Should Ted Wilson Run for a Third Five-Year Term?

Elder Ted Wilson (TW), president of the SDA Church’s General Conference (GC), is 68, and when his current term is up in 2020, he will be 70. At that time he and the church must decide whether he should continue to lead or step down. It may seem premature to discuss a potential issue that is two years away. I think otherwise and maintain that this is the right time to start a conversation about our church's future direction. If we wait until 2020, it may be too late for a measured assessment of the situation.

Let us begin by reviewing presidencies and presidential terms since 1863 when we incorporated as a denomination. We have had 20 presidencies and 17 presidents – all men, of course. James White served three non-consecutive terms and George Butler served two. James’ total was 10 years and Butler’s 11. The longest serving president was A. G. Daniells (AGD). He led the church for 21 continuous years (1901-1922), 14 of which while Ellen G. White (EGW) was alive.

The average length of service for the first nine presidents was four years. From AGD through the next nine presidencies, the average was 11, almost three times the average of the first nine. Even if we discount AGD's 21 as an outlier, the remaining eight still averaged 10 years. The last two presidents, TW, when he serves out his current term, and Jan Paulsen, would average 10.5, quite in keeping with the average of the second nine presidencies.

To what could we attribute the increasing length of presidential service that started with AGD? How did we go from four years to twenty-one? There are many reasons, but it could be argued that leadership instability and quick turnover is typical in the early years of any movement, especially one that grew out of the of the 1840s Millerite disappointment. Others could point to EGW’s influence and shadow leadership for the shorter tenures that occurred during much of her lifetime. At the beginning of AGD’s presidency, EGW was 73 and in decline, compared to AGD’s prime – 43 years. Whatever the explanations, after AGD, a 10-year average presidency has become the norm.

AGD’s 21 consecutive years in office, followed by William Spicer’s eight, might have ruffled feathers within the church hierarchy because, at the 1931 Autumn Council, the delegates put some checks in place. They overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that limited the tenure for executives in the same position. The preamble was as rebuking as the resolution it heralded was unambiguous:

Whereas: Our experience has proven that very long tenure of office in the same position is not for the best interest of the work…

Resolved: That the tenure of the office for General Conference executive officers and heads of department (including divisions) shall not exceed twelve consecutive years in any one position.

This policy has been honored by subsequent GC presidents, at least in spirit, since this resolution. James McElhany served 14 years, but he inherited two years from Charles Watson’s term. After term lengths changed from four to five years in 1970, tenure has come to mean two consecutive five-years, plus any inheritance from a predecessor, as happened with Neal Wilson and Jan Paulsen. For forty years, no GC president has run for three terms or fifteen years. If TW attempts it, he will be the only one in fifty years to violate this rule, among five presidents who faced the same situation. Should he “run,” “win” and serve out a third term, he would become the longest serving GC president since AGD.

Despite the 1931 resolution, the church has retreated from enforcing a global policy on tenure. Each Division has been granted the authority to pursue what works in its territory. Consequently the approaches have been many and varied. For example, in the West-Central Africa Division (WAD), tenure is essentially side-stepped by the division-wide policy on retirement, which is pegged at 65 years. Conference, union and division leaders in this field have historically come to these roles in their mid-50s, which renders serving fifteen consecutive years in one position moot. The Inter-American Division has no formal tenure restrictions, but for almost 70 years, until the recently retired Israel Leito took office in 1994, no president had run for more than three four-year terms. Similarly, the North American Division takes no division-wide position on tenure, leaving the unions and conferences to carve out separate and widely different policies. Though applied inconsistently, the overall trend in tenure arrangements at the GC and around the divisions is that executives have abided by the three four-year or two five-year terms.

But are we now in uncharted territory? Would the church’s highest office holder disregard tradition and push the envelope? It is important to have an open discussion about this potential step earlier rather than later. And we are fortunate that EGW commented on this subject. She writes:

I have been shown that ministers should not be retained in the same district year after year, nor should the same man long preside over a conference. A change of gifts is for the good of our conferences and churches. (Gospel Writers, 420)

Who says EGW lacks a sense of humor? She offers an explanation for why a church pastor or administrator should not camp too long in the same position:

The churches become accustomed to the management of that one man and think they must look to him instead of to God.

Now to the central question: At 70, should TW run for a third presidential term in 2020?

I say – No.

Not because he is 70 and will be 75 at the end of a third term. Jan Paulsen was re-elected to his second term when he was 69. Technically TW should not run for a third term for the simple reason that doing so breaks precedent, and precedent is something Wilson generally supports. A third term also goes against an I have been shown counsel from EGW. However, sometimes the most ardent EGW apologists ignore her advice when expedient.

