Ted Wilson's Overreach

Outlawing Women’s Ordination (WO) apparently is how Elder Ted Wilson wants to define his authoritarian leadership. We’ve seen enough of his approach, and should want no more. San Antonio ought to have shown him that his methods were flawed but he has been determined to stay the course. Instead of working towards a consensus position that capitalizes on our church’s enviable diversity, he advocated a tribal position that grossly confused uniformity and conformity with unity.

One year after San Antonio, his miscalculation showed. Unions that, before then, had committed to ordaining women into ministry, were not persuaded at the world gathering to abandon their sisters in ministry. Their position was a moral stance. This should have been anticipated by Elder Wilson and his supporters. After all, the constituents in the “offending” unions – including Wilson’s home union, the Columbia Union Conference – had voted overwhelmingly in favor of WO. Even in the face of his distressing threat of “serious consequences”. But Elder Wilson appeared to have been caught unprepared by the resilience and commitment of the unyielding unions. So he went to the 2016 Annual Council (AC) meetings with a plan that would have disenfranchised all unions that affirm women to be as welcome in the Lord’s vineyard as men.

But caution prevailed and The Unity Oversight Committee (UOSC) was born with a one-year mandate – and a five-step process – to facilitate reconciliation between the American and European unions who were at odds with the 2015 GC session vote. The GC president would agree to a year to let this process of reconciliation, the so-called year of grace, play out. The year went by quickly and all sides agreed that the UOSC’s results were inconclusive because the mandated process hadn’t been fully implemented.

This is the background to the events that occurred at this year’s AC. The GC president was aware that the UMOSC did not complete its assignment. Knowing this, he still insisted on bringing a retributive agenda item that targeted the leaders of those “defiant” unions that chose to ordain women. To do this Elder Wilson needed the support of the General Conference Division Offices (GCDO), the roughly seventy leaders from the 13 divisions and selected GC officers who control the agenda. The initial vote, by physically present members, recommended against including the contentious item – by three votes. The GC president then took the unusual, and arguably unconstitutional, step of canvassing absent committee members who had not read the document. Their votes were added to the original count, producing a 36 to 35 tally in favor. Wilson then placed this highly charged issue onto the agenda.

One ought to expect that any reflective administrator, faced with a situation where their advisory core was this deeply divided, would see this as a bad omen and reconsider presenting it to a wider body. Not Elder Wilson. He seemingly deals in absolutes. If you believe that God supports your positions, no matter how divisive to the body you lead, you might resort to such a maneuver. Because winning a vote is what demonstrates that God favors your position. It is a circular and dizzying state of mind for a leader.

Elder Wilson did not hesitate – and he knows how to count. Before San Antonio he canvassed and secured the votes of leaders from certain areas of the global church. Then in San Antonio, knowing he had the numbers, he dug in his heels.

Now, at this AC, the unspoken word was secrecy. On Monday, Dan Jackson, president of the North America Division, asked Elder Wilson to comment on the voting process that resulted in including the document under consideration to the AC agenda. In answer Elder Wilson lamented the “leaks” that, he asserted, resulted in propriety information going to people who should not have received it. He would not comment on whether that information should have been secret in the first place.

Why was it necessary to keep the 14-page document from the very people who would deliberate and vote on it on Monday? Just before the close of Sunday’s session, Elder Weigley, president of Columbia Union Conference, asked Elder Wilson to email the document to voting members so they could review and pray over it before they discussed it the next day. Elder Wilson’s quick retort – that the document will be distributed on Monday afternoon – was not only dismissive but evidenced, to me, a dictatorial instinct. He gave no reason why the information could not then be made available to all who needed it. His position was paramount. This dismissive attitude to questions he disliked was on display earlier the same day when Elder Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference, objected to recording the GC secretary’s report because he saw Secretary Ng’s “Adventism 911” as a presentation, not a report. To this, Elder Wilson, obviously annoyed, interjected: “This will be recorded as a report. The secretary can say anything he wants to say. I thank God for the secretary.”

