Adventist Leaders Plead for Civility in Debate
by Monte Sahlin
From ANN, November 5, 2014
Facing the fact that strenuous arguments pro and con will occur leading up to the decision on ordination at next summer's General Conference Session, the governing body of the Adventist denomination for North America adopted a resolution this week asking for “respectful, Christ-like dialogue." The statement was voted unanimously by the executive committee of the denomination's North American Division (NAD) during its annual meeting this week.
The resolution resulted from a concern expressed earlier this week. Many committee members, including Pastor Dan Jackson, the NAD president, expressed concern about the tone of the debate that has been raging in various meetings and media. Jackson reminded the leaders that "as Christians we are called to discuss issues with the understanding and compassion modeled by Christ."
Jackson said, “I don’t think it’s part of our mission to start attacking each other just because we don’t agree. I’m not saying for a moment that we don’t have the right to disagree, but God has given us the responsibility to share His love.”
The document voted unanimously by the committee sets the following guidelines for Adventists who enter into the discussion of the ordination issue:
"(1) We resolve to encourage expressions of disagreement that are honest and open based upon a sincere desire to arrive at truth as expressed in Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy; (2) We resolve to first communicate with those with whom we disagree and listen non-judgmentally to their positions so that we can represent those positions accurately before critiquing them; (3) We resolve to avoid the use of sarcasm, cartoons, anecdotes, parody or any other form of insinuation to diminish the reputation or personhood of others; (4) We resolve to refrain from sponsoring or countenancing online or offline dialogue that vilifies or depreciates the good name of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in general or the reputations of its individual members in particular.
"We, therefore, resolve to avoid participating in, or being party to, all forms of unhealthy and demeaning discourse. Our aim is to govern our communication according to the high standards of Christian conduct found in the guidelines this statement so that God may be glorified in all we say and do.”
Jackson asked Adventists to seek “higher ground during these challenging times while the discussion about ordination builds up." Privately, other NAD officers worried that a relatively small group of church members in North America, including some pastors, who feel strongly that the position put on the agenda by the GC executive committee two weeks ago is a mistake will generate widespread misunderstanding and anger.
"This is a topic that generates very deep feeling," a retired denominational official told Adventist Today. "For those who want to end gender discrimination it is a matter of fundamental justice and morality. For those who want to keep women out of the clergy it has become something like a Bible doctrine that if violated will send the Adventist Church into apostasy. The fear is that this will become such a schism that the two sides will not be able to live together after a decision is made."
"Things are said in the heat of the moment that can do permanent damage to relationships," a delegate to the 1995 GC Session in Utrecht remembered for Adventist Today. "Some of the things that were said on the floor at that time simply are not true when looked at in cool deliberation and careful Bible study. There were people who went home and decided that the Adventist Church could no longer be their spiritual home. I do not know if we can avoid the same this time, but I am happy to see that the leaders are doing something about it."
The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination. It provided the basic news bulletin on which this story is based. The AT News team did additional reporting and AT edited the final product as it appears here.