On September 15, 2017, Elder Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division, held a live webinar with ministerial directors and church administrators from across the NAD. The webinar centered around a number of topics, including the issue of union/division compliance with the General Conference (in the context of the 2015 women’s ordination vote and the subsequent “Unity document” approved at the 2016 Annual Council), the relocation of NAD headquarters from the GC offices to a separate building, and the importance of the NAD’s ongoing mission in North America.
The Long Road from San Antonio to the 2017 Annual Council
This particular communication on the part of Dan Jackson must be understood within the larger context of the ongoing internal conflict within the Seventh-day Adventist church over the issue of women’s ordination in particular, as well as theological unity and policy compliance within the world church in general. Here’s a brief timeline of some of the major developments:
- On July 8, 2015, the General Conference in session debated the question of whether to allow the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry, and voted by a margin of 1,381 – 977 (5 abstentions) to maintain current church policy, which permits women to serve as commissioned ministers only.
- In response to actions taken by a number of union conference in defiance of the San Antonio vote, the 2016 Annual Council approved a document entitled “A Study of Church Governance and Unity” which called for church-wide compliance on the ordination of women.
- Over the past 12 months, an ongoing debate has been waged within the NAD and other “Western” divisions (including the TED and the SPD) regarding how to move forward in response to the 2016 Unity document. Accusations of “cloak-and-dagger” activity on the part of both the NAD and the GC have circulated, along with rumors of possible legal action on the part of a number of union conferences, including the so-called “nuclear option”—the General Conference legally forcing compliance on the part of errant unions of the world church.
- On July 15-17, 2017, church administrators and theologians in favor of women’s ordination met in London for a “Unity 2017” conference for the purpose of exploring options for a number of unions (10 “host unions” were the official backers of the conference) who were seeking a unified response to the Unity document. Arguably unadvisable comments made by George Knight during one of his presentations led the Michigan Conference to briefly ban his books from their ABC stores—an action which resulted in a firestorm of controversy and the immediate reinstatement of the aforementioned books.
It was in the immediate context of this ongoing debate within Adventism that Dan Jackson held this webinar for ministerial directors and church administrators across the NAD. The main points discussed during the webinar are arranged below in a topical manner.
A Clear Statement on NAD Compliance
Throughout the entire webinar, Jackson presented a clear and definitive position of compliance with the expressed decisions of the global Seventh-day Adventist church. While he refused to speculate on the outcome of the upcoming Annual Council, he made it clear that he has absolutely no intention or desire to lead the NAD into a schism with the world church, regardless of outcome.
Jackson appealed to church leadership to stick together within the global church. He reminded his audience of the prophetic, end-time message and mission of the Adventist church, and warned that to walk away from God’s remnant church is to walk away from our prophetic mission and to make light of our unique work as Seventh-day Adventists.
However, Jackson made it clear that while the NAD is committed to full compliance with the General Conference, they are still committed to the development of a strong female pastorate throughout the NAD. He referenced the General Conference Working Policy, which permits the appointment of commissioned ministers without respect to gender. Below is the full text of the policy, as outlined in the 2015-2016 GC Working Policy (found on pg. 225):
2. a. Commissioned Minister Credential—Issued to the following unless they hold ministerial credentials and except as provided in E 05 15; associates in pastoral care; Bible instructors; General Conference, division, union, and local conference/mission treasurers/chief financial officers and departmental directors including associate and assistant directors; institutional chaplains; presidents and vice presidents of major institutions; auditors (General Conference director, associates, area and district directors); and field directors of the Christian Record Services, Inc. These individuals should have significant experience in denominational service (usually five years or more) and demonstrate proficiency in the responsibilities assigned to them. It is recommended that an appropriate commissioning service be conducted when an employee is granted a Commissioned Minister Credential.
Commissioned Minister License—Where applicable, issued to employees listed in paragraph 2. a. above with less than five years in denominational service.
