Thomas Lemon Removed as Chair of Unity Oversight Committee

Thomas Lemon, general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, has been removed as Chair of the Unity Oversight Committee.

The Committee, which was created last year following Annual Council 2016, had been tasked with reviewing the processes outlined in the 2016 Annual Council document “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Reconciliation” and monitoring and assisting divisions toward compliance with General Conference policies.

As Spectrum reported in January, Lemon, who is a former president of the Mid-America Union, was appointed chair of the 14-person committee. The full committee member list at that time was as follows:

Lemon, Thomas, chair, general vice president of the General Conference Ryan, Michael, vice-chair, assistant to the president of the General Conference Moorooven, Hensley, secretary and an associate secretary of the GC Doukmetzian, Karnik, legal advisor and chief counsel for the General Conference Biaggi, Guillermo, vice president of the General Conference Bryant, G Alexander, secretary of the North American Division and associate secretary of the General Conference De los Santos, Abner, vice president of the General Conference Finley, Mark, assistant to the General Conference president Iseminger, Myron, undersecretary of the General Conference Perez Schulz, Magdiel, assistant to the president of the General Conference Wahlen, J Raymond, undertreasurer of the General Conference Ng, GT, ex officio member, secretary of the General Conference Prestol-Puesan, Juan, ex officio member, treasurer of the General Conference Wilson, Ted, ex officio member, president of the General Conference

Adventist Today spoke with Lemon earlier today who confirmed that “he and GC president Ted Wilson agreed together that the committee should have a new chairman.”

The official action voted at Annual Council 2016 was to follow five “steps of reconciliation with entities that appear to have overlooked or ignored the biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions, or working policies of the Church” (Unity in Mission: Procedures in Reconciliation document, lines 38-40).

Those five steps were:

1. Listen and pray.

2. Establish a wider group to discuss the concern. This group is to include lay people, pastors, and administrators from the entity and the broader church.

3. Write pastoral letters that formalize the process "by reviewing previous discussions, outlining concerns, suggesting possible solutions, and encouraging compliance."

4. Listen and pray more (executive officers of the next higher organization are to “again meet with the executive officers and the governing body of the entity concerned to urge and encourage them to reconsider).

5. Ask the General Conference Administrative Committee to recommend to the 2017 Annual Council procedural steps to be followed in the event that a resolution of the conflict is not achieved.

The Unity document spoke in general terms regarding compliance and did not mention women’s ordination specifically, however the three church divisions Lemon met with throughout the past year were those deemed out of compliance regarding women’s ordination, specifically the North American Division, the Trans-European Division, and the Inter-European Division. The South Pacific Division had also requested a meeting, but due to scheduling conflicts, Lemon was unable to meet with them. It should be noted that the 2016 auditing analysis from General Conference Auditing Service (GCAS) showed that 81% of church entities had instances of non-compliance with denominational policy during the past year.

Even though the five steps of reconciliation outlined in the 2016 Unity document were not completed, a 14-page document entitled, “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance Phase II,” was brought to the floor of Annual Council 2017 last week.

As Bonnie Dwyer, Spectrum editor, reported in her summary of the day’s events:

What the document proposed was that General Conference Executive Committee members be required to sign a personal declaration of loyalty and compliance with General Conference policy. “Those who do not sign the document for whatever reason, will forfeit their privileges of voice, vote and subcommittee participation.”

Before the document was handed to the Executive Committee for review, Lemon provided committee members with a report from the Unity Oversight Committee, speaking favorably of his time spent with division leadership and stating,

As I listened [at these meetings] there was not one person who gave any hint of being in rebellion. Rebellion is an attitude before it is an action. I didn’t hear that anywhere. Concern but not rebellion. I want to allay that fear. We are children of God and we are in this together… I heard an understanding of mission and a commitment to mission that would warm your heart. Commitment to mission is very, very strong.

Lemon concluded his report by saying he “was given” the Phase II document on September 14 and took it to the Unity Oversight Committee on September 18, where it was discussed over a two-day period. It was then discussed by the General Conference and Division Officers (GCDO) Committee for “multiple days.”

As reported previously, the GCDO was sharply divided in its vote on whether to send the document on to the Executive Committee for action. In the end, the document was brought before the Executive Committee on Monday, October 9. After almost six hours of discussion, it was voted (184 to 114) that the document be sent back to the Unity Oversight Committee for further work.

The next day, on October 10, Outlook Magazine published an article by Thomas Lemon entitled, “Toward an Understanding of Unity.” (Outlook is the official publication of the Mid-America Union where Lemon previously served as president.)

