The Judicial Dilemma: How the Church Works – And How It Gets Worked

At the outset of a study of church structure it is good to recall some facts as to what the church is and where it comes from. It is God who calls the church into being. It is made up of those who respond to His call, who then become the church. We neither create nor form the church. Rather we become the church. Thus, the structures we may form around the functions in which the church engages, are not the church. Rather, they are structures and institutions which assist the church in doing what God has called it to do, and as such are human institutions.

The early Adventist believers were firmly resistant to the notion of institution and structure, seeing it as the slippery slope to “Babylon” as they called it. They stoutly rejected the notion of creedal statements, maintaining that the Bible was their only creed. But the demands of dealing with such matters as property ownership and the proper handling of funds, tended to move them to recognize the need for institutional structure and the calling of a “general conference” of all members of the church. This term and the structure it took – borrowed largely from the Methodists – became the basis of early institutional design.

Unfortunately, the multiple use of the term “church” to cover such things as buildings and services and institutions, frequently leads to confusion as to what the church really is. In this context, we recognize that only the local congregation has members, and only members have funds which support the church. No other segment of the institutions of the church have either members or significant sources of funding. Thus, it follows that anything done by such segments is for the purpose of enabling the local congregation to function as the actual membership of the body. That is the reason for such structure to exist. The local church does not exist to sustain the other segments of institutional structure. Rather, the other segments exist to sustain and enable the local church.

A second unfortunate word usage is the term “levels of church organization” as if they exist in a line relationship of higher and lower power and authority. In actuality, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is structured as four separate constituent groups which do not have line authority over one another, but rather operate in a mutually agreed upon cooperative arrangement. Thus, the real power of the institution is in the local congregation, as it is the only group which has members and is the source of funding.

As familiar as we are with authoritative, top down, pyramid style leadership and governance, this is not the way the church is structured. Rather, it is designed to function cooperatively as four separate constituent groups that agree to function together. These four constituent groups have authority over specific functions of the church that belong only to them and may not be taken or countered by the other constituent groups.

The local church is the only constituent level which can take action regarding who may be a member, personnel for church officer election, appointment and ordination of elders, deacons and deaconesses, local church budgets and finance, and other such local church functions. The church in a Business Meeting serves as the constituent group of the church and it is this body that governs all membership and leadership matters of the congregation. The Church Board is appointed by the Church Business Meeting and is designated to handle matters delegated to them by the church body. The local church does not operate with a constitution, but rather is directed by the Church Manual.

The local conference is the only constituent group that can take action regarding the sisterhood of churches, its employees, institutions and finance. It also votes to recommend individuals for ministerial ordination to the union conference. The constituency of this segment of the institution is made up of representation from the local churches and meets as called for by its Constitution and Bylaws, and it elects its leadership and establishes a Conference Executive Committee to oversee its work between sessions.

The union conference also operates under the direction of its Constitutions and Bylaws and a constituency which is derived from the sisterhood of the local conferences in its territory. It has authority over the employees and institutions in its jurisdiction as well as the determination as to who may be ordained to ministry. As an exception to this ordination assignment belonging to the union, the divisions and the General Conference do not have to seek authorization from unions regarding whom they wish to ordain, but are allowed to authorize the ordination of their employees through action of their executive committees.

Divisions are not constituent groups, but rather are segments of the General Conference assigned to direct the work in given geographic territories. The General Conference Session, which currently meets every five years, is the constituency of the world group. There are four primary documents which guide the overall cooperative relationships of the various constituent groups. These are the 28 fundamental beliefs, the Constitution and Bylaws, the Church Manual and the General Conference Working Policy. The 28 fundamental beliefs, the Constitution and Bylaws, and the Church Manual are determined and modified only by a vote of the General Conference in session. The General Conference Working Policy is determined and modified by vote of the General Conference Committee.

These documents, which are under the jurisdiction of the General Conference, give direction to such matters as criteria for membership, leadership, finance, ordination, and institutional operation. However, the application of these criteria are not within its jurisdiction. For example, even though the criteria for membership is provided in these documents, the General Conference may not take action regarding individual membership. This authority resides in the local church only.

