Three Takeaways from the Annual Council "Unity" Vote

After two hours of two minute speeches, the General Conference Executive Committee meeting for its Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland, approved the brief “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation” document. Those who joined General Conference president Ted Wilson in support of the document tended to be delegates from south of the equator who mostly remained silent during the debate. Inversely, the majority of delegates who spoke up did so in opposition to the document and included many North American Division and European leaders.

Tension over women’s ordination and ecclesial authority underlined many of the arguments, although GC leaders spoke in generalities about reasons for the document and mostly characterized the intended outcome as church unity and policy adherence. The voted document outlines a two-step process, the first is a year-long series of meetings up and down the church hierarchy. The second step requests next year's Annual Council to outline new “procedural steps.” Clearly, more lies ahead. Much of the debate was recorded on Twitter and can be read here. After reporting on the meeting and discussing the process and outcome with Adventist leaders, here are three of my takeaways from the day. 

1. Nothing has changed, globally. In 2015, the San Antonio vote (1,381 to 977) was essentially 3 to 2 to disallow divisions to make provision for the ordination of women. Today, in Silver Spring, the vote (169 to 122) was essentially 3 to 2 to prevent unions from making provision for the ordination of women. Then as now, GC president Ted Wilson spoke at the beginning, the middle, and at the end of each vote. The exception to this pattern happened a few years ago when several union constituencies voted to support women’s ordination by a ratio of about 8 to 2. 

2. Unity may be the goal, but it’s not guiding the process. The last two weeks of Spectrum’s reporting reveals a series of GC created drafts and other documents that employ harsh and oppositional rhetoric. While today's GC message focused on the somewhat scholastic questions around policy interpretation, the ultimate goal is to reverse the growth of what the GC has called the “invalid ordinations” of women. One of the key supporting documents states, “It is incorrect to assert that there is nothing in denominational policy to stop unions from ordaining females to gospel ministry. Rather than uniting, this vote has already split the church a little more. 

Within hours of the vote today and vowing to protect its female pastors, the North American Division released a statement that included the following wording:

“...many people can’t help but tie it to the issue of Women’s Ordination. In response to the document and the concerned voices in his division, [Dan] Jackson, expressed his desire to reinforce the position of the division on the role of women in pastoral leadership. “I want to share my strong support for the role of women in pastoral ministry. Voted church policy allows for women to fill this very important position and this will never change within the North American Division.”

The disunifying process goes beyond words. It includes the physical and the financial as the NAD leaves the GC building, and continues its decade-long process of reducing tithe allocation upward. As reported by Spectrum during the 2015 General Conference Session:

“In 1999, the North American Division gave over 10% of its tithe income to the General Conference, while other divisions gave just 1%. Phased in over time, the formula is now 2% of the tithe from other divisions, and 7% from the NAD (which will go down to 5.85% by 2020). [This has] meant a...decrease in tithe received by the GC of $183 million from 2000 to 2014.

Expressing unity...with the NAD, the Pacific Union Conference issued a statement after the vote noting that “Although the document was presented as a generic recommendation on policy matters, not designed to address any one issue in particular, we understand that it is directly related to the Pacific Union’s support for women in ministry.” In went on to quote Ricardo Graham, recently re-elected as president of the Pacific Union Conference for the next five years:

“we know that God has gifted the Seventh-day Adventist Church for effective global mission through every believer, and we continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who gifts people of every age, gender, and ethnic background according to His purposes.” “We also affirm the statement of Elder Daniel R. Jackson, president of the North American Division, who spoke on behalf of the NAD after the meeting: “I want to share my strong support for the role of women in pastoral ministry. Voted church policy allows for women to fill this very important position and this will never change within the North American Division.”

Trans-European Division President Rafat Kamal spoke about the vote in a TED response saying,

“We must be careful that in actions calling for ‘reconciliation’ that we do not quash that spirit, but rather that we endeavour to work in harmony with each other so that, as in Galatians 6:2, we can be actively seen to be bearing one another’s burdens.”

