October 15, 2019 Annual Council Report (Tuesday Business Sessions)

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October 15, 2019 Annual Council Report (Tuesday Business Sessions)

Editorial Note: On  October 15, 2019, the General Conference Executive Committee discussed and voted on two disciplinary actions against six unions perceived as non-compliant with church policy in regards to the ordination and commissioning of pastors: four European Unions which commission both men and women, and two North American Unions which ordain women. If you have missed the discussion or would like to review it, this comprehensive report (including many word-for-word transcriptions) will help you understand the complexity of the issues around the current situation and the direction the church appears to be headed.

Tuesday Morning Business Session, Presided by Billy Biaggi, General Conference Vice President

Selected Voted Action: The vote about deleting the paragraph below, which was tabled on Sunday was reopened and voted up with 170 (yes) to 65 (no). As a result, conference presidents from the division in which the annual meetings are held will not have voice. More specifically, if, as projected, the future annual councils will be held in North America, as they usually have been, NAD conference presidents will not have voice.

GENERAL CONFERENCE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE – CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS AMENDMENT – 2. Section 7. “Local conference/mission/field presidents shall be invited to attend annual council meetings of the General Conference Executive Committee when it is held within the territory of their division. Unless an executive session, which consists of members only, is called, such invitees shall be extended the privilege of participation in all discussions of the meetings, but without vote.”

Tuesday Afternoon Business Session, Presided by Ted Wilson, General Conference President

Ted Wilson brought to the table “Recommendations resulting from the 2018 annual council compliance action” in what he labeled as a “delicate and sensitive” situation. Wilson noted that the divisions were given time to deal with perceived non-compliance and on June 4, 2019, a letter was sent from the Secretariat to the NAD, EUD, and TED outlining the procedures voted at the annual council and requesting the divisions to work with these entities and report back. The three divisions responded but not appropriately, (which would have involved changes made by the entities out of compliance). Wilson indicated that the AdCom debated whether to involve the compliance committees in regards to the ordination of women non-compliant entities, but the decision was made not to use them because of the negative perception of these committees, even though they were meant only as advisory committees to the AdCom. Instead, the AdCom reverted to the typical procedure of officers recommending to the AdCom. “To receive a warning or even a public reprimand is not the end of the world, it is simply saying that this group [is] headed in a direction we wish you weren’t, and we encourage you to go in another direction,” said Wilson. He also mentioned that in cases of warning there is ample opportunity for dialogue, with no specific dates, and that neither warnings or public reprimands have consequences on voice, vote, and carrying out the responsibilities of the job. Wilson clarified that when a public reprimand is specific to an individual it is because that person represents the entity. He also noted that at the last annual council it was voted that an Executive Committee member can be removed with warrant by a 2/3 majority vote. Wilson recommended the attendees to vote rather than tabling or referring. Lastly, he stated the reason why the non-compliance regarding women’s ordination is being profiled: “I know of nothing … in the history of our church where there has been direct action against a voted action by a General Conference session on the part of entities.” In the future, the AdCom will also look at occasional or routine financial non-compliance issues.

The Recommendation included two sections, the first of which concerned entities which do not ordain pastors but commission both males and females.

Victor Marley, Norwegian Union President, noted that, according to the Church Manual, members facing disciplinary action should be given two weeks’ notice and time to present their case, which unfortunately is not the situation. He asked if representatives of the five named entities can be given 4 minutes to respond. Wilson agreed, stating that they had at least one year’s notice.

G.T. Ng moved that the following entities be placed in the “warned” category: Danish Union, North-German Union, Norwegian Union, and Swedish Union.

Selected Comments:

Robert Sjolander, Swedish Union President: “In the Swedish Union we had one-third of our pastors that are women, and I am extremely proud of each one of them. But it’s not primarily for their sake that I stand here today. They and not the rest of us in Sweden either are insisting on ordination. They have rather said that even if they disagree they will still respect the decision that was made in San Antonio four years ago. But we, in the Swedish Union, have clearly come to a point when we, actually in a Union session, have said and decided that we need to find a way to treat our male and female pastors equally. Why? So that we can reach the people in Sweden for Jesus Christ. So we have backed off from ordination for both men and women so that we can say that we are standing behind our Fundamental Belief number 14, which states the equality of men and women. We are accused of non-compliance when it comes to voted policies. I believe that it is important … to look at the process that we voted last year. I don’t believe that we’ve followed that process to the point where we can say that it’s been done in the right way. There are many points that I could bring up here but we had as one of the major points that the level of the organization that is closest to the perceived non-compliant entity is responsible for the process of working with a non-compliant entity, and in our case, that is the TED, the division leadership. And we have started the process with them, we’ve had meetings, we’ve discussed this and we have tried to follow this process, but this summer, as you have said, you wrote us and you have said, well, you have to have it done by this time. I don’t think that’s the way that it was outlined. It says clearly that we need to take time in prayer, much prayer and dialogue in order to solve this. We are in the middle of that and we need more time. There is also an appeal process as outlined in that document, which is point number 4, and I have a clear question to all of you here: what happened to that process? What happened to that possibility to appeal the recommendation? When a recommendation is done, me or the perceived non-compliant entity has the right to appeal that recommendation. I got the recommendation last night, I have not had the time to appeal that. What happened to that point that we voted last year? And there are others, but I see that my four minutes are up and I am hopeful that we can go in a different direction than have to go the way this document is outlining.”

