Surprise, Surprise, Procedural Maneuvering Marks Monday’s Annual Council Meeting – Report 4

Delegates to the General Conference Executive Committee’s 2019 Annual Council meeting tackled major issues on Monday, voting tithe parity for all Divisions and reviewing a new statement on abortion, but they were also handed surprise changes in the schedule and new materials to consider overnight.

The first surprise came with the presentation of the agenda on Monday morning, when they were told that there had been a change in plans. The document on unborn life and abortion that had been scheduled for discussion on Tuesday, would instead be discussed Monday afternoon at 4 p.m., right after the two-hour session planned for consideration of tithe parity.

At the end of the day there was another surprise, a new document to be reviewed before Tuesday morning, with a new recommendation resulting from the 2018 Annual Council Compliance Action. The document stated that the Danish Union of Churches Conference, the North German Union Conference, the Norwegian Union Conference, and the Swedish Union of Churches Conference had taken actions that are not in harmony with the Working Policy and practices on credentials, so it is “Recommended, that the above entities be ‘Warned’ as provided for in the 2018 Annual Council voted document.”

Additionally, “Public Reprimand” is recommended for the presidents of the Columbia Union Conference and the Pacific Union Conference, because their unions “have taken actions that are not in harmony with voted actions of the General Conference Session and the General Conference Executive Committee placing them in persistent non-compliance.”

These recommendations will be considered on Tuesday, along with the motion that was tabled on Monday about whether conference presidents should have voice at Annual Council meetings.

In between these surprises, the Executive Committee voted to approve tithe parity of 3% for all Divisions’ contribution to the General Conference by the year 2030 (with an additional .85% for NAD to accommodate support of Loma Linda University and Andrews University). The North American Division will move more quickly. Its tithe percentage will go down to 3% by the year 2024.

The presentation about tithe parity began with General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson saying thank you to the North American Division for its generous support of the world church. The delegates gave a standing ovation to the Division followed by a verbal Amen. “You represent the legacy of that generosity,” Wilson told the delegates. At one point in time the NAD was giving 21% of its tithe to the General Conference budget, he said. Over the decades, the percentage has diminished as sustainability outside the United States has increased. By the end of 2020, it will be 5.85% of NAD tithe that is passed to the GC. In 2018, at the NAD Year-end Meeting, their Executive Committee voted to request that the tithe percentage be brought to an equal amount with the other Divisions — to parity.

General Conference Treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesan, who has served as a conference, union, and division treasurer in the NAD before going to the General Conference, next gave the history of the negotiations between the GC as the NAD became more of an independent organization over the years.

In the discussion that followed, the majority of speeches made were in support of parity. Those who opposed the motion, however, wanted more details about the effect the decision would have on specific ministries. Some lay members objected to the motion, saying they wanted to be in support of missions and the world church.

Robert Lemon, the retired treasurer of the General Conference, reminded delegates of the words of Ellen G. White when she said, “we have nothing to fear in the future, unless we forget how the Lord has led us in the past.” Lemon said he had been through this issue in the past, given that he was the undertreasurer when the percentage for NAD went from 10% to 8% and when the other Divisions went from 1% to 2%. “We have to watch what the Lord can do. I was treasurer when we went from 8% to 6% in 2008, it was a terrible time. But the Lord blessed and the other Divisions prospered.” He concluded by saying “I support this motion fully. I look forward to seeing how God will bless.”

At 4 p.m., the discussion was halted, and a vote was taken by holding up of cards. The green cards easily outnumbered the red cards, and the issue of tithe parity was resolved.

Quickly, after a short session of standing exercises, the time had come for the discussion of the document “Statement on the Biblical View of Unborn Life and Its Implications for Abortion.” Again, President Wilson gave an introduction to the item, telling the delegates that he hoped they would support the document being presented. Then, there was a lengthy presentation on the process that the document had followed before being brought to the delegates. The Biblical Research Institute’s Ethics Committee had spent two years drafting a document that had been reviewed in the last couple of months by the General Conference Statement Writing Committee and then by the Bioethics Committee, with revisions along the way.

Artur Stele followed up with some questions and answers about the process. “Is this document a nuclear weapon to the Adventist hospitals?” he asked Peter Landless, who heads the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Landless responded by saying no, Adventist hospitals perform very few abortions, and he demonstrated the fact with a chart showing the number of live births and the number of abortions. “It should be clearly stated that the aim is to approach 0 as close as possible.,” he said. “This document is not a nuclear weapon. The data affirms that the hospitals seriously appreciate the church’s stance.”

