Points of Dis-order

We are in a spot of bother here in San Antonio.

If the electronic voting system had worked as it should have done from the first click, there would have been no argument. Sorry Meridian or IT boys: YOU GOOFED. The voting card is red.

But how did conspiracy theory get off the ground? Why would we even think that hundreds of people would conspire? Who decided that absolute confidentiality was that paramount? Why would we be distrustful of each other's motive in the first place? How come the most innocuous of Church Manual amendments get connected to Ordination? What is the real problem?

Answer: Power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and it is not trusted. Forget about personal innuendo, it's systemic.

The belief that 'The General Conference Session is the highest authority under God' is in serious trouble. From the outset the system that conflates, Executive, Parliamentary and Judicial roles in the hands of the same circle of Clerics is just not sustainable.

For example: One of the early debating points was about the appeal system for inter-organizational disputes. So let's have a hypothetical: The North & South England Conferences have a joint Camp Meeting. It gets flooded out, the members don't show up and the Conferences are jointly liable for uninsured losses. But their committees can't agree on the split. How will this be resolved by ascending committees deciding on the basis of democratic opinion? How would referring it to the Division, GC or Session help?

The Church now represents about 18 million people, more than many nations. Systems set up for 'the little flock' or 'the remnant' are simply not adequate. Even in our small neck of the woods we get bogged down with vexatious or litigiously minded disputes that consume disproportionate amounts of time. Eventually we muddle through with the elasticity of good will, but ultimately we need an independent judicial system with people qualified to operate it, on terms accepted by jurisprudence.

Sunday, July 5, was consumed with Points of Order, and jostling over textual nuances. Awkward people you say? No – a substantial number of the revisionists were people who confessed a General Conference tag. They are the people who voted these changes to come to the floor. Either they were not listened to at Annual Council, or not paying attention at Annual Council, or they are trying to achieve something they failed to achieve at Annual Council. What I really think happened was that these masses of documents swan their way around in cyberspace entering various drop boxes on the way without the scrutiny that now pops up on the floor. The system is not working. Why? Executive and Parliament/Congress are conflated.

To further illustrate this conflation is the election of Vice Presidents.

The Vice President chairing the Session is one the names for re-election so he rightly steps aside only to be replaced by his Senior, the President himself. So far so good. Save that the list of appointees, conflates a strategy to reduce the number of VPs and in the process eliminates two cherished incumbents. So we are really voting on three issues, two of which are strategies in which the Chairperson has a vested interest. Had the issues been separated and clearly enunciated, they could have been dealt with simply, each on their own merit. We don't need a secret ballot on a strategy, or on a cluster of appointees.

So what are we dealing with? The choices are Naivety, Incompetence or Deception?

Were I the Chair, the first two would be likely, when it's the head honcho for the sake of our own rationality we dismiss the first two and believe the latter, and bang goes Trust. The solution: separate Executive and Chairmanship throughout the system.

I fear that too many decisions, including the contentious ones, will not be credible whatever the outcome. People have to trust the process, but we know it’s broken, though with clear separation of duties, it could be fixed.

Maybe it is God's will that we live with ambiguity, after all that makes us more attentively responsible.*

(*Traffic managers discovered a drop in casualties when white lines are removed from busy roads because drivers have to drive more slowly, and think for themselves.)

Victor Pilmoor is the Treasurer of the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and a delegate at the 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo Credit: Steven Norman / NAD

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6931

Excellent point, Victor, except that these options don’t necessarily exclude each other.

How about that? Certainly we woudln’t want that. :innocent:


“If the electronic voting system had worked as it should have done from the first click, there would have been no argument. Sorry Meridian [sic] or IT boys: YOU GOOFED. The voting card is red.” Do we know that?


Excellent article!
The nature og legitimacy of modern democracy is procedural, because it is based on popular sovreignty, and not authority vested in “oligarchial” structures, or some divine Kingly power. “Popular Sovereignty” should not humble itself before executive power, but challenge and control it. The more multicultural and diverse, the more the procedural processes have to be transparent and trusted. And Pilmoor’s emphasis on division of labor is a central part of this construction.

God is not in control of how the Church operates its business. This is the task of culturally situated and historically conditioned human beings, with no privileged access to God’s point of view!


We have, at various times in our history, both dealt with and refused to acknowledge the abuse of power at the GC level. There is an interesting article about this issue published in Ministry Magazine at the end of the year 1987:

Although in 1875 Ellen White considered the General Conference and the decisions made by this body as “the voice of the highest authority the Lord has upon the earth,” less than 20 years later her attitude was quite different.

Taking into consideration all of the abuses that existed at the center of the work, Ellen White was forced to say: “This is the reason I was obliged to take the position that there was not the voice of God in the General Conference management and decisions. Method and plans would be devised that God did not sanction, and yet Elder Olsen made it appear that the decisions of the General Conference were as the voice of God. Many of the positions taken, going forth as the voice of the General Conference, have been the voice of one, two, or three men who were misleading the conference.”

