Triumph, Injustice, and Lost Face: How to Reconcile after a Heated Debate

Battle Creek, Michigan, 2018. Another gathering. Another vote. Another emotional carousel. Because the issue at stake is highly emotional. Although it may seem a discussion about rules and consequences, about cause and effect, punishment or discipline is always a highly emotional exercise.

How do people deal with emotions? Cultural diversity presents us with challenges. For example, awe is expressed through silence and little action in the West, but through definite, even assigned action throughout most of the rest of the world. Can we be united as a church in worship? We express emotions through our primary values. But what do we do when our value systems differ or even collide? How do we function as a church when what is normal for one side of the world is unacceptable for the rest of us? Let me mention briefly some differences that raise emotional responses. I will use some generalizations in order to make my points clear, but I acknowledge that variations always exist.

Due to its democratic heritage, the Western world settles issues by voting. Everyone should have an equal voice and vote. If you want to punish someone, you remove their right to vote or to express their opinions. However, in the rest of the world, rights are not so important as are honor and respect. A problematic issue may be discussed at length, opinions may be expressed, but the final say belongs to a respected elder and the result is often unanimity or at least general consensus. One feels respected because of the chance to express opinions, but often individual voice is used to support the authority person and return the honor. If there are major differences of opinion, or opposite views, time is necessary to mediate between parties and reach a consensus. Although not everyone may share or accept the outcome, the consensus is supported by a large majority. In the West, this is probably seen as uniformity. In the rest of the world, equality is not an important value. Calls for equality in ministry are strange for them, not only gender equality but also status equality among men. Concepts such as servant leadership may have a very different meaning in various parts of the world. Specific values obviously influence the way we see life and deal with its problems.

There is another major difference between our worldviews. Westerners not only act based on equality but also on truth and justice using a binary logic. An issue is labeled as right or wrong, and religious history is full of orthodoxy and heresy. Grey areas are at best not talked about; they are simply considered impure, and thus not acceptable, or willfully ignored. However, the rest of the world is more interested in preserving honor and saving face. Truth is a too abstract notion to die for, but everyone will do everything to save face and avoid being ashamed. Blood is frequently necessary to wash away shame, and honor deaths are not uncommon in the rest of the world. When Jesus hung on the cross, the shame was unbearable for his disciples so no one was acknowledging him as their master or even as son of God. Peter even cursed to distance himself from Jesus and avoid being ashamed. Finally, all disciples hid in the upper room, in utter shame and fear. I vividly recall the moment when our esteemed past president identified some parts of the world as not supporting women’s ordination during the San Antonio GC Session in 2015. Several speakers jumped to the microphones to “save their faces” because they felt they had been shamed. Nobody claimed that the statements were not true because truth was not the most important issue in that case. Face was.

For many Western Adventists, ordaining women based on equality is an issue of individual and social conscience. Such arguments may sound strange to the rest of the world for whom conscience is a collective feature under the leadership of a person of authority. Entire nations follow their leaders because these are considered the voice of collective conscience. The voice of the emperor was frequently considered the voice of God and the conscience of the nation. The tribe leader plays the same role. By default, all other voices become authoritative only if they are accepted by the supreme leader. Wise people surround the leader, but he is the one to decide what should become normative. When missionaries reached remote tribes, it was the approval of the tribal leader that opened the doors for the missionaries’ work. When the group’s conscience did not trust the missionaries and their intentions, there were very few or no results.

The main changes in the voted document, although they may seem superficial and even ridiculous to a Westerner, are responding to such deep-seated assumptions that are part of the worldview of the rest of the world. The document expresses the punishment views and process of the rest of the world – shame them. Removing the voice or vote, as indicated in the previous version of the document, carried no meaning of real punishment to the rest of the world. It did not make sense to remove these because the leader will have the final say anyway. But a process of shaming is felt undoubtedly strongly punitive for people living in shame and honor cultures. As it was often mentioned in the introductory session, the Unity Oversight Committee listened to the suggestions coming from the world divisions and institutions. And what seems like nonsense for the egalitarian Westerner makes perfect sense to church leaders from the rest of the world. And they voted accordingly. It is not that they do not have good intentions toward Western Adventists and their requests, but there is a worldview gap between the two parties that makes communication and understanding difficult, if not impossible.


