Viewpoint: A Time to Mourn - The Death of the General Conference

In 1966, the late, great folk-singer Phil Ochs joined Allen Ginsberg in famously declaring the Vietnam War over. His pronouncement occurred nearly three years before Nixon got around to pulling out American troops and nine years before the actual end of the war. In explaining this seeming foolishness, Ochs said:

At a certain point you keep saying, 'indecent, indecent,' and the words lose their meaning. It’s just the sound of syllables; it’s not a word any more. So last June, some of us in America declared the war over from the bottom up and celebrated the end of the war. We’ve been celebrating ever since… It is the use of absurdities, the use of a form of street theater, rather than just straight moral protest. The use of the theatrical is changing reality in your heads."

For Ochs, announcing the war over was not irrationality, but a moral imperative, an act of empowerment. It was a responsibility to envision the end of unjust violence and, in imagining it to be so, to help make it a reality.

When I was asked to join the RIP GC: An Adventist Funeral team, I understood the undertaking to be one of protest against a church system that now stands in the way of the very essence of the gospel. However, declaring the General Conference (GC) and its moral authority dead is much more than simply using absurdities. The assertion carries with it a wide range of theological and emotional significance, particularly for those who have been deeply hurt at the General Conference’s hands. Their experiences must not be overlooked. Further, this protest must be informed by those who know first hand what it means to be systematically disempowered and excluded from their congregations and communities.

What follows does not represent a definitive stance of the RIP GC leadership team. Rather, it is my understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist administrative body’s delinquency in upholding the gospel, and its failure to the people it has shunned and hurt. It is a call to join and hear their voices, to act in power and protest.

Fundamental to Christianity are the connected concepts of reconciliation and liberation. The entire Christian narrative hinges on the idea that God has created and interacted with the world for the purpose of reconciling humanity with the divine, with each other, and with the whole of creation. However, the world as it is impedes that kind of unity.

Human political, economic, theological, and cultural systems fight against the reconciliation of Christ. Christians are called to the work of liberation, to the tearing down of oppressive systems and to the ideological freedom provided by such acts. It is on this theological foundation that I say the General Conference is dead.

I do not mean this idealistically in some imagined future. I mean that as a vessel of the life given through Christ, as an agent of moral authority to discuss the will of God, the General Conference has worked against the gospel’s call for reconciliation and is anti-Christian. Therefore, in a very real way, the GC and its moral authority are dead.

Still, any realist can see that General Conference President Ted Wilson and his associates continue to assert their authority as leaders of a Christian movement. The conflicting realities of the General Conference's demise and its continued assertions of legitimacy present a Christian imperative to tear down the oppressive power structure in an act of righteous liberation. We are called to reconciliation--not with the General Conference, but with the larger body of Christ--those enacting the Kin-dom of God, the community of shalom.

Who Should Be Liberated?

In the creation account, God is said to have made humanity, “In his image” (Gen. 1:27). This places in each person the image of God, regardless of gender, race, sexual identity, or economic status. Therefore, through our encounter with others, we encounter the divine. This is problematic for the Adventist Church, in which individuals are excluded on the basis of gender, race, sexual identity, and economic status. Proverbs 17:5 notes, “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker.”

Anyone who excludes LGBTQ individuals from the church or women from leadership refuses to recognize their dignity and denies the image of God in them.

The biblical narrative offers a similar scenario. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, their captors considered them less-than-human. They denied their dignity. God demonstrated her character by entering into human politics to liberate them. Therefore, when we ask who should be liberated, the first answer is, those who are excluded, the people who have been arbitrarily marginalized. It is only then that a true image of God can be seen in the church.

This also does something to the people who have not been excluded; we are also liberated. It offers us an opportunity to see God and to identify where divinity is being oppressed. It changes our perspectives and opens our eyes to the meaning of the gospel.

For all of us, the funeral is a space to heal and mourn. Funerals offer rituals of closure that prepare us for life after the funeral. In that sense, this ritual is meant to liberate us all.

We need pastors and congregations faithful enough to boldly speak the gospel, a narrative with political implications. In this case, liberation requires a dive into church politics. Let those with ears to hear listen to the marginalized, and cultivate and strategically wield the political power necessary to fight for the gospel in practical terms.

What Should Be Reconciled?

