Who Gets to Define Adventism?

Review of Ostriches and Canaries: Coping with Change in Adventism, 1966–1979 by Gilbert M. Valentine (Oak & Acorn, 2022)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/arts-essays/2022/who-gets-define-adventism

This simply reveals that the denomination can’t get out of its own way. And the list of issues includes such trivial matters that it’s almost embarrassing. Fundamentalism creates spiritual immaturity and even toxicity.

And the beat goes on…



An engaging, thoughtful and balanced review of a welcome book about a critical and painful period in Adventist history. Once again, however, the people inclined to read it are those who already realize the challenges or lived through them, like myself.

I do agree that the President of the General Conference (PGC) has an almost impossible responsibility to fulfill (witness A. G. Daniell’s unceremonial ouster as PGC after 1919) if and when he understands that our addiction to fundamentalist (not conservative) thinking is a virus that will infect all our members who encounter its distortions and suffer painful disillusionment with their leaders. I know personally former Adventists who, once they understand how the church has kept them from intellectual and scientific growth, or fed them pat answers to truly profound questions, not only leave our communion, but embrace agnosticism or even atheism. What the PGC can do is ensure the Seminary has both perspectives on the faculty (a graduate education beyond bible college indoctrination), facilitate a more open Biblical Research Institute in the papers it invites and the dialogue it creates, and coach prospective pastors on how to deal with those members who fearlessly challenge established beliefs. In my view, simply telling the fundamentalists among us that we are not in the business of deciding who the “heretics” are, especially if they want to remain in our movement for good reasons, would help. Do we really want to remove SDA’s who, while believing in the Gospel, seriously doubt the accepted creation position? They love the Sabbath, attend regularly, financially support the church and live Christian lives; but we can’t tolerate or even embrace them? That’s what Jesus would do?

On the other hand, we need to encourage those who love to upset the saints with “new light” to remember they too must bear responsibility for the other members who, while on a similar journey, have stopped to rest at a different way station. Being “right” is not always the “right” thing to highlight.


In this world money can buy all definitions, this includes definitions about sexuality, religion, life, and death. The love of money will combine all our beliefs and the religion with the most money to spend will buy up all the others including Adventism. Even the Sabbath is for sale. No exceptions.

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Short answer to the question: We must each define Adventism for ourselves.


Fundamentalism is what is keeping us here. It is why God can’t wrap this up. It is the very reason the church in America has stayed essentially the same size for the past 50 years. It is growing wildly in much of the 3rd world. But that should be alarming in its own right because most of these people were given basic bible studies 101 and it was all about showing them the “proof texts” to convince them that “we are right and everyone else is wrong”, but it tends to make them legalistic, believing that their behavior will be their salvation. Much of the cultures they come from is still a big part of their lives, and this would include genital mutilation, witchcraft, superstitions of all kinds. The list is actually almost endless. The amalgamation of all of these prior conversion cultural aspects of their thinking have contributed to their very fundamentalist belief system. But, there are more of them than there are of us in the world church. Ted has grabbed hold of that statistic to hang on to his legalistic grip on Adventism. Unfortunately, since our denomination is a democratically controlled entity, I don’t see how we resolve this. And yes, “Righteousness by Faith” keeps coming around every so many years and then keeps getting trampled down by our leadership, just like Women’s Ordination. Only God can fix this.


I don’t think I could agree with you more on this, Lindy.

As I’ve mentioned several times, I spent a year living in the The Ivory Coast and when I saw a statistic recently that the overwhelming majority of Adventists live in Africa, I was shocked.

Not because the people there aren’t some of the kindest, most genuine people I ever met, nor that SDA’s inherently simplistic and intentionally vague attempts at evangelism have been so successful, but because I’m convinced that many of the “converts” have yet to learn that they’ve been sold a bill of goods and have no idea of how all-pervasive SDA-ism’s, and particularly EGW’s, intentions for their lives actually are.

I suspect Adventism’s missionary efforts will backfire, however, if they haven’t done so already. Again, not because Africans are bad but due to the fact that when you try to change something as big as Africa, Africa changes you. Thus, I suspect Africa has and will continue to convert Adventism into something unrecognizable to the average American and with accepted practices which most “First World” SDA’s find abhorrent.


I enjoyed the book -
to learn also about some I personally have met somewhere and somewhen long ago !
Some of the cases the author presented I have witnessed.