The most important reason TW should rule out a third term is that he has not been good for the church. He has failed the cardinal test of leadership – to do no harm to the body. The GC president’s role is primarily administrative. If the church was a corporation it would be the envy of the multi-nationals, as it has presence in over 90% of countries worldwide. As CEO, one of his principal duties is to grow the church and keep its various entities in harmony. This calls for diplomatic skills, and being adept at keeping the church machinery well-greased and at full throttle with a shared vision. Elder Wilson has neither been the diplomat nor held the church together. He has instead been the most divisive GC president since his father, Neal, who was president in the 1980’s and embroiled us in the Glacier View and Merikay Silver controversies. TW is forever married to his opposition to Women’s Ordination (WO). Historians will see this president mainly in the light of his single-minded resistance to WO and the extraordinary steps he has taken to prevent it – a stance that is anachronistic at best, bigoted at worst.

His authoritarian impulses are well-documented. They range from the petty to the mystifying. Recall his refusal to include the name and title, in the church directory, of a duly elected leader, simply because the President of the Southeastern California Conference, Pastor Sandra Roberts, was a woman. Or when he repeatedly warned of “dire’ or “grave” consequences when autonomous unions voted to ordain ministers regardless of gender. Add to these his insistence that church leaders sign a “loyalty oath” which, if infringed, would signal “disloyalty,” thus earning the violator loss of voice and vote during official church deliberations. He lost that fight, badly, but TW is not one who retreats in the face of “minor” setbacks. So at this fall’s Annual Council meetings in Battle Creek, MI, the “loyalty oath” issue will be back on the agenda. Under his leadership, the church seems to be under constant siege; held hostage to one man’s crusade against 65% of our membership.

In the past eight years, TW has shown little concern that his tactics, which have opened a significant gap of mistrust between the church in the global North and South, was risking a split. Indeed, he seems to welcome one, much like the Last Generation Theology (LGT) faction within the church, who view a split as a welcome winnowing that will separate true and false Adventists and hasten the Lord’s coming. He might not have stoked the polarizing fires in the North-South divide, but he has done little to douse the ensuing flames. Decisions he has made throughout this conflict have only deepened the rift.

Our church is composed of people in all walks of life: highly and barely educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, liberals/progressives and fundamentalists/conservatives – from all cultural backgrounds. It takes an administrator conscious of this dynamic to understand that unity cannot be forged in a group this diverse by imposing conformity. Yet whether in areas of theology, such as our understanding of creation, or others such as WO, where the church has no stated fundamental belief, TW has attempted to impose a much narrower view – which has separated us. He has done this for eight years. And in two years it will be ten.

We observe from history that in free, open-member organizations such as churches, when power is left too long with the same individual(s), influence imbalance increases with time. There is no good reason to re-test this hypothesis.

It is not healthy that influential voices within church employment can only openly disagree with the direction of this GC leadership after they retire. We can’t blame them, at least not entirely, when the ever-present threat of “loyalty pledges” is held, like Damocles’ sword over dissenting leaders’ heads. It needs repeating that ours is, or should be, an open community whose members have voluntarily come together in fellowship and have equal rights to safeguard our church’s welfare. We should not encourage an atmosphere where threats of “consequences,” serious or not, are viable tools to silence constructive criticism.

When so much energy, time and treasure of two five-year terms has been dedicated to preventing women from offering their utmost talents in his service, allowing this crusade to continue for five additional years will make us all complicit. What the church needs, going forward, is an impartial arbitrator, an executive who, though having personal leanings about divisive issues, will listen to other views and be willing to compromise and deal fairly with all sides. The days of pettily refusing to include in church directories the names of elected officials he does not approve of – needs to be behind us. Elder Wilson should listen to the voice of a revered Ellen White. He should not play coy with this issue and keep the church guessing, but rather declare his intention to step down – for the good of the church we all love.

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home.

Image Credit: ANN

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8836
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Mr Quartey failed to mention, though it was no secret, that Elder Paulsen openly expressed his willingness to serve a third [full 5-year] term. edited.

But Paulsen did not “run.” It will be interesting to see how political this will get with prevailing fissures and cracks in the church politic. It seems TW believes he was born for this position for such a time as this and would do much more than “make himself available” to keep his position.

