Lonny Liebelt responds to William Johnsson’s article “A troubling Disconnect.” Johnsson thinks that he and the pro-WO faction is being led by the Holy Spirit. He thinks that the Generla confernece is not being led by the Holy Spirit. Pastor Liebelt interacts with Johnsson’s assertions here:
Some are today arguing that the Acts 15 model opens the way for the practice of women’s ordination. Dr. Phil Mills, who served on the TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) makes the following careful presentation sharing important insight for God’s Church today from the Jerusalem Council. Acts 15 rightly understood does not open the way for women’s ordination.
The General Conference Administrative Committee voted on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, to approve a complicated proposal offered by the Unity Oversight Committee. Details here:
The action proposed by the Unity Oversight Committee (UOC) for Annual Council 2018 is inadequate. God has spoken through His people. The world church has voted not to permit units to act unilaterally to ordain women to the pastoral ministry. Neither did the church vote in 2015 to permit modified specious credentialing practices. Since the 2015 vote, non-compliant conferences and unions in the North American Division (NAD) have been given more than sufficient opportunity to come in line with the decision of the world church. MORE THAN THREE YEARS HAVE PASSED since the San Antonio July 8, 2015 world church decision. In this time, NAD leadership has brought not even one insubordinate entity into compliance.
The proposed UOC plan calls for noncompliance to be reported to the next higher level. If that level fails to address the non-compliance, that level becomes responsible to the next higher level of organization. Thus, in the North American context, some entity would need to report non-compliance by Pacific Union, Columbia Union, or North Pacific Union (all of which presently embrace non-compliant practice regarding ordaining or credentialing women pastors). But reporting to the non-compliant union itself would be ineffectual. Then, if somehow the matter were actually forwarded to the North American Division, what? NAD does nothing.
If the matter is not resolved by the NAD, the General Conference can assign the matter to be reviewed by the compliance committee. And in all this there are no time limits. Indeed, the proposal asks for “much prayer and dialogue.”
There is no concrete set of time limitations at any stage. At every stage the implementation of any action is built on indeterminate “mays” and “ifs.” And even if a committee somewhere has enough conviction and energy to call for the actual application of sanctions, the possible actions are:
- Warning. (No action to address individual leaders.)
- Public reprimand. (The leaders of the non-compliant entity continue to have voice and vote. They are rewarded for their non-compliance. But a reminder is given each time they seek the floor, publicly stating that their entity is in non-compliance.)
- If non-compliance continues, members of the non-compliant entity may be removed “for cause,” according to Bylaws Article XIII Sec. 1. c. and GC B 95.
But this option (number 3) ALREADY EXISTS. By creating an elaborate series of additional steps, barriers are created which hinder the application of discipline.
And, according to the plan, even
In instances where a president has been removed from the membership of the committee “for cause,” other members of the General Conference Executive Committee from that union shall continue to exercise full privileges without mention of reprimand.
Thus, the process envisioned by the UOC achieves little. It actually adds layers. Church members are not calling for additional bureaucratic labyrinth or for time-consuming, ineffectual actions. The effect of this plan, if implemented, will be to facilitate non-compliance, assuring no substantive consequence will be applied for breaching the trust of the world body.
The proposed plan will further divide the church of God.
Instead, we urge all parties to consider a simpler proposal: to immediately remove “for cause” at Annual Council 2018 the three current NAD executive administrative officers, whose inaction has deeply damaged the global unity of the church and in the North American Division.
Three years have passed and nothing substantive has been done. Let the Annual Council now act.
On Sabbath, March 3, 2018, Potomac Conference administrators participated in the “ordination” of Ms. Renee Stepp.
But in 2015, Adventist representatives from all over the globe assembled in San Antonio Texas, USA for General Conference Session. Thousands of delegates participated debating, voting, and reaching a decision on behalf of the world church. The Church refused to grant authority for subsections of itself to act unilaterally regarding ordination. Following the Bible pattern, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never in its history approved the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
And yet, with the world church’s San Antonio decision in full view, the Columbia Union Executive Committee approved the request of Potomac Conference Executive Committee leaders. Stepp’s Williamsburg “ordination” is an open, high-handed act of rebellion by Potomac and Columbia elected leaders exactly contradicting the decision voted by the delegates of the world church.
According to an article by Potomac Conference, Stepp’s experience includes service as women’s dean at academy, holding office in her local church, full time student at Andrews University Theological Seminary, and chaplain of an Adventist academy. She served in a supporting role in the Vienna congregation.
