Triggering Public Reprimands: Simple Majorities are Not Enough

I thank the top leaders of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church for circulating a proposal about encouraging compliance with denominational policies long before the several hundred members of the General Conference Executive Committee will vote it up, down, or sideways at October’s 2018 Annual Council. Although this is standard practice in many denominations, it has been less frequent in our circles. This is a new and better day for which I am grateful.

In an article on Adventist Today’s website, I made the strongest case I could for eliminating that part of the proposal which states that the Executive Committee must be reminded that a leader has been publicly reprimanded each time he or she addresses it about any matter.

In what follows, I do the same thing for changing the required consensus for publicly reprimanding a leader from a simple majority to a supermajority. This is because few things cause more discord than requiring little support for great penalties. The combination of maximal punishment and minimal justification shreds unity.

No society which makes it easy to be hard on people flourishes. Mild penalties and low thresholds work. So do high penalties and high thresholds. Linking high penalties and low thresholds has never worked and it never will because it is too unfair and impractical. Yet this is what the proposal we are considering recommends.

As we try to gauge the severity of the proposed penalties, we need to keep in mind the difference between reprimanding and shaming. It resides in their dissimilar purposes. In a word, the purpose of reprimanding is to remediate but the purpose of shaming is to humiliate.

One condemns what a person has done, the other contorts who a person is. One addresses the action, the other redresses the actor. One is a way of disciplining, the other is a way of eliminating. One is an acclamation of hope, the other is a declaration of hopelessness.

Repetition and publicity are two of the defining characteristics of shaming. Reprimanding occurs once per incident and in private. Shaming hammers the individual again and again in public with the blunt instrument of humiliation for the same wrongdoing. The goal of shaming is to shatter the self; its aim is to cause a person to despise his own self or her own self while others destroy it. The process is brutal and total. It is psychologically lethal. I invite those who believe that I am exaggerating to read Robert Jay Lifton’s books.

The public and repetitive characteristic of the penalty the proposal recommends amounts to shaming even though it speaks of it as reprimanding. It is true that the noncompliant leader is to be publicly reprimanded only once, however, the Executive Committee will be reminded that he has been reprimanded every time he is recognized to speak. He will be humiliated this way again and again until either he retires or Jesus returns.

If voters have more than two alternatives, a simple majority is the same as a plurality. It is the option that receives at least one more vote than any of the alternatives even if this is less than fifty percent. If there are only two options, as in either “yes” or “no,” a simple majority is the same as an absolute majority. This is at least at least fifty-one percent.

A super majority is much more than fifty one percent. Sixty-six or seventy-five percent are common, however, in theory, a super majority could be up to ninety-nine percent. One hundred percent is a unanimous decision.

I believe that a supermajority should be no more than twenty percentage points less than the number of them with which a group typically makes its decisions. Although this formula is arbitrary, it is not capricious. I think that most people would agree that only ten points less is too demanding and that thirty points less is not demanding enough. Although I do not have statistical data to confirm this hunch, I think that most people would find twenty points intuitively plausible.

Because the Executive Committee makes most of its decisions with at least ninety five percent of the votes, this formula suggests that its supermajority should be seventy-five. In other words, before the ordeal of unending humiliation begins in a particular case, at least three of the four members of the Executive Committee who vote on the matter should be thoroughly convinced that this is God’s will. Anything less than this will eventually rip it apart.

Simple majorities work in obligatory organizations with command cultures in which coercive power is feared. They do not work in voluntary organizations with collegial cultures in which persuasive power is revered.

It has been both amusing and agonizing over the past few years to watch the increasing frustration of some denominational leaders who think that they are governing within the first kind of organization when in fact they are supposed to be serving in the second. They seem not to understand that the church is a voluntary organization with members who pay some of their own to help them do their work. Members find it perplexing when denominational employees threaten them with “grave consequences” and the like. Who works for whom?

Leaders must lead because pushing gets them nowhere. Even if the General Conference shuts down some union conferences and local conferences and creates new ones, there won’t be mass compliance. Some will leave, however, most of those who would do this have already gone and those who still appear aren’t going to disappear. Many will switch to the new conferences and unions and many others will find other ways to support the denomination’s worldwide endeavors. Those who take the third option will learn much about how to do this from supporting ministries such as the Three Angels Broadcasting Network, Amazing Facts, and Adventist-laymen’s Services & Industries (ASI).

The great Advent Movement will keep on moving! The primary difference will be that it will have spent millions of dollars to end up where it already is. The same controversies will resurface. This is because issues which are not resolved always return.

No one can predict what will happen if the General Conference Executive Committee removes “for cause” a highly respected union conference president because much will depend upon the circumstances. My best guess is that more financial resources will flow around the General Conference rather than through it. We might end up like we were before the 1901 reorganization when the General Conference helped to coordinate what often were for all practical purposes independent supporting ministries. Yet even this setback won’t stop the great Advent movement.

Supermajorities might prolong the practice of endlessly humiliating leaders who act out of moral conviction without hurting anyone, however, even this won’t last for long. The overwhelming number of Adventists around the world love people more than policies and together we will stop this unworthy practice. When it comes to denominational unity, we will convert the priority from compliance to the General Conference to reliance on God. “Oh, Happy Day!”

