When Might “Non-Compliance” Be a Good Thing?

This October, when the Annual Council meets in Battle Creek, the problem of “non-compliant” church entities and how to deal with them will be very much on the minds of leadership. It is the dominating concern of the moment for the problem is perceived to threaten the unity of the church.1

The Battle Creek location was selected some time ago with the specific intent of enabling church leaders to reconnect with the vision of pioneers and to provide a more tangible context for the oft repeated counsel of Ellen White, “we have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and his teaching in our past history” (Life Sketches, 196). Doubtless, members of the executive committee and other participants will hear these lines repeatedly this fall. Historians call this “the moral utility of history,” and there is great value in it.

Already in Adventist discussions about the role and authority of the General Conference much has been made of the principle that when an individual’s ideas clash with the decisions of the majority in a session of the General Conference which functions in the community as the highest authority, individual judgment is yielded. An attitude of compliance is important to the well-being of the community. Ellen White was quite specific about this important principle of submission and “compliance” when she spoke at the 1909 General Conference Session. At the time, A. T. Jones was arguing for the priority of individual judgment over the common consensus. He was given opportunity at the session to make a defense of his viewpoint. Ellen White’s famous lines about the need to yield individual judgment were made in this specific context as a correction to Jones’ position and they need to be carefully understood in that context.

Ellen White on “Compliance”

It is important to note that Ellen White in her oft quoted statement in 1909 (which reiterated her counsel of 1875) is talking about one single individual privately standing against the authority of the General Conference. “When in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body."2 This single individual was A. T. Jones.

Ellen White’s original 1875 use of these expressions and the assertion of the General Conference being the highest authority was also framed in the context of a problem with a single individual. Originally the context was the giving of a rebuke to George Butler (Brother A) who in 1872 decidedly did not want to be the General Conference President even though the thirteen or so delegates in session had elected him as such. Butler believed that he was being forced to take the role and did not feel comfortable working alongside James White.3 Ellen White reminded Butler that it was the whole delegation that had voted and she said that he must yield his “individual judgement” in this situation and accept the presidency.4

It is a serious misuse of these quotations to apply them to the kind of situation that exists between Union Conferences and the General Conference today. Ellen White was not referencing a situation where many thousands of constituent church members after careful study, long consultation, and due process have developed a deep moral conviction about the work of God in their midst and about the needs of mission and find themselves in disagreement with the General Conference.

Ellen White on “Non-Compliance”

The very same Ellen White in 1896, in defense of “non-compliance,” could also very provocatively say “the God of Heaven sometime commissions men to teach that which is regarded as contrary to the established doctrines.” Even more assertively she could add in the same letter, “men in authority are not always to be obeyed.”5 Really? How would an Annual Council today ever be able to identify such a scenario let alone feel comfortable with it? How would delegates really know if it was God who was instructing the very conferences whom they were perceiving to be in non-compliance? At the very least there is need for the greatest of caution.

What was the context for Ellen White’s defense of “non-compliance” in 1896? Was she thinking about the NT apostles defying Herod? Yes.6 Was she thinking about the sixteenth century reformers? Yes. But more particularly, the immediate context she had in mind involved church leaders in Battle Creek who had just declined to publish W. W. Prescott’s sermon on “Christ and the Sabbath.” She had heard Prescott preach the sermon in Melbourne, Australia and it had already been published in Australia in the Bible Echo. She was indignant that church leaders at headquarters could not hear the voice of God in Prescott’s preaching and she was fearful of their deafness.

Could non-compliance then sometimes be a good thing? That is not something that an administrator typically wants to hear. But genuinely, how can one really know? Does God whisper in an administrative ear that this time the non-compliance is OK, and the next time that it is not? Are there historical precedents that might serve as some sort of guide?

There are two episodes of “non-compliance” in early Adventism that might be instructive for Annual Council participants to consider as they gather in Battle Creek this year.

Episode I: The “non-compliant” developmental pathway for Conference Departments.

