How Accurate a Record are the Official Minutes of the GC Session?
By Dennis Hokama, August 17, 2015: Those who have only the official minutes of the 12th Business Meeting of the 60th General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, as recorded in the July 10, 2015, General Conference Bulletin, will not get a view of the intensity and acrimony of the debate that actually took place over women’s ordination. The flashpoint of the session was when former Dr. Jan Paulsen, a former GC president, made a plea for a “Yes” vote half way through the afternoon session. This was followed by a parade of no less than eight points of order, six of which were made by delegates from the global south protesting against Paulsen’s advocacy.
Of these eight points of order, only the last one, a request for prayer to calm tensions by Lisa Burrow, a delegate from North America, has been preserved in the official record. In the GC Bulletin, published by the Adventist Review, they appear immediately after Paulsen’s speech. The seven points of order that preceded it are deleted. Without that context, her words come across like a non-sequitur.
Here are Paulsen’s words followed by Burrows words just as they appear in the official minutes:
Paulsen: I appeal to my brothers and sisters to vote “yes” on the motion before us. A “no” vote will cause rupture and serious damage to our global church.
Let me say this: I have served our church in ministry for 55 years. Most of these years have been in senior leadership roles. I’ve lived and served the church, from Africa, in Europe, and the global church for our world headquarters here in North America. And just for the record, let me say that the spirit that guided me during the years I provided leadership for the church did not leave me when I left office.
I believe that I know this church, this global church, well. I know what it is that holds us together. I know also many of the tension points when cultures meet that cause difficulties for us. But we as a church can overcome these things.
I’ll be clear about it. It has been stressed by several speakers what we are really voting on today. It is not the question of who has won the argument for ordination or not ordination. This is a question of trust.
We have leadership established around the world in every one of the 13 divisions. They work in counsel together. They also work in close counsel with General Conference leadership. They pray, they search the scriptures, they seek the Spirit’s guidance, and the Spirit is guiding them. Do we trust them enough, under the guidance of the Spirit, to know what is good for the church in their particular part of the world?
Let me say to you, my brothers and sisters from Africa: Do you trust your leaders, elected leaders, from Africa to give the best leadership for the life and mission of the church in Africa? If you do, vote “yes.”
I say to you, my brothers and sisters from South America: Do you trust your elected leaders to provide reliable, good, Spirit-driven, Spirit-inspired leadership to the live and witness of our church in South America? Then vote “yes.”
The same applies to North America and to Europe. We need to trust each other to get together and to vote “yes” on this motion.
Voting “no” will damage the church. I am fearful of what will happen if we do not allow the church to go forward on this. So I say to you, please do not let delegates from major segments of our church return to their fields bruised and bleeding and confused and disenfranchised because they were being driven by this community live a life somehow judged by this community not to be worthy of the responsibility that they have.
It is important, I think, that we empower our delegates, allow them to go back home and know that they have the right and the empowerment of this body to respond under the Spirit’s guidance to God as to how they can best lead the church.
We are struggling in some parts of the world. We are struggling badly to try to hold the church together, to engage young and old, men and women, in the mission and ministry of the church. We need everybody’s involvement.
We are bleeding in many ways. We’ve got to stop this. We are losing so many of our youth and young professionals. They have problems the moral integrity of the church, and they say, “Why is the church having problems with this matter? The public does not. It’s not a problem to the public. Why should it be to the church?”
And there is no biblical injunction that stops us. We have to fix this one.
Please, brothers and sisters, I believe that it is the will of God that we should enable the church in every part of the world to make the decisions that are best applicable in the part where they live without being a violation of the will of God. Thank you.
Lisa Burrow: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can sense, as you can, that the tension has risen in the room. And I’m wondering if this would be an appropriate time to pause for prayer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [Excerpt from page 51 of the July 10, 2015 General Conference Bulletin]
The Hole in the Record
There is a gap of several minutes between Paulson’s last word and Burrow’s first words because seven embarrassing points of order have simply been deleted. While Adventist Today does not have a recording of the session, a paraphrase of each point of order that was deleted from the minutes immediately following Paulsen’s comments was made at the time by an observer: (The Ryan in this dialog is Dr. Michael Ryan, a GC vice president who chaired the business meeting.)
Point of Order 1; K. Frank from IAD: Mr. Chairman, the person who has a reserved slot should be neutral!
Ryan: The chair has the privilege of reserving a slot for a person to make statements as they see fit. I stand on that privilege.
Point of Order 2; Gillett from IAD: Mr. Chairman, the insertion of President Paulsen changes the order of presenters that has been established.
Point of Order 3; Prince Nqandu from SID: Mr. Chairman, President Paulsen’s appealing to African and South American division delegates was inappropriate! (clapping)
Point of Order 4; J. Diaz from IAD: Mr. Chairman, Former President Paulsen had to be neutral!
Point of Order 5; Berit Elkjael from TED: Mr. Chairman, if the applause from the audience continues, then all the observers should be expelled and the session should continue with only the delegates present.
Point of Order 6; J. Perez from IAD: Mr. Chairman, President Paulsen should not be allowed to influence the body!
Point of Order 7; Ikeqwuonu from WAD: Mr. Chairman, I call the question!
Ryan: You are not allowed to make a motion on a point of order.
Point of Order 8; Lisa Burrow from NAD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can sense, as you can, that the tension has risen in the room. And I’m wondering if this would be an appropriate time to pause for prayer. …
Ryan: Thank you. And I think that is something very, very advisable. I would like for everybody to pray silently. And we will pause for a period of time.
Some of the statements make reference to numerous outbreaks of cheering and applause every time Paulsen’s comments were condemned. This continued despite numerous attempts by Ryan in the chair to stop it, and this is what finally prompted Burrows to ask for prayer, and for Ryan to eagerly accept her suggestion.
Gillett was complaining that Paulsen upset the alternating sequence of pro and con speakers that had been established by the chair. Gillett was apparently confused about the sequence up to that point because of intrusive points of order. Notes taken by an Adventist Today reporter at the time indicate that the previous speaker (omitting points of order) was Pastor Louis Torres who advocated a “no” vote.
Gillett’s complaint did anticipate the violation of sequence that occurred following Paulsen’s comments. According to notes taken by an Adventist Today reporter at the time, the next speaker following the prayer break was G. Townsend from SPD who recommended a “Yes” vote on the basis that “we should remain united in mission” and do not need to dictate methods. But the GC Bulletin minutes fix this sequence problem by simply deleting Townsend’s comments entirely. According to the minutes in the GC Bulletin, the first speaker after prayer is Sam Larmie who advocated a “no” vote. (See page 51 of the July 10 GC Bulletin.)
Even prior to Paulsen’s speech, Adventist Today reporters counted 21 additional points of order that are omitted from the minutes of that meeting. Adventist Today has not made any study of past documentation, nor is it even clear that the archives would contain sufficient documentation to prove the point, but the question comes to mind: Are these the most heavily redacted minutes of GC Session in the modern era? Or, is this typical of the record of previous sessions. And, if the record has so many deletions is it a reliable representation of the discussion that was carried on at the Session?