Paul urged workers to select spiritually qualified males of experience to serve as elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), but never a woman. The Bible contains zero examples of women as primary congregational leaders, and zero examples of women elders.
To circumvent the decision of the world church is to circumvent God’s plan for church governance. If Columbia and Potomac can ordain a woman, they can ordain anyone.
Participants in the ordination service included Potomac conference president William “Bill” Miller, Dave Vandevere, vice president for finance, Rick Jordan and Renee Stepp.
In November 2017, the North Pacific Union mailed all Seventh-day Adventist pastors across the six conferences (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Upper Columbia, Idaho, Montana) a copy of William Johnsson’s startling book, Where are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio (Oak & Acorn Publishing, Westlake Village, California, 2017). Don’t be confused; the book is actually published by the Pacific Union. The Pacific union is out of compliance with 2015 San Antonio General Conference Session world church decision not to permit subsections of the church to unilaterally ordain women to the gospel ministry.
Is it fair to describe Johnsson’s book as literally shocking? The current NPUC leadership wanted its entire pastoral staff of six conferences to read content like this:
“The General Conference Session of 2015 exposed and widened fault lines that had been developing for a long time. In later years the Session will be seen as a moment comparable to the 1888 Minneapolis convocation, when two views of the church, two possibilities, met face to face. . . . As major as was the discussion concerning the role of women, that issue was but part of something far larger. Adventism is split down the middle. The split is not merely geographical between the North and the global South—it is more complicated. Like the two babies struggling in Rebekah’s womb, two Adventist churches are aborning” (pp. 1, 2).
It is one thing to acknowledge there is a substantial split within the Church, but another to intentionally transmit a throughly one-sided volume attacking the validity of a General Conference Session decision to your pastoral staff!
Johnsson places the “two churches” in sharp contrast: “a church that adopts a principled interpretation of scripture with a church that comes to the Word in a flat, literalistic manner,” “a church with ordained women clergy struggling with a church that limits the ministry to males,” “a church that downsizes the upper echelons and focuses on the grassroots with a church increasingly bureaucratic and autocratic” (all on p. 2). “two radically different versions of Adventism are competing for the future” (p. 3). Twenty or so years earlier, Johnsson had been just as explicit:
“At three General Conference sessions in a row—New Orleans in 1985, Indianapolis in 1990, and now Utrecht yesterday—the church debated the role of women in ministry. How far have we come in resolving this issue?. . . Yesterday we saw two respected Adventist scholars approach the Scriptures in different ways. One based his case on specific verses and statements of Ellen White, arguing from a literalistic basis. The other also appealed to Scripture and Ellen White, but in terms of the principles behind the statements. The differences are striking and important. They impact not only the women’s issue but many others. We have not heard the last of this matter. Adventists will have to wrestle with this most basic concern: How shall we interpret Scripture” (Adventist Review, July 7, 1995, p. 3).
But the truth is that the two differing viewpoints in the church with reference to women’s ordination both follow a principled set of interpretive approaches; the principles of interpretation are just different. The truth is that Both viewpoints favor the ministry of men and women while differing on whether congregational male leadership is biblically open to females. The truth is that mostly the grassroots of the church strongly oppose women’s ordination, while many in NAD administrative leadership and ordained pastoral ministry favor it. The truth is that the General Conference leadership is attempting to faithfully implement the decision the world body made in San Antonio in 2015, while some NAD leaders have operated autocratically and have sometimes run over church members beliefs in this area.
Johnsson’s book pounds away, attempting to destroy the authority of the General Conference and validity of the 2015 GC decision. Johnsson calls the WO debate at the session “a circus” (p. 11). He complains about how Jan Paulson was treated, but Paulson alone was given four and a half minutes to speak—almost twice as much as the other delegates. But Johnsson is not content only to hint he is undermining the 2015 GC session vote. He states his position plainly:
“[I]t was a war and . . . the war is over and that now women’s ordination will spread rapidly through the church” (p. 12). He seems to favor every irregularity in credentialing he can name (he lists several). Johnsson proceeds to write the narrative of anti-WO arguments the way he sees fit, attacking what he sees as main arguments. From page 16 and following he pushes back against them. For Johnsson, “The present situation is intolerable. Women’s ordination will come and must come” (p. 19).
What do NPUC administrators want for this Union?