Wilson: “The letter was sent with enough time to fulfill the requirements.”

Sjolander reiterated his question about the process for appeal.

Wilson: “Yes, you can have the appeal.”

Sjolander: “Appeal of the recommendation before there is a process of voting.”

Wilson: “We did not use the Compliance Review Committee process. So we used a direct process and went directly to the division.”

Sjolander: “So you’ve taken away the availability for me to appeal the recommendation, is that what you are saying?

Wilson: “Even the proposed action here says that you can appeal through the process that is indicated.”

Sjolander: “That’s when the decision is already been made but point 4 here says that I have the right to appeal the recommendation.”

Wilson: “Well, the process we have used is going directly to the divisions, and they knew where we were going essentially.”

Sjolander: “Yes, but the recommendation came yesterday and that’s what I want to appeal according to what we decided last fall. But you’ve taken away that.”

Wilson: “Your divisions should have informed you of what the approach was going to be.”

Sjolander: Sir, I am very disappointed. We voted a policy and we are not following that. I am saddened to hear about this, very sad.”

Victor Marley, Norwegian Union President: “I have three questions and I’d rather they were not rhetorical, because I believe that the committee deserves some clarification on them. The first one you have to a certain degree answered – who is next on the list, whose is next on the radar. You mentioned the 81-83% in dimension finances, and that may be where the watchful eye of the AdCom lands next. I’m just wondering, is there any other issues, is there other reprimands or warnings that we possibly can expect in the next years? My second question relates to policy. I want to make it clear to the Executive Committee, that if voted, the Norwegian Union is in actual fact receiving a warning for being compliant. We are compliant with Working Policy basic principle BA 6005, which says: ‘The church rejects any system or philosophy which discriminates against anyone on the basis of race, color, or gender.’ And it continues: ‘The church bases this position on principles clearly enunciated in the Bible, the writings of Ellen White, and the official pronouncements of the General Conference.’ Further, we are compliant with policy BA 6010 on employment, which says: ‘The world church supports non-discrimination in employment practices and policies, and upholds the principle that both men and women, without regards to race and color should be given full and equal opportunity within the church to develop the knowledge and skills needed for the building up of the church. Positions of service and responsibility on all levels of church activity should be open to all on the basis of the individual’s qualifications.’ Now the problem of course is the exception clause in BA 6019 which states ‘except those requiring ordination to the Gospel Ministry’ in parenthesis. That exception clause strides against everything else that is written in policy and our Fundamental Beliefs. So I would like some information, Mr. Chairman, on what GC AdCom is doing to address that inconsistency because I think therein lies the key. Are we do to away with our basic principles and Fundamental Beliefs, or are we to do something with the exception clause? Are we an organization that promotes discrimination or not? My third question is this: how does this end, Mr. Chairman? What is your exit strategy? How do you propose that we move on? What we need now are not warnings and reprimands. What we need now is constructive and 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 policy conundrum. So those are my questions: Who is next? How are you working to resolve the contradiction in policy, and how are we planning to move on from this issue? I recommend to my colleagues here in this room that we perhaps think again before voting this action because there are these questions and many others that I don’t think we have enough clarification on.

Wilson: “Thank you for your opinions, because much of that was an opinion.” In regards to other areas of possible disciplinary actions, Wilson listed financial areas and possibly institutions or organizations not promoting and living up to the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of creation. “The aspect of discrimination I think I’ll just have to leave it with the tension that you have already indicated exists, because the policy does have that exception, and this body would have to remove that exception and beyond that it probably would have to go to a General Conference session because it has been there three times. So I guess that is something that certainly is at the basis of much of the discussion.” He indicated not being sure about the exit strategy.