And one - an addition to the “other questions” - I may display here : About speaking in “tongues”

1954 I was confronted with the study of Sophokles ANTIGONE of clasic Greek tragedy. There I found “aiaiaiai” and then in PHILOKTET “apappapa” and “pappapappapai”; later in Aischilos tragedy AGAMEMNON about onehundredandfourty verses of Kassandra, beginning with "otototoi popoi da Apollwn Apollwn " - - and what about the “mourning women” from the Near East and here in a hospital on the side of a deathbed – - and the Bosnian mother, repeatedly in flashbacks remebering her sons death she had witnessed by a car accident - and the natives of East Africa, irritating the SDA missionaries with their joyful ( ! ) speech with endless syllables of no meaning, in scearming the “vigelegele” - - -

No, we have made it clear, Roma locuta - causa finita , by Gerhard Hasel (+) “Speaking in Tongues” 1991. tongue = tongue = tongue in Acts 2 and 19 : 6 and 1 Cor 14 : 2 ff- - -

Is that clear ? Have it as a bat against the Pentecostals - -

    • and forget the other explanation by some odd guy of Andrews University with the name Richardson - ("Speaking in Tongues - - " 1994)
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All real problems, Lindy. But, I don’t think that’s what’s keeping us here, simply because I don’t believe that what God does or will do hinges upon what is happening in the SDA church. Just as we have no way of explaining the last 2,000 years.

No one knows the day nor the hour, nor the times or seasons, as Jesus said to his disciples. Miller didn’t listen, and Adventism with its sign watching, continual calling for the latter rain, and the LGT fundamentalism and perfectionism subset trying to get Jesus to come through sinless behavior also doesn’t listen to what Jesus said.

Why hasn’t Jesus appeared? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. But, when the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth? That to me is the question, no matter what’s happening in Adventism, or what time it is.

Where I would agree is that fundamentalism of all stripes is actually at odds with healthy faith, and not part of God’s healing of the world. It hinders it.



I would have difficulty arguing with you on this point. I think that Adventists tend to think that we are the only ones who will be taken up into the clouds with Jesus. Big mistake. Faith is not owned by our denomination. Reality is that there are many sincere people who care about their fellow humans and trust in an eternal power that they may not have much or any understanding of, but God knows their hearts. There will be representatives from all religions and also from no religion in heaven. I have pointed out in SS classes that I wouldn’t be surprised that there will be more Catholics in heaven than SDA’s. I base this on the sheer magnitude of Catholics over the ages, and within that number God will find within them some who loved Him and trust Him and love their fellow man. They may worship on the 1st day of the week, bow before statues and all the rest, but their hearts are right with God. To site one example; no one will ever be able to convince me that I won’t see Mother Terresia in heaven, that is, if I make it there as well.


If I were pressed…the more I see from the the Webb tele along with all the previous info, our time on this earth is but a fleeting moment in time. What is soon? It could be millions of years, maybe longer, maybe shorter! I am of the mind that it might be arrogant, on the part of humanity, to try and define ‘soon’!


Except that when a letter like Revelation says I am coming soon or quickly, one needs to take it in its context for what seems to have been intended. The author didn’t have the Webb telescope and these kinds of insights into a universe that is 13.7 billion years old…at least. Soon meant soon within his cognitive and cultural framework. Jesus is portrayed as speaking to John within that framework and John’s own symbolic universe. It obviously hasn’t turned out that way!

So, I would say that any attempt to be timekeepers of Jesus’s appearing along with the incessant sign watching is part of our human tendency to want control and certainty. Faith ultimately doesn’t work like that.



As a human, John would have understood it that way. But is that what Jesus meant? My belief is that ‘soon’ was meant to be understood differently, not as a time marking event. Each persons ‘soon’ can be the moment they die. I see Christs message as having a different emphasis, taking into account the total story of His life. That emphasis is living each day to its fullest, not worrying about the future, looking after your world and the people in it. Granted that my belief has changed over time, not because of concern for the end, but through a better understanding, or getting outside the box so to speak, of all the data that is available to me. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t change my belief/hope for such an event. Being correct theologically has become less important to me over time.


I’m personally close to where you are, James. I’m just thinking that if God is an effective communicator, which he was and is, then he speaks in ways that people understand in their own time and place.

We may pour our own meanings into words that are meaningful to us. I’m just saying that in this case, I don’t think that’s what it meant to John or his audience and how Jesus communicated with them.

I find this distinction to be important when trying to make sense of the biblical text.


this really is interesting…it would also be interesting to know the background behind why TW felt he needed to sign that letter…


His coming is soon for all of us - always no more than a lifetime away


Too bad their first loyalty isn’t finding and revealing important factual errors in our own teachings. (Correcting, not enforcing.)

Such as:

Satan was once an angel named Lucifer, the cornerstone of The Great Controversy,
Satan was once a covering cherub,
Sabbath begins at the International Dateline…or ever did,
(except for the Day of Atonement) Sabbath begins at sundown …or ever did,
A pope changed the weekly sabbath to the first day of the week…or ever tried to,
The Bible authorizes the creation of denominations and loyalty to creeds.