Some of our critics have said that our form of protest attempts to tear apart what we should consider sacred. They claim that division in the church (meaning the GC) is wrong. I maintain that the GC is not what needs to be reconciled. We don’t need to be reconciled to the GC, we need to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to all of creation. That is the overarching reconciliation intended by the whole of the Christian narrative. Practically, this means understanding ourselves as part of an ecumenical Christian movement and part of the world movement for peace and justice. We must be reconciled to the image of God in the people around us--to the prophets of racial justice, the martyrs of LGBTQ rights, and the saints of feminism.

What Does This Practically Imply?

What does it mean to declare the GC dead? First, it means seeing ourselves free of the General Conference as a theologizing body. In this summer’s General Conference Session we saw an example of how a majority vote ruled against the gospel to exclude women pastors. The gospel does not conform to majority opinion; it is most often found on the margins with the oppressed.

Second, the death of the GC gives us all back our birthright to Adventism, and drops us in the broader, deeper waters of Christianity. Our friends at Church 1.0 in San Francisco are a majority Adventist community outside of the General Conference, a safe space for LGBTQ individuals and others who have been marginalized. With the GC dead, they are no more and no less Adventist than any of us. We are reunited as family. For those hoping for regional jurisdiction on ordination, the power is now in your hands.

Finally, it means we are left to figure out what to do as members of the body of Christ. Perhaps, with the GC’s demise, some will declare Adventism itself dead. Others will walk away from the church. Some will find beautiful hope and help shape a future I am too nearsighted to imagine. The results of the death of the GC are up to you. They require sifting and imagining. They require action and liberation.

What Future Do We Envision?

Whatever might happen, the death of the GC brings with it a warning for all of us. The death caused by a refusal to see God in the other and a stubborn ambition to exclude could be our death as well. Whatever future we move towards, if it is one of the gospel, it must be most interested in the plight of those on the margins. It must reject oppression and must prioritize Christian service to all.

Sterling Spence is lead singer for the indie folk-rock band, Coyote Bandits, a graduate of La Sierra University (Religious Studies & Business Management), and a student at the Graduate Theological Union (MA Ethics and Social Theory). Sterling grew up in the Pleasant Hill Adventist Academy and Seventh-day Adventist Church near the offices of the Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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the General Conference is not dead. however, it plays no part in my belief system. I read widely and study prayerfully. in that reading and study I find no relevance in the unique stance of the Genersl conference. It’s voice carries neither authority or redemptive assurance. To retitle and abstract Great Conrtrovery was an overt display of the central mind set. the public answer was no sale., To hide ones agenda under piety is a deadly game. Christ is Lord-Amen tom Z


Exclusion, shunning, marginalizing, discriminating based upon passing judgement against another is sad and it has been carried out way to often in the name of God! It is time to acknowledge our mistakes as a denomination and make amends! It is time to be courageous and take a stand and be the voice for those who are unable or not allowed to speak.


Actually this is absurd, despite the denials.

The GC lives, and thrives.

But so can San Francisco church 1.0. If you are not part of the GC (it having been declared dead by you), which I believe owns the name Seventh-day Adventist, then you can form another church with another name. You are free to do that, as anyone is. Contact a lawyer or Legal Zoom, they can set up a corporation for you, etc.

It seems kind of silly to declare the GC dead, even in a moral sense. The vote was recognized as legitimate by all parties BEFORE the vote was taken, so to declare the majority “immoral” after you lost just shows a sort of sour grapes attitude. If you felt the vote was illegitimate, you should not have worked to make it go your way, but declared Church 1.O San Francisco before the vote. You are being inconsistent here.

And if you want practicing LBGQ folk to have membership, without abandoning wrong behavior, well, at least recognize that that is outside Biblical practice, and not in agreement with recognized Adventist teaching or the gospel, for that matter (Jesus said to take up crosses as I recall). There was no debate on that issue.


The GC is dead to me, although it is not dead to every Adventist. I do not consider myself under the GC, although I remain a member of a local congregation that is officially Seventh-day Adventist. I believe, though, that our congregation gains no benefit from the GC whatsoever.

I am prepared to have no church membership in any congregation of any denomination someday when we retire and [possibly] move where there would probably not be an Adventist-related congregation where we would feel we could belong. However, I will remain a Christian, which is most important to me.

