(This is article 5 in a 9 article series by Adrian Zahid)
This article critiques the constitutional theory and historical arguments regarding the expansionist role of Unions and the limitations of scope of authority of the General Conference in Session.
As we saw from the first article, the Adventist church derives its structure from its sense of a worldwide mission, which in turn is derived from its message, which in turn is built on the Bible alone using the macro-hermeneutic of the sanctuary and the three angels’ messages.
Many individuals have published their views in various media outlets and conferences before and after the General Conference Session in 2015. In my analysis of these published views, I’ve found that several authors’ arguments are routinely cited. In this part, we explore these most cited authors and their analysis in support of the expansionist role of unions in this constitutional debate. The most cited authors are:
- George Knight, retired emeritus Professor of Church History at Andrews University.
- Bert Haloviak, retired Director of Archives for the General Conference.
- The Late Pastor Gerry Chudleigh, then Communication Director for the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,
- Gary Patterson, former General Conference Field Secretary,
- Mitchell Tyner, retired Associate General Counsel of the General Conference. [We evaluate his legal arguments in a separate article].
- Rolf Pohler, Professor for Systematic Theology
I categorize their analysis as: historical analysis, administrative precedent analysis, theological analysis, policy analysis, and legal analysis. In this part, we cover historical analysis, administrative precedent analysis and theological analysis. All the analysis cited here includes papers published before and after the GC Session in 2015 as well as the recent London Unity Conference. In a subsequent article, we will cover the legal analysis and the policy analysis by Mr. Mitchel Tyner.
Please note that I first provide a brief summary of each author’s arguments and then my analysis of their arguments. I refer to the historical data of the first two articles, and to attached documents, and other sources of data that I have cited here and elsewhere. Where these authors depart from their own cited sources of historical data, I show the omissions, deconstruct their assumptions and highlight the implications of their arguments in this debate.
Dr. George Knight
Dr. Knight combines his analysis from his own books on Adventist history with his former students’ research. The two students that are the primary source for his historical data analysis are Drs. Andrew Mustard, and Barry Oliver. In this section, we examine Dr. Knight’s views as expressed in three papers as they relate to the constitutional arguments: The role of unions in relation to higher authorities, The anti-organizational people organize in spite of themselves, and Catholic or Adventist the ongoing struggle over authority and 9.5+ theses.
His main points are:
- The GC Session 2015 Vote was a failure of Process
- GC 2015 Session Vote Not Binding because it failed the Acts 15 ‘Tests’
- No Testimony from Female Pastors: He cites the absence of testimony from female pastors regarding how the Holy Spirit had blessed their ministries in the same way as that of males.
- Manipulation and Suppression of Data: He finds similarities from past-GC President George Butler’s actions where he was seeking to manipulate the information that would come before the 1888 General Conference session [Italics his]. He writes, “no mention was made of the TOSC ‘majority’ vote to approve the ordination without regard to gender at the Session. Had the actual findings of TOSC been reported, the vote, in all probability, would have been different. After all, a 10% shift in the vote would have changed the outcome. The final tally at the General Conference session in San Antonio was 977 (42%) in favor of flexibility in ordination to 1,381 against, a remarkably close vote considering how the process was handled. In addition, the delegates were not informed that at least nine of the 13 Divisions of the church in their TOSC reports were favorable toward letting each division make its own decision on female ordination. Nor did the final TOSC report present that data. It did, however, present the positions of three distinct groupings of delegates that developed during TOSC’s two-year journey. But the delegates at the 2015 session were not explicitly informed that two of those orientations were in favor of each division making its own choice.” 
- Cultural Modifications are Permissible: He cites Paul’s post-Jerusalem Council admonishments in adding conditions and exceptions regarding food offered to idols as supporting evidence for cultural modifications. He notes that the Adventist church has largely ‘discarded’ the Acts 15 guidelines on meat. He finds “the Adventists being similar to Paul in interpreting and discarding aspects of the ruling largely based on cultural considerations.”
- The Vote at the GC Session Was Tainted by Covert Coercion
- He alleges, citing unnamed source(s), that the GC delegates from the global South were ‘instructed’ to vote a certain way by their top administrators in accordance to the wishes of the General Conference President Ted Wilson.
- He alleges that Pastor Wilson’s post-GC 2015, ‘Peter-like’ behavior was in violation of the authority of the General Conference in Session, when he ‘refused’ to join a commissioning service for a female pastor after he had just participated in an ordination service for a male pastor.
- GC 2015 Session Vote Not Binding because it failed the Acts 15 ‘Tests’
- The Role of Unions in relation to Higher Authorities
- Knight’s Narrative Regarding Organization
- Knight’s Narrative Regarding Re-Organization
- The Unions are a “Firewall” between the GC and Conferences:
- From 1980 – 2016 the General Conference has been steadily eroding the “firewall” between the GC and unions. He cites Chudleigh’s argument that the 1901-1903 reorganization effort that culminated in the creation of the union level in the church structure was in accordance of Ellen White’s statement that “It has been necessity to organize union conferences, that the General Conference shall not exercise dictation over all the separate conferences.” He cites Barry Oliver’s dissertation on the re-organization efforts and highlights A.G. Daniells’ use of the word ‘decentralization’ as evidence of this firewall between the GC and the conferences.
- Catholic or Adventist?
- The October 2017 meetings may help the worldwide Adventist Church decide whether it wants to move more toward an Adventist or Roman Catholic Ecclesiology. The GC Governance Study arguments are similar to the Catholic Church’s Ecclesiastical Authority Arguments.
Critique of Knights Arguments
Knight’s stature in the denomination and the provocative nature of his papers have brought attention to this issue and caused a range of reactions from joy and support to consternation in various sectors of the church. My point by point analysis of the main thrust of his views follows.
