I. Introduction by Ted Wilson and others (1 hour 45 minutes, Wilson himself used 45 minutes).
This very long introduction was exclusively dedicated to explaining and defending the General Conference proposal:
a) Wilson reassures the audience that the compliance committees in reality have no authority or power. They merely have an advisory function reporting to GC ADCOM. They have no "teeth" of their own.
b) None of this is a "power grab" by the GC administration, it is all within the "system."
c) The compliance committees are actually put in place to defend the system, not circumvent it. They are not the KGB or CIA.
d) The proposed discipline is not severe, it is of the "mildest order."
II. Four more people (Mike Ryan, David Trim, Karnik Doukmetzian, and Hensley Moorooven) explained the methods used by the Unity Oversight Committee: they listened to input, adjusted the document, made it public, all with full transparency. Trim explained in detail why the Questionnaire was a valid method of gathering reliable information about the opinions of the majority of the membership. There was a close consensus that some consequences were needed. Doukmetzian, GC legal counsel, explained the legal validity of the punishments outlined in the document. Moorooven presented this argument: The Holy Spirit is the source of unity, the policies are a consequence of that unity. Non-compliance with policies is therefore going against unity (and by implication the Holy Spirit). Ryan summed it all up, and presented his own personal opinion of the document.
III. TW addressed the fact that the vote in the GC Division Officers (GCDO) meeting became known and was leaked to an "independent publication." This leak must have been committed by a member of the GCDO, and was characterized as unethical.
IV. Moorooven reads the document out loud and it takes 15 minutes.
Every single person included in this introductory defense procedure presented only legal or technical information, to justify the reasonableness and legal and technical correctness of the document. Not one of them even touched upon the principles that are the foundation and are embedded in this document. The argument was simply, as long as it was all technically correct, everything was perfectly OK. And it was all "within" the present "system," nothing was outside the "system," probably meaning that none of this changed anything regarding the "system" itself.
V. The Debate (2 hours and 55 minutes)
Everyone assured each other that their main concern was to protect the unity of the church. They differed on how to secure that unity.
a) People approving the document: Every single one argued from a "law and order" point of view. The GC in session has voted, then everyone must comply, and those who don't must suffer the consequences. Not one questioned the document on the basis of principle. Their only focus was rules and submission to votes and church authority. Their vision was that unity can only be real and secured through enforced uniformity; enforced compliance with voted policies was the road to that unity. Not one person questioned the validity of using coercion as a means of obtaining uniformity.
b) People disapproving the document: Almost all of them based their arguments on principles of governance, justice, and conscience. They defended the bottom-up system put in place by the 1901 GC Session. They pointed out that if this document passed, it would change the SDA church to be a top-down organization, which would result in a totally new cultural environment, characterized by surveillance, suspicion, lack of trust, and fear of possible personal consequences.
For: 185 (60%)
Against: 124 (40%)
These results are almost identical to the voting results of the 2015 GC session. Most of those speaking for the document were from Africa and Latin America. This illustrates that social culture seems to be among the most decisive factors of the voters.
It was a bit puzzling to observe that through the debate hardly anyone from Africa spoke. Only at the very end was there a line of people, practically all of them from SID, that finally spoke, all of them for the document. Was this a coincidence? Or was it planned in order to be the ones that concluded the debate, all of them being for? The last speakers may be the ones that finally sway those who are uncertain.
Is this the end of the matter? Will this vote contribute to unity? Hardly. Conscience and principles of equality and justice cannot be voted away. Nor will the issue of women’s ordination.
This vote will probably not accomplish anything positive. It has simply, again, revealed that the split in our church is real, deep, and persistent. Today's vote has cemented the stalemate created by the 2015 GC Session vote. It illustrates the futility of taking a deeply divisive issue to a simple majority vote. Such a vote will only be counter-productive to the declared aims of these actions and documents. The whole process, and the now voted document, reveals again the lack of spiritual and political wisdom in our top leadership. Their course of action may secure a majority vote. It will never create unity, only more divisiveness.
In 2015 the appeal was made to accept the results of the vote, focus on mission, and move on. That did not happen then; it will not happen now. The results of the 2015 vote ought to have awakened the top leaders to at least re-examine their course of action. The feedback received in 2017 was not a call for cosmetic refinement of the loyalty document; it was a call to reconsider its foundational principles. They kept the principles, and did a few cosmetic changes. That only brought us back to square one of 2015. The stalemate is not only still there, it is more firmly in place.
Edwin Torkelsen is a retired historian who worked for the National Archives in Norway. He also taught Medieval History in the University of Oslo and was an Associate Professor of History in the University of Trondheim with a special interest in the development of the ecclesiastical, jurisdictional, theological, doctrinal, and political ideologies of the Medieval church. He is a member of the Tyrifjord Adventist Church in Norway.
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