Policy Matters – It Matters a Lot!

Lowell Cooper, former vice president of the General Conference (1998-2016) clearly recognized that his title ‘Issues in Church Policy’ – especially at the end of a day in which six hours had already been devoted to lectures and discussions - was hardly a subject guaranteed to set the intellectual pulses running.

He began with a quotation from American senator Marco Rubio, “...policy never matters until it matters, and then it matters a lot.” His carefully nuanced paper showed just how much it matters to the Seventh-day Adventist church in these days of sharply differing views and convictions about ministerial ordination.

Cooper’s long experience as a church administrator have brought him to the basic assumption that “a review of policy can provide important insights that may help in creating a path forward to the preservation, even enhancement, of unity in the worldwide Church.”

His subsequent review of decades of policy provided those insights in an amazingly riveting hour. His lecture combined a masterful overview of the history of policy with a suggestion that alongside Adventist theologians’ broad agreement on the theology of ordination, policy development might hold some answers in the church’s unity challenges.

He began by identifying the underlying assumptions of his paper and identifying the biblical basis of his ideas with a score of New Testament references. The church already lives with divergent practices and he argued that it will have to continue to do so increasingly and pay more attention to the process by which it engages. Diversity co-existing in various partnerships and managed with the skills of a maestro can enhance rather than ruin the ecclesiastical music. Policy development may be more important than policy enforcement in a rapidly changing world.

In an exploration of the purpose of policy, Cooper summed up the spiritual challenges of policy development and enforcement together with the danger inherent in the exercise of power with a quotation from Eugene Peterson. “Because leadership is necessarily an exercise of authority, it easily shifts into an exercise of power…”

In a section exploring the dynamic relationship between policy and organizational mission, Cooper showed how policy furthers stability and systematic planning but it must also be a servant to mission, and responsive to various changes in church practice like those which have taken place between 1901 and the present. Changes in policy and organizational patterns – some, but not all of them after years of successful experimentation - were made on the basis that they could improve mission. ‘Policy’ and ‘mission’ have a symbiotic relationship which needs continual monitoring.

Cooper then turned his attention to a comprehensive overview of the crucial relationship between policy and the governance and authority documents of the church: the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, the Church Manual, the working policy Constitution and Bylaws (for conferences and institutions) and Operating Policy (for units with ‘mission’ status). He argued that policy should be the result of the collective pursuit for unity, not the cause of it and that policy-making must be a continuing exercise in the light of a growing organization and the rapidly changing/diversifying environments in which the Church works.

Problems with the interpretation or application of policy are opportunities to bring the family together to forge new understandings. If those opportunities are not taken, “the concept of enforcement, though present, has not been a prominent part of denominational life,” Cooper said. “...Policy expects compliance because policy decisions come out of a collective process of deliberation and the negative connotations of enforcement measures in an organization based on voluntary participation where permanent relationships are assumed can be catastrophic.” Policy enforcement is a legitimate tool in organizational structure. How and when it should be employed are very perplexing questions bound to raise sharply differing views.

And so to recent developments and the proposal of bringing an action to Annual Council 2016 to dissolve two unions and take them over. It is not surprising, Cooper suggested, that the members of Council should respond with conflicted views about a proposal to exercise enforcement authority without any prior discussion of policy development or the exhaustion of other means of reconciliation. “This is uncharted territory and threatens to awaken many unintended consequences,” said the former vice president.

The presentation concluded with a look at ways forward for policy and practice via a variety of options which were not addressed after TOSC in the theology of ordination statement. Cooper offered numerous illustrations that in previous development of policies regarding women’s ordination and female church leadership and the roles and functions reserved to an ordained minister which are not gender specific, provision has already been made to preserve unity in the presence of growing diversity. Furthermore those leadership actions restricted to an ordained minister involve a group process rather than independent decision-making – not even a male minister could perform them alone! Inequalities between men and women leaders are compounded when one brings credentials and licenses into the picture. And the commissioned minister credentials which, since 1981 have been offered to people who were not ordained to ministry, create further anomalies in the system. Only an ex-vice president of the General Conference could find his way around it!

There is concern over the possibility that women, ordained or commissioned in one part of the world may be a backdoor to imposing the practice elsewhere. “The essential message,” said Cooper, “is that ordination to any office in the church, does not constitute license to function independently. Policy has safeguarded against such independent functioning describing pastors as ‘subject to the direction of the Church in regard to the type of ministry and their place of service.’ Ordination to the world church as either deacons, deaconesses, elders or ministers does not mean license to go anywhere and do anything one chooses.”

Cooper offered a list of possible and very practical policy developments with respect to ministerial ordination. “This is only an example,” he stressed, “to illustrate that policy development can be an effective conflict resolution methodology in the present circumstances.” He suggested various possibilities including discontinuing the practice of ordination altogether, revising policy language, and recognizing that permission for women to serve in ministerial roles does not constitute an obligation to do so.

Cooper concluded his paper with a call for creativity and a continuation of the Church’s preference for policy development rather than policy enforcement creativity allowing the church to function effectively in all the cultures of the world. “Diversity that is mission-sensitive need not be a threat to unity,” he said.

Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer based at Newbold College in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She is a member of the Spectrum reporting team at the London Unity Conference.

Papers presented at the Unity Conference can be downloaded on their website here. Additionally, the next issue of Spectrum (Vol. 45, No. 2) will be a special edition containing all of the papers from the conference.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8063
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Another paper on what we should have done, or should do now because the world church would not cooperate with the more liberal unions and let them have what they wanted. Nowhere do I see or hear any mention of this tack: We could just submit to the world church’s deliberate vote.

