Wrong and Right

Kurtley Knight, Ryan Bell, Alicia Johnston. All young pastors who have publicly left the ministry—each for different reasons. There is plenty of attrition in the pastoral ranks, to be sure. But I mention these three as particular examples because many other pastors leave in a far less publicized way. However, for their exits, each of these former pastors felt compelled to make a declaration about their rationale for leaving. Pastor Knight left for doctrinal disagreements. Pastor Bell left due to a shift towards atheism. Pastor Johnston left because of an impasse over Adventism’s stance about same sex relationships coupled with her acknowledgment of her own sexual orientation. This article is not another think-piece on their individual beliefs. But I do want to highlight one thing their departures all had in common. Each made a public statement outlining their reasons for resigning. And each statement included some form of the following comment: “my decision will be unpopular and I know it will adversely affect my relationships in the Church. The Church will ostracize/shun me for my convictions”. It saddens me that they each came to that conclusion. It saddens me because they are wrong; it saddens me because they are right.

They're Wrong

Folks might disapprove if I suggested that these pastors should have given the Church a chance before making such a blanket statement. After all, these pastors don't “owe” anyone the opportunity to hurt them. This is true. No one owes anyone anything. In fact, they owed no one an explanation for leaving at all. But if a statement is made, it should be accurate. And, quite frankly, it's not entirely accurate to say that the Church will automatically push them away.

The instinct to preemptively steel oneself against the seemingly inevitable onslaught is understandable. And many people in situations of revelation—whether it's coming out about sexuality, rejecting familial expectations, or some other significant life change—will often make their pronouncement at the door with their bags packed or perhaps even send a postcard long after they've already arrived at their undisclosed location. This isn't hyperbole, this is literal. The idea is, “I know I'll be rejected so let me save you the trouble and save myself the heartache; I’ll distance myself from you before you push me away”. The protective factor makes sense. At the same time, it robs those who really do love and care about these individuals from the opportunity to show their love.

I had a good friend who moved away and, for years, didn't keep in touch with family or friends. This individual later came out as gay. And, while I can't say 100% of his inner circle embraced him, he was pleasantly surprised at how many were either enthusiastically supportive or simply didn't care one way or the other about his sexual orientation. He admitted that he regretted those wasted years away from his loved ones. But he also, quite reasonably, had been afraid of their reactions. Likewise, when each of these ministers made their announcements, there were conversations amongst their pastoral colleagues wondering why they hadn't shared. Many wished they could have had conversations of support. They would have walked alongside their fellow pastors as they wrestled with their decisions. But they heard through the same social media posts everyone else did—long after the offices were emptied and the change of address forms were submitted.

There were many, among members, who wished they had been given the chance to pray for or with their pastor. Sure the administration may have had a desire to usher out “problem pastors” as soon as possible, but administration doesn't define the church. This is not a #NotAllAdventists apology. Instead, this is recentering our understanding of who is the Church. The Office of the GC President is not “the Church”. Annual Council is not “the Church”. The Executive Committees are not “the Church”. They are part of the political machinery of the organization, but the people are the Church. And by Pastor Johnston’s own testimony, people from her local congregation met her announcement with care and compassion. I'm not privy to all the correspondence she's received, but from what's visible on social media, it appears overwhelmingly supportive. Certainly there are disparagers. Yet there are far more folks who are sending warmth and prayers. Even among those who may not agree with the decisions that were made, there is still genuine care for the individuals in question. The “official statements” from administration notwithstanding, by and large, the living breathing people who are the Church aren't interested in shunning anyone. It's disheartening that this is the continual narrative. We love you. Give us a chance to show it!

They're Right

Of course, their reluctance to be vulnerable is not unfounded. Historically, we have corporately pushed away people for far lesser “offenses” than rejecting Church teachings. The denomination has a well-deserved reputation for public shaming. Des Ford comes to mind. As does Merikay Silver. I was in Seminary when we were all warned to avoid the heretical influences of Ron Gladden. Our Church history is riddled with examples of blackballing anyone with divergent thoughts. Obviously there are times when perspectives become so divergent, a split is unavoidable. But there's no excuse for not being amicable.