In hindsight, the president would have been better served if he had acceded to Elder Weigley’s respectful request, because one of the key objections to voting on the document was that participants had not had enough time to read the 14 pages – which took 45 minutes of verbal reading – let alone deliberate on its wording and implications. If the GC president had made the document available on Sunday evening the time argument would not have been nearly as germane. This is how “strong men” types often get hoisted on their own petard.

At last, Monday afternoon came, and the tension in the room was every bit as thick as anticipated. After the document, with the catch-all title: Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence to Church Governance, was read and comments were entertained, the objections then raised were incessant. Opposition to adopting the document verbatim was centered on two main issues: 1) signing a loyalty oath, and 2) losing voice and vote. It didn’t seem right or fair that leaders who were chosen by their constituents would lose voice and vote if they refused to sign a document that would invalidate the will of those they represent. Even more perplexing was the part of the document that mandated still taking voice and vote from those leaders who sign the document but are later perceived as acting in bad faith.

In my mind, this resembles McCarthyism. Voice was equated to freedom of speech, and cramping it because of disagreement with policy was likened to taking a leader’s human rights. Others also saw the irony of an attempt to steer the church away from its Protestant moorings and toward a Catholic posture – in the 500th anniversary of Luther’s reformation.

Then the former GC president, Jan Paulsen, had the mic. A hush ensued. And with characteristic quiet dignity, he stated that his sign of loyalty is in his heart. That after 50 years of service to the church he loves, he does not need to sign a loyalty oath to demonstrate his commitment to the church and its mission. With a hint of a quiver in his voice and the clarity of an old testament prophet, he declared with unpretentious authority: “I do not see the hand of God in this”. Then he gave up the mic.

Elder Wilson, sensing an important shift, employed pastor Finley to pray. But there was a collective unconscious exhalation in the tensed auditorium that suggested perhaps this document might not pass.

Elder Paulsen notwithstanding, I think the real reason Elder Wilson’s overreach failed, at least on this occasion, was hubris. The seeds for this were sewn during the Monday morning auditing report by Paul Douglas, director of the General Conference Auditing Service. He revealed that 81% of global church entities were, to varying extents, non-compliant with church policy. Elder Douglas’ presentation, coming just before the main agenda item of the day, cast a sobering context for what came after. President Wilson had carefully couched his explanation for the unprecedented step he was on the verge of taking – as response to unions who were non-compliant with GC policy.

For the first time a broad section of the representatives at the gathering could also see that this process could have unintended consequences. Few supporters from Elder Wilson’s “base” subsequently went to the mic. Even when they did, those who spoke in support seemed tepid and unsure. Overreaching is often what wounds a dictatorial approach, and Elder Wilson’s was a giant overreach.

The 62% to 38% vote to send the document back to its originating committee was a decisive repudiation of the strongman tactics Ted Wilson used throughout the process. Our president’s seven-year leadership has been a continuous tugging at the seams of our togetherness. He has prioritized his antipathy towards women in ministry over the church’s higher goal of mission. He has spent more time and resources engaged in this private campaign than focusing the church on what truly binds us. He is a formidable politician, but an astute one would let this alien document die in committee. But knowing that, will Wilson, like Captain Ahab in Melville’s novel Moby Dick, follow this obsession through, even at the risk of dooming the ship? We can all hope not.

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

Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/matthew-quartey.

Image Credit: Mylon Medley/ANN

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8325

Perhaps our eschatological inculcations to fear catholicism externally has been badly misinterpreted, and instead caused us to ignore the insidious catholicization from within.
Perhaps we have nothing to fear in that feared “hand shaking” with the beast, and instead rightfully need to fear the spirit of the beast, which we seem to have internalized structurally and breathlessly inhaled as some last-gasp CPR on our dwindling body.

Speaking of fear, Mr Wilson seems to be leveraging his heels against the palpable fear many laity and leaders alike exhibit, namely the fear of "being deceived, losing membership within the “exclusive remnant”, aka the institutional church. This not-so-subtle coercion is entirely inimical to the character of God, but even below that, does not discrimination qualify as a sin? And ascribing said discrimination to God, as some invisible Heavely edict, then a blasphemy?

