by AT News Team
Evidently concerned that there is too much variance in the way church administrators understand the 900-page General Conference Working Policy, an entire day of the annual meeting of the denomination’s governing body was devoted to a class on “Working Policy 101.” General Secretary G. T. Ng was also evidently concerned that the assembled union conference presidents and other delegates would find this tedious, so the class included skits, quizzes and gifts.
The official Adventist News Network (ANN) summary for the day said that “church officials … decided to make administrators more familiar with the Working Policy after realizing that many of them did not often read the black-bound book, which contained only 63 pages when it was introduced in 1926.” No one brought up the question of whether local and regional leaders find the book relevant or helpful.
“It has been very boring,” one observer told Adventist Today. “Over the last two days not one delegate has come to the microphones.” Many carried on private conversations in a variety of languages.
At the end of Monday’s session, Dr. Arthur Stele, director of the Biblical Research Institute and a General Conference vice president, gave a description of the Theology of Ordination Committee process. He told the committee that he had received questions about GC president Ted Wilson's influence over the committee. Dr. Stele explained that each of the GC officers had been asked to submit names for the committee, as had the division presidents.
There are just over 100 people who will serve on this committee and they represent all the viewpoints on the subject, Dr. Stele stated. The entire list will be published as soon as all 13 of the divisions report their names, by the end of the year. Dr. Stele mentioned eight specific items in the terms of reference for this committee, but the document was not included in the agenda binders given to the committee members.
Dr. Stele again pledged that the whole process “will be very transparent,” as he has said on previous occasions. One of the terms of reference is to develop an Adventist theology of ordination. Once that is accomplished, then the committee will study the ordination of women.
The committee will not vote decisions by a majority; it will seek to reach a consensus of the whole group. The committee will present its consensus to the 2014 annual meeting, if it can achieve consensus by that time. If the committee cannot come to a consensus on women's ordination, it will ask the GC executive committee to suggest ways forward. All the information that the committee collects will be presented to the GC executive committee. The plan is to give this information to the executive committee members at least two months before the 2014 annual meeting.
A similar committee studied the same topic in 1989 and could not reach consensus. The 1990 GC Session in Indianapolis approved the report of that committee which included the statement that the committee could not come to consensus on the Bible teaching about ordination, but blocked ordination for women to maintain “unity” in the denomination. That decision has proved to be the cause of much disunity.
The committee worshipped together on Sabbath in the auditorium at GC headquarters instead of attending nearby churches. The sermon by Elder Ted Wilson can be seen online and was distributed on the Hope Channel, among others. It was delivered with some passion and flourish but heavily dependent on Ellen White. There were eight men and one woman on the platform.
“The most exciting part of the morning,” one person who was present told Adventist Today, “was hearing from Aaron Crews, grandson of Amazing Facts founder Joe Crews and son of White Estate staff member Larry Crews. The young adult told of growing up Adventist but not really becoming excited about his faith until his sophomore year at Spencerville Adventist Academy, where his Bible teacher introduced him to a history of the Adventist church and its mission and to Jesus Christ.”
Crews said that his last two years were in public high school where he had to face prejudice because he did not participate in Friday night sports, but he became well known on campus because he “told everyone about Jesus.” He is now in his second year at Union College and was very passionate in his presentation. “There was no doubt that he felt strongly about his faith. What was not so clear was whether it was all about Jesus or the doctrines of the Adventist Church.”
After Crews’ talk, the chair asked for the young adult members of the GC executive committee to come onto the platform and surround Aaron in prayer. These were 13 out of a total of 350 members. The committee is heavily weighted toward older men, with few women and younger adults.
The agenda item that committee members are talking about in whispers and quiet conversations in the hallways is a proposed statement on unity in the church and the union conferences that have voted to discontinue gender discrimination in ordination. This will probably come to the committee on Tuesday afternoon, although no material had been handed to members as of Monday evening.
At least one observer is predicting that the committee will not vote anything on this topic at this point. Michael Peabody, a religious liberty specialist and blogger, wrote, “This is a hot potato and the GC will not be reckless enough to propose doing anything drastic tomorrow. Instead, the GC will allow the NAD to conduct it's own investigation and the entire issue will be remanded to the NAD to make a determination as to what to do with the two ‘rebellious’ unions. This will buy the GC another year until the next Annual Council at which point the study commissions will be underway and the decision at that time will be made to ‘allow the wheat and tares to grow up together’ until the commission makes its decision and [the] vote at the next GC Session in 2015. The GC will reserve the right to force the [conferences involved] to rescind their ordination credentials based on whatever decision the GC reaches … in 2015.”
It is not known what conversations are taking place in various committees meeting in back rooms. Adventist Today has been told that a number of the division presidents advised GC President Wilson during pre-meeting sessions to ignore the actions of the dissident unions. It remains to be seen how they will respond if he ignores their counsel.