by Lawrence Downing, July 14, 2015: The actions taken at the recent GC session generated a wide variety of responses. There are people who view the voted actions as evidence that the church is finally aligned with God’s will. Others read the same actions and conclude the church is no longer a good fit for them. Still others take a wait-and-see attitude. As a retired pastor with more than four decades under my belt, I am grateful I carry the “Retired” label. When a majority of the GC delegates voted NO on the motion to allow each division to decide whether to ordain women, the task of adding new members to the church, retaining present members and impacting younger people took on imposing challenge. Add to this action the requirement that a “true” Adventist, as defined by the Fundamental Beliefs, holds to a short-earth chronology and believes that creation took place in six literal 24-hour days and the challenge exponentially increases. The statement that marriage is between one man and one woman will alienate another segment of our population.
Now that the revised 2015 Fundamental Beliefs document has taken on an official life of its own, men and women who pastor local congregations question their place in the Adventist church. Competent, dedicated pastors are giving thoughtful attention to whether they should pursue other careers. Sure, write these off as those who are among the “Sifted,” as in “The Sifting Time.” Foolish talk! The church will pay a heavy price if we lose even one person as a consequence of voted actions that lack clear biblical authority and violate fundamental human freedoms. It would be well to consider this: In the graduate program of a school of business, I taught that one of the fundamental roles of management is to be certain that those who represent the company are sold on the product. If the salespeople do not think they offer a superior product, trouble awaits. I believe there is ample evidence that the men and women who represent the Adventist church are not proud of the recent actions their church took and a significant number do not believe they are part of a superior organization. If this is correct, trouble awaits.
Put yourself in the position of the minister who has kept up on developments in cosmology, geology, anthropology, theology and other sciences. Now he or she is to deny the findings that are reported in respectable science and religious journals? Is the pastor to ignore what she or he believes? Be less-than-truthful and affirm what is not believed? Or is the pastor to address current understandings and support and guide parishioners as they seek to reconcile biblical teachings with contemporary issues? The Fundamental Belief document thwarts the last option, an option that some might suggest is the best of the three.
What is the appropriate pastoral response to an action that violates his/her moral values and the spirit and practice that he or she believes is consistent with the teachings and actions of the Christ she or he serves? For many pastors, the denial of ordination to women colleagues is immoral and is inconsistent with basic Christian values! The GC actions on these matters, I believe, erects an unnecessary barrier that inhibits pastoral fulfillment, growth and satisfaction; challenges membership retention and diminishes the number of potential new converts who might otherwise be attracted to the Adventist message. If the GC administrative team have as their objectives the disruption of life in the local parish, the alienation of thoughtful men and women, both among pastor and people in the pew, and the suppression of moral values, they have successfully implemented an effective plan that has high probability for success. And these are the same people who have time and again assured pastors “We are here to help you!” If what they have done is help, then dole out the obstructions! Time will tell how the final chapter plays out.