In the 35-page article, Lemon discusses both historical and current contexts for the Adventist Church’s discussion on unity, decision-making techniques, authority, and ordination. On page 32, Lemon states:

It is my assertion that the objection toward women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church is much more than some kind of alleged and/or apparent misogynistic thinking on the part of those who stand resolutely against women in leadership, despite the clear, obvious, and well understood lack of consensus within the biblical material. This resistance belies both a spiritual recalcitrance and a wooden understanding of the history of the church and its traditions, to say nothing of scriptural interpretation.

The ordination discussion at top leadership levels seems to be facilitating a dangerous drift toward centralization of authority, which inexorably leads quickly to authoritarianism. Perhaps it is this drift that gave rise to the fears for the church expressed by Ellen White when she said that the church may appear about to fall, but it will not. Whatever she meant with the statement, such language clearly signals a crisis for the church.

Now, a week later, Lemon has been removed as chair of the Unity Oversight Committee. There is no word yet on who will replace him and lead the Committee in the review and revision of “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance Phase II.”

An official statement from the GC was not yet available at the time of this writing.

Alisa Williams is managing editor of

Image Credit: North American Division/Dan Weber

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

Thanks Alicia for this Report! Adventist Today indicates in their report that Tom and Ted agreed that Tom should step down. Perhaps Tom was the source of the leak from GCDO! In which case I would say Bravo, bravissimo!! Ryan Mike may make an excellent chairperson for that committee! I don’t believe his stance on WO is any secret!


Maybe it would be appropriate, and have SPLENDID OPTICS, if the new chair person would be a WOMAN ??

This all male group deciding “ UNITY “ ( a code word for the issues surrounding the women’s ordination issue ) is entrenched in male privilege and male authority.

Could just one woman in the group ameliorate this discordant, discriminatory discrepancy ?? This is not good optics nor optimal public relations !!

But then the current image of the GC needs massive refurbishing after the Autumn Council fiasco.


While prayer is always welcome and listening always efficacious, in committees I have experienced, there seems to be an assumption that praying and listening will resolve fundamental disagreements conscientious people have. One could wish it were so. Some administrators in my experience believe so intensely that when the “other” side yields during this process, it is “proof” that the Spirit has finally won the victory. “Unity” is not always achieved in a Spirit-led manner when those who capitulate do so because they realize it is useless to think that leadership will abandon an unwise course even if the majority tells them so.


i can’t say i’m understanding why the unity committee should have a new chairman any more than it should have new members…after-all, annual council voted to return the phase 2 document to the unity committee with the chair and membership fully known…to me, this episode feels like TW bullied lemon to step down because lemon said there was no rebellion going on with the non-compliant unions, or their divisions…

if this is true, i don’t think it bodes well for anything the committee produces under a new chair…it’s these kinds of authoritarian tactics - bringing the document to a vote through what sounds like proxy measures; keeping everyone in the dark on what was in the document until the last minute; demanding a loyalty pledge - that sunk the document’s ship in the first place…how is anything going to be different if a perception forms that authoritarianism hasn’t gone anywhere…what can allay the fears of those who voted to return the document on objections to authoritarianism if authoritarianism is still plainly there…


Given the AC2017 contentious session, between TW and TL, I do believe the wrong person was replaced. The Unity Oversight Committee does not need a new chairman as much as the SDA church needs a new leadership direction, thus a new GC president. Let’s see if the WO dilemma persist or its fires extinguished to support my assertion.


Thomas goes by Tom. Tomm is how his son–me–spells it. (Call it a textual variant.) I think the confusion arose in a Facebook group.


This move just re-enforces the idea that President Wilson is an authoritarian leader who seeks to control the process himself. It looks very bad and doesn’t bode well for the fate of the document going forward. There was a shift in those present at Autumn Council when the attendees were asked to sign the loyalty oath and a complicated 14 page document was released moments before the discussion began. It was disenfranchising every person for whom English was not their first language and appeared to affect even the most ardent supporters of the idea of the document and process. It was a huge mistake to take the process that was taken. As far as I can tell, that is the President’s problem because he sought tight control. Getting rid of the chair is a way to deflect away from what has to be a resounding defeat to the President’s agenda and his personal power.


How will a committee that basically lacks any diversity ever create something useful on the idea of unity? By default uniformity will be the outcome.


It would be naive to expect the things would settle so easy and fast. The guys there won’t accept the AC 2017 outcome (defeat) in a gentleman’s manner. So they will continue to roar and threaten just to make them feel powerful and fearsome. But I hope that the whole Adventist world has now opened its eyes and can clearly see that there in Silver Spring it is only about power. And what is very interesting (and also very good): This power game is not any more between GC and “noncompliant” entities, but between GC’s own men.


I am so proud of Tom Lemon’s honesty in his remarks introducing the 14-page document, its history, his praying over it for three days because he obviously was deeply concerned about taking it to the oversight committee.