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NO!
He should go back to being a local pastor in a local church.
He has NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON at the Grass Roots.
He needs to find out the REAL CHURCH instead of “The CHURCH”
in the Ivory Tower of Silver Springs.
The REAL CHURCH and the Church of The Ivory Tower have not
much in common.

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Again the answer depends on a number of variables. If the intent is to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and return to historic Adventism, then it is imperative that TW be appointed as GC president for life and a day or two.

However…

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No! These times calls for the Gospel, not institutionalism. He has demonstrated a total lack of understanding. EitherPaul. Or John.

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When did TW pastor a local church? How long ago?

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Could it be that one of the reasons for the shorter terms of the earliest presidents may have been the lack of adequate compensation during those early years? The GC office of president may have been handled as a volunteer position (or nearly so) at a time prior to adequate church member participation in systematic giving.

At any rate, 10 years/two terms seems to me to be a good recommendation/general guideline for duration of any officer in an organization where there is a voted-term system in place.

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In looking at his bio, it looks like he served as a pastor from 1974-1976 in the Greater NY Conf. To me, this looks like just long enough to be a stepping stone.

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His dad got him an overseas position which is critical to the top position. It cost R. R. Bietz - he was run over by Neal.

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The length of the presidency is not nearly as important as what a leader stands for and in this case the leader stands for division and coercion–two things we see in the mark of the beast. NOTE: I am not calling Wilson the M of the B, but just noting that using power over to coerce consciences is not the kind of leader I am looking to follow. The beast looks like God’s enemy in Isaiah 14, but the those who follow Jesus will act like him. Let this mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus who lowered himself–not as a controlling leader, but as a servant.

Anyone who has read the TOSC reports and other papers that went along with it, would realize there is no Biblical mandate against Women’s Ordination. And yet, Wilson allowed the vote to mislead most of the world on what exactly we were voting on at GCSA2015. I believe this, and not refuting those who booed at Paulsen, his predecessor in that fiasco, will be the hallmark of his legacy–unless he gets his way in punishing everyone who does not agree with him.

This denomination has survived for over a century and a half without forcing members into total compliance. We know our pioneers did not want a creed and did not have 28 fundy beliefs and some of them questioned basic things we take for granted today like the fact that “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived” or that “The Holy Spirit, who is as much a person as God is walking these grounds.” Even though these founders sometimes disagreed on these very vital issues, they still had unity and no one was punished for disagreeing.

A good leader can make a third way, but Wilson seems unable to compromise his personal agenda for the sake of the church. A case in point is when a long serving woman pastor was to be commissioned in Australia, (even though the church had long before approved women pastors and their commissioning) Wilson refused to be on the platform when she was commissioned. While he refused to lay his hands on her for commissioning, he did for two men pastors who were ordained at the same service.

The divisions in the church will only get worse if Wilson gets his way to punish the conferences who are ordaining women. In a denomination where we allow for special situations like polygamists to keep their wives while the church remains unified, we should be able to allow conferences and churches who want to ordain women pastors to continue while those who don’t want a woman pastor to not have one forced on them.

Wilson, has also shown lack of respect toward women pastors by not acknowledging Sandra Roberts, the bonafide, voted in, legitimate president of the SCC and yet her name is not in the yearbook? She is not invited to sit at the same table as the other presidents because she is a woman? If this were not a church, Wilson would be sued for discrimination and oh hey, let’s not get started on the warped legacy of his father as anyone who read Merikay’s book about that time will see that this was NOT God’s idea to pay women less. This leaves many questioning “What is it with God that with 25 million Adventists worshiping around the world, that he can only find leaders within the very controlling Wilson family?” I am beginning to believe that God is not in the process of finding us a human leader. Perhaps God has left the building or at least the Silver Springs tower.

So do I want to see Wilson as president for another term? No, I hardly think the church can take it–it may split before the next General Conference if Wilson gets his way at Fall Council.

Since I am not a church employee, I am choosing to speak for thousands who are afraid of losing their jobs under his regime. There are secret groups all over social media where people are thinking about leaving the church. We must remember it is not the church militant that will go through to the end, but the church triumphant. How do we sort the militant from triumphant? One big word that defines Wilson–CONTROL. When people leave the church, Wilson might imagine they are just being shaken out, but in reality, perhaps it is he who will be shaken while he clings to his controlling leadership position. I recommend he step down as soon as possible for the sake of his own soul.

Let the Holy Spirit lead! Let the Spirit lead woman pastors, let the Spirit lead the young people, let the Spirit lead science teachers, let the Spirit lead all who are willing to love others more than self, and are willing to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

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He is not the only one, I have heard other stories as well.

