a half hours way too long.

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too bad no-one noticed that the underlying GC vote that the phase 2 document was seeking to enforce was a mistake, because it sought to impose a one-policy solution on a cultural matter, contrary to the clear teaching of the bible…san antonio was a mistake from beginning to end…we had an indication that something was amiss when we saw jan paulsen booed by an entire group of delegates…even some of the speeches leading up to the vote seemed devoid of the spirit of christ…but our biggest clue was the endless strife and contention during the two yrs or so leading up to san antonio…this definitely wasn’t a good sign…and neither was it a good sign that some of our most venerable church leaders, along with our seminary and BRI, were totally ignored…no wonder the whole thing ended up being a mistake…

clearly, there’s no better way forward with any revision of the phase 2 document, no matter how much time elapses…there’s no point in praying about it…what is needed is to start all over, with everyone reading their bibles, specifically Acts 15, Acts 21 and Galatians 2…san antonio was a mistake, there’s no getting around it…there’s no way to sugarcoat a mistake…a mistake is always a mistake…

i know people have a hard time believing that our GC can make a mistake…but you know, adam made a mistake, noah made a mistake, abraham made a mistake, jacob made a mistake, both israel and judah made many mistakes, and the jews in jesus’ day made the ultimate mistake…it’s not as if the church in previous ages was perfect…so what gives us any reason to think we should be…let’s just admit that san antonio was a mistake, and move on already…

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Pastor Freedman,

I have owned a condo in downtown Portland Oregon, for the past twelve years, but would NEVER plan to be a church member in your Union Conference.

Why?
Because the Pacific Northwest is one of the more liberal, progressive, innovative, egalitarian, non-racist, gay friendly, non-discriminating regions in North America. That is why I am fortunate to own a home here!

But your Union Conference might as well be in Mississippi / Alabama / Louisiana with its malignant misogyny and the shabby treatment of its women pastors.

I recently attended a “ commissioning “ ceremony for my splendid friend,
Pastor Kara Dale Johnnson in the Sunnyside Portland Church… This wonderful woman should have been ordained, and not treated like a second class citizen.

When will your Union Conference join the other Union Conferences in the NAD,
that honor, esteem and celebrate their women?

Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington US Senator Patti Murray, and Sarah Palin of Alaska, are all female power players in your region, proving that authoritarian women are not threatening to the local populations.

So why do Adventists in your region find ordained women pastors so very threatening ?

Until you upgrade your Adventist women to an equal,status with men, I will safely retain my church membership in the Pacific Union Conference, which has had the dignity, charity, good will, compassion and egalitarianism to treat their women with honor and fairness.

RESPONSE TO SHINING:
You plead. : “PATIENCE, ROBIN. “
My response : The UNITED METHODIST CHIRCH has been ordaining their women pastors since 1956 !
Do the math. : sixty one years !
How many more decades / centuries / millennia of “patience “ do you advocate ?
The advance to gender equality is RELENTLESS — even the Boy Scouts of America, that bastion of male privilege ( EAGLE SCOUTS ) are now admitting girls !

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I think we have forgotten the lessons from the first Jerusalem council. There was a serious split between the Jewish and Gentile Christians over the laws God gave to Moses. The final decision of the council had no provision to enforce total uniformity. The Holy Spirit permitted differing religious practices. There was no provision for one to force their viewpoint on others.

Lesson to us: permit the conscience of James to keep the Mosaic laws (no women’s ordination) and permit Paul to remove Mosaic laws (allow women’s ordination). The Holy Spirit likes diversity and despises oppression. Christinas with or without Mosaic law can be Spirit filled.

Why do we continue to pray for the Spirit’s guidance when Scriptures have already settled it?

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Yes, obsession with “uniformity” is a problem, not least because our pioneers rejected it as a value in 1872.

Another problem is obsession with bureaucracy. When preoccupation with process and rules of governance trump both the biblical and the pioneer vision, the most serious “rebellion” is rebellion against the Gospel itself.

Perhaps that is too strong, too offensive. Then somebody–please somebody–SHOW HOW the conservative side in this controversy actually reflects the NT and pioneer point of view. You’d have to prove, among other things, that the NT church and the earlier Adventist Church was characterized by “uniformity.”

Chuck

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Thanks Jeremy. Perfectly stated. Blessings.

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contrar, Elmer. There was much useful information that came out of the 6+ hours.

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Imagine if we did not have Spectrum and Atoday reporting. So little would be known about these important matters. And yet there are many who vilify these sources. Thanks.

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