At the 1889 General Conference meeting in Battle Creek, three separate discussion sessions were given to the consideration of a proposal to re-engineer the ministry functions of the church such as Sabbath School, Home Missions, Education, Religious Liberty and Health. Each of these ministries was governed by its own society. They constituted a set of multi-layered para-church semi-autonomous entities that replicated the officer structures of the local conferences. The re-organization proposal had been developed by a committee chaired by W. W. Prescott, the Education Secretary for the General Conference, and was composed of experienced church leaders. But the plan to re-configure the ministries into a more efficient system was perceived as very threatening to incumbent officers and as a threat to the unity of the church. The resolution was soundly rejected and then buried. The proposal had appeared so radical to established church order and it so troubled the delegates that even the discussion itself was expunged from the session minutes. The defenders of the status quo did not want the average church members to even read about the ideas.7

Two years later, in 1891, one of the members of the 1889 Resolutions Committee, Asa T. Robinson, was assigned to South Africa to organize a local conference in the field. He was confronted with an acute lack of personnel and figured that the 1889 plan rejected by the General Conference delegates might in fact work much better in his new situation with all the ministries functioning under the conference in a coordinated way instead of alongside of it. He explains what he did:

I wrote out a carefully prepared plan of conference organization, and sent it to Elder Olsen, president of the General Conference. He had copies of it made and sent it to the absent members of the committee, with a request that they give him their opinion of it. He wrote me that when their replies came to hand he would send them to me. This caused so much delay before my receiving them, that the conference was organized before they came to hand. And when they came, I found that they were nearly all adverse to the plan.”8

Olsen was initially favorable to the idea but changed his mind after receiving input from his committee. Willie White’s opinion of the matter was that there was no sense in “sweeping away” the auxiliary organizations. Robinson’s plan was “disorganization.” Furthermore he saw it as flying in the face of counsels from his mother about not centralizing too much. He reported that his mother’s counsel was that it would be “a great misfortune” to organize in the way Robinson proposed, because it would “tear down what had been built up with so much labor.”9 In view of all the negative reaction Olsen instructed Robinson to follow the “old lines,” and he quietly noted to W. C. White that if the idea spread it would be “a disaster.” He feared that if the issue came to the General Conference session again it would “waste much precious time” because the idea “was not practical.”10

Robinson later recalled former president George Butler’s assessment as the most frank. Butler had complained to Olsen that “when we send men abroad” we “ought to know whether they are going out to build up our work or tear it down.” But all the advice and instruction to the contrary had arrived too late. Robinson had already set the new plan in place. Robinson’s pattern of conference organization was clearly “non-compliant.” It was put in place against advice and without approval. But the new plan worked smoothly and efficiently and away down in a corner of the African continent it had time to breathe and grow.

Not Anarchy

Six years later in 1897, Robinson was called to Australia to be the president of the Central Australian Conference. At his first session in Melbourne he talked up the South African plan to the delegates and the laymen immediately saw advantages and the plans committee recommended its adoption. Robinson explains what happened:11

This was like a bombshell to Elders Daniells [the union president] and White. Elder White made the first speech against it. He said, ‘when we begin to sow in the winds, we are quite sure to reap the whirlwind.’ Elder Daniells said, ‘this is anarchy, this is confusion. We are not going to have any of this in Australia.’”12

Embarrassed, Robinson tried to persuade the planning committee to withdraw the proposal but the lay chair Nathan Faulkhead, the publishing house treasurer, refused saying that his committee had thought carefully about it and that the plan was wise and good. Delegates approved the proposal unanimously in spite of the speeches from the Union President and Ellen White’s son.

As it turned out, the plan worked. In fact it worked very well. It did not produce anarchy. Remarkably by the next camp meeting season in 1898, Daniells was touting the new plan around the other conferences in Australia and in 1901 he persuaded the General Conference to adopt it.

Episode II: The Problematic “non-compliant” developmental path of Union Conferences.