Institutional Operation

Generally speaking, the institutions of the church seek to operate in a democratic form of governance. But there are some glitches in this concept. As generally understood, in democratic governance there are three interrelated but independent branches of authority. These are the executive, the legislative, and the judicial functions. While the institutions of the church do have both executive and legislative branches, there is no judiciary. Furthermore, its legislative branch is weak and is not independent, given that it meets only once every five years for about ten days, and its executive committee meets only twice a year for about five days. But more significant than the infrequency and length of its meetings is the matter that at its legislative sessions, both its agenda and chair functions are controlled by the executive branch.

Given that control of the legislative body is under the executive branch, and given the absence of an independent judiciary, the function of the institution falls almost entirely into the hands of the executive branch for its ruling on issues. Thus, answers to questions of the interpretation of policy and procedure are given by administration, and the control of meetings and agenda are likewise under the direction of the executive leadership. Such is not really a democracy, even though operations are done under the guise of democratic process. Rather, it is a recipe for the “kingly power” which Ellen White firmly opposed in the early 1900’s and which was a major factor in the restructuring of the institution of the church in 1901, creating the union conferences.

For the most part, the individuals in the executive branch have the best of intentions and seek to know the needs of the world church. But it is not always so, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is this issue which is protested by Ellen White in the days leading up to the 1901 General Conference Session. She says, at the opening meeting of that session, “God has not put any kingly power in our ranks to control this or that branch of the work. The work has been greatly restricted by the efforts to control it in every line . . . There must be a renovation, a reorganization” (GC Bulletin April 3, 1901, pp. 25, 26).

As a remedy for this problem, the structure was changed, introducing unions which were to serve the church in regional areas. “It was in the order of God that the Union conference was organized in Australasia . . . Those who are right on the ground are to decide what shall be done” (GC Bulletin April 5, 1901, pp. 69, 70). In the context of the 2016 Annual Council meeting, it would appear that there is a concerted effort to reverse this arrangement with the General Conference asserting its executive authority in an attempt to discipline unions that it sees as operating out of policy.

Opinions and Rulings

Prior to the convening of the 2016 session, GC Secretariat released two lengthy opinion papers making serious charges against those who understand policy in a different manner and act accordingly. What must be remembered and emphasized here is that these expressions of opinion are just that – opinions. The papers of Secretariat are not doctrine, nor policy, nor voted judicial rulings. Likewise, expressions of opinion by presidential representatives are also just opinions. While it is good and proper to hear the opinions of such executive members, they remain just that, opinions which may or may not be accurate. Being elected to executive office at the General Conference does not convey accuracy to all one’s thoughts and expressions of opinion.

But it is not just these released opinions that bring the church to its present situation. The current matters have been brewing for months, as indicated by the appointment of retired Vice-president Michael Ryan as an Assistant to the President, charged with preparing a document to be presented and voted at the 2016 Annual Council, dealing with unions deemed to be out of harmony with policy.

While the process of bringing in the proposed paper to the Annual Council was presented as an appeal to unity, and not as addressing the ordination of women, this was recognized as a thinly veiled excuse. It is difficult to comprehend why such actions would be conceived in order to discipline a union for doing what is in its authority by policy to do. The ordination issue has repeatedly been recognized as being neither a biblical nor theological matter. It is not a Fundamental Belief of the church, and is not against policy, which assigns selection of individuals for ordination to the unions. Furthermore, the minutes of the 1990 GC session record that we “do not have a consensus as to whether or not the scriptures and the writings of Ellen G White explicitly advocate or deny the ordination of women to pastoral ministry …” (GC Session Minutes 1990).

It is significant to note that the ordination policy was not changed after the General Conference Session votes in 1990, 1995, and 2015. As Ted Wilson stated after the 2015 vote, nothing has changed. This makes it all the more incredible that punishment of the unions would be undertaken over an issue that is at best shrouded in confusion, while ignoring the fact that the discrimination of women being attempted in various actions is not only a violation of policy BA 60 05, but also a violation of Fundamental Belief #14. In fact, BA 60 10 clearly establishes that such a matter is discriminatory, and so becomes a policy to violate the Fundamental Beliefs and the statements made earlier in the policy.