I recommend that a cultural dialogue be initiated under the supervision of specialists in the field, before any other further theological debate or administrative action. What needs to be identified and clarified is primarily what triggers high emotions, how emotions are expressed, and how they affect relationships and communication in different cultures.

Second, an identification of assumptions and values and their interpretations is sorely needed. Many arguments and debates are fueled by assumptions that are never questioned or stated. Most people are not even aware that assumptions may vary across cultures. What seems normative to them is assumed as normative for the rest of the world, and conflict and misery simply follows. Justice and honor should not exclude each other.

And third, Westerners should make an attempt to translate their views and assumptions into meanings appropriate to the rest of the world. As regulations and policies are so important in the Western worldview, it is our duty to understand the others and learn how to make ourselves understood by them. Indeed, there is a need for an effort to contextualize doctrine and policy to make sense to others that may not share our worldview. Simply labeling them as conservative or fundamentalists and threatening to leave the ship or withdraw financial support may not serve our commendable missional purposes.

May the church listen to God’s wisdom when handling highly emotional issues such as dealing with consequences and discipline. He is both a just and honorable God.

Cristian Dumitrescu teaches missiology and intercultural studies at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines.


Further Reading:

Responses from Church Entities and Timeline of Key Events, Annual Council 2017 to Present

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Thank you for a very useful reminder that unity involves understanding one other’s cultural assumptions.

Your recommendations deserve to be taken seriously.

One question - how do you account for the huge differences between Western Adventists in their approach to discipline in ecclesiastical matters?

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Having lived in the Philippines and having to know its culture, would you say culture played a part in their support for TW’s Unity documents?


This describes an ideal in conflict management. Is it too late for this, though? Would the GC leadership even allow it? I fear we do not have the kind of leadership that could allow this kind of conversation or help our multicultural denomination come to this kind of understanding.

I believe the tragedy is that Ted Wilson could neither understand or teach multicultural harmony. Because he has said he believes a shaking of the church may be his calling, why would he or could he attempt to bring healing or understanding now?

Is there another way to deal with this entrenched debate - amicable separation / reorganization? IMHO, that in itself would be a miracle.

What other major denomination, other than Roman Catholic or LDS (Mormon), has one centralized organization for the entire world? I believe it is possible that we became so large that a division was a natural result. Organizations, including churches, come to “breakpoints” (See Land and Jarman’s “Breakpoint and Beyond”) where they must either reinvent themselves or begin to decline.

Thus I don’t see that it would be a failure, but rather a natural organizational occurrence, for Adventism to now reorganize itself after 170+ years. This could actually become a win/win outcome - possibly.

The Adventist denomination has often, at least in the past, been likened to a family. America was the parent and the other world divisions were the children. Now the children have grown up. America no longer needs to “raise” them (i.e., we rarely send missionaries from America to other parts of the world now - colonial thinking has ended). It is only natural for children to grow up, leave home, and start their own homes. That does not mean that there isn’t still an “Adventist” family. It simply means that we are a matured family now with multiple homes rather than one - multiple parents, not just one (the GC).


We have to be careful of what we say. We are still Christians and one day we will be judged.

I have been in the USA for 18 years. Both in the industry and in school, I have never experienced open stereotypes and pure racism as what I have read on Spectrum now and soon after San Antonio vote.

I grew up in Africa. I didn’t know that Africans do not value truth, and that somehow truth only matters in North America.

If the author and those who hold these opinions just listened to their own words, they would have quickly realized why the rest of the world is tired of being bullied into endorsing American culture as church tradition.

From women ordination to same sex marriage, the views held in NAD are not some new truths discovered in the Bible, rather they are the product of an explosion of political correctness sweeping across North America.

I thought this church was the remnant led by the Holy Spirit. If these new ideas are some communication from the Holy Spirit, why did HE first told all those Sunday churches and the Supreme Court of the US before telling the remnant church? Speaking about the truth, can we just agree that this is more about political correctness more than anything?

I agree that time has come for NAD to go away and form their own church.

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Biblical Truth transcends culture. The Bible is relevant for anyone in the world. There is still ONE God, ONE faith. The NAD leaders, in their attempt to be culturally relevant, have become disallusioned about Truth as it is in Jesus. This article is another example of trying to put one’s own thoughts, desires, and feelings above God. His ways are so much higher. Almighty God has spoken through the highest level of authority in HIS church and we should humbly obey.

