The African Church Leadership and the GC President: An Unhealthy Relationship


(Spectrumbot) #1

The GC President wants to take over Unions who continue to ordain women. During last year’s Fall Council meeting, he acquiesced, reluctantly, to a one-year delay to give the recalcitrant Unions opportunity to pray their way out of error. The year is up, and Elder Wilson wants to make good on his threat and rein in those Unions he deems uncompliant with the San Antonio directive. In San Antonio, he had been masterful in engineering a vote he thought would settle the Women’s Ordination (WO) question forever, in his favor. However, in the aftermath, it is increasingly apparent that San Antonio was a pyrrhic victory.

But we didn’t need a seer to predict that the North American and European Unions who had voted to ordain women before San Antonio would not rescind their actions. Fighting against WO is inherently unwinnable. It advocates for inequality and disenfranchisement, notions that have been litigated and rejected before and which seem alien to our youth, the church’s future.

Elder Wilson may be well intentioned and believe sincerely in his cause, but so were many well-intentioned and sincere casualties who swam against the tide of egalitarianism and social justice. There is a lot to be disappointed in Wilson’s leadership in this ginned-up crisis, but my greatest displeasure is reserved for those leaders from the three African divisions who have indiscriminately, and some may say blindly, supported Elder Wilson in his anti-WO crusade.

Let us be clear: the three African divisions are not the only world church regions where leadership has betrayed their responsibility to be transformative. Many other division leaders have been equally guilty. I choose to highlight the failings of our African leaders because I am a son of this continent and, consequently, bristle at the way our leaders’ pack alliance with the GC President has fed into the prevailing silly narrative that African leaders are easily manipulated. Let those from other divisions take their leaders to task as they see fit. My duty, as an African Adventist, is to hold our leaders in the motherland to a higher standard.

There is no getting around this: the leaders from the three African divisions are President Wilson’s most ardent backers in his campaign against women’s ordination. Without the near unanimous African “No” vote in San Antonio, we would not be here. Recall our leaders’ eerie silence when African delegates booed the former GC President, Jan Paulsen. This is the same Jan Paulsen who was a missionary teacher in Africa before air-conditioned offices and chauffeur-driven administrators was normative. He was booed because he dared to advocate a “Yes” vote.

The optics were awful. Jan Paulsen was jeered in a public forum by our overzealous contingents, and not a single leader from our delegation stood up to disavow that shameful breach of propriety. Our leaders allowed that appalling spectacle to fester in our collective consciences thus ensuring that it was tethered to us in perpetuity. Never mind that no leaders in the assembly – not the current president or any of his executives – failed to intervene to renounce this most shameful abdication of Christian etiquette. We should have known better. From our perspective, what happened was wrong on many levels. I know of no African community that does not honor longevity, wisdom and position – in that order. Jan Paulsen had all three and yet we dishonored him, contrary to our cultural upbringing. Why? Because we had been whipped into such a frenzy that we forgot Christian courtesy, the very shortcoming for which we often fault the West.

It has been two years since that disgraceful incident and, to my knowledge, none of our leaders have apologized, in print or an open forum, to Dr. Paulsen. I am not an official leader in the African church, but I want to offer a belated apology to President Paulsen on behalf of the millions of ordinary Adventists on the continent, for what was done in our name.

The question is, why do our African leaders walk in such lock-step with President Wilson, not only against WO, but also in favor of his one-size-fits-all approach to governance? The church has always made good faith accommodations for regionally specific “problems”. Consider two instances when the Western church and divisions from other territories bent over backwards to accommodate African specific issues.

Many in the West are unaware that, when we went from 27 to 28 Fundamental Beliefs, the new addition was a nod to a real issue repeatedly encountered by African pastors in their ministry. Fundamental Belief #11, “Growing in Christ”, deals with: “demonic spirits”, “evil forces that seek to possess”, “evil powers”, and the assurance that Christ has overcome such forces. There was no Western pastoral clamor for a definitive statement on this subject, in aid of parishioners who lived in mortal fear of such dark forces. Yet, when we appealed, a committee was set up resulting in a newly minted belief that continues to serve the African church well.

