I, like many thousands of Seventh-day Adventists, am looking forward to attending my first General Conference Session in person. It is a privilege that few get to experience in their lifetime as most GC sessions are held several continents away and visas and the high cost of the plane ticket prevents many from participating in the experience.
Every GC Session is pivotal and promises to have a sizable impact on the Church given the nature of its role. This Session seems to have taken on extra significance due to the issues centering on whether or not to ordain women to Gospel Ministry.
For the past few years, I have observed this issue develop and followed its inevitable path towards the floor vote at the Session this July. To say it is a contentious issue would be an understatement. I have watched church members shout down the General Conference President at Union constituency meetings, I have watched hours upon hours of independent media ministries lay out their case, read partisan sites on both sides of the issue, have had individuals accost me in the church parking lot after a passing reference to the issue in a sermon, and have seen people post comments or private messages to me on social media that border on hatred or worse.
My reasons for writing this post isn’t to convince anyone to change their mind on the issue but rather to speak to a small group of friends and colleagues in ministry on both sides of the issue that wield a measure of influence in our Church. My concerns are larger than the current issue and I hope that this post will help to start a dialogue that does not need to be public but one that needs to happen at some point.
I am concerned that some of the ministries in our circles have taken an approach that is difficult to back down from. In big mountain climbing there is a term called committing, that refers to slopes on the mountain that once embarked upon have to have to be climbed all the way up or the climbers die trying because a retreat is near impossible. The way the discussion in our circles has proceeded and the way ‘summits’ and ‘conferences’ (Secrets Unsealed) have portrayed things, our members have been led to believe that this issue is so serious that if the Church votes the other way the GC itself has apostatized. This “our way or the highway” approach is detrimental to getting any agreement on what needs to be done to finish the work. I hear our members talk of routine World Church processes discussed in terms that refer to Catholic or Papal systems. While none of our conservative leaders would outright make such a statement, the cumulative effect of our actions is contributing to a mass frenzy that is sowing seeds of a harvest many of us will be loathe to reap. In other words, we are sowing a harvest of anarchy, insubordination, and rebellion and it will sooner or later manifest itself in a harvest of separation, alienation of affection, and perhaps even outright violence. Consider how every perceived slight, real or imagined, from the organized Church leadership is cast in terms such as “papal”, “apostasy”, “bias” etc in our magazines and on our Facebook posts (Doug Batchelor). I read a recent article (Advindicate) that discussed how tithe dollars were being used to promote one view of women’s ordination (liberal) at the exclusion of the other (conservative) and have read other articles in the past that used politicized terms such as “gerymandering” and discussing the Church as two political systems etc.
I am also concerned about how leaders teach members to quickly categorize any speaker into some ideological box and tune them out. Of all human motivators fear is one of the greatest. It certainly helps ring in the donations. Real and lasting change though is brought about by the greatest human motivator: love.
I think that our side (if you want to call it that) has devolved from big ideas to small ones. We are quick to post emails and newsletters on the latest issue to drive donor contributions and have convinced ourselves and our followers that winning these ‘battles’ is what God called us to do. Taking the 3 Angels Messages to the World, the fact that many of our hospitals are chronically understaffed overseas, that millions have been baptized into our church and left within 3 years or other related issues have taken a distant back seat to hot button issues. We have become experts at developing or hijacking platforms (Youth Conferences and Social Media) to bludgeon our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am also concerned that many of our pastors are or in the process of making business model calculations to figure out if they can sustain their families without the ‘burden of having to run a church.’ It seems that if one can draw on a donor base that is large enough to supplant the Church’s salary then its better than the yoke of church employment.
I’m also concerned at how formal ministry education has been disparaged by some or viewed as a liability by others. With fewer and fewer conservative minded young men entering formal ministry training, the ranks of leadership are being filled by others and whether that is a good thing or not, one thing is certain, decisions are made by those who are at the table. As more of the older leadership passes into retirement over the next decade this will become more apparent.
To all of my friends in leadership or influence I ask, is this fight worth it? Are you committing to something that will be difficult to back down from? Are we not creating a culture of mistrust, dissent, and resentment towards all forms of leadership? Agitation is a double-edged sword, and trying to reason with individuals or groups who are incapable of submitting to a logical or formal process is self-defeating in the long run.
We need organization, we need processes, we need healthy conversations and occasionally strong debates but most of all we need to look to Jesus. We don’t need to repeat the mistakes our forefathers made (organization in the late 1800’s) and our fathers made (separation and independence 1960-70’s and onwards). They went to their graves without seeing Jesus come in their lifetime. If we continue this course of action the conversation is only going to increase in its intensity and its viciousness. We can choose to do better and be better.
“The greatest need of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is a paradigm reevaluation. We need to figure out where we are (Laodicean condition), where we need to be (the great Work of warning the world) and how to get there. Compared to this, everything else fades in significance.”
It is within our power to see Jesus come within our lifetime. Lets not lose it by engaging in tactics that breed mistrust, give rise to doubt, and lead to separation.
Adrian Zahid is a senior partner at a management consulting firm in Southern California. A recent survivor from advanced staged cancer, he is trying to make the most of the second lease on life that God has given him. He is the co-founder of Intelligent Adventist and in his free time enjoys helping non-profits be sustainable and the Seventh-day Adventist Church succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission. You can check out his blog at adrianzahid.com