At the end of March, 2016, the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee voted a “Commissioned Minister Policy” which exceeded its authority and placed it out of harmony with the world church. That action sets an example of insubordination toward the world church.
The action of the committee has led to heart searching and concern. Some UCC churches are petitioning their conference to hold a special constituency session to turn back the “Commissioned Minister Policy.” This article explores some of the reasons why the action of the committee is faulty and why the laypeople are on the move. We encourage readers to consider the dilemma that the action by the executive committee has created.
Church members across the North American Division want to support their world church, but action being taken by some conferences is impacting confidence in local leadership. Is there a clear basis for members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to hold their local leaders accountable? Do local conferences have authority to create “Commissioned Minister Policies” that contradict the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Do local conferences have authority to unilaterally add to the authorities given to the commissioned minister?
In the second in CAP’s series of articles on the Commissioned Minister policy wrongly voted by the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee on March 29, 2016, we chart differences between the policy of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, as indicated in the current edition of the Church Manual and NAD and GC Working Policy, and the UCC. When placed side-by-side, it becomes very clear that the UCC executive committee has exceeded its authority and placed itself in opposition to the practice of the world church. This helps explain why some UCC churches are now calling for a special session of the Upper Columbia Conference constituency to meet to reverse the policy.
Three conferences (Oregon, Washington, and Upper Columbia conferences in the North Pacific Union in the North American Division) have currently implemented the incorrect policy in some form. Seventh-day Adventists who respect the decisions of their world church and long to work in unity with brother and sister members around the world, are asking questions about the strange transference of duties and responsibilities of the ordained minister to the commissioned minister. The new policies even permit the ordination of local church elders by commissioned ministers.
The Council of Adventist Pastors has been led to provide documentation and analysis of these developments so that church members are able to make informed decisions regarding right and wrong practice, and to help maintain transparency and accountability for church leaders. We invite Seventh-day Adventists to read and widely circulate these materials.
Since the July 8, 2015 General Conference vote in which delegates gathered from around the world and rejected the proposal to let division executive committees determine for themselves whether or not to ordain women to the gospel ministry, some entities have shown open disregard toward the world church. For example, Washington, Oregon, and Upper Columbia Conference executive committees have voted unilaterally to expand the commissioned minister credential in those conferences granting to bearers authorities nearly identical to the ordained minister credential.
The Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP) has prepared a series of articles outlining how these voted actions place these conferences in conflict with their world church. We will show how actions taken by conference executive committees in some cases exactly contradict the Church Manual and the Working Policies of the Church. We will share responses by church members to the incorrect actions of conference executive committees. Most of the articles will focus on the Upper Columbia Conference as providing a concrete case, but much will be applicable in Oregon, Washington, and other conferences where similar policies and practices are surfacing.
The first article clarifies what a commissioned minister is. Some have been seeking to fill the term with new meaning. This brief article shares actual General conference Working Policy material clearly explaining the role of the commissioned minister. This with the series of following articles is imperative reading for you if you hold your membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a conference or union where local leadership is working in contradiction of the spirit of the decisions made in the 2015 San Antonio General conference Session.
On May 18, delegates to the United Methodist Church (UMC) 2016 General Conference Session meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA, voted to create a special commission which could call a Special GC session and make epochal changes to Methodist faith and practice.
The UMC has experienced heated conflict over LGBT questions. Protests have occurred at several GC sessions. The present session has seen several protest spectacles, including LGBT persons covering their own mouths shut with rainbow tape, and even tying themselves up and positioning themselves to lay bound on the session floor.
Even before the session, Methodists had been calling for an amicable separation, and influential Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton revealed at a 7:00 a.m. meeting on May 17 that the leaders of the denomination had been quietly meeting for several days to consider possible changes. According to Hamilton,
So, the conversation began to be, what if a special commission was appointed by this general conference, that the bishops recommended this, and the general conference appointed a special commission, whose job would be to take the next two years and develop a plan for (and this will be my language and not everybody else’s language), a plan for reordering the life of people called Methodists and the United Methodist Church? That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three new United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative United Methodist Church; one would be a church for those who are progressive who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything, for everybody, in other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings, every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings, so, if that’s where you are and you say, that’s a justice issue and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this; and then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists which are somewhere in the middle. . . (Time stamp 22:24-23:39).
