Sabbath at the Unity Conference: Justice takes Center Stage

Happy Sabbath. Gary Patterson concluded his worship series with a devotional about the joy that we are to experience in Sabbath rest. Certainly the Sabbath day in Heathrow would prove to be a joy as we gathered together for more conversation and presentations. By this time, people were beginning to know each other. The conversations at our round tables had created new friends as we discussed the questions that were circulated after each presentation.

Olive Hemmings and Reinder Bruinsma spoke Sabbath morning, and their presentations have been summarized by Helen Pearson in other articles on this website. In this article I will share my notes from the Panel Discussion on Coercion and the Church and Ray Roennfeldt’s presentation on “Justice and Equality: Is God Interested?”

The first question in the panel discussion went to Wendy Jackson concerning how the church can bring about unity. A leader cannot construct unity, she responded. They can model it. Reinder Bruinsma suggested that leadership can create an atmosphere of unity through equality, listening, respect, collaboration, accountability, integrity, and trust. Barry Oliver jumped in to say that the reason we work as a structured church is because of trust. “If we lose trust,” he said. “We’re done.” As others chimed in on the difficulties that we face because of disagreements within the church, Wendy Jackson recommended a book by Gregory Boyd, “Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty.”

What are the non-negotiables of unity, Moderator Barry Oliver asked Lowell Cooper? To begin, Cooper answered, you have to acknowledge unity is not a human construction, it is a gift of God. Next comes the priority of Lordship of Jesus in individual lives. In organizational life, he suggested several points: the centrality of the Bible, the distribution of authority in structure, and the fact that the church is a volunteer association so there has to be room for participation. Most importantly, trust. Where trust exists, all other resources come into play. Where trust does not exist, all other resources are depleted. It is a function of leadership to build trust. When that is taking place, other flavors of unity can come to the table.

With trust back at the center of the conversation, Oliver asked, “How do you rebuild trust?

Cooper responded that it is important that there is not a reaction with emotional intent. It takes time together and maintenance of a sufficiently calm atmosphere to be able to speak. Trust gets rebuilt out of relationship.

Oliver then talked about the results of coercion, or demands for uniformity. He said there are two primary results: people either go along with the demand or rebel. Either way the church is destroyed.

A question was raised from the audience. There was an action voted at the GC session. Is there legitimate reason for coercion?

Another audience member referenced the presentation by John Brunt in which he used multiple illustrations from the Early Church to show that in the Bible the example was tolerance.

Where do we go from here, Oliver asked?

Among the many answers, one of the more intriguing observations came from Roy Adams who zeroed in on the church’s election system as a place for possible change. He described the nominating process at GC sessions where the president is elected first so he can sit in on the Nominating Committee and give his preferences for every elected official. That is what gives him kingly power, Adams suggested, because he essentially dictates who gets elected. If the Nominating Committee truly did that work perhaps that could help change the climate within the Church.

At 3:15, it was time for Avondale President Ray Roennfeldt to give his presentation on “Justice and Equality: Is God Interested.” He began with the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve to find the divine ideal for human relationships. To those who would suggest that the order of creation suggests an inequality between the two, he responded, “there is no hint of that in the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. While Adam is created first, the ‘order’ of the creation narrative would forbid such a conclusion. Within the account there is distinct progression from simple living things to the more complex.” He added that the “structure” of the creation account “indicates the same progression: what is formed on day 1 is filled on day 4. . .” He concluded, “In fact, ironically, one could argue for the superiority of Eve over Adam given the inherent structure within the narrative!” Next he considered the stories of Hagar and Ruth to come to the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament is interested in equality and justice.

Moving to the New Testament he began with Luke’s account of Jesus reading Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus tells the people of Nazareth that this scripture is being fulfilled in their hearing, seemingly taking this justice passage as his mission statement. To that he added the stories of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, where to the disciples’ surprise Jesus treats this person of doubtful morals, and a believer in an apostate offshoot of Judaism with respect and equity. Another example is the story of the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 that follows a discussion of cleanness and uncleanness, Jesus is surely indicating that this unclean woman was “truly part of God’s kingdom of justice and equity.”

Having built his case for a positive answer to the question of whether or not God was interested in justice, Roennfeldt then cast doubt, asking about the lack of prohibition against slavery. “What about the texts that appear to justify the dominance of the male in church and society, and why does Scripture contain no clear direction on the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?

“Given the diversity of Scripture on our topic but also with clear indications that God is on the side of justice and equality and also that he works within and even accommodates variations of time and place in order to maintain interaction with humanity, we have to ask how we might best interpret the Bible and grow in understanding as a community of faith.”