Even before he had assumed the General Conference presidency in Battle Creek in mid-1889 (he had been elected in 1888), Norwegian-born Ole Olsen was aware that the rapid growth of the church and the increasing complexity of its organizational structure was making it inefficient and unwieldy. He had chaired committees at the previous session in 1887 seeking to provide wider administrative support to the “overburdening” of the presidency. At the time, the General Conference presided directly over thirty American conferences and directly employed workers in eleven designated domestic and foreign mission territories. There were a dozen institutions (publishing, educational, and medical) to supervise and within each conference and mission there were additional layers of quasi-independent para-church organizations coordinating various outreach, educational, or health ministries each replicating the governance, administrative, and electoral processes of the conferences themselves. The span of administrative oversight had become way too wide, administrative processes too complex, and the exercise of decision-making too narrow at the top.13

In 1887 Olsen had spoken in favor of an administrative mechanism between the State Conferences and the General Conference but his committee on resolutions had been unable to convince the delegates. The next session in 1888 succeeded in introducing four “districts” that might liaise and coordinate but not actually manage matters. They had no administrative authority. Olsen persuaded delegates to expand the system to six at the session in late-1889 but they still resisted giving the entities any administrative role. In March 1891, when Olsen was re-elected for a third term, he again proposed that the districts be strengthened through the appointment of full-time administrators and granted the right to hold their own legal property, but the concept was too threatening and the idea was shelved.14

Olsen’s extended visit to New Zealand and Australia in late 1893 and early 1894 gave opportunity to make progress on these contentious governance issues that produced so much resistance in America. During year-end meetings in Melbourne, local leaders W. C. White and A. G. Daniells, with Olsen’s encouragement, implemented the establishment of an “ecclesiastical body to stand mid-way between State and Colonial Conferences and the General Conference.” White and Olsen had discussed the issue previously. The entity, created with its own constituency, was called a “Union Conference” and given administrative oversight of the work in the Australasian region.15 The initiative did not have General Conference session or Committee approval and in fact the idea had been formally rejected and resisted for several years.

Not Rebellious

It is important to notice how long-time president A. G. Daniells defended the act of “non-compliance.” In 1913 at the General Conference session in Washington D.C. he recalled the formative events of two decades previously. Daniells explained to the delegates how pressing had been the local need in Australia. Sometimes inordinately long delays were experienced in getting questions answered and permissions granted in Battle Creek to do something in far-away Melbourne. “This was impeding the progress of the work; it was hampering us,” he explained and he then described how Olsen and Willie White “put their heads together and fixed up a union conference organization,” quite outside of policy and quite against formal official counsel.16 That such action was regarded as problematic by the policy police was noted by Daniells.

“I know some of our brethren thought then that the work was going to be wrecked, that we were going to tear the organization all to pieces and get up secession out there in the South Sea Island,” the president confessed. “But we did not get up any secession; we did not raise any rebellion, and our brethren have found that out there in the Australasian field…the people have been so loyal to this denomination, as loyal to this organization, too, as anybody in the wide world.” He concluded by noting that in Australia “we worked away at this for seven years, and then the brethren came to see the advantages of it.”

What might be difficult or impossible and unwise to try and enact on a whole of organization basis can be implemented on a local basis, piloted, tested, and assessed for problems and inadequacies. It would have been much better for the General Conference to be flexible enough to allow such an approach in the 1890s. It was not able to be flexible. In this case leaders in Australia proceeded — they were “non-compliant” — for a while, and then they were compliant because the church saw where God was leading and adjusted. In fact, the church by 1902 was able to utilize the idea of Union conferences world-wide.


“Non-compliance” may not always be a bad thing if we would be instructed by our own history. Wise leaders who are able to recognize this find ways to help the church embrace change as they recognize the work that God is already doing in new ways in our midst.

We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us…”

It is very clear that sometimes God has led the Advent movement in the past through episodes of “non-compliance.” In fact, it becomes clear in hindsight that at times it was the only way God could continue leading us. Might we be in such a place again?

Notes & References:

1. As an earlier article has demonstrated, however, the non-compliance that is presently of such concern to Church leadership is not about the ordination of women but about what names we will use to describe the men and women who in compliance with the Church Manual work alongside each other in ministry and perform the same functions as each other. See Gilbert Valentine, “A Functional Analysis of Adventist Ministry,” Spectrum, July 12, 2018.

3. See “Business Proceedings,” Review and Herald, January. 2, 1872, 21 and George I Butler to James White, January. 24, 1872.

4. Ellen G. White to G. I Butler, Letter 49, 1875 published in 3 Testimonies, 492.

5. Ellen G. White to S. N. Haskell, May 30, 1896 (Letter 38). The letter needs to be read in the context of Manuscript 148, October 26, 1898 which on the basis of internal evidence should be dated two years earlier in 1896. See Gilbert M Valentine, W. W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2005), 115, 116.