A second example is the tacit allowance by the rest of the world church to our ongoing approaches in dealing with polygamous new converts. Unlike many Western societies with established prohibition to polygamy, the practice is legal and common in many sub-Saharan countries. When the early Adventist missionaries to West Africa encountered converts from polygamous families, their initial solution was to direct the man to keep his first wife and let the others go. Over time African pastors realized this solution was at best simplistic and, at worst, disruptive – especially for the children who went adrift without a “two parents” presence.

While the original directive remains on the books, there are now several “experiments” by different African church communities that attempt to minimize the ensuing commotion when wives are dismissed. Some churches advocate admitting the wives into fellowship, minus the man. Others follow the honor system where the entire family lives together and is accepted into church fellowship – with the promise of no conjugal relationship between the man and the later wives. These attempts, though imperfect, show that many church leaders in Africa are not averse to compromise to make the church function better locally.

But we are not the only church territory with unique concerns. The Western church is greying and at the same time hemorrhaging its youth. This is a deadly combination if left uncorrected. While women’s ordination is not the only reason young people are leaving the Western church, perceiving that our church endorses discrimination is not helping stem the tide. For the West, therefore, correcting this long accepted wrong is a survival and ethical imperative.

So, if the African leaders understand the importance of addressing local issues that impede ministry, and have so acted in their territories, why is it that on WO these same leaders are marching only to the drum beat of the GC President in denying others the same opportunity? As I interact with African division leaders on this issue, what keeps coming up is umbrage that the Western church, as one African academic put it, “is trying to ram WO down our unwilling throats”. You get the sense that the leaders are taking a negative stance on WO not necessarily because of its shortcomings, but because they hold a grudge against the West for some ill-defined slight and a “No” vote was their opportunity to exercise a power they rarely get to wield in high church politics.

We do live in a world where alternative reality and false truth are in vogue, but the idea that the West is attempting to force WO on the world church is incredible. The pivotal San Antonio vote was not to authorize ordination of women everywhere. The central question was: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, Yes or No?”

As is inherent in the question’s phrasing, our church makes provision for geographic contingencies. The question allowed each division a large berth to ordain women into gospel ministry at their own pace, or not at all. There was no insistence that every division executive committee should allow women to be ordained.

Consequently, those who voted No were the ones who advocate a straight-jacketed approach that forces uniformity on every territory. All three African divisions voted overwhelmingly that it was unacceptable for other divisions to consider alternatives. And yet, two years removed from this unfortunate vote, our leaders’ self-justifying rallying cry is that the West was, and continues to be, dictatorial on WO. We must correct this self-serving mischaracterization of the record; the West is not forcing their views regarding WO on us. If anything, it is we who are forcing our position on them.

Elder Wilson has made a religion of his quest to prevent women from being ordained to gospel ministry. History will not be kind to the Wilson administration on this subject, just as history has not been kind to Southern church leaders who opposed Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggles for equality. Our church did not take a stand when it mattered against the racist apartheid South African regime. We should have learned from this. Perpetuation of inequality or injustice in any form, regardless of the source, should never be normalized.

Let us not forget that the issue of women’s ordination is not a fundamental belief. It is nowhere among the 28, yet some in our leadership have treated it as if it pertains to our salvation. Elder Wilson has staked his tenure on his opposition to WO and is intent on risking a church schism. But in the greater scheme of things, the opposition to this issue is time limited. It is tied too much to Elder Wilson’s personality and, when he leaves office, whether in three years or eight, this opposition may largely go with him.

This should be clear to our African leaders: On women’s ordination, there is no going back. While it may take a bit longer to get firm traction on the continent, the younger generation gets it. They are the promise keepers. And when they come of age and write the history of their elders’ unimaginative WO response, their verdict will be deservedly scathing. This Fall Council presents another opportunity to change that verdict. Whether they awake from the Wilson hypnosis is anyone’s guess.