Allen, have you “abandoned wrong behavior”? My guess is that you have not. Have you, then, given up the expectation of membership in the Adventist church?

Do you not know that to be LGBT is NOT sinful? Only some behaviors?

I have asked you before how you know an LGBT person is being sinful in their behavior? Shall I ask what the intimate relationship with your spouse is? If not, then you have absolutely no right to ask any perceived LGBT person about their intimate relationships or lack thereof! Get over it.

Sign me: Always a Christian! Currently a seventh-day adventist (all lower case)


Spectrum will give anybody who is against the church ink. As a gay person who is still holding out hope, I find this kind of nonsense to be completely counterproductive. When was the last time something like this worked to do anything progressive?


“The death caused by a refusal to see God in the other and a stubborn ambition to exclude could be our death as well. Whatever future we move towards, if it is one of the gospel, it must be most interested in the plight of those on the margins. It must reject oppression and must prioritize Christian service to all.”

It is dying…in NAD and across Europe. It is not difficult to see this but one can close their eyes and pretend that Adventism is a mighty movement.

“I mean that as a vessel of the life given through Christ, as an agent of moral authority to discuss the will of God, the General Conference has worked against the gospel’s call for reconciliation and is anti-Christian. Therefore, in a very real way, the GC and its moral authority are dead.”

Morally…yes. It is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.


@ Sterling Spence. I would encourage you to revisit your argument. This is a persuasion piece and as such needs to be factual and logical and that is not the case, which muddles your point.

You say that the purpose of Christianity is to tear down oppressive systems and that on this theological foundation the GC is dead.

First, I would argue that this is not the purpose of Christianity, although that may be the result. Christianity is not a corporate or group event, it’s an individual one; myself as an individual becoming aware of my inadaquacy and sin and finding solution in Jesus Christ and His forgiveness of me. It is then my living in Christ and my changing into whom He wants me to be. That may result in tearing down oppressive systems, but the purpose is Jesus Christ and Him crucified for me and you.

Secondly, you argue that because the GC is not about tearing down oppressive systems, it is therefore theologically dead. I disagree here also. You and I may disagree with the recent votes at the GC. We may decry how the GC handles difficult issues, but that does not make them untheologically sound. What it does mean is that you and I have a significant difference of opinion in theology and Christianity in action than do many leaders in the GC and much of the Seventh-day Adventist church around the world.

Regarding women’s ordination, the reality is that a majority of the delegates voted against it. They did so for both cultural reasons and theological ones. They have scriptures that support their point of view which they believe trump arguments about inclusion and equalness. They have a reason for their beliefs. Do I agree with their reasons? NO. But that doesn’t mean I don’t accept that their reasons are valid to them and valid in the eyes of God as they see it. In regards to LGBTQ, they have scriptures that they believe support their viewpoint. If they took a different perspective - your perspective, that would be a theological error in their viewpoint, in fact it would be sin. To denounce people (because the “GC” is people - people like my mother-in-law, who loves Jesus with all her heart - from her conservative viewpoint) because they believe differently than you is no different than their denouncing of gays, or women pastors; another sign of intolerance, both on their part and yours.

I don’t know what will happen with Adventism. It may be that people of good will and authority will encourage us as a worldwide body of believers to focus on our faith and sameness rather than our differences. To lead with love and acceptance rather than with anger and divisiveness. Or maybe not. It’s also possible that Adventism will split between conservative and liberal churches, a very painful split that like the US Civil War will pit brother against brother, parent against child as each go their own way determined that they are right and have God’s favaor and the “other” is wrong and is practicing sin. And yet, maybe that is what God intends. The Tower of Babel was in the Bible for a reason, perhaps the reason is this.

What I do know is that I love my mother-in-law and we are both Seventh-day Adventists in spite of our significant disagreements on what that means. I do not declare her theologically dead because we differ over various issues.


I was and am still irritated by the reaction of many European members to the GC desaster this summer. They shrug their shoulders and say something like: “GC is far away…” But now I realize that this also is a sign for the death of the GC.


Well, I just do not understand the problems you see. “Adventist World” - local Austrian edition - I just yesterday had studied once again with some scrutiny tells me of vast maiorities, blessings, prayer meetings, very orderly conduct - - a great harmony like the cloud filling the temple ( Hes. 12 : 3., 4.) - that is the messagethat was was presented to the readers in general.