Jackson made it clear that his personal views on the subject of women’s ordination have not changed, as is the case with many of his colleagues. However, he stated clearly that there is a significant difference between believing that the church should hold a particular belief and actively promoting non-compliance with the General Conference. He will continue to do the former, but remains committed to a policy of compliance at the NAD level.
Seeking A Fairer Approach to Non-Compliance
While he was presenting an introduction to the issue of compliance with General Conference policy, Jackson reviewed the history of the Unity document in the context of the 2016 Annual Council. He brought to light the fact that when the document was originally voted, it was designed to deal with all cases of non-compliance in every division of the world church. However, over the intervening months, the application of the document has centered around the issue of the ordination of women, specifically within the NAD.
While he was hopeful that a broader plan was in place to address issues of non-compliance within every division, Jackson made it clear that it was apparent to him that the General Conference has been applying the document selectively to the NAD in this case. He is aware of many cases of serious violations of ethics and policy in divisions around the world, and argued that the NAD is, in fact, one of the divisions most compliant with General Conference policy overall.
NAD Unions Remain the Wild Card
While Jackson made it clear that the NAD is committed to an ongoing policy of full compliance with the General Conference, and has no intention or desire to cause a schism within the Adventist church, he declined, on multiple occasions, to state definitively whether or not the union conferences within the NAD would follow his example.
Jackson noted that he has been meeting on a regular basis with the union presidents within the NAD, and has strongly encouraged them to stay together and work through conflicts as they develop. He has heard rumors of potential legal action against the General Conference, but not from any organizational entity.
Furthermore, Jackson stated that he will neither support nor participate in any such activity on the part of the NAD’s union leadership. He warned that if church leadership begins to tear itself apart in public, and if legal action (etc.) is taken, it will only serve to distract from the far greater priority of our prophetic mission and unique work as Seventh-day Adventists in proclaiming the Gospel to the world.
In addition, Jackson briefly expounded on the internal structure of the Adventist church. He made it clear that the union conferences are the building blocks of the General Conference (as all world divisions are technically part of the GC organization), and are responsible and accountable to the GC, thus countering the argument made by some that the unions of the world church have the freedom to work out of harmony with the GC as the needs of their work demand that they do so.
The State of the GC-NAD Relationship
Throughout his presentation, Jackson emphasized that there is a strong and healthy working relationship between the NAD and the GC in general, as well as between he and Elder Ted Wilson in particular. While Jackson and Wilson disagree on a number of issues, they have maintained a Christian care and courtesy for each other throughout the entire post-San Antonio situation, and communicate together on a regular basis.
The Context of the NAD Relocation
At the beginning and end of his presentation, Jackson addressed rumors that the recent relocation of the NAD headquarters from the General Conference offices to a separate location was in any way tied to conflicts between both organizations. He stated that it has been the NAD’s desire to obtain a separate headquarters for over 25 years, since Elder Charles Bradford was NAD President.
This desire arose out of a recognition of the different spheres of influence in which each organization operates (the GC oversees the world field, while the NAD oversees North America) and a desire to grow out of a historical model of governance where the work in North America was directly overseen by the GC, resulting in a historical “special relationship” between both organizations, which includes special treatment in some cases and special obligations in others. This transition to new facilities is part of a larger transition in which the NAD is maturing as a separate and distinct organization.
Refocusing on Mission
Throughout his presentation, Jackson repeatedly called for a greater focus on the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church. While he considers the current issues surrounding women’s ordination and compliance to be important to the work of the global church, the primary focus of the NAD is on carrying forward the mission and message of the Seventh-day Adventist church in North America. He argued that while issues of policy must be dealt with, mission must always be our driving focus and highest priority.
Jackson warned against the idea that any part of the church can be dispensed with, or should be bypassed or ignored. In all areas of our work, we need each other and must work together, unified by our common mission. He called his audience to pull as far away from frivolous and unnecessary distractions as possible, to reject siloed and independent thinking, and to prepare, as a united church, for Christ’s soon return.