Thomas Muller, Danish Union President: “Last week I went to the airport and I was a happy person. I was going to meet friends and colleagues. I was expecting a good annual council. Then I arrive here, and suddenly here, a warning is on its way, and last night, just a couple of hours ago, we see it in writing. The Danish Union has decided to appoint its pastors because we are trying to live inside policy. The Executive Committee regards policy very high and we are trying to accommodate inside what policy allows. So at the moment we are commissioning our male pastors. And is that what we are receiving a warning for today? I was expecting something else of the annual council … I have the patience and I know the structure of the church here. I have the overview and I can live with the warning. And as you’re trying to say, you’re downplaying the warning. The more you’re downplaying the warning, the more I question why on earth are we then receiving the warning. Anyway, I can live with it. But what I am concerned with is, my membership back home, we are alienating them from the world church. We just saw a wonderful ‘I Will Go’ campaign for the next quinquennium. I would love to go home and inspire my people to be a part of that. But this issue and the way we are dealing with this issue is alienating our members. And I think you know what my recommendation is when we come to vote. Last year at annual council I was inspired by 2 Samuel where some of David’s people where publicly shamed. Half of their beard was taken off. And that was a shame, so David hides them in some town until they can come out again. And I’m just thinking, is that really a way we want to work with the church? Is that the way we solve issues and solutions, by shaming, by warning, by reprimanding each other? I believe there is a better way, and I ended my short speech last year by an appeal to the leadership of the GC, the leadership of this house, to dig a little deeper in the toolbox and find other ways of taking, solving, finding solutions. We are here. The Executive Committee is here and ready for dialogue. We received, yes, the letter in June; we haven’t had an Executive Committee since then. From my officers in the division they have said all along the time: Denmark is inside policy. So it’s a great surprise for me to stand here and receive a public warning.”

Wilson: “In reality the letter that was sent from the General Conference was not a letter or an indication that would start the process. It was only a reminder. The division is responsible, and they, I am sure, have been talking to you for some time. So, the actual citing or indication of those in the list, the four entities that are in the list, as it says here, that they are not in harmony with practices on credentialing in the Working Policy. So to actually set aside and to provide commissioned licenses or some other licenses is not in compliance with the Working Policy. So … you may think you are in policy, but in reality, you are not following the policy. And so that’s why the warning is being provided.”

Muller: “I would have loved to have that communication a bit earlier. Did I understand you correctly when you say commissioning pastors is not inside policy?”

Wilson: “Commissioning is, but not ordaining pastors is not according to policy. So, as we understand it, you are not ordaining anyone.”

Muller: “That’s correct.”

Werner Dullinger, South German Union President and President of the Adventist Church in Germany, reiterated that the action of the Northern German Union was their best way of staying within world-church policy and within their constituency vote that required equality for employees in pastoral work. As exceptions, if the pastor is transferred to another union or is voted to become president of conference or union, he would be ordained. The speaker also expressed concern about the lack of official communication, indicating that they did not know they were considered out of compliance. He suggested we should focus on mission and indicated that going back to the committees with the decision would alienate the members from the world church. “For the sake of unity and mission, I can just kindly ask this body not to speak out these warnings.”

Johannes Naether, Northern German Union President: “In 2016 our Executive Committee from the North German Union decided to vote for a document which was sent to the GC, and in this document we described our position to the issue of women’s ordination and we think we gave good biblical reasons for this issue. Since 2016 no one has spoken with us, we got no reaction to his document. This was three years ago, so my question is: what do you mean, and what is our task furthermore that we have to do this issue. From my perspective we are in harmony with Working Policy, we treat men and women equally, and for us this is a fundamental value, a human right, that we think is expressed in the Bible and also in the Fundamental Belief number 14.”

Wilson “The reason for the warning is that there is no ordination taking place.”

Naether: “But no one has spoken to us. This document was voted in 2016. I cannot understand what is the problem to get in communication with us.”

Wilson: “When the item was voted in the administrative committee information was sent to all three divisions. That is their responsibility to communicate with you.”

Naether: “Yes, they can communicate with us when you react.”

Wilson: “I don’t follow you.”

Naether: “Okay.”

Stephan Sigg, Swiss Union President, indicated that they follow a process in which they are misled and that the General Conference administration recommends to warn and reprimand unions which are not in rebellion but pursue mission in their context based on a legitimate interpretation of God’s word as reflected in our theology. These unions embrace the equality of men and women, both of whom are made in the image of God. “You have stated that you are faithful to what has been voted in 2018. This is a man-made law. I am faithful to my conscience and I cannot follow in this procedure.”

