The Lack of Conversation in a Family of Unions

With no public resolution to the rift between the General Conference and the unions that have ordained women, the upcoming October Annual Council session for the General Conference Executive Committee seems likely to repeat the contentious discussion of last year about church authority. Certainly, the topic will be on the agenda, given that the action taken last year was to spend a year looking for resolution of the issue with the promise of a return to the topic this fall.

The first indication of how the General Conference will address the topic appeared in the August issue of Executive Committee Newsletter, the publication from the GC president’s office intended to inform members of this key committee that is tasked with acting for the General Conference in between the five year General Conference Sessions. In the lead article for the issue, David Trim who is the director of the General Conference Archives, Statistics and Research, writes, “When the General Conference makes a decision, it is not something unions can depart from (though some church members or church leaders sometimes disagree with those decisions), because the General Conference, in a real sense, is not distinct from the unions. The decisions of GC Sessions, or, in constitutionally delegated areas, of the GC Executive Committee, are not the expression of something other than the unions; they are the collective voice of its members, all of whom have contributed to the decisions.”

If there can be no separation between the unions and the General Conference, because the General Conference is really a collection of unions, does that mean that the General Conference is ready to accept the union’s position? Or, will it continue to insist that the unions bow to the General Conference? Does this really mean that there can be no disagreement with a vote of the General Conference, even if people vote their conscience?

GC General Vice President Thomas L. Lemon echoes the archivist in the introduction to the Executive Committee Newsletter issue. He tells the committee member readers, “As both leaders and members of the Executive Committee, your role of making sure we essentially see the big picture and care for the entire family of unions across our globe is vital to mission progress.”

Neither of these authors address the specific issue that is the background for their comments, the elephant in the room of whole union constituencies (not just a few members or leaders) voting for equality in ministry and believing that GC policy places the decision of ordination in their hands at the union level and not in the GC’s. Also absent from this newsletter is any report from the committee tasked last fall with meeting with unions to attempt to resolve the standoff.

Rather than being a union of unions, the General Conference is structured to be a collection of Divisions. It is the Divisions that have the greatest say in what makes it onto the agenda for the Executive Committee and what gets voted. The Committee with arguably the most power at the General Conference and from which this discussion on church authority emanated is the General Conference and Division Officers Committee. Most agenda items are cleared through that committee before being brought to the floor of the larger Executive Committee which includes among its 347 members the 135 union conference presidents. The union conference presidents, however, do not have the numerical power on their own to overrule what comes down from the General Conference and the Divisions. But the Divisions have early veto power over what will be taken to the Executive Committee.

It is the absence of any meaningful dialogue between the General Conference and the unions that led ten unions from four divisions to stage the Unity Conference in London earlier this year. The organizers specifically stated that it was the lack of conversation at Annual Council on issues of importance that led them to create the Unity Conference. For its part, the General Conference actively discouraged people from attending the session and did not send anyone to listen to the conversation.

There was a time, not so long ago, when actions voted by the General Conference were subsequently presented to the local conference and union constituency sessions for ratification before being implemented, underscoring the point that the local church should be understood to be the foci of where power begins in the church.

Absent, so far, from consideration by the General Conference Executive Committee in its consideration of church authority is what role finances play in church structure. With diplomatic conversations not making headway between the unions and the General Conference, perhaps that is where the issue will go next.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image Credit: Screen capture of Executive Committee Newsletter

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8231
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Most concerning to me would be any effort to use organizational and legal strategies to “force” compliance on this issue, or any one of similar divisive potential. Western Adventists are used to political systems which allow challenge in the form of demonstrations and adjudication by the courts when different repositories of power (legislative, executive, media) cannot agree on the faithfulness of any decision to its founding documents (constitution, Bible). To coerce acceptance of this GC decision is to unleash forces that can only weaken church authority and result in needless confrontation and resistance. When the resistance arises out of respectful “conscientious objection” and latitude is removed for that to continue, fracture in various forms is inevitable.

In a loving family (the church?) ultimatums seldom heal, especially when one may be necessary for the safety and security of the family. If legal and organizational unity is elevated to that level, the resulting pain for us will be the single largest regret ever for church leadership and those members who did not feel their consciences should or ever would be bulldozed in such a mechanical fashion. Like many divisive issues of the past, if we allow time to unfold, under the guidance of the Spirit, the entire church will probably come to a consensus we can all accept (eliminating "ordination completely?). If we want a “fix” this October, I fear for the future of this body of Christ.

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As Bonnie points out, it is the Divisions, not the Unions, that make up the General Conference. Thus the comments made that the Unions are inseparable from the GC is a blatant lie.

