Viewpoint: African and Latin-American Adventism--An Occasion Lost on the Ordination Vote

Born and raised a Peruvian Adventist, I have wonderful memories of how a Latin-American church made me happy as a child. The son of a hardworking Adventist pastor, Rodrigo Gutierrez, and of a completely kind and dedicated pastor's wife, Orfilia Salazar, I will never be able to fully thank that church for having nurtured me all those precious years, through its various communities, including schools, Pathfinder clubs, choirs, camp meetings, evangelism campaigns, youth camps, inclusive worships and Bible studies. For the beautiful and inspiring Himnario Adventista and particularly for those few but wonderful years spent at the Miraflores Adventist Academy in Lima, Peru when, through people's care, attention, patience and dedication I entered life with trust and confidence.

But what is Latin-American Adventism and its twin-sister, African-Adventism today?

I think both represent the future of worldwide Adventism. Adventism in particular, and Christianity in general, are irreversibly moving Southward. But they are making this coming new day an obscure day if they give the image they gave on Wednesday, July 8 in San Antonio, Texas.

A meaningful leadership of the worldwide Adventist community now and in the future can't be characterized purely by strength in numbers but rather by the humble, empathic and intelligent capacity of reading people's needs as rooted in specific territories and in diversified cultural contexts. Delegates from these two continents intervened with all the enthusiasm, involvement and radicalism they are capable of, but for the wrong cause: to prevent Northern-hemisphere Adventist church sisters from taking better care of the people they serve, by ordaining women pastors to a full ministry. In an unbelievably naive and bold mix of ideological argumentations, obsessive religious reasoning and repetitive biblical mantras they lost the Holy Spirit-led capacity of trusting and understanding before speaking and acting.

Solomon, in his descriptive speech about human pride in Proverbs 11:2, said: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Misled by a myopic and self-damaging religious and cultural pride they lost a unique occasion to say to the Adventist worldwide community, “we are mature for leading the church.” Unfortunately this didn't happen. Nobody was pushing them to ordain women to pastoral ministry in their territories but only to allow that possibility in other, different cultural contexts. And where prohibition already implies a violation of civil law and a contradictory and poor witness to the Spirit of Christ.

One of the foundational conditions of leadership, individually or as a church, is to have the capacity to overcome primary and secondary narcissism. Latin-American and African Adventism will need to learn, even with suffering and healing disappointments, that they do not represent the unique or “better” form of Adventism, but just one expression of it. And their “higher calling” doesn't consist in becoming gate-keepers of 19th or 20th century Adventism, with the help of nostalgic Westerns. The capacity for making other people's needs and concerns their own, and the parallel wisdom of not imposing on others their own worries and obsessions, is the best proof of administrative and spiritual maturity. And that is precisely what Latin-American and African Adventism didn't show and that is also what they urgently need to learn if they want to play a leading role in the worldwide Adventism of tomorrow. Twenty-first century Adventism will not be Latin-American or African but a multicultural and polycentric Adventism. One that is able to coexist together with its various faces, sensibilities and projects. And the maturity of this coming church will not reside in its capacity to resolve or dismantle this irreversible complexity but rather in the willingness to accept the inevitable tension it implies, and be motivated by it to build up a welcoming and inclusively motivating perspective.

Sure, Western Adventism has not left us Southerns a completely noble example to follow concerning the need for having an inclusive and open ethos. This Adventism, that still represents the official one, has never really fully overcome its refined and continuously updated Euro-centrism. According to a reductive cultural view, non-Western Adventists are lazy, sentimental, gullible, disorganized, ethically unreliable, too spontaneous, unable to think and to express reasonable thoughts. And for a few – also dirty and ugly. How can they incarnate God's perfect Grace and Kingdom? This Machiavellian-judgmental Spirit has even been somewhat successful in making the Adventist family believe that the main hindrance to the ordination of women pastors is the retrograde and medieval mindset of Latin-American and African Adventists. But actually the terms in which this hot issue has been proposed is completely foreign to non-Western cultures. So, while Western Adventism has successfully been exported to other continents – Latin-America, Africa or Asia – it refuses to acknowledge problems, like this one, as also its own. Much like during the “Cold War” when Western countries exported their conflicts into third world countries, as happened with Cuba, Korea or Vietnam.