6. The letter to Haskell contains an extended reflection on the early days of the Christian church and the tensions between the apostles and the Jewish authorities. The parallels between the NT period and the way Prescott has been treated disturb her and she is anxious that Haskell in South Africa will be more welcoming of Prescott than the prejudiced men at Battle Creek.

7. A. T. Robinson, “An Autobiographical Sketch in the Life of A. T. Robinson,” (1947) Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University, Berrien Spring, MI.

9. W. C. White to O. A. Olsen, September 28, 1892.

10. O. A. Olsen to A. T. Robinson, October 25, 1892; O. A. Olsen to W. C. White, November 1, 1892.

11. For a fuller discussion of the development of the Union Conference idea and of Conference departments, see Gilbert M Valentine, “A. G. Daniells, Administrator, and the Development of Conference Organization in Australia,” in Symposium on Adventist History in the South Pacific: 1885-1918, ed Arthur J. Ferch, (Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division, 1986), 76-91.

12. A. T. Robinson, “An Autobiographical Sketch.”

15. ]W. C. White to O. A. Olsen, December 21, 1892, May 8, 1893. Barry D. Oliver, SDA Organization: Past Present and Future, Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, (Berrien Spring, MI: Andrews University Press, 2009) 105.

16. “Thirteenth Meeting,” Review and Herald, June 5, 1913, 6.

Gilbert M. Valentine lives and writes in Riverside, California. He is author of a scholarly biography on W. W. Prescott (2005), a history of the White Estate titled The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage (2006), a study of the political influence of Ellen White in The Prophet and the Presidents (2011), and coedited, with Woodrow Whidden, a Festschrift for George Knight entitled Adventist Maverick (2014).

Photo by Farago Tudor Andrei on Unsplash.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8901

This is such an important point. Due process has taken place. Study, prayerful study has taken place in these regions. This was not a decision to be “rebellious.” It was motivated clearly by conviction. Punishment, in this case, for conviction to Godly principles and the doctrines of the church, loyalty, and to the Gospel of Christ and moving our mission forward, is puzzling and could be tragic.


Even Ellen White said she was the lesser light. We now know from serious scholarship that she was at best a mirror not a lens. The present administration relying heavily on her statement that the G C in session is the highest authority of God on earth. that puts the Bible at the mercy of man rather than the bible as the bulwark for man. The idea of punishing non compliance over who shall occupy the pulpit on the basis of gender rather on the basis of vetting for competence and morality is a power play unworthy of the office. The purge mentality is ego centric and unworthy of the office.


Gil, thank you for a thoughtful and carefully researched article. It puts
current issues in context and hopefully alerts the church to discard
fake claims and fears.


the MOVE of Battle Creek College by boxcars to Berrien Springs, later to become
Andrews University by Edward Sutherland was NOT an Easily Won permission.

The idea of a Major Work – Madison Farm, later to become Madison College, promoted,
and almost demanded by Ellen White of Percy Magan and Edward Sutherland – to be
totally separated from the control of the Seventh-day Adventist church brethren of that
time – 1904, was a very revolutionary idea by Ellen White. And was not without resistance.

Actually these 2 friends, were so fed up with the brethren, they were, when their cruise on the
Morning Star with Ellen on the Cumberland River was over, they had planned to go lose
themselves in some backwoods Carolina hill and open a small school there.
Much later, Percy Magan, M.D., went to Loma Linda and became a powerful force there,
while Edward stayed at Madison for the remainder of his life.

Change in the SDA church has Always had to buck up against the Strong Egos of those who
see themselves “In Charge”.


Dr. Magan got his M.D. degree from Vanderbilt University by riding a motorcycle from Madison to Nashville. It served him well.


All through the 4 Gospels we discover the Defiance of Jesus.
Defiance against the Religious Culture.
Defiance against the Political Culture.
His greater one was when He told the Religious that He could “Forgive sins”.
Said, to prove it, told the paralytic man, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Get Up!”
“Carry your bed home.”
and he did.


I find it an absurdity that you would quote EGW, In whatever year she made her possibly plagiarized pronouncements, pro or con, “compliance”.


