How Millennials Perceive the General Conference

How Millennials Perceive the General Conference

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Published:
July 2, 2015

Day One of GC Session 2015 is complete, and as a Millennial observing the session, it was hard to miss that young adults are a rare sight on the Alamodome floor. As Spectrum previously reported, only 6% of GC delegates are under 30. Only 10% are ages 30-39. These two groups make up 62% of church membership, so it’s fair to say we are an extremely under-represented demographic.

As a way of hearing Millennials, Spectrum will be featuring Millennial voices throughout this General Conference Session. We will pose a series of questions to many young Adventists who will share their perspectives.

The first questions we asked our respondents were these: "As a Millennial, what do you think about the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists? Does what the church is doing at this Session have any relevance to you and your relationship with the church? With God? Do you care what the church does during this session? Why or why not?

Below are some of their responses:

Joshua Estrada, Religious Studies major, La Sierra University, Singer/Songwriter // Tread The Heights
This General Conference Session… sets before us the grand intention of our Jesus—to be amongst a united humanity. As we walk the halls of the Alamodome and behold in each other the great diversity of what it means to be human, in the midst of the 50K+, the importance of this Session begins to emerge. This Session asks of the Church to make a statement on what we believe God believes is the value of humans. This isn't just about gender roles, or ordination. This is about what God thinks of humans. Are they equal in value or not? If we are equal, then both men and women are allowed to take up their calling in Christ.

You know, I do think about the General Conference. I don't want them to just be reflective of what the church as a whole believes in terms of ideology. I want them to see themselves as led by Christ to be the voice of progress, a machine for justice. I want the GC to see themselves as Jesus sees them: men and women chosen and called not just to reflect a perspective of the Gospel that fits for everyone. But that they would take a decisive lead on earth as it is in heaven. That the GC would truly guide the Church forward as she seeks to honor God in both becoming and praxis. 

I will not stay in a denomination that is discriminatory. This is why this Session is so important and relevant. I myself, along with both young men and women who are theologians, pastors, and leaders currently for the Seventh-day Adventist Church – we will not stay. We cannot stay. Unless we are given a hope that the Church we are part of locally will allow us to truly enact God’s call for ourselves both as young men and women.

If I can be part of a localcConference that values me as much as Jesus does and if I am given room both to learn and to innovate on behalf of the Gospel, then this Church would truly be a blessing to be part of. It is this Church that I will give myself to. In this Church, I will honor God as I wait on the return of Jesus the Christ—accompanied by my colleagues, humanity in service, and in the company of the Spirit. 

May we truly honor the God who has given all on behalf of us. May we be blessed by the courage and gentleness of Jesus with us. And may we be the Church that God lovingly envisions and empowers.

Brittany Crawford, recent Andrews Alumna with a BA in Religion
As someone who has just finished attending the NAD's Called meetings and is planning to attend the entire GC session, I have to say that the gathering of people sharing my own beliefs is very uplifting. I am surrounded by strangers who are not strangers.  On the other hand, unlike the Called session, this will be more of an 11 day political/business meeting. Although I do understand the necessity of these meetings, I feel that the people are only gathered to witness as our church's decisions are left to others.

I care very much about the decisions that have been and are going to be made at the General Conference Session but I feel helpless in my own ability to actually influence the church I care so deeply about. Yes, we have delegates but I don't remember getting a chance to choose who represented me! Is it just a show that we are gathered to watch so that we are made to feel as if we actually have a choice and a voice? I know nothing of the spiritual reliability or relationship of those making such important choices, but I pray to God that they are listening quite earnestly, for "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:48)

Daniel Peverini, Religious Studies major, La Sierra University
I am attending the General Conference for the first time this July. As a millennial who is also a religious studies major, I definitely have concerns about the General Conference and the way decisions made here might affect myself and other church members. Some of the decisions that might be made at this GC (especially the predicted decisions on women's ordination and fundamental belief changes) will affect how Western millennials perceive the Adventist church, and whether or not we think there is a place for us in it.

