The last thing you’d expect to see at a large meeting of Adventist seniors, most of them retired church workers, is someone throwing a sucker punch to the mouth. But that’s what happened recently in Redlands, California.
It was February 21 (Presidents Day), and General Conference President Ted Wilson addressed the retirees at the Redlands Adventist Church, telling them of his vision for the church, reporting on his recent travels and taking questions. For a conservative leader, it was a tailor-made audience—receptive to his presentation, supportive and approving for the most part, with only a few questions from the fringes of la-la land. And even those he handled as much with a pastor’s comforting hand as with an administrator’s care for the institution he represents.
One of those questions came from a man who was much younger than the average attendee. Short, with salt-and-pepper gray-blond hair, the man complained to Wilson that some pastors and church employees in Southern California were conducting themselves in ways that did not comport with Adventist doctrine and practice. He suggested that Wilson and the General Conference use the enforcement of the trademarked name “Seventh-day Adventist” to crack down on what he perceived to be this abuse. He also railed against “apostasy” in Southern California, citing women’s ordination, political involvement, and social justice as examples.
Wilson, who had just competently fielded several other unusual questions (one man claiming to have “new light” on a passage from Ellen White’s writings, for instance) listened to the younger man and said he’d be glad to look into the question and to receive more information from him after the meeting, if the man could provide it.
The event ended, and many people crowded around Wilson in the front of the sanctuary as others left. At the rear, Southeastern California Conference pastor Jared Wright, who writes for Spectrum Magazine, approached the questioner to ask more about his specific complaints. (Wright says that the man has been identified as Yucaipa resident Warren Stevens.)
Wright identified himself as representing Spectrum, and Stevens raised his voice and said, “You’re part of the problem.” He poked Wright in the chest with his finger and kept escalating his voice.
Then after making verbal threats, Stevens allegedly shot a right jab to Wright’s face, punching him in the mouth. Wright staggered and moved away with his laptop computer and phone, which he was using to record the man’s answers (the phone caught the entire confrontation). Others circled Stevens and began urging him to calm down, and ushered him out of the sanctuary and into the church foyer.
Listen: Full Audio Recording of the Altercation
A woman some have identified as Allison Atwood escorted the man to a nearby car, in which they drove off. Wright posted an account of his experience on his Facebook page, including a transcript of the recording on his phone.
This observer was several feet away from the confrontation, talking with Ted Wilson’s wife, Nancy, while it took place. Several others, including Kathleen Geraty, who works as the Linda Valley Villa retirement facility and brought about a third of the residents to the meeting, were present as well.
Spectrum Blog editor Alexander Carpenter noted that Stevens referred in his comments to the example of Phinehas in Numbers 25, as a metaphor for the need to remove evil from the environment of God’s people, and that such removal will turn aside God’s wrath. Carpenter thought it was notable that there are three references to Phinehas on Educate Truth’s website (the group protesting perceived doctrinal infidelity at La Sierra University’s Biology Department) as well as on Spectrum Blog’s comments.
Stevens has left a trail of abrasive comments on the Internet, including on the Spectrum website. Among those comments, Stevens replied to the article The Text of Ted Wilson’s Sermon: Go Forward, saying there:
I sincerely wish to thank all the infiltrators, er, progressive Adventists who have just identified themselves with their sick diatribes about the Lord’s annointed leader for the Church. Go back to Rome, fools. The sun is set on the sad little chapter of your apostasy.
Please, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Later, on that same thread, Stevens wrote:
Really though, I think y’all are great but if somebody messes with Ted or Ellen I’m going to re-torque their heads. That’s just what’s going on with me lately. I’ve taken it on as a personal ministry. It’s kinda my Social Justice thing. Gee, I really hope everyone understands.
Reporter Jared Wright, whose lip is now healing, says Stevens’ name has been given to local police in Redlands to protect the welfare of others. He added that photos of Stevens from the event will be turned over to police as well.