Stele’s next question went to Elias Brasil de Souza, chairman of the Biblical Research Institute. “What does it mean that the statement is not part of the Church Manual?” The topic of abortion is not purely a medical issue, he replied. “It is a political issue. Some places it has been used as a weapon.” This statement was not prepared to be part of the Church Manual, he explained. “This document is guidance for the church to tell the world where we stand. We should not use this document to draw people away, or to punish people. It is a redemptive document.” It is no more than a statement at this point, he added, saying it would need to be followed up by people in other departments.

Stele said that the Health Ministries Department would be tasked with taking the statement and developing guidelines.

General Conference Vice President Thomas Lemon chaired the session. He asked the delegates not to try to edit the document on the floor, and told them that a writing committee had already been appointed to make any necessary changes. Then he opened the meeting for comments. Many of the people who spoke had suggestions on how to improve the document, both those who spoke in favor of the document and those who had questions.

Amazing Facts Evangelist Doug Batchelor was the first one to the microphone. “Praise God that the church is addressing this issue,” he said. “It is a good document. I’ve had people who were waiting for baptism who read our current guidelines and then decided not to become baptized.” He suggested removing Point Number 6 (God’s grace promotes life in a world marred by sin and death.) and concluded by saying that he strongly supported the document.

Jiří Moskala, dean of the SDA Seminary at Andrews University, praised the document for very good biblical principles and recommended it, but he did have suggestions for its improvement. He said the sentence about the sixth commandment should read differently and explained the origin of the commandment not to kill. “The document is silent about the most painful topic in regards to abortion — rape. I hope we will not send a false statement to our churches by not mentioning rape. There are 90,000 rapes each year. In view of that, in this document, rape should be included on page 5 where it speaks of the weak and vulnerable.”

Richard Hart, president of Loma Linda University Health, spoke to the sanctity of life. “Elective abortions are not done [in our hospitals].” There are pregnancies that end up in spontaneous abortion, he explained, but there are others that don’t. The tough part are the ones in between the two. He questioned the sentence on the last page of the document about those who are forced to have an abortion. “Forced by what?” he asked.

E. Albert Reece, executive vice president for Medical Affairs of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and member of the GC Executive Committee, said “It is a well-written document, but I believe it could be improved with a few modifications. The document speaks very well about the sanctity of life. The document should be titled as such. Abortion has a negative connotation. Point number 2, the abortion term should be replaced with elective abortion. I support the comments from LLU about the many complications that can arise. The document could be more explicit in those situations, that could enhance the document.”

Allan Handysides, the former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department, spoke in praise of the process that had been used to create the current guidelines in 1992. “We have to be careful about saying the Holy Spirit is with us now, but not with what came before. We felt the Holy Spirit with us in 1992, also.”

Audrey E. Andersson, Executive Secretary of the Trans-European Division, said she appreciated the statement, and the work that has gone into it. “It is a statement and not a policy going into the Church Manual,” she noted, “but the further we get from this building, the distinction between statement and guidelines becomes blurred. I am not worried about our medical institutions. I am worried about vulnerable women in our churches who may be confronted with difficult decisions. I appeal for us to develop other protocols for difficult situations.”

At 6 p.m., the discussion was brought to a close. The chairman referred the document to the writing committee and said it would come back to the delegates on Wednesday. Then he reminded them to be sure to pick up the new document on recommendations resulting from the 2018 Annual Council Compliance Action. Disciplining non-compliant unions would be the issue on Tuesday.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image: Members listen to the discussion on tithe parity during the Annual Council 2019 in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States of America. Photo by Brent Hardinge / GC Communication, courtesy of the Adventist News Network on Flickr.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I suggest inserting the word “Machiavellian” before the word “Maneuvering.”

I can’t believe this is happening in a religious denomination. Horrifying.


Several considerations here:

Surprise maneuvers are power tools to keep participants off balance. Best practices in governance include the support of a schedule that has been distributed ahead so that people can prepare to participate in governance.

In a demonstration of tone deafness, the administration chose to have men write and read guidelines on abortion to supersede a nuanced document that has served the church well.

Another insensitive juxtaposition is the applause for NAD funding at the same conference that suggests that conference presidents of the hosting division not be given voice. Furthermore, the insensitivity compounded with the GC interpretation of the narrative from the platform to imply that the NAD had specifically asked for this.

On one level, I lament that our church has not been able to imagine and allow for a journeying community that trusts the Holy Spirit to lead in each part of the world in a way that uses strategic alliance with and distinction from that particular human culture.