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Photo by Davide Ragusa / Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Agreed: Whenever there are important or contentious issues to be voted (especially issues which limit the voice of any particular member) or when new rules of any kind are proposed; that simple majorities are not appropriate and can do much damage. This is the reasoning that led to the creation of super majority votes (typically a 2/3 requirement for passage). The church membership at large has a duty to call into question the validity of a simple majority vote on such matters.


An improvement, but the entire idea of labeling is unchristian. We are seeing that power corrupts and the grab for absolute power is corrupting abssolutely. The Everlasting Covenant was operative for some 4000years, noe we live with the Vetlasting Gospel. Let the very rocks cry out. God’s gift was not Ellen White but a his Son. Let every mouth say so. The only label is I am a sinner saved by the Grace of God in Christ. Anyone who takes the floor at an Adventist session should declare his or her witness to the Cross…


Will all this discussion coming up at Autumn Council cause Many persons going into the
Ministry to have second thoughts?? What about persons who had thought about teaching
in our Universities??
All this is VERY SCARY!!
Gestapo!! Red China!! Are we heading in those directions??
Perhaps Future Looking Pastors would do Better being Medical Missionaries – independent
practitioner in presenting the Gospel.


are all ugly words,
and present odious optics
when they are projected by the GC hierarchy
to deter dissidents who claim the moral high ground.


A union president being shamed can avoid this by persuading the constituency to reverse their support of WO. If this fails he can implore local churches to remove supporters of WO from membership and to refuse to accept their tithe ( at least the part that goes to GC). If this fails he can resign his position and return to the joys of a local pastorate. Purifying of the church that follows will hasten the second coming. Is this the ultimate goal of the shaming policy’?

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Our GC heads looks to shame non compliant leaders repeatedly, but God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west.

Who are the ones out of step with the Spirit???




I fail to see the value of all this complaining about an announcement that may be giving during the one meeting a year that the executive committee meets with non-executive committee members (annual council. One of the two meetings a year) see:

That this even suggests shaming seems pretty far fetched. I think it would make more sense to pick your battles more carefully.


What is the average age of the Executive Committee, 65 and above years old? Could this be a tacit attempt to address memory and cognitive decline among its members?

On a more serious note, this proposal of public humiliation and shame are classic features of what is punishment. Punishment differs from discipline in that punishment leads to embarrassment, anger, humiliation, fearfulness, anxiety and alienation. It blocks the learning process, fosters the role model of aggression, imprints a memory that lasts a lifetime, prevents internalizing strong values and learning lessons of empathy and respect that lead to responsible, moral behavior and emotional accountability and lastly but most important of all is it a form of emotional and verbal abuse and is a risk factor for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders or PTSD.

Pastor Ted Wilson and his Executive Committee ought to be ashamed of this proposal. The whole document belongs in a garbage can. It has no place in an organization that preaches the love of God.


I don’t mind disagreeing if we actually do. Although I think that there are better and worse ways of doing it, I dont object to a recommendation being brought to the Executive Committee that a minister be reprimanded, the recommendation being discussed and then voted affirmatively by a super majority the action recorded in the minutes in harmony with standard practice and nothing more being said about it till next year. I do object to making such decisions by one vote or one percentage point. I also object to repeatedly reminding the EC of him having been reprimanded every time he speaks. Also, though I have not yet written anything about it, I think that the union conference and not the union president should be reprinanded. Do you disagree with me on any of these three points? If so. why?


I agree @davidrlarson46. The Union President is a representitive of a constituency. By that his views and voice should represent his constituents, and on occassion may differ from his own. For him to be personally reprimanded for expressing the views of his constituents is to punish the messenger, or punish someone for actually doing their job.


Well said - and this needs to be repeated again and again! And I would add the the union constituency is IN COMPLIANCE with its designated authority to decide who will be ordained regardless of threats or accusations.

Why do people judge without verifying their views?
Why do people make hard assumptions without verifying the facts?

Is the GC President truly ignorant of these realities, or is he choosing to bear false witness and thus mislead others?


Do I agree that the Executive committee should pass on decisions based upon a supermajority? What is the policy now? I think it is problematic to change the way the votes are taken depending on the topic. So either everything is supermajority or it is all majority, When people try to politicize things because, “hey well this won’t pass but if we have a super majority it will pass” then let’s change the rules and make it a supermajority is a bad way to run something.

I will say that though the church hierarchy are not the sharpest tools in the shed they are Bureaucrats and they maintain power like Bureaucrats everywhere will do. They also are considering the future stakes. Political progressives have a fairly simple strategy and it is not too hard to see where the next battle will lie. That is gay and trans ordination. Right here on Spectrum in the article Default Christianity, a writer laid out what logic will be used (see quote below). That is we want gay and trans ordination or whatever because we love and we are inclusive. So it is not hard to see that the leaders are trying to develop strategies to deal with the next battle.