Just a day before the vote took place, General Conference treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán discussed the $19 million loss the GC absorbed in 2015 which is connected in part to the NAD withdrawing its physical and financial presence. And to that, in a recent Adventist Review interview, Prestol-Puesán cited the North American Division and the division’s retirement office as a factor in the budget woes of the General Conference, noting that “the relocation will reduce the General Conference’s income by $1 million a year.” Only two years ago former General Conference treasurer Bob Lemon said: “The North American Division has always been and continues to be the backbone of support, both financially and missionally for the worldwide work of the Church.” 

The 2016 NAD year-end meetings start in about two weeks. It will be interesting to see how strong the GC wants the backbone of the NAD to be.

3. Money matters. Ted Wilson keeps dramatically winning against women’s ordination because he knows how to use voters from outside the directly affected territories to help him get what he wants in them. In 2012 he repeatedly tried and failed to personally intervene in union constituency votes on ordination. If the GC continues its recent budget losses this outside voting bloc power may become too costly. During the debate today, several delegates raised the point that the very parts of the church being targeted for punishment actually contribute significant funds outside their territory. Now, after seeing how the voting works again, many church members at all levels of the organization might increasingly think that their faithful tithing is being used to fund direct opposition to their values. Who treats Adventist votes as more than a mobile political bloc? Who treats Adventist diverse viewpoints as better than potentially apostate? It's probably not the guys talking about being the highest authority on earth. Just as the NAD is in the process of reducing its tithe allocation to the GC, perhaps more church members will consider shifting their donating down to local, less dramatic Adventist entities.

In moments like this when up appears down and votes for unity create disunity right in front of our faces, there can be a spiritual power in ignoring the unified. The general. Find and foster the particular. Sometimes humans connect particularly well when giving each other some space.

As Marcus Aurelius meditates: “And in the case of superior things like stars, we discover a kind of unity in separation. The higher we rise on the scale of being, the easier it is to discern a connection even among things separated by vast distances.” 

 

Photo of Charles Ledray's Men's Suits, 2006-9. 

Alexander Carpenter founded the Spectrum Blog and is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum Magazine. 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7693
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Well, there’s always the bright side for some, as when Randy Roberts projected his hope for a new movement of some kind. One without GC “policies and procedures,” when "people break off and start the process again with a new vision and dream…I can say that at least in my part of the world, to vote a document like this may actually be a very good thing in terms of vision. Because young adults and many others will say, we have to do something that is not so regimented and governed by policy.”

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Well done, Alex! Very well done indeed! Thanks!

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I wish Ted Wilson could have half his wishes he would double his troubles.

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If I understand correctly, contributions to third class divisions from first class divisions consist mostly of appropriations in support of Inter-Division Employees (IDEs). Will the unity vote result in less funds and fewer men/women sent abroad for the prosecution (sorry, no pun intended) of our foreign mission work? Will this be good or bad? Further, if NAD church members were to stop paying tithe and instead confine their giving to the local church budget as well as to their favorite domestic charities, who will be the winners and losers? Dan Jackson? Ricardo Graham? Sandra Roberts? all women in pastoral ministry? Elder Ted Wilson? Institutions that in part depend on GC and NAD budgetary allocations? Well? You decide.

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Well done, Alex. I read this as a call to arms. There is really only one language left that the General Conference can understand and that is money. It’s time now that individual members defund this bloated and increasingly coercive layer of our organization. Don’t worry about how your pastor will get paid, that can be sorted out in time at the local level. I plan to continue giving to this church, because I love it’s mission of hope and wholeness. But I will not give any money that could reach the General Conference. It needs to be lanced and drained like the infected abcess that it has become on the Body of Christ.

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Seems the Bible Ted waves contains a very vengful God. Ted defines leadership as a power play. The only word absent is anathema. Tom Z

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           **DEFICIENCIES IN THE NEWLY VOTED POLICY DOCUMENT
        “UNITY IN MISSION: PROCEDURES IN CHURCH RECONCILIATION”**

I find it incomprehensible that the GC Annual Council leaders sat on a hurriedly prepared document for almost the total length of the Annual Council, and then presented it for a vote in the dying moments of the Annual Council.