Speaking from the US, in my view, the stance by the GC mirrors that of the broader evangelical culture from whom we know we have differences in more areas than just day of worship. American Evangelicalism features a flat proof text Biblical hermeneutic, obedience to an authority figure, adulation of superstar pastors, prioritization of men over women, and an oversized focus on certain rights (fetal) to the exclusion of the plethora of other more salient issues. What is the church’s stance on guns in the sanctuary? What about offering sanctuary to immigrants? How do we proceed to have a fresh identity in a context where people are weary of politicized Christianity?

On a different level, I feel a deep sense of embarrassment that the church I love and in which I have educated three children is acting in such an inappropriate way. One metaphorical story illustrates this emotion. Consider how one would feel when someone you loved delivered an important message repeatedly and confidently on a stage while having spinach in her teeth, and you were not able to communicate that the faux pas was hurting the the communication process? The years of General Conference machinations to ensure their authority and compliance have been like this. It seems in the zeal of the moment, they do not realize that they are hurting their authoritative voice.


is this saying these recommendations will be executed, or is it saying they will be considered and voted on…to me, “considered” means they will be considered and voted on, and that these “recommendations”, rather than being a command, are only a recommendation…

i think we have the possibility that these compliance committee recommendations will be rejected…surely annual council can see what all of us see, which is that discipline over something like WO isn’t advisable…

This was just voted. It was suggested from the floor that they change the statement to remove the phrase “where the AC is held” so all conference presidents could have voice.

This mover is Ted fighting back - NAD, you want parity, I’ll give you parity!


this is how i saw it, too…TW’s speech before this vote seemed to invite the yes vote that was voted…

there can be no doubt that we are having less and less influence in the direction and character of our church…adventism really is becoming international in every way…

I watched the abortion discussion. These are my observations:

  1. Artur Stele assured the delegates that Exodus 21:22-25 deals with a live premature birth rather than miscarriage. All of the ancient Rabbis and the entirety of the interpretative tradition from the Septuagint to Martin Luther say otherwise. Modern evangelicals since Roe v. Wade have promoted the live premature birth hypothesis, although in fairness John Calvin and a couple of German theologians from the 19th century also favored the live premature birth hypothesis. What is the lesson to be learned? Scripture is obscure, not clear. Language is inherently unclear, vague, and ambiguous. There is always a gap between thought and word. Exegesis, i.e., grammatical analysis, can only take you so far and is not dispositive. A tutorial on hermeneutics drives this point very hard. Notice also that the Sixth Commandment, composed of those four little words, is manifestly not plain, as evidenced by the contentious issue of abortion.
  2. Ricardo Graham asked whether the proposed Statement is based on the proof-text method. Elias de Souza, who does not understand hermeneutics, replied that the proof-text method is OK if the text proves the point. He said this not in jest, amazingly enough. The most significant difference between the proof-text method and hermeneutics is that the former is unaware of the many manifestations of distance that impede our understanding of an ancient text whereas the latter is aware and seeks to build bridges to overcome such manifestations of distance. The lazy arrogance of the proof-text method results in misinterpretation.
  3. BRI member Ekkehardt Mueller passionately defended the proposed Statement and its exclusion of various exceptions for abortion involving rape and the life of the mother. He probably wrote the proposed Statement. He said that we should only speak about the general rule and not exceptions. And he also said that the 6th Commandment does not have any exceptions. He is a walking illustration of the proof-text method and his speech answered Elder Graham’s question.
  4. More important, Mueller is a “slow driver.” The GC Executive Committee is largely composed of members who can be compared in the cognitive sense to slow drivers. A slow driver is someone who clutches the steering wheel with both hands, who is afraid to drive fast, who lacks the capabilities of meeting all of the risks and uncertainties on the road that would arise from driving fast. Similarly in the cognitive sense, there are those such as various Committee members who are not capable of moral reasoning, who can not deal with gray but only black and white, who are afraid of engaging in moral reasoning regarding the Sixth Commandment for fear that they will drive the car into a ditch.
  5. Clifford Goldstein talked about pickets in 1984. But the entire discussion reflected an ignorance of Christian history that has spoken to sanctity of life issues during the last 2000 years. The delegates have no understanding of church history. They are completely unaware of mistakes they are repeating. The decisions we make are best made as a community of believers and that community should include Christians of the past whom we can learn from.
  6. Certain delegates should be put to the test. The GYC gal Natasha holding her baby should be forced to disclose what she would do if she were violently raped and impregnated or if her life depended upon having an abortion. So many of the delegates who spoke in favor of the proposed Statement were unwilling and have been unwilling to be honest and forthcoming in this way.
  7. It is incredible that the GC has been working behind the scenes and in private on this issue for two years. Why hasn’t the rest of the Seventh-day Adventist Church been allowed to participate? In the creation/evolution debate since 2010, the entire Church has been involved. A lot of writings, discussions, conferences, and online participation has occurred in the creation/evolution debate and our Church has benefited from all of that. In contrast, relatively little conversation has occurred regarding abortion. Consequently, we are getting a proposed Statement that does not reflect the best thinking that would have emerged if such a conversation had occurred.
  8. There were several pleas to amend the proposed Statement. Ordinarily, such pleas do not need to be granted. Most of the time they aren’t. And there was no vote taken to amend the proposed Statement. It could have been voted up or down if Ted Wilson chose that course. Instead, he decided that it needs a rewrite. We should be thankful to Wilson for his quick pivot, even though it shows that the document should have never been brought to the GC Executive Committee in the first place.
  9. There were several admonishments from supporters of the proposed Statement that others are watching what we do. That’s true, but we are not only being watched by right-wing evangelicals. And some declared that certain persons have refused to join the Church because we are seen as too permissive regarding abortion. I suppose that is true. But we can envision, too, that certain persons will refuse to join the Church if we are seen as too harsh regarding abortion.
  10. If you can’t put together an accurate and credible proposed Statement on abortion in two years, you will not be able to fix this awful piece of crap in two days. I suggest that the entire issue be tabled. Let’s begin a Church-wide conversation, so that the best minds can participate and lead.