Lowell Cooper, retired, NAD, appreciated the gentle spirit in the document and in Wilson’s approach and agreed that the church must have a disciplinary system. However, he spoke against the presentation of the documentation to the Executive Committee as a sole result of the AdCom thinking. He expressed concern that the document does not include any specification as to what policy has met with non-compliance, and no statement of any explanation from the entities identified. He deemed this process premature and hasty, and stated that excellence in due process was not followed.

Wilson replied that all three division officers were informed immediately after the vote of the AdCom, on Sept. 24, 25, he personally having sent messages that these items would go to the floor.

Hensely Moorooven replied to the comments regarding lack of awareness, stating that as the GC gathered qualitative and quantitative data in all divisions they also had dialogue about non-compliance.

Robert deRaad, Netherlands Union President, noted that he has been attending the annual council for three consecutive years since 2017, and he is confronted with different procedures each time, which creates misunderstanding. He asked “a simple question with wisdom in it: …What would Jesus do?” deRaad expressed doubt that the path to discipline is the best approach and indicated that there are more constructive ways of dealing with non-compliance.

Jan Paulsen: “For me personally, this really is a very sad day. Sad indeed. A day of mourning and weeping. We all know that the root of the issue here is the question of the equality of men and women in the ministries and services of the church. And here we are today, being brought to rebuke publicly, stigmatizing organizations that have acted in the best possible faith, acted in a way which reflects the harmony of the will of God, as led by the Holy Spirit, as they understand it, what is best for the church in their territory where they are. I am proud of the statements that the four union presidents from Europe have made. They know the situation in Europe, they know what the church needs, how the church can be respectable in public, and they want the church to be obedient to the voice of God. It’s a struggle for the church to grow, and they are finding the ways that would make it more possible for the church. So, I am disappointed that we have this process. I am also baffled by the fact that we are here setting a precedent, which will come into force in respect to many other matters later when we look to non-compliance in other issues around the world; that we now have started the process of stigmatizing, and in this way rebuking publicly individuals. I ask myself; what is the end-product of this? Where will it take us? What if they cannot — and we have to remember they have their constituencies all of them they have to live with — what if they cannot make the changes that some of the leadership here are hopeful? What is the end-product of the process? I fear where this will take us. I cannot see that this is the way God wants us to proceed.”

Wilson offered a reminder that these provisions were voted by the Executive Committee last year, when their appropriateness was debated.

Ian Sweeney, British Union Conference President, referenced historical events within the UK that led to a “divided kingdom.” “It is now widely reported that hate crimes and racism have risen in the UK because of the Brexit vote. I am tired of experiencing division in the UK and of having to remain either a remainder or a Brexiteer. I would like my church to be a place where I can experience something united, but sadly that is not my experience. You either belong to a certain theological group or you don’t.” Sweeney noted that, while the British Union conference would not pursue the actions of some fellow unions, he fears a disciplinary action would lead to actions further divisive of our church. “This public discussion viewed across the globe is disciplinary action enough.”

Norbert Zens, EUD Treasurer, commented that he wrestled with the issue for some time and that the division has not learned how to process what we voted at the last annual council. He also noted that the North German Union did what they could to stand true to their constituency as well as comply with policy. “Regarding the process, we received the letter from you, this is correct, in June 7, but in that letter, there was only mentioned the Czecho-Slovakian Union, and not the North German Union. So …  I am now struggling how to interpret this letter then. If you have not reminded us of the North German Union in the letter of the secretary of June 7, why is it not there in addition to that? I am concerned that we really would give that ample time to discuss and see how we come together on that… I understand we are all tired somehow of the issue, but I am also concerned about the integrity of the process. And with that, that you took that through the AdCom, you basically took away the possibility of appeal, and I think we should have the most fair and transparent process as we could find in such a difficult matter.”

Wilson: “The appeal process is completely open at any time.” He clarified that the AdCom had been previously informed that there was no policy violation, but after sending the letter learned they had not been ordaining people and they had been in contact about that.

G.T. Ng. appreciated the speeches from the European leadership, because they try best to be compliant. “They know they are not in compliance, but they try very hard. However hard they have tried, they are still in non-compliance. Just like if I tell my children, curfew is at 10 o’clock. If they used to come back at midnight, but if they improve their compliance by one hour, by returning at 11 o’clock, they are still in non-compliance. So, they are making progress, but not enough progress to be in total compliance. And then there are many arguments about equality between men and women, about matter of conscience, about this matter of women’s ordination. All these arguments are excellent, but they are rather late, because we are not talking about the process now, the process has already been voted last year, 2018, in Battle Creek. What we are doing now is to implement the process. If the process had not been voted, then we are back to square one. But we are not there. The Lord, in His mercy, has guided the assembly. We have a representative system. It is not a perfect system but is the only system we have. And when the vote went one way, then we get on with life, we move on. So, we are not talking about the process itself, whether it’s fair, whether it’s against my conscience, or whether anything else. We are talking about how do we implement those voted actions in Battle Creek.”