According to Hamilton,
In two years we would have a special called general conference for probably three days, in which the plan or plans would be laid out and the general conference would vote and its entirely possible that they could vote to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it and the next day reopen under new management, or maybe not new management, but something new, three different something-news (Time Stamp 25:43-26:07).
The presentation in which Hamilton’s made these statements can be viewed here:
The plan described by Hamilton was nearly identical to the recommendation made by UMC bishops the next day, first defeated then in almost identical form approved, but only by 23 votes. That proposal passed by the GC reads as follows:
We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)
We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1–2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
The “creative way forward,” seems to refer to what Hamilton presented in the video above linked. In fact, it was the same pastor, Hamilton, who the previous day called for the bishops to introduce some kind of plan! The denomination could be reorganized into as many as three distinct bodies.
It is important to understand that the GC session had been going well for conservative Methodists. A strong push to adopt “Rule 44” which potentially would have been used to process plenary agenda item votes and given place for the expression of stories and feelings in small groups, was defeated only after long hours of debate on different days. In smaller committees, items were being passed to keep the LGBT agenda from advancing. One ingenious plan (CUP) was also advancing through committees which would have suspended ministers who officiated at same-sex “weddings” for a year but which would also permit pro-LGBT churches to leave the denomination with their property. May 18 was scheduled to be the day when the most contentious issues involving homosexuality were to be voted on. All of that was preempted by the recommendation of church leadership of the special commission proposal.
Pastor Rob Renfroe describes the CUP plan in the video below:
The combination of the delegate’s steadfast rejection of attempts by LGBT activists to push their agenda, combined with the many initiatives which would have strengthened Methodist resolve, created an even deeper feeling of crisis. Notice what pro-LGBT Methodists say about the course of the session and the sudden introduction of the bishop’s plan:
From Love Prevails UMC:
Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment (https://loveprevailsumc.com/2016/05/19/getting-played-for-the-okey-doke/, accessed 2016-05-20).
And from Reconciling Ministries network:
Wow. What just happened? We’re sure some of you are asking that regarding yesterday’s decisions. . . . This is a win because it prohibits any legislative action that would further harm LGBTQ people and threaten the cause of justice. . . . As the commission is doing its work, the Bishops have promised to look for ways to avoid church trials and because this comes from the FULL council of bishops, that is an unprecedented commitment. In the past, only a few bishops committed to avoiding church trials. Some people feel like this is nothing, that nothing was accomplished yesterday, that this is nothing but a delay tactic. We realize that many of our constituents are upset and angry. But the alternatives that were quickly shaping up on the floor of GC would have led to a disastrous ending. . . . It’s important to recognize that the work of LGBTQ people and their allies created this opportunity and this moment (http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/no-matter-what-lies-ahead-we-remain-committed/, accessed 2016-05-20).
Pastor Rob Renfroe, a leader of the Methodists who oppose LGBT, offered this fascinating insight in a video that was released Friday morning (2016-05-20):
Many of the people who came to Portland convinced that they would change our position regarding marriage and sexuality, were the very people who promoted that we should create the commission and not vote on any issues related to sexuality. Now why would they do that? Because very early on, in this year’s General Conference, they learned that they did not have the votes to change the discipline. They learned in the committees that they were outvoted over and over again, and were certain that if these issues were brought to the plenary sessions they would loose, and embarrassingly so (https://youtu.be/rkoUnibdcC4, Time Stamp 1:11-1:47).
The point being, that after decades of strife and division over LGBT issues, conservative Methodists are finding voice to resist.
The 2016 Methodist General Conference session closes Friday, May 20. The key developments for the session have taken place. Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists share a great deal of history and organization in common and developments in the Methodist Church, can “preview” for us possible futures, good or bad, in our own church.
The Methodist Church voted to ordain women pastors 60 years ago. Today the denomination is in deep crisis over LGBT issues, and it remains to be seen whether the denomination can remain together until it holds a special GC session in 2018.
CAP has spent a few weeks sharing items that can help us understand developments in other denominations. Now we will return to address dangerous developments in our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. We will be publishing a series of items addressing our own Commissioned Minister Crisis. May God be with all as we ponder needful action to keep Seventh-day Adventist churches faithful to Scripture and focused on mission.