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

Image Credit: Rohann Wellington/NAD

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8169

#2

Thank you, Matthew Quartey, for giving us a culturally appropriate assessment of this issue. It adds clarity to my perceptions. The rude treatment of Elder Paulson in San Antonio was exceeded only by the chair’s failure to rebuke them. The response in social media to the statements of the “Adventist Elders,” vilifying and demonizing these men who had given decades of service to the church reveals clearly the spirit that motivates the opponents to women’s ordination. You say history will judge Elder Wilson. That would not be the Judge I would worry about.


(Cherilyn Clough) #3

Wow, Matthew Quartey, Thank you for your well thought out and well written article. I for one am sharing it in my Adventist circles.

There is so much truth and common sense here that all I can do is applaud you for taking this on and making such a great case for why we need a new GC president. May God bless your efforts and may God’s Spirit infuse the church.

Many of us lay people are praying about fall council because we feel using power over in such a way does NOT represent the character of our gracious God who gives freedom to all. And because this is not an issue of salvation, it seems quite egocentric for Wilson to push such an agenda and then punish those who disagree with his fundamentalist views.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).


(Terry A. Bork) #4

“Jan Paulsen was jeered in a public forum by our overzealous contingents, and not a single leader from our delegation stood up to disavow that shameful breach of propriety.” It was a moment of shame for ALL church members in leadership who were present that day and remained mute. The silence in response to the incident was deafening. But I hope that debacle may still become a catalyst for positive change some day. In the meantime, I join you in thanking Dr. Paulsen for his work and for his sacrifice.


(Alvin Masarira) #5

Great insights Michael. In talking to some division leaders in Africa (at least in the SID) they argue “WO is not biblical”. The ex SID President used to make that argument, although the SDA Church (neither at any GC session, nor at any GC Excom Meeting) resolved that WO is not biblical. The issue is at best an issue of tradition. Fortunately there is growing number of leaders (often the younger ones) in the African church who strongly believe that female pastors should be ordained.


(Harry Elliott) #6

My name has been on the rolls of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and of the Republican Party for over seven decades.

Imagine having to endure the most divisive presidents in the histories of both church and state…

Simultaneously.

And both waving the banner of unity!


(Phillip Brantley) #7

Thank you for this rich and insightful essay. The Seventh-day Adventists in Africa have been victims of a GC disinformation campaign. We know that incendiary radio broadcasts incited Seventh-day Adventist Rwandans to kill other Seventh-day Adventist Rwandans. We realize or should realize that the multiple slanders directed against Jan Paulsen resulted in the shameful response to his entreaty in San Antonio. We must now understand that the nonstop badmouthing of the NAD by Ted Wilson and Samuel Koranteng-Pipim over the years has profoundly twisted the views of Seventh-day Adventists in Africa. In the age of Donald Trump, we Americans can empathize; we, too, have been forced to suffer the effects of various disinformation campaigns.

It is important to understand that Ted Wilson’s religious beliefs align with those of a small but powerful NAD faction that is largely anti-Trinitarian (particularly in its advocacy of Subordinationism), that embraces a works-oriented theory of salvation, that promotes Dispensationalism in the form of Last Generation Theology, that clings to patriarchal social and political norms, and that is resentful of biblical scholars. The NAD has treated this small faction with a long-suffering and tolerant love, but this small faction’s leader appears intent on subjugating the NAD through the instrumentality of power politics. Let Paul and Barnabas serve as models. They did not attempt to subjugate each other concerning Mark but instead agreed to disagree, and each went his own way.


(Hymers Wilson) #8

“Elder Wilson has made a religion of his quest to prevent women from being ordained to gospel ministry. History will not be kind to the Wilson administration on this subject, just as history has not been kind to Southern church leaders who opposed Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggles for equality. Our church did not take a stand when it mattered against the racist apartheid South African regime. We should have learned from this. Perpetuation of inequality or injustice in any form, regardless of the source, should never be normalized.”

Well said Matthew. Quarty. I myself have said that the issue of WO is a civil rights issue. As a person of colour I am keenly aware of the parallels between the Martin Luther King Jr. struggle and the struggle in the Adventist Church which has now become in addition an issue about ecclesiastical authority.

