by Larry Downing  |  5 November 2018  |

On Sunday, November 4, 2018, I watched most of the morning North American year-end meetings. Unlike many other such sessions, this morning’s meeting countered what I, over the years, came to refer to as Walt’s Law.

Walt’s Law had its origin in the late 1960s when Ed Zackrison and I attended the Pacific Union Conference Constituency Session in Fresno, California. Ed, at the time, was an intern pastor at Alhambra. I was enrolled as a student at Fuller Seminary completing what was then the Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree. Southern California Conference hired me part time at the Alhambra church. During one of the session breaks, Walter Rea, one of the few “seasoned” pastors who talked to us young guys, joined Ed and me on a walk down the Fresno Mall, Ed on one side of him and me on the other.  

On the trek back to the convention center, Walt shared with us various points of wisdom he had gained from his years of pastoral experience. One could always depend upon Walt to have something to share. On this day, as we walked and talked, Walt stopped, and so did we. “Want to know what you need if you want to be a conference administrator?” We were all ears. “A big bladder and a hard butt.” New light!

In my 40+ years of pastoral experience, as a participant and observer of a plethora of committees, board meetings, and other denominational confabs, during an especially trying meeting, I’d ponder Walt’s perceptive insight.  

There have been occasions, however, when the proceedings of a convocation or church session served more than a test to one’s bodily needs and gluteus maximus endurance. The Sunday morning NAD session proved, for me, one of those exceptions to Walt’s Rule.

The participants, a collection of denominational administrators from various governance levels, institutional organizations, pastors, teachers, non-church employees, students and others, expressed consistent opposition to the infamous General Conference/Ted Wilson compliance/unity documents. Some spoke in terms that were less strident than others, but all, save one, expressed why they felt the compliance documents were inappropriate, ill-formed and should be rejected. Common reasons for noncompliance included, but were not limited, to the following: The unity documents, by the very vote to accept or reject the documents, were demonstrated to be an oxymoron—the vote was divided. The documents diminish or obliterate the church constituencies; the documents transfer authority to the hierarchy. The documents are a power grab. The documents are counter to scripture; the actions make policy into doctrine, increasing Fundamental Beliefs from 28 to 33 or who knows how many. “This is not the Adventist way,” and a bunch of reasons. One person who spoke in favor of the compliance document said that there were others who agreed with him but they, like him, were intimidated to express unwelcome views. NAD President Jackson attempted to console the speaker and encouraged him to speak freely.

At the end of the morning’s session, one conclusion was undeniable: Ted Wilson, the elected General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists leader, either had misread his North American constituents or he chose to ignore and consciously violated the convictions of those who are a significant component of the world-wide Adventist church. In either case, the majority of those who compose the North American Division rejected the GC Compliance/Unity document, as it was voted by the GC Executive Committee and presented to the NAD delegates.

One does well to remind oneself that implicit within the effective leader are qualities that include the following:  integrity, fairness, the ability to bring diverse people to address a common purpose, ethical and moral practice, respect for others, the ability to see and respond to the big picture, to eschew the incidentals and the unimportant. These are but a few of the qualities that are commonly associated with leadership excellence. These are qualities that an organization expects of its leaders, be the organization secular or religious. We Adventists (or, to employ the newest health system terminology, we in the Advent church) included.  

Lawrence Downing, D.Min, is a retired pastor who has served as an adjunct instructor at La Sierra University School of Business and the School of Religion, and the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. 

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