In those dying moments of the Annual Council there was absolutely no chance of it being sent off to a sub-committee, tasked with the role of remedying some of the most seriious deficiencies. Yet such deficiencies were identified by so many of the delegates and also with a great degree of agreement as to what these were.

However, no one on the floor of the meeting even hinted at the usefulness of referring this document back to the people who drafted it, or to a writing committee chosen from the Committee Members. These procedures are not unheard of in the history of our church. For example, such things often happen at GC Sessions. It happened at the 1980 GC Session for some of the 27 Fundamental Beliefs. Why not here?

Of the 50 or so Executive Committee Members who spoke in the 2 hour 42 minutes of the discussion time allowed, only about 10 of these people spoke in favour of voting the document as policy. Many of the other 40 or so people who spoke also praised its aims and objectives but felt that it could be made better if more time and thought were given to it. Such comments however, appear not to have been taken seriously by a majority of the Council members! Why so? And why the seeming absolute hurry to get it in place in 2016?

From the comments of Council members I have distilled a number of deficiencies existing in the voted document.

A. This document lacks structural integrity which would engender a completeness and a maturity of conception not evidenced here. By not containing a statement of first principles nor a statement of the consequences of non-compliance it gives evidence of its hasty preparation. Good policy results from dialogue and reasonable conversation with each other.

B. This document virtually gives equal authority to our fundamental beliefs, our committee actions and our voted policies. This is wrong-headed in the extreme. The role of church policy in regard to the fundamental beliefs and the authority and unity of the church is not well understood and needs to be clarified through biblical and theological study. Only in this way can meaningful dialogue be promoted concerning potential troublesome issues.

C. The documents on Church Governance and Unity appear to champion our Adventist system of representative, consultative, consensus based decision making as the basis for the operation of two important principles - that of interdependence rather than independence and that of unity in diversity. on the other hand the voted document seems to stress policy compliance as a source of unity, neglecting the essential role of policy development. Policy compliance best results from good policy development.

D. Policy needs to be in the service of our mission. For things to go well, policy and procedure must occupy an important place but they must not be given too much focus. When policy becomes more important than our kingdom mission to people, our people break off and leave.

E. Policy compliance measures must be designed to suit the nature of the lack of compliance. Otherwise, matters of policy compliance may easily consume too much of our organizational resources and become an unbearable burden. Policy is a fickle and somewhat adaptable instrument. We must recognize that many of our entities are our of harmony with working policy on a variety of issues already. We dare not adopt a policy compliance regime that would prioritize policy compliance over promotion of the mission of the church. Ultimately such a system would result in the GC and the Annual Council overburdened by issues others are more equipped to adjudicate.

@Timo
We must be careful how we think about the San Antonio vote on ordination. In a post-vote press conference Dr Artur Stele, GC VP stated very succinctly that the vote had solely decided that the respective Divisions of the GC would not be authorized to establish the selection criteria for Adventist ordinands. The vote, having been lost, simply means that the central GC body remains the sole arbiter of selection criteria for ordinands. This was solely a poilcy decision.

One must be very careful not to imagine that Unions now have authorization flowing to them to determine policy matters of such a nature.

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After watching the entire discussion, I was struck by the assertiveness of the two most powerful men in the room. First, Elder Wilson was quick to assert his opinion at any time. In his lengthy preamble to the discussion (and against the history of a small group prescribing the “way forward” for a response to TOSC), Elder Wilson chose to read a lengthy passage from Testimonies which said the General Conference did speak for God—especially if the decisions were not made by a few individuals. (yes, I remember in the waning minutes of Fall Council 2014 a particular wording for GC 2015 was given to the attendees with little time for discussion with the admonition that this phrase had been the ordained path chosen by a small group). Although many delegates gave other quotes from EW which described her lack of confidence in the GC as God’s voice, Elder Wilson’s selected quote, naturally, was the most powerful one as it was given from the front, from the podium. Elder Wilson also chose to jump into the discussion as he interjected his disapproval of Elder Livesay’s motion to strike several lines in the proposal. Elder Wilson indicated that particular passage had to stay and was vital to the document’s essence.

