With the end of 2019 upon us, we’re taking a look back at the top stories on the Spectrum website this year. From splinter groups to official warnings, from infighting in an independent ministry to a university plagued with accusation and outbreak, the news in 2019 ran the gamut and kept us on our toes. Here’s what made headlines this year.
In January, the Texico Conference and the Southwestern Union Conference both officially condemned the group World Church Affirmation Sabbath (WCAS), adding their voices to the Upper Columbia Conference, which had issued its own statement in December 2018. The Texico statement said the group “caused disruption in a number of churches within the North American Division” and, quoting the earlier statement from the UCC, added that “the fruits of their efforts, under the banner of World Church Affirmation Sabbath, have increasingly led to further dissension among members and the spread of false information.” In addition to the statement, the Executive Committee of the Texico Conference voted that no church, school, property, pulpit, or facility within the conference could be used to host or promote WCAS, adding that “there are to be no safe zones for any organization that attempts to create division or dissension among our members.”
Adventist historian Benjamin Baker helped us celebrate Black History Month with a list of over 100 famous black people who are or were Seventh-day Adventist. As Baker stated, “The list of one-time Adventists includes a United States president’s grandfather, the world’s fastest person, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, the most influential civil rights leaders, one of the greatest rap groups of all time, the father of rock and roll and other Grammy award-winning musicians, movie producers, and groundbreaking physicians. Their influence has spanned the globe and transformed our modern world.”
See: “100 Famous African Americans and Seventh-day Adventists” by Benjamin Baker
We mourned the passing of Dr. Desmond Ford on March 11, 2019, at the age of 90. A popular professor at Avondale College, Ford became a prominent figure in Seventh-day Adventism for his critique of the church’s teaching on the Investigative Judgment and subsequent dismissal from Adventist ministry in 1980. In the 25th anniversary issue of the Spectrum journal (December 1994), editor Roy Branson called Ford one of the five most influential Adventists of the past 25 years and a “herald of gospel theology.” Many Adventists around the world shared their condolences and memories of Dr. Ford, including Dr. William G. Johnsson, who penned a piece for the Spectrum website that became our top story in March.
Another top story during the month was General Conference President Ted Wilson’s Q&A session at Andrews University, which made headlines because of students’ silent protest. Danielle M. Barnard reported that “Shortly after Dr. Andrea Luxton, president of Andrews University, and Elder Wilson sat down on the platform and the two began discussing the first question, an organized group of concerned Seventh-day Adventists lined up in the center aisle of Pioneer Memorial Church behind a microphone on a stand that they brought with them. They formed a question queue. This group stood in a line, quietly watching the Q&A occur before them, clearly noticed but unacknowledged for over 35 minutes by both Dr. Luxton and Elder Wilson.”
While Luxton did go on to acknowledge the group in her closing remarks, Wilson chose not to, setting off a firestorm across social media, especially among young Adventists who felt that the event “was evidence that the church says it wants young people to be more involved, but only the young people who agree with the current trajectory of the denomination are welcome. The church is looking for young people, but they are not looking for the young people who are present, engaged, and standing in lines,” concluded Barnard.
“Dr. Desmond Ford Passes to His Rest” by Alisa Williams
“Reflections on My Time at Avondale Under Des Ford” by W. John Hackwell
“Des Ford: The Perils of Being Right” by William G. Johnsson
“The Unacknowledged Protest at Ted Wilson’s Q&A” by Danielle M. Barnard
Two Adventist higher ed institutions dominated the news cycle in April. Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital announced that it had cured a sickle cell patient through the hospital’s first stem cell transplant in a patient suffering from this disease. “Children’s Hospital doctors had worked for nearly a year to build a program focused on helping hematology patients, specifically those with hemophilia and sickle cell disease,” wrote Sheann Brandon in the hospital’s press release.
Meanwhile, across the United States at Washington Adventist University, plagiarism accusations surfaced against President Weymouth Spence from an anonymous whistleblower calling her/himself “Bethany Buckingham.” Spence apologized for “the distraction this allegation has created for the university” but did not admit any wrongdoing. The WAU Board of Trustees announced it would conduct an investigation into the matter.
“Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Cures Sickle Cell Patient Through Their First Stem Cell Transplant” by Sheann Brandon / Loma Linda University Health
“Presidential Plagiarism Accusations Surface at WAU” by Bonnie Dwyer
The higher ed headlines continued into April with the news that the Oakwood University Aeolians choir was involved in a fiery bus accident. According to news reports, a broken-down SUV in the road caused the accident, with drivers swerving to avoid colliding with the vehicle. A car slammed into the back of the Oakwood bus, killing the driver, Kenneth Bishop. There were no life-threatening injuries among students or staff, who were able to exit the bus before the entire bus went up in flames, destroying all personal items and belongings. Just two days later, the Aeolians sang for Bishop’s 15-year-old daughter, Iyanna. "I would like to say thank you to the Aeolians for trying to get my Dad out of the car before it burned," said Iyanna, who added, "I felt like my Dad was in the room when they were singing for me."
Also in May, the Washington Adventist University Board of Trustees announced that it had concluded its investigation into the plagiarism accusation against President Weymouth Spence and, based on the conclusions of an anonymous investigator employed by the University, the WAU Board Executive Committee recommended to the Board of Trustees that due to no evidence of nefarious intent, the Board should “advise the president to apply a higher degree of rigor in his use of sources.” The Executive Committee also “acknowledged Dr. Spence’s valuable contribution to the university over the last 10 years and expressed confidence and appreciation for his continued visionary leadership.” The Board of Trustees “voted strongly in favor” of the Executive Committee’s recommendation.
“Oakwood University Touring Choir Involved in Fiery Bus Accident” by Beth Thomas / Adventist News Network
“Oakwood Aeolians Sing for Crash Victim’s Daughter” by Pam Dietrich
“WAU Votes to Clear Presidential Plagiarism Charges, Purchase New Property” by Alisa Williams
Stories on racism and diversity made headlines in June. Daniel Xisto, pastor for community engagement at Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, shared frankly about racism he witnessed during his time in seminary and later working in the field as a pastor. “Every church in America that has white people has racism and white supremacy baked in. Adventism is not unique in this matter, but we can be unique in how we respond — radically and with Christ’s love. Will we deny the problem exists or will we acknowledge our flaws, seek forgiveness, and be made whole?” Xisto concluded.
Also making headlines in June was the news that Southern Adventist University had halted its plans to hire a Vice President of Diversity. The decision came as a surprise due to the public way the creation of this position had been announced the previous year. After a racist incident had overshadowed Southern’s annual Black Christian Union Night in February 2018, SAU President David Smith addressed the Southern community via video message, apologizing for the racist history of the university, and announcing several initiatives to address current and systemic racism, including the new VP role. “I pledge that we will improve the representation of our diverse student body at the administrative level starting immediately with the creation of a vice president for diversity position,” stated Smith. However, despite the development of the job, applicant interviews, and three final candidates being selected, the position remained unfilled and the hiring process then frozen due to a downturn in enrollment.
“Racism Amidst the Remnant” by Daniel Xisto
“Southern Adventist University Halts Plans to Hire VP of Diversity” by Alisa Williams
In July, former Adventist Forum Board Chair Charles Scriven wrote what became our top story of the month, titled “Can This Be Adventism?” In his editorial, Scriven expressed his distress that Adventist disagreements about how to interpret the Bible seemingly cannot be addressed in open, public conversation. He went on to discuss how, beginning a couple of years ago, he came up with a plan to try to facilitate open conversation on this issue, including connecting with Jiří Moskala, dean of the seminary, and other prominent theologians, but this did not come to fruition for reasons Scriven outlined in the article. Scriven shared that one presupposition that seems to now hold in some places within Adventism is: “As for the interpretation of Scripture, open conversation is unnecessary; when differences invite review of official teaching, it’s best, indeed, to stymie public debate, or even to resort to a certain secrecy.”
Our second most-read story of the month was Dean Jiří Moskala’s response to Scriven three days later. Moskala stated, “Overall, I do not believe that the article represents a fair picture, because I actually resonate with the author’s basic concern regarding hermeneutics — our biblical hermeneutics must be Christological, open for discussion and transparent.” Moskala went on to explain his reasons for not connecting with Scriven, as well as the public discussions taking place in the Seminary and Andrews University regarding biblical hermeneutics. Moskala concluded, “Our understanding of biblical hermeneutics (whether well informed and educated, or implicit and unexamined) permeates all we do. Our actions reveal what kind of hermeneutical system we advocate, and it will be well for us all to continue the dialogue in a spirit of collegiality.”