An excellent summary of an excellent post!


George –
I believe this has been going on for a few years.
The problem is – NOBODY is raising a voice against all this stuff.
Like they were mesmerized or hypnotized.
Do they have ANY recollection of what happened when they reach home?


Does any of this really matter? Are there any young Adventist or semi-Adventist women faced with a problematic pregnancy who will make their decision based on some obscure Annual council vote?

Are there any Adventist or semi-Adventist physicians who will change their current points of view and practices based on some obscure document voted at some Annual Council meeting.


From the start of discussion I said this is a Dangerous Piece
of Document.
If anything is VOTED YES, It could become Doctrine #29.
Think of the mental, emotional, SPIRITUAL trauma this
thing will cause!!! AWFUL!!!

It will NOT become some Obscure document voted at some
Annual Meeting Council. >>> Doctrine #29, coming right up!!


It’ll probably not matter much to individuals, but it’s an embarrassment. Not only the intent of it, but how shabby it is.


No and No…

I concur, Pierre-Paul.

This together with excessive prayers can be argued as gaslighting maneuvers particularly found in political situations, meant especially to influence outcome of meetings in favor of whoever’s agenda is on the table. However, parochial organizations are not exempted. Welcome to the SDA 2019 Annual Council.


I also concur, so the question remains, why take the two years and 27 drafts and emotional energy and time spent by the Ex Comm members? What is their goal?


Prayerful, benevolent atmosphere departs… and cold, bureaucratic atmosphere arrives.
They don’t take the time to really wanting to understand the other side. What kind of shepherds are the leaders?


:revolving_hearts: To all women pastors out there and the leaders in support of our beloved, Psalm 4 (NIV):

"Answer me, when I call to you, O my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.
How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord will hear when I call to him.

In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord.

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."

May peace be upon you. May courage be with you.
We brethren pray this prayer on your behalf.


The analogy here to the creation of the abortion document - is in plain sight.


Not far off from reality.
David Read said this at F7.

David Read Mod Sharyn D7 minutes ago • edited

It will not change in my lifetime, because Ted Wilson is the most conservative general conference president we will see in my lifetime, and he lacks either the skills or the inclination, or both, to make the case that has to be made in order to defend the Bible doctrine of male headship in the church."

He leads from behind.
Even if he supports male headship he is worthless to both causes. Both Women’s ordination or male headship.
And the abortion statement is just what we expected.
More politics and no definition.

But the liberal element should rejoice as you are winning hands down.
Women’s ordination is here to stay, just like Sunday keeping in the early church.

I don’t care what side you are on. God will yet force all those who abandon the bible to admit the same. Just wait and see. It’s already happening and will intensify to its final end in the near future.

What is happening to the SDA church…

“Amazing Facts Evangelist Doug Batchelor was the first one to the microphone. “Praise God that the church is addressing this issue,” he said. “It is a good document. I’ve had people who were waiting for baptism who read our current guidelines and then decided not to become baptized.””

The above statement by Pastor Batchelor is quite disturbing. How many of us truly understand what the act of baptism means? It seems that the people made the decision not to be baptized by the principles of Amazing Facts. I thought I was baptized into Christ not into an institution. Maybe the Pastor should study the baptism of the Ethiopian who asked the question, “What prevents me from being baptized” and the answer that Philip gave.