On your statement:

"Let us not forget that the issue of women’s ordination is not a fundamental belief. It is nowhere among the 28, yet some in our leadership have treated it as if it pertains to our salvation. "

The principle of equality, in the sense of fairness and justice, is eloquently and repeatedly expressed in Scripture and in my view (and I am not alone in this view) is a fundamental element of our Christian identity. I believe the way we treat others, and the way we favour some and withhold from others does have a bearing on our salvation. After all, people who have experienced salvation are supposed to act like saved people.


(Sirje) #9

What is even more troubling than the disrespect to women and their place in the church, is the climate within which all this is going on. When there is “booing” of the former GC president; and a recalcitrant stance by Wilson, proving to every one, but also to himself, that he is in charge, you have to wonder if this is the church that is calling itself “the remnant,” preparing itself to be perfect enough for Christ to come. When there is an attitude of “one-upmanship” on behalf of the African Unions as relating to the Western churches; and the dictatorial attitude of Wilson there is really no reason for any young people, serious about their spirituality, to stay in this toxic atmosphere. I have long given up on it after over fifty years of hanging on. Just watching to see where this will eventually go.

My question to Wilson is “By what authority?”


(Steve Mga) #10

What GREAT insight into what IS REALLY trying to break up the Denomination.
Unwillingness to allow for the addressing of local [whether by state, or by country, or by Union, or by Division, or by Continent] problems and allowing the LOCAL SDAs address and vote on the Answers that are BEST for them.
Thanks to Spectrum for allowing you to VOICE.


(Sharon) #11

Thank you, Matthew Quartey! These are things that I have thought. I was stunned by the treatment of Elder Paulsen and have been bemused by the hypocrisy of a church that is allowed to accommodate for polygamy, which the west views as a great sin, but can’t allow others to ordain women. It makes the cries of “no accommodation to popular culture” ring hollow.

Thank you for your courage, and I hope you still are welcome when you return to Africa!


#12

Thank you brother Quartey for such a courageous and eloquent disavowment of the very unfortunate attitude towards the former gentleman of the church in the person of Elder Paulsen. As an African, I’ve personally condemned the chorus assault against the man in such a prestigious convocation of the world church. The boo, of course, didn’t come from ONLY Africans but of some others from the Southern Americas. We sincerely apologize to Eld. Paulsen.

I’m a bit worried about your point of view of Africans’ viewpoint on WO as seemingly a manipulation from Elder Wilson. As one who has worked in Africa as a pastor and a friend to some of our top leaders and theologians, the accusation of Wilson’s connection of exploiting leadership conscience of African leaders is miscalculated, purely invented claim (if not fallacious), and a pillory of personality. Further, it rips dignity from our African leaders as though their conscience, intellect, and scholarship are handcuffed by top bureaucracy or as people who can’t think for themselves. I’ll explain myself. Most Africans’ position on WO predates Elder Wilson and the feeling has always been the same. I became a pastor at the age of 24 in 2006 and still remember the use of vehement sentiments that accompanied the question of WO. In my article" “What will Africans do with women ordination?” in 2015 to Spectrum, I outlined some of the factors that influence WO on the continent. The Wilson connection is quite strange though I know there is a good relationship between him and African leaders. I may accuse Elder Wilson on his stringent influence on Africa’s educational policies such as in the centralized autonomy of AUA to provide Master degrees in theological studies on the continent. A policy that demean trust and retrogresses national pedestal of our various universities. I stand to differ on the accusation of egocentric influence on our leaders.

On apartheid, Ellen White condemned it in 1900 in a letter (Letter 26) to a missionary in South Africa. The church has officially issued a statement against racial segregation (apartheid) in 1985 during the 54th world session in New Orleans. The statement was read by Elder Neal Wilson after his re-election.

On all other things said and written in this article, I do agree with you. The African leaders need to step out of sentimentalism and dicey prejudices to a more critical judgement on sensitive issues that confront the church today.


