The Camel, the Trojan Horse, and the Other Shoe

In every organization’s history there are inflection points where its future trajectory is in question. I suggest we are at one of those points in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The constituencies—church members—of certain union conferences have voted to ordain women. The General Conference says, “That is against policy. You must stop and conform.” (The GC probably values policy adherence more than anything because that is its ersatz control mechanism, having no real power or control otherwise.) The unions say, “Ordination is in our purview, and our constituents think ordaining women is the right thing to do in pursuing mission where we live.”

Positions taken and decisions made in the near future will determine the nature of our church for a long time to come. Along the way, there will be a struggle to arrive at a good place.

The Camel

The nose of the camel is now under the tent. The camel’s nose is represented by “The Sentence” in the by-now-infamous “unity” document adopted by the GC Executive Committee at the recent Annual Council.

The Sentence says, “For the biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs or voted actions and policies of a worldwide nature, the General Conference will become involved” (underlining supplied) (This article does not delve into the tempting discussion of the document’s equation of voted actions and working policies with biblical principles, a concept mentioned four times in the document.).

The Sentence follows a description of the process to be followed when a church entity has “overlooked or ignored the biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions, or working policies of the Church.” The process spells out how the next higher church organization will work with an errant entity to bring about “reconciliation.”

I believe The Sentence is the crux of the “unity” document. It is the insertion of the camel’s nose under the tent. Actually, any tent. There is no reason whatsoever to think that the “unity” action taken by the GC would be limited to the current issue of unions ordaining women. It provides for the GC to intervene directly with any entity of the church, potentially bypassing the role of a division, a union, a conference, or other entity. Doesn’t this sentence open the door for the GC to intervene directly with a congregation, a college, an academy, or a hospital? Does this not give the GC carte blanche to intervene in any situation of alleged noncompliance with “Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions, or working policies” in which the GC asserts the next higher organization has not taken appropriate action? Let’s be blunt. This was an ill-advised action. It needs to be rolled back.

So let’s pose a hypothetical about the most obvious current situation. Let’s say the North American Division, as the next higher organization, goes to the Columbia and Pacific Unions and asks them to reverse their positions and actions on the ordination of women. Let’s say those unions decline to reverse course. Let’s further say that the NAD leaders then go to the NAD Executive Committee and ask it to discipline those unions in some way. Let’s say the NAD Executive Committee declines.

The next step under the “unity” document would be for the GC to interact directly with the unions. The body of the camel would follow its nose into the tent. Let’s further say that no matter what the GC might do with the structure and/or leadership of the unions, it cannot change the minds of the constituents, the representatives of the 376,000 church members who are the constituencies of those two unions.

This hypothetical series of events would lead to a troubling scenario. We don’t know how it would work legally or practically at a point of impasse between the GC and hundreds of thousands of church members. It is quite unpredictable. But I would be shocked if attorneys are not now involved behind the scenes. The GC and the unions are very likely exploring what is actually legally possible under the governing documents of our unique legal structure. In the context of a spiritual fellowship, the development of competing, internal legal strategies would be a very, very bad sign.

Beware. The camel’s nose is now inside the tent.

The Trojan Horse

Alongside the camel rolls the Trojan Horse. Inside the horse lurk two things.

First, lurks a risk that the Seventh-day Adventist Church will become a more hierarchal, authoritarian organization. The siren call of hierarchical authority seems to have lured the GC in the 19th century and, in modern times, ever since the Merikay Silver court case of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In pursuit of a line of legal defense in that litigation, GC and NAD officials testified in depositions that the church is indeed a hierarchical organization with authority flowing down.

So apparently Church leaders decided, perhaps as counseled by attorneys, to say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church governance had suddenly transmogrified into hierarchical form! They just failed to tell the rest of us!

In my opinion, some GC leaders started to believe their own story, and have tried ever since to paper over the gaps in hierarchical control created by the independent constituencies and separate corporations of the unions and conferences.

So in the last few decades, we’ve seen model bylaws promoted. We’ve seen votes saying that all entities are required to abide by the policies of the GC. These initiatives have attempted to create a paper substitute for actual corporate control.