The paper that was finally presented to the 2016 Annual Council session was not the first proposal on this issue to be processed. Prior to the beginning of the full session, the presidential council, which consists of the presidents of the divisions and the vice presidents of the GC, considered and voted as their consensus, a paper which was given to the group, but it was picked up before the close of the meeting to prevent it being circulated outside the room. Consideration of the paper was then passed on to the expanded executive group which includes presidential, secretariat and treasury officers. Following this presentation, it was determined that the paper needed to be made into more of an appeal in a pastoral approach to the unity matter, prior to its presentation to the full Annual Council.

By the time the Annual Council convened, word was out that a significant document addressing unions accused of operating out of policy, would be coming up for a vote. But the document was not made available until this agenda item was brought to the floor, giving no time for reading and understanding its implications prior to its introduction. At that point, the three-page document titled “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation” was distributed. This occurred on the last full day of the session. It was scheduled to be presented at 2:30 in the afternoon, but the preceding items on the agenda ran over so that the document was not introduced until nearly 3:00 o’clock, thus allowing about two and one half hours for the matter to be presented and discussed prior to the scheduled adjournment time set for 5:30. The session was a text book example of how to manipulate a meeting in order to stifle a thoughtful and democratic process.

A short break was called after the previous agenda items were completed and Tom Lemon, serving as chair of the session called the meeting to order. The introduction of the “Unity in Mission” document consumed considerable time as the document was read aloud and supported by lengthy speeches by both Ted Wilson and Michael Ryan. The delegates, who had just seen the document at the beginning of this session were struggling to understand its implications, and no time was given for a studied response, even though it was clear that there was considerable reservation regarding its acceptance.

What appeared as odd to many was that procedures for addressing such matters already existed in policy. Why was this document being advanced as a way to address what was clearly related to the ordination issue, despite the multiple assertions of both Wilson and Ryan that this was not related to ordination? Being presented as a method of resolving conflict matters in general, and not specifically for the ordination issue, was demonstrated to be nonsense by document itself, given that it called for resolution by the 2017 Annual Council. If indeed this was a general resolution procedure for all time, all places and all issues, it makes no sense to have such a terminal resolution date in it.

In addition to this discrepancy, the document not only ignored, but also was in conflict with policy already in existence, namely B 75 and B 95. The first of these, B 75 addresses the process of changing the status of a union conference to that of a union mission. In this action, the union conference is removed from the control of its constituency and placed under the direction of the General Conference, who then assumes ownership of its assets and institutions as well as appointing its leadership. The second, B 95, addresses the process for the discontinuation or dissolution of a union. In this case, the union ceases to exist.

In an article responding to the “Unity” document, Mitch Tyner, a retired former attorney for the General Conference asks “Why reinvent the wheel” when policy already exists to deal with such matters? And the answer seems to be that the existing policies do not give GC administration an avenue to accomplish what it wishes to see done. The strange conundrum of this whole matter is that the document which appeals for unity in abiding by policy, is actually in violation of the policies already in place to deal with such matters.

Both policy B 75 and B 95 call for a lengthy process which is to begin with the division leadership and Executive Committee, a scenario not likely to deliver the outcome desired and threatened by GC administration. Recognizing these discrepancies, as well as the potential for bypassing the procedures outlined in existing policy, there was considerable objection to proceeding to a vote without considerable additional time and study of the implications of the document. But the chair was determined to move the matter ahead, saying at one point that the vote needed to be taken by the close of the meeting that day, as he already had a plane ticket to fly out the next day.

After about an hour of talk by GC administrative leadership, the chair opened the floor for discussion without any opportunity for a studied presentation of opinions questioning the provisions of the document. Having received the document only at the beginning of its presentation to the floor, there was not adequate time allowed for such a counter study either to be developed or presented. Delegates were left scrambling to listen to the presentation from the advocates of the document while trying to read and understand its implications.