Ellen White understood that representatives from all parts/fields of the work should be consulted in the making of the decisions that affected the entire church. Believers in every generation must be vigilant that this discouraging history not be repeated.


the reason i think this principle doesn’t apply to whether or not to amend fundamental beliefs like #'s 6 and 23, if it’s meant to, is that when the original language in these fundamental beliefs was adopted, there was no ambiguity…those arguing for ambiguity now are arguing for an option that never existed, and was never intended…so if that option is removed through amended language, it isn’t a different situation than existed originally…

for instance, when fb#23 was first adopted, was anyone contemplating life under scotus’ june 26 ruling…the answer to this question is no…therefore, if amended language makes this difficult or impossible now, why is this a problem…what is being lost that was legitimately there before…the reality is that no action to tighten language in order to preserve an original meaning amounts to a change in that meaning because circumstances have changed…to me, an actual change in a fundamental belief ought to require years of study, involving experts and committees that wo never deserved…

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This session illustrates another problem. We’ve simply grown too big & the world is too complex for the centralized system we’ve become—despite our official claim that we have a representative polity. We could anticipate & avoid an ugly split by adopting more of an Anglican Communion model. Will it be perfect? No, but what we have is screaming out that it doesn’t work & will only grow more contentious.


Yes! We can’t blame God for the incompetence of His people!

This church is getting “too big for its britches.” The organization can’t handle all the details any longer!


I fear that the aftermath of this GC will be a scene of utter distrust and disgust with the heirarchical system that runs our church. If, as some are predicting, Dan Jackson is ousted, NAD will be split!


Not “split”, just “State’s Rights” as in Unions.
The NAD will STILL be SDA, but the NAD will not be able to dictate to the Unions HOW and BY WHOM the Gospel will be preached, WHO will be allowed to become members, and WHO will baptize the “new members”.
And, these “State’s Rights” will make for a stronger church in North America.

Let us NOT be hasty in blaming Meridian or IT people. It appears that it was NOT they who GOOFED.
And, Yes, the voting card is RED. Red faced, or should be red faced Chairmen [no women] who let the voting begin BEFORE the Delegates were all in sync with the new system.
And the Chairmen ALLOWED them [the delegates] to get away with it.[Destruction of the anonymous voting system.]

Another problem that I read about elsewhere is the ABSENCE of a huge number of Voting Delegates when it is time to vote. [OUT SHOPPING?]
If the delegates are off doing “their own thing”, how can the Voice Of God be considered to be heard in the General Conference passage of what ever Issue was voted?


Are you really sure, Victor? Meridia has been used in much larger venues and in that very hall, as well as for another Adventist meeting, with no problems. And the IT guys surely aren’t in cahoots (American slang meaning conspiracy) with Meridia when they say it’s working perfectly. I understand the first two tests showed a too-high signal for wifi, and that was adjusted, but after that everything was working except some of the voters.


Some might have been, but there is also the problem that many overseas delegates were unable to get visas because they didn’t apply for them soon enough. I “heard” that only 1900 delegates were actually able to come.

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No Carrol, I have no doubt that the system works somewhere, but it didn’t on day one of our meetings.
Whatever happened after, matters less. Confidence was already lost.
We are buying a system, albeit smaller for our sessions in the UK. We expect it to work.

I would take some convincing that large numbers deliberately connived. That is not really the spirit of the delegates. I recognise that at a distance you can be suspicious but I prefer to be generous to them unless we have substantive evidence. No doubt there are oddities, but not large numbers.

The technical boys could have recommended sectional testing. They could have used all the buttons 1-9 to test sections of the floor, they didn’t. The could have positioned the beacons differently from the distant edges. Wifi is intermittent in the hall, the same is possible for other systems.


The distrust and disgust has been alive for some time. What is new is that members now are accusing other members of conspiracy and lies. This may be true and probably is, but when the membership fights itself it is clear that this has reached a boiling point. The church has faked it at GCs in the past, but the stakes are too high now that leadership is proven to be inadequate. This mess is how revolution starts. Revolution starts when the old guard is not working and is enforcing abuse. We are witnessing the next steps in the end of SDA as know it. Amen.

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Don’t want to argue with someone who is there on the ground, Victor. But the way I’ve heard it from many people, it was the meeting chairman who refused to test by section. Is that wrong?


Well, Alethia, I am certainly disillusioned, discouraged, depressed, and disheartened by what I’ve heard so far.


Thank you, Victor. I appreciate your patience with my questions.

I hope “cock-up theories” means something different in Britain!


But will they listen from their religious Ivory Towers and do something is the real question.

For the sake of clarity - Wikipedia

Hanlon’s razor is an aphorism that recommends a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for a phenomenon (a philosophical razor).

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

A common (and more laconic) British English variation, coined by Bernard Ingham, is the saying “cock-up before conspiracy”, deriving from this 1985 quotation:

Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.

—Bernard Ingham[14]


Victor, thank you for putting some perspective to the issue. I trust your judgement - both in terms of the basic principle you suggest as well as its application to this particular case. Quite often mono-causal explanations - especially of a conspiratory nature - will prove to be rather simple minded.

Are you saying, the steering committee has given up on a technical solution for a technical problem too quickly? If so, why? My overall concern as a distant follower of the events at the GC is that trust has been lost, for whoever goofed … there is a conglomerate of ill advised decisions that make proceedings less transparent (ironically by making them more “transparent”). Honi soit qui mal y pense?