GC Vote was a failure of Process
His critique of the process is multi-faceted starting with his criticism of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). He echoes the criticisms of unnamed sources in his papers regarding the way the General Conference President highlighted the importance of the study at the beginning and then minimized its impact at the Session. He also writes that the numerical vote tallies and other ‘data’ were “suppressed” at the Session. The narrative regarding the vote tallies at the TOSC Session (were 2/3 in favor or opposed to women’s ordination) is complicated because of the late addition of the so-called “3rd Option” by Dr. David Trim and Dr. Nicholas Miller. The so-called “third-option” was designed as a compromise between the anti-women’s ordination vote and the pro-women’s ordination vote. The vote tallies were: pro-women’s ordination (Egalitarian view): 40, anti-women’s ordination (male headship): 32, and the third option: 22. This allowed for both the pro and anti-women’s groups to claim the “2/3 majority” vote from TOSC. For others, it was indicative that consensus was lacking regarding the biblical support for either view. Despite the failure of the third-option, a revote along the main lines of the two positions of the church was not attempted, thus it allowed, fairly or unfairly, depending on your view of ordination, for both sides to claim some sort of victory or ‘mandate’ and have those claims vociferously disputed by each side’s antagonists. Some individuals went on to assert that the majority members in the NAD support women’s ordination while others asserted that the majority members do not support women’s ordination in the NAD.
In chess, when analyzing a chess game that was played in the past, grandmasters will often give all the variations that certain moves could have taken the game forward and also include the strongest move according to computer analysis. Then they will say the phrase, “in the actual game, the move played was…” which sometimes is not the strongest move or occasionally in the case of Fischer or Kasparov would be a brilliant move un-thought of by contemporary commentators and analysts. In the same way, the TOSC vote represents the “messiness” of process and of history. Not everything is clear cut or black and white. People will do unpredictable things. In my view, the introduction of the ‘Third-Way” was a strategic “error” on the part of the two individuals who advanced their views on the last day. Others however have called it “brilliant” because it “attempted to bring both sides together” and “preserve” unity through mediation. The 3rd option “move” during the debate at TOSC represents the “un-catholic-ness” of the Adventist process. In the Catholic church, such a move would never arise due to their ecclesiological beliefs and even if it did, we would never know about it because their entire deliberation process happens behind closed doors. The TOSC by contrast was conducted in the full view of the church.
Knight also points out that no testimonies were shared from the stage at the start of the proceedings to highlight the success of women who are “ordained” as in Acts 15. This charge has some merit. I remember one of the days before the crucial vote that the woman leader of our work in China was asked to pray at the main stage. I remember seeing her and realizing that she represented our efforts to reach one sixth of the entire world’s population. I was so moved by that thought that I tweeted it after the prayer. Could such testimonies have made a difference in the final vote tally? Knight believes that it would have swayed “10 percent” of the vote. I cannot definitively tell if such a swing would have occurred. Had they lost the vote, the anti-women’s ordination contingent then would have made the same nullification charge by stating that 400 delegates did not make it to the Session from the Global South due to stringent visa requirements by the US authorities (an issue that will be exacerbated, at the 2020 Session, due to the current US administration’s views on immigration). It is one of those issues that cannot be answered cleanly. However, we will focus on what he is alleging which is that testimonies would have been in line with Acts 15 and the absence of such testimonies nullifies the vote.
He further alleges that the vote tallies were not shared with the delegates regarding the support for divisions to decide on their own regarding the need based on their own assessment of the missional needs. This charge has mixed merit. Yes, he is right in that the vote tallies were not “dwelt upon.” However, according to Dr. Cooper’s Pacific Union Constituency vote speech, “the Session can call into question the decisions of past Sessions and those of the lower levels” therefore any recitation of past vote tallies would have been moot. Also, since our delegates were called upon to vote their “conscience” based on their “own study of Scripture,” it is difficult to see how vote tallies for or against would or should weigh on the mind of the delegates, so any assertion will have to remain hypothetical here. His charge that Wilson withheld data and “light” as Butler did cannot be sustained from a balanced reading of history. First, Butler sought to deny a platform to Jones and Waggoner to present their views while simultaneously giving maximum print space in the denomination’s top journal to those who were on his side of the theological debate. Second, Butler and his associates on the General Conference Executive committee saw themselves as infallible with Butler as the “first among equals” as we saw in article 2a of this series. TOSC was a worldwide study with all divisions participating. Every division’s papers were published on the website. The delegates were given copies of the three positions as well as the sentence that had been crafted for the vote. They also had access to the TOSC site, at least while they were in the United States, and the papers were public for over two years before the General Conference. Wilson never restricted access to the TOSC’s papers. We cover the delegate issues more thoroughly in the analysis of Dr. Patterson’s views below.
Knight’s allegations of vote coercion and rigging are serious because, if true, they are grounds for discipline, which includes the removal from office. The allegations also go to the heart of the process and undermine the trust of individuals regarding the church’s highest authority: The Session. We cannot dismiss these allegations casually. There are several points that I would bring up here. Faithfulness to one’s duty is every delegate’s individual responsibility. If there was behind the scene manipulation, one would expect a delegate to come forward the very next public meeting and disclose the impropriety. Absent such a move, we are left to think that the entire delegation from the Global South was incapable of radical honesty or their cultural influences precluded them from taking such a public step. Both are problematic because the former infers that those in the Global South have inferior morals and the latter has xenophobic or even racial connotations. That is not say that corruption and data manipulation and coercion do not exist or aren’t a feature in the Global South. I have lived in the Global South; I know corruption exists in the church. Corruption and the potential of it exists wherever people are regardless of whether they are in the Global North or South. In fairness to Wilson and his administration and others who were a part of the process from the Global South, knowledge of such an action should have been brought to the floor of the Session as soon as it was known. And absent any definitive proof, public confession, or witnesses that are willing to come forward, one cannot call for a revote or for discipline. The perniciousness of such a charge of conspiracy is that it is hard to dismiss beyond a shadow of a doubt. And unfortunately, this allegation may tarnish Knight’s legacy in history, or vindicate him, if proven to be true, in the light of eternity.
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. By faith we know that God is present at all our deliberations and He sees everything. If the president or his associates engaged in covert deceptive tactics to change the outcome of the vote, God will deal justly with them. However, if the allegation is false, we can also trust that God will deal justly with those who cast the process into disrepute. On a pragmatic note, however, using the chess analogy again, in my experience and from my understanding of leadership styles of individuals such as James White and A. G. Daniells, we cannot expect General Conference presidents to not have an opinion or a ‘vision’ of where things need to go and lean on others to see it become a reality. James White, for example, was famous or infamous, if you will, for getting his way in committees and then leaning on the pastors extra hard to get them to comply with the ‘highest authority’ of the church as we saw in the previous article. To expect Wilson to be dispassionate on this issue when his predecessors were clearly not when they were in office, is unfair. However, the booing and hissing during the remarks and after of the former president was a low point of the day’s proceedings.