While not surprised that Ted Wilson is unhappy with Lemon’s honest and careful approach, I’m deeply disappointed that Lemon will no longer chair this committee after his groundwork visiting the three divisions/unions and stating that he found NO rebellious souls in his conversations. The Mid-America Union was the first to vote to ordain women, under Lemon’s presidency, even though they had no women currently in the pipeline for ordination. As chair of the board of Union College, Lemon oversaw a process in which a top female president was hired, Dr Vinita Sauder.

This presumed firing of Lemon as chair is one more notch in TW’s intense war to pressure an international, uniform ban of women from ordination as pastors and as elders. The “out-of-compliance” loyalty oath is ultimately calculated to remove vote and voice of any opposition to his authoritarian approach to decision making, and to remove women from decision-making levels in the church.

These documents, firings, and pressure to punish are extreme and ultimately defeating measures to the church’s mission to take the Gospel of Jesus to all the world. In this war against women, God has intervened and sent the document back to a committee. Now, TW is trying to manipulate the leadership of even that committee.

Those who have eyes can see. Those who have ears can hear.

It is a serious and awesome thing to be at war with Godly men and women of the Spirit.

May God bless Tom Lemon, a hero of our church in our time.

Yes. You are correct.

But that is not necessarily his idea or preference, is my understanding. The Headship Heresy proponents, which he seems to align with, want to roll back all authorizations for women in any kind of leadership, including ordination to the ministry, commissioning to the ministry, and ordained elders. In other words, they are not happy with things “remaining the same.” Their goal is to reverse ordinations and commissioning, and eliminate women elders altogether. The Calvinistic Piper theology is that women are not involved in any “teaching of a male” over the age of 12; no directing choirs, or anything that would be considered directing, teaching, or managing any male.

That is certainly not our SDA practice, thankfully. But that is where the ultimate Headship Heresy leads in its fullness.


Prayer for the Christian is a necessity and a strength. But invoking the need for prayer in a committee or decision-making body has often, in my limited experience, been done in order to manipulate the outcome. Perhaps in my old age I’ve become cynical, but I now think that if I were to be in such a setting and the chair laid a fervent call on the assembly to engage in a season of prayer, I would be suspicious of the chair’s motive. I might even be tempted to think that calling for a season of prayer was a device to enhance the perceptions of his piety, and hence the validity of his position on the question at hand. Don


Soon Ted will have a complete cabinet full of submissive compliant Stepford Wives.
Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.
For the good of the collective. For you.
Celebrate perfect Unity!

(pray some key folk cerebrate-and act-now, or the institutional church will fail, maybe already has.
The church in sandals will continue.


A somewhat witty person on another thread said that TW was replacing his “Lemon”. If so…Ted Wilson is certainly putting himself (and the SDA church) into more and more of a “pickle”. Perhaps, filling up positions with the “Perfectly Preserved” will serve TW’s purposes best. I have my doubts but we shall see…


As Yogi Berra once observed, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

At least this president didn’t call him a “nut case” as an excuse.

(Er, he didn’t, did he?)

The parallel rolls on.


I feel a need to respond to the statement that Elder Wilson his trying to have a uniform ban on female elders. Remember that he made a speech shortly after the San Antonio vote in which he said nothing had changed. Female elders were not on the agenda so female elders are safe.


Tom Lemon, whom I know well, is a man of integrity and an administrator of discernment, courage, diligence, and transparent goodwill. This past Sabbath, he spoke openly to his local church about his take on the recent Annual Council and the future of the Adventist Church. It was a welcome and refreshing approach. When I asked, “What is viewed by the General Conference as a legitimate means of loyal dissent?” he smiled and replied, “I don’t know.”

His intent was to provide before the next Annual Council far more time for people to read all documents. Removing him as chair creates an enormous loss in actual unity and ethical leadership, whatever the rationale.


It should become more and more obvious that with the headship concept and “unity” construct more is at stake than how we treat women in our church. The hierarchical centralism, the back room decisions, the demotion, removal, silencing of any opposition is mind boggling - and will continue the work of self-destructing my beloved church.

It would be worth creating a list of names of people who have been “removed” from their position in a manner not representing due process or just cause.


A bunch of old majority white institutional top of the hierarchy men who have little on the ground daily connection with real life and the grassroots - even if some of them favour women’s ordination. This so much looks like a closeted committee of a bunch of cardinals. I’m shocked and astounded that regardless of who these people are and their qualities that it is so unbalanced. How on earth did such a composition get to be put together. Can’t they see that to get some balanced and wise input there needs to be a wide variety of people on a committee like this - just to get a healthy perspective? Are they that blind that they don’t see the blind spots they are inevitably building into a process? No healthy organisation would put together a committee like that to deal with such an important issue. A bunch of paid institutional men creating a policy to make everyone adhere to what that institution wants and demands. Folks, this is the 21st century!


Perhaps something good will come from this. Thomas Lemon might be a good choice for GC president (should the opportunity arise.)