Almighty God has spoken through the highest level of authority in His church and we should humbly obey? I bet you are one of the typical “adventists” that send your tithe with the idea that “I did my part, and I’m not responsible for how it is used”. Pity.

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I thought I was done reading anything about this topic for a while but your post needs a comment. WO has been on the agenda for at least 40 - 50 years, and is not part of the PC hysteria sweeping the globe. It’s about equality before God. Jesus didn’t say “you guys, go spread the gospel”, Just like Jesus’ invitation to come to Him is in terms of “whosoever”, so is His call to discipleship.

Good for you. You need to live according to your own culture; but that means when you are in North America you get to live according our value system of equality established by our constitution, which makes NA a place everyone else seem to want to live as well. NA can’t change its values to suit every other culture that comes to our shores.

News flash - by signing up to be an Adventist you are already accepting American culture since that is what birthed the SDA church.


When Jesus spoke into his culture, it was not with the intention of imposing “western values” on a non-western mindset, but rather, He introduced the Kindgom of God into a worldly kingdom. Equality is not a “western value” but rather a “kindgom value”. Equality is born out of justice and it is valued by us as a people when we determine to follow God and we “…do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with (y)our God”.

When Jesus spoke of “servant leadership” it was not from a “western perspective” but rather, from a “Kingdom of God” perspective, "…“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 NOT SO WITH YOU. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The author of this article is correct that this is a cultural divide, but it is “Kindgom of God” culture coming into conflict with worldy culture - not western culture vs. non-western culture.

Some are attempting to smooth over this issue as a “political” issue which we can simply ignore and go on about our “mission”. But alas, justice IS our mission and we cannot serve God under a banner of injustice. A pirate flag has been raised on our ship and it represents different moral values than those taught to us by our master and commander Jesus Christ. We cannot serve under that flag without bringing shame upon our Master and our mission.


For many years Adventists have proclaimed that the General Conference in session is the highest body of authority on Earth. That was fine for as long as NAD people were in charge. Now all of a sudden, that is not correct anymore because their particular culture was not taken into consideration.

Growing up in Africa,I saw many American missionaries who preached that there is no other culture but Adventist. So many African cultural activities were prohibited in church. Even music had to be of a certain kind.

Is not now surprising that the same people are now complaining that their culture is being left behind? Was Ellen White African? Is Wilson African? This is not a cultural issue.

People really have to look deep in their hearts. The problem is not church tradition, the problem lies elsewhere. It is about a group of people who thought were superior finding it hard to let go of that vice.

That was put to rest long ago. You seem to be mixing up culture with Bible principles. Neither Ellen White nor the Bible relegated women to a lower class when it comes to anything to do with worshiping God. Christianity reaches beyond social cultures, but some cultures find it hard to accept Christian principles when they clash with longstanding cultural norms. When it comes to church directions - just follow the money - another North American vice.


Yes, you are correct. I have continued to pay my tithe even though the leaders in my conference have continued in rebellion and non-compliance with the voted decisions of the world church… because I have exercised faith that God would lead His church to do what was right. And the recent vote by annual council has confirmed that faith. Thank you for reminding me. I am encouraged.

Are you suggesting those with expertise in conflict resolution and intercultural communication experts?

Are you including the issue of politics in this suggestion? For example, it is totally acceptable in some cultures to vote the wishes of the leader for self-preservation. Many believe that happened at GC15 in San Antonio through “block voting.”

Have you actually seen this happening? Approval of ordained women crosses across liberal, conservative and moderate.

Have you actually seen threats to defund?

It’s my observation that people who support ordaining women are not threatening to “leave the ship.” Quite the opposite.

Perhaps this is the crux. Social justice is a top value of our church’s young. Not treating men and women equally, in other words, discriminating against women is not honorable to them.