The question posed to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, was not just a question of mission but a question of soteriology. Could Gentiles be saved and be considered Christian if they did not possess the “sign” that God himself had given to Abraham? The Council answered that question based on the prior guidance of the Spirit as related by Peter during the gathering. Knight ignores Mrs. White’s setting up of that question in the first chapter of her book Acts of the Apostles. In the last paragraph, she notes that failure of Israel to carry out God’s original plan to share His salvation with the world. They would not be taught, and they would not learn and thus God turned from them and chose the men who would form the next entity: the church, to accomplish His work on earth. Apostle Paul was called by God specifically to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He had related the details of his conversion to Peter and the other Apostles after his return from Arabia. They were aware of his calling to the Gentiles and had accepted it. Peter’s acceptance of the vision of unclean animals and the subsequent journey to Cornelius’ home confirmed to him that God indeed was calling all people to repentance and a new life in Him. The purpose of the presentations by Paul and others was not to ‘convince’ the apostles of their mission but to give evidence of the work being done through God among the Gentiles. Rather than only question of mission, it was a question one of soteriology: whether or not these Gentiles could be truly saved without taking on the nationalistic customs and culture of the Jews. Paul and the others’ testimony was to that end. Knight is asking us to replicate the Apostolic process here using the authentication of the Holy Spirit to validate the calling of individuals to the ministry. He does not share how such an authentication can be done accurately. The argument in Acts was not over Paul or anybody else’s calling to preach but rather if the Gentiles could be saved without the Jewish customs.
The Role of Unions in Relation to Higher Authorities
We started this series with a quote from Dr. Knight:
“I suggest that the real issue in 2016 is not the ordination of women but the role of union conferences. The ordination problem is only a surface issue. But it is one that cannot be avoided.”
This sentence encapsulates the entire thrust of his papers and arguments to date. While most of Adventism is caught up in the debate over the ordination of women, Knight is focused on the real issue: the role of unions. We now look at the construction of his arguments.
Selective Narrative of Organization
I understand that Knight’s narrative of organization written in his papers is not as detailed as in his books however careful analysis of the omissions from his papers which include the theological reasons that were the precursors to organization will reveal that his omissions are more of a selection bias rather than one based on the constraints of space. Knight seeks to make mission the only basis for organization by deliberately minimizing the role that the pioneer’s theological-doctrinal understanding played in bringing unity. In reality, Mission devoid from its theological-doctrinal precursors is no longer mission but activity or activism without any biblically measured achievement. He also omits the arguments that James White gave regarding the reasons for not placing entire organizations in the hands of individuals for fear of apostasy.
Selective Narrative of Reorganization
Similarly, in his narrative of reorganization, Knight omits an excellent analysis of Jones’ and Waggoner’s ecclesiological Christo-centric model by Oliver. Oliver mentions that Jones’ model lacked the ability to account for the impact on “sin” on the structure. In other words, accountability, compliance and other activities that an organization should undertake are implicitly endorsed by Oliver in his critique of the Jones-Waggoner Christo-centric model. Here again, Knight fails to address the theological precursors of the Christo-centric hermeneutic of Jones and Waggoner that Mrs. White herself critiqued and later expounded upon in her book the Great Controversy using the Sanctuary-hermeneutic developed decades before by the pioneers. A comparison of the difference of hermeneutics between the 1888 presenters as well as the difference in soteriological models of Mrs. White and Martin Luther will reveal the inadequacies of the evangelical Christo-centric macro-hermeneutic and the resulting organizational models that develop from it. Also missing from Knight’s analysis of “mission” is Mrs. White’s call to mission in the cities and her statements against the settled pastors model.
Knight’s view of the failure of following due process seems to be one-sided as well. We evaluate the Pacific Union vote in another article of this series, so I won’t go into detail here except to note that Knight’s analysis fails to account for the ordinations that occurred before and during the TOSC process. He offers no critique of those ordinations because he accepts the arguments made by others that such “unilateral moves” by the Unions is within their jurisdiction. The General Conference administration disputes that line of reasoning. His analysis follows Chudleigh’s “firewall theory which we will cover in more detail below.
The charge of Wilson’s “lapse in judgment” at the commissioning service in Australia is hard to defend or deny without access to more facts surrounding the case. There is only one source of reporting on it and a somewhat incomplete statement from the Assistant to the president regarding the matter. It is clear from Spectrum Magazine’s coverage that the woman who was commissioned alongside the men who were ordained felt snubbed by Wilson. It may have been a misunderstanding or it may have been a lapse in judgment by the President. Commissioning is an official status sanctioned by the General Conference itself. Leaders make mistakes. Regardless of Wilson’s personal views on ordination and perhaps even commissioning, as President, it is his duty to uphold denominational policy. If it is a mistake, then it is further evidence that we don’t hold our Presidents to be infallible like the Catholic church does for its Pope. The purpose of policy is to operate based on principle not personal whim. To argue that the President’s personal failure to follow policy gives license to abolish policy is circular reasoning.
Catholic or Adventist?
Knight’s contention that the Adventist church is trending close to being Catholic in its ecclesiological practices is a deep-seated argument. He leaves us to wonder what his view of administrative compliance is and if there is a theological standard in his mind or standard by which it can be measured. The Pacific union for instance, by its practices, has long argued that the hiring of theistic-evolutionist theologians at its universities is a celebration of Adventist diversity. Some have gone so far as the pushback on the General Conference’s board of Theological and Ministerial education compliance as being a “betrayal of Adventism.” If pushing for compliance in any form is “dogmatic” or a symptom of “formalism” and it signifies “persecution” then how do we address divergence from doctrine that harms the accomplishment of the very mission that James White pushed to organize us for?
In short, all of Knight’s papers, have a neat internal consistency, that breaks down when one actually reads the sources he is citing for to buttress his arguments. That, to me, is very Catholic indeed.
