By Loren Seibold, October 29, 2016:     A really good journalist, the kind they pay lots of money to (as rare as those are) would have stayed up last night and written up all the events of an exciting day at Silver Spring. Alas, you’re stuck with me, a writer a bit too old to stay up late after an exciting day. By now, I hope you’ve read Carmen’s tweets, my copious Facebook notes, and watched Jared Wright and me discuss the day’s events on a live feed.

(Because of a wrong setting on my phone—I will again plead my weary old brain—my live feed ended up sideways on Adventist Today‘s Facebook page. The solution is simple: you simply pick up your entire computer monitor and turn it on its side, and then we’ll be right side up. Or, alternatively, you can look at precisely the same feed on Spectrum‘s Facebook page. Go ahead. I won’t be offended.)

I have never, ever seen a pastor step in to a parish and say, “We’ve got a good church school here, but I want to close it to free up money for stuff I want to do.” Never. Always, the school has already emptied out, or run out of money.

Education: Larry Blackmer of NAD education reported, and got approved, a set of proposals to spiff up our educational system. Carmen tweeted most of those, though I will warn you that if you’re looking for some creative, world-inverting concepts that will save Adventist education, these aren’t it. This is, as often happens in mature systems like ours, mere tinkering.

Larry’s presentation was again marred, as it was last year, by his assertion that the reason schools are failing is lack of support from pastors. This year he said, “I don’t blame them,” that it is merely a function of their not learning the importance of Adventist education during their seminary years. They go into their district wanting to get rid of the 60% of the church budget that keeps the school going but starves every other program. But he blamed them all the same.

Sorry, but I think Adventist education would be better to shoulder a good portion of the blame themselves. I won’t say that there aren’t unsupportive pastors out there, but I have never, ever (ever!) seen a pastor step in to a parish and say, “We’ve got a good church school here, but I want to close it to free up money for stuff I want to do.” Never. Always, the school has already emptied out, or run out of money.

This is coming from a pastor who loves Adventist education, who came from a working class home and gives Adventist education credit for my today being a professional person with higher education; and, one who spends a day a week with the church school in my district. You daren’t call me anti-SDA education. But for years we pastors have been asking for solid evidence to sell middle-class parents on our local school, and that’s been hard to find. Mostly we are told “because it’s Adventist,” which, in case you’ve not noticed, isn’t enough anymore.

So let’s admit that the whole enterprise needs a deep rethinking. More than tinkering. More than excuses and blame. It may not be all the educators’ fault, but it isn’t the pastors’ fault, either.

“Unity,” falsely so-called: It must have been around 3PM that Elder Jackson brought up the Mission and Unity procedure. He sounded reluctant at first, as though he were merely going to field a few questions and move on. But as soon as he started talking, it became pretty clear that a lot of emotion, a lot of concern, was dammed up within him, and in the rest of the room.

imag6453I told you yesterday that Elder Jackson had made a number of remarks defining the NAD in a way that many of us noticed was quite different from the way the GC had seemed to define itself at Annual Council two weeks ago. And he repeated it again at this meeting. We listen here, he insisted. We talk things over. We work together. “We do not coerce!” he repeated. “We do not coerce!” Coercion, he said, is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I urge you to listen to our live commentary for a bit more insight, but let me just give you some thoughts and highlights.

• Elder Jackson made it clear that he didn’t like the Unity and Mission procedure, with its never-fully-spelled-out consequences, nor how it was arrived at. “I’d vote against it 300 times if I could.” He realized how much pain it is causing the NAD. But he also insisted that he had to follow it, to the letter. When someone suggested that the committee vote to bypass the year of Matthew 18 stuff and just tell the GC right now that no one was going to change their minds, he said the group could do as it liked, but he’d resign before he’d lead out if it were done that way. “We will do all we can to support women in ministry,” he said, “but we will work within the guidelines of the GC.”

• He reminded us that we’d been told  at Annual Council that the Unity and Mission procedure wasn’t about women’s ordination, but “I beg to differ.” That (as we all already knew) was pretty much all it was about. One delegate asked, “Will that apply to the 3000 women pastors leading churches in China, too?” There wasn’t a clear answer, but either Elder Jackson or Elder Bryant (I can’t remember which) said that all the division leaders had been told to look for “noncompliance” in their territories, and report them to the GC—which sounded rather witchhuntish.

