James Standish, the Editor of the South Pacific Division's official magazine, Adventist Record, has written an apparently throw-caution-to-the-wind, nothing-left-to-lose editorial, provocatively entitled "Thoughts," lamenting what he saw take place at the San Antonio General Conference Session.
The editorial, bookended by a post-apocalyptic, dystopian depiction of the after-the-Adventists Alamodome (complete with Mötley Crüe soundtrack, seriously) and a confession of (tough) love for the Adventist Church, is the closest thing to castigation of the church I've ever seen printed in an official publication. Church papers celebrate, they don't critique. Maybe that's part of the reason Standish's article went viral on social media. He wrote something that many people were probably thinking, but few had the audacity to say out loud. It was almost as if the Adventist Corner of the Internet collectively said, "Wait, you can DO that???"
Standish framed his editorial as a "damn-the-torpedos," potentially career-risking article, and asked his audience for the space to say what he felt needed to be said. Melodrama aside, Standish offered several substantive critiques of the General Conference Session (the numbering 1-7 is mine, not his):
1. San Antonio produced winners and losers. "There are men and women who left elated. Their views confirmed. Their anointing recognised. Their faith rejuvenated. And I am very, very glad for them. I wish I was one. I’m not," he wrote.
2. Overinflated, un-audited membership numbers skew the influence of some territories at General Conference Session. "One of the incentives to inflate numbers is that the number of delegates does, in part, turn on membership count. But that isn’t the only problem in the way delegates are selected. Globally, we desperately need a far more transparent, democratic process for selecting delegates. We also need fewer ex officio delegates."
3. Over-reliance on ex officio delegates bars women from being equally represented because...ordination. "There is something troubling about a room of almost 2600 delegates debating the role of women in the Church, where only 17 per cent of the delegates are women. The result of the vote, by its nature, ensures that is the way it will likely continue as so many of the ex officio positions are reserved exclusively for the ordained. This produces a self-confirming circularity that is both unwise and unfair."
4. False Distinction between ordained women elders (OK) and ordained women pastors (not OK). "The distinction between the ordination of deacons and elders, and the ordination of pastors, is not biblical; it is administrative."
5. Adventism has drifted from its Radical Reformation roots. "We believe God speaks to all. But we voted to shut down the conscience of others. As a movement, we are drifting very dangerously into the hierarchicalism, formalism and dogmatism that our pioneers explicitly rejected."
6. For not being a credal church, we sure sound credal these days. "We have no creed but the Bible. But we spent an inordinate amount of time debating jots and tittles in Fundamental Beliefs.
7. The GC Session cost the Church an estimated $45M (Standish's estimate). For What? "Imagine if we had a far simpler Session, and every five years we spent $45 million on coordinated evangelism in one of the largest cities in the world. Alternatively, imagine us using the $45 million to feed in the range of 25,000 hungry children, every day, for five years. It’s our choice. And I have to wonder what Christ would have us do?"
However one may feel about Standish's points themselves, the fact that he felt at liberty to speak freely as the editor of an official denominational magazine is immensely important. If speech within Adventist publications is limited to praising the church, journalism becomes a big palm frond-waving extraveganza, carried out at the cost of chopping off all the branches where new growth might otherwise emerge. (I am keenly aware of the risk that runs the opposite direction: All critique and no appreciation rots the whole tree from the inside out. Balance is needed.)
A healthy church is a church that permits, listens to, and learns from thoughtful critique like Standish's. Concerns are not the problem. People writing with their concerns is not the problem. A church that will not tolerate people with concerns is problematic. As Standish said, it shuts down the conscience of others.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Photo Credit: Tor Tjeransen
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6995