by Atoday Editorial Team
The ripples are ever widening in the La Sierra University fountain of turmoil. Now a pastor is declaring his unwillingness and inability to identify with many official Adventist Church actions, particularly in unequal disciplining of employees. To him, the most recent resignation of four individuals associated with La Sierra University is the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.
Steven Hadley, in his own words below, declares he can no longer accept official church positions on social equality and basic justice. He has made his letter of pastoral resignation available exclusively to Adventist Today, in the hope it will bring wider understanding of his frustration with the cavalier lack of due process within Adventist church employment circles.
San Diego, CA 92111
June 29, 2011
Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
P.O. Box 5005
Westlake Village, CA 91359
Dear Elder Graham:
I regret to inform you that at this time I do not consider myself an ordained minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Accordingly, I am returning my ordination certificate to you, and asking that you remove my name from your list of ordained ministers.
For some time I have strongly disagreed with the denomination regarding issues of social equality and basic justice. Socially, I simply cannot support the Church’s attempts to “have it both ways” by encouraging women to enter ministry, but denying them ordination and certain leadership roles; by gladly accepting the talent and resources of the gay community, but denying them the pastoral support and blessing we give those in heterosexual relationships. Regarding issues of justice, I have anguished over the Church’s inconsistent administration of its rules and policies; and in most of the cases I have witnessed over the past half century, a lack of procedural and substantive due process in matters of conflict and discipline.
Many times I have thought of writing this letter, but stopped, because I hoped the day would come when I could do more to affect some small change. I have continued to encourage basic justice in the Church as I served on local boards and committees. I even drafted and helped pilot a justice branch of church governance for the Southeastern California Conference. As a former Adventist pastor now working in a political setting, I have had many opportunities to care for people and help them think about what matters most in this life and the next. But, sadly I have spent more time trying to disprove the assumption that, because I retain my ordination I must concur with Adventism’s social views, and, therefore, I must be judgmental, exclusive and intolerant. I have gladly accepted this challenge, and have not hid the fact that I am ordained, even when it cost me endorsements in a recent election. But, the recent events at La Sierra University have prompted me to finally write this letter.
Others may debate and weigh the morality of what the four individuals who were asked to resign said or did, but my concerns have to do with the inexplicable lack of fairness and due process in the Church’s administration of justice. You and I can both name others across North America who have said or done far worse things, even criminal, but no one asked them to resign; or if they did, quietly found them a new place to continue to work. Yes, sometimes Adventist justice varies from situation to situation based on the wrongdoer’s repentance and cooperation and the options available to a grace-oriented administrator/judge. But, more often than not the variations in justice are based on such things as who and how many are watching, the expectations of those watching, the relationship of the wrongdoer to the judge or other people of value in the community, whether the judge “owes” the wrongdoer for past favors or help, whether the wrongdoer knows damaging information about the judge, whether the wrongdoer is or will be a loyal and valuable subordinate, etc.
Having asked for the resignations of these four individuals for these alleged offenses based on an inadvertent discovery, will you now do the same to all others who have committed equal or greater offenses for whom you have or will receive “evidence”? No, you cannot, at least not for long. To do so would be to encourage a chilling witch hunt across Adventism in North America. I suggest that to be fair and respected, the final action in this matter needs to be proportionate to that taken in response to similar and greater offenses in the larger context of the administration of justice in North American Adventism. If it does not, this incident will simply become another landmark case in our sad saga of unequal justice.
Due process begins with such basic elements as an administrator/judge who is detached from and neutral to the prosecution of the offense(s) in question. Having taken on the role of the prosecution in meeting with the four individuals, and on behalf of the church leadership asked for their resignations; you or any other church administrator cannot now be detached and neutral as the chair of the judging body, the Board of Trustees. I know you are leading this process in the way the denomination routinely conducts business, but the realization that a person cannot be detached, neutral and fair while judging his own case dates back to at least the 15th century. This is only the first element of procedural and substantive due process that our church members and those watching in the secular world expect to see.
The larger issue for Adventists is that our religious freedom depends as much on equal justice and due process as it does the substantive protections of the First Amendment. Persecuting authorities through the centuries have dispensed with equal justice and due process, because “what’s wrong is simply wrong, and only needs to be punished.” History records that the church’s administration of its rules and policies without equal justice or due process models and gives permission to persecuting behavior on the part of its own members that eventually turns against God’s people, their brothers and sisters.
My heart is still that of a pastor, and I continue to be active in my local Adventist congregation. People in the secular world understand that if you belong to a church as a lay person you may or may not agree with everything it teaches or practices. Many have this kind of relationship with their own faith communities. But, they assume that if you are an ordained minister in a particular denomination, you must agree with and support its teachings and practices. Regrettably, in regard to social equality and basic justice, issues that matter most to secular people and me, I do not at this time agree with nor wish to be identified with the Church’s official positions and administrative practices.
Steven R. Hadley – Curriculum Vitae abbreviated for publication
||California Western School of Law, San Diego, CA – Juris Doctor|
||Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA – Master of Arts, Religion, Church History|
|1979||Loma Linda University, Riverside, CA Bachelor of Arts, Ministerial Studies, Business Management minor|
||The City Council, San Diego, CA – Chief of Staff, The Honorable Donna Frye|
Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Riverside, CA, Administrator, Escondido
||Council Representative, The Honorable Valerie Stallings|
||Council Representative, The Honorable Deputy Mayor Harry Mathis|
||Office of the Public Defender, San Diego, CA, Certified Legal Intern|
Arizona Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Scottsdale, AZ, Senior Pastor, Tucson Desert Valley
Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Denver, CO, Senior Pastor, Denver South
Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, Research Assistant to Dr. V. Norskov Olsen, immediate past
||Arizona Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Scottsdale, AZ, Pastor, Yuma Central Church|