But the most striking aspect of decorum amongst the GC elite was when taking his two minutes at the microphone Elder Ng chose to banter lightly about so many “major prophets” and “minor prophets” in the room. I was shocked. Although he spoke with charm, he, in effect, neutralized any validity of the concerns about the document. Of course, no one had claimed to be a prophet but an overwhelmingly large proportion of speakers had courageously voiced their concerns with kindness and rationality. Elder Ng, with his play on words, negated all concerns and seemed to imply that people were just overwrought, delusional children who did not know their role. I found that to be very disrespectful to the people and the process.

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Interesting… God has spoken… The root of all evil is MONEY… The lines have been drawn in the sand… SOP is right again. She has warned all of us that history will repeat itself. The Korah rebellion is starting. Very soon the tsunami is on the horizon brothers and sisters. God will judge his church. Dan Jackson has and is apostatizing… and the cancer needs to be dealt with…. And our colleges and universities with their new age Hermeneutics’. This is the omega of the alpha.

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Because there has been so much focus on women’s ordination, a much bigger issue that has been overlooked by the “independent” press, is the lack of lay person representation. The vast majority of GC delegates and autumn council delegates are employees of the denomination. Representation and influence in nominating committees is symbolic. While it gives stability (and the risk of staleness), it is risky corporate governance, and dangerously incestuous. Of the huge budgets in the church, lay people have very little to say, except when they vote with their pocketbooks. Employee selection, employment policies, church manuals, and theology are controlled by a small, self-perpetuating group. It makes the rules, not only for itself but for all of us. The enormous power vested in this narrow group can be maintained as long as the laity continues to support it financially. Such a great responsibility requires great humility.

Carsten

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As I read the post from the council and the comments I am beginning to see a pattern of “I am the boss, no one dare challenge me”. Do our representatives not think for themselves? Do they not discuss the questions before a vote? It seems to me that there was very little discussion and this issue was pushed through because the question of womens ordination is a thorn in the presidents side. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that’s just what it is, their OWN opinion. Why not, to be fair and open minded, give each church in the NAD a chance to vote on this question. That would give the GC a chance to see what the church members think and feel.

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I would love to see the NAD vote to speed up the proportional decrease in tithe allocation and use the money to specifically encourage women to the ministry. Ted Wilson sadly and recklessly declared the war, a defensive maneuver to protect women called to ministry is in order.

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I would like to learn more about the relationship of the NAD to the GC. As examples, was the NAD’s decision to leave the GC building opposed by the GC? How is the tithe appropriation from the NAD to the GC set in place, and does the NAD have unfettered freedom to reduce it? Can we have an article about this?

I’d also like to learn more about the ratio of church administrators to pastors. I understand it’s close to 1:1, which is absolutely ludicrous. Having four levels of administration above the local churches is an enormous waste of God’s money and manpower. Can we have an article about this as well?

I’m a big believer in paying one’s tenth, but there is no way I’m labeling it as “tithe” when a portion of it enables the misogynists and the money is frittered away on excessive travel, meetings, offices, travel, meetings, and more travel…by mostly older males who think local church work is beneath them.

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First of all, could you please provide a link to the released statement–I searched but couldn’t find. Thanks.

Also, so far, the headship ideology backers are only fighting on the ordination-of-women front, not the women-in-ministry front, so is Dan Jackson conceding ordination and digging in on ministry, or what?

It’s difficult to tell if “them’s fightin’ words” or just defending-what’s-left words. Or…?

I imagine that, soon enough, defending what’s left, including the ordination of local women elders, will be a fight.

My takeaway is that you’ve now got yourselves a clone of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, aka Inquisition.

IOW, it looks like you have a de facto Catholic Church now.

Consider the Catholic Leadership Conference of Women Religious and their subjection to the CDF:

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is the association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States.

In April 2015 the Vatican closed a controversial, multi-year investigation initiated in 2012 by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The investigation embittered many American Catholics “against what they perceive as heavy-handed tactics by Rome against U.S. sisters who provide critical health care, education and other services for the poor.”