Romans 14 is clear that each needs to be fully convinced in their own mind. If someone has genuinely come to another view on Scripture that is so incompatible with Adventist beliefs that they can no longer in good conscience remain in ministry, then that is a conviction they have the right to follow. No one should instigate antagonism toward them. Yet they are often branded an “enemy” of the faith. We condemn them as being of “Babylon”. We say they are examples of the last day “shaking”. This reaction is not of God. And it is a blight on our Church that the people of God act this way. Often people justify this behavior by quoting Matthew 18:17 “if the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector”. (CEV) Is this how we treat unbelievers?! If so, it's a wonder that anyone ever joins the Church!

Not only that, but our treatment produces a chilling effect on anyone who thinks differently. Sometimes we would do well to encourage open dialogue. Our denomination would have benefited from having constructive conversations with Ford, Silver, and Gladden about the heart of their legitimate concerns, before the public splashes. Sometimes we do need to re-evaluate and revamp. Does this mean that every situation will result in the Church changing its stances? Not all the time. But instead of branding people as pariahs, we can still leave the door open for various considerations. There still may be disagreements, but it doesn't have to result in a rift of relationships. We become so caught up in the idea of preserving our institutional stands that we are willing to destroy people in order to preserve our sacred cows (or meat analogs).

Pastor Johnston won't be the last pastor to leave Adventist ministry. But I hope that, should there be another public exit, the accompanying statement will be able to include some version of the following: “although I’m leaving, I know the bonds of love of my church will still remain strong. I am confident in the relationships I've built and know they will withstand this change. We are still family.”

Courtney Ray is an ordained pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8003
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Excellent and thoughtful article. Thanks.

The tendency of many in the church to try to demand the regulation of others according to their own inner lights and run roughshod over others.

I know a couple who were thrown out of cradle roll “roles” because they were wearing wedding rings which some thought was not acceptable.

They probably didn’t even know the term “sumptuary laws.”

On the other hand that church had many thoughtful folks—and the pastor himself was seen sporting a fancy wedding rind some years later after he’d moved on.

I think giving up on the community is not worthwhile. Communities change. One’s theology may differ…but we’re still community under the All Mighty so let’s hang in there.

The church is not really about “beliefs” but about community in “Love” and as such the GC, organizations, as I think the article underscores is not particularly central.

Our community of truth seekers, I believe, as “Adventists” cuts through many other “organizations”. The remnant is everywhere. The key question is, “Are we part of that Remnant”?

If Cyrus the Great was, seems like each one of us might be able to be included, and the Ayatollah Howdy Doody, or Sheikh Somebody and Rabbi Nobody ought to be included in those we respect and appreciate as part of the “Remnant.”

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Courtney Ray.

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My Pastor husband left because of abuses by the Conference. They hired him as a stipend pastor (half salary, no benefits), but he had to do the work of a full time pastor. They told him in 2 years he would be placed full time. That never happened. We quadrupled the membership and tithes by the glory of God in a harsh environment where that wasn’t expected.
We saw other pastors that were also stipend also getting calls to be full time… but not us. We were abandoned there. And the more we asked to please consider us, our accomplishments, our family and our children, the more retaliation we felt in sense of abandonment. “Sorry we can’t do anything to help you.” “You accepted this position as is.” "It will never happen."
We kept asking, why not? Never had a reply.
We noticed it was all political. Our church is politically full of itself sadly. If you aren’t a brown noser to someone in a high position, forget about getting called to lead a church.
While we were in such Conference, there were churches that had openings for full time, but they kept bringing pastors from other Conferences. In one case they brought in a pastor from another Division to lead the biggest Hispanic Church of “sin city” (he who has eyes, see…) knowing very well that such pastor had been fired from the Division of Origin for committing “adultery” or “an affair”… which in the laws of this country a person in position of power, that does this, is actually considered rape, even if the other part would say they consented, they really had no power to. Anyways… so they did all his paperwork and made him legal in this country, because he was friends with such and such… instead of helping the pastors within.
Then when other pastors would try to intercede with other stipend pastors, some of the Conference officials would just shove it off saying: “Well, they don’t want to be helped.”… “They’re fine as they are…”

Such abuse of privilege and power… it saddened us terribly. Our church at the end ended giving enough tithes to pay a full time pastor and a half.
With no support from the Conference, not even a visit from the president in 5 and a half years, our church members were also upset. Discontent kept growing. The pressure from both sides and the Conference’s lack of support discouraged us to a breaking point, and we left. We needed better for our children. We had no options for them there. No Adventist School, and no support. Not even a talk of a transfer.
Several other pastors also ended quitting because of this, some younger than us. One pastor even got fired “because he preached too much”, and churches around the Conference kept inviting him more than the President and Secretary themselves, he only preached Jesus, no conflicting doctrines, no division causing sermons. Just preached Jesus and how to better our relationship with Him and our trust in Him. As simple as that. He preached with power and they tried to silence him. Now even though not employed there anymore the churches still call him. May God keep blessing him.