Dr. Bert Haloviak
In his paper, “Approaches to Church Organization: How the authority that was distributed in 1901 found its way back to GC headquarters in later years,” he traces the attempts of succeeding General Conference Administrations since 1903, to accrete authority away from other Church entities and Unions toward themselves. He specifically argues that Presidents Pierson and Wilson sought, during the 1970s and 1980s, to restructure administrative committee structures to counter ‘liberal’ movements in the Church.
- “Reorganization has occurred both formally and informally within the SDA church.
Crises situations, real and imagined, tended to enhance the role of the General Conference president since that time.
- This factor becomes especially relevant during the presidency of Robert Pierson. His view of the state of the church propelled him to amass such authority at the presidential level that his office indeed functioned as a separate “level of authority.” This occurred more informally than by a specific reorganizational scheme.
- While various reorganizational commissions generated membership input about consolidating departments, avoiding duplication in the name of efficiency, etc, they did not seek wide scale input about views of the nature of the church or church leadership authority. This usually occurred by legislative action or presidential fiat.”
Supporting Evidence Given:
- NAD – GC Tensions: Tensions between A.G. Daniels and NAD President I H Evans over competition for resources [money, personnel]. L. E. Froom’s “History of the NAD” interview is cited with a quotation from Froom saying that both men had strong personalities and that Evans was trying to keep resources at ‘home’ in the NAD and Daniels resented having to ‘beg’ for money and personnel. During the Great War, administrative resources had been cut back world-wide for all divisions. “The “official” explanation for the break-up of the NAD used such terms as “simplicity,” “economy,” “dispatch,” “efficiency,” “avoiding administrative duplication,” “greatest possible efficiency in our administrative machinery.” In 1922, the delegates to the GC session restored most of the administrative authority to all divisions, except North America.”
- Change in Composition of Church Structure in the 1920s: Church administrators feared “innovations” entering Adventism. An overriding concern was the development of the local pastorate. This was occurring in larger city churches. Administrators feared the church would lose its evangelistic thrust by a stationary pastorate “hovering” over local churches. Administrators thus restructured those departments that had most directly touched the local church. Educational secretaries/superintendents were to have “practical experience in teaching and in soul-winning work.” Those elected for home missionary and missionary volunteer leadership positions were “to be selected who have had successful experience in evangelistic work, preferably ordained ministers.” By the reorganization of the 1920s, women, being ineligible for ordination, were thereby legislatively eliminated from the departmental leadership roles they had traditionally held. The result was a change in the composition of the leadership structure within the church.
- In 1863, principles based upon scriptural analysis guided the church in its organizational decisions. In 1901, organizational principles again impacted the structure. Mrs White’s input assured that. The spontaneity of the 1901 situation, however, apparently precluded any in-depth scriptural rationale. In the Pierson and Wilson administrations, we seem to witness the separation of structural developments and significant organizational principles. Evidence indicates that church membership enjoyed a high level of input relative to structural modifications. Decisions relating to church authority, however, occurred primarily administratively.
- Formation of PRADCO, PREXAD and ADCOM: Led to a more centralized approach. Some of the legislative changes made allowed the newly elected GC President a greater hand in choosing his “Vice Presidents” who are also Division Presidents, effectively ‘giving the newly elected GC President veto powers over the selection of Division Presidents…” [Pierson] sensed the frustration of what he considered liberalizing tendencies within the church. He actively sought to nullify those inroads. He used as much authority as his office would allow to guide the theology and philosophy of the SDA church. He was propelled by his interpretation of Ellen White’s dream during the Kellogg crisis when she received Divine guidance to confront the “iceberg.” She was assured that the church, while being shaken, would survive. Pierson and W J Hackett had looked at the recent Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod experience and concluded it was better to confront liberalism earlier than later. Both believed the “conservatives” consistently “lost” over a delayed confrontation. It was this perspective that caused Pierson to amass an unusual amount of authority at the presidential level.
- Pierson’s Attempts to Counter Liberalism in the Church: “Creation of the Geoscience Research Institute: A direct hand in the research at the Geoscience Research Institute–“Carefully screening the personnel who will be teaching in our geoscience areas”…Bringing medical and educational institutions “into line with the blueprint.” Establishing so-called “consensus” statements on revelation/inspiration, age of the earth, and Ellen White, as evaluative instruments. Obtaining contributions to finance the college or graduate education of “hand-picked” individuals “whom we are going to train to teach our theology around the world”. Controlling appointments at Andrews University: “I feel that we simply must assure that every person we place in a key position in that institution is fully with the church in our theological and hermeneutical positions”. Unilaterally defining authority structure of the church based upon the supposed requirements of court cases. High level meetings with hospital administrators and certain theologians to advance the principles held by the president. Evaluations of loyal/disloyal SDAs based upon the principles held by the president.”
Executive Action vs. Committee Input & Decision Making
Haloviak’s paper raises some interesting questions about the executive office of the presidency. How much can a General Conference President accomplish on his own and with the input of a select group of advisors such as general vice presidents and vice presidents [presidents of divisions]? What decisions should be referred to be solved in the General Executive Committee? If General Conference Presidents are to do nothing and just preside, then their role is purely ceremonial. However, if they are to take action to counter trends that they see as harmful to the Church, then is that an exercise of ‘kingly power’? How much input and collaboration is needed before an action is taken? Can committees be an instrument to paralyze the initiative of a president?
Oliver’s principles of organization study showed that the Jones, Waggoner and Prescott Christo-centric model, which was more independent and Congregationalist in nature, was rejected by the Church. Instead, Daniels and W.C. White’s mission-eschatological centralized model won the debate and was put into practice. As a management consultant, when I read over Haloviak’s paper regarding the alleged authority or power amassing at the presidential level, I see the cited discussions of Pierson and Wilson as a modernization of the executive role.
Decision making processes, communication, and other leadership issues such as global strategy dominate C-suite executive thinking in multi-national corporations. By the 1970s, it seems that church leaders were beginning to grapple with some of those inter-organizational issues. The General Conference leadership however is different from running a corporation or a government and strategic and ideological threats are viewed from the theological/value framework. How a hypothetical conservative executive reacts to perceived liberalizing influences is most likely the same as a hypothetical ‘liberal’ president would react to ‘legalistic’ movements: executive action. Both hypothetical administrations could in theory be rightly accused of amassing power or making ‘moves’ to stack institutions or committees with the ‘right’ people. The cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s would have given any president concern regardless of their theological persuasion but combined with the theological earthquakes of the QOD discussions and Ford’s attacks, Pierson’s administration must have felt under siege. The post-Millerite role of pastors being responsible for rooting out false teaching could be a factor in evaluating some of the concern that Pierson injected into his style of leadership.