“Can This Be Adventism?” by Charles Scriven
“Response to ‘Can This Be Adventism?’” by Jiří Moskala
Two in-depth investigative reports by the Spectrum team were our most widely read stories in August. The first, published on August 9, by Spectrum website managing editor Alisa Williams, centered on a mold outbreak in the women’s residence hall at Washington Adventist University. Though the residence hall deans, including April Williams who was interviewed extensively for this piece, reported the spreading mold issue to administration, the problem continued, leading to an anonymous individual filing a formal complaint with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, and the subsequent evacuation of the dorm at the health department’s recommendation.
On August 15, Spectrum’s Investigative Reporter Alex Aamodt’s in-depth article into the group World Church Affirmation Sabbath (WCAS) appeared on the website (it had first appeared in Volume 47, Issue 3 of the Spectrum print journal a few weeks before). Aamodt, who spent months investigating the group’s activities, wrote, “This is the story of World Church Affirmation Sabbath reconstructed through hours of interviews, examination of written and digital materials, and the search of public records. It begins as a local story, but soon leads to a secret online network, spread across the United States and perhaps extending to leadership in the highest levels of the Adventist church.”
“Supporting the World Church or Subverting the Local Conference?” by Alex Aamodt
Two back-to-back articles by award-winning journalist Alva James-Johnson became our leading stories in September. As Spectrum prepared to publish Johnson’s exclusive, in-depth investigative piece about the split between Brenda Walsh and 3ABN, Danny Shelton made the surprise announcement on September 27 that he would be stepping down as 3ABN president, effective immediately. An article by Johnson about Shelton’s decision went up that same day, and her investigative piece regarding the bitter dispute between Walsh and 3ABN went up the following day, on September 28.
“Danny Shelton Steps Down as 3ABN President” by Alva James-Johnson
“3ABN-Brenda Walsh Split Rocks Adventist Network” by Alva James-Johnson
With Annual Council underway, Spectrum’s in-person reporting took the lead in October. Spectrum Editor Bonnie Dwyer’s article on the six unions who received warnings from the General Conference Executive Committee for their stance on ordination was our top story. Following closely on that story’s heels was the North German Union Conference’s response to the warning it received, and Dwyer’s report on the lengthy Annual Council discussion on the proposed document on unborn life and abortion, which was voted through.
“Six Unions Given Warnings for their Stance on Ordination” by Bonnie Dwyer
“North German Union Responds to Annual Council Warning” by the North German Union
The church’s various year-end business meetings continued to make waves in November, as North American Division President Daniel R. Jackson publicly announced his retirement on the first day of the NAD Year-End Meetings.
A couple of weeks later, the constituency session of the Central California Conference convened and by the end of business, had failed to elect a president for the next five-year term. The nominating committee had chosen not to bring incumbent Conference President Ramiro Cano’s name to the floor for a vote, choosing instead to recommend Elden Ramirez, president of the Montana Conference. However, the constituents voted down Ramirez’s nomination. The nominating committee said it had no other names to recommend and so the presidential election was then referred to the Executive Committee. When the Executive Committee met, it was decided Cano would continue as president for another term.
“Ramiro Cano Re-elected President of Central California Conference” by Cindy Chamberlin / Central California Conference
As the year drew to a close, the Swedish Union of Church’s joined with the North German Union in officially responding to the warning it received at Annual Council, announcing it had appealed the warning. The North German Union followed up on the official response it had issued in October, voting at its December year-end meeting to appeal the warning as well.
Rounding out our top stories in December were two articles focusing on the history and future of the church: Denis Fortin’s presidential address to the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) focused on lessons learned from the 1919 Bible Conference and Gilbert Valentine discussed how various General Conference presidents have exited the office, focusing most closely on A. G. Daniells and George Butler.
“Swedish Union of Church’s Responds to General Conference Warning” by Swedish Union of Churches Conference
“North German Union Votes Statement and Motion Appealing Annual Council Warning” by Alisa Williams
It was an exciting year, and 2020 could hold even more surprises as the GC Session convenes in Indianapolis. Whatever happens in the New Year, Spectrum will be here to keep you updated with timely news coverage and thoughtful perspectives. If you appreciate the work we do here at Spectrum, please consider supporting us with a year-end donation. As a non-profit news organization, every gift makes a difference and means we can report on more Adventist news from around the world.
Thank you, and Happy New Year!
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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