Skip to content

When a Toad Jumps in Broad Daylight

Ted Wilson at Annual Conference

A key moment at the 2021 General Conference Annual Council meeting was President Ted Wilson’s presentation of 14 theological threats to Adventism or, in his words, “Aberrations that so blatantly and grossly misrepresent God and his Word.”

One year later, on the final day of the 2022 GC Session in St. Louis, Wilson presented on 25 “vital truths” from God’s Word in a sermon titled “Hold Fast What You Have.” Continuing this pattern during the recent 2023 GC Annual Council, he presented 16 “confusing interruptions” by the devil that tend to derail God’s mission as entrusted to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

A close look at the three sermons reveals similarities in many of Wilson’s areas of concern, despite differences in titling and phrasing. Clearly, he is gravely concerned by the theological issues confronting the world church. But what raised concern for me was the applause after Wilson—on the topic of sexuality—stated, “If you as a leader . . . cannot accept the word of God as it reads, I urge you to resign your position.”

Though Wilson further clarified that he was not calling for a purge or witch hunt, the affirmation by some leaders in the room appeared to tacitly endorse the purging of their brothers and sisters in faith for their theological views. Embodying this mindset on August 4, 2023, GC Associate Director of Communication Sam Neves tweeted, “My point is simple. If you cannot respect and live in harmony with the beliefs of the body, leave. It’s more honest than trying to convert people to a new interpretation and a continual harassment of church leadership.”

Dishearteningly, these same sentiments arise during GC session debates, in which each voting round results in applause and excitement on the part of the “winners” and disgruntlement on the part of the “losers.” Our voting is no longer about the merits of an issue but rather the proponents behind a given motion. Each side feels that they love the church more than the other and, consequently, both label each other as threats. No one is interested in building consensus. For me, the real danger facing Adventism is not the theological differences or disagreements on how to interpret the Bible, but instead this loser versus winner mentality and language that alienates more than it unites. Why do we allow our love for being in the right lead us to treat each other in such ways?

In such a polarized environment, Wilson’s sermon brings to the fore three fundamental issues which I respectfully raise.

Scratching Where It Does Not Itch

Other than blaming the devil, church leaders have not attempted to explain why these issues and theological threats keep recurring or what their underlying causes are. The impression given is that Satan’s work has diverted the remnant from her mission. This breeds a spirit of othering whereby some individuals are labeled as outcasts based on their differing theological views and perspectives. While it is normal to celebrate uniformity, this becomes dangerous when diversity of thought is itself seen as an opponent to be fought. With uniformity comes a belief that any decision made by the larger group is the right one, because there is no perceived disagreement. This level of harmony should not be confused with health.

The few courageous individuals who decide to break ranks and speak out are labeled as threats to the group. The threat of rejection is terrifying, as it can translate to loss of friendships, spiritual security, and group identity. Because conformity is rewarded, many would rather sacrifice their convictions to secure inclusion and acceptance. Adventism needs to stop weaponizing unity and defending a faux harmony. It must go beyond celebrating group unity without challenging what is wrong. As renowned Nigerian author and poet, Chinua Achebe wrote, “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.”

Blaming all Adventist problems on the devil sounds not only superficial but antagonistic. There are likely deeper issues that our leaders cannot craft an appropriate response to. Instead, they label everything as a threat. No wonder our Bible study guides speak to outdated anxieties and answer questions that no one is asking. We have reduced Bible studies to a validation of carefully crafted and voted beliefs. What we term “Bible study” has now become a creative reworking of known conclusions or even an exercise of using our beliefs to form our own scriptures. We continue teaching people what we believe in without stepping back to explain why it matters.

Scratching where it does not itch only causes more harm. While it is important to have our doctrines clarified, it should not be done at the expense of progressive biblical scholarship and present-day awareness. Adventism is a movement that grew out of inquiry. If our position on certain issues is solid and founded in the Bible, then scrutiny should not be a threat. The current rhetoric on taking the Bible at face value, as forwarded by Wilson, borders on literalism and fundamentalism and creates more problems than it solves.

Who Is a Real Adventist?

By an examination of their prevailing rhetoric, stance on different issues, and decisions in the past, it is clear that the current church leadership is conservative. Their definition of Adventism has a strong traditional texture which is often buttressed by selective quotes from the writings of Ellen White. They use calculated terms like “biblical,” “faithful,” “Word of God,” “by heaven,” and “the Bible is clear” to bolster their positions on various theological issues. A problem arises when these terms are weaponized against divergent viewpoints and those who hold them. Labeling these people and their questions as threats breeds intolerance. There’s no greater hypocrisy than hijacking terms like “biblical” while displaying nonbiblical attitudes toward those who see things differently.

Out of all this, a question arises: who is a real Adventist? If holding a differing viewpoint is seen as disregarding the word of God, then one wonders what Adventists are really worshiping. Is it the God of the Word or the words of God? There’s a fine line between taking the word of God as it appears on the page and bibliolatry. Nothing is more synonymous with the Dark Ages than a leader who doesn’t trust others with the Bible and fails to acknowledge those holding divergent views. If someone has questions on our traditional interpretation of Revelation 13, does that make them less of an Adventist? Rather than fighting over who is a better Adventist, I reiterate my call for us to be clear on what we believe as a community.

Who Is in Charge?

It becomes concerning when the GC President states that “the church understands that the Holy Spirit works through structured organizations that are organized by heaven itself.” Such statements confer unbridled power to overconfident leaders and breed a cultish culture. We are a denomination that celebrates reformers like Martin Luther, who challenged the church and brought people’s attention back to the Bible. Wilson’s statement defines our church structures as divine and definitive, the very same thing we condemn in other churches.

If Adventism is a representational structure where authority resides in the membership, how do we exercise that right when leaders claim that they are being harassed or disrespected when their decisions are challenged? There will always be people who don’t agree with the actions of church leaders, but when those leaders use their position to stifle dissent from members, they contradict claims of a representational Adventist church. In Acts 5:39, Gamaliel said, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Reflecting on these words might help us navigate such momentous questions and conflicts.

With the 2025 General Conference Session coming soon, I hope our deepening divisions will not bring to reality the story by a Zimbabwean politician, Edison Zvobgo:

When there is a relay race, the expectation is that one runner hands over the baton to the next runner and so on until the race is finished. The problem, however, comes when the baton is given to the mad man of Ngomahuru who, instead of handing it over to the next man in the race, he continues to run all the way into the forests and mountains.

My fear is that the “theological threats” confronting the church will become a major preoccupation on the part of its leadership. Many of these leaders think that it is their eternal mandate to defend the church from perceived threats. In reality, while these “saviors” think that the church needs them, it is they who rely on the church. I respectfully recognize the intoxicating effects of power when bestowed on sinful human beings. At the end of the day, we leave the church and its people in the hands of God. 


Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana, where he is a humanitarian and development professional.

Title image by Lucas Cardino, Adventist Media Exchange (CC 4.0 license).

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.