With about ninety minutes left before the scheduled adjournment time, the chair ruled that those wishing to discuss the matter should line up at the provided microphones where they would be given two minutes each to express their views. This is a frequently used ploy to control the length of time allowed for such discussions, even as it was used at the GC Session in San Antonio. While such a ruling does limit the rambling on of irrelevant speeches, it seriously inhibits the ability of anyone to develop and present well thought out objections to the matter under consideration and it continually disrupts the flow of ideas being presented.

Questions asked and significant points made were largely ignored by the chair who became in effect merely a time keeper of the two-minute limit. Dr. Jiri Maskala, Dean of the Seminary at Andrews University, expressed the need of more time to address the Theological and Ecclesiological implication of the document, but his request was passed over without response, as were other observations of conference, union and division leadership requesting clarification and additional information.

As the scheduled adjournment time arrived and passed, the chair ruled that the twenty or so speakers who were already standing in line to make their two minuet comments, would be allowed to speak, but no others would be added to the line. Thus, the meeting extended on until about 6:00 o’clock at which time the vote was called and the document approved. Such a sham and manipulation of democratic process is an embarrassment to the church, which leads to foolish and contradictory actions and decisions being taken without adequate input and study.


In reaction to the vote accepting the Unity document, leading university theology departments and faculty, including Andrews University, Loma Linda University, Walla Walla University, Oakwood University, Washington Adventist University and La Sierra University, weighed in expressing concern over the implications and discrepancies in the document. GC executive officers, rather than rushing through this action, would do well to give time for and listen to council from the leading theologians of the universities. As Dr. Keith Burton of Oakwood University puts it in his article “A House Built on Sand,” Indeed, many confuse orthodoxy with orthopraxy. However, in a church that is led by the Spirit of God, there is no room for dictatorial edicts that stifle conscience.”

Ted Wilson, in an on-line response, expresses his opinion in answer to a cogent question from someone named Bill who asks, “When Unions were established, God saw to it that they had final authority to determine who gets ordained. How is it that when they exercise that authority they are rebellious? Has the GC decided that they know better? How does this (what absolutely appears to be) exercise of kingly authority promote unity? – Bill, from the U.S.A.”

In his attempt at an explanation, Wilson states that GC Policy specifically outlines the “Qualifications for the Ordination to the Ministry,” found in Working Policy L 35. And indeed, it does. There are fifteen such criteria listed. But what Wilson omits from this explanation is that not one of them refers in any way to gender as a qualification. If gender were to be such a requirement, it would seem reasonable that it would be first on the list, because all the rest would be irrelevant to women if they were excluded.

What he builds his case on is the use of male pronouns and the word “men” in other portions of the policy, as well as a reference to “wife” as being part of ministry. But these are not part of the listed qualifications. Quoting policy, he also refers to the term, “man of God” in 1 Kings 12:22 as being an ancient biblical term used to describe ministers. However, this reference is rather strained in this setting, as Shemaiah, who is being referred to, is not ordained and is actually a prophet in Judah during the reign of Rehoboam, not minister in any New Testament or modern sense of the word. Wilson also brings in the notion of Israelite priests, which truly were all male. But they were also all Israelites. And even more specifically, they were all of the tribe of Levi. So how does that in any way relate to who may be selected as ministers for ordination today?

If we really seek to go down this road of male gender references in Scripture, we will have to deal with the 10th Commandment which is addressed exclusively to men. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife …” This poses the question, “Does the 10th Commandment then not apply to women?” But, we say, that was a patriarchal society, and the use of such terms included both genders. And so also it is used in the same way today. In one of her most famous comments, Ellen White says, “The greatest want of the world is the want of men. Men who will not be bought or sold …” (Education p. 57). Would we be so narrow as to say that the principles expressed in in this comment exclude women?

Language has, from ancient days to the present, used generic terms such as man and mankind – as well as male pronouns – to refer to the entire human race, as in Job 12:10, “In his hand is the life of every creature, and the breath of all mankind.” Such usage of the term “mankind” is here intended to refer both to men and women. Unfortunately, such usage of terms often slops over into cultural perspectives where male dominance and patriarchal notions take on supposed religious authority.