Christine (?), lay member, British Union, TED, said she has a heavy heart and is saddened and uncomfortable with the process, and that lay members would appreciate more transparency and communication to help them understand what is going on. “Today it feels like, there was a vote made and there was a process, but then you’ve decided to drop that process and use something else. That’s very uncomfortable to me. My eighteen-year-old daughter is watching at home and as a world church that has just spent two days talking about youth and leadership, what message are we giving to the church? I would like to encourage the administration, please, please, be more transparent and open with plans, and stick to the guidelines that you set…. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of my division, and here I stand, I can do no other.”

Wilson reiterated that the wording of the action in Battle Creek was that AdCom may use the compliance review committees, and that, even though AdCom has the privilege to use them, and may use them at a future time, they decided not to do so now because it was such a maligned item.

Randy Roberts, NAD, “The issue of women’s ordination has divided us, it has loomed over each annual council for a number of years, and now, sadly, in my mind, regardless of what everything else we have discussed, has become the defining theme of the last several years. That, and a setting where it seems to me most, if not all people, agree, people of deep commitment to both Jesus and church, that this is an issue that can be seen from both sides. … Many recognize that whether we see this issue from one side or another, it’s a matter that most hold so deeply as to be a matter of conscience. As such, it distinguishes itself from most other policy votes and actions. To publicly then shame people for issues which can honestly be seen differently, moves us away from the example of Jesus. I was most interested in what you said earlier, and just repeated, about the compliance committees and the strong push-back received – so strong as to choose not to use them. I would simply underline that that reaction matches closely the reaction I have seen among many in the church. In fact, the decision to move it to AdCom is going to be clearly read as a consolidation of the power of the office of the GC president. In light of those points, I would encourage you to look around at this room’s demographics: largely male, largely older. I think we all agree that we are losing coming generations. The coming generations are not monolithic, they do not all see it exactly the same way. However, at least in this country, they are extremely sensitive to issues of inequality, and bias, and misuse of power. So, I would urge each delegate to just think of going home, and answering your young adult community: What did you do at annual council?

Wilson shared his hope that people will take back a positive impression about mission and corrected a misunderstanding about the Compliance Review Committees, stating that they are only advisory committees to the administrative committees of the GC. When used, they report back to AdCom but AdCom makes the decision. “If they choose not to use a Compliance Review Committee and use some other provision that it is the right of AdCom. Wilson does not make the decision. AdCom made the decision.” The decision, clarified Wilson, was not unanimous, but there was strong support for this recommendation. “We work in a democratic fashion. So, I don’t want anyone to think that somehow this is a consolidation of power,” said Wilson, adding that he was aware they would have been criticized whichever way they proceeded.

Tamas Ocsai, Hungarian Union Conference President, TED: “This is my eleventh annual council and I am trembling, not only because of my poor English, but because of the issue. This is my second time to talk to this body, last year with the same topic I had a speech, and now I have to confess something. The Hungarian Union Conference’s name should be on this list, because recently one of the pastors …asked us not to be ordained, because his wife is ‘only’ commissioned. And because of the conscience, the Hungarian Union Conference Executive Committee responsible with ordaining pastors accepted his explanation, and we decided not to ordain him but just only commission him. … So this is what I have to confess, and I know some other unions around the world, some very similar situations, so we need to be on the list.”

Ocsai’s speech engendered applause.

Wilson: “Well, we’ll have to discuss that with your division. And I don’t know all the aspects, Tamas, but I would have to say that it depends to a certain extent on what the official policy or approach is for a union. If you have decided not to ordain anyone, and only commission, then that’s when we would run into a more major problem. But talk with your division, let’s see how that progresses.”

David Trim: “I don’t believe the GC or any division wants to second guess every choice of ordaining every pastor. And as my brother from Hungary said, probably this practice has been followed elsewhere. What makes a difference for the unions that are in question here is that they have taken as a policy decision that they will do this or not do it consistently. So, there is a very significant difference between the case of Hungary and the case of other unions.”

