by Cindy Tutsch
It appears A. T. Jones didn’t always practice what he preached about Christ.1 Pastor Jones was sometimes acerbic, exercised arbitrary leadership styles, and in general, raised hackles on lots of folks. Some were so disgusted with Jones they could hardly bear to speak to him, and wished he would resign from leadership.
“Not so fast,” Ellen White counseled. “Brother Jones has made some mistakes in his tone and choice of words, but he’s dearly loved by God and still has a contribution to make.”2
Many years ago, when I was a youth pastor in the Oregon Conference, I preached a sermon titled, if I recall correctly, “Daniel and Professional Sports.” In the sermon, I compared Daniel’s choice to not participate in the negative aspects of Babylonian culture with our contemporary penchant for immersing ourselves without reflection into non-God-honoring aspects of our society.
The next week, group after group of the Northwest’s finest—Portland Trail Blazers-season-ticket-holding-Adventists—streamed into the conference president’s office, demanding my head on a melamine platter.
The president listened patiently to all, and deflected their anger with soothing words like, “Don’t mind her. She’s never had a homiletics class.” (Stung, I went on to earn an M.A. in pastoral ministry and a doctorate in leadership!)
That administrator never muzzled me, nor transferred me to Podunk, Oregon. Privately, he said with both a sigh and a smile, “Sanguine prophets never make life easy!”
Though I still am convicted that every word of that sermon was true, I also now realize that there would have been better ways to express those truths. (There’s something to be said for those homiletics classes!)
So, do I agree with everything our NAD VP said at the PUC special constituency meeting? Yes, absolutely. Do I think there might have been better ways to say it? Maybe.
Do I agree with our GC president’s position on women elders and women pastors? Absolutely not. Do I think he has a right to express his convictions? Absolutely.
I want to extend the same grace to those with whom I vehemently disagree as EGW extended publicly to Elder Jones, and as my conference president extended privately to me.
Maybe the skeptic Voltaire is the “stones crying out” to us today when he wrote, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Our early church engaged in vigorous debate about plenty of issues—the time to begin the Sabbath, the Trinity, the ID of the king of the north, the law in Galations. Wouldn’t it be spiritually mature of us to let everyone speak their convictions on this current subject about which we have not yet formulated a doctrine, without threatening or demonizing those who have convictions that differ from our own?
If our hearts and the process are honest, the Holy Spirit will lead us and we’ll eventually get this right. In the meantime, we’ve a world to win for Christ, and that’s never gonna happen while we’re preoccupied with throwing stones at our own team. 3
1 This story is told, with references, in my book Ellen White on Leadership (Pacific Press, 2008), pp 131-133
3 “Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions [and words].” I John 3:18 NLT