“What is the End Product of the Process of Stigmatizing? I Fear Where This Will Take Us”

“What is the end product of the process of stigmatizing? I fear where this will take us.”

Such were the recent comments of Elder Jan Paulsen, former President of the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists, to the Annual Council assembly as they debated the disciplinary moves on those Adventist organizations in perceived non-compliance with GC working policy on ordination. His speech ended, “I cannot see that this is the way God wants us to proceed.”1

Paulsen made these comments even as he applauded the actions of

“organizations that have acted in the best possible faith, acted in a way which reflects the harmony and will of God, as they understand it, what is best for the church in their territory where they are.”2

Great questions and comments! Yes indeed, where will this take us? I suspect that the presidents of the six unions warned this year will be reprimanded next year and cast out of the GC Executive Committee in 2021. I hope and pray that I am wrong. They may be reprimanded in 2020 and then not be cast out in 2021 because no two-thirds majority can be found in Annual Council to do this.

Victor Marley, president of the Norwegian Union Conference, asked a similar set of questions of the assembly at Annual Council as he sought briefly to represent the position of his Union Conference. They were perceived to be in non-compliance in relation to the General Conference Working Policy on Ordination. He asked, “What is the exit strategy? How do you propose that we move on?”3 And then he sought to answer his own questions:

“What we need now, are not warnings and reprimands. What we need now is creative leadership — leadership that brings consensus, not conflict. Now, I believe that consensus is possible. The Norwegian Union has repeatedly asked for and is waiting for that leadership. We are flexible and we are listening. We are ready to comply with a solution to this conundrum.”4

This heartfelt appeal to Annual Council and to GC leadership was rejected out of hand as mere opinion by GC President Elder Ted Wilson.

Christine Burt, British Union Conference laywoman and GC Executive Committee member, also spoke truth to power. She told how uncomfortable she was with the process and declared it to be less than absolutely transparent since they had “actioned one process [compliance committees to recommend disciplinary action to the GC Administrative Committee] but now use another [the GC ADCOM directly recommending such action]…. Please be more transparent with plans.” Elder Ted Wilson thanked Burt for her “instruction [to the GC ADCOM].” To me, this sounded very much like a real put down to a mere and lowly GC Executive Committee member by Elder Ted Wilson.

I guess this was to be anticipated because for five years and more, the leadership at the General Conference had repeatedly focused on compliance to the 2015 voted policy. This disallowed world Divisions from making a determination regarding women’s ordination. Over time, the dissent engendered in many Union Conferences in the Western world regarding this issue has escalated to become conflict over enforced ecclesial authority. It would seem that two mentalities are in play here. A hierarchical mindset appears to be contesting this issue with a collegial mindset.

Ecclesial Hierarchy vs. Collegiality

Examples of an ecclesial hierarchical mindset abound in our world. Jesus contrasted the exercise of lordly authority, on the one hand, with his mission of service and sacrifice that his followers were to embrace, on the other (Matthew 20:25-28). One may either cling to old structures and hierarchies of power and domination and status-seeking with its clericalism and institutionalization or follow our Savior in his humble mission of service and ministry to humanity.

Not surprisingly, there are fewer examples of ecclesial bodies with a collegial mindset and the resulting collegiality of all believers. This term simply expresses a commitment to seek out the implications of what it means for all believers to engage in a new set of relationships — those Christ taught when he said “All you are brothers and sisters.” Christ alone is the Head and President of the Christian Church and of the Adventist movement within it. He presides over His people as our High Priest moving among the candlesticks (Revelation 1:20).

Creative leadership, consensus and not conflict, flexibility, listening and resolution of issues as called for by Pastor Victor Marley will likely only be facilitated if all parties have a collegial mindset. Creative leadership will have as its foundation a renewed vision of Adventist ministry and mission.

On October 24, 2019, Ty Gibson, the pastor of the Storyline SDA Church and co-founder of Light Bearers made a series of nine tweets entitled Mark of the Beast Musings.” Here he drew a contrast between efforts in the church to control, manipulate, and coerce in the church on the one hand, with efforts to cultivate freedom, equality, and justice on the other. For Gibson, such efforts are in principle either precursors to the “Mark of the Beast” or the “Seal of God.” And he reinforces his point as follows:

“When a Christian leader publicly shames a fellow Christian and attempts to use his claimed faithfulness to Scripture as a demand for her compliance with his convictions we are witnessing, in principle, the ‘Mark of the Beast.’… When we witness leadership within the church leveraging their authority to force, by political process and majority vote, the compliance of their fellow believers on matters of conscience, we are witnessing, in principle the ‘Mark of the Beast.’”5

This distinction between hierarchy and collegiality is readily recognized!