Sometimes we in the ministry at some point feel it’s better to heed the call Paul had to take the light to the Gentiles rather than staying with the Jews… Gentiles seem to be more open at times to the light.

We tried to give the church a chance, yet it gave us no chance. We endured for 5 and a half years. In that time my husband still completed a distance master’s from Andrews… Sometimes I wonder what for? We live in a different Conference now and here too, all they want to consider him are for “stipend” positions in the middle of nowhere with no help for our children…

It has been easier for him to get a job with full paid benefits as a Hospital Chaplain than with our own Church. Our family and children are better taken care of and have more educational options to build them as great professionals for Christ in the future. With more support, they are happier and less are the chances that they would rebel and get into trouble. And they treat my husband way much better as he deserves. It is a huge relief for me to see him happy and relieved. He used to suffer such deep depressions it was heartbreaking, even suicidal! We had desperate times! Right now he is happy and healthy and so is the rest of our family! So relieved. But deep down we still grieve what could have been and didn’t happen. It is a sad state to watch in our Church… sadly there too, it’s all about politics, money and power… It’s better for office pastors to get the benefits of the pastors in the front lines and they don’t want to lose those… Meanwhile, the pastors in the front lines wear out faster with lack of support.

Since we left we have seen several independent churches around the country with some of our past pastors that also left. They keep all the SDA doctrines but are independent from the corporate headquarters…
We are not going that direction, we’re not at a point to even be able consider that right now…
But I do wonder… I can’t blame them nor judge them. And I don’t believe God does either. They even get to do a lot more good and reach hundreds of more people than when they were “constricted” to rules of hierarchy…

Yes, James White and Uriah Smith put the rules down for our church that power goes from the members up to the leaders… But sadly, at least in past years that I’ve seen and especially now with the current world church administration… the power is clearly up down, instead of down up. Sad… it’s shaking everywhere… It’s all a system to feed the big cow, when it could feed so many other cows and calves that would sprout every where.
Even EGW and Willy White got upset when all the tithes were centralized. There are documents of them showing their discontent in this. Because of this and other reasons such as EGW and justification by faith, and other of her complaints our church shipped her to Australia to get rid of her…
I guess it always happened :frowning:
And then people wonder why members leave especially our youth and young adults, when the growth could be like Pentecost… even in a more and more secular world it would still be strong if it really had Christ 100% of the time… but it has lost a way lot of His power the only best power, sadly…

These are our reasons outlined.

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I note that your perspectives appear right (white), wrong (black), and evolving (grey). Yes, our church, and society, is a testament of evolution, as it were, towards maturity/growth. Organizational and cultural changes are in the DNA of Adventism, too, albeit so much slower than progressives have any patience for!

Unfortunately, the casualties are very often those most tender among us, for varied reasons. A quip, in some circles, says that generations have to die off before some important changes can take hold. Don’t you hate that?! But if we take a look back a generation or two, the changes are indeed there, as the author notes.

However, the 3 scenarios that this articles draws out appear to illustrate different values that present alternative and more expedient solutions than any typical ‘growing pains’ grievances would. For example, both Pastor Knight (doctrinal disagreements) and Pastor Bell (atheism) were faced with the moral dilemma of accepting denominational salary (tithe) to sustain their careers in the Adventist Church. Whether or not these pastors were treated kindly with full acceptance from the constituents or others, the one “right” decision remained: to terminate the financial and professional ties that would compel them to adhere to and teach Adventism.

Pastor Johnson (sexual orientation), on the other hand, appeared to place the value of the Church’s present position, or how she felt treated over identifying with the usual inconveniences (or persecutions!) that so many have had to face when going against the grain of society. Over the years, Adventists have suffered racial and cultural prejudices by other Adventists – including murder! In past decades, in Europe and America, Adventist institutions had racially biased policies that today are embarrassing, not to mention illegal! I would venture that a special faith, bravery, and subjection to social mistreatment follows gays, some minorities, and female pastors even today. Etc., etc. Thankfully, there has been some progress.