Especially important is this book’s treatment of hermeneutics. Johnsson labors for several pages (pp. 115-130) attacking the allegedly “flat” hermeneutics of those who oppose WO—“flat” surely representing the church’s longstanding method of Bible study, historical-grammatical methodology. Meanwhile he supports what he views as the “principled” hermeneutics of those favoring WO. Several pages are penned favoring Adventist scholar Sakae Kubo (mentioned five times), whom he regards as “one of the church’s finest biblical exegetes” (p. 121). We wonder if the leaders who sent this book to their pastors agree with Sakae Kubo’s views regarding LGBT in his article, “Viewpoint: How Our Understanding of Homosexuality Has Changed,” (April 24, 2014).
“Second, if the church recognizes that some people are born with an alternative sexual orientation, and since the Bible, as we have shown above, is not condemning them but heterosexuals who are committing the perverted act of engaging in sexual activity with a non-consenting heterosexual, it is normal—not abnormal—for a gay or lesbian person to wish to marry another gay or lesbian person, just as it is normal for a heterosexual person to marry a person of the opposite sex. How can we say that we will not allow someone who is gay or lesbian to do the natural thing—and yet not say the same thing to the heterosexual?” (https://spectrummagazine.org/article/news/2014/04/05/viewpoint-how-our-understanding-homosexuality-has-changed).
Kubo’s article concludes thus:
“The Church then should get rid of the statement, ‘We hate the sin but love the sinner,’ with respect to alternative sexualities and should treat everyone the same. The church must let people do what is natural for them—even if that means marrying someone of the same sex. And we should expect the same of all couples, no matter their gender: that they be committed to their partners and not engage in extramarital affairs” (Ibid.).
Interesting, especially if Johnsson’s propheying pans out: “the five years following it [the 2015 San Antonio General Conference Session] will be focused on issues of interpreting the Bible” (Where Are We headed?, p. 115).
What exactly is practiced today in the congregation where Kubo worships?
Johnsson is glad, he says, that our Adventist Fundamental Belief statement has a Preamble. “It positions Adventists for the possibility of change—even major change—in beliefs and practice” (p. 118).
We cannot help but notice that the reason so many favor WO is because of their hermeneutics. Kubo is a staunch supporter of women’s ordination. Even a cursory search of Spectrum magazine will locate numerous Kubo articles promoting the ordination of women.
But the worst parts of Johnsson’s book are actually at the close. There, the author openly attacks current General Conference leaders. The very worst feature of the book is his attack on the validity of the 2015 vote:
“[T]he manner in which the San Antonio Session handled the women’s ordination issue leaves in doubt the accuracy of the vote” (p. 148).
Johnsson wildly claims that TOSC Report findings were withheld (p. 149), and raises other absurd objections, concluding, “In view of this background, I cannot accept that the vote in San Antonio settled the issue of the ordination of women” (p. 149).
Possibly the wildest view in the book is Johnsson chorusing the myth propounded by George Knight and others that the Unions were essentially intended to be immune to the authority of the world church, and that the General Conference vote in San Antonio was actually somehow a misuse of Church authority.
And so, says Johnsson, for the General Conference to simply endeavor to secure united action in the world church in a mattter that has been decided by the General Conference in session, is—our pastors are told—“Wrong from any angle you look at it. Wrong in its theology. Wrong in its history. Wrong in its policy. Wrong in its spirit. It is more papal than Seventh-day Adventist. It runs directly counter to the life and teachings of Jesus” (p 145).
Adventist pastors and members deserve better. The North Pacific Union erred in intentionally sending this book to its pastors, and promoting divisive, unwarranted doubts about world church leaders who are seeking to be faithful against all odds.
The main yearly meeting of the world church is called Annual Council. Every October the General Conference Executive Committee gathers for this meeting. Needful decision-making is accomplished by this body for the world church between General Conference Sessions held every five years.
In the 2015 General Conference Session held in San Antonio, Texas, delegates made an important decision. They again (similar votes had been held in 1990 and 1995 sessions) determined they would continue the practice of the Adventist Church from its beginning: they chose (again) not to open the way for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
Be that as it may, several women both before and after the 2015 meeting have been illegally “ordained to the gospel ministry” in the Pacific Union. The Columbia Union continues to have policies out of compliance with the world church on this question, and the North Pacific Union and some Unions in the Trans-European Division are following credentialing practices which are out of harmony with the world church.
At 2016 Annual Council the General Conference Executive Committee voted to engage in a process of reconciliation and if necessary, discipline toward errant parts of the world church. The year between meetings resulted in no correction to those insubordinate actions. In October 2017 Annual Council a proposal offerred the GC Executive Committee for how to proceed was returned to committee, leaving the non-compliant Unions out of harmony with the world church and the present leaders of these Unions and Divisions remaining in office.
About two weeks after Annual Council, the North American Division meets to hold its Year-End Meeting (YEM). Certain events in this year’s YEM especially stand out.
