Ted Wilson (pictured, right) received an early boost to his presidency today when delegates voted through plans for an unambiguous statement of the church’s belief in a literal six-day creation.
In his first major initiative since becoming president, Wilson urged delegates to endorse a response to the 2004 Annual Council affirmation “that the seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the Flood was global in nature.”
Wilson also appealed to delegates to allow the General Conference to initiate a process to integrate the 2004 affirmation with the church’s current fundamental belief no. 6. This states that in “six days the Lord made ‘the heaven and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth and rested on the seventh day.” But the leadership now thinks it is too ambiguous on biblical origins.
The president said: “It is absolutely critical that we accept Scripture as it reads. Personally, and I know in the Seventh-day Adventist Church we believe, that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not allegorical, not symbolic in some abstract way, but they represent an authentic, a true literal explanation of how God created this earth and also those events following creation, including a global flood of massive proportions.
Holding up a Bible he added: “We are facing a critical time. The devil is trying his best to undermine the very foundations of our beliefs that are derived from this Word.”
A succession of the denomination’s leading figures followed Wilson’s lead. Vice presidents Ella Simmons and Artur Stele, Ellen White Estate associate director Cindy Tutsch, and Adventist Review editor Bill Knott, all spoke strongly in favor of rewriting fundamental belief six.
Even Dan Jackson, newly elected president of the North American Division, who raised hopes in a press conference two days ago of a more tolerant approach to La Sierra University, which has been under fire for allegedly teaching evolution in science classes, said he was in “full agreement” with the change.
Rising with a modification, Southern Adventist University president Gordon Bietz urged that the vote be split into two sections. The first would be a vote on the reaffirmation of the affirmation of creation, and the second, which he opposed, would be opening up the doctrine for a rewrite.
Ben Clausen of the Geoscience Research Institute said that Ted Wilson's statement put science teachers in Adventist schools in an untenable position. Quoting from the statement, Dr. Clausen said that "it is impossible," to teach students "scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation."
He added: "There are no available models."
With very little time set aside for debate and only a few delegates publicly opposing any modification of the church’s current statement on creation, the proposals easily cleared the floor.
The process will now begin to rewrite fundamental belief 6, according to the protocol established at the last General Conference session for amending the church’s statement of fundamental beliefs. This requires that any such revision should be lodged with the General Conference at least two years before the following session.
As a participant in the International Faith and Science Conferences in Colorado in 2002-2004, Larry Geraty, president emeritus of La Sierra University says he takes exception to the claim presented to delegates today that the Response to an Affirmation of Creation document was submitted by the Conferences.
There were several individuals there who urged its adoption but the gathered scholars and church leaders who were there specifically voted it down at that time. The Response was then taken back to church headquarters where it was voted without the scholars being present.
Geraty was also responsible for drafting the original fundamental belief 6 when he taught at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary thirty years ago. He adds:
I fear that the proposal will result in a more literalistic interpretation that will serve to exclude members who love the church, believe in the authority of the Bible, but interpret it in harmony with accepted standards of interpretation for God’s revelation in both nature and Scripture.
Keith Lockhart is co-author of Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream.
*This report was originally titled, Creation Devolves into Politics. It was changed to be more descriptive.
Photos: Gerry Chudleigh/ANN