The article linked to by this post is a case study, made up of several timelines, showing the process of change in TEC (The Episcopal Church) which led them to their today where they are ordaining practicing homosexuals. The material is extensive. It covers TEC from before the ordination of women, into 2016 and the development of present LGBTQ issues in that church. TEC is not the SDA Church, but there are many useful things to learn from the sequence of developments there. If we are careful, we will not repeat the mistakes of others, no matter how well meaning they were so many years ago. We are sure that few Episcopalians in 1970 imagined where fateful decisions made along the way would lead their church in 2016!
The times in which we live are tumultuous. It can be useful to see how other Christian groups are reacting to challenges similar to those the Seventh-day Adventist Church faces. In that spirit we link here to 10 short videos on Anglican realignment.
Many people think of Anglicans as being a very liberal denomination. However, a remarkable thing has happened in recent years. Within Anglicanism there has been a remarkable resistance to same-sex marriage and a retreat from women’s ordination. The videos below outline developments in that conflict as Anglicans who wished to remain faithful to what they always believed resisted the destructive movement toward gay marriage taken by the North American section of their church. The videos are short, about eight minutes each. Some include interview segments with J.I. Packer.
Although Adventists would not agree in every respect with key parts of the Anglican view, we appreciate the clarity of these resisters that same-sex marriage is alien to the gospel. The videos include several graphic illustrations helping visualize what was happening in the Anglican Realignment. CAP finds especially interesting the strong desire these Anglicans have to be faithful to the truth as they understand it and to work with their world church, even as they struggled with the wrongly-moving North American section of their church.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) will hold its next General Conference session in early May 2016 in Portland, Oregon. Among key items to be considered is a proposal called “The Third Way” which would permit individual UMC conferences to vote to permit their ministers to conduct same-sex “weddings” and to permit UMC ministers on an individual basis decide whether or not to conduct such marriages.
In the following short video UMC pastor Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, chair of the Connectional Table’s Legislative Writing Team, describes changes being considered:
Methodist pastor Rob Renfroe urges a no vote on the LGBTQ proposals and comments on the rules for process the UMC GC hopes to employ at GC 2016:
While the United Methodist Church is not the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventists have followed developments in that communion with considerable interest. The “Third Way” Methodist proposal seems remarkably similar to the “Third Way” women’s ordination proposal some floated in the months previous to the 2015 SDA San Antonio GC session, in that it claims to offer a neutral approach with which all in the church can live, while granting legitimacy to an unbiblical practice. Advocates of LGBTQ rights are at work within the Adventist Church as well.
The UMC faces possible schism next month over the LGBTQ proposals.
On March 29, 2016, the Upper Columbia Conference executive committee voted, 11-5, within the territory of that conference, to treat the commissioned minister credential identically to the ordained credential in almost every respect. However, it is not within the prerogative of a conference to create, in essence, a new credential without General Conference permission. Any such behavior exceeds the authority vested in a conference by the world church. Furthermore, the voted policy contradicts the Church Manual voted by the world church. Can each conference have its own separate Church Manual? Will this behavior help the world church press together? If a conference can disregard the policy of the General Conference, why cannot a local church disregard the policy of the local conference?
The Upper Columbia Conference is part of the North Pacific Union, which is part of the North American Division.
Delegates to the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference have refused to recognize the validity of a woman serving as an ordained minister three times (1990, 1995, 2015). By definition the Working Policy of the church disallows that a woman can legitimately serve as a conference president. And yet the Adventist Review, a publication representing the world church, published an article on February 20, 2016 identifying Ms. Sandra Roberts as “the first woman conference president.” Whether intended or not, the editors of the Adventist Review with this article are contributing to the establishment of an alternate line of reality. Ms. Roberts is recognized by neither the General Conference nor by many Adventist members as the president of the Southeastern California Conference.
The General Conference requires unions and conferences of the world church to adhere to the Working Policy and to the wording in bold print in the model Constitution and Bylaws provided. That text reads “President: The president, who shall be an ordained minister of experience, is the first officer and shall report to the executive committee of the conference in consultation with the secretary and the treasurer/chief financial officer” (General Conference Working Policy, 2011-2012 ed., pp. 181, 182). This bold print wording is required text. Unions and conferences have no authority to act in contradiction to it.