It is time to quite openly name this trend for what it is and call a halt to it. We exist as a fellowship of believers who find sufficient common ground in our belief system to stick together in worship and mission. If policy showdowns become the medium of achieving “unity,” we are in trouble indeed.

So I believe that inside the “unity” Trojan Horse are behaviors intended to advance the authoritarian agenda.

I have experience with a small manifestation of this authoritarian tendency. As a partner in FaithSearch Partners, I manage executive searches for faith-based organizations. In one of our recent SDA higher education presidential searches, we encountered an unexplained delay in getting started with the project. It finally emerged that the General Conference president had inserted himself into the decision-making process of the university and its board chair, the president of one of our large unions. The GC president instructed that they should not use search consultants, but to follow a process he specified. This interference had created a delay.

I was astounded that the president of the GC would insert himself into the decision of a university board—a university operated by a union conference—as to how they would select their next president. My reaction was that this was a vast overreach, a blatant attempt at micromanagement and a display of authoritarianism. I suggested to the union president that I hoped he was quite perturbed. He was. And to his credit, he rebuffed this gambit.

In my view, the president of the General Conference is not the chief executive officer of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The president is just the chief executive officer of the General Conference, a corporation, a service organization that manages certain activities for the benefit of the wider church body because that is the most efficient way to do it. The management of money. Retirement plans. Benefit programs. Departmental support. The flow of missionaries. The oversight of accreditation of schools. Providing governance to a few GC institutions. Arranging and facilitating the gathering of the church every five years to do its collective business. Providing inspiration and creating a tone. These are the matters for the GC. But in my view, the GC is not a controlling corporate entity, nor should it be.

Power in our church is distributed. Intentionally. Our Church in 1901 made a very conscious decision to distribute the power precisely to prevent overreach by the GC. And now, lurking inside the Trojan Horse, seemingly lurks a compulsion to change that arrangement.

Make no mistake. The tendency to assert authority is the issue we now face. The women’s ordination issue has morphed into a control/power issue. The boundaries that have defined our fellowship for 100 years are under assault.

The second thing lurking inside the Trojan Horse is Male Headship theology. That aberrant doctrine is not part of our belief system. You can search authoritative sources of our beliefs and you will not find it.

The risk is that male headship may intrude into the church through “squatter’s rights.” It could be nurtured in our midst, not through inclusion in our Fundamental Beliefs or by any kind of vote, but by efforts to promote practical applications of male headship. Thus this alien belief could come informally under the back of the tent while the camel is coming in under the front of the tent, and could become our practice, even if not our stated belief.

Beware the Trojan Horse.

The Other Shoe

The “unity” document suspends a shoe in the air, ready to drop.

The “unity” document’s first recommendation prescribes a process of (1) listening and praying, (2) consultation with a “wider group” over six months, (3) writing “pastoral” letters (no doubt vetted by lawyers) to the offending entity, and (4) listening and praying again.

If the conflict has not been resolved at the end of the four steps above, then the second recommendation in the “unity” document would come into play. This recommendation empowers the General Conference Administrative Committee to recommend to the 2017 Annual Council a course of action if “unity” has not been achieved.

In other words, between now and October, the GC will be developing strategy and tactics to recommend to the world church in the event “unity” has not been achieved by the NAD. What would those strategies and tactics look like? I don’t know. I hear things like hostile take-overs of unions. Or forming shadow unions. Or converting unions into missions under GC control. Or using the threat of loss of tax-exempt status under the church’s umbrella exemption. Or loss of use of the Seventh-day Adventist name. Maybe something more creative.

Any of those tactics would, in my opinion, have a potentially serious impact on hundreds of thousands of members. Does the GC leadership really believe it could make retaliatory moves against unions without adverse effects among the 226,000 members of the Pacific Union and the 150,000 members of the Columbia Union (not even taking into account the members other unions in Europe and China)? Does GC leadership think it can institute punitive measures against union leaders and corporations while those 376,000 members of the North American Church stand meekly by? I believe that instead of bringing reconciliation and unity, such measures will create much greater and more damaging conflict.