Some of the historical issues regarding the North American Division’s independence and resource allocation need to be explored in depth. Most of the advanced educational institutions currently reside in the North American Division. Access to the United States is restricted partially due to stringent immigration policies and prospective students’ lack of funds to pursue advanced education in the United States or other western countries. The Church is trying to change that by opening higher education institutions in strategic locations around the world, but access to highly trained faculty is still an issue.
I found this line from his paper interesting because he appears to concede that women historically were barred from ordination which undercuts the arguments made by Patterson and Chudleigh: “By the reorganization of the 1920s, women, being ineligible for ordination, were thereby legislatively eliminated from the departmental leadership roles they had traditionally held.” It seems to give credence to the view that while women were granted ministerial licenses, there was no perceived path toward’s ordination. Pacific Union’s delegate Bohr’s quotation seems to follow that same conclusion.
“Signs of the Times,” January 24, 1895. It’s been suggested that women’s ordination was approved at the 1881 General Conference. I would wonder, then, why this was written by the editor of the “Signs of the Times.” The question is who should be church officers, and this is the specific question. “Should women be elected to offices of the church where there are enough brethren?”
Here’s the answer:
“If by this is meant the office of elder, we should say at once, No. But there are offices in the church which women can fill acceptably, and oftentimes there are found sisters in the church who are better qualified for this than brethren, such offices, for instance, as church clerk, treasurer, librarian of the tract society, et cetera, as well as the office of deaconess, assisting the deacons in looking after the poor, and in doing such other duties as would naturally fall to their lot.” 
I can see how this paper contributes to the view that conservative General Conference presidents are out to ‘get’ liberals. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient context around many of the quotations in his papers makes it difficult to make qualified judgments and make Haloviak’s connections seem too circumstantial. For example, to prove that Pierson or Wilson were conservative administrators is easier than proving that their appointments to Andrews and other posts were all skewed towards conservatives because most appointments have to be voted by committee, and such widespread collusion would be incredulous to believe. It also would require us to make speculative theological judgments of each appointee and it would be a futile exercise because in the end, it is still an inference on intangible non-conclusive evidence.
In the world, a Church doing science has about has much credibility as a government doing religion or science doing either of the two: politics or religion. Can the practice of ‘choosing’ scientists be defended? I believe that world-class scientific research can be conducted without compromising one’s faith or endangering the faith of members. Pierson’s desire to have Bible believing scientists do original research was a noble one. However, any attempts to ‘defeat’ evolution or philosophical naturalism given science’s current methodological bias toward naturalism is self-defeating. The Seventh-day Adventist Church takes a presuppositional position that the Bible supersedes all things including science and its study of nature in matters that pertain to salvation. To deal with evolution, our Church needs to encourage research and development toward an alternative framework that is falsifiable; one that still adheres to the scientific method while taking into account its bias towards naturalism. The new framework will not come close to ‘defeating’ evolution in the way that apologists claim it can be done but it can generate a conversation about science in a way that doesn’t discredit its discoveries or destroy faith in God’s Word. Intelligent design failed precisely because it attempted to inject religious bias into the scientific process and was viewed as pseudoscientific. For more on this issue please read Compass Magazine’s: A better way to fight evolution.
It is entirely conceivable that back in the 70s, Elder Pierson would have wanted scientists who could do both original research and communicate that research to church leaders and members in a way that would maintain scientific integrity while still affirming of our faith. The problem with the way that some in the church currently want to see science discussed is that they want to see the GRI scientists be ‘open’ about the ambiguity that is inherent in the data. They call this openness and honesty. However the interest in openness is limited to highlighting only the data that conflicts with established Church doctrinal positions on Origins, the Global Flood and other aspects of the Genesis account. This brand of openness can create, in the minds of the members who may not have sufficient background to understand how science works, an uncertainty regarding the Genesis record. It has also led some Adventist theologians to reevaluate their presuppositions and change their hermeneutic to derive from Scripture a theistic evolution model of Origins; a model they feel is faithful to Scripture and Science. It has given rise to individuals who celebrate uncertainty and seek to avoid any specificity whether it be doctrine or practice. Others suggest giving up trying to ‘prove’ anything and just let Scripture be in ‘tension’ with Science. I argue that a robust framework for understanding scientific research is needed and should to be taught at the local church level so that clergy and members can learn to take in both the uncertainty of data that are unexplainable or seemingly antithetical or even paradoxical to our faith and still continue to trust in God’s will revealed in His Word; both for doctrine and practice, without losing a love for the wonder of discovery in science. If we want to supplant or ‘defeat’ evolution we will need a better philosophical model than intelligent design. ‘Creationism’ is not science and it will never defeat evolution because of the inherent nature of science and its current methodological bias towards naturalism.
The practice of choosing to put certain people through school or offering scholarships does not imply that a ‘liberal’ student would automatically be blocked from getting money for school. Lack of supporting evidence of such an administrative block undercuts Haloviak’s inference of Pierson’s attempting to tip the scales. The practice of General Conference President-elect’s choosing or recommending individuals to serve with them in administration could be seen as the President-elect trying to bring people on board who can do the job required of them. Putting together a Lincolnesque ‘team of rivals’ administration would work in political governance but in the Church we aren’t ‘rivals’ of each other, at least we aren’t supposed to be. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient context around his chosen quotations and his admitted lack of a central thesis in his papers makes it difficult to make qualified judgments regarding his claims.
The Late Pastor Gerry Chudleigh
His short book “Who runs the Church” regarding the role of Unions developed the theory that Unions were created to serve as a “firewall” between the General Conference and Conferences/Local Churches. Using quotation from Ellen White:
“It has been a necessity to organize union conferences, that the General Conference shall not exercise dictation over all the separate conferences.” (Manuscript 26, April 3, 1903)”
he derives the following
- Unions were created to act as firewalls between the GC and the conferences, making “dictation” impossible because:
- Each union had its own constituency and bylaws and is to be governed by its own constituency.
- The officers of each union were to be elected by their own union constituency, and therefore, could not be controlled, replaced or disciplined by the GC.