Because the proponents of .”compliance” and the anti women’s ordination advocates, use the statements of a WOMAN, whom they revere and quote as if she were gospel, to deny other women their rightful place in preaching the gospel. This asinine absurdity is grotesque to say the least.


I think you hit the nail on the head.

In the most minds of Adventist members there is a strong belief that EGW, Paul and others are Saints (very much like Catholics) and will use them as such when it appeals to the cause they have strong opinions on.

Saying that women cannot be called by God and recognized by man (ordination) to be in ministry because Paul (others) failed to mention them in their writing about leadership roles and that we must therefore conclude they cannot is absurd.

How can anyone say that while ignoring the very specific requirements and instructions as to the behavior women should have in church meetings given by Paul, Moses and others, telling us that those requirements don’t apply anymore?

The notion that you can ignore that counsel and yet demand women be excluded is by itself proof of hubris, hypocrisy and flat our gender bias.

God has proven that women are equal in His eyes throughout the Bible. It was only culture norms that caused mistreatment and bias, not God.

EGW as called by God to perform the ministry she did (with all the failings common to the human condition) should be a sharp testimony itself to the false idea of exclusion based on gender.



It is ironic that in the 21st century those same religious controls and intimidations are again in play within the Christian, protestant religious communities and more closely within the Adventist church through autocratic rule, hierarchical administration demanding coerced uniformity, loyalty pledges for conformity; rather than unity through servant leadership; administrators that threaten punishment and sanctions, rather that showing leadership through flexibility allowing different parts our world church to have the autonomy to freely interpret and implement policy within their own territories to meet the cultural norms of their local societies’ under the umbrella of love.

The love exhibited by Jesus ultimately embraces unity; E Pluribus Unum (out of many one) was embraced by the founding fathers of the United States of America. This type of unity supports a church that was originally envisioned and structured by our forefathers as being a bottom-up rather than top-down. True biblical leadership is servant-led, who are not threatened by independence of thought, who embraces and welcomes input by membership and is not intimidated. An administration that has the improvisational, adaptable abilities, skills, discipline and experience to flexibly interpret and apply written policy, not become a slave to it, and not use it as a whip. Do we make mistakes, yes? Is it a smooth process, no? We are humans saved by the grace of God, and it can get messy. But with God on our sides we can be victorious. An orchestra seldom gets it right on the first practice, but by the performance, what beautiful music.


The reverse appears to be happening today in religious organizations across the board as they become more institutionalized. Our Church is no exception and in need of:
• Administrators who are aware of policy but can hear the voice of the people; who are loyal to doctrine; who use standards and policy as achievable goals, not weapons for guilt. Leadership who are able to meet people where they are and grow together.
• Administrators who can allow independence of thought and not be threatened.
• Administrators who will not allow the traditions of ‘headship’ stand in the way of recognizing the gifts and abilities of both genders without limitation.
• Administrators whose approach is to the understanding of, and allowance for, local interpretation of policy as a guide as long as it does not violate doctrine, rather than threaten by discipline, sanction, and punishment.
• Administrators who do not build their own egos by the limiting of others.

We need to pause a moment and make a distinction between command and demand. As an example, command comes from a position of authority, i.e. the U.S. military, and demand does not. Commands in a military setting come from a position of authority with a ‘chain of command’ down through the ranks that are answerable at each level. Demands are often driven by passionate or strong requests but lacking the power or authority of a command. I maintain in spite of our current church administration the membership remains in that position of that authority, delegating to our administrators, even though it appears to be in the reverse at this time. A review of the history of the formation of our church structure confirms this. It is incumbent upon membership to reclaim that authority and exercise it by commanding answers and action at each level of administration. Especially when administrators assume umbrage, and indignation when theirs positions are questioned or challenged. I am sure some current administrators do not want membership to be reminded and educated of the history of this church’s foundation. This is not a power grab but a right supported by our own constitution and bylaws. Know your history and the structure of your church and exercise that right with wisdom and boldness.
When we accept Jesus Christ in the SDA Church, acceptance into membership is thru baptism. As part of the baptism process we agree to a set of baptism vows. Vows 9 and 13 address membership into the ‘body of Christ’ and fellowship. The question is how well members understand what that means. Are they given sufficient orientation about the structure and function of the church and membership role, responsibility, and privilege? The church is very intentional in orienting toward tithe and offering responsibilities but how well do we orient about structure, and operational aspects of the church – how it works. Is there emphasis on the importance of membership knowledge and participation? What is the base level of information for effective participation? Should a basic level of information be part of membership preparation and orientation? Priorities are important but do we promote some at the expense of others. What impact does that have over time? Does leadership at times exploit the lack of member knowledge? How important is transparency? A lot depends on leadership at any given time. History is often times enlightening.

