[UPDATED Oct. 12, 2016]
After a lengthy meeting, the final vote of the General Conference Executive Committee was Yes 169 and No 122, adopting the recommended document, “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation.”
Early in the discussion Kathryn Proffitt told the group that she had been a delegate to the Pacific Union Conference constituency meeting. She told the assembled Autumn Council, that “As I was reviewing the Pacific Union bylaws, one particular article stood out. It said that the constituents had the authority to change the bylaws, but only if they remained in harmony with the model constitution. As a lay person, I had no idea what the model constitution was, but I knew it must be very important if it limited the delegates’ authority.”
Once she had obtained a copy and read it, she said, “This really had a profound effect on me, because I understood how much, for maybe the first time, the unity of God’s Church means to Him. My feeling, as a member of the executive committee, is that I don’t have the right to deviate from actions that have been taken by the world church.”
Many did not share this view. As much as 80% of the debate was dominated by participants from the North American Division (NAD) arguing against the document. Numerous claims went up: more time is needed; the wording needs to be improved; more study of this, more study of that. The dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, actually suggested that the church assign theologians study church policy to tell administrators what it means!
Some made emotional appeals warning that young people might leave the Church over the decision. One example was offered by Loma Linda University Church pastor Randy Roberts (located in one of the non-compliant Unions), who said the following:
“If you follow the trajectory of church after church, in the latter phases of those churches, much time, much energy, and much focus, is given to propping up the realities of that church by policies and procedures, rather than focus on the vision. When it becomes calcified in that way, people break off and start the process again with a new vision and dream. I think we’re at a point where we’re in danger of that. I can say that at least in my part of the world, to vote a document like this may actually be a very good thing in terms of vision. Because young adults and many others will say, we have to do something that is not so regimented and governed by policy.”
NAD president Dan Jackson claimed to be an African, a Canadian, and a variety of other nationalities. He said that because he had traveled around the division, “I have become Columbia Union. I have become the Mid-America Union. I have become the Pacific Union, and the church in Canada, and a member of every union.” He did not speak in favor of the document.
Dan Houghton offered the following observations:
“I’m extremely puzzled by this discussion, and I want to speak in favor of this motion. Its seems to me that 90% of everything that’s been said has been re-litigating what happened in San Antonio. And we’ve heard Mike Ryan get up twice and say, that’s not our issue. And I would just like to say, that there are lots of people watching this proceeding, right now, around our country, with different ideas. The question I have, Does a vote in General Conference session mean anything? Does it mean anything? We spent five years, and I don’t know how many dollars, preparing for Indianapolis, and we took a vote. And there was a vote. This is really not about women’s ordination, and cannot be; we cannot make it that. Does this Church have a unity,? And does it have an authority? I would encourage those of my brothers and sisters who I love, they’re my friends, to find a different way to express their frustration with that vote, than undermining the authority and the unity of this Church.”
While many aging administrators worried out loud about young people leaving the church over the decision, the one young person who did speak, Natasha Dysinger, said this:
“As a young person, I have to echo what Mr. Houghton just said. When I first read this document when it came to my inbox, I found it extremely refreshing. . . when I read it I found it to be extremely pastoral in nature. . . What I read in this is, let’s have some simple Christianity, and sit down, and pray, and discuss, and communicate.”
Some had insinuated that the General Conference, in seeking compliance with the 2015 GC session decision, was exercising kingly power. But Dr. Clinton Wahlen in speaking from the floor contradicted that claim with facts:
“Mr. Chairman, there is a difference between local policies, and policies voted by the General Conference session. The situation before us today, is, in some important respects, unprecedented. That’s why a focused solution is needed. The events leading to non-compliance with the San Antonio vote were not accidental. A great deal of energy was expended on crafting proposals for constituency meetings to act on, and these deliberate efforts have placed some unions and conferences in non-compliance. This situation arises from deep theological convictions that have been held for a very long time. Following the vote in San Antonio, a formal appeal was made on August 17, 2015 by the GC Secretariat to each division, kindly asking every entity to come into alignment with the world church. I had thought that this kind of process would have been underway for 15 months already and a report brought here today. The time has come to take action. I appeal to this body to choose the solution that policy already provides, and that the Secretariat’s recent Unity document suggests. Quoting B 05 .3, ‘Organizational membership and status are entrusted to entities that meet certain qualifications, including faithfulness to Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, compliance with denominational practices and policies, demonstration of adequate leadership and financial capacity, and responsiveness to mission challenges and opportunities. Membership and status can be reviewed, revised, amended, or withdrawn by the level of organization that granted it.’ Please hear this final appeal from Jody, a constituent of one of the non-compliant unions: ‘I feel that my local church, my conference, and my union are the ones with the kingly power. It is frustrating wanting to be unified with the GC under the layers of three uncooperative kingly powers. I want to be made whole with the world church.’ We need to consider her plea and the cry of many thousands like her.”
G.T. Ng, the Executive Secretary of the General Conference also spoke to the proposal to adopt the document:
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. G.T. Ng from the custodial service of General Conference. Mr Chairman, I’m very proud of this Church because it prides itself as the church of prophecy. And this afternoon I hear prophecies being uttered from prophets, or sons of prophets. Whether they are major or minor, it is not for me to decide. But they utter prophecies I cannot find in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy. This morning I heard that this document is capable of setting the Church on fire. I never knew that. This afternoon we heard words such as ‘splitting,’ causing ‘earthquake’ And if we stay on until eight o’clock, we will hear terms like ‘Tsunami’ and ‘Armageddon.’ Where in the world do those terms come from? I think this document this afternoon—what is on trial is not this document. What is on trial is our faith and belief in the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible. It has been clearly foretold that what is decided at General Conference is decided by the highest authority on earth, and either we believe that or not; its up to us. Our General Conference president has stated to us that he will move on whatever the vote. When the vote it taken, he will abide by that vote. And now it is our turn.”
Near the end of the debate, Michigan Conference president Elder Jay Gallimore made these remarks:
“Thank you brother chairman, Jay Gallimore for the Michigan Conference. I want to rise to support this document. Its an outstanding document. Redemptive discipline takes time. I wrote an article some years ago on redemptive discipline for the Ministry magazine. And they need time to get started. And I’m disappointed to hear so many references made that the issue that faced the General Conference in San Antonio is some kind of minor policy. That motion required a vote based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. We spent months and years, through all kinds of committees, to get to the place where this Church could vote on that issue. At this point, the issue is no longer that issue. The issue is the unity of the church. And the unity of the church is not maintained by pluralism. If we want to try to find a way that’s painless, to keep the unity of the church, we can go down the road of pluralism, but it will be very, very costly in the end. Redemptive discipline is painful. Its patient. Its full of love. And this document, I believe, gives us the start on that. We cannot as a Church maintain our unity, and allow people who oppose the world church, to simply accomplish what they wanted by default, by the Church never addressing the issue. Should it be patient? Should it be longsuffering? Should it be all those kinds of things? Yes. And I think this document is the journey that starts the world church on addressing what it needs to, and I hope this body will vote this.”
When the final vote is considered, what was stated by general Conference vice president Billy Biaggi was likely true. He indicated that while there were many participants who felt free to speak in English, that there were hundreds who did not feel comfortable speaking. It seems clear that many of these did not concur with the numerous voices of doom and disagreement offered by North America and a few other international voices.
Soon after, the vote was taken by secret ballots on paper. After this, the meeting was closed with kind and courteous remarks by General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson.
God had worked for His people.