Roennfeldt suggested that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral — a circle of authority composed of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience as a valuable tool for the interpretation of Scripture. He used it to examine the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. “Perhaps, even today we’ve not completely understood the implications of the position taken at this Jerusalem council, which made circumcision nothing, and uncircumcision nothing. No longer was the mark of the covenant something that only pertained to males, rather ‘Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Co5. 7:19; John 14:15, 23). In conclusion he suggested that we need a new paradigm that will assist us in breaking through the hermeneutical tangle that is dividing member from member and region from region. “It is not enough to say that we should now ignore issues of justice and equity and focus on the mission and message of the church. We have that, for Jesus himself, there was no dichotomy or separation between mission and message; the two were actually one and the same.”

Conclusion of the Conference

After a break for supper and an executive meeting of the union conference officials in attendance, the final session was held. Pacific Union Conference President Ricardo Graham reflected on the time together saying it had been refreshing, it had expanded our vision. Columbia Union Conference President Dave Weigley outlined the way forward saying that, “We have to stay on the high road.” He said talking points will be gathered in anticipation for a visit with General Conference leadership as soon as possible. He said they will go with a sense of diplomacy, and be there to offer solutions. He emphasized the importance of communication and reaching out to others about what was learned at the conference.” If all of that fails, we will think of protest to the princes,” he said. And then invited suggestions from the audience for going forward.

And so, the first meeting of unions from multiple divisions came to an end. While it hadn’t been a meeting on the regular calendar coordinated by the General Conference, it had been successful in bringing together not only union officials, but conference presidents, pastors, academics, and a few lay people for a very effective conversation, and a new understanding of the meaning of unity both in the Bible and in Christian communities both historically and presently.

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum.

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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

Is there a way forward for the Unions who have been identified by GC officials as recalcitrant!

Perhaps they could join Dr Lowell Cooper and the Trans-European Division in calling on the GC to adopt a new model of the appointing of Adventist leaders.

Dr Cooper’s model of policy development is admittedly an example only. He suggested it to the London Unity Conference as his presentation was drawing to a conclusion:

"In what follows I present an illustration of policy development with respect to ministerial
ordination. This is only an example. There may be other paths of policy development on this
subject that lead the Church towards resolution and away from conflict. The objective is to
illustrate that policy development can be an effective conflict resolution methodology in the
present circumstances.
1. Discontinue the practice of ordination altogether. Replace the current ordination service
practices with a commissioning service for ministers, elders, deacons and deaconesses.
Doing this would be fully consistent with the theology of ordination while avoiding the
unbiblical connotations that have become attached to the term ‘ordination’.
2. Suspend the issuance of ministerial licenses and credentials. In their place use the
Commissioned Minister License and Commissioned Minister Credential. Revise policy
language concerning the role and authority of individuals holding Commissioned
Minister Credentials.
3. Amend gender-specific language in General Conference Working Policy, section L, The
Ministry and Ministerial Training
4. Clarify the territorial authorization associated with Commissioned Minister Credentials.
Approve the world-wide validity of the commissioning service for
deacons/deaconesses/elders and those holding Commissioned Minister
Licenses/Credentials while re-emphasizing the safeguards that protect the world Church
from individual abuse of privilege.
5. Revise Church Manual and General Conference Working Policy credential requirements
for a local mission/local conference president. In a similar manner, revise the General
Conference Constitution and Bylaws, Model Constitutions and Bylaws, and Model
Operating Policies to indicate that the president shall be a ‘Commissioned Minister of
6. Amend other policies whose language limits ministerial duties to males.
7. Recognize that permission for women to serve without restriction in ministerial roles
does not constitute obligation to do so. The normal selection processes for any employee
give discretion to the employing unit. The permissive stance for the ordination of women
as local church elders can serve as a pattern for the commissioning of women as pastors."

Perhaps, as an incentive for General Conference Annual Council to consider a path toward resolution of this issue and away from conflict all Unions who have adopted policies at variance with the GC Session vote on ordination could rescind those policies and indicate their willingness to adopt this new paradigm outlined above.

A careful reading of the above indicates that I am merely quoting Dr Lowell Cooper!

I would do things a little differently myself!
STAGE 1 - Educate, educate, educate among Adventists golbally according to the TOSC consensus. This should not prove difficult because it has already proved to be a global consensus, supervised by the GC.
STAGE 2 - Adopt a new paradigm for the public appointment,blessing and commissioning of Adventist leaders.

As I understand it, Conference administrators from Australia and from Germany were there in sizable proportions. I am encouraged to see those with the gifts of administation and those with the gifts of knowledge and wisedom gathering together.

I am not arguing with you! I merely cut and pasted the example policy development from Lowell Cooper’s presentation!

