From Alexander Carpenter, executive editor:
After a restless Sunday night in which I dreamed about General Conference meetings, I woke up just before my 4:00 a.m. alarm went off. Ted Wilson appeared on my device screen via YouTube to welcome the General Conference Executive Committee to its annual Spring Meeting. Between reports from a few division leaders or a parade of new materials—they dream up a lot of ways to spend money in Silver Spring—two agenda items proved of significant note: money and sexuality.
The Treasurer’s Report by Paul Douglas showed denominational finances in solid shape. Tithe and offerings have bounced back or even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. During the comment period, this produced an almost giddy atmosphere in the building. Right before a prayer of joyful praise and a group singing of the Doxology, Juan Prestol-Puesán, retired GC treasurer, sounded a down note. He warned of coming challenges, especially starting in 2024, due to the North American Division completing its “parity” tithe reduction. For more history on this, here’s a report on the 2018 NAD action. One of the major reasons for tithe parity was Wilson’s now-failed attempt to create GC compliance committees in an attempt to punish entities supporting the ordination of women.
GC Vice President Guillermo (Billy) Biaggi, who is always one of the first to the microphone during these executive meetings, credited the good financial news to the impact of the “Sabbath school lessons on stewardship.” Wilson later noted that the lesson emphasis on stewardship was “intentional” and that he had that particular Adult Bible Study Guide “inserted” into the lineup. Wilson also didn’t correct Biaggi’s timeline, but it should be noted that the financial report was for 2022. The lesson was studied in the first quarter of 2023. Wilson promised it will be inserted again in a few years in order to help keep the tithe and offerings flowing.
The other major news of the day was the announcement (with no discussion allowed) of the new GC Human Sexuality Taskforce. Given the timeline and lack of substantive details, it appears this was cobbled together several weeks ago in response to the developing story of Pastor Saša Gunjević. Wilson explained that this new initiative will draw on all of the church resources, like the Biblical Research Institute and voted statements, to help members, especially younger members, know what the Bible says about “LGBT and other aspects.” He warned of the church facing a huge onslaught of mental conditioning from social media and culture. Wilson noted the need to treat all with “respect, love, and care,” and then he added a “but” and described this task force’s first accomplishment, which was the statement released on April 4. Stating the need to be more proactive to help young people understand what the Bible says about sexuality, Wilson warned about aberrant theology. To accomplish this, Wilson promised lots of resources coming on the LGBT issue from the GC: from two-minute video “soundbites” to two-day seminars. This task force is being led by GC VP Maurice Valentine, who avoided topic specifics or task force details in his brief remarks.
Last week, SDA Kinship released the following statement:
Recently, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in the Hanseatic Conference in Germany, Saša Gunjević, publicly identified as bisexual. In an act of bravery, the conference, on March 19, 2023, voted to retain his ministerial credentials.
Predictably, the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church organization has strongly responded, citing its voted statements about "Human Sexuality," "Homosexuality," and "Transgenderism," and several Bible texts as "proof" that only heterosexual marriage is God's ideal. The General Conference is pressuring the North German Union Conference and the Inter-European Division of the Adventist Church to discipline both the Hanseatic Conference and its pastor.
Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International (SDAKinship.org) stands with Seventh-day Adventist LBGTQA+ individuals and their right to live in committed relationships that they find valuable and rewarding. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the plain teaching of Scripture: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). We call on local Adventist congregations to provide sanctuary and welcome to gay, Lesbian, and transgendered people, their friends and families. The presence of LGBTQA+ local church leaders is not a liability: it is a benefit. In a society increasingly segmented, not uniformity but unity is essential.
The Adventist Church affirms the Bible as its rule of faith and practice, yet frequently ignores the slavery, polygamy, genocide, capital, and corporal punishment practiced in the Bible. Modern values rightly dismiss those practices. Adventists and other people of faith must be committed to one thing: the dignity and value of each human being created in the image of God to live and practice their religion as they see fit. We reject the authoritarian attitude that those far removed from local congregations can dictate in matters that are essentially the rights of individuals. To unilaterally impose a set of values on all its members based on its own narrow interpretation of Scripture is to ignore the example of Jesus. Imposing its dogma on every member of the church, and expecting uniformity in belief and practice, is to deny one of the key tenets of Christianity: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12).
We acknowledge that the institutional Adventist Church is frequently more loyal to its tradition than it is to Jesus and His gospel. But we hope that local Adventist congregations will open their doors and their arms to the LBGTQA+ people in their communities. We commend the Hanseatic Conference for its willingness to do so.
We recommend the book The Bible and LBGTQ Adventists by Alicia Johnston to those interested in reading a balanced, in-depth treatment about how homosexuality was regarded in the Bible.
From Carmen Lau, board chair:
Last week, I was struck by Alex Bryan’s Facebook post that reflected on the memorial service for Ken Rogers. Here is a part:
Ultimate hope, if it is to be hope at all, must lead to a hopeful present: hope in one another, hope in a better tomorrow, hope for our institutions, hope for our world. Hope clears the deck of all the clutter: all the nonsense that divides, all the burning issues that have no eternal flame, fueled only by our chronic kindling. Hope is the gospel, churned by the cross, launched by Easter, and cultivated by Adventist ministers, if we have our wits about us. Christian Hope, no cheap sentiment or wishful whim, is the most rational of all commitments, and is, center and circumference, the meaning of the call.
In a time of existential malaise, we can embrace a large view, a holistic eschatology, that gives a foretaste of the kingdom now. Platonized eschatology, as NT Wright calls it—merely concerned with the binary of heaven and earth—removes the urgency to correct injustice or better our world. I heard about platonized eschatology in Rwanda when it was said that many church leaders before the genocide simply lived by a story that stated, “Jesus is coming soon, and we cannot be political and comment on this earthly strife and tension.”
A larger view of the gospel says Jesus came to set things right, starting his kingdom with good news for political, cultural, and social life—and good news for individuals. The gospel is many-layered good news for all. Peace studies emphasize that communities move toward peace when people work together for common good, or when groups, collectively, experience awe. Church can be a space where both these happen.
Title image: Paul Douglas presents on March 10, 2023. Photo by Denis Peniche / AME (CC BY 4.0)
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