Jackson: “There is no sense in which a vote of the GC in session, or a policy that has been developed through process, can ever be equated with a fundamental principle from the word of God.”

• Elder Jackson: “We should have dealt with this as ecclesiology. Instead, we dealt with it as theology.” And “There is no sense in which a vote of the GC in session, or a policy that has been developed through process, can ever be equated with a fundamental principle from the word of God.”

• Elder Jackson made it clear that any action against the “rebellious” unions have first to come before the NAD committee (that’s another name for this very meeting, the Year End Meeting) for approval. I know these two unions that have chosen to ordain women, he said, and even after we go through this procedure they and their constituencies won’t change their minds. And then, when they have refused to cooperate, it will come before this committee, and we won’t change our minds, either.

Here he interjected a parenthetical bit that could have slipped right by if you weren’t paying close attention: that is, he said, unless something is done that removes the NAD’s authority in this matter. Please attend to this. Even if it appears as if the unions have autonomy, that could be threatened easily by the General Conference, just as easily as it voted the Unity in Mission document two weeks ago. Another bit thrown in in passing: that he has been on the inside of this discussion, and he knows how determined some are to see these unions brought into submission. Those in Africa, India and the Philippines, he said, are as passionately opposed to women in ministry as you are in favor of it.

That is to say, don’t expect much mercy, much flexibility, much changing of minds.

• There was an extensive discussion at the microphones which (with the exception of one exchange with Elder Kwasi Ansah-Adu, the argumentative president of the Quebec conference) Dan Jackson handled with such grace that he is forever my hero.

The most poignant remarks for many of us listening came from the young adult and college-aged participants who, though small in number, exercised well their right to speak. “What are we to tell our friends?” several asked. They noted their peers were leaving the church, at least in part because this refusal to recognize women represented such a backward view of the world. Doesn’t the General Conference care? Elder Jackson pleaded with them not to give up on us. “Jesus Christ is the most magnificent person ever to grace planet earth,” he said. “But in the way we talk and act, we reduce that magnificence to something that is not only boring, but it is irrelevant to you. I apologize to you. We need your forgiveness.”

• I’m going to skip right to the end of the meeting, where two events shaped the day. First, Randall Wisbey, president of LaSierra University made a plea, not about the Unity and Mission procedure, but about the treatment of his conference president, Sandra Roberts. For those of you won’t don’t know, since Sandra Roberts was elected president of the Southeastern California Conference, the General Conference has refused to list her in the denominational Yearbook, and won’t issue her credentials to General Conference meetings.

This was a graceful move on Randall’s part, and I’m in awe of his diplomacy. Of course, it was approved—not unanimously, but by a strong vote.

Then Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president—the president of one of the unions that has supported women’s ordination—moved for adjournment. It was getting late in the day, and Dave made it clear that he thought the discussion needed to continue on Sunday morning, hinting that perhaps the group could come up with a statement or an appeal with more time.

That, it seems to me, would let the church’s young people know that the old guys in suits are listening and fighting, even if not winning.

Postscript: I don’t like drama, generally speaking. Things don’t usually turn out as badly as they may seem they might during moments of crisis. Elder Dan Jackson managed this whole affair with an amazing grace, and he should rightly be regarded as one of the great leaders of our church. Best of all, he did this without ever mentioning, much less criticizing, Elder Ted Wilson.

Yesterday I felt more keenly than I ever have the fragility of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

But yesterday I felt more keenly than I ever have the fragility of the Seventh-day Adventist church. There appears not a chance that the leaders of the world church are going to be flexible with North America and Europe in the matter of women’s ordination. And equally, no chance that the pro-women’s constituencies are going to change their minds. And though it has been argued that history, theology, and even policy are on the side of letting some judicatories exercise independent judgment, it is not at all clear that those arguments matter a fig if our General Conference president decides to use the world church to force upon everyone an artificial unity.

Elder Jackson said, “This division has been responsible for the growth and development of the Seventh-day Adventist church around the world, under the guidance of the Spirit of God. It is still the primary sponsor in the world church. That is something we should praise God for, and we should not diminish.” Yet there is a sense here (and I hope I’m wrong) that the leaders of the world church are so determined to bring the western church under their control that they would be willing, without a reflective backward glance,  to cause irreparable damage to it.

The shaking is indeed starting, and it is us.

Loren Seibold is executive editor of Adventist Today.