Recognizing that the matter is a cultural issue, the minutes of the 1990 GC Session record, “In several divisions there is little or no acceptance of women in the role of pastors, ordained or otherwise. In other divisions some unions would accept women as pastors, but the indications are that the majority of unions do not find this acceptable.” With this discrepancy in understanding of the issue it is cogent to ask, “Why is it acceptable to impose the opinion of one cultural group on the other?” Those seeking to move ahead with ordination as gender neutral are not attempting to impose their views on others. But those in opposition seem determined to force their opinion on the entire church. It is a fallacy to maintain that forcing the opinion of one group on the other will alleviate dissention.

Judicial Authority

Seeking to support their position, GC Officers have released contradictory opinions on the matter. In a document released by the General Conference Officers on August 9, 2012 responding to the action of the Columbia Union on ordination it is stated, “policy itself is based on Seventh-day Adventist principles found in Scripture and the writings of Ellen G. White.” This statement is in interesting contrast to one made in a June 29, 2012 letter of the General Conference Officers and Division Presidents, addressed to the Officers and Executive Committee Members of the Columbia Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This letter states, “Decisions (1975, 1985, 1990, and 1995) to withhold ministerial ordination to women have been made on the basis of negative impact to unity rather than on the basis of compelling evidence from the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy.”

It can’t be both ways, and attempts to use opposite arguments to support opinions and rulings on policy in different settings is disingenuous at best. The question asked by Bill, as quoted above, serves to bring into sharp focus the dilemma which arises from the conflict of understandings reflected in the variant reading of policy by unions and GC executives. Who is to judge between these differing interpretations. Rather than resolving the conflict of opinions between the unions and GC executives, the Unity document has instead brought into focus the judicial dilemma.

When centralized authority exercises control over all the legislative, executive and judicial functions of governance, this is by definition “kingly power.” In the day of kings – and/or dictators – not only did the king act as the executive, but also as judge and law giver. And while such rule may have been accomplished in a benevolent manner, the potential for despotism was ever present.

The judicial dilemma the church is now facing is the conflict of interpretation of both General Conference Policy and Fundamental Beliefs. Unions, to whom administration of the selection of individuals for ordination is assigned, see themselves doing so in harmony with the fifteen criteria in the ordination policy, as well as in harmony with both policy and Fundamental Beliefs forbidding discrimination on the basis of race, national origin or gender. GC administration, on the other hand, see the unions as being out of harmony with policy voted by General Conference Sessions

The dilemma is, who is to decide in this conflict of opinions? While there may be a tendency to see opinions and rulings on policy by GC Secretariat or Presidential as being the final arbiter, this is not so. These individuals, or even groups and committees of officers, may express their opinions. But they remain just that, opinions. Perhaps then, votes of the General Conference Committee or the General Conference Session may be seen as the final judicial determination. But this option is fraught by the fact that both the agenda and process of such meetings is controlled by the executive group as well.

Solving this judicial problem is not an easy matter. However, it would seem wise not to move ahead in making an issue of things that are recognized as not being biblical, not being theological, not being clearly delineated in Ellen White comments, and not itself being a stated Fundamental Belief, while being in conflict with another Fundamental Belief as well as with GC Policy.


Opinions regarding issues under discussion are just that – opinions, no matter who expresses them. They are neither policies nor judicial rulings.

  1. The lack of independent judicial authority and the control of legislative function by executives leads to the potential of executive overreach.
  2. The development of procedures designed to bypass policy, and which violate existing policy, is not a valid route to resolution of unity issues.
  3. Imposing the cultural differences of one segment of the world church on another does not resolve disunity. Rather, it exacerbates it.
  4. Imposing drastic measures of censure on segments of the church over issues that are admittedly not biblical, not theological, and not Fundamental Beliefs, makes no sense.

Dr. Gary Patterson is a retired field secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He served as senior pastor of some of the largest congregations in the denomination, a conference president in two conferences and assistant to the president of the North American Division.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Nov 16, 2016 9:10am
In interest of understanding present context, it is minatory that top leadership has made a clear power-grab to nullify constituency and solidify hierarchical authority.
I suspect that this question of conscience is one each Christ follower must face, and choose for themselves. The “headship choice” says, however, we have authority to choose for you, and if you reject our choice for you, you can go to _ _ _ _ for all we care. Harsh, perhaps. Plausible, undoubtedly. Perhaps we need to revisit that “every knee will bend”. Seems some are being forced, coerced to bend. By headship knees that believe they need bend just a little, whereas their subordinates must bend completely.