All this means that in today's circumstances, for Latin-American and African Adventism, it's not enough to believe, praise and preach. We all need to start understanding what we do and say. And especially consider more accurately the structural implications of our religious ethos on us and on others, for the well being of the worldwide church. We need to break down the spellbinding mindset that still makes us believe that salvation and meaning are uniquely dependent on numbers, baptisms and diligent effort. When salvation arrives it often breaks down our mechanical religious thoughts and compulsive actions and gives us new light to start considering ourselves and others in more generous ways. The fact of voting so mechanically and so ideologically has pushed Latino-American and African Adventism into making three simple but deleterious mistakes.

First, an administrative mistake. Because we can't really pretend to have a democratic structure if we give up so easily the subsidiarity principle that allows specific territories to face the new challenges based on a better understanding of the specific context. We don't need to follow the same administrative rule everywhere to say we are united. The union has more to do with the general perspective and not necessarily with the specific rule.

Second, a cultural mistake. Because in that vote Latin-American and African Adventists were elevating their own culture to universality and pretending that all other cultures should follow theirs. Paradoxically that's precisely what non-Westerns have always criticized about Westerns. But in this case non-Westerns themselves were committing the same mistake.

Third, a hermeneutical mistake. Because Latin-American and African Adventists were so certain that, without any hesitation and doubt, they pretended they were not defending their own culture –but just what the Bible says. Not being able to distinguish between what we say and what the Bible says is the first sign of idolatry and universalization of a culture.

Adventism can also be Latin-American and African, but it will remain poor if, short-sightedly, Latin-Americans and Africans remain only that.

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher and physician. He is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Photo Credit: James Bokovoy / North American Division

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Brilliant commentary and analysis by Hanz Gutierrez! This is pure gold in our quest for truth. I wish this wisdom had been shared before the OT vote!For my delegate friends from other cultures different than mine, I offer these words of wisdom in the context of the discussion about ordaining women in the Adventist Church. Here are some other gems of truth we should have given attention to BEFORE the OT vote.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
― Desmond Tutu
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
― William Faulkner
“I do this real moron thing, and it’s called thinking. And apparently I’m not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.”
― George Carlin
“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
― Albert Einstein
“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
― Voltaire, The Age of Louis XIV
“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”
― Kurt Cobain
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social enviroment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions."
(Essay to Leo Baeck, 1953)”
― Albert Einstein
tags: disagreement, dissent, equanimity, expressing, knowledge, opinions, prejudices, social, society, thought
“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
― Benjamin Franklin
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear."
[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”
― Harry S. Truman
“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”
― Czesław Miłosz
“Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

(I shall be harvesting this collection of provocative statements for future use. Thank-you!)

Trust The BEing!


An excellent commentary. but they also had the GC president on their side. His re election set the stage for cultural bias to prevail. The church is carrying an increasing load of useless baggage. What the church needs is a careful reading of the third chapter of the Gospel according John. It is those words that gave Paul his bearings. Tom z


Wow, wow, wow, do I ever appreciate this insight! Well thought out and articulated!


You missed Thoreau and Zinn on Civil Disobedience!

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I am grateful for academics like this. I wish more denominational leadership were.


So thoughtful, wise, balanced and non-judgmental. Would that church leadership utilized his insights more.


I have been told by several Angolan SDA’s that Africans need to go to the US and spread the “true” Adventism because they believe that the Adventism of North America and Western Europe has lost its way. I was born and raised in a very conservative form of Adventism. Even though I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s, it was Adventism that harked back t the 50’s. The roles of women were purposefully inferior and patriarchy was a cultural value. Since the end of colonialism many Africans have found a voice. It is not a bad thing. It is an outgrowth of coming out of colonialism and civil wars that littered Sub Sahara. It is about time for African SDA’s to control their own destiny.

But, as Mr. Gutierez so ably sets out. African attitudes about women in leadership are firmly rooted in cultural values. I find it rather interesting that people, especially those who practice conservative Adventism, lament the influence of culture in Adventism that is practiced in North America and Western Europe while ignoring the strong cultural influence in African Adventism.

What I found the most tragic about the proceedings on Wednesday was not the confidence that many African delegates at the microphone showed, it was what seemed like anger towards the people who advocated yes. This came to a head when Jan Paulson spoke on his support of the yes vote. When he said he loved Africa, there were jeers from the crowd. I was heartbroken.

I am welcomed with open arms by the people I grew up around in Angola. I am one of them and they are me. I am nevertheless disappointed by the seeming anger that was shown. I believe that healing is necessary after the vote but I don’t know what that looks like.


this is the first essay by hanz in which i can trace general sympathy for adventism as i understand it…i may need to read his essays more closely in the future…


ai yai yai…just grateful God is in control because idk on this one. :smile:


An Adventist in Africa knows the Adventism the missionaries took over there. Period. From there—local cultures took over, bending a bit, bending the message some, as well. Saying that someone from Nigeria knows the “True Adventism,” for example, when those at the birthplace of the Denomination don’t, is like my saying that I am a true African because I listen to Miriam Mekeba and read Kwasi Wiredu. When third- generation African Adventists have something to say, they will find an audience among other developed Adventist cultures.