You are correct! The Wesleyian Quadrilateral, as commonly conceived of as giving equal authority to Scripture, tradition, reason and experience will not work! However, many scholars conceive of the Wesleyian Quadrilateral as privileging the role of Scripture above that of the other quadrilateral sources of authority.

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Remember the simplistic visual of the wagon wheel, each spoke representing individuals of a family or community; and, the solution for those spokes (individuals) to live in harmony, all they needed to do was draw closer, and eventually combine, at the hub of the wheel - the hub representing Jesus… We must’ve forgotten this simple visual. Lowel Cooper came closest to this concept when he said there needed to be a “priority of Jesus in individual lives”; but when it came to organizational life, he branched out into ambiguities of the “centrality of the Bible, distribution of structure, participation, and finally trust”.

The centrality of the Bible seems like a no-brainer when it comes to the life if a church; but structure, participation, and trust are difficult to accomplish, as those spokes sit on the outer periphery of that wheel. The world is a complex system of cultures that brings with them all kinds of differences and irritants. Trying to make “unity” out of it all is an impossible task when we focus only on what we, individually, deem “non-negotiable”. The farther down I read, the more it all sounds like a political convention, dealing with coercion, electoral systems, diplomacy, which usually means fudging the truth.

In order to accomplish “unity” we need to look at the place Jesus takes within the SDA paradigm. “Of course Jesus is primary,” I can hear a chorus of voices - so let’s look at that, in relation to the identifying marks of the SDA church - its message and its mission.

The identifying message of the SDA church is "GET READY FOR JESUS TO COME - by keeping ALL the commandments so as to be part of the remnant, identified in the Bible as “these are they that keep the commandants of God and have the faith (and/or the testimony) of Jesus”. Here, Jesus his secondary as an identifying mark of the faithful (emphasis on the faithful). The “testimony of Jesus” is not understood as the testimony of Christ, our REDEMPTION; but, a sign of the special status of the SDA church in having “the spirit of prophesy”. In other words, the saved KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD; AND BELIEVE IN ELLEN WHITE as the voice of the testimony. Where is Christ on the cross? Where is Christ bursting out of the tomb? W here is Christ, our SALVATION? WHERE IS CHRIST, OUR HOPE OF GLORY? WHERE IS CHRIST, THE HUB OF OUIR UNITY?


I haven’t followed the earlier reports from the Unity Conference, but did Ted Wilson and other top GC officials attend? I wonder what their take would be on an open discussion of what they themselves seem determined to define for the Church.

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It’s my impression that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is unacceptable to many of our theologians who see it as a threat to “sola scriptura.” Once again, if we are divided on this issue, how can we find unity on the social and ethical questions that challenge us? Oddly enough, while we claim both a Wesleyan and Anabaptist heritage, on Scripture and hermeneutics we seem decidedly Calvinist.


Perhaps the language could be inclusive in Dr. Cooper’s suggestions as quoted and recommended by @petersomerset:

Perhaps this should read: “Recognize that permission for MEN OR women to serve without restriction in ministerial roles does not constitute obligation to do so.”

Perhaps this should read: “The permissive stance for the ordination of MEN OR women as local church elders can serve as a pattern for the commissioning of MEN OR women as pastors.”

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Somehow, I had the impression that pastors and laity (save journalists) were not expected to be at these meetings. Same for conference leadership. What were the determiners of who went and didn’t, who were enabled (politically), and who not?

For the most part there will not be UNITY among SDA members.

the reason is that most SDA spend most of their time involved in worldly/secular thought & activities. And because of the conflict & discord that the god of this world has the planet involved, the same condition will be shown in the SDA members.

90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible, many if not most SDA do not read their SS lesson or attend Sabbath school. The sermons of most SDA preachers are just obscure irrelevant one topic vitamin/vaccine homilies.

Teaching is for comprehension…prayer is for the power of application.

There is not much comprehension for prayer to have any effect on.

A whole lot of fanatic fantasy taking place in these meetings.

Thank you Bonnie Dwyer for clarifying in your report, why our GC president has so much "kingly power ".

You report that insightful Roy Adams had
" zeroed in on the church’s election process, "
whereby the GC president is elected first so that he can then sit in on the Nominating Committee and handpick the subsequent elected officials.

Is the same process followed at Conference and Union Conference Nominating Committee levels?

No wonder the upper ranks of the GC give automatic endorsement/approval to Wilson’s every wish. They are his handpicked clones, indebted to him, for their positions, and willing to rubber stamp his demands.

As the US election is mired in Russian hacking, gerrymandering, voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement and other nefarious matters, apparently Adventism’s election process has its own warped and worrisome elements.

Donald Trump has famously promised to "DRAIN THE SWAMP IN WASHINGTON DC " .

Maybe the time has come for Adventism to "drain their own swamp in Washington. DC " …

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