Wonderfully laid out observations.

Yes, why does the GC feel the need to bring this document to the meeting, at the end, without adequate time and thought being given to such an important issue. Oh right, it isn’t just about ordination, regardless of gender, even though there are adequate and conflicting policies in place to address any issue that should arise.
This is straight on bullying. It is unChristlike! I hope Pope TW gets what he deserves and not what he personally desires.


Yes I have always wondered why we don’t have a judiciary, and that the absence of that branch of government makes for an overly powerful executive. And I agree the legislative branch is too weak, meeting only every 5 years - with very limited time.

I think the early SDA Church, as did the early Church and Israel, did have a judiciary - the prophets. Ellen White in effect acted as our judiciary - she wasn’t the originator of most of our doctrines and practices, but rather acted more as a reactive check on power.

With that in mind, it is interesting to note that it was it was the suppression of the last prophets of the early Church during the Montanist Revival of the 3rd Cent that eventually led to the rise of the Papacy as we know it. So what is the solution - we need another prophet or prophets! Otherwise, we are headed for becoming the next ossified proto-Papal denomination.


Great article. I hope it will be closely considered by those within the NAD and TED who will be drafting proposals as to a way forward.

As to this question and comment by Patterson:

Question: “Why was this document being advanced as a way to address what was clearly related to the ordination issue, despite the multiple assertions of both Wilson and Ryan that this was not related to ordination?”

Comment: “Being presented as a method of resolving conflict matters in general, and not specifically for the ordination issue, was demonstrated to be nonsense by document itself, given that it called for resolution by the 2017 Annual Council. If indeed this was a general resolution procedure for all time, all places and all issues, it makes no sense to have such a terminal resolution date in it.”

Precisely. It seems that the unavoidable answer to Patterson’s question is that Wilson and Ryan simply lied. They deliberately sought to mislead and deceive those present as to the real intent of this document. Certainly, very few who spoke up that day bought in to their falsehood. And Dan Jackson even later called it out in the NAD’s Year End Meeting. Still, it is very disappointing to see this lack of integrity operating within our General Conference leadership.


Well analysed, now we are waiting for the sequel to this article which will provide the way forward out of the predicament we face as a church! Hope we won’t have to wait too long.


This is a tactic long used by Adventist committee meetings: spend most of the time on easily passed recommendations and save for the last few minutes the obvious one that is the most divisive and lacking in agreement. Often, delegates must leave, as the secretary pleaded, “to catch an early plane,” an expression that his time was more valuable than many more members.

We who are far removed in distance and sentiment are merely heads and votes to be counted and are constantly being reminded of our lowly positions by the kingly powers who never let it be forgotten that they are the “deciders” on how church members will bow to their judgment.


It is very disturbing to see how much time and energy is being expended on the issue of women’s Ordination.

This issue could go away very quickly if the church accepted the Protestant Reformers’ position of rejecting Roman Catholic tradition of ordination. They saw how the tradition fostered and supported corruption by creating a spiritual schism between the laity and clergy.

An Ordained pastor at the top level of the hierarchy, is no closer to God or more loved by God than a child or 100 year old layperson. Lay hands on a person, female or male who is qualified and willing, to fill a position blessing and wishing them God’s protection. This practice is alive and well in most local congregations as relates to teachers, administrators, elders etc.

The Roman Catholic tradition practiced by SDA’s which spiritually elevates “pastors” is fraught with politics, personalities and inconsistent standards of ordination qualifications.

Doing away with this tradition around the world will heal wounds created by the gender issue, raise the respect for women, increase the talent pool, heal the natural schism between laity and clergy, reduce politics and turf wars, may even lead to unifying the black and white conferences.

Personally I think, were this reform to take place we would see many in the hierarchy retire or resign their position’s due to the loss of title and power. That would open many positions to be filled with more qualified people, who would be serving for the right reasons.

