General Conference Spring Meeting 2017: Day Two
By Loren Seibold, 2017-04-12
It’s not atypical for these meetings to turn to promotions and sermons on the last day. My skepticism says they’ve run out of important business to do while there’s still time to fill. But I know that is unfair to the people who have been working on projects for the last year that they want to present. Church governance meetings are a mashup of business and spirituality—the recipe for the necessary but often unimaginative product we call organized religion.
What didn’t come up: the “Unity in Mission” process that we reported on last autumn. I was told that the reason is because the process (which involves a prescribed set of meetings and prayer and counseling between the GC leaders and the leaders of the naughty unions, with a goal of convincing only one group to change their minds) is only halfway finished, so it’s best not to talk about it yet.
This puts all the hard stuff off until the autumn meetings in early October. What will happen? It’s impossible to predict. On one hand, by a miracle, everyone could agree to allow some flexibility about ordination, in spite of the San Antonio vote, and the disagreement over ordination (which has lately tried to masquerade as a unity problem) would go away. Unlikely, it seems to me. On the other hand, there have been rumors that some GC leaders are prepared to go so far as to take over or dissolve disobedient unions. I needn’t tell you that this, while looking like a win for unity, would end up doing incredible damage. NAD tithe would drop, church judicatories would lawyer up, members would get discouraged, and it would be a disaster for those of us who get our wages or our retirement from the church.
A few weeks back, I’d seen on a beautifully designed website that the union where I work was sponsoring a serious, scholarly study conference in London, England, about what it means to have church unity. The topic interests me, especially after covering (in person) the GC executive committees in the past few years that have discussed this topic. I wrote my union president, Dave Weigley, and asked him if I could attend. The website said it was for leaders, academics and theologians. I’d rather hoped, given the thousands of pages of consumer theology I’ve written for this denomination, (some of it, I think, challenging even without 12-syllable German words or footnotes from theological journals), that I might qualify in the last category at least.
So yesterday Dave stopped by to tell me that the conference is only for union administrators.
So help me out here, perspicacious readers: take a look at the website and tell me if this doesn’t look like it’s advertising a program that wants interested attendees, i.e., a gathering of consequence for many inquiring minds, rather than a handful? Apparently the posh website didn’t mean what it appeared to. It was only to tell us that a few are flying to London to talk about unity—behind closed doors.
Really, Unity-in-London people: you could have taken yourselves to London without announcing it to all of us. Don’t you think it would be more honest to take down the website?
As I said, today consisted of a lot of promotional items, some more interesting than others. In spite of what I said yesterday about resources not getting out of the building into the real church, I have much admiration for some of the people I’ve met here. (Someone also reminded me, after yesterday’s column, that as much as the GC seems to be overbearing on the NAD right now, many of its resourcers are creating stuff for the developing world, not for us, so it’s not surprising I don’t see them here. If true, mea culpa.)
I have a young friend here in the World Missions department named Doug Venn who is absolutely passionate about ministry to cities. I’m going to tell you more about him in a future article. He and a group of other leaders (family ministries, communications, publishing, youth, chaplaincy) together told how they had collaborated to minister to some select cities. Williams Costa coined the phrase “digital pentecost” to describe the church’s digital reach. Interesting stuff.
- Myron Iseminger gave the history of denominational working policy. The first policy book was 52 pages, in 1926; the current one is 790 pages. (I’m very grateful for Myron and for working policies, but it isn’t scintillating history.)
- Report by Jerry Page on revival and reformation, and a website of resources to revive and reform us.
- A lengthy presentation on stewardship and tithe by G.T. Ng. Kind of wondered why this group needed such a long and intense treatment of it. (I confess I am not fond of the message that “if you pay tithe, your business will prosper and you’ll find lots of money that you didn’t know you had.” I’ve always told my churches that what will pour out of those opened windows of heaven is blessings, like the satisfaction of doing good, and a closer relationship with God—not more money.)
- Dan Jackson on a partnership with Inter-America to promote literacy. “If they can’t read, they can’t read the Bible.”
- A report on Global Youth Day, 3/18/2017 (#GYD17). The hashtag got 150,000 impressions! GYD was criticized, I remember, because some thought that doing service projects on Sabbath was Sabbath-breaking. “This wasn’t about breaking the Sabbath” said one presenter, “but about teaching and modeling service.” Apparently one of the big promotions this year was blood drives all over the world, with great success.
I always see a few people here that I’m delighted to see again. And this year I made some new friends, like Dr. Handysides and Dr. Landless, who were involved in making yesterday’s “Statement on Transgenderism” as sensitive a document as it turned out to be.
Still, I always suspect that a few people see my Adventist Today name tag and aren’t quite sure if they should spend any time with me. This is a place where transparency isn’t prized—though I think we in the alternative Adventist press have to take some of the blame for not always being as thoughtful and sympathetic in our assessments of the church as we should be.
Please put October 5-11 on your calendar, when we’ll be covering the Autumn Meetings. They will be, at least, interesting.
Loren Seibold is the Executive Editor of Adventist Today