By AT News Team, July 3, 2015 with corrections on July 4: Pastor Ted N. C. Wilson was voted a second five-year term as president of the Adventist denomination. Just before breaking for lunch, an estimated 90 percent of some 1,900 delegates present in San Antonio voted in favor of a nominating committee recommendation to continue Wilson in the position.
First there was an unprecedented 37-minute discussion that showed he may not have strong support in some parts of the world. When the nominating committee report was first brought to the floor, Pastor Ray Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, asked for it to be sent back so that he could discuss a concern with the committee.
According to the General Conference (GC) Rules of Order, if a delegate requests that a nomination be sent back to the committee for additional consideration, the chair is to direct the report back to the committee and the delegates who have questions are invited to meet first with the chairman and vice chairman of the committee before meeting privately with the committee as whole. Friday morning it was soon clear the chairman, Pastor Pardon Mwansa, a GC vice president, was uncertain about a procedure rarely used.
First, he invited Hartwell to come up to the platform and tell the chairman of the nominating committee what his question was about “so the chairman can determine if it is something the committee has already considered.” After a delay, Pastor Homer Trecartin, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union Mission and committee chairman, had decided that there was no need for additional consideration.
Then Sadrail St Ulysse, another delegate from North America, asked that the report go back to the nominating committee so that he could discuss a concern with the committee. Again there was a delay and Trecartin decided this was unnecessary. Mwansa announced that he would ask the delegates to vote on whether to send the report back or move immediately to vote on the nomination.
Pastor Elizabeth Talbot, director of the Jesus 101 media ministry, then made a point of order, requesting that the vote be taken using the new electronic voting system so that each delegate’s vote would be private. Mwansa said that the electronic voting system could not be used because an earlier test had shown that it had technical problems and was not reliable. Talbot then asked for a secret ballot, but the delegates voted not to take a secret ballot.
Pastor Bob Boggess, president of the Mountain View Conference, asked that before there was a vote, time be taken to have prayer “because it is clear that we need prayer.” But for one reason or another, Mwansa did not ask for prayer and pressed ahead, first with a vote to end deliberation and then with the vote on the nominee.
Predictably, the chairman announced that the majority had voted to elect Wilson for another term. Within minutes Wilson, together with his wife, Nancy, was introduced to sustained applause and his continued leadership established.
“It is with very quiet respect and humility that both of us stand before you, before God,” Wilson said. “And we do accept this responsibility.” Wilson reiterated his commitment to God and the Adventist faith, and briefly outlined three goals that he would pursue in his second term: (1) a greater emphasis on Christ and His righteousness, (2) encouraging the faithfulness of believers, and (3) the involvement of every church member in outreach.
Wilson is the son of a legendary figure in Adventist history, Pastor Neal C. Wilson, who served as president of the Columbia Union Conference, the North American Division and then the GC until 1990. The son grew up in Takoma Park, Maryland, near the GC offices and began his career in the denomination as a ministerial intern in the Patchogue Adventist Church on Long Island and then assistant director of the Metro Ministry in New York City. He earned a Ph.D. at New York University, served as a missionary in west Africa and in the former Soviet Union, and was CEO for a period of time at the now-defunct Review and Herald Publishing Association.
The parliamentary incident may seem minor, but it is significant. A conference president does not risk his career over nothing, and it must be remembered that Hartwell is the delegate who asked about a solution to the ongoing debate about including women pastors among the ordained clergy during the 2010 GC Session. This is the question that Wilson has said launched the entire study process leading up to the question that delegates are being asked to vote on at this session.
The incident does shed light on why it is more and more difficult for Adventists to find unity. Those who feel they have a strong majority are all too quick to ride roughshod over anyone who has questions or concerns about the direction things are going.
The incident raised crucial questions in the minds of a number of observers: Did he think about the damage done to the unity of the denomination? Why are leaders and delegates from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere so blind to the sensitivities of North American and European delegates about democratic due process, fairness and avoiding a stampede mentality? Would it really have hurt anything to take a few minutes for prayer before pressing rapidly ahead with the votes? Is it really necessary to ignore the wish for a secret ballot on important decisions?
No one can remember the last time this occurred with the nomination of a GC president. It is unfortunate, but likely a reality that the moral authority of Wilson as the top leader of the denomination has been damaged by this incident. It will make it more difficult for him to lead the gathering through the debate on ordination. And it further strains the relationships between the diverse community of Adventists around the globe.
Note: An earlier version of this report attributed to Pastor Pardon Mwansa some decisions which observers have told Adventist Today he did not make and included a few words that went beyond entirely objective reporting. This version has been corrected, based on those sources.