CDF Doctrinal assessment of the LCWR

From 2009 to 2012 the CDF conducted a doctrinal assessment of the LCWR.In April 2012, the CDF “announced a major reform of the LCWR” and described "the need to remedy significant doctrinal problems associated with the group’s activities and programs […] in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

The CDF recommended reforming the LCWR; and Benedict XVI approved the decision. After the doctrinal assessment submitted its final report in December 2011, the CDF began reforming the LCWR.

Wikipedia


https://lcwr.org/media/news/congregation-doctrine-faith-concludes-mandate-regarding-lcwr


I’ve often observed that Adventism is about Adventism.

I’ve also asked what liberal Adventism is actually about, which is something of a mystery to me.

Is it about the Gospel? What Gospel? Saving people from being burned alive by God?

Correct me, but I tend to doubt many liberal Adventists believe in a literal lake of fire.

Ellen White was a literalist, clear down to the furniture in the Sanctuary.

So what specifically Adventist elements are liberal Adventists about?

This is going to be a conflagration, so it might be good to think about what you’re fighting for and if it’s worth it.

I don’t mean to be insulting, but seriously, what are you guys about?

I’m as sentimental about Adventism as the next person, but please don’t tell me you’re fighting for “Adventism,” or I might have to start calling this the Vega-Link War.

It’s all well and good to invoke the Reformation, but if it comes down to fighting over real estate and control of institutions, is it really a worthy Christian fight?

Not for me to decide, and I’m far outside the SDA loop.

But as I’ve said over the years, I think it will be a Pyrrhic victory for whichever side comes out on top of the PR disaster Adventist civil war.

Most importantly, I think, religious fights over “principle” always seem to ignore the body count.


Edit (after cfowler’s like):

Yes, and when you’re not given space, you have to make space for yourself.

I think this can be done while respecting the boundaries of those who do not respect our boundaries.

If I zoom out far enough, I know I’m a mystical Adventist, but I’ll never fit in as a Seventh-day Adventist on terra firma.

But, don’t mind me, I’m acutely aware that, at all times, I’m merely working out my own issues here.

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Alex, thank you for the good observations and to all of the Spectrum reporting team. Kudos to you all.

Your article includes this comment: “Nothing has changed, globally. In 2015, the San Antonio vote (1,381 to 977) was essentially 7 to 3 to stop unions from authorizing ordinations of women.” The comment refers to the San Antonio vote as stopping unions from ordaining women. That is certainly a widespread misconception about the San Antonio vote - especially by those who want to take action against unions.

But, the vote in San Antonio was no more and no less than: “…is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they deem appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No?” (taken from the transcript of the 2015 GC Session as produced on the GC Archives site.)

The action means what it says - nothing affected the unions, nor was there any change in policy regarding unions and ordination.

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Nepotism and Simony are deeply ingrained as part of the process of doing church in Adventism. For nepotism, we only need look at the Wilson dynasty, but it is a pattern repeated throughout the church on every level from the local church to the General Conference. The simony, while not so obvious, is rife throughout the organization as well. Money talks in our denomination just like in the secular world. We set the foundation for this in our local churches when we allow only tithe payers to hold church office. The message is clear that money, not ability or calling, is the primary factor for advancement to the halls of power and control in Adventism. Perhaps we have descended to embracing prosperity theology and feel that money somehow indicates God’s favor.

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Korah is the wrong analogy - it’s not even close. What we are seeing in replay is the 10 Northern tribes of Israel setting up their centralized rebellious kingdom under that of a man - and trying to coerce the 2 remaining tribes to join in by choice or by force. The idolatrous “headship” teaching is the basis of this rebellion, but power is the motivation. Time will tell whether the two faithful tribes will stand firm.

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Does this WO topic get much attention at your local church?

I had an elder quickly express his concern last Sabbath and mentioned how this is the shaking. I just replied…“Samo infighting”.

Is the WO making the church say, “OW”?

I’d replace the word “might” with “do”.

I’m quite sure we can reduce the funds the GC gets from the NAD far faster than planned: Stop tithing now!

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