When the constituency of a union conference votes, it is expressing the desires of church members regarding the mission and ministry of the Church where they live and worship. Short of apostasy, you would think GC would hesitate to think their views are more important than those of the members in a territory of the Church. And how can you apostatize over policy unless someone is of the opinion that policy is of equal value with belief?

Is the General Conference leadership willing to alienate thousands upon thousands of members in its quest for uniformity? Does the General Conference leadership really think policy is of equal value with belief? Is the General Conference leadership surreptitiously trying to promote a particular doctrinal view of the ordination of women when our theologians generally take the position that it is not a doctrinal issue? Does the General Conference leadership think it knows better than the member constituents what is best for their territory? Does the General Conference leadership think that perceived policy variances are just cause for a potentially explosive conflict in our church?

Perhaps GC leadership thinks some serious losses are acceptable in order to make a point. Maybe they think significant damage among our membership is worth it to achieve their objectives. Maybe the other divisions around the world are supportive of such a course of action. I pray not.

For me, the most poignant moment of the NAD Year-end Meeting occurred when Don Livesay, president of the Lake Union Conference, asked for those in the auditorium to stand if they had a son, daughter or other young acquaintance who was rethinking their relationship with our church because of the current dynamics. It was very sobering that probably 90 percent of the audience stood.

Beware the Other Shoe.


The Camel, the Trojan Horse, and the Other Shoe are all realities in play now. he next couple of years, at least, will be tense and bumpy. They will be full of ambiguity. It may not feel like church. Isn’t it interesting how threatening language and conflict can be wrapped in the most spiritual of terminology? But none of this feels spiritual at all. This feels like corporate warfare. And over what? Disagreements about policy? Power? Distribution of authority? Uniformity? Doctrine? Rule of the majority? The GC president feeling personally rebuffed by two union constituencies? All the above? What precisely lies at the root of this?

We are facing a pivotal moment in the history of this denomination. What is at stake is the very nature of our fellowship. I want to be a member of a fellowship of believers. I don’t want to belong to an authoritarian hierarchy. So some things are worth fighting for.

Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant, president of The Reifsnyder Group, and senior vice-president of FaithSearch Partners. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have two daughters.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

"But none of this feels spiritual at all. This feels like corporate warfare. And over what? Disagreements about policy? Power? Distribution of authority? Uniformity? Doctrine? Rule of the majority? The GC president feeling personally rebuffed by two union constituencies? All the above? What precisely lies at the root of this?

The root of this is rebellion against the word(logos)-Jesus. This started back in 1995 after the
second rejection of ordaining woman to gospel ministry. It was then that some NAD leaders wanted
to combat this differently than from one of the bible headship head on tactic to one of policy. Well
they succeeded in changing the conversation on both sides to one of policy when it as always been
about authority of Gods word that we follow and conform our will to.

If you want all the history on this please read Prove all things. If you want to know how this ends
read the story of Korah.

1 Like

What “word of Jesus” are you referring to? I can’t think of what that might be. Jesus never spoke directly of ordination! And many students of the Bible believe that the Bible does not even command “ordination” as Adventists and Roman Catholics have known it.

It seems possible to me that the GC president knows full well that this may split the denomination, yet doesn’t see that as something to be avoided.

I don’t expect the Pacific Union (I don’t know the Columbia Union well) to “give in” on this. Call that rebellion if you wish, although I would see that as "the greatest want of the world is the want of people who will stand for the right [though the church must split]. Adventists were not originally compliant people or many of us would still be Methodists. And the early Adventists did not want either a creed (20+ “fundamental beliefs”) or a legal organization. The SDA organization did not legally happen until 19 years after the “Great Disappointment”.

Major churches in the Pacific Union have women senior pastors (La Sierra and Azure Hills for example). The Southern California Conference has a woman president. And those constituencies will stand firm, I expect.

Personally I know of some significant churches that have already said that they will leave and form new congregations if “push comes to shove”. Some of you will say “good riddance, you’re rebels”. But many of us no longer believe that we must officially belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church to be saved or be disciples of our Savior, Jesus Christ. "The great want of the world…though the [denomination kicks them out without regret.]