Perhaps we should follow Jesus distinctly non-institutional church, bare footed, through the desert, although we may lose the 5013c benefits…
A church with jackboots, is it even a church at all?


Traditional folk Seventh-day Adventists believe that they are the true remnant within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Notice this recent statement made by Kevin Paulson in his article The Patience of the Saints posted on October 14, 2017 on advindicate.com: “God has explicitly promised, through His modern prophet, that the organized Seventh-day Adventist body will see its disobedient majority purged from its visible ranks during the end-time process called the shaking.” This alleged prophecy is apocalyptic; it is unconditional per se. I think Kevin’s statement opens a window into the mind of Ted Wilson and allows us to better understand what Wilson is trying to do.


Matthew Quartey,
You give a most powerful and articulate presentation of the scandalous shenanigans prevailing at the recent Autumn Council.

This whole shabby, shoddy, sordid, “snow job” and shady deal of foisting a “secret” document on the assemblage with minimal discussion time, is shameful.

Not the least of the bad optics, was that the “ UNITY “ committee ( a euphemistic code word for dealing with women’s issues in the denomination )
is comprised of an elitist group of mainly geriatric white male bureaucrats.

Not a single female, nor lay person, nor millennial, in sight to deal with compelling controversial and current concerns for the denomination.

The entire team who composed this repellent 14 page document should hand in their resignations.

The current church hierarchy is an embarrassment to the entire church membership.

Response to Groucho
After reading the numerous posted accounts of the malignant Monday afternoon proceedings at the Autumn Council, how can you, with a straight face, make your deluded comment that Wilson did “everything DECENTLY and IN ORDER “ ??


What’s really shameful is the insistence by the rebellious entities within the church, that they are not out of compliance with the will of the body, and that none of the votes at 3 GC sessions were about WO. These deluded souls are like Baghdad Bob, who, while Coalitions tanks could be seen rolling through the streets, continued to insist that the forces of Saddam Hussein were winning. What’s also shameful, is that these pro-WO zealots will continue to defy the will of the body, no matter how much division it causes. It is they who are causing division, not Elder Wilson, who is merely trying to get the rebels to comply with what was voted at the GC session. Elder Wilson is merely following Paul’s counsel that everything be done decently and in order, but he is vilified and derided for doing so. He is in good company, since most godly men in the Bible were hated by their detractors.

I noticed that the way the proceedings were reported depended entirely on one’s philosophy. Liberals vilified Wilson and his colleagues, while conservatives thought he handled things in a professional manner. So, I could turn the tables on you and ask the same thing. “Spin” seems to be the order of the day. Elijah was called a “troubler of the people,” and Jesus was accused of having a demon, so the vitriol hurled at Elder Wilson is meaningless.

And, just for the record, when I mentioned doing things “decently and in order,” I wasn’t just referring to the recent Fall Council, but in general.


More to the point, TW’s behavior on that fateful Monday afternoon resembles what is frequently seen in the playgrounds of pre-K schools, hissy fits and tempter tantrums such as when he retorted the 14-page document was to be distributed at his schedule, insisting that his secretary “can say anything he wants to say,” and complaining of leaks as if the act of leaking would justify his railroad schemes. And He did this in prime time for all the see.

If I get to heaven, I will ask the Lord what happened to all my prayers I sent Him asking that TW be filled with the spirit as Paul & Peter were.

One or two mistakes are allowed for an individual but this pattern of excessive spending has gotten out of hand and similar to Pastor Paulsen, “I do not see the hand” of only TW on this but his EXECOMM too. How much longer will the church ignore this kind of excessive spending before reigning in our officers? I say the swamp has to be drained in Silver Springs.


Those who sincerely believe in following their conscience will not give up easily. Just as those who support WO will not surrender their conscience to the demands of TW and the GC, we should not expect that TW will give up his conscience with one failed motion. I think he truly believes he is God’s appointed to end WO once and for all in the Church, and to bring on the purge he likely believes the denomination is going to experience. We should expect to see more of the same.

I totally agree with you, Patrik.


Please note that, though the article says that the Unity Comittee was the originating committee, it wasn’t. The 14 page document was given to the Unity Committee–they did not write it. Tom Lemon made that clear in his introduction to the document.