- Every time the GC creates a committee, institute, program or policy, especially one that the Unions around the world would appreciate, adopt, and use, the image of the GC as the top of the chain of command — the final authority— is strengthened.
Supporting Evidence Given:
In the first part of his book, he gives an abbreviated history of the organization of the Church. He writes,
“While the General Conference did not control the ancillary organizations, they did control all state conferences in the world, which controlled the churches and ministers. This is the ‘second problem that led to the crisis in the 1890s.”
He traces additions to policy from 1863 onwards arguing that the additions to policy show a trail on paper of the General Conference slowly grabbing more and more power and authority to itself at the expense of the Union Constituency. He also lists chronologically programs, initiatives and commissions by the General Conference starting in 1923 down to 2011’s Theology of Ordination Study Committee. He does not comment on ‘whether the initiatives of the GC have been appropriate or not’ just to say that the more well-accepted a GC initiative is, the more it contributes to members believing the Seventh-day Adventist Church is hierarchical.
Most importantly he explained what his view of the 1901-1903 church reorganization meant in terms of the General Conference Executive Committee:
“To put it as bluntly as possible, after 1901, the General Conference could vote whatever it wanted unions and conferences to do, or not do, but the unions and conferences were autonomous and could do what they believed would best advance the work of God in their fields.
And the General Conference in Session:
The GC executive committee, or the General Conference in business session, could vote to fire a union president or conference president, or vote to merge a union or conference with another one, but their vote would change nothing: the union or conference would still exist and the member delegates could elect whoever they wanted as president.”
How it is to be at the conference level:
“…But the unions had no more power to dictate to the local churches than the GC had, because the local conferences, too, had their own constituencies and voted their own officers.”
And he introduced a process of ratification:
“…The church could, for example, abolish the union level of church structure or reduce a union’s power. But that could not happen without the constituency of each union and each conference affected voting to adopt the changes.”
If his view were to be the norm, the GC would have no ability to speak to or work with the local level workers. The Unions would be the very ‘silos’ that the ancillary organizations used to be before they were merged as departments of the church at all levels.
He cites GC President A.G. Daniels in describing how each union would be responsible of directing its own ministry while maintaining a cooperative relationship with other unions and the GC as part of the argument for the autonomy of the unions from General Conference:
“Before the Conference closed, arrangements had been made for organizing the six General Conference Districts into Union Conferences,…practically carry forward the work in its territory as though no other conferences existed, except that it will cooperate with all other Union Conferences and with the General Conference.”
The phrase “except that it will cooperate with all other Union Conferences and with the General Conference” is where he and the rest of Adventist history diverge in this debate. What exactly does that cooperation mean in our day? Dr. G.T. Ng in his comments at the last GC Session put it this way:
“…We are one church, even though, as a division, you may have some unions that think or decide otherwise. But as a church, we have only one policy. We move in the same direction. So if unions were to be divisive in their approach by not acting and thinking along with the division, then we have a problem. The problem is one of unity. So we are appealing to the world church to move in concert with each other and not act independently and unilaterally.”
Dr. Ng’s view wasn’t challenged by any of the Unions at the Session.
Barry Oliver, in his position paper delivered at TOSC, showed various ways that the Church could move forward. But 26 years after writing his dissertation on organizational principles, that both sides in this debate have quoted extensively from, he still advanced the established theory that the policy direction would flow from the division down to the Unions and then to the Conferences undercutting the arguments advanced by Chudleigh and other writers mentioned here in favor of unilateral moves by Unions. Oliver didn’t see any separate authority that superseded that of the Session for the Unions in the area of ordination.
Chudleigh’s view is also contradicted by generations of working policies regarding the authority of General Conference in Session, the role of the division, and the role of Unions. It is also impractical. It creates endless silos where each entity has to ratify and agree upon some policy before it takes effect. And in our day, even more so than in the days of the pioneers, no structural organizational unit is an island to itself, walled off from the rest of the church as if the rest of the church doesn’t exist. It is worth noting that most of his rationale is what drove the Pacific Union Executive committee’s actions regarding Bylaw changes, changes which, if implemented, would have implications for the Church at large. We will analyze some of those changes to the Bylaws in the article dealing with Mr. Tyner’s legal arguments in favor of the Unions.
To be credible here, Chudleigh would need to show compelling examples of ‘controlling’ where the General Conference has been overly dictatorial in existing policy. For example, has the GC President Ted Wilson demanded that before the Pacific Union enters into some area that all plans be personally approved by him or the GC Executive Committee? Has the GC President in any way, denied or blocked funds, or threatened to close down an institution because it refused to follow his most recent initiative on Total Member Involvement? Has the GC President demanded that all men who are to be ordained at the Union level pass a personal examination of faith conducted by him before they can be ordained at the Union level and below? Absent of such examples of overreach it is hard to prove that the GC is acting like it did in the administration of George Butler or even James White.
Finally, he mentions several GC sponsored initiatives without commenting on them except to say that the more successful an initiative is, the more hierarchical the Church is made to look in the eyes of the believer. His citations of GC initiatives include the Glacier View Conference. This is the conference where Dr. Desmond Ford’s views were examined by just over one thousand pastors and administrators and scholars. If Chudleigh’s views were to become reality or were applied as written and a Glacier View Conference was to be held today by the GC, its findings would not apply to the Union or the conferences below it. And further, it would be questioned whether the GC had the ‘authority’ to call such a meeting in the first place. I hope the reader can infer how his views could lead to institutional turf wars and gridlock when dealing with heretical viewpoints and teachings in the Church.
Dr. Gary Patterson
Dr. Gary Patterson in his “Six Points on the Ordination of Women Issue” and “Policy, Practice, Precedent & Perception” and “Perspective: Does the General Conference Have Authority” papers argues that individual union conferences in the North American Adventist Church have the administrative authority to ordain women.
His main points are:
- General Conference as the Highest Authority (may or may not be the case)
- Authority doesn’t convey inerrancy.
- Developing a statement of Fundamental Beliefs is too difficult because of the global language differences.
- Decision making processes at the GC Session is flawed.
- Nominations and elections of key positions are rushed.
- Perception and reality differ when it comes to what the 90, 95, and 2015 votes meant.