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David Trim’s remarks reveal that the GC regards its authority as a legal entity only and not a spiritual or moral entity. Pushing this to the breaking point will only result in a tragic split in the church that will take generations to heal, if ever. Once again we’re forced to choose whether we believe the church to be a community or a corporation. Why can’t we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?

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Roberts Rules of order, were created to open civil discussion in as rational open manner, not to quell honest examination of all sides of an issue. The Chair at SA had a vested interest in which he stage managed his agenda to the hurt of honest open examination to the hurt of some fine Christain leaders. for shame!!!’

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Many here need to take a refresher in logic. If U is part of D and GC is a collection of D’s then U’s are also GC.

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Do they even teach logic in school anymore? Based on some of the bizarre reasoning that has passed for “wise counsel” in recent years, I sincerely doubt it.

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As Ms. Dwyer’s excellent article reminds us there is "The Lack of Conversation in a Family of Unions".
As Christians we have built into our shared identity the willingness to hold loosely to our own personal, cultural identities and preferences and to consider the common good and the edification of one another—and precisely those with whom we may disagree, above our own preferences and views.It is a sad fact that the lack of conversation is so divisive in our church. We need the following ingredients to elevate our level of conversation.

  1. “We need a bigger boat” we are seeing and hearing from the same people, saying the same things, and trying to re-invent tired and antiquated ways of solving difficulties.
  2. Show up with a willingness to listen to other points of view.
  3. Begin with questions instead of assuming you have all the answers. Besides showing interest in someone, questions can start an entire conversation. Too many papers, too many speeches, sermons with so many platitudes.
  4. Find common ground.The surest way to build rapport is to find something you have in common and build on that interest. Don’t shy away from familiar or controversial points. They often create the perfect connection.
  5. Focus on the needs of others. Raymond Mortimer once described the art of conversation in the United States as “not tennis, in which you return the other fellow’s serve, but golf, in which you go on hitting your own ball.” Keep that back and forth volley going with conversation.
  6. Be inclusive. Excluding anyone in the groups that are directly impacted by any potential decision is a conversation killer.
    Margaret Miller, a great conversationalist once said : “Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses”
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For TW and his EXCOMM, this “Year of Grace” was all about authoritative and dogmatic parenting and nothing to do with shepherding spiritual growth of conscience and individuating. This would be similar to teaching children the art of saying “I’m sorry” instead of modeling to children the art of saying “I’m sorry.” The former breeds pathology of personality disorders whereas the latter fosters confidence and individuality. This choice of parenting contributes to the failure or success of children transitioning into adulthood. Likewise for secular and religious organizations.

And for Mr. Lemon, do you treat your eldest child exactly the way you treat your youngest child? If you do, you have it all wrong. You are welcome to give me a call for a free consultation as it is evident that your parenting skills are influencing your profession in the most negative way.

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When the United Methodist church has been ordaining their women pastors since 1956, our inaction and dithering default/dormancy/doldrums is both pathetic and pitiful.

My Methodist church ( the First United Methodist Church, Portland Oregon )
has a senior women pastor. ( superb ) and lists the conference president as female, and the BISHOP ( equivalent to our Union Conference president ) as also female.

Our increasingly egalitarian society makes Adventism look malignantly medieval in its misogynistic mores.

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I am shocked and deeply saddened by David Trim’s article. If his quoted statement is a correct explication of Seventh-day Adventist ecclesiology, then Ted Wilson is the pope of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the GC Executive Committee is a college of cardinals. David Trim’s quoted statement is a brazen declaration that Seventh-day Adventists do not possess freedom of conscience, and even if they did, they are not permitted to exercise such freedom of conscience through the unions that comprise them or in any other meaningful way. Notice the legal fiction he erects in arguing that the close San Antonio vote (58% in favor, 42% opposed), is the “collective voice of [the Church’s] members.” That he would resort to such a slippery use of language offends me.

I regret to say that David Trim’s article is an announcement that he is no longer a Protestant in any real sense of the word. His article could not and would not have been written by the esteemed historian and genuine Protestant George R. Knight, who has instead recently written a book with the apt title: Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination, and the Roman Catholic Temptation. That David Trim understands the Protestant Reformation compounds his guilt, in that the mark of his preferred form of ecclesiastical governance is imprinted not only on his hand but on his forehead.

