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North American Division Responds to GC Unity Actions: Day 4 at the NAD Meetings


The day’s business agenda began with G. Alexander Bryant’s Secretary’s Report. Originally scheduled for day one, it was postponed due to President Jackson’s longer-than-expected President’s Report on Thursday.

Bryant reported that as of June 30, 2017, the membership in North America stood at 1,243,316 members, 5,530 churches, and 833 companies. The growth of the NAD has continued to increase steadily during the past five years. Females make up 52.6% of the membership.

There have been 223,826 total baptisms and professions of faith over a six-year period (2011-2016). There have been over 78,000 missing/dropped members and almost 45,000 deaths during this period, which brings the net gain to 100,631.

Bryant told the delegates that the Southeastern California Conference has been the largest conference in North America for many, many years and continues to be so with over 65,000 members. “And it’s led by a woman!” Bryant added which garnered loud applause and amens. Florida Conference is the second largest with over 60,000 members. The Southern Union has experienced the most growth.

When the floor was opened for questions and comments, a passionate discussion ensued on how to retain members, especially young people. Important philosophical and Christian principles were offered as well as concrete suggestions and advice from delegates who had specific approaches that worked in their congregations.

Bryant discussed our mission to minister to people’s needs—not with an end-goal of baptism but simply because we see a need and act. “Christ showed sympathy to the worst in our society, ministered to their needs, and then won their confidence. In that order."

“Sometimes people want a loaf of bread without a tract in it.” Then he added, “When people are hungry, make them some soup. And don't make it vegetarian soup. Put some chicken in that soup."

One delegate took to the mic to express displeasure at the remark, saying he and his mother joined the Adventist Church specifically because of the health message and comments like adding chicken to soup undermine that important message. But other delegates affirmed the comment, saying that though it might make us uncomfortable, ministering to one’s needs isn’t about us; it’s about the person in need.

Randy Roberts, senior pastor at Loma Linda University Church, said that in his experience, millennials are weary of programs. They long for relationships, for organic connections. "Shepherds don't make sheep. Sheep make sheep,” he said, speaking to the important role individual church members play in fostering fellowship.

Several other delegates spoke to the importance of the whole church body meeting people where they’re at instead of expecting them to just show up to a church service. “I’m a POW, a Pastor On Wheels,” said Michael Smith from the Oklahoma Conference, discussing the need to be out in the community interacting with individuals.

Even after the Secretary’s Report was unanimously approved by the body, the discussion continued right up until the lunch break. Maurice Valentine II, president of the Lake Union, commented on how encouraged he was by the number of delegates engaged in the discussion and by the advice and concrete suggestions being offered.

After lunch, the discussion turned to the Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance document that was voted to be sent back to the Unity Oversight Committee during Annual Council. President Jackson said that when the agenda was originally set, they had allotted four hours for discussion just in case the document was voted through. Since the document wasn’t voted through, he felt that they might not need the whole four hours but that the body could take as long as they needed. The discussion ended up going for three and a half hours.

Jackson implored the delegates to remain respectful of each other, as well as the General Conference, which everyone did. Though the overall mood was somber, Jackson was able to lighten spirits at various points with his classic self-deprecating humor.

Delegates were given three minutes to speak, and they used their time to express a variety of concerns about the document, many comments mirroring those expressed by the Annual Council Executive Committee during the original discussion.

Early in the proceedings, Daniel Cho, a delegate from Canada, stated that “there are many young people across the division who support the [2015] General Conference [Session] vote” and are very concerned about the lack of respect shown to the GC on the issue of women’s ordination. He then made the following motion:

In the spirit of church unity, respect for the decisions of the General Conference in session, and recognizing that the General Conference in session, with delegates from all over the world, is the highest human body that we have for settling disputable matters in divisions and their entities in the Church, we, the North American Division Executive Committee, as part of the General Conference, direct that all entities that we serve bring their practices into harmony with all the NAD/GC policies, and with the 2015 vote by the world church on ordination.

The motion was seconded, and discussion then turned to the motion. Several delegates spoke out against it, and one delegate spoke in favor. Then, before conversation could go further, Juan Prestol-Puesan, GC treasurer, made a motion to table Cho’s motion. “The point that is brought to us by this motion is one that is probably not even necessary. This is an issue that is troubling the world church. It’s not an issue of the General Conference. It’s an issue of the world church. And it belongs at the General Conference, in the Annual Council meeting,” said Prestol-Puesan.

When a motion is made to table, a vote must be taken immediately with no additional discussion. Using their electronic voting devices, the delegates voted 186 in favor of tabling, 25 against, and 3 abstained from voting.

With the motion tabled, the discussion on concerns about the document continued. Brenda Billingy, from the NAD Ministerial team shared a heartfelt statement:

I stand here today to represent the women who are called by God. And it’s a difficult position because they want to obey God, but on the other hand, the church that they love is not supportive. . . . The women I speak to on a daily basis, they are hurt. They are called names that I cannot repeat. They are degraded in their positions. Some of them are actually removed or there are attempts to remove them from their positions. It is a tough struggle. . . . These discussions are fine. We have to have them, but at the end of the day, we have to report to God for what he has asked us to do. . . . As women of the word, we are not trying to tear down this church. We are trying to do mission.