Zhan Taraniuk, Siberian Union President: “In last five years, Russian society understood very well what does it mean to live under sanctions. Almost each month we could hear about you and your sanctions (referring to political issues), but what are the results? It seems that sanctions method is not the best one in our world. But that’s in politics. What about church? When we open Acts 15, you can find one of the first world church decision. And did all congregation immediately followed it? The answer obviously is no, and sometimes even apostles failed, according to Galatians chapter 2. And now, what was the reply of authorities? The most important reply was that Paul started writing letters. It is paradoxical … but we have those wonderful letters not because of church obedience, but because of church disobedience. Our wonderful Lord can use church problems in favor of His great mission and I believe that God will turn somehow situation we are facing now in favor of His great mission. But we as a church should still use our main approach like theological and pastoral.”

Dan Linrud, Oregon Conference President: “I recognize that I have a lot less experience with policy than the GC Secretariat does. However, as I am looking at the General Conference Working Policy, in looking at L23, for Commissioned Ministers, says: ‘Similar personal qualities, knowledge, commitment, skills, and standards of examinations outlined in L50 (which is the qualifications for ordination) shall apply to a candidate for commissioning, whether male or female, notwithstanding variances of authority and responsibility between a commissioned and ordained minister.’ Then, L25 appears, from my reading of it, to give a pathway to how to, through the Executive Committee of local conference, extend the ability to carry out the functions, essentially of on ordained minister, mostly, with a couple of exceptions. And then, when you come to L25-30, where it talks about ordination, it says this: ‘The licensed minister is ordinarily,’ which I would read as ‘maybe,’ we like the word ‘may’ today, so maybe ‘is ordinarily ordained to Gospel Ministry, after satisfactorily fulfilling a period of pastoral evangelistic service.’ I am missing in my reading of this policy of ordination a mandate for ordination of ministers, and a prohibition of commissioning, rather than ordaining, which appears to be what the matter of this particular action is with respect to our four sister unions. And so, I would like clarification, if possible … from GC Secretariat, pointing out where that mandate is that a conference and a union must ordain, and may not, under any circumstances, offer commissioning rather than ordination if a minister qualifies for either.”

Wilson: “I think certainly if you read the entire policy on ordination, and this has been our historical understanding, the ministry has been built upon ordained ministers. It may not specifically say that you must ordain someone, but it certainly is implied, and it is also prescriptive in that a conference president must be an ordained minister. So, somewhere along the line you have to actually ordain someone.”

David Trim referred Linrud to the GC Secretariat study published online in 2017.

Retired health ministry director: “… There comes a point sometimes when there is no going back… I see that we are going to vote the paper that’s before us, and I believe you told us that that would pass with a simple majority. But if the time came that there is actually a disciplinary action that needed to be taken, and I may have misunderstood you, that we needed two-thirds majority. If that is correct…wouldn’t it be wise to ask for two-thirds majority today, for this action, seeing where it’s going to possibly lead us?”

Wilson reminded the attendees that the actions taken at the annual council last year concerning warnings and reprimands require simply majority as they are not found in policy. A third and more aggressive disciplinary concerning the removal of an individual from membership in the Executive Committee is in the bylaws and requires two-thirds majority vote.

A SSD pastor expressed his respect for the leadership and reiterated that when an entity is not compliant there should be a consequence. He asked what particular consequences follow for those warned or reprimanded.

Leslie Pollard, Oakwood University President, asked what is more urgent, compliance, or mission (in context), and indicated his preference for a third way that involves dialogue. “Part of my concern today is that I would not be able to vote for this action, because I believe that this church is big enough to absorb non-compliance but it’s too fragile to have mission injured in these various fields … I didn’t believe that my vote the last time would injure mission this time, and so this time I will correct myself. I cannot vote for this, because I cannot contribute to the injury of mission that my colleagues are representing.”

Cesar Sanchez, pastor from the North-Mexican Union, speaking in support of the document, stated that a bad generation is not a product of causality but a result of the bad decisions of previous generations. Referencing the book of Judges, he suggested that we cannot allow each person to do whatever they wish.

Jiwan Moon, GC, said he is attending a church in a non-compliant union and expressed his belief that compliance can bring us together. He asked whether the church is ready to cut away unions who would decide to follow their conscience.

James Daniel, Inter-American Division, asked if a president can say to a committee that a vote taken by a committee is not in compliance, and if yes, would this not take the church in the direction of becoming a presidential church?

Dan Linrud called a point of order given that the motion could be hostile to the Working Policy, since “nothing has been determined as to those entities being out of harmony with Working Policy.” Wilson replied that this is not a point of order.

The vote was taken by secret ballot and it carried with 164 (yes) to 124 (no).

The second recommendation concerned the presidents of two unions in North America that have been ordaining women.