On October 27, 2013, the Southeastern California Conference “elected” Ms. Roberts to the office of president over that conference. Those particulars are discussed here: http://ordinationtruth.com/2013/10/27/secc-elects-woman-president/. The General Conference is bound by the voted policies of the church, and in publishing the Adventist Yearbook which lists ordained ministers and leadership data for conferences, of necessity left the officer slot for president blank for Southeastern.
On to the present matter. The Weniger Society voted to offer an award to Sandra Roberts because she was the “first female conference president.” Andrew McChesney, news editor for the Adventist Review (a publication of the General Conference), reported on the Weniger awards, and identified Ms. Roberts in print as “the first female conference president.” Yes, this is the same “president” who presided at a post-San Antonio “ordination” of a woman on December 19, 2015:
The Review has no obligation to report the issuance of an award by Weniger Society based on a false premise, and certainly no business contradicting the voted position of the church. Adventists have phoned the Review and sought to post corrections to the article only to have the comments deleted without being posted. If not corrected, the article will contribute to the establishment of an alternate reality in which in spite of the refusal of the General Conference in session to approve the ordination of women, the legitimacy of this unbiblical practice is established through insubordination.
As the publication of record, this article in the Review cannot be permitted to stand as it is. The Council of Adventist Pastors asks that the article be withdrawn from publication.
If we see no necessity for harmonious action, and are disorderly, undisciplined, and disorganized in our course of action, angels, who are thoroughly organized and move in perfect order, cannot work for us successfully. They turn away in grief, for they are not authorized to bless confusion, distraction, and disorganization. All who desire the cooperation of the heavenly messengers must work in unison with them. Those who have the unction from on high will in all their efforts encourage order, discipline, and union of action, and then the angels of God can cooperate with them. But never, never will these heavenly messengers place their endorsement upon irregularity, disorganization, and disorder. All these evils are the result of Satan’s efforts to weaken our forces, to destroy our courage, and prevent successful action (Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 26).
The Bible says, “A bishop [elder] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable,able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2 NKJV). The New Testament church had no office of woman elder. This is a point of reform that will help the church come back onto Bible ground and advance in unity. May God guide all and help all to work together on His plan.
Can Seventh-day Adventists learn from the history of others? The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) approved the ordination of women as elders in 1929 and as ministers in 1956. In 2013 its General Assembly approved the ordination of openly gay persons to ministry. Predictably, in 2014 the church redefined marriage as a covenant uniting two persons (rather than as uniting a husband and wife). These actions were ratified in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
It was anticipated that membership would increase on the basis of this more “inclusive” denominational stance. What actually occurred was that the Presbyterian Church USA lost a quarter of a million members in 2013 and is projecting average losses between 75,000 and 100,000 members annually in the 2015-2020 period. The following membership numbers are based upon a PCUSA budgeting presentation.
Some of this decline is based on the death of aging members. Still, this would only account for a limited portion. The extraordinary projections almost certainly reflect anticipation of continued exodus of members to more conservative Presbyterian bodies. These include the Presbyterian Church of America (formed in 1973 and rejects women’s ordination), Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians formed in 2012. As of November 13, 2015, ECO included 231 congregations.
Meanwhile, according to apportionment numbers, even with 3% annual increases in 2017-2020, PCUSA will substantially exhaust most of its financial resources by the close of that period.
Women’s ordination weakens a body, SOGI issues (Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity) destroy it. In 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America approved both same-sex “marriage” and the ordination of gay clergy, only to loose more than 600 congregations in the next two years. PCUSA and ELCA seem engaged in a competition over which denomination will be the first to be completely dissolved.
UPDATE 2016-02-11: There are varying reports about membership loss numbers as reflected in comments in links below. It in not completely clear which numbers are more correct, although the large 2013 numbers we draw from the budget department slide could reflect the same-sex “marriage decision and its straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back effect and rise of ECO. Either way, we hold that this demonstrates a correlation between the pro-gay decisions and the exodus from PCUSA. Those wishing to follow up more closely can peruse the links provided by brother Pickle in his post. –Admin