Alex Bryan from Walla Walla University Church echoed Billingy’s concerns, reminding the body that this “isn’t about policy; it’s about people.” He spoke of the growing concern he felt reading statements from women across the world these past few weeks who told their stories of sexual assault, abuse, and rape using the hashtag #MeToo on social media:

I was moved deeply . . . reading colleagues of mine, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, women who wrote about ways they’ve been treated inside this church by brothers. . . And as I was reading those #MeToo testimonies, I flipped over and saw what’s happening in Hollywood, where the most despicable abuse has been going on for decades and everyone remained silent. And now we’re in an era where more and more stories are coming forth. . . And it struck me, where we allow the degradation of women anywhere, we are complicit in a way, everywhere. And where we contribute to a culture that allows women to be treated as second-class citizens, we are culpable where women are allowed to be sub-human anywhere.

William Cox, president of Allegheny West Conference, spoke to the disconnect between Fundamental Belief 14, which says the church believes in gender equality, and the fact that women are not allowed to be ordained.

President Jackson explained saying, “The General Conference, in its policy book, talks about non-discrimination. And then it says, ‘the General Conference will not discriminate, male or female. . .,’ and then there’s a bracket in the policy that says, ‘with the exception of positions that require ordination.’”

He said that it seems the Pacific and Columbia Unions are out of compliance with their decision to ordain women because they are going against a church policy that tells them they must discriminate. “And that’s an exact rendering of the policy. I’m not going to interpret; I’m not even going to comment. I’m just saying there is a sense in which a policy was broken. Not everyone agrees with me on that, and not everybody has to agree with me on that.”

Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union, was quick to disagree. “It's my understanding that existing world-church policy states, relative to ordination, that final authority rests with the Union. Am I remembering that correctly? Has that policy been changed?” he asked Jackson.

Jackson agreed that Graham was correct. Graham continued, “So the present world policy says that final authority for ordination rests with the unions. If that is the case, how did that authority get usurped and placed somewhere else?” He also reminded Jackson about the Pacific Union’s constituency meeting in which 79% of the body voted in favor of allowing local conferences to decide on ordination for men and women.

“I feel like I’m on trial here, but yes, you’re correct.” said Jackson, garnering laughs from the audience.

Graham ended stating, “The officers of the Pacific Union follow the direction of the people who have placed us in position. . . . I, as President, my other officers with me, have no authority to change anything the constituency has voted. . . . My people in the Pacific Union, we believe it is important to recognize Total Member Involvement. Total Member Involvement means everybody. We recognize God’s gifts for everybody.”

Jackson replied that he thinks the core of the debate is not who has the right to administer ordination but rather who holds the right to create the policy that directs.

After a couple more delegates brought their questions and comments to the floor, Donna Jackson, President Jackson’s wife, brought forward a motion. She started by saying, “I hope this won’t affect our marriage” to which the President replied, “Well, I’m waiting to hear!”

Her motion was as follows: “Because the document is so severely flawed, in my opinion, I move that this body, the North America Executive Committee, express their strong disagreement with it.”

The motion was quickly seconded. A question was raised on whether Jackson has voice and vote (She does as she’s an associate director in the NAD Ministerial Department), and then discussion on the motion commenced.

Alvin Kibble made a motion to amend Jackson’s motion. The amendment stated that the NAD would choose a group of representatives to discuss with the GC Unity Oversight Committee the concerns expressed about the document by the body.

After Celeste Ryan Blyden from the Columbia Union expressed her concern that the Unity Oversight Committee’s chair has recently stepped down and there are no women on the committee, Spencer Page, student association president at Burman University, made a motion to amend the amendment by Kibble. Page’s amendment was that when the NAD representatives speak with the Unity Oversight Committee, they request that a female minister be added to the committee.

The following votes then took place:

A vote on the amendment to the amendment passed with 138 in favor, 49 against, and 4 abstained.

A vote on the amendment passed with 158 in favor, 41 against, and 5 abstained.

A vote on the amended motion passed with 114 in favor, 20 against, and 2 abstained.

The drop in the number of delegates involved in the last vote was due at least in part to a short break that was taken between the second and third votes. It was not clear before the break that a third vote would be needed. When the meeting resumed, it was 4:45 p.m., and many delegates had left for other meetings and obligations.

The last item on the agenda for the Sunday business session was the Oakwood University Report. President Les Pollard shared many exciting items from the university including:

  • 369 students from 5 schools and 47 programs graduated in 2017
  • 40 classes serving 500 students were launched online through Oakwood Online University
  • The Aeolians of Oakwood won the prestigious title "Choir of the World" during a competition in Wales
  • Current students can now earn career certifications through the “Career Pathways” program
  • A new app called "GEMConnect" offers career advising, alumni mentoring, and more for students

The report was unanimously accepted by the body, and the delegates were dismissed.

You can watch the business sessions on the North American Division’s Facebook page.

Alisa Williams is managing editor of

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