There is an excellent book that addresses this position but has not gained traction because leadership never wants to give up power and control. The author is V. Norskov Olsen titled “Myth & Truth Church, Priesthood and Ordination” published 1990 by Loma Linda University Press.


Once again I am saddened by the actions of the GC. Perhaps it is time for some new blood to be in charge. The actions of our leaders could be a mirror image of our government in action. If my wants aren’t met, I will sign an executive order. Are our church leaders so entrenched in the politics of the church that they have forgotten that the church members have voting rights? I have read many articles about this problem and all seem to come to the same conclusion. The GC is wrong. They have no right to discipline any Union for what they(the Unions) see as a right way to go. Put the problem to a vote at the local churches. If the vote is a majority for WO then so be it and the majority rules.


That is the way it was at GC in SA2015. And at Autumn Council.
Majority Rules.

Having President Ted retire in 2000 will NOT make anything go away!
There was a whole room full of people who Voted at SA2015.
There was a whole room full of people who VOTED at Autumn Council.
It will be tough for a new President to change all these Voting People’s minds
that what they did in SA2015 and Autumn Council 2016 was WRONG.

The idea that “people in the pews” are the church is a good fanciful thought.
The “people in the pews” have very little power, no control.
It is the POWERFUL CLERGY in the VOTING ROOMS who decide What the
"people in the pews" are to Believe, to Think, to Make their Life Work.
Questioning any Voting is frowned upon, considered Heretical Thoughts and
Question – How MANY church programs have originated in “the pews”??
Only a few.

1 Like

“In an article responding to the “Unity” document, Mitch Tyner, a retired former attorney for the General Conference asks “Why reinvent the wheel” when policy already exists to deal with such matters? And the answer seems to be that the existing policies do not give GC administration an avenue to accomplish what it wishes to see done. The strange conundrum of this whole matter is that the document which appeals for unity in abiding by policy, is actually in violation of the policies already in place to deal with such matter.”

Autocrats don’t like to be hobbled by working policies, law codes and constitutional guarantees of basic rights but they don’t mind wearing them as ideological jewelry. Even the Soviet Union had laws guaranteeing religious freedom, a freedom that was respected only as long as nobody tried to make use of it. In an autocratic system, the leader’s freedom to act without restraint is the only sacred value. No autocrat has ever stepped down out of respect for a working policy and principles adverse to his own.

The one question that Gary Patterson does not address in his brilliant analysis is why it is that autocracy has always hung like a dark cloud over Adventism. From the very beginning, ministers complained about the dictatorial ways of James and Ellen White, and the history of early dissent and schisms within the denomination is primarily a chronicle of people’s reaction to its autocratic ways.

There have been GC leaders more concerned about spiritual values than organizational control–Jan Paulson being a recent example–but they have been rare exceptions to a rule personified by the disastrous Wilson I, whose dedication to corporate control and corporate outcomes led him to persecute honorable people that he perceived as a threat to denominational unity and uniformity. Few people saw that disaster unfold from up close like Gary Patterson, and the lessons he drew from it informs the substance of his article.

But seeing the denomination in terms of a corporation established by God to produce membership numbers acceptable to to its celestial board, is not the only reason for Adventism’s affinity to autocracy. There is also a strong theological component to it. The essence of classical Adventism was that it had been raised up by God to deliver Truth 2:0, a doctrinal antidote without which nobody would survive the coming Apocalypse. This saving truth serum consisted of a collection of theological algorithms and passwords that would grant people safe passage through a hellish pre-Apocalyptic landscape infested with Baptist and Catholic ghouls howling for their blood and finally vouchsafe them into the arms of Jesus. When mere opinions are elevated to the status of a life-giving holy grail, only autocracy has the means to keep inquiring minds from questioning their integrity.


Dr Patterson,
Beautifully, articulately, lucidly, irrefutably stated that the “people in the pews” are the ultimate defining “church”.

Power grabs by the hierarchy are as equally dispicable, disruptive, demoralizing, and divisive, when practiced by bishops/popes/GC presidents as when performed by sleazy politicians.