1 Corinthians 5:11 tells me something different. It says:

“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”

Other versions simply use the words “sexually immoral”. LGBTQ fall in the category of sexually immoral - Romans 1:26-27 says:

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature.
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men, working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense for their error which was meet.

As for women in leadership, the Bible explicitly excludes that as well. You have to interpret the Bible in a way that denies what it clearly says in order to bypass that one.

Please. pagophilus, may I remark that - it seems to me - you just read the Holy Texts just like some bylaws of you environment ?

My suggestiion : Just read some texts of contemporary writers out of other cultures with another understanding of words in their oral or written communications.

At fouteen I just had to chamge my understanding of ancient Greek , diving into this language by six clases the week (for alltogether four years). And in tutorig other students I was successful - this is just a matter of marketing - by introducing them into a deep understanding of the context, somehow far away from just looking it up in a a dictionary.

I demand more respect to written words far away of our literal understanding - I must add : owadays literal understanding, according to some abberviated dictionairies understanding. Dive into theit complex meaning ! - That is a matter I feel respectfully obliged to ! In deep respect towards the original text. God will forgive our limited understandig - but it is our task to humbly accept our deficiencies !


Sterling is a friend, and he’s well aware of the many critical questions and thoughts I have about the entire notion of declaring the death of the GC. I think two things are worth saying publicly.

First, Sterling should be commended for having the courage to identify himself with this, and to speak about it frankly. It is usually (and understandably) assumed that students of theology at Adventist universities will seek employment within the denomination; Sterling is probably indicative of a coming trend of people who have a stake in the Adventist church, but who are not employed by it. If this does in fact become a trend, then that is actually one way that the authority of the conferences is being compromised.

Second, the announcement that the GC is dead raises the very interesting question of church unity. It has generally been churches with an episcopal structure, like the RCC or the Orthodox Church or the Anglican Communion, that understand the institutional structure and clerical hierarchy as the guarantor of church unity. E.g., for the Roman Catholic Church, we can know that the church is one when people are in communion with the bishop of Rome; the unity of the church simply is being in fellowship with him. Christian traditions that came out of the Reformation have necessarily drifted away from this, and have attempted–despite Catholic warnings of infinite schisms–to ground unity in doctrine. By and large, as the Catholics warned, this doesn’t work. And what the workings of the GC expose is that institutional structures are needed if theological unity is to be upheld. But this only means that the institution is the guarantor of unity, and when it can’t convince people to agree theologically, then institutional divisions are on the horizon. Already there are conferences that are refusing to comply with the GC. This may not mean an institutional split today, but for those Adventists who are raised in that kind of a church, dividing up the global institution won’t seem like that big a deal (or change). All this to say: the fact that the proclamation of the GC’s death is even thinkable is probably indicative of the coming truth of the proclamation. To claim that the GC is dead is, minimally, to say, “We are not in communion with that institutional body.” But to break communion is to break church unity, plain and simple.

Whether or in what way the Adventist church should remain unified is not up to me, and certainly not my burden to bear. But it’s worth noting the actual implications of what Sterling has written here, and what he and his comrades represent.


The GC is alive, in some respects enfeebled and defective, but in most others, robust and strong. It will continue to be so. Those who know how it works, works with it and within it to achieve their goals and will continue to do so.

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I will take you seriously about the hardcore exclusion of women from church spiritual leadership when the church deals just as harshly, holds massive business meetings and votes to excommunicate
–all the fornicators (will there be a survey or personal interviews?)
–all those who covet
–all those church members who have anything in their lives that comes before the Lord
–all those who “rail”
–all those who overload on drink, food, or any other thing ingested that lowers their sensitivity to spiritual things
–all those who hold others hostage with their words of extortion and execute them with words and betrayals

Yup. Pago, let me know when the church gets serious about disfellowshipping and dismissing these ugly (male) sinners and holds an all-day meeting of accountability at General Conference to deal with them. Oh, and obviously, a clear reading of scripture notes that these are men (“brother”), so let’s leave the women out of this.


“Viewpoint: A Time to Mourn - The Death of the General Conference” 28 September 2015 by Sterling Spence said “The funeral is a space to heal and mourn. Funerals offer rituals of closure that prepare us for life after the funeral. In that sense, this ritual is meant to liberate us all.”

