In a shocking vote, a document outlining punishment for leaders of institutions that are deemed out of compliance with church policy, was referred back to the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee that recommended it. It was essentially a vote to do nothing until next year’s Annual Council. At first, I was very pleased that it was referred back. It felt like victory. However, a few more moments of reflection led me to the realization that those in favor of equality in ministry lost, again. Here are a few reasons why:
1. We are no closer to the world church accepting the ordination of women.
Absolutely no progress has been made on that issue. In fact, I would say that we have regressed. Time and attention are now revolving around policy and compliance that have nothing to do with the moral call to equality. The vote ensured that there is going to be another year of delay around the policy issue and no further reflection on the important role women play in the church and the need to treat them equally.
I found it stunning how disconnected the first few days of AC were compared to what happened Monday. In the first few days, it was all about mission, and all the leaders were talking about how we need every single person involved in mission. Yet, on Monday, they were then trying to limit the roles women could play in mission. If that dichotomy is completely lost on them, which it appears to be, there is little to no hope for progress anytime soon.
In a best case scenario for supporters of equality, current President Ted Wilson will not be re-elected at the 2020 GC Session. If the new President is in favor of women’s ordination, the General Conference would ideally stop seeking to punish Unions that have ordained equally and leave them alone. Then, perhaps, a vote to accept women’s ordination will come to the floor at the 2025 GC Session. Right now, this is the absolute best case scenario you could possibly imagine. How awful is that?
2. A toxic and coercive form of leadership was on full display.
It started on Sunday when General Conference Secretary G.T. Ng used the Secretary’s Report to give a history lesson on how the church handled rebellious leaders through the years. Without directly saying it, he was painting those in favor of WO as rebels who needed to be dealt with or risk the church being led astray. This kind of presentation had no place in the Secretary’s Report and set the tone for the kind of leadership that is being displayed.
On Monday, before the 14-page document outlining Phase 2 of the “reconciliation process” was released, Tom Lemon, Chair of the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee detailed steps taken in the previous year. He admitted that all the steps in the document voted last year were not followed! In fact, they barely did any of what Annual Council voted. The steps were simple and clear, and they didn’t even come close to finishing them. Yet, they still moved forward with Phase 2. This shows that Phase 1 was a farce all along and that they always had their sights set on punishment. The irony is that they were out of compliance with the voted action at Annual Council in 2016, and if the document in 2017 was approved, they should have been investigated for being out of compliance!
The toxicity continued in the way the 14-page document was handled. The document was not shown to delegates until the time of the vote, despite requests to see it sooner. Imagine that: none of the delegates even had one night to think and pray over it. They were given the document and expected to approve it within a few hours. As a pastor, I would never imagine pulling a stunt like this on my congregation. If we are handling a difficult issue, we make sure people have time to think and pray about it. If there are serious disagreements and concerns, we table the decision until the next meeting. It’s just proper respect and due process. However, they tried to ram it through, and President Wilson was visibly frustrated and openly advocated as chair (which is also questionable) to not refer it back.
This document was seen by all the GC Division Officers and other leaders which is around 70 people. You can see the fine reporting by Bonnie Dwyer about how manipulated that process was with proxy votes and shady dealings. Yet, the fact that even with all the manipulation it took for it to “pass,” that enough people of the 70 went along with it is highly troubling.
We also saw the prolific use of Ellen White quotes, trying to hammer home their points and stifle dissent and discussion. It feels like half the 14-page document is just quotes from her, and Ng’s presentation was filled with them as well. The message trying to be sent: If you don’t go along with what we are proposing, you are rejecting the Spirit of Prophecy. The battle of EGW quotations at some point is going to have to stop.
Is this kind of leadership acceptable in the church? I hope not.
3. I had to shield my child from it.
I was streaming the proceedings on my computer when my six-year-old son came over and asked me what I was watching. What was I supposed to say? I just told him that some people from the church were making some decisions, then encouraged him to play with his toys in an attempt to distract him. It’s an embarrassment. There is no good explanation to give a child, so I tried to shield him from it. Yet, I know there is only so much shielding that can be done. He will find out. He will ask me to give an account of my role in what’s happening. I’m not sure how I’ll answer.
Forgive me if I’m not celebrating. Perhaps the old saying puts it best: we won this battle but are losing the war.
Trevan Osborn is Associate Pastor at the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, California.
Image Credit: Adventist News Network
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