How many generations have past since the General Conference wrote the first set of working policies? Or more to the point since the first set of Fundsmental Beliefs were approved? Then the big question why the fight over WO when the message is so prescribed? Christ will return before man destroys himself. which seems very soon. Technology has made hiding places remotely possible. So left us tell the wold the steps Christ took to save us. With that message engraved on our hearts let’s us --do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The is God’s working policy. tZ


Excellent, well-researched article. If only the GC leaders had the courage to carefully digest this material. I appreciate Gary’s courage to portray Ted Wilson’s scriptural defense of male headship for what it is: shoddy.


Seems that the belief that when Scripture uses the term “men” or “man” as meaning only males has been an issue in our church before. “STINGY CRITICS.” “DON’T WOMEN DIE?” By James White. “We object to that narrow-souled theology which will not allow the old ladies to have dreams because the prophecy says, ‘your old men shall dream dreams;’ and that will not allow young women to have visions because the prophecy says ‘your young men shall see visions.’ These stingy critics seem to forget that ‘man’ and ‘men’ in the Scriptures, generally mean both men and women. The Book says that it is ‘appointed unto men once to die.’ Don’t women die?” (James White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 25, 1862; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 24).


This is all fear nothing but the fear so help me the jury the teddy judicial Authority of average ignorant decide who has the the better lawyer. How the church works? Acquit the vultures. How it gets worked? But condemn the doves. The judicial dilemma? Swayed more by fear than by reverence so wicked with religion what would they be without it?

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Very Clever.

The wording of the motion voted at SA was:

“After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, 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.”

The vote was no. That is, the Division Executive Committees are NOT allowed to make provisions for WO in their territories.

But according to Dr. Peterson, this REALLY means that Divisions may not allow WO in their territories, but Unions can do as they wish.

And when TW said, “Nothing has changed.” What he REALLY meant was that WO was allowed in the Unions, because they had always been able to do it anyway (in spite of the previous votes of no on the issue).

Now are you folk here really ready to swallow this?

There has been a hue and cry here in the US about the Trump election. He won the Electoral College vote, but lost the popular vote. Some are crying to abolish the college.

But the POLICY of the US has been that the one elected by the college is the president, not the one receiving the popular vote of the people.

The GC in session, that is the representatives of the people, the members, (not TW) voted this issue. Dr. Patterson does not like the vote, and so renders an opinion that the NO did not really mean NO. And then he goes on to criticize the Executive for trying to enforce the results of the vote

He reminds me of the people calling out that Trump is not their president. They don’t like the result, so want to change the system, or the rules.

Dr. Petterson doesn’t like the result, so wants to change the rules.

The people have spoken in both cases. Best to respect the people.

One more thing.

Is this a joke? The highest authority in the church, the GC in session, votes no on an issue, and it is just an opinion? Do you mean they have no right to do so? Or is it that the likes of Dr. Patterson can interpret any vote any way he may wish, and it is a valid interpretation?

That sounds a bit like hubris to me.

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Allen, you wrote:
Dr. Patterson does not like the vote, and so renders an opinion that the NO did not really mean NO.

You’re just pretending to miss the point, aren’t you?


from the video i watched of annual council’s october 11 compliance vote, michael ryan seemed to be suggesting that passage of the unity document would mean that compliance would be differentially enforced, depending on the infraction…i thought he was suggesting that non-compliance with something like WO would not trigger the kind of punishment that non-compliance with a major doctrine, like the 7th-day sabbath, would…given that the lawsuit launched and lost by the GC against kindship international now means that the term “seventh-day adventist” is no longer protected under trademark provisions since it was in use before our 1863 incorporation, and that anyone believing anything can legally call themselves “seventh-day adventist”, it could be that the GC is simply intending to establish that “seventh-day adventist church” does mean what a GC session or annual council vote says it means…

of course, this would be the sanguine way of looking at it…i think we all know that what makes the most sense isn’t always how things unfold…i have to say that after brexit and especially the american election, i wouldn’t be altogether shocked if it turns out that TW really does intend to split the church over WO…


This whole problem will go away when Ted Wilson dies or retires from office. He’s the moving force behind this autocratic method of running the GC. We don’t need him around any longer. Hopefully he will be motivated to retire soon.
We can only pray.