Adventist Bishops and Archbishops
by Ervin Taylor
By Ervin Taylor, November 12, 2014
We Adventists in First World countries sometimes think of Adventism in Third World countries as being, shall we say, somewhat traditional and conservative. A report out of an African country should lay that bias to rest. It appears that local Adventist Conference officials in Uganda are referred to in local press accounts as “bishops” and union conference officials are known as “archbishops.” To read the media report where these terms have been used, one can go to an article titled “SDA Church in Uganda Gets New Archbishop” at https://www.newvision.co.ug/news/661692-sda-church-in-uganda-gets-new-archbishop.html#.VGK5kXao2r0.email
The assumed opposition of African Adventist leaders and members to the ordination of women perhaps now makes sense. Since all local Adventist bishops (local conference presidents), and archbishops (union conference presidents) are male, perhaps the negative views of our Roman Catholic friends as to having female bishops and archbishops may have influenced the opinions of Adventist members in those countries.
Maybe those of us living in First World Adventist communities might wish to emulate the understandings of our African co-religionists. Perhaps calling Adventist pastors “priests” might be a little too radical for some. However, using the term “bishop” for local conference presidents and “archbishop” for union conference presidents might be considered. Also, we might wish to consider the terms “Metropolitan” or “Patriarch” for presidents of Divisions. And then it would be appropriate for us to refer to General Conference Vice Presidents as “Cardinals.” We already sometimes call the General Conference (GC) headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, "the Adventist Vatican,” and the GC leadership cohort as belonging to the “Adventist Curia,” so this would not be unprecedented.
This whole scenario, of course, would bring up the question of what to call the Adventist General Conference President. As we all know, Adventists in former times used to use fictional kin terms to refer to each other, as in, “Brother Smith” and “Sister Jones.” This is how we indicated whether someone was or was not “in the Truth.” We even called one Adventist writer, “Uncle” as in “Uncle Arthur.” And, of course, many still refer to the Adventist prophetess as “Sister White.” And, back in the 19th century, William Miller of 1844 fame was called “Father Miller.” Thus, using a fictional kin term to refer to the General Conference President would not be unusual.
As everyone knows, our Roman Catholic friends call the head of their church by a kin term based on the Latin word for “Father,” or Pater, and thus the term in English, “Pope.” The current GC President is sometimes already referred to as Wilson II and his father, also a GC President, as Wilson I. Now, given the unfortunate history of less-than-positive attitudes toward the Roman Catholic tradition exhibited by some Adventists, many might not want to use that term for the head of the institutionalized Adventist Church. In light of the controversial nature of any such suggestion, perhaps it would be better to have an extended discussion concerning this topic.
Suggestions on this point are solicited.