Unfortunately, the fallout is tragic. But the good news is this: the evolution keeps progressing. This is where our compassion, support, and activism can be come tangible parts of a solution – or at least towards that end. More Biblically complicit gay pastors. more women ministers, more racial minorities are needed as pastors and in church leadership positions in order for this part of the Church’s maturity to advance. Certainly, it is applicable here to ask ourselves: “Am I part of the problem, or part of the solution?”

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Christianity was. Lived by Jesus described by Matt., Mark. And Luke. explained by John. and Paul. Recaptured by Martin Luther et al, Distorted by popery and Ellen White et al. Some flee back to,John and Paul, Other junk the whole deal. I for one have returned to John and Paul, Prsise be to God.

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another thing they all had in common was employment by the church, which i think is the critical commonality…had alicia, ryan or desmond been rank and file members, first of all, there would have been no real need to announce anything…and second of all, if their beliefs did happen to come out in a sabbath school discussion, for example, i think it’s quite unlikely that anything would change for them…in fact their differences are what would make the sabbath school discussion more interesting…

i have never in my life seen anyone disfellowshipped for saying something in sabbath school…come to think of it, i have never in my life seen anyone disfellowshipped who wasn’t an employee…i’ve heard of it happening, but i’ve never actually seen it in real life…

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[quote=“vandieman, post:7, topic:13460”]
another thing they all had in common was employment by the church, which i think is the critical commonality…had alicia . . . [/quote]

I was not surprised to hear Alicia had resigned her post - it would take a highly creative conference president to carve a unique niche out for her where she could minister to those of like mind and heart.

She has a masters in theology - it would have been even more creative if the conference had promised to later send her back to Andrews to research in her field, returning with a PH.D - not in some or other aspect of EGW’s life and times but something far more relevant to the challenge which Christendom at large faces today. Opportunity missed, unfortunately. Far too radical a suggestion.

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Your husband was probably perceived as a threat to those in power. That’s what it sounds like to me, being that he was so effective.

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The problem is having a professional ministry.One can be ordained of God or ordained of man but not usually at the same time.
Being paid to pray makes it an exercise in futility

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If you want to know what church employees really think, ask them after they retire.[quote=“gormac70, post:18, topic:13460”]

I was fortunate in being able to see the church at it’s best as I worked on a mission station where the church had one of it’s finest hospitals in Africa. There I met deeply committed specialist doctors and nurses and enjoyed the company of local pastors and church members.
[/quote]

Nice post, gormac. No doubt, SDA workers are among the best, especially those who dedicate themselves to missions.

It just seems that most of the pushback on doctrines and the business end of the church comes from retired members - with the exception of Des Ford, to his credit.

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For myself, I can only speak well of the way the church treated me. I was a church worker and a missionary for thirteen years and left due to personal circumstances. I was treated well and simply moved on, eventually leaving the church and becoming a Roman Catholic some twenty years later - after having been a practising Seventh-day Adventist for thirty-two years.
I was fortunate in being able to see the church at it’s best as I worked on a mission station where the church had one of it’s finest hospitals in Africa. There I met deeply committed specialist doctors and nurses and enjoyed the company of local pastors and church members. I have nothing but admiration for the fine work which the church does in the mission field. During that time I also had the privilege of meeting wonderful men and women at Division and General Conference level - fine committed men and women.
Of course I saw weaknesses in the ‘system’, but I think I have been wise enough to realise that is the common lot of humanity anyway, and there is no reason to believe the SDA or any other church is any different. I guess that even in New Testament times it was no different - I think that comes through both in and between the lines of Paul’s letters to the early churches. Since leaving the SDA church I worshipped in all manner of churches and must admit that as a consequence of my being a worker in the SDA church I was able to recognise the same faults in other churches - without any exception whatsoever.

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Oh my goodness the thought that Pastor Ron Gladden was heretical is unfortunate! I have known him for years and he has fostered so many churches that are in the business of attracting and saving the unchurched while most of our regular churches steal sheep from other denominations! It is sad that we sent him packing but it is wonderful for all the new members he has won for Jesus. Isn’t that what is most important?

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