It is of some interest, I believe, to note that Tom Lemon is no longer the chair of the so called Unity Committee. It didn’t take the president long to react to what was said in the statement made by Elder Lemon regarding his meetings with various entities and finding no evidence of any rebellion among any of them.


I am grateful that we still have the voice of Jan Paulsen being heard. Such a wise godly man.


I hear crickets! How lovely to know we get to hear them for another year!


Dictatorship is not going to work in today’s society or today’s church…and certainly not going to be a tool for evangelism. Change in methodology is needed.


Yes, It’s one thing to throw down the gauntlet when it comes to a seminal point of belief or doctrine, but to see “the shaking” in terms of who gets to stand up and delver the gospel is just stupid. That’s like dividing the church over what kind of vessel is used during the communion - a cup or a shot glass.


“I noticed that the way the proceedings were reported depended entirely on one’s philosophy. Liberals vilified Wilson and his colleagues, while conservatives thought he handled things in a professional manner.”

I guess that depends upon whom you consider “Conservative/Liberal”. I have noticed that Ted W. is getting criticism from his handling of things from both sides of the coin. He has given much to criticise of late…

“And, just for the record, when I mentioned doing things “decently and in order,” I wasn’t just referring to the recent Fall Council, but in general.”

I suppose if you set the “Behavior” and “Leadership” bars low enough I could see it.


The desire for power is the absolute root of all corruption.


Tom Lemon is no longer on the GC Unity in Mission Oversight Committee.

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Thanks Matthew! Perceptions really matter and you certainly have outlined your perceptions of Elder Wilson’s actions very clearly and forcefully! However above the play and counterplay of human action, I feel I can discern the hand and voice of God leading our movement forward. So let’s look above and beyond our perception of human action. Is there a way forward!

San Antonio 2015 tells me that a door has been shut to looking for any regionalized solution concerning the role of women in ministry. Annual Council 2017 tells me that a door has been shut to any hard-edged and almost infantile retributive policy enforcement by the General Conference against those who are setting off on tangents.

There is however a way forward, I believe! No door has ever been shut against a united policy development that would seek to design global policies to encourage Adventist entities to discern the will of God as far as using each individual believer in the ministry and mission of Christ to our world. The Spirit gifts all believers as He wills. The calling of all to serve in the mission and ministry of Christ is enfolded in the gifts the Spirit has imparted. But local congregations and other Adventist entities must discern the will of God for each disciple including our pastoral leaders of both genders.

Having said this, the emphasis of present efforts to resolve the present confrontation should be less on providing equality in ministry for both genders, and following such a trajectory to its ultimate conclusion in the ordination of women. Rather, our emphasis should be more on discerning the will of God for each individual, and Adventist representative bodies responding to the call of God on individual lives to serve as leaders regardless of their gender.

To make strenuous efforts to seek equality in ministry roles for both genders seems to be status seeking, equally as much as efforts to follow where male headship theology in the church may lead.

I think it important to understand a little more of the potential foundations of Elder Ted Wilson’s actions. Perhaps it would help us to become less upset by them.

Perhaps Dr Jon Paulien did an excellent job in representing the thoughts and feelings of what he considers that perhaps a majority of Adventist believers and probably those of Elder Wilson as well. To this end, Jon outlined two deeply held convictions and one huge reality that faces the Adventist movement.

Thus, I have sought to summarize these convictions and the reality that Dr Jon Paulien outlined to the Loma Linda University Church Vespers on Sabbath afternoon, October 14, 2017 in the wake of Annual Council 2017:

1. A Plain Reading of Scripture and Sin in the Camp
Using a plain reading of Scripture, God’s will is clearly understood by perhaps a majority of Adventist believers to forbid the ordination of women. It’s not just a matter of conscience as to what happens in their church, Conference or Union. Rather, it’s a matter of conscience for the entire church. Thus, if any part of the body is out of harmony with God’s will, the entire body is under the curse as happened with Achan and the camp of Israel! Had a vote to allow the ordination of women succeeded for any part of the church, a lot of people would have felt disenfranchised and their faith compromised.

