Monday was the day—the big day. This was the day when Annual Council was to discuss proposals for church unity and reconciliation. It was a day that was expected to be volatile and filled with anger—a day that could split the Church.
What happened was not what was expected.
The morning began with a worship from Heidi Carpenter and Ranela Kaligithi, who both expressed an impassioned call to lay aside all distractions and to focus on the mission that Jesus has given us to seek for lost souls. For lack of better words, it was powerful to hear two young women challenge the leaders of the Adventist Church to do the job they have been called to do.
This message was just what we all needed to hear. We needed to be called out for allowing the things of the world to distract us. We needed to be called out for following our own plans instead of His plans. We needed to be called out for allowing issues in the Church to distract us from God and His work.
After morning worship came the Treasury report, although I doubt that many people were paying close attention to what was being discussed. After all, the plan for the afternoon was significantly more important than a report about the financial status of the church.
After lunch, the auditorium was closed to all, and security was stationed at the door to ensure that no one who shouldn’t be in the meeting snuck in. Secret ballots were passed out to those who had the privilege to vote. And so it began…
At the beginning of the business session, it was stressed that the forthcoming proposal was not about women’s ordination alone, but was intended to address noncompliance with General Conference Working Policy in all areas.
As things finally got going, it became very clear that the day wasn’t going to go as planned for some, and was going as planned for others. For starters, it took close to 30 minutes of debate to arrive at a decision regarding the number of minutes each delegate would be given to speak. Some wanted 2 minutes, while others wanted 3 minutes. Some wanted to have only 1 additional minute for those who were using translation services (a suggestion Elder Wilson quickly shot down).
The proposed disciplinary actions for non-compliance came in the form of a document entitled, “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance: Phase II” (click to read). Once the document had been presented, lines immediately began to form at the microphones to speak in opposition to the proposed disciplinary actions. Many of the committee members were vocal, but all were respectful of the sensitivity of the issues at hand.
While some of the opposition was humorous in tone, some committee members made serious accusations about the General Conference. There was particular opposition to the provision (in the document) that required future Annual Council participants to, in effect, sign a “pledge of allegiance” to the General Conference and its Working Policy. There were others who were concerned about losing their right to speak at Annual Council, though they were fine with the loss of a vote and their rights to subcommittee membership.
Here are some of the comments that were made during the 5-hour debate:
- Mark Johnson (SDACC president) – This document nullifies 100 years of church policy
- Ron Smith (SUC president) – This document will impede ministry
- Brent Burdick (ESD treasurer) – Wanted flexibility in ministry structure
- Lowell Cooper (GC general vice president) – Feared that there are ramifications to these proposed policies which have not been looked at thoroughly
- Brad Kemp (NZPUC president) – Felt that the executive committee doesn’t have the constitutional right to make this policy (according to the GC constitution and bylaws)
- Thomas Evans (NAD treasurer)– Didn’t feel the need to sign a loyalty oath; loyalty should be something that comes from the heart
Three particular comments from church leaders jumped out at me through all of the discussions:
- Dan Jackson, NAD president, affirmed that the NAD will not move to split the church, and that they are not looking into any such thing. He spoke to the rumors and dispelled them.
- Dave Weigley, CUC president, admitted that his conference is not in compliance with the GC vote. He admitted that they are ordaining women and stated that they have no intention to stop. He spoke to being willing to be removed from his position in order to stand his ground.
- Elder Wilson, GC president, brought forth the idea that we as a church are caught in a dilemma. He felt that delay would not do any good. He asked for leaders to consider the issue carefully before making the choice to not vote.
In the end, a motion was introduced calling for the document be referred to the Constitution and Bylaws committee for review. An amendment to that motion was approved, changing the document’s destination to its committee of origin—the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee. The resulting procedural confusion left a large number of leaders at the meeting with no clue regarding what exactly they were being asked to vote about.
Once issues with translation and procedural explanation were resolved, a vote was called for at around 7:00pm EST—roughly five hours after discussion had begun. The motion (to refer the document back to the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee for further review) passed with a simple majority vote of 184-114, conducted by secret ballot. The document will not be re-introduced to the General Conference Executive Committee until Annual Council 2018, at the earliest.
Regardless of outcome, I am thankful for the Spirit of God that prevailed in the meeting, and trust that God will continue to guide His church as we continue to process this difficult issue.