A Renewed Vision of Truly Charismatic Adventist Ministry and Mission

In such a renewed kingdom-building vision, Christ sends His Spirit to gift believers with heavenly abilities to continue and ultimately complete His mission and ministry to humanity. This is what happened on the Day of Pentecost and throughout the Christian era. The call of God to every believer to engage in Christ’s ministry is enfolded within these gifts which the Spirit imparts as He wills. Some believers are gifted with leadership gifts and they should use them accordingly.

The leadership paradigm within our ministry and mission to the world should never be based on a man’s right to rule, as it is within so-called headship theology. Neither should it be based on a woman’s right to equal leadership opportunity with men. Our leadership paradigm should always be determined by God’s right to gift and thereby call whoever to lead people in ministry and mission. And God, without doubt, calls both men and women to lead His people. Further, he gifts some with the gift of discernment to discern whom God has called in this way.

How do we achieve such resolution of conflict? Could the process of stigmatizing perceived errant entities and individuals achieve this? Hardly! Is the resolution of conflict to be found in multiplying resolution upon resolution? Ellen White once spoke to such a scenario.

Ellen White Questions the Value of Committee Resolutions to Achieve Unity

At the 1888 Minneapolis GC Session, senior Adventist administrators, including GC President George Butler, wanted our Bible teachers bound by a resolution that they should be restricted to teaching only already established doctrinal positions. Ellen White believed that Adventist Bible teachers should “never be bound” in this way. “Away with such restrictions” she said, which were intended to muzzle such religion teachers as A. T. Jones and E. T. Waggoner.6

In November 1889 Ellen White was still exercised concerning this resolution to suppress dissent and conflict and she wrote that

“the church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the Spirit of Christlike forbearance.”7

At the present time, the 2018 resolution of the Annual Council concerning policy compliance has neither rooted out disagreement nor concealed discord, as Ellen White anticipated such resolutions may do in her day. Could it be that the 2015 GC Session resolution which is at the root of all this was wrong-headed?

Ellen White did not hesitate to pronounce upon another resolution from the same 1888 Minneapolis GC Session that “no one should labour as a minister unless he first made a success in the canvassing field.” In a retrospective reference to this resolution which she made in 1894 she said bluntly,

“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.8

These are hard hitting words indeed! I believe that Ellen White would be just as plain and pointed in our present predicament! So, what of our immediate future in regard to the issues at hand? Two important proposals may provide a way forward.

Bringing Resolution to Dissent and Conflict regarding Women’s Ordination

How will Adventists end such dissent and conflict? Unity may ultimately be achieved by following two proposals. Firstly, what would happen if every Union in the four Divisions most thoroughly committed to discerning God’s call to both men and women leaders followed the trail blazed by our “errant” European Unions? What if they “appointed” Adventist leaders of both genders in their own territories? Would the GC Administrative Committee finally get the message that these moves are unstoppable? Would the GC Executive Committee and the Annual Council get the message also? Perhaps this is the best strategy to bring an end to the fruitless disciplinary measures and to invite some more creative leadership in the future.

Further, perhaps it is time to have another conference like the London Unity Conference of June 2017. As in 2017, it could be held outside those Unions most directly involved. This time involve more than just academics and administrators. Significant voices from all parts of the world field could productively be involved. Also, it may be wise to hold it before GC Session 2020. Most importantly, such a conference should seek to further develop policy consensus regarding the ABCs of appointing, blessing, and commissioning Adventist leadership. As this article asserts, a new paradigm for Adventist leadership is needed. This must be more radical than the mere extension of ordination to women.

Notes & References:

1. Transcript of Annual Council, October 16, 2019, PM

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. “Mark of the Beast Musings,” by @tyfgibson on Twitter, October 23, 2019 at 10:25 (ET).