- General Conference is intruding where it doesn’t have authority: ordination.
Most of his papers are rhetorical in nature. He notes that ‘being an authority does not convey inerrancy.’ That the General Conference in Session can and does err in its judgement and actions is demonstrated by the issues of the 1888 session, which are still debated today over a century later. He goes on to say that viewing the General Conference’s expressed will in the form of voted actions can put those who voted against the action as being against the “Will of God”.
He advances the theory that unless policy explicitly stops an activity, it is allowed. His view is that the 1990 vote on women’s ordination did not specifically deny the activity or practice. It merely noted that for reasons of Church unity, the action was not considered and that the motion simply went away. The decisions of 1995, and 2015 were the same in nature, not explicitly denying any practice of ordination. Perception may have been that ordination was denied but in reality it wasn’t and because Unions are the final realm of authority for ordinations, as stated by policy, they can choose whomever they wish to ordain. He views the vote on women elders as an intrusion of the GC on local authority.
What his arguments miss is that during the 70s and late 80s, women elders and the ordination of women was a disputed topic in the Church at all levels. The Church has a process for solving its disputes through successive levels of tribunals that include representation from all lower levels in the Church with the Session being the highest and final authority.
His view on nominations on the surface have some merit. The process is definitely rushed. However in reality, the persons that are considered for positions at the senior most levels of the Church are known quantities often with decades long records of service and performance. Each division and union can attest to the person that is being considered for the position.
Let’s consider for example person A from the Trans European division. He is being considered as a GVP of the General Conference. He most likely has served at the conference level, union level, perhaps in an ancillary organization such as ADRA or Adventist Risk and now is being considered for a post in the General Conference. If the nominating committee needs a reference, they can call someone in from the division, union or conference where this person has served and ask for a testimony regarding their abilities. In this way, a long search by a search committee that is often used by Universities or Hospitals and other institutions in our Church is not necessary for us to find a suitable candidate for the position. Lastly, most of the positions are elections, which means that the person is voted in to their position. These administrative positions have fixed terms that end at the next Session unlike regular university administration positions that continue until the person is retires or is removed.
His point about the Fundamental Beliefs being debated by people whose language isn’t English and whose own translation of the Beliefs will invariably be different, ignores the fact that our Statement of Beliefs or Fundamental Beliefs are written not only as a testament of our view on the belief but as a witnessing tool to others outside the Church as well. Our collaborative process, is a testament to the fact that every member from all over the world is treated equally. We definitely need precision, but not at the cost of some unrepresentative group deciding the language changes in secret. Sure there are sub-committees that work on the language, but the final debate happens in public and every member-delegate from all over the world gets a chance to give input even if occasionally the input sometimes is not theologically precise enough as it happened a few times in the last Session.
“Authority doesn’t mean inerrancy.” No one has ever said that decisions made at the Session level are inerrant. His view directly contradicts James White’s view on the authority of the General Conference in Session.
“Our General Conference is the highest authority with our people (1873).
And with Ellen White:
“Let individual judgment submit to the authority of the church.” In the same article, she recognized that leaders may have their faults and make the wrong decisions at times, yet, “notwithstanding this, the church of Christ on earth has given them authority that cannot be lightly esteemed.”
Dr. Rolf Pohler
Dr. Rolf Pohler offers a theological analysis from the aspect of change in doctrine formation. His dissertation on the subject is well-written and his paper, “Circumstances change things” at the London Unity Conference reflects much of that research. In his paper, at the London Unity Conference, Pohler applies his views on doctrinal change to Ellen White’s views on structural modification and “conscientious non-conformity” in relation to the General Conference.
In his paper he cites, Walla Walla University theologian, Dr. Alden Thompson [who]
“has suggested in 1981, Ellen White experienced “significant changes” during her lifetime in her “theological development” by which “her theological understanding grew” with regard to several basic Christian teachings. The general direction of this process seems to have led her from a rather discouraging, law-centered position (“Sinai”) to a more encouraging, love-centered attitude (“Golgotha”). In Thompson’s view, “the transition from fear to love in her experience resulted in a remarkable shift of emphasis.”10 The reactions to these articles indicated that the church did not readily accept the idea that Ellen White’s theological understanding evolved significantly over the years. Still, the underlying assumption that Ellen White’s perception of truth developed in time seemed to accord well with her own view. “For sixty years I have been in communication with heavenly messengers, and I have been constantly learning in reference to divine things.”
In part of his conclusion Pohler states,
“At the same time, Ellen White’s concept of doctrinal development appears to have surpassed that of her fellow believers not only in depth of understanding but also in striking a delicate balance between the need for theological continuity and substantial identity, on the one hand, and the possibility of theological revision and doctrinal change, on the other. Tirelessly she warned her church against both the careless rejection of precious old light and the stubborn resistance to much-needed new light.”
Dr. Pohler raises some important issues regarding change in the Seventh-day Adventist church as it relates to structure and doctrine. Dr. Fortin reviewed the book that was based on his dissertation and had this to say:
“On the one hand, he affirms that her ministry had a lasting impact upon the church in providing both doctrinal influence and an ideological framework for the church’s mission, while, on the other hand, he seems to hold that such an influence was historically conditioned by her nineteenth-century heritage. I believe he is right in saying that Ellen White upheld a dialectical approach to continuity and change in Adventist teaching: changes to the fundamental doctrines tended to jeopardize the church’s self-understanding while revisions to secondary teachings would not constitute a threat. Furthermore, I agree that she supported the idea that “doctrinal development was first and foremost a process in which old truths were rediscovered and restored to the church” and that such truths may need to be reinterpreted or re-contextualized for a new generation.
However, I feel uncomfortable with the general thrust of Pohler’s conclusion in this chapter. I somehow doubt that Ellen White would be open to such an unrestrained revisionist model of doctrinal change as he seems to imply. In his conclusion, Pohler argues that the best approach to doctrinal development in Adventism appears to be a dynamic restorationist model of faithfulness to the Bible. This approach, he [asserts,] will help the church accept and deal positively with its growing theological/doctrinal pluralism without further endangering its unity. Seventh-day Adventists who wish to reinterpret fundamental beliefs will be pleased with this proposed model; others will find the book’s conclusions indecisive and tentative. The discussion regarding continuity and change in Adventist teaching is certainly not over.”