Wilson indicated that the presidents of Pacific Union and Columbia Union would have 4 minutes to speak whenever they wish. Both Dave Weigly, Columbia Union President, and Ricardo Graham, Pacific Union President, requested to speak at the end of the discussion.

Selected Comments:

Dan Jackson, NAD President: “The matter of conscience is one of the fascinating features of human existence. Often times in history, the exercise of conscience has led to one form of consequence or the other. The names Luther, Zwingli, Huss, Jerome, and others come to mind. Today we stand at the place where conscience and consequences meet. The question we face is: how will we, as a body, deal with those who have exercised conscience contrary to the clearly defined statements and votes? For the first time that I know of, we are bringing two individual leaders who represent close to 400,000 people, that is, their constituencies, before this body, to reprimand them personally, that is, by name. It appears that in so doing, we are saying that this misdemeanor is greater than many other actions that occur in the church; other actions such as administrative fraud and subsequent cover-up, administrative intimidation tactics, voter and member manipulation [which] have all occurred in the church. We have never once felt compelled to bring … the leaders guilty of these actions before this body. The recommended action puts us in a place, in my opinion, that is very uncomplimentary to the church. Should we move forward and approve this action, we are opening the wounds of those who cannot represent themselves: our women, our youth, our seniors. And I just say, in conclusion: he who is without any policy violation, cast the first reprimand.”

Ron Smith, Southern Union President, spoke against the recommendation, which is perceived by many in the Southern Union as “divisive, inflammatory, and distracting…. Though my Union has chosen to remain in compliance for now, I, as President of the Southern Union, would be most honored to be publicly reprimanded along with my colleagues who followed the dictates of the constituencies they chair…. I want to thank the General Conference administration for your effort, but I believe that we need another way forward. I am convinced now more than ever that there are three things God requires of us, particularly as leaders, and that is: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”

A layman from NAD stated that, while he resents the implication that our youth will be put off by this reprimand in some circles, in other places the youth will be upset if we do not reprimand leaders for non-compliance, as it will give them the impression that they can do whatever they want and don’t need to follow the church. Citing Ellen White and commenting on a situation where she recommended some who disagreed with a GC decision to abide by it, he stated: “Mrs. White says [that] if we don’t reprimand we are going to fracture the church. We stay together in unity by reprimanding and by discipline.”

Velino Salzar, Southern California Conference President (a conference out of compliance in the Pacific Union), indicated that the third position of the TOSC Report “by default implied that the ordination issue is not a theological issue, but an ecclesiastical one, which now has become a policy issue, not a biblical one at all. These union leaders are reprimanded for doing their work…. Actually, if any reprimanding should happen, these should be given to those thousands of church members, their conference and unions who will continue not discriminating women from ordination because it is the right thing, beyond any policy … because ordaining without regard to gender is biblical, as already has been mentioned in the TOSC report, is supported by Ellen G. White, based as well on the TOSC report, is part of the Fundamental Beliefs 14 and 17 … We [The Southern California Conference] are ready to act and behave according to our conscience, not discriminating [against our] mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, who have received the call of God to ministry.”

Dean Coridan, Iowa-Missouri Conference President, requested that his name be added to the list of non-compliance. “There is a way forward,” said Gordon, holding up a copy of the General Conference Bulletin of 1903 and suggesting that 50 pages (145-195) offer the path forward in God’s way.

Alex Bryant, NAD, noted that this is an unprecedented place in the history of our church in being asked to consider disciplining unions for “voting their conscience on an item that doesn’t go against our doctrines, an item that we have not had biblical agreement on, and [which] Fundamental Belief 14 seems to support.” Pointing to the conflict between voted actions of the General Conference and Fundamental Belief 14, Bryant asked for a way to reconcile the two and expressed his conviction that this would offer a way forward. He also suggested that disciplining conference or union presidents for an action of the constituency should be reconsidered.

Leon Brown, Nevada-Utah Conference, noted that he is the first African-American president of this conference – something impossible fifty years ago. He expressed hope that in thirty years there will be many more women involved in the annual councils. Brown mentioned Ellen White’s ordination credentials and indicated that in the regions he serves they face unique challenges but seek to serve according to God’s will.

Mark Johnson, President of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Canada, mentioned that public shaming of an individual is illegal in Canada based on a human rights act. He also expressed concern about the terminology of reinstatement in the document – language of church discipline which implies that a person can lose status – and asked for secret ballot.