2. A Real Fear of Congregationalism
Congregationalism would be achieved with every congregation or entity doing pretty much what they want and maybe even believing what they want. However, the SDA Church has always been a unified organization. If more and more bodies just don’t pay attention to what leadership is doing, the aims of congregationalism will have been achieved. The church can only maintain unity by discussing issues as a body, making decisions and abiding by them. It’s that simple!

3. Neo-colonialism
This is on display in any disparaging and dismissive attitudes to people in the two thirds world, particularly in regard to their not having caught up yet or being slow to move ahead. In many parts of the global south this reeks of neo-colonialism. The reaction is swift. “Yeh! You used to run us, but now in the church you want to come back and take over again and impose your way of life on us.” Allowing portions of the church to do something else is just a way for them to get their way once more. “Enough of this … We are the church and we want to be heard.”

The smart thing to do in the face of such convictions and realities is to consider how we may find a way forward through this maze. Denying the validity of these objections is not an option. So here are three strategies to address the issues Dr Jon Paulien highlighted, as above:

A. Grass-roots Education about what the Bible says!

It may be easier to find a way to engage with number 2 and number 3, than with number 1. However, many parts of the Adventist world have not engaged in a process of education at a grass-roots level on these topics. And clear and straight forward biblical education is what will bring a unified conviction as to what the Bible actually means on this topic. The South Pacific Division maintains an unwritten policy of not discussing the issue of the ordination of women to any meaningful degree in their magazines or offical forums. They did publish a book containing South Pacific Perspectives on Ordination in June 2015. This is the only meaningful presentation that has emanated from the official press in that Division. I was privileged to have a chapter in that tome. It has enjoyed a very limited circulation. Most Adventists in the South Pacific are simply not able to make any meaningful contribution here because of a dirth of education about the issues and what the Bible and our history really teaches us.

B. Progess toward united global policy development
Both the South Pacific Division leadership and the Trans-European Division leadership have been trail-blazers in this regard, as has Dr Lowell Cooper at the London Unity Conference. These three have all encouraged the General Conference to consider what united global credentialing policies might be adopted to ensure that all members and pastoral leaders feel valued and affirmed. A united push to further creative, innovative policy development led by the General Conference would send a clear message that we are not seeking our own brand of congregationalism. Such policies would contain general policy guidelines for all but be flexible enough to provide some degree of flexibility to allow people in local situations to be responsive to local factors. Such a set of policies would permit people in local situations to respond within their own cultural context. Empower each Division and Union from around the world to have input into such policy development.

The SPD suggestion to the General Conference was that the ‘Ordained Minister’ credential and the ‘Commissioned Minister’ credential be maintained, but that the same rights and privileges of an Ordained Minister be accorded the Commissioned Minister. In practical terms this would allow any commissioned minister to take on pastoral oversight of Conferences etc.

The TED suggestion as well as that of Dr Lowell Cooper suggested that Adventists dispense with the practice of ordination and embrace a model of leadership involving commissioning all senior pastoral leaders of whatever gender. (If the Salvation Army could move to ordain their officers in 1978 in addition to commissioning them, after 100 years of doing this, then surely we could move in the other direction).

Whatever we Adventists do in regard to credentialing policy development, we might consider adopting a new watchword - the collegiality of all believers.

C. Embracing Believers from All Cultures as Collaborators and Partners in Mission Development and Ministry
More than thirty years ago WR Beach and BB Beach wrote of Adventist mission as involving a movement from everywhere to everywhere. This is certainly what is involved in embracing believers from all cultures as partners and collaborators in mission development and ministry. We must extend discussion and debate of issues, however contentious to the grass-roots in all sectors of our global village. Only when believers everywhere feel that they are heard will they believe that this is their church! Only in this way will we dispel the potential for our denomination to be an instrument of neo-colonialism.

Our danger at this time is that we indulge ourselves and are overcome by analysis paralysis. We need quickly to engage in implementing the three mission development strategies - A. Grass-roots education about what the Bible says about ordination.B. Progress toward united global policy development. C. Embrace Believers from all cultures as partners and collaborators in Mission Development and Ministry.