The issue at stake is a biblical one. The ecclesiastical hierarchy is determined by God, not man. God’s government as cited in Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 5:11 are without number; thousands times ten thousand. God is capable of governing an infinite number of beings as well as a church to govern mass amounts of beings, successfully! No racism, no slurs all being equal in His eyes; one culture in unity with the Creator; this is our Holy model.
There is stated in scripture different Angels with different supporting roles in His Holy government. Psalms 103:20 those who excel in strength, as messengers in Genesis 19:1 and Rev 14, and those who directly assist God in holding back the winds of destruction in Rev. 7:1. Just to state a few.
Point being, God has called His church to follow that exact pattern of government; certain hierarchy for certain needs to be met according to God, not man.
We may not agree with the vote of the world church in 2015. We will not always get what we think we should receive. But rest assured in this, If it was in God’s plan that the vote were to be otherwise, He is able! “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:” Jer. 32:17
Now what? God expects us to move forward trusting in Him to make ANY necessary changes within His church. After all, it is His church, the Creator of it. We are not to walk before Him but be led by Him. It requires our faith and it must be increased or we will eventually find ourselves alone. Let God fight any battles that may exist and let us move forward, glorifying Him with our trust and faith to bring us heaven-bound. We have a mission. Fighting amongst ourselves is not it.

If one will spend a thoughtful hour reading the Americans commenting on, I think it will be apparent that the source of the problem is closer to home.

If the conflict hadn’t been ginned up and put to an ambiguously-worded question to vote on in 2015, the world would have rolled on accommodating cultural differences just fine, I imagine.

The American Adventist’s have been working behind the scenes for decades, with what financial backing God knows, to bring the Evangelical Headship Ideology into the Adventist church.

I watched it happen in my home church in the 1980s.

“Divide and Conquer” is as old as dirt. Y’all have been had.

Every kid knows what happens when you dump a scoop of a black ant colony onto a red ant colony.

By that point “cultural dialogue” is moot.

Stir up a mess and bring in a demagogue to the rescue.

Plausible deniability and consolidated power.


Decades won’t resolve what this coup pulled off.

Even without the dueling Ellen G. White factions, decades couldn’t clean this up.

Adventism has always been a cognitive swamp, but now it’s past the point of no return.

Just my opinion.


I feel as though you are stereotyping North American Adventists here. What I think those of us in North America are saying is that we need to recognize that there are differences in culture and ways of thinking between Africa and North America. And those are NOT meant to be value statements - not that one is better than the other.

I believe Africa has the right to see things differently than North America at times without saying that one is better or worse than the other.

My brother and I love each other very much. We were loved equally by our parents. But we are very different. That does not mean, though, that one of us is right or better, and the other one is worse or wrong. African Adventists and North American Adventists are brothers and sisters, we just don’t always see things the same way. So I urge that we not make value judgments or stereotypes either way.

No, I don’t think this is about political correctness, and I’m sorry you see it that way. I believe it is about CULTURAL RESPECT!


Didn’t Jesus tell us - “Judge not that you be not judged?” I feel you are being very judgmental of your brothers and sisters here. I don’t believe that is the way Jesus would deal with differences in belief between His children!

Had James and Ellen White “rebelled” when they disagreed with the Methodist church to which they belonged? Please don’t forget that our church was formed by “rebellious” people. You accuse of rebellion, but do you know that neither the GC or NAD had the right to determine who would be ordained in spite of claims to the contrary. Sister, be very, very careful in your criticism of those with whom you disagree, please.

I also have faith that God has lead and will continue to lead. I do believe, though, that God has given us the power of choice since creation, and sometimes allows us to make the wrong choice. Thus I don’t believe God necessarily controlled the vote at Annual Council.

It is possible, though, that God is leading the church through a trying time as it matures and grows. Perhaps He knows that it would be best for us to no longer live together in the same “house”, yet remain an amicable, loving family while not always agreeing.


Cassie, you speak with authority and experience. Most Adventists have no idea of the outcome and end result of the Headship Heresy.

Working behind the scenes for decades to bring an apostate Protestantism heresy into our church is not what most Adventists expect. That that’s exactly what is happening with the Headship Heresy.

Your experience was one of degrading women, beating them, demeaning them, stepping on them, and dominating them. The theological basis for this horrific ungodly behavior was the very Headship Heresy creeping into the church, and after Sunday legislated with new protocols to enforce.


The folks who voted this horrific Headship Heresy have opened a Pandora’s Box and set back the mission of the church for decades or even centuries.

What a terrible defeat of Classic Adventism’s uplifting of women and encouraging their gifts from the Holy Spirit.

May God forgive us.


So you believe that any vote taken by the church EXCOM is automatically approved by God?

I’ve been saying the same things online over and over since before the turn of the century. That’s why I call myself Cassandra. Crazy woman no one believed. :cold_sweat:

Bout to retire…


Very, very sad.

That’s what I’m losing sleep over…hope I’m wrong…

Yes. May God forgive us.