6. MS 8a, 1888, paragraph 6.

7. E.G. White to Brother and Sister Buckner, Letter 29, November 8, 1889.

8. Manuscript Releases vol 2, 62.

Peter Marks is a retired Australian Adventist pastor and English professor. He holds an MA (Religion) gained at Newbold College and a Master of Information Management – Librarianship from the University of New South Wales. He ministered both in Australia and New Zealand. He was an English professor at Suncheon National University and Sahmyook University, Republic of Korea.

Image: Elder Jan Paulsen addresses the Executive Committee at the 2019 Annual Council. Photo courtesy of the Adventist News Network on Flickr.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10012
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Whereas a number of unions (if not all) “warned” have serious doubts about procedural and content issues of the warnings and have rejected the warnings as unwarranted there is not much choice than to further escalate matters, it seems. If so - ultimately the European church will (have to) leave the GC and become a regional church of its own. Perhaps … that would be the best solution, though it does have a tremendous price tag in terms of credibility of the SDA Church, including its power to witness (John 13:35).

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This ridiculous power grab (and that’s what it is when we tell people how to follow their conscience as the Ellen quotes above describe) is destroying the church.

Instead of men serving others humbly like Jesus did when he washed the feet of his disciples, we have leaders who wish to punish the men who are the foot washing type.

Instead of allowing the prophecy of Joel 2 to run its course, we have leaders who would rather stop its progress.

Instead of all hands on deck we have sent half the crew below to wait out the storm.

Instead of revealing the character of God to the world, the GC is mirroring the mark of the beast. I saw this and so did many others even before Ty Gibson said it (but go Ty!! <3).

Instead of listening to the Spirit, some men are listening to their egos while others are afraid of their threats.

Where are the men who will stand for the right though the heaven fall? Who will most emulate Christ? I don’t know them personally but my guess is they are the six leaders who are being targeted by the spirit of the beast.

Can we get a new GC president? Yes, many are praying for that, but the church is so split at this point it might not make any difference.

I believe the quest for unity is a work that only the Holy Spirit can do.

In time we shall see who is truly on the Lord’s side.

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@andreas
I believe that my Adventist friends in Europe would lose much if you separated yourselves from the global Adventist movement. In the article above my solution was very different. I have invited all to consider building a consensus of those willing to create a new leadership paradigm and the rites associated with this.

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@CherilynClough
I think I understand your depth of feeling. But please be carefully. We cannot read the motives of any individual. We should never judge. However, we can be a fruit inspector!

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Women’s ordination is being defined more by cultural bias than by religious principal. I think it is important to look at where discrimination against WO is most prevalent. The territories which are in favor of disallowing WO are the very ones where women’s rights are, secularly and politically, being denied on all fronts. The continent of Africa is a prime example. There, they are still performing genital mutilation in some places. Even on a new American sitcom they make jokes about the stereotype of male domination. It has been rampant and anyone with two brain cells touching one an other knows it to be true. In the Middle East, women have just been allowed in some countries to drive a car for the first time. Africa in particular, harbors a huge voting block of the SDA church, but most of the church work in the world is being funded by the USA and European conferences. That, in and of itself, shouldn’t give them a greater say, but it should make the people at the top a bit more concerned about alienating them. I wish that had been the case. I’m not judging or denigrating these third world believers in any way, but they have cultural biases which have fed into their understanding of who should be in a position of leadership. It would be almost impossible to change that thinking.

What we need is a change at the top. I am still dumbfounded at how, with a church of 25,000,000 members, we couldn’t find someone other than the son of a previous GC President to fill that position. It astonishes me. But with the nepotism that seems so prevalent in our world and our politics, why should I be surprised.

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Thanks Lindy! Yes, unfortunately it is true that on all sides of the issue, women’s ordination is defined much more by cultural bias than by religious principle. This is why I have asserted in the article above that we cannot decide the issue based on a man’s right to rule in the church of God, nor on a woman’s right to equal opportunity in the church of God. Rather, our attitudes and actions toward church leadership must be determined by God’s right to gift individuals with leadership gifts and by this means to call pastoral leaders of His choice to serve in ministry and mission.

Adventist leaders from America, Europe and the Antipodes ie. Australia & New Zealand must seek opportunities to engage with their fellow African, Asian and South American leaders and share with them about these matters. We dare not live in a global village and cease to make an effort in this direction.

