15 August 2023 |
Stephen Bohr has proven a divisive figure, particularly in the North American Division, where his controversial teachings have caused him to be persona non grata in some conferences and churches.
One of the problems appears to be Bohr himself: he has been willing to ignore pastors and denominational leaders, and will even divide churches, in order to promote his ministry.
The most recent example is in the Gaithersburg (Maryland) Hispanic church in the Potomac Conference, where Bohr joined church members in defying not only the conference and the pastor, but the standard procedures for inviting speakers into churches.
Members of the Gaithersburg Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland reportedly sent an invitation to Stephen Bohr to hold a series of on prophetic topics Aug. 16-19—and they did so without formally consulting with the church’s pastor or the Potomac Conference Executive Committee, as required by the Church Manual:
“Only trustworthy preachers shall be invited to the pulpit by the pastor of the local church, in harmony with the guidelines given by the local conference” (Church Manual, p. 126).
In accordance with this guideline, Potomac has asked its staff to seek permission when inviting preachers from outside its territory.
After this invitation, the pastor of the Gaithersburg church, who was aware of the controversy surrounding Bohr and some of his unorthodox ideas and also wanted to be in harmony with his employer’s request, initiated a review process with his congregation to examine Bohr’s Secrets Unsealed independent ministry.
The result was an impasse that escalated into a split in the congregation, with the majority of church members standing against the pastor and Potomac Conference.
In a report by a member of the Gaithersburg church, the result was an altercation on Sabbath, July 29, 2023:
This past Saturday, with no warning, the pastor called an administrative meeting at the church at 7 pm after youth society. He declared that the church board is no longer valid because they are in rebellion with the Potomac Conference for their insistence on inviting Pastor Bohr. He gave the church members an ultimatum: either the group would abide by the conference’s request, or they were to leave the Gaithersburg church. If they persisted, the church could face being disbanded and the members disfellowshipped.
99% of the congregants rose up and left. The pastor said he no longer recognized any of the leaders as members, and demanded that those in charge of church finances turn them over to him within 24 hours or face further sanctions.
The disbanded church board and elders reportedly requested a meeting with the Potomac Conference Committee, but the pastor didn’t want to sanction a meeting as long as the rebellion persisted. To the threat that they would join another conference, they were told that the church’s funds and assets will remain under the custody of the Potomac Conference.
This statement was later found by Adventist Today to be an exaggeration of what the pastor actually said.
An uncooperative evangelist
The situation remains tense. Some say Bohr encourages dissident church members to ignore conference guidelines, and promotes congregationalism to the extent that it benefits his ministry.
One of the reasons Adventists organized in the 1860s was to protect congregations from dissident preachers. The certification of preachers was a significant step in the organization of the Adventist church.
Bohr promotes his conspiracy theories and dubious theological beliefs in local pulpits, taking resources from local work for his offshoot ministry without organizational oversight. While local churches may appreciate eschatological issues, they rarely filter for the agendas of preachers like Bohr, who promotes last generation theology and a Calvinistic theology of male supremacy called “headship theology.” To support this belief, Bohr denies the full divinity of Christ, in favor of a semi-Arian theology in which Jesus Christ is in eternal subordination to God the Father.
Bohr has an emeritus ministerial credential, issued by the Pacific Union and signed by vice president Sandra Roberts, an ordained female minister.
Did Potomac handle it correctly?
Opines one church leader who preferred not to be named,
The spirit of congregationalism is now deeply embedded in Adventist churches. The authoritarian leadership styles that seemed to work in the past no longer do. Here, both the Conference and the pastor made wrong judgments about the authority they thought they had. Personally, I wish churches wouldn’t invite Stephen Bohr or Doug Batchelor to speak—but to ban church members from inviting him doesn’t seem to be a win-win strategy for anyone anymore.
The church needn’t support Bohr’s teachings, but it can still defend freedom of thought and of speech. Bohr’s ministry feeds on conspiracy theories such as persecution, attacks on the saints, and the suffering of the remnant. To deal with him by means of coercive measures only feeds this narrative. Without such measures, there is a better chance that his theories will lose their credibility.