by Ervin Taylor

by Ervin Taylor, June 22, 2014

      A former General Conference (GC) Vice President and assistant to the GC President, Mark Finley, has come out in the pages of the Adventist Review (June 19, 2014), pledging that in the future he will not use certain labels to characterize other Church members with whom he disagrees about certain theological concepts. He says he will no longer use the terms “liberal” or “conservative" or “progressive” or "moderate” or “traditional.” He says that such labels “are unfair characterizations of others. Christ calls us to love people, not label people.”

      What event triggered his conversion to not telling people they were liberal or progressive or conservative or traditional? It was TOSC. For those not familiar with the latest Adventist institutional lingo, TOSC stands for the GC-sponsored “Theology of Ordination Study Committee.” And what is it about TOSC that caused Elder Finley to publicly announce that he is taking the pledge? He says that he discovered that “although I have deeply held and what I believe to be biblical convictions [on the subject of women’s ordination], there are others who cherish different views they believe are rooted in Scripture as well. Those who take different positions on the subject of women’s ordination argue that their position is most faithful to Scripture.”

      He then asks, “How shall I relate to those who think differently than I do?” and then quotes as a key text, a statement of Ellen White which, in part, states that “we cannot . . . take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same shade of light.”

      Elder Finley assures his orthodox readers that his conversion to not label those who harbor heterodox views “does not open the door of theological pluralism, where people can believe whatever they want. It simply means that on some aspects of Scripture we will not always see all things the same way.” Okay, we get it. No “theological pluralism.” But are there any limits to what Church members can disagree on, while Elder Finley still keeps to his pledge of no name-calling?

      Someone with as much knowledge of the conventional (see, I didn’t say “conservative” or “traditional”) populist Adventist ethos as Elder Finley must certainly possess, has to put some boundary on what can be questioned. In this, he does not disappoint his orthodox readers. While he explains that we must not insist that everyone view every text of Scripture the same way, he nevertheless intones: “We are united in Christ through the Holy Spirit on the eternal, timeless truths of God’s Word as expressed in our 28 Fundamental Beliefs.” An interesting exception, since he must know that there are many disagreements circulating in the Church that touch directly on one or more of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs. He never explains how it can be okay to view Scripture in different ways at the same time that questioning one or more of the current 28 Fundamentals (which are all supposed to be based on a particular interpretation of Scripture) is off limits. This does not compute. We will come back to this problem another time.

      What is it about the women’s ordination (WO) issue that would impel a former GC VP to come out and publicly say, “Let’s stop calling each other names and creating dissension in the Church over this issue”? My first guess is that he has been given a task by certain individuals at various administrative levels in the Church. They realize that if the individual currently occupying the position of GC President, who is sometimes referred to as Wilson II, works to inspire his Third World allies to vote down a compromise way of dealing with this hot topic at the next GC, he will run into a buzz saw of opposition. A worst case scenario for Wilson II would be an open revolt by the North American Division, which has already ignored Wilson II’s call to not vote to ordain women. My suggestion is that Elder Finley’s editorial is a “shot across the bow,” signaling that if the GC President and his fellow travelers try to get their way on WO at the next GC session, only bad things will happen to the credibility of the GC as an institution, already at low tide because of previous missteps.

      Stay tuned for further developments as the political jockeying continues to escalate, as we get closer and closer to the 2015 GC session in San Antonio. Of course, we can anticipate that the political nature of the public discourse will be masked beneath the usual Adventist holy vocabulary, accompanied by dueling quotations from Ellen White.