The collateral damage from leadership that drives a split could threaten the existence of important institutions such as Loma Linda University, La Sierra University, and Pacific Union College. And I could never see that as a good thing. That is, unless the Pacific Union continued to control legally (as they do now) La Sierra and PUC which are “Union” institutions, not GC institutions. If these institutions lost accreditation because of the GC trying to reform them or purify their faculty, they would most likely collapse financially.

Sadly, the thought keeps coming to my mind that our church and our nation are sharing some similar problems right now. Power does not come solely from position, yet Ted and Trump don’t seem to realize that. There is increasing division, and I am one who does not see that has a good result. Sadly, I see both men as potentially doing great damage.


It is abundantly evident that male headship theology is inside the Trojan Horse of GC authoritarianism. It is also interesting to note what few Seventh-day Adventists consciously realize: male headship ecclesiology is itself a Trojan Horse that conceals male headship soteriology.

Most readers will discern the metaphor set forth by Clinton and Gina Wahlen as an argument that women should not be ordained as ministers. Gina like all women (but in contrast to all men) is confused and easily deceived as she stands alone at the Tree. She desires to buy a health insurance policy and predictably chooses one that is not as comprehensive as it should be as it doesn’t cover cancer. Clinton as her “provider” and “protector” intervenes and directs her to buy a more comprehensive policy. Gina obeys, gets cancer, and because she submitted to the male headship authority of her husband, is able to get the medical treatment she needs and is saved. The metaphor is clear: because women have not been endowed by their Creator with certain capabilities that have been placed in men, women cannot function as ordained ministers. But I see a deeper lesson asserted by this metaphor. If the confused and easily-deceived Eve standing alone at the Tree is an ecclesiological paradigm of all women, then she is also a soteriological paradigm of all women. Accordingly, the metaphor of Gina’s incapability of choosing the correct health insurance policy teaches that women are incapable of choosing Jesus as Lord and Savior. The only way Gina can obtain eternal salvation is the same way she can obtain temporal salvation, by submitting to her husband, who as a substitute for the ascended Christ acts in His stead and with His authority.

I would like someone to ask Ted Wilson two questions: Do women possess the capability to stand alone at the Tree and choose Jesus as Lord and Savior? If your answer is Yes, then why do you urge an ecclesiology that presumes that the answer to that question is No?

The argument against women’s ordination is necessarily over-inclusive, because ecclesiology cannot be divorced from soteriology. The teaching of an aberrant ecclesiology necessarily results in the teaching of an aberrant soteriology. It is not sufficient that opponents of women’s ordination might sheepishly concede, as they must, that women are capable of choosing Jesus as Lord and Savior. Only by dismantling the frightful Trojan Horse of male headship ecclesiology can we bear witness to the eternal salvation Jesus offers to everyone, male and female.


Nice try.

To the contrary, they intentionally kept it away from us in spite of being fully aware of 9th commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” All because of the lord of lords, money.


In the US, and in many countries, there is a war on women.
Men telling women what they can and can not do is the wave of the future.


Very well done. Thank you!


I believe that there is another spirit at work here.

This is the spirit of Caiaphas:

Eugene Kennedy writes: "The devil dwells in the urge to control rather than liberate the human soul.

A terrible thing has happened to Caiaphas. Religion has left the realm of respect for person. For Caiaphas sacredness has become institutions, structures, and abstractions. He is dedicated to the people, so individual flesh and blood men are expendable. Caiaphas is dedicated to the nation. But the nation does not bleed like Jesus. Caiaphas is dedicated to the Temple–impersonal brick and mortar. Caiaphas became impersonal himself, no longer a warm human being but a robot, as fixed and rigid as his unchanging world.

The choice usually presented to Christians is not between Jesus and Barabbas. No one wants to appear an obvious murderer. The choice to be careful about is between Jesus and Caiaphas. And Caiaphas can fool us. He is a very ‘religious’ man.

The spirit of Caiaphas lives on in every century of religious bureaucrats who confidently condemn good people who have broken bad religious laws. Always for a good reason of course: for the good of the temple, for the good of the church. How many sincere people have been banished from the Christian community by religious power brokers as numb in spirit as Caiaphas!

The deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in prelates and politicians who want to look good but not be good; it lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.

Eugene Kennedy writes: “The devil dwells in the urge to control rather than liberate the human soul. One can hardly live in these closing years of the twentieth century without realizing how the forces of control have gathered. . . . We stand by a dark forest through which fearful religious and political leaders would force us to pass in single file through their exclusive pathway of righteousness. They want to intimidate us, make us afraid and hand over our souls to them once more. Jesus saw such shadowed forces as the corrupters of the essential nature of religion in his time. They are no less so all these centuries later.”'
Brennan Manning


I really like this analogy. I also feel that the Camel, Horse and Shoe anologies quite aptly describe the dangers we face and the need to speak up.


Nice work, Ed, and thanks for the courage to speak up even when it may have adverse impact on your consulting business!

A point I made elsewhere, and will repeat here in the context of your discussion of “the other shoe”, is that we need to be inclusive of doctrinal diversity (“apostasy”) as well as policy. The 28 FBs are a majority voted document, but significant minorities of SDAs disagree with some of the FBs. I, for example, do not agree that the world was created in a recent 6-day creation. Are the heavy-handed, authoritarian approaches being advanced on WO appropriate if used w/r/t doctrine (28 FBs)? I don’t think so. Do we want the GC intervening if local congregations don’t discipline members for failing to adhere to all 28 FBs in belief and practice, according to current GC leadership standards? I hope not. As George Knight has noted, early SDAs including James White would not agree with the current 28 FBs; he was Arian. Let’s not make too much of the distinction between doctrine and practice. After all, in the current climate, the GC could potentially ram through a new doctrine of male headship as the 30th FB; what then?


I agree,Robert. Did you notice that in the recent statement of response by the North American Union Presidents that in the body of the statement they spoke against dividing the church over policy, but left to Mrs. White, by including her statement,the task of speaking against dividing the church over doctrine?

Exactly. Those who are shouting to get back to the mission of the church because this is distracting are not paying attention to the creeping Headship Heresy, which cleverly subtracts (by gender discrimination) the number of Christ witnesses and speakers of the Gospel.


Suddenly? Some of us tried to tell you.

There’s no particular reason you should have listened to me for the whole 21st century, I suppose (I’ve been calling this a Trojan Horse for many years–hence the handle Cassandra), but perhaps you could have taken Gerry Chudleigh, a scholar, and one of your own, a bit more seriously, when it could have actually made a difference?

This goes back at least to the 1980’s.

Gerry, may he rest in peace, had the discernment to see that this was not taking place solely within a closed Adventist system.

And Trump didn’t come out of a vacuum, which is not a change of subject, by the way.

I hope Adventism can step up to the plate.


Yes, it does. As the article above makes clear, this seeking of centralized authority has been accelerating since the Merikay Silver legal case, which was active in the late 1970s and settled in the early 1980s. I cannot explain why recognition of the trend did not generate public dialogue. But certainly we have it now!


“It finally emerged that the General Conference president had inserted himself into the decision-making process of the university and its board chair, the president of one of our large unions. The GC president instructed that they should not use search consultants, but to follow a process he specified.”

This is not surprising. In a recent presidential search at another Adventist university (this one operated by the GC), a strong push was made to place a GC insider into that position. Again, the bid failed.

Perhaps it is just me, but after being inundated with news of prejudicial and heavy-handed actions coming out of New York and Washington, returning to reports of the continuing women’s ordination saga makes Wilson feel like a small-time version of the same. Having witnessed demagoguery in our nation’s capital, nobody wants that in the church . . . do we? Wilson–in a surprising twist of fate–has become a reflection of the prevailing political culture. He can now either change course or face the same #resistance bubbling up all across the globe. Like it or not, our sixty-year old debate over women’s ordination has just been reframed, to the extent that authoritarian, patriarchal politics within the church will be less and less tolerated. The ugliness of such politics is on full display, with evangelicals now receiving their fair share of the blame for bringing it to power. Adventists can either double-down with conservative evangelicals and their elected strong man or choose a better course.


Just a thank-you–for the article and for the discussion! Chuck