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Arrogance is never a sign of a true Christian and it can take forms that are blatant or subtle in nature. Nonetheless, whatever form it takes it is hard to pull out because it is a plant that has roots of insecurity. There can be no love when the sense of self (culture) is so insecure with it’s position in society (or Church). What happened on Wednesday was not the response of adults but that of children and no matter what the justifications are for this kind of behavior (we are the “true” Adventists, etc.) there is need for the culture to “grow-up”.


It’s true that missionaries have not always represented God in the most favorable light - I say this as a former missionary. There was sometimes a regrettable sense of condescension. We perhaps should apologize to our African and Latin American “children” for the mistakes we made. I wonder if that would soften their hearts. But it is never easy to apologize. I’m still waiting for Ministry Magazine to apologize for Colin Cook!


Bonjour Hanz,
Heureux de te retrouver sur Spectrum si longtemps après Strasbourg. Merci pour cette excellente contribution. God bless. José Élysée.


I am ready to do that. When I am in Angola, I am continually reminded that during the time we were there, pre 1975, we lived segregated from each other with white people living and worshiping separately. Not only that, but we lived in superior housing than the native workers at the same mission. I am angry about it but I have no apologies for developing a more open or liberal view of the world. For example, I am greatly saddened by the position of women in society.


Very clear thinking shown in this article.


Let there be no disguise at work here.

What happened last week was not the result of cultures, it was the result of leadership.

That there continues to be voting in such matters at all looks to be a monumental failure of leadership of generational dimensions.

In the biblical parallel, with regard to a topic orders of magnitude more explicit in scripture as well as more deeply hallowed in the leadership church culture, James specifically chose not to vote in declaring circumcision over and done with as a required church practice, and the church became closer together as a result. And, compared with the a limited back and forth at the microphones for a few hours, Acts 15 chronicles a week of ‘much disputing’ before James lead the church forward, united behind optional circumcision.

The very cultures described in this article are inclined to respond to true leadership no less than any other culture. In a very calculated way, it seems looking back, these cultures were the victims of leadership using them in a matter altogether beyond their realm but not beyond their meddling.

Meanwhile, there can be no doubt that Elder Wilson dearly would like ecclesiastical practices to move along unchallenged. James no doubt would have liked to not have to deal with the lack of circumcision infecting distant congregations. Would Elder Wilson follow James’ path in these and all other such matters, Elder Wilson would be restoring calm to the church and energizing its members in faith, hope, and love … which endures, while knowledge and prophecy and for sure ecclesiastical practices do not as Paul explained to the Corinthians.

The basis for energizing Elder Wilson in this regard is to support him fully in his personally declared 3-part focus for his next terms of General Conference president. How can it be any more hopeful than advocating 1) Christ our Righteousness, 2) Faithfulness, and 3) Congregations and Pastors uniting in common love for the world in which we live until Jesus returns? In the midst of success, it is far less likely that ecclesiastical practices will become distractions.


Well said. Many people do not understand that the “conservative” church here is growing in an entirely different cultural garden from the post-tribal African communities. People were angry in S.A. because they feared their essential identities were about to be taken from them.

On Paulsen: Someone here has mentioned booing during a much earlier G.C. session and remarked on the human tendency to do that, absent social maturity and confidence in a system; I’ll have to accept that less than mature delegates attend G.C. sessions. But what struck me was that on one hand Paulsen was booed, but on the other, the only other living former G.C. president was put on the nominating committee in spite of really bad behavior that more or less ousted him from office. So: Behave unethically and break the rules, and you’ll be rewarded; retire with an admirable record, but speak your mind in pubic in an articulate and reasonable way, and you’ll be marginalized. Maybe he was smart enough to ask not to be involved in all that when he saw that the fix was (probably) in.


It’s an aside here, but little discussion has turned to the fact that Paulsen spoke by invitation of his greatest oponent. In my perception this was a setup. As I understand Wilson was on the plattform at the time of the booing, but did not intervene (and we know that he has no problem with intervening in a process)…

While I believe the cultural issues are very real and need to be addressed (leading me to my old mantra “educate, educate, educate”), the more troubling issue is the leadership crisis - including an apparatus of officers who remain silent.