In Adventist Today James Breauer, wrote an article entitled, “Christian Leadership and Spiritual Abuse. He States in part:
“…The behavior of current leadership at the top of our denominational hierarchy constitutes spiritual abuse. The battles for control, the “God talk,” the attempts to discover who is in rebellion on non-Biblical issues—all are classic cases of spiritual abuse.
Abuse takes place when an individual crosses another’s boundaries [2] and attempts to manipulate or control them. Spiritual abuse is similar: it is when an individual or organization crosses another’s boundaries and attempts to manipulate them by use of “God talk,” doctrine, or withholding salvation. Spiritual abuse is an addiction to power, position, being “right,” and allowing only the approved kind of people around you.[3]”

Philip Smith Facebook 7/26/18 on I Support the Ordination of Women
1 hr
The Seventh-day Adventist form of governance is representative, which recognizes that authority rests in the membership and is expressed through duly elected representatives at each level of organization, with executive responsibility delegated to representative bodies and officers for the governing of the Church at each separate level. The Church Manual applies this principle of representation to the operations of the local congregation.
Issues of representation in organizations with mission status are defined by operating policies and in organizations with conference status by their constitution and bylaws. This form of governance recognizes also that ordination to the ministry is recognized by the Church worldwide.
“Every member of the church has a voice in choosing officers of the church. The church chooses the officers of the state conferences. Delegates chosen by the state conferences choose the officers of the union conferences, and delegates chosen by the union conferences choose the officers of the General Conference. By this arrangement every conference, every institution, every church, and every individual, either directly or through representatives, has a voice in the election of the men who bear the chief responsibilities in the General Conference.”—8T 236, 237
“Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure this passage from Page 27 of the SDA Church Manual is particularly coherent. The first paragraph links to the quote from EGW. The middle paragraph just seems out of place, especially the sentence about ordination. What has ordination really got to do with representation? I’m not saying that what is stated isn’t important. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to make sense stating it here. I think the manual is ostensibly a reasonable document that still needs a lotta work.”

There are several actions I am proposing that membership rally behind in holding our administration accountable for the coming Annual Counsels and General Conference meetings. Again this is coming in the form of a command from the membership and not just a demand or request. Requests have often fallen on deaf ears, placated, mollified, minimized. These are responsibilities designated by membership and require action by administration. Membership is taking back their constituted rights to require, command action by administration. We have in recent years acquiesced to the dictates of autocratic administration and it is time for membership to halt the downward spiral. Membership loves this church as much as our administrators and have equally as much invested in it as they do and are not naïve as to the inner workings of the church. It is time we step up. This is what I am proposing:

• Empower the Constitution and Bylaws Committee to act independently in drafting constitutional revisions that are gender inclusive.

• Equal with this is the analysis of term limits.

• Remove from the constitution, bylaws, and working policy all criteria referencing male exclusivity along with ministerial license and ordination as qualifications for certain office positions, leaving the only qualifications membership in good and regular standing.

• By modifying the constitution, bylaws, and working policy it opens up the possibilities for including talent from a broad spectrum of education, experience from any number of disciplines that will meet the needs of a 21st century church for new beginnings and fresh perspective, transparency utilizing technology the benefit of all.

• The nominating committee has a large responsibility in vetting choices for General Conference Officers and specifically the GC president. Typically, one name is recommended to the body. It is suggested that 2 or more names be brought to the floor with full disclosure of backgrounds and vetting process to include a minimum of one female. If two are brought one must be female. If three are brought one must be female, etc. Yes, we trust the committee but I believe our duly elected representatives should have more of a choice. This fosters transparency as well as responsibility.

• The incumbent president is not to be part of the nominating committees work. The previous president’s name can be considered but he should not be part of the deliberations for the office of the president.