If one dealt with the actual thought that ordination and Pastors running churches is not Biblical at all, it is a church tradition that the Roman Catholic tradition gave us, this would not matter. It would still be a fight with the bureaucracy of course because that is how they maintain power but it would be a much better fight to pursue.

From the article: " Those who speak about inclusion and reconciliation are viewed with far less trust than those who espouse the opposite. Your “church cred” will not be questioned if you preach a message of intolerance — but preaching a message that highlights the importance of love immediately places you under scrutiny. Without a doubt, just for having written this article, my fidelity to the church will be questioned by some readers. How sad that displaying hate does not automatically get one’s religiosity called into question but displaying love will…"


Is the General Conference Executive Committee going to consider starting the reprimanding process by reprimanding Ellen White for speaking publicly out against and not complying with an officially adopted General Conference policy voted at a duly called GC session?

1888 General Conference Resolution 23. RESOLVED, That we recommend, as far as reasonable, a practical experience in the canvassing field before persons are encouraged to enter the Bible work or the ministry. (F. E. Belden, Nov. 1). TWENTY-SEVENTH ANNUAL SESSION GENERAL CONFERENCE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS HELD AT MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, OCTOBER 17 TO NOVEMBER 4.

Ellen White’s Response – “Another resolution was passed that might have been laid upon the table, i.e. The one in reference to training all licentiates in the canvassing work before permitting them to enter the ministry. This was to be an absolute rule, and notwithstanding all I had to say against this resolution, it was carried. It was not right for the conference to pass it. It was not in God’s order, and this resolution will fall powerless to the ground. I shall not sustain it, for I would not be found working against God. This is not God’s way of working, and I will not give it countenance for a moment.”—Letter 22, 1889, pp. 10-11. (To R. A. Underwood, January 18, 1889.) {2MR 62.1 }

Ellen White’s retrospective in 1894 in reference in action taken in 1888 – “Let us consider the proposition presented at the Minneapolis meeting. Some who did not receive their counsel from God prepared a resolution, which was carried, that no one should labor as a minister unless he first made a success in the canvassing field. The Spirit of the Lord did not indite that resolution. It was born of minds that were taking a narrow view of God’s vineyard and His workmen. It is not the work of any man to prescribe the work for any other man contrary to his own convictions of duty. He is to be advised and counseled, but he is to seek his directions from God, whose he is, and whom he serves. If one undertakes the canvassing work, and is not able to sustain himself and his family, it is the duty of his brethren, so far as lies in their power, to help him out of his difficulty, and disinterestedly open ways whereby this brother may labor according to his ability and obtain means honestly to sustain his family.”—Manuscript 34, 1890, 2. (Testimony 4, August3, 1894.) {2MR 62.2}


In Relationships there ARE More than One Level in being ONE.
When a Young Man meets his prospective future wife, the First thing on his mind
is NOT usually sex.
Same with a Young Woman meeting her prospective future husband, the FIRST
thing on her mind is NOT usually sex.
there are many more Becoming ONE relationship hurdles that have to be met
prior to the saying of 'I do".

I do not understand how this comment relates to this discussion. Sorry!

I agree with you; however,I wonder if some might reply that the union conference president can always resign if his constituency insists that he do something about which he or she profoundly and permanently disagrees. In their view, he is more than a message carrier.

RonCorson. I thank you for your thoughts because they are helping me to clarify my own.

  1. I agree that for the most part votes should be taken with the same required number of votes or percentage of votes. As you say, switching back and forth between requiring simple majorities or supermajorities on a case-by-case basis for political advantage is especially offensive.

  2. Yet there is some precedent for having different requirements for different issues. For example, in the United States most bills become law when both the House and the Senate pass them by simple majorities. But if the President vetoes the new law, it takes a super majority in both houses to over overturn it. It takes a simple majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate to remove a President from office. It takes a supermajority in the Senate to ratify treaties with other nations. The principle seems to be that most decisions should be made by simple majorities but very important or potentially dangerous ones should require a supermajorities.

  3. This would seem to bring us full circle back to the question with which we started this part of the discussion. This is whether being publicly reprimanded by one’s peers on the Executive Committee in the way this proposal envisions it is a slap on the wrist oir a dagger to the heart. For those who see it as the first, a simple majority suffices but for those who view it as the second,a supermajority is required.

This strikes me as about right., Thanks!

The next step will be shunning… Is not that is why the labeling is being considered. A vote no will be the signal that Ted’s reign is over. Remember that Jesus sought out the outcasts. The Good Church men of Christ’s day labeled him as a bastard… When an editor of the official church paper calls zjustificstion as mere, it is time to consider an alternative. The best Adventism can do is congregationalism. The One project was one attempt. The best is to live below the radar. But don’t advertise. Even Jesus compared His mission as mothering. We sing under a His wings. The Church was conceived as a shelter in the time of storm. So why it it whipping up a typhoon? The purge mentality was rebuked by Jesus. Pulling up tares can destroy a lot of wheat.


True. If the Union Conference President is opposed or disagrees with the wishes of his constiuents, he has the choice to continue to represent those wishes or resign. I believe a man (or woman) of integrity in this situation would resign if they felt they could not in good conscience represent the wishes of their constiuency.