by Ervin Taylor

by Ervin Taylor, August 18, 2014

On August 17, 2014, the news editor of the Adventist Review (AR) reported the following: “World church President Ted N.C. Wilson forcefully asserted that life has existed on the Earth for only a few thousand years, not millions of years, as he opened an educators conference in Utah on Friday . . . [He] said teachers who believe otherwise should not call themselves Seventh-day Adventists or work in church-operated schools.” He expanded on this his view with the comment that “If one does not accept the recent six-day creation understanding, then that person is actually not a 'Seventh-day' Adventist. . . .” His remarks were made at an invitation-only meeting of what were characterized as “mainly teachers.”

He addressed his remarks specifically at those who taught at Adventist “academies, colleges and universities” (as well as "leaders in God's church") and continued by telling his listeners that they should “hold firmly to a literal recent creation and absolutely reject theistic and general evolutionary theory.” He was further quoted as having cautioned Adventist educators "against associating with scientists, humanists and 'some who claim to be Seventh-day Adventists' who have embraced an evolution-based creation theory.”
 
He further called on these Adventist educators to be “champions of creation based on the [b]iblical account and reinforced so explicitly by the Spirit of Prophecy,” i.e., the 19th-century views of Ellen White. According to Wilson II, they should reject a “popular teaching” that the “world [is] much older than the 6,000-odd years that Creationists believe have passed since the Earth was formed.”
 
He noted that that this “popular teaching . . . has crept into some Adventist schools in recent years and prompted, in part, a decision by the Adventist Church to start organizing Bible and science conferences in 2002.”
 
Commentary: One interpretation of what Wilson II is attempting to accomplish is to force the institutional Adventist Church to embrace overtly the kind of hyper-sectarian, anti-intellectual fundamentalism that characterized it in the early part of the 20th century. He and his supporters in the Adventist Theological Society are carrying out their long-term plan to return Adventism to what it was theologically from about 1920 to 1940. One part of that openly-declared plan is to add explicitly fundamentalist language to SDA Fundamental Belief number 6 to state that the days of creation were six, literal, 24-hour days. That plan now appears also to include a publicly-declared direct frontal assault on Adventist higher education with the intention of dismantling the intellectual and academic freedom that has come to characterize a number of Adventist academic institutions.
 
It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that what might literally be at stake is the theological and intellectual soul of 21st-century Adventism. To attack openly several fields of theological and scientific study in the manner that Wilson II has done will inevitably foster the kinds of intellectual and political repression that inspired the forces that organized the 16th-century Catholic Counter-Reformation and particularly that institution known as the Inquisition. What Wilson II apparently wishes to do is to be the presiding pontifical cleric of a 21st century who will establish the Adventist version of the Counter Reformation-and Inquisition with the intention of turning back the clock on Adventism and returning it to an intellectual Dark Age.
 
What will be interesting to watch is the public reaction of moderate and progressive Adventist academics to this public frontal assault on the freedom of open inquiry within Adventist institutions of higher education. Wilson II and his supporters have a perfect right to seek publicly to have their agenda turned into official policy in the Adventist Church. They have the advantage in that they have the control of the major avenues of communication with the average church member and can issue pronouncements in the name of official Adventism. They also have essentially unlimited funds due to their control of the GC share of the tithe.
 
But this is the 21st Century and there are other channels of communication, and there is now a free press in Adventism in the form of Adventist Today and Spectrum and their web sites. The question will be whether key members of the Adventist academy will publicly confront the propaganda issued by Wilson II and his supporters. The behavior of Adventist academics will be a critical element in determining whether an intellectually viable Adventism will continue to expand and flourish. If those who have led in moving Adventist theology and higher education in a positive direction over the last four decades are now rendered silent by this direct attack and a new type of Dark Age descends on our faith tradition, there may rapidly come a time when there will be little left to recommend the Adventist faith tradition to our children and grandchildren.

As additional information leaks out from this meeting of Adventist educators, it will be reported and commented upon.