(le vieux) #13

That’s one author’s opinion, of course, but if WO is not biblical, then there must be a “going back.” “No going back” can be a dangerous principle if it is not grounded in truth. Look what it did to the RCC.

And if WO is biblical, those who think they are in the right can afford to be patient, rather than defiant. Look how long it took to liberate the Israelites form slavery and lead them to the land promised to them. God works in His own way and time, and trying to rush Him never goes well. It got Abraham into trouble, as it did Rebecca and Jacob. Defiance seldom wins friends, except among those already convinced.


(James R Becraft) #14

Thanks for this thoughtful article.


(Sigve Tonstad) #15

Thank you, Matthew! Wooing and booing–that’s our moment of truth. First the wooing of African leaders by Elder Wilson, who knows how to count votes. Then the booing of Elder Paulsen by African and South American delegates, booing a man just retired from many years of faithful service. This made San Antonio the lowest point in denominational history, lower even than the debacle in 1888.


(Herold Weiss) #16

What this well thought and gracefully written article proves is that demagoguery and careerism play a more significant role in the SDA church’s ecclesiastical votes than the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you Matthew for pointing that out so clearly.


(Furman Fordham) #17

Thank you sir. Insightful. Articulate. Courageous. Prophetic. Passionate. Powerful. And spot on!


(Frank Haynes) #18

I applaud Michael Quartey for his thoughtful and insightful account. I believe that he is very correct. I plan to share his article. Thank you Brother!


(Peter Marks) #19

Thanks Matthew for a very stimulating article. For some time now I have also been interested in the relationship of African leadership to this debate.

In 2014 I have published two essays on African perspectives associated with ordination on this blogsite: In February 2014 “Reflections on an African Adventist Report on Ordination Issues” and in June 2014 “An Open Letter to the General Conference Officers Concerning Ordination.” Both of these essays exposed a real willingness on the part of African scholars to work with the church in refine our biblical and theological approach and associated policies concerning ordination.

Allow me to summarise! Late in 2013 scholars in the East-central Africa Division Biblical Research Committee presented their report to TOSC via their Division in which they stated the following:

  1. Their wished for further discussion because they remained unsettled in their conclusions. They are “keen to engage in pertinent theological conversations … in developing a theology of ordination which will enable the world Church to effectively carry out the mission of the church.” They express their unease with some of the arguments of both sides of the issue, stating that they have observed exegesis that is less than adequate from both sides. Thus, they in their own context make a strong call for more study of the issues before the GC 2015.
  2. They disliked the way people often appeared to be talking past each other in such discussion. They said that discussion and debate about ordination in the Adventist context often seemed to be most like a “dialogue of the deaf.”
  3. Their greatest desire was for a “theologically intelligent and responsible church,” and this will undoubtedly involve information sharing “down to the grassroots.”
    4. They wished for a new ordination paradigm whereby both men and women could be authorised to serve in leadership without partiality. They were willing such a system to present itself and were not inclined to approve WO until the whole appointments paradigm had been revised.
  4. They predicted unrest if a vote were taken without such things having been arrived at through Bible Study. “It will be counterproductive for the Remnant Church’s delegates at San Antonio General Conference Session to cast their vote for or against women’s ordination if they do not have adequate information.” This has been proved prophetic.

From the above points to things become obvious to me:
A. that some in global leadership wanted a decision on ordination to be done and dusted before everyone in the world field could be brought up to speed. Only in this way could they prempt the possibility that the decision might in all probability be made to allow WO.
B. There is a great deal of willingness on the part of many in the world field to consider policy developments on this issue that would embrace a more inclusive approach.

Please note well: The official nomenclature for the meetings of the General Conference Executive Committee in October of each year is Annual Council, not Fall Council (or even Autumn Council). This change in nomenclature was made many years ago as an attempt to be more INCLUSIVE of those in the global southern hemisphere, where autumn is a season in March, April, and May and in which season leaves falling from trees is not a prominent feature. Spectrum editors please note.


(Cherry) #20

Thank you for your brave insights! It was so refreshing to read your article!