As a Chaplain in a variety of settings I have had the opportunity to plan conduct and officiate at many funeral services. In applying more meaning for this funeral metaphor, there are some further lessons to be learned. When we experience the death of someone we love, a funeral service fills several important needs. A funeral can provides for the dignified and respectful care of the person and special tribute to their life. Among its purposes, it makes us acknowledge the death, remember the life and activate support during this naturally difficult time.

We also need to acknowledge the reality that we have attended funerals for those we hardly knew, understood, did not support, or cared about. Equally important, the funeral service is not a guarantee or magic ceremony bringing a solution to all the problems with the deceased. In a perfect world, a funeral can help survivors face the reality of death, which is the first big step toward taking grief from the inside and allowing us to express it on the outside through mourning.

In a few cases after a funeral service I’ve observed celebration by the survivors who are now anticipating life without the deceased. A funeral can give friends and relatives an opportunity to express the love and respect they feel for someone who was important to them. Often, just seeing how much others care can be a tremendous help to a family in adjusting to their loss.
Brother Spence, I wish you and your friends three things:

  1. Make sure you are attending the right funeral
    You don’t want to go to the wrong place for the service
  2. Make sure that your expectations about the funeral are clear for you.
    Closure should be based on a resolution that is real to you.
  3. A funeral must be a transition point and not an end in itself for the living.
    True learning takes place when there is a change in behavior. What does a
    person change or learn from the funeral?

about 24 of the 28 are boilerplate Protestant. the remaining four or five are deadly. Yet it is on those few that the General Conference has developed a feeding frenzy. Here to for it has been the third rail for anyone to point this out. Now with an ego dominated leadership, it is the main body with is in a dying mode. Tom Z


If the GC is an oppressive entity, why mourn its loss? It would be a thing to be celebrated. It’s not as if the GC changed from treating women and LGBTQ as equals into an entity that found a new determination to treat them as inferiors. I suppose that would be a death, but that hasn’t happened.

If you yourself have changed into something that is no longer compatible with the GC, then that would be your birth rather than the GC’s death. And that would, again be a cause for celebration.


One has to bracket his or her biases in order to make a fair assessment of a hot topic like this. A fellow Adventist has spoken through writing. Concerns have been raised on exclusion and marginalization which most people do not entertain in any civilized group. This platforms is more tolerant on divergent views, perhaps the only place I know where issues like these are allowed, we need that to grow, to dialogue and through participatory and cross-fertilization of ideas to absorbe what is meaningful to us.
I see our church has many problems including Women Ordination issue which is not going to die in the next 50 years if Jesus has not returned. No matter how the church decides, backlash will follow. There is no neutral ground on this issue. My concern is we should not bring WO and LGBTQ under one umbrella to advance a cause, if possible, that will taint what WO is, some are of the view that they go together, they don’t. Even though we do not have any moral right or theological right to persecute anybody because of his or her sexual orientation. We should love everybody and treat everybody with respect, including those whom we suspect that they trample on our rights and exclude us from what we need to be included in. The leaders of our church are not divine, they are still humans, in their real or perceived errors we still need to pray for them, dialogue with them and take time to reflect on the views of others as well. Adventism is not dead, that is my belief, However I don’t think everything is well with us, we can deal with our problems, deny them or dodge them. I pray we deal with them, creating sub groups because of perceived problems in the bigger group will lead to further creation of groups because as we evolve new challenges may come. Let us look to Jesus not men. Let us love all including those who differ from us in color, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.


This is factually incorrect.
If they dont want to ordain anyone they dont have to. They are responsible to decide who to ordain but they do not have authority to determine the qualifications for ordination.
If their newer Pastors want to remain at credentialed status they certainly can.
Of course that is something all together different than every Pastor in those Unions burning their credentials and getting different ones. Or if they move to a different division where the ordained credential facilitates qualifying for large government tax breaks and perks as it does in the NAD.

As to the whole so and so is dead R.I.P. thing. Would it be just as socially acceptable to spectrum if the “winning side” had made a webpage declaring the other side dead, irrelevant and only interested in spiritual things where it suits their sensibilities?
I doubt you would say it was. But should it have happened I doubt your position or arguments would be the same.

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