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It is impossible to “unring” a bell :bellhop_bell:. The lack of empathy and fairness in the issue of woman’s ordination that he has demonstrated should have caused him to step aside long ago. Pastor Wilson’s potential re-election is not keeping me awake at night.

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TW has been very good for the church. He had brought issues to the fore that previous presidents skirted around or wouldn’t touch. I’d say keep him in there until another faithful potential president can be found.

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The 2 male pastors were being ordained and the female pastor commissioned and he didn’t want to conflate the two especially in the light of the debate on WO. I believe he thought the ordination and commissioning prayers would be separate.

Sandra Roberts is not the legitimately elected president as a president must be ordained and guess what? The church has not voted to ordain women. Therefore any ordained female pastors have been illegitimately ordained and their ordination is not valid.

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A gold watch and an honored retirement. Just the thing.

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The most important reason why Ted Wilson should step down at the end of his term, and perhaps even sooner, is that he is not a Trinitarian. He is not someone that Athanasius, the greatest exponent of the Trinity in the history of Christendom, would classify as a Christian. Wilson embraces male headship theory, which undergirds opposition to women’s ordination, and the principal component of male headship theory is the anti-Trinitarian heresy of Eternal Functional Subordinationism. Wilson has long believed that the immanent Trinity is hierarchically ordered and that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. That he has not publicly and unequivocally denounced Eternal Functional Subordinationism, or in good conscience resigned, is one of the worst scandals in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

We have witnessed a surge of anti-Trinitarianism in the Church during his presidency. There is very little reporting about this. Opposition to women’s ordination coupled with Revival and Reformation, which regards the early Arian-tinged years of Seventh-day Adventism as a “Golden Age,” has accelerated anti-Trinitarianism in the Church. This is Wilson’s legacy. Whether we can repair the damage he has caused remains to be seen. I long for the day when the Church will become a strong exponent of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

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How refreshing it would be if an entire generation were being groomed, prepared, nurtured, and readied for spiritual leadership, including young women. How strategic and Godlike to prepare the next wave of leaders.

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Matthew,
Your question - “Should Ted Wilson Run for a Third Five Year Term?” is wrong-headed and turns the important issue of who will be the President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists into a political race. We must not do this.This role is not a political office to be won but an invitation to serve God and His people.

The real truth of the matter is that no one runs for office among us. There are no political campaigns among us. In 2010 Ted almost certainly just had to read the trends right and to make what he considered to be the right noises and he knew beyond much doubt at all that he would be asked. Most probably he approached the Session with the Sabbath sermon already drafted. That’s what every godly Adventist leader, where ever they stand on the theological spectrum, would do. When Robert Folkenberg messed up in 1999, do you really think that the leaders who were gathered to fill the vacant role had much question as to whom they would call on? When Robert Pierson stepped down in October 1977, do you really think that those searching for his replacement had many doubts as to whom they should choose. Neal Wilson had for the previous 11 years given strong, effective leadership to the North American Division.

I read about the election of Neal Wilson in the Adventist Revew weeks after it happened. In those days every issue of the Adventist Review arrived five or six weeks late. We in Australia and undoubtedly in much of the rest of the world outside North Anerica accepted this as a matter of course. (Most Australian Adventists also accepted the fact that we would most probably never attend a General Conference Session. Even South Pacific Division Conference Presidents do not automatically get to go to every General Conference Session).

In 1990 Neal Wilson was confident he would be called on to serve again. But there was a surprise in store for him. Robert Folkenberg became the first ‘second tier’ Adventist leader in the C20th to be elected as General Conference President. His election was widely seen as a most direct move of God.

In 1990, ever evening of the General Conference Session I would gather with my friend around his ham radio to hear the summary and highlights of each day’s proceedings. At that time I was living in New Zealand.

Then in 1995 I ensured that my new email account was up and running and ready to receive daily updates from Utrecht. In 2000 I gathered with several other people nightly for satellite transmissions of the daily proceedings at our local church. In 2005 I was living in the back blocks of Korea and had access to the world’s best high speed internet to keep up with the goings on.

We must resist the temptation to think that the General Conference President is alone in the direction and theological tone that emanates from Silver Springs. He is a strong and decisive leader. But if others around him such as his assistants and the General Conference Executive Secretary did not agree with him, the plans devised in his office would never come to fruition.

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If the adventist demographic is getting older, why shouldn’t the presidency get older. I say, let them all continue to get older and go to the grave together.

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