Well, of course!. If the NAD and others don’t get what they want, this is, after all, a voluntary relationship, and we cannot assume that there is any permanent relationship, really. And there has been NO deliberation, you know (Uh, er, or perhaps 40 plus years of it,)

But if another Union or Division does something the Liberal Unions don’t like, (like an open condemnation of homosexuality) then there HAS to be consequences.

If the NAD can let this go, they will send a wave of relief throughout the organization that will calm a whole zoo of troubled beasts that are just awaiting a signal that they can jump the fence and be as independent as those Americas. Talk about unintended consequences!

What is that old Greek saying, “Those whom the god’s would destroy, they first make proud.” The NAD could afford to step back, and by doing so could be an influence for peace.

That is a humble place. However, a wonderful one.

To ezbord, Robin Vandermolen below


As I recall, it was a vote of the WHOLE church in session, not some “pope like president pontificating.”

Am I mistaken here? Was TW the only one that had a vote?

Robin, you did not like the results of the campaign to have WO passed. I understand that. But you can’t just dismiss the vote as a manipulation by TW. He does not have the power to do what you attribute to him.

The whole church voted this. Your side had every opportunity to present its arguments, and did. I got three separate mailings on it myself. TW had an opinion, and his prevailed. Your side had a shot. TW cannot pontificate and get his way, because 3000 plus delegates stand in his way. Can he influence? Sure. So did your side. The vote could have gone your way, and you all recognized that and worked to have it happen.

Your actions are letting out that zoo of troubled beasts. You have commissioning, run with it instead of being disgruntled.


Thanks Dr Cooper and Helen!

Thank God for wise men such as Lowell Cooper!

My own study of these issues led me to the experience of the Salvation Army. Their experience seems to confirm the conclusions Lowell made in terms of policy development re ordination. As I understand it, up till about 1980, Salvation Army Officers of both genders were commissioned upon their graduation. Under the influence of both institutionalization and clericalization the decision was taken round 1980 to both commission and ordain officers. A retired NZ Salvation Army Officer has traced the impact of these processes within the Salvation Army context. Interestingly, there is no rite of laying on of hands in their commissioning and ordination service! In short, ordination of Salvation Army Officers is a rather new development. If Adventists want to publicly appoint, bless and commission their leaders without stirring these same subtle processes of institution-building and clericalization, we will move to a commissioning paradigm for our Adventist leaders.


As prior ATTORNEY GENERAL, Loretta Lynch, instructed former ( and now fired ) FBI director James Comey, on his criminal investigation into Hilary Clinton’s e-mails: “Don’t call it an investigation, call it a MATTER”

Just as the Obama administration and his Justice Department tried to sweep Hillary’s calamitous handling of classified information under the rug, you Allen Shepherd, are dismissive of the copious documentation of MATTERS, eloquently and elegantly presented by the first few presenters.at this conference, with no doubt much more to come.

These MATTERS, quite patently and potently and provocatively show that EGW and our church forbears were definitely not in favor of a pope-like president pontificating his dictatorial views to every parish, congregation, and conference.


Thanks Helen for that timely information. We could do well to incorporate these thoughts and observations into the structure of our church. Unfortunately there are some who cannot understand the problem and draw back from a positive attitude and advocate compliance to a hierarchy obsessed with maintainence of ‘do as we say’ and all will be well. Ted’s father presided over the dismissal of 200 plus of the best ministers our institutions produced…(in Aust and NZ ) I wonder what Ted’s ambition is? To outdo his dad? Heaven forbid. Blessings. Jim


It is my policy not to eat between meals, then my daughter bought an early Father’s Day cake. that took precedent over policy.


Trouble arises when people put policy ahead of principle. By nature, humans are moral beings. Our morals – our principles – shape us and affect our views and what we stand for. When we make important decisions such as how we respect and treat women in ministry, we must let our morals guide us to look at the deeper issues and stand up for good principles, not just what we believe are good policies. Strictly considering policy questions and sacrificing deep, important principle issues will lead to deeper and far graver consequences. We cannot let policy override the foundational principles of our moral selves. If you want something you never had (gender equality), you have to do something you’ve never done (embrace change).



Nicely done, but will you go back to your policy of not eating between meals or will you forever continue to eat father’s day cake in between from now onwards?

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An “inconvenient truth” which is routinely ignored by those who wish to live in world with alternative “facts.” It’s easier to beat on the GC president, et. al.

I tend to bristle at the use of “liberal unions” to describe their support of WO just as much as I would at calling those who did not support WO as “conservative” unions. These labels are very distorting descriptors since this one issue is too weak to describe the collective identity of often hundreds of thousands of believers. Many very faithful and “conservative” Adventists support WO and a number who would be considered “liberal” in general terms do not, or they do not care one way or the other. Furthermore, the GC vote, besides being very poorly managed, expressed not a “conservative” vs. “liberal” sensibility, but cultural ones as Olive Hemmings paper pointed out. That is why there is anger and divisiveness in our ranks. The foolishness of insisting that numerous differences among the cultures that make us a world-wide church should all conform in particular matters has now come home to roost. From day one, that should never have been insisted upon by GC leadership, beginning with Elder Wilson’s father, Elder Wilson, a man I revered and respected for many things, but not this one.

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Hey SDA church, it won’t be long now…

"As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position, and join the ranks of the opposition.

By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side.

Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren.

When Sabbath-keepers are brought before the courts to answer for their faith, these apostates are the most efficient agents of Satan to misrepresent and accuse them, and by false reports and insinuations to stir up the rulers against them." GC 608


Please take the time to read the whole chapter. The quote you use is about an altogether different matter.

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What is the definition of the WHOLE church in session? Who are they? Are they Conference presidents of other Union who were handpicked by GC President & voted into position with his approval? If so, they would vote as he advices them to do. So…who are the WHOLE church who voted, if not them?