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Indeed. And 4 minutes of speaking time were not enough in October. There have to be other ways, creative ways. Reminds me of marriage counseling. Or if this is not wished for, it has to be openly admitted, and the way prepared for a divorce. But as long as the normal members want the “marriage” (and I don’t assume that large parts don’t want to), talking with each other is non-negotiable, as well as to remain true to oneself.

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Thanks Kate! I understand that recently some Regional Conference Presidents toured Africa expressly to talk to some African Conference Presidents. This sort of exchange is what I mean.

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Let’s be honest. It was Colonialism and BAD Christianity that has
encouraged the place where 3rd world countries are with accepting
ALL Persons as equal members in God’s Kingdom.
We had Christians hacking up and burning alive other Christians
ONLY because they came from another “Tribe”.
Women as 2nd class citizens has been encouraged by SDA Christians
who claim to believe Paul. But Paul says ALL ARE EQUAL in God’s
Kingdom.
This is TRUE for the continent of Africa, India and other places in Asia,
in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
YES! The Missionaries of the Seventh day Adventist Church have been
derelict in calling for EQUALITY of believers in Christ and members in
God’s Kingdom! And to teach that the Holy Spirit is allowed to call whoever
He wants – both men and women as we read in Joel 2.

In those Unions where their leaders were singled out by name in front of those
285 delegates and shamed, the individual members of those Unions should be
VERY ANGRY over the treatment that they received from those Brethren.
Members of Other Unions should also be very Angry by the Un-Christ like way
they were treated.
That the Spirit of Satan was there in the room – the accuser of the brethren.
The Spirit of the Beast being used by the 285 Brethren.
Nobody dissenting by the actions occurring.

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Peter,
What I hear from this is that the leadership of our church is denying the power of the Holy Spirit to do it’s work. This is a very serious problem. To put God in a position where we over rule their power to appoint people is an egregious sin.

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[quote=“niteguy2, post:10, topic:19352”] "the Holy Spirit is allowed to call whoever He wants – both men and women as we read in Joel 2."
[/quote]

I think every ordination service should begin with the reading:

*There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, *
there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:23)

Think of all the red faces.:wink:

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As Pogo would say: “We has met the Beast of Rev. 14 and it is us”.

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I believe you are correct. God gifts some among us with the gift of discernment to discern who has leadership gifts. It would seem that our policies are out of sync with this God given gift of discernment.

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I seriously doubt there are 25 Million SDA church members!

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I’m just using the number the GC puts out. You are probably right that it is inflated.

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Peter Marks, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

However, I too do not see where we go from here. It seems to me that WO is not the issue, it is one point of a greater disagreement between different worldviews, coupled with a desire (on both sides) that “our” worldview is either morally right or spiritually right and thus must prevail.

WO, headship theology, Exegesis and Hermeneutics, viewpoints on creation, LGBTQ issues and more.

For those who think inclusion of these issues (one, some or all), it is a moral imperative for the church to recognize and embrace these issue (or at least let some of us embrace them).

For those who believe that these issues are non-biblical, then it is a spiritual issue that these must be rejected for the sake of the faith they hold most dear.

I don’t see how you find common ground in these disparate viewpoints.

I like my local church (pretty liberal), but increasingly, I find it difficult to support my local church because it is part of a world body that takes positions I am uncomfortable with.

Blessings to you on this Sabbath (in my timezone). :slight_smile:

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"For those who think inclusion of these issues (one, some or all), it is a moral imperative for the church to recognize and embrace these issue (or at least let some of us embrace them).

For those who believe that these issues are non-biblical, then it is a spiritual issue that these must be rejected for the sake of the faith they hold most dear."

Why must we make everyone believe as I do? Why can’t this church, just like the early Christian church, allow people to accept different viewpoints? The early Christian church had many points of disagreement. Just read the letters of Paul. If is isn’t directly acting against a commandment, which is carved in stone, then why are we demanding that everyone march to the same drum?

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In General Conference reporting of Statistics at their world-wide meetings
one can NOTICE the PERKS that comes with showing excellent growths
in memberships in the “overseas” Unions. So a little “fudging” helps.

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Steve,
That’s truly sad.

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