Excellent Analysis: Elder Wilson sabotaged his own proposal by alienating many of his “foes” and “friends” alike. Thank you!


i think this article may be taking a narrow view of what we’ve seen from TW that causes it to overreach in some of its conclusions…in the first place, while TW has clearly manipulated policy to his advantage where he could, this may be more an evidence of extraordinary knowledge of the rules and an adroit political skill-set than authoritarianism…this is because true authoritarianism doesn’t bother to pretend to be interested in policy…it bulldozes all who stand in its way because it can…this isn’t the reality of what we’ve seen from TW over the past 7 yrs, for instance his abiding by the AC2017 vote…of course, authoritarianism with TW has been a persistent caricature posited by progressives, but there is obviously some self-interest in this caricature…for one thing, conservatives see a set of firm principles, rather than authoritarianism…genuine authoritarianism doesn’t break down into such mutually exclusive characterizations…

in the second place, TW is on record as saying he would have accepted san antonio whichever way the vote went, which is believable, given his acceptance of the AC2017 vote, which definitely didn’t go his way…this immediately rules out outlawing WO through an authoritarian MO…someone intent on outlawing WO through an authoritarian MO wouldn’t let a GC vote stop him…he also wouldn’t wait for a GC vote to authorize him…

in the third place, TW requested both CUC and PUC to forego ordaining women until san antonio…one possible interpretation of this request is that a yes vote would have conferred agreed to legitimacy on CUC and PUC’s decision to ordain women, while jumping the gun clearly obviated it…real authoritarianism doesn’t lend itself to such legitimate and benign interpretations…

in the fourth place, TW was our GC president for five yrs before san antonio…besides excluding sandra roberts from the year-book and not attending an aussie WO ceremony, both possible and viable interpretations of policy, what did TW do during that time that could have been described as anti-WO authoritarianism…as i understand it, he hadn’t even said which side of the fence he was on…can anyone envision a stalin or a hitler coming into power and waiting five yrs to act, and then leaving his intentions in any way nebulous…

i think the way to interpret TW that avoids these difficulties is in terms of an individual wholly committed to policies voted at a GC session…this view sees his anti-WO position - quite apart from whether this is his personal position - purely in terms of an imperative to uphold a GC vote, and nothing more…because upholding a GC vote is viewed as the prime responsibility bar none, TW feels no qualms in using politics to achieve that goal…in other words, he’s committed, not to an overarching principle like headship, or how anyone feels, or even any private assessment of his own personal approach or what his legacy might be, but to the narrow focus in the here and now of enforcing policy as expressed through a GC vote any way he feels he can…of course it is not impossible that anti-WO views and a concern for third world sensibilities color this…but in the end, when we look at TW, i think we’re looking at someone who’s extraordinarily committed to the view that a GC vote means something…i think we make a mistake in viewing TW in terms of anything more, or less, than this…

ultimately, of course, we can instantly see the potential for an achilles heel if and when a particular GC vote is biblically incorrect, which no-one familiar with Acts 15, Acts 21 and Galatians 2 can dispute is the case with san antonio…in this connection, i don’t think TW will be remembered so much for anti-WO authoritarianism as loyalty to a GC vote that is biblically incorrect…it may be the case that he understands that san antonio is biblically incorrect, or it may be the case that he doesn’t…in either case, he is committed to enforcing the san antonio vote because it is a GC vote…to my knowledge, this is the first time this has happened in the history of our church…


This is very true. Would it be worth to die for WO? So what are we doing about it?!

The solution can be found in Mark 12:13-17. Jesus said that some narrow questions over issues are a trap. Look at the coin’s two sides, he said, and treat matters of culture and administration as what they are. WO has to get de-theologized! It is not a theological but a cultural conflict.

Did you ever notice that the ten commandments at their core, in the sabbath commandment, seem to support slavery?! Some issues at some times are a matter of culture, not theology. Jesus himself never started to question slavery nor did he question paying taxes to a brutal regime.

Calm down everybody! Get all who are involved to de-theologize their position!