To complete the work of Annual Council, items, such as the statement on abortion and the Church Manual materials, that had been sent back to writing committees, needed to make a second appearance and be voted.
Artur Stele came to the microphone with the changes to the abortion statement. No copies of the revised document were distributed, the changes were projected on the large screen at the front of the auditorium. To add more grace to the document, several phrases were inserted: “While not condoning abortion,” the second paragraph begins. Added the Church “and its members are called to follow the example of Jesus, being ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)” to (1) create an atmosphere of true love and provide grace-filled, biblical pastoral care and loving support to those facing difficult decisions regarding abortion.”
The question posed to Stele from a committee member was why there was still no mention of the concept of rape, given that deficiency had been eloquently spoken to by Jiří Moskala, the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University during the earlier discussion. Stele replied that since this was a biblical statement, the committee did not feel it was appropriate to add that concept. “Rape is an act of violence,” he said, “responding to violence with another act of violence (abortion) is not biblical.”
Voting on the statement was done by the holding up of green or red cards. Many green cards were lifted in support of the document. Only three opposed the statement. It appeared, however, that many did not vote at all.
Changes to the Church Manual come to the Executive Committee before being placed on the agenda for the General Conference Session. Twenty-two items were proposed. Most were amendments to what the document currently says. Four were new items.
A new chapter on Making Disciples was proposed. In four pages, the section begins with Matthew 28:19, Christ’s command to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” and calls the Church to obey this Commission in the context of the Three Angels Messages in Revelation 14.
“Growing as a disciple and making disciples to prepare them for the second coming of Jesus, is not optional; it is the essence of our last-day commission as Seventh-day Adventists,” according to the proposed language. A disciple is defined as, “one whose choices, decisions, and worldview are being transformed by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.” Five key areas are named as areas for discipleship growth: 1) Worship/Personal Devotion, 2) Ministry to Others, 3) Witnessing/Need Based Evangelism, 4) Obedience, and 5) Community Outreach. The chapter concludes with a section on Love as the defining mark of a disciple.
Adventist Possibilities Ministries, that began as a ministry to inspire, equip, and mobilize the deaf and those with special needs, has expanded to include the blind, those with physical mobility limitations, and those with mental/social development challenges. It also now includes ministry for orphans and vulnerable children, widows, widowers, and caregivers. One of the new proposals for the Church Manual includes the suggestion that churches appoint an Adventist Possibilities Ministry Leader and create a committee to encourage members with special needs and to learn how to effectively communicate with them.
Another new position suggested for the local church is a Spirit of Prophecy Writings coordinator who would be tasked with the responsibility of promoting the importance and right use of the Spirit of Prophecy Writings.
During this Executive Committee meeting, the greatest amount of time on Church Manual items was spent discussing the proposed new section on premarital education/counseling. The first version read:
Considering that marriage is the most important and challenging of all relationships, premarital education/counseling is designed to help couples planning to marry to be better prepared for this important step in their lives. The main purpose of premarital education/counseling is to prepare couples for the challenges they will encounter in married life. Premarital education/counseling is also to strengthen and improve the future happiness of married couples and reduce the potential rate of divorce. Premarital education/counseling should only be offered by a professional counselor or specifically trained individuals, including specifically trained spiritual leaders. (For more detailed information regarding premarital education/counseling see the Elder’s Handbook).
In discussion, it was suggested that such counseling be required, be done by an Adventist counselor, and be biblical, but the amended version with these additions was voted down, 56 yeses to 58 nos. One commenter wanted to add the definition of a couple as a man and a woman, but it was pointed out that the biblical definition of marriage is already specified elsewhere in the Church Manual. Commenters continued to want to make slight amendments to the section, which the chair did not allow, and the original version listed above was approved.
The other boomerang item that began in confusion and elicited long discussion was a policy recommendation to remove from the Bylaws the section specifying that Conference Presidents in the Division where Annual Council is held can attend the meeting and have voice (be able to speak) but not vote. Earlier in the week, the proposal had received a lot of pushback. GC President Wilson again gave a lengthy introduction to the item emphasizing that the new financial realities meant Annual Council would never be held in another Division again, therefore the item gave preference to one Division. Since the conference presidents were all financing their own attendance at the meeting, it was suggested that all conference presidents be given voice. But in the end, approval was voted for the item to simply be removed.
Over the course of the three longs days going over these items, exercise breaks were led by Jason, an exercise physiologist from Montemorelos University. He called for more than simply standing and stretching. He counted down as the committee members did modified squats, feet stomping, and arm circles. Enthusiastic applause always concluded the short sessions.
Meanwhile on Twitter, an enterprising viewer used the Boomerang app to create short videos of the exercise breaks, and another viewer added music, which added a healthy dose of laughter to the tweeting experience.
— Jesus is a SJW and so am I (@jaylperry) October 15, 2019
General Conference Secretary G. T. Ng brought some election year humor to the proceedings with a segment called “Not For Sale.” In anticipation of the church elections, he said 2020 would first be a year of prophecy, because people have begun to posture. Secondly, it would be a year of theme songs. As he listed them, an organist played the music for: “I Shall Not be Moved,” “Is My Name Written There?,” “Pass Me Not My Humble Savior,” and “He Lifts Me Up.”
It will also be a year of monkey business, said Ng. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Plus, a year of high blood pressure. He described his personal election year practice of packing up his office the day before leaving for the General Conference Session, thanking his assistant for her good work, going home, and sleeping peacefully.
Committee members were given a small box that contained a compass and a commitment card:
In preparation for the 2020 General Conference Session, I commit myself to Jesus Christ, the True North. By God’s grace I pledge to:
1. Vote according to my conscience and not for political expediency.
2. Work transparently and not conspire in elections.
3. Be driven by pure motives and not by promised positions.
4. Vote as an individual and not as a bloc or political alliance.
5. Be a faithful servant and not an engineer currying favors for another term.
6. Evaluate qualifications and not only representation.
7. Remain content and not covet the position of others.
8. Look to the True North and not be bought or sold.
9. Relinquish with grace my current position at the end of my term of office
10. Sing “It Is Well with My Soul” instead of “I Shall Not Be Moved.”
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image: Delegates raised green cards to vote “yes” and red cards to vote “no” on motions at the 2019 Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee. Photo courtesy of Adventist News Network on Flickr.
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