Natasha Disinger, layperson, NAD, spoke in support of the document as a representative of youth who both agree and disagree with women’s ordination but want unity in the church. She also appreciated Ricardo Graham for always treating her with kindness despite her upfront speeches in disagreement with leaders such as Graham and Wrigley and encouraged the audience to extend the same grace to everyone, including in their portrayal of the General Conference administration.

Harrington Akombwa, Southern Zambia Union Conference, representing 740,000 members, spoke in favor of the motion because he believes the Adventist Church is the remnant church who stands on the Bible alone. He stated: “Everybody is talking about conscience, … so if your conscience tells you you should not come for these meetings at the time set, when are we going to have an Executive Committee?” In the conclusion of his speech Akombwa cited a quote by Ellen White where she indicates that the church is the voice of God and suggested that opinion must be surrendered.

A speaker from the Southern Africa-Indian Division read a section from the Church Manual in order to reiterate the representative model of governance in our church. “[In achieving] unity you don’t necessarily have to agree, but you have to cooperate, for the sake of unity.”

A speaker from the West Central Africa Division said: “I was expecting some level of remorse … [but] the open display of impunity is worrying.” He stated that the issue of “conscience does not come in here, it would have to be what truth is all about, in this case what this body of Christ have decided.”

Gary Thurber, Mid-America Union President, spoke in defense of Graham’s and Wrigley’s ministries, characters, and commitment to the church, and indicated that in the last eight years since they have been ordaining women their territory and tithe has grown. He stated that the church has policies in place that could better address this.

Earl Knight, Atlantic Union President, stated that many unions are likely in sympathy with Graham and Wrigley who only represent their constituency. Union presidents must live with decisions they may not always agree with, said Knight, speaking against the public shaming of individuals and expressing hope for another way forward.

Randy Roberts, NAD, spoke in opposition to the motion, underlining the percentage of the vote to ordain women (80% Columbia Union and 79% Pacific Union). He expressed concern for a motion that publicly shames the representatives of these bodies and referred to Jesus’ example in seeking to counteract or avoid shaming individuals.

Debbie Jackson, NAD asked if the terminology of reinstatement implies that the person can be removed from their position and if in the United States a church can legally remove someone from their position because of gender issues. Legal counsel replied that the Executive Committee has the power to reprimand or remove from the Executive Committee for cause but cannot to remove a person from their appointed position.

Victor Marley, Norwegian Union President, made a motion to amend to warn the unions instead of reprimanding their representatives.

Dave Weigly, Columbia Union President, expressed his regret over not having been given the opportunity to present the reasons why Columbia Union decided to ordain women and asked for this opportunity. Wilson indicated that he was present at their constituency meeting when the vote to ordain women was taken and has heard their arguments. Wrigley confirmed that but indicated that the Executive Committee, the body asked to vote, did not have a chance to hear their reasons. In reply, Wilson reiterated that we work in a representative system and the division was supposed to work with him.

The motion to amend carried with 161 (yes) to 92 (no). Thus, if the initial motion is voted up, Pacific Union and Columbia Union would receive a warning.

Ricardo Graham, Pacific Union President: “I really feel very appreciative of the amendment that was made. However, I still have some concerns that I would like to express… In 2012, our Pacific Union… voted 79%-21 to move ahead with the ordination of women. That action obviously put us into a confrontational position with the world church. My committee to whom I report has not changed their position on that to this date. I do have a concern that I spoke to last year, 2018, that there already is an existing policy, B95, that deals with people or groups that are non-compliant. That was never referenced last year, it was never spoken to when I asked on the floor, and I am concerned why we moved to create another policy in 2019. My third point … is that some have read that document as being a progressive presentation of a warning and then a reprimand. In the process of reading the paper, some of us felt that there would be a formal presentation to our Executive Committees. This is not an intent to throw anybody under the bus, however that never took place. We did not have a formal presentation, people didn’t come to our committee who makes decisions … no one came to pray with us, talk to us, and convince the people who make the decision to move in a different direction. On Friday night … as I was leaving the auditorium, a person who I’ve always felt was a sister to me asked me a question: ‘When are you coming back to the church?’ I want to declare that I am a Seventh-day Adventist today, I’ll be a Seventh-day Adventist tomorrow, regardless of what this vote does, I’ll be a Seventh-day Adventist believing in the 28 fundamental doctrines, believing in the Spirit of Prophecy, believing in the Bible, until the day I die. … And nobody in the Pacific Union is talking about leaving the world church, as I’ve heard some people say. Finally, if this vote fails, and we decide to reprimand, I will wear it as a badge of honor, standing up for equality, recognizing the gifts in men and women that God gives.”

The vote carried with 190 (yes) to 94 (no).

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About the author


Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.