NAD YEM 2017
First, time was set aside in NAD YEM to discuss the proposal that was to be considered at 2017 Annual Council and that would have impacted Unions in rebellion in the NAD. During that discussion, a young adult from Canada, Daniel Cho, also a member of the North American Division Executive Committee, obtained the floor and spoke of the necessity of unity. He moved this motion:
In the spirit of church unity and respect for the decisions of the General Conference in session, and recognizing that the General Conference in session with delegates from all over the world is the highest human body that we have for settling disputable matters among Divisions and their entities in the church, we, the North American Division Executive Committee, as part of the General Conference, direct that all entities that we serve bring their practices into harmony with the NAD/GC policy, and the 2015 vote of the world church on ordination. I so move.
The motion was seconded. One person spoke in debate, then a second speaker called for opportunity to be given for prayer. While most committee members were engaged in prayer, the chair, Dan Jackson, conferred at length with ex officio committee member General Conference treasurer Juan Prestol-Peusan, NAD and GC legal counsel Karnik Doukmetzian, G. Alexander Bryant, and others, who did not participate during most of the prayer time.
Almost immediately after debate resumed, Prestol-Peusan approached the mic and after a convoluted reasoning segment, moved to table the motion.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief, “The purpose of the motion to Lay on the Table is to enable an assembly, by majority vote and without debate, to lay a pending question aside temporarily when something else of immediate urgency has arisen or when something else needs to be addressed before consideration of the pending question is resumed” (pp. 118-119). Since there was no other pending motion for the NAD Executive Committee to address before it considered Cho’s motion, the motion to table was out of order. This was a misuse of parliamentary procedure to defeat the main motion without debate. Robert’s Rules continues with the question: “Can something be defeated by adopting a motion to table it?” Answer: “This is a common violation of fair procedure. Such a motion is not in order, because it would permit debate to be suppressed by a majority vote, and only a two-thirds vote can do that.”
We are indebted to a sharp-eyed layperson who brought this to our attention.
Someone may say this observation doesn’t apply since the meeting was conducted under the General Conference Rules of Order (GCROO), not Robert’s Rules. However, look again at the reason this practice is not allowed: because it would permit debate to be suppressed by a majority vote, while only a 2/3rds vote can do that. Two-thirds is the required threshold to end debate on a motion by calling question (calling for an end to debate of a motion being considered and immediately putting the main question itself to a vote). Not only does this reasoning operate identically in GCROO, but GCROO specifically makes the same point: “It [motion to table] is not used to ‘drop’ or suppress a motion” (GCROO, 3a, p. 7).
Thus, the NAD president and the maker of the motion to table, Juan Prestol-Puesan, who spoke together while other committee members were praying, knowingly deprived a fellow committee member, Daniel Cho, of the right to have his motion debated, duly processed, and voted on by the assembly. Debate was cut short. Furthermore, Cho is a representative of Seventh-day Adventists in the North American Division and any usurpation of his rights is a usurpation of our rights as members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North American Division.
What could have been done in the meeting is for a delegate to call point of order, explain the error, and the chair would have been required to rule on the point of order. If his ruling was incorrect, committee members could appeal his decision and overrule it by a simple majority vote (GCROO, p. 3, 8-9, 12).
Another point of interest from the NAD YEM: at one point during the proceedings, NAD president Dan Jackson urged his assembled NAD leaders to be “obstreperous” in pushing, against the decision of the world church, for women’s ordination. Such behavior is hard to square with his other statements that the NAD is in unity and in harmony with the world church.
Actions like those described in this article have caused an enormous loss of confidence in the present leadership of the North American Division. They have propelled the North American Church into a terrible crisis which, unless soon addressed, will split the Church in North America.
The illegal vote to table the motion passed 186 to 25 with 3 abstentions.
On September 28, 2017, the agenda for the October 5-11, 2017, Annual Council was released. Many items are conventional: changes in policy wording, proposed bylaws changes, approval of calendar items. But there is more.
Since the 2015 San Antonio General Conference session, certain Unions in North American and Trans-European Divisions have acted in direct contradiction to the voted action of the world church. Conferences and Unions have acted insubordinately, ordaining women to the gospel ministry, engaging in non-authorized credentialing processes, granting ordained minister authorities to the commissioned minister, and, in one case, even “electing” a woman conference president.