• In this process review of the structure of the church in conjunction with the Constitution and Bylaws Committees for the needs of today with the idea of structuring for efficiency.

• If we are seeking revival/change/growth pouring new wine into old wine skins will not work.

• This will require thinking outside the box; openness to new ways of thinking.

• In using this approach we will be utilizing the best minds across disciplines, tapping into the best resources within and outside the denomination for consulting purposes.

• We are talking about the management of a world church that has been talked about for years but now the reality is we are in the 21st Century. Continuing to manage today’s organization from a 19th and 20th century mindset is a formula for disaster. It has had its time and served us; not always as well as anticipated but to continue without change does a disservice to the membership and the larger community we are commissioned to serve.

• Balance of representation between membership and laity at all levels of administrations.

• Develop means of communication that stimulates member involvement engaging in meaningful dialogue using all media forums available.

• If unity is our goal this is going a long way toward fostering it as opposed to forced conformity through loyalty oaths and various forms of strong armed intimidation.

• Timeliness is important to give committees sufficient time to pursue their respective jobs and submit recommendations for study in preparation for future Annual Counsels and the 2020 General conference.

• To remain a responsible a church it becomes the responsibility of membership to hold administration accountable and that responsibility to hold administration comes as a command not a request, understanding who works for whom. The structure exists for us to accomplish this. Failure to implement these recommendations by administration requires responsible membership to move forward in the absence of that leadership. In the 21st century lack of action is a decision will trigger a reaction the church may want to avoid.

• We are at a crossroads with choices and opportunities. Lord help us to make informed choices for a finished work.

• This church will not remain relevant for these changing times on it current trajectory. The world is passing us by as we question our effectiveness. This is not unique to the SDA Church. All institutionalized religions are facing similar growing pains in the form of a tug-of-war from its founding principles and adaptation to an ever increasing and rapidly changing society in the 21st Century. How we adapt to and manage these changes will determine our effectiveness for the future. As the words of the song says, written by Barnard Ignor says, “Everything Must Change, Noting Stays the Same”.


It’s time for a timeout. Before we move forward with compliance issues maybe it is time to pause and look at the policy itself as to whether it is good policy and determine who really has issue with the policy. Sometimes policy is just wrong on its face regardless of how much we have invested in it. Sports teams do it all the time in order to improve the game. There are still referees and umpires. Secondly there is the issues of ownership. In reviewing these preliminary drafts is it responsible management to defer implementation. In other words after you have thrown up over everything, you want the next level of administration to clean up your mess. Something is wrong with this picture.


With apologies to Frank Sinatra fans, the theme song or anthem for ecclesiastical “non-compliance” is the old favorite, “My Way.” One stanza stands out:

_“Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew/ When I bit off more than I could chew./ But through it all, when there was doubt,/ I ate it up and spit it out./ I faced it all and I stood tall,/ And did it my way.

All sides in this debate about how to enforce church policies need to breathe deeply, take a long pause, and resolve their differences as adults. The “childlike” tantrums of GC Administrations and the misguided stances some have proclaimed makes this entire debate an embarrassment for all.

Noncompliance is a common behavior problem exhibited by typically developing children, as well as individuals with intellectual disabilities, and is correlated with a number of psychiatric diagnoses later in life.

“The people of God will recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and will teach obedience to it as a sacred duty within its legitimate sphere. But when its claims conflict with the claims of God, the word of God must be recognized as above all human legislation. ‘Thus saith the Lord’ is not to be set aside for thus saith the church or the state. The crown of Christ is to be uplifted above the diadems of earthly potentates.” Ellen White, 6 Testimonies for the Church 402.
“God desires from all His creatures the service of love - service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to all He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service.” Ellen White, Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 34,

Yes, Gil, non-compliance can be a good thing! That point is secure!

Yet I have always been uneasy about the way the Pacific Union Conference and the Columbia Union Conference seem solely to have extended a broken paradigm of clerical leadership among Adventists to include women.

Adventists desperately need to let the Spirit of God lead us to adopt a new paradigm of leadership, building on a comprehensive theology of the ‘laos,’ the whole people of God. The Scriptures speak of a collegiality of all believers which eschews the distinction between the so called laity and the so called clergy. Sure, God would have his people shepherded by people with leadership gifts. These are worthy of double honour. But they are not clergy as their leadership doesn’t have a sacramental dimension.