We should briefly note other significant events that mark the Church’s lunge toward the despotism of the medieval church: (a) GC Intimidation of religion teachers by forcing them to apply for a GC imprimatur, (b) the banning of books written by George R. Knight and no doubt other scholars; © Ted Wilson’s well-publicized corruption of the decision making process in San Antonio; (d) the GC’s refusal to permit the expression of personal conscience of Seminary professors who requested that their ordination credentials be relinquished in favor of commissioning credentials; (e) the GC’s shunning of the president of SECC; (f) the imploring by Ted Wilson that we reject the deep study of the Word of God in favor of a “plain reading”; (g) the eerie silence of Ted Wilson and his supporters regarding the escalation of anti-Trinitarianism in the Church that has been catalyzed by opposition to women’s ordination; (h) An Open Appeal that denounces the Seminary’s Statement that Christ is the Head of the church and argues that ordained males, and only ordained males, “act in Christ’s stead with His authority”; (i) the GC’s multiple threats of power and force directed toward various Church entities that favor women’s ordination.

The ascendency of the spirit of the medieval church during Ted Wilson’s presidency has been dramatic and alarming. We must do what Martin Luther did. We must protest.

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I made my initial contribution to the discussion about ordination in 1994 in a letter to the editor of the ‘Adventist Review.’ At that time I suggest that if it were impossible to agree on the issue we should stop it completely.

Some 23 years later this may indeed be the only way to achieve consensus, at least in the short term.

What would happen if PUC and CUC were to offer to suspend their practice of WO in exchange for a renewed effort at formulating a policy framework acceptable to all, whereby there would be one commissioned credential for all senior leaders in the church?

In fact both the South Pacific Division and the Trans-European Division have already recommended that the GC move to an investigation of the above mentioned credentials. If the North American Division and the Inter-Euopean Division were also to recommend such an investigation such a recommendation would have even more weight. The constituent unions should only come on board with such a recommendation.

The unity of the global Adventist communion is indeed something immensely precious to me. We cannot expect others to make concessions, if we are not prepared to make them for the sake of peace and unity.

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this sounds like it’s the role of divisions to be the middleman between unions and the GC, but that that hasn’t been happening…has dan jackson not sensed the rift between some of NAD’s unions and the GC, and felt that he should do something about it…but i imagine it’s easier to simply agree with whichever party one is meeting with at the time, and let disagreements fester, and hopefully work themselves out on their own…

this sounds like withholding tithe is the ultimate trump card held by unions…maybe it’s the only way they can guarantee meaningful interaction with the GC…have any unions thought of trying it…

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Will there be an effort to invoke church discipline of members supporting WO as per the article in the September issue of Adventist World? According to the church manual pg 62, persistent refusal to recognize church authority is ground for church discipline.

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Those with power discipline, those without power argue.

From the church manual page 28:

  1. Union Conference/Mission — A group of conferences, within a defined geographical area, that has been granted, by a General Conference Session, official status as a union connference/mission.

  2. General Conference and Its Divisions — The General Conference represents the worldwide expression of the Church. Its constituent membership is defined in its Constitution. To facilitate its worldwide activity, the General Conference has established regional offices, known as divisions of the General Conference, which have been assigned, by action of the General Conference Executive Committee at Annual Councils, general administrative oversight for designated groups of unions and other Church units within specific geographical areas.

Contrary to popular belief, a Division is not a group of unions in the same sense that a Union is a group of local conferences. A Division a regional office of the GC. Also, because it is the GC Session that grants a Union its status, then it follows that the Union is directly subject to the GC.

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The point to remember is that in Adventism authority flows from the bottom up. Unions have a constituency and thus have genuine authority derived from their membership. Divisions are technically part of the General Conference, and they have no constituency. Thus the GC has no genuine authority over the unions.

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By the same logic all local churches are also part of the GC, yet (as we learned well in the case of Desmond Ford), local churches hold all the cards when it comes to church membership.

The same is true with unions and ordination–ordination is the job of the unions, within their purview. Logically speaking, that is.

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By dissing Dan Jackson you are telling me that you have no clue what he has or has not been doing about this issue. Put yourself in his shoes. I am sure he would be interested in any tips you might have!

What has happened to pragmatic, common sense? “All means which, according to sound judgment, will advance the cause of truth and are not forbidden by plain scriptural declaration, should be employed.” James White, R&H, 4/26/1860, pp 180-182.

Ted Wilson’s own GC committee, Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) voted in a super majority (66%) “was in favor of allowing divisions to make the choice on whether to ordain female pastors.” TOSC “Report” p.12. and “Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination, and the Roman Catholic Temptation,” George R. Knight, p.97.
The delegates of the 2015 GC General Conference were not only fully informed on the TOSC “Report.” Neither did the delegates know that 9 of the 13 church divisions were in favor of letting the divisions make their own decisions on female ordination. These factors, combined with the “non-neutrality” of the GC conference president all added up to a power grab of a few men at the top.
The SDA church is a bottom-up organization, not a top-down organization. Only God and His Word are at the top of our church.
“The Truth will set us free.”

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