None of the described practices and actions are valid, as none have been approved by the world church. More than this, some institutions of the world church, like the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA, have unilaterally issued statements attacking certain teachings of Scripture. Meanwhile, neither NAD president Dan Jackson nor TED president Raafat A Kamal, responsible for leading those Divisions, have taken any substantive action to prevent these rebellious acts. No doubt, this has led to thousands of Adventists calling for their dismissal (https://www.unityintruth.com/sign-a-petition/).
After considerable debate, the 2016 Annual Council approved a process for reconciliation set to occur between then and this year’s meeting. It is our understanding that neither Division nor its insubordinate entities have repented of their unilateral, non-compliant, world church defying practices.
This likely explains the presence of item 120 on the AC2017 Agenda: “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence.” Since neither NAD nor TED Divisions have come into harmony with the world church, both NAD and TED are operating independently of God’s guidance to the Church through its Heaven-appointed leadership, and their practice continues in non-compliance.
The 2017 agenda materials include another item seemingly related to this. Executive Secretary G.T. Ng will make a report titled “Adventist 911.” The presentation will outline seven historical developments, each described either as “Crisis,” “Defection,” or “Rebellion.”
Other items include “Current Ecumenical Trends,” item 136, as well as proposed adjustments to theological education. We urge you to join us in praying for God-led courage, wisdom, and action by the gathered members of the General Conference Executive Committee as it meets for AC2017.
UnityInTruth.com, the website publishing this video, has an important petition all Adventists can sign, calling for substantive action to be taken at Annual Council 2017 to remove leaders who are acting in contradiction to the decisions of the world church. The petition can be signed here (Click on this link).
The following is drawn from an article appearing the the Adventist Review, September 9, 2017, titled “A Personal Message from Ted N.C. Wilson Regarding Recent Disasters,” available in full here:
I would like to make another special prayer request for the upcoming Annual Council of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist as we focus on Revival and Reformation, Mission to the Cities, Total Member Involvement, Comprehensive Health Ministry, Nurture and Retention of members, unity in our mission and the church, and so much more. Please pray that the leaders of God’s church will be humble, faithful servants and that we will humbly carry out the mandates of heaven to proclaim the prophetic warning messages with Holy Spirit power. Please earnestly pray for revival and reformation in our lives and the general life of the church. Pray for the latter rain of the Holy Spirit. My brothers and sisters, Jesus is coming soon and He wants to use all of us to proclaim His last-day message of salvation only in Him. May Christ’s focus found in John 9:4 be our focus today and until He comes: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.”
May God bless your work and witness for Him as Seventh-day Adventists all over this world as we pray for the latter rain of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s soon return.
Ted N C Wilson
General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
We want to point your attention to four interesting new websites that did not exist even six months ago. All are the products of laypeople who support the world church in the present crisis!
TheStairView.com is entirely the work of Adventist laypeople who support the long-standing Seventh-day Adventist use of the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation. The focus is on sound biblical interpretation. The material fully supports the decision of the world church. Layperson Johnston Robinson is responsible.
Rollene.no is a new website from laypeople in Norway. “Rollene” means “the Roles.” Many Adventists in Norway have remained largely unaware of the crisis concerning women’s ordination. The site invites Adventists to strengthen their understanding of bible truth applied to gender roles. The Bible is to be read according to the “Sola, Tota, Prima Scriptura” principle. Some leaders are resisting the world church and leading church members away from the body with them. The goal of Rollene.no is to minimize the resulting harm. Articles are grouped in the four sections: The Bible, the Family, the Church, and Q&A. The material fully supports the decision of the world church. Layperson Sergey Paniflov is responsible.
UnityInTruth.com is a new site seeking to activate laypeople in support of the world church. Its mission is to promote loving, Christlike accountability in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, so that we may truly reflect Christ to a world in darkness. UnityInTruth.com seeks to encourage leadership and laity alike to faithfulness to message and mission, hastening the return of Christ. The site also features a thoughtful petition calling for action against the insubordinate sections of the Church. The material fully supports the decision of the world church. Laypersons Gabe and Jennifer Arruda are responsible.
AffirmationSabbath.org is the official site of a growing movement of laypeople from across the NAD called World Church Affirmation Sabbath. The work of this group is to hold lay-led meetings where laypeople can meet face to face and learn how to better fulfill heaven’s plan for representative church governance, which has been largely ignored leaving us in the present crisis. The site gives locations for meetings to be held in September, publishes a twice-a-month newsletter, and has links to videos from it meetings. It will include livestreaming links for the September event. The work of Affirmation Sabbath fully supports the decision of the world church, and the initiative has been positively featured in the General conference Executive Committee Newsletter. Laypersons involved are listed on the site.
Many of these sites merit further detailed review and we hope in the near future to describe some of them more fully.