While I hope that the outcome of this GC will be something that millennials can live with, I'm not too concerned about how our relationships with God will be affected. God works where he will, many times in places that surprise us and exceed our expectations. God doesn't need the GC or the SDA church to accomplish his purposes. But God can work among us, even at the GC.

Karl Wallenkampf, Biology and Humanities double major, Walla Walla University
When I was younger and singing medleys in Sabbath School, I didn’t give a thought to the GC. Now, however, as my schooling has intensified and I have become more acutely attuned to the diverse challenges to thoughtful faith posed by current research and social mores, I think about the GC with some regularity. Many of its myriad components or responsibilities—overseeing ADRA, the BRI, organizing global missions—have incalculable value, and I affirm its importance. Now, the GC has decisions to make about how to relate to the challenges inherent in the world today, and it is in these decisions that I think more nuance, and greater allowance for alternative interpretations, is appropriate.

When we change the Fundamental Beliefs or make a possible universal decision about women’s ordination, we must realize that not every person has the same convictions. Our thoroughly Adventist idea of "present truth” involves a wariness about making doctrines more stringent, less malleable. Global organization is necessary; however it can sometimes interfere with what could be the best presentation of our message to people in very different areas. What might reach (or put off) people in San Francisco might be quite different from the message that would inspire or offend someone in Kampala. Making the same decision for both is unwise.

Whatever the GC decides has moderate relevance to me and how I interact with the church. I was reminded by my pastor the other morning that the church (and its workings) is mostly local, thus whatever goes on at the GC cannot really define my relationship with my own Adventist community of believers. Yet, if some decisions are made, I will have to rethink how I relate to the church hierarchy and how I share my Adventist faith with others. I can never be impeded in sharing God’s love for any individual I meet and wishing that he or she accept Christ’s saving grace, but I might pause in recommending Adventism if I thoroughly disagree with GC decisions. What the GC does in session is relevant to my relationship with God when I struggle to love those whom he loves while they say things or vote in ways I think are unjust. But a GC session can’t stop my faith in God, or damage it to any major degree.

I care what the church does because I care about organizations I am dedicated to. I want Adventism to be vital, viable, and vibrant! I will work in my own life to make that a reality (which relates to the essential locality of our church). What the GC does is out of my hands so I cannot be too concerned. After all, Christ told us to never worry. I think God’s will can always be done, but I know that some decisions we make can throw a wrench in his plans.

Theron Calkins, Math Teacher at Korean Advanced Preparatory Academy
The General Conference is a powerful symbol of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's unity and commitment to cooperation. Beyond setting the topics and tone for the church's collective discussion in the years to come, the General Conference brings countless people from all over the world with myriad experiences and diverging perspectives into a single location.  But what draws them all to this event is their enduring commitment to many key tenets of the Adventist faith.  Beliefs like the Sabbath, the primacy of the Bible, and Ellen White's legacy unite these multicolored faces under a single, unifying banner: Adventist. 

To me, the General Conference proves that Adventism really is a worldwide movement, and in order to succeed in our global mission, we need to pay attention to that diversity. The GC brings the church together to discuss and address issues from an international perspective careful to consider the effects and ramifications of world events, church policies, and fundamental beliefs on Adventism's health and future. Personally, I'm always comforted to witness such self-reflection on the part of the church. It's vital that we reexamine our core commitments to guarantee both their Biblical foundations and their sound application within the Earth's many cultures. The church's pursuit of "present truth" should extend not only temporally to our deepening understanding of God's eternal Word, but also spatially to appropriate manifestations of that truth which account for the cultural milieu individual conferences find themselves in. Such thoughtful consideration about how the church's beliefs and policies affect not only one small part of the world, but Adventism's global mission is the biggest benefit of gathering these diverse voices at the General Conference.

Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org, a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas, and a Millennial.

Photo Credit: NAD / Steven Norman

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