The TOSC Consensus statement on ordination was a solid beginning to a new paradigm of Adventist leadership. But it requires further development. And it requires the careful and intentional education of Adventists, both in the global north and the global south.

The sole value of the Pacific Union and Columbia Union continuing with WO is to remind Adventists that we need to bring a resolution to the issue. No benefits from this newly adopted practice have flowed to others in our global communion of faith.

Neither are there any benefits about to flow to the global communion from any new policy of token ‘grave consequences’ enforced on these entities because of their ‘recalcitrant’ actions.

There must be some further process of policy development with regard to the affirmation, blessing and commissioning of Adventist leaders.

Two negative processes will put the Adventist movement on the slippery slope to oblivion.
1. Institutionalisation - Adventist must learn to understand and conceive of their ecclesial organizations not as a hierarchy with the GC at the apex. Rather we should understand and conceive of our ecclesial organizations as “wheels within wheels.” If problems prove intractable within the narrowest and local sphere of the organizational machinery it should be brought before an expanded sphere of the organization. And so on. It is wrong-headed to speak of higher and lower levels of organization. Each sphere of influence within our organization has its own legitimate responsibilities. But this doesn’t make any one sphere supreme over the other spheres.

2. Clericalisation - There are not two castes or three inside our global communion of faith - women, men and clergy. See above for a critique of this.

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The whole problem is not one of organization. The issues then are not the issues now.

The issue now is that the majority of the church, the third world does not agree with WO. The west does. Commissioning was a way to allow for “ordination” locally without worldwide recognition. The advocates of WO feel it is “discrimination”, though it allows for almost all actions an ordained individual would perform.

All the things suggested here will be to no avail, unless one side budges. More discussion will not help. Articles like this will not help.

WO advocates freely participated in the campaign up to the vote. They were not forced to get involved. THEY FREELY WORKED FOR THEIR SIDE. NO FORCE WAS APPLIED TO MAKE THEM DO IT.

Therefore they should comply with the vote. It is the only honest act they can take. The rest of the world would have accepted a YES vote. So WO should act in good faith with their participation. Too late for anything else.


We all struggle to understand what happened at SAN Antonio!

  1. Many believed they were voting on a Biblical issue. Many others believed they were voting on an ethical issue. It is just not true that all of the global south did not want WO. Nor was it true that all of the global north wanted WO. The raw numbers make it clear that this is incorrect.

  2. Recent allegations on this blog concerning deliberate sabotage of the electronic voting system ring true with me, though I have no proof. I just cannot believe that a system of this nature would fail in that space without human intervention of some nature.

  3. We do not know just what the vote may have been had there not been delegated-voter intimidation.

  4. I for one do not wish the vote ever to be won by attrition anyway. I wish that after a process of education Adventist leaders take a principled decision to adopt a new anticlerical paradigm of leadership. No one should talk of this issue in terms of a man’s right to be head over women. Nor should we speak of this issue in terms of women’s rights. Rather we should talk in terms of God’s right to choose our under shepherds. And of our responsibility as Adventist leaders with the gift of discernment to make an informed determination of the issue.


I don’t know that this really makes much difference. There has been so much on this issue that any that do not know the issues are just not interested.

I agree with this.

I agree with you on this, but not the reasons. I think it was sabotaged as well, but because the third world did not want a secret ballot. They likely did not trust the GC to be unbiased in the count of the vote. That is they would have cheated on the pro-WO side. But this is speculation. Do you really think that a secret ballot would have swayed enough in the third world to change the vote?

I like your thinking here.


I have been told by a former GC operative that some in the GC believe that if Jan Paulsen had not stirred feeling by his speech the vote might indeed have gone the other way. I do not however fault Paulsen for saying what he did.

I’m so glad we very almost agree. I like to imagine myself as an honest, thoroughly Adventist seeker for truth as I know you are.

Peter –
Yes! Yes! Yes! for Number 4.

Thank you, Gilbert, for drawing some important lessons from our church’s past. Too often, I believe, we ignore our history as a denomination, at our peril. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “A church [rather than a nation] that forgets its past, has no future.”

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Very interesting and informative. Thank you!

and laity should not be the spouse of a paid worker.