Pohler’s challenging paper and dissertation show some of the theological arguments that underpin this debate over structure and organization that may give some Adventists, in the Biblical Adventist wing of Adventism who are supporting the Union side, pause.
The subtext of many of the arguments, listed above, indicate that there has been an erosion of trust in the process and in the structure’s ability to produce a fair result. This view is informed by decades of mistrust between the theological factions of the church. It is out of the scope of this current series to discuss the factions in Adventism however I will list them here: Historical Adventism, Evangelical Adventism, Progressive Adventism, and Biblical Adventism. The hermeneutical differences between the factions give rise to competing theology with differences in mission, soteriology, and ecclesiology as the sure result. It is these differences that are at the heart of this debate as various factions need different structures to accomplish their mission. Some have a church-within-a-church concept of ecclesiology, while others see themselves drawing nearer to Protestantism and still others as communities of faith in a Congregationalist fashion. Despite overall agreement on the concept of Adventism, there is no longer any unity in its substance.
Along with hermeneutical differences at the pre-suppositional-philosophical level, we have differences in terms of revelation-inspiration. On the one hand, the concern of historical Adventism is that they cannot see how someone can “change what the bible is saying” when “God wrote it.” It is this fundamentalist uniquely inerrant reading that makes members queasy in these debates and thus they fear that other changes will lead towards acceptance of homosexuality as a biblically viable orientation for sexuality. When they see Progressive Adventists argue against a global flood, the literal 7-day creation account, etc. they fear that acceptance of women’s ordination will lead to acceptance of those theological models as well. Thus many see this debate over women’s ordination not only as a fight for preserving order in the family structure, but as a larger fight over biblical inspiration. Without addressing those concerns, this debate is likely unresolvable.
Should Adventism move on beyond some of the members who refuse to advance into the 21st century? Some are tired of waiting for change when large sections of the world are incapable of making the leap into the post-modern age. Many in the North American Division feel that these cultural differences should not hold us back from moving forward. For some in Progressive Adventism, progress in the area of human rights is a testament of Adventism’s viability in the post-modern age. Thus to them, it is a crisis that the LGBTQ community is not accepted in the Adventist church and that women still aren’t being ordained. It is a crisis of mission for many of them and they think that their ability to accomplish mission is hampered by the world church’s restrictions.
On the other hand, the use of unsubstantiated charges attacking the integrity of the process, selective bias for cited research, threats, minimizing the deliberative process away from members and towards the clergy, a shift away from our theological foundations towards a non-theologically oriented sense of mission and other tactics identified above may be a cause for concern to some readers in the Biblical Adventism faction. Like many of them, I too, support the ordination of women however I can see their concerns regarding the charges against the integrity of the process without any forthcoming evidence. How does policy help resolve some of these issues? Is policy a derivative of our theology or is it a derivative of our practice?
All this highlights the importance of considering the precedent that will be formed before any action is taken. Every modification, every pragmatic administrative fix in the past is now being used as the rationale today for departure from policy. In other words, “you did it then, do it now.” People stand for policy until it is their turn to beg for an exception. We will look at how administrative precedent affects legal issues and policy’s role in the next article.
 Knight, George. “The Role of Unions in relation to Higher Authorities.” Sourced here: https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/10/07/role-union-conferences-relation-higher-authorities
 Knight, George. “Anti-organization People Organize, In spite of Themselves.” Sourced Here: https://atoday.org/at/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Antiorganizational-People-George-R-Knight.pdf
 Knight, George. “Catholic or Adventist: The ongoing struggle over authority and 9.5+ theses.” Sourced here: https://adventistunity2017.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/knight-catholic-or-adventist.pdf
 Read, David. “Surprise Third-way Option Emerges at Final TOSC. http://advindicate.com/articles/2014/6/6/surprise-third-way-option-emerges-at-final-tosc-meeting
 Final Report from TOSC. https://www.adventistarchives.org/final-tosc-report.pdf
 See member retention summit for Dr. Trim’s presentation on member roll ‘inflation’ or fraud.
 See his letter to John Loughborough to take the assignment from the GC to go to England. Cf. with G.I. Butler’s characterization of White’s methods to using mental “thumbscrews” to bend the will men to his way. Also Cf. with Haskell’s war with Prescott over the Daily Issue and his printing of the book Early Writings against the express wishes of Ellen White chronicled in detail in Dr. Gilbert Valentine’s book on W.W. Prescott.
 Knight, George. “The Role of Unions in Relation to Higher Authorities” March 11, 2016. Accessed: http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/10/07/role-union-conferences-relation-higher-authorities
 For a more detailed discussion on the differences in macro-hermeneutics please see my article here: https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/the-one-project-the-jesus-all-paradox
 Haloviak, Bert. “Approaches to Church Organization: How the authority that was distributed in 1901 found its way back to GC headquarters in later years.” 1993. Accessed Here: https://session.adventistfaith.org/uploaded_assets/399228
 Ibid. Haloviak’s own words describing the scope of his paper. Pg. 1, 2.
 Ibid. Pg. 4
 Ibid. pg. 9
 Seibold, Loren: “How not to defend Genesis”. Accessed Here: http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/09/15/how-not-defend-genesis
Guy, Fritz, “Negotiating Creation-Evolution Wars.” Accessed Here:http://spectrummagazine.org/article/fritz-guy/2014/05/29/bringing-real-world-genesis-negotiating-creation-evolution-wars
 For more on this please see: Mike Manea’s Compass Magazine Series on Methodological Naturalism: https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/a-better-way-to-fight-evolution-part-1-sciences-naturalistic-bias
 Chudleigh, Gerry. “Who runs the Church?” pg. 48
 Ibid pg. 11
 Ibid pg. 50
 Ibid. pg. 26 “General Conference Bulletin, Third Quarter, 1901, p. 513.”
 James White, “Organization” (1873) pg. 60 cited in Andrew G. Mustard pg. 180
 Ellen G. White, “Unity of the Church,” RH, February 19, 1880, p. 113. cited in Mustard, Gordon Andrew, “James White and the Development of Seventh-day Adventist Organization…” pg. 181
 For more discussion on Adventist factions see these two articles: https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/the-one-project-the-jesus-all-paradox & https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/beyond-the-one-project-the-war-over-the-local-church-5b