“I think that you are mischaracterizing the situation when you oppose the “egalitarians” from the West with the “misogynists” from Africa, South America, and NAD conservatives.” @Nymous

when we talk about who gets to define adventism, it is a fact that on a GC level, Africa, S. America and NAD conservatives appear to be in collusion to control the agenda…they do this through their delegate majorities, and are basically eliminating the concept of a GC in which all parts of the church have an equal seat at the table (even now, some NAD conservatives are confidently proclaiming that WO has no chance in our church, given the current delegate distribution in our world church)…if you think it’s unfair to characterize Africa, S. America and NAD conservatives as misogynist, you may not have really looked into the relationship between headship in the church and misogyny in the surrounding social structure…

i did an informal study of this question during the time leading up to San Antonio, and what i found, if i’m remembering correctly, is that Africa leads the world in wife beatings, and the Carribean and S. America are in a battle for the region with the most domestic violence per capita, almost universally directed against women…this isn’t just a church thing…instead what is happening is that churches are picking up elements of their surrounding culture, and finding ways to incorporate them into their theology…headship is really just a way to add biblical legitimacy to misogyny, which is a natural fit, given that misogyny was rife, and assumed, in bible times…

i don’t know how much international traveling you’ve done, but i can tell you that full, professional equality for women is not a clear part of the social fabric in parts of Asia, Africa, Brazil or the Carribean - there is a vast difference between cities like San Francisco, Chicago, or Toronto and Gaborone, Bangkok, or Sao Paulo…by definition, the systematic exclusion of women from professional opportunity, and their widespread sexual exploitation, is misogyny…when church people from these areas think of a woman in charge of and running a church, and preaching morality and mores from a public pulpit with authority, people from these areas are naturally aghast…it is much easier for them to cling to the reality they have always known, and see a clear counterpart in bible culture…this then naturally leads into the assumption that what the bible is depicting must be prescriptive, and that it is their duty to impose it on others…

i do think our GC leaders need to nurture the wisdom to look and consider carefully the reality that cultural exchange where there is such complete disparity isn’t likely, and that a vote that pits culture against culture is not only unwise, but unavoidably conflicts with the example set by the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15…to his credit, and i don’t know if you re-call, but Mark Finley seemed to be clearly calling for a resolution of the question of WO that aligned with the unity in diversity model outlined in Acts 15, during the time leading up to San Antonio, which indicates that at least some GC officials were thinking broadly…it is true that the GC Secretariat, in 2016, released a 17-page summary entitled A Study of Church Governance and Unity, concluding that unity in diversity was biblical as long as a representative body authorized it, but not only were they a bit behind the eight ball, they didn’t address the real problem we have, which is that delegate counts in our world church prevent equal representation from each region in our Church whenever we meet…

now you make the point that agreement to participate in a vote binds participating parties to the outcome of that vote…but does it…if people have no input on whether a vote should be floored, obviously their only recourse is to do what they can to advance the cause of their side, and hope and pray for the best…i recall that several voices were saying, leading up to San Antonio, that the question of ordination is a Union prerogative - that Unions were in fact set up to be a firewall of protection against the GC - and no amount of votes in the GC was going to change that…if these Unions are saying now what they were saying before the vote, is this really rebelling against the vote…

the opportunity we have now during this post-covid time, in which TW has only 3 yrs left in his current term (and by all appearances is set to retire in 2025), is to somehow find a way to overcome San Antonio and move forward…possibly the best course is not to say or do anything about decisions Unions are now making to ordain women to the ministry…and for the record, it appears MAUC has joined PUC and CUC in ordaining women in NAD…

Our leadership at the top not only is unwilling to wisely look at the cultural influences of these other vastly ought weighed numbers from Africa, South America and Asia, they use them to support their own agenda to keep this a “good old boys network”. I had hoped we would get rid of this horrible president in the past vote, but it wasn’t to be. It makes me even more concerned that God is not directing this church, but humans are. I hope I am wrong about that.

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my hunch is that it isn’t so much a “good old boys network” that’s being protected, although that’s probably part of it, so much as it’s conservative adventism that’s being protected, using every legal maneuvering mechanism available…i think there’s the perception that conservative adventism, or true adventism, is under assault, and that everything coming from progressive adventism must be resisted…TW’s emphasis on the importance of each delegate vote being equal, when he knows conservative adventist regions of the world have the most delegates, is probably something he sees as a providential development…

it’s hard to know what to say…there’s no question that the push to normalize LGBT and aspects of evolution, and to diminish the inspiration of egw and some of our signature doctrines, like IJ, is coming from progressive adventism…but it’s also true that conservative adventism has a history of doctrinal error, most notably NT and LGT, and that WO, which harmonizes more scripture and egw than headship, is a product of progressive adventism…

probably what we can say, without a doubt, is that two camps have formed in our church, just as egw prophecy predicts…