Daily Archives: June 10, 2022

St. Louis: More of the same

From a distance I followed the business meetings of the General Conference in St. Louis. The summaries via Twitter of what was happening helped me to stay informed about what was going on at any given time. The coverage through unofficial channels, such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, also provided a helpful perspective. I can’t say I missed not being physically present in St Louis. Except that I would have liked to have chatted with friends and people I met during my career in the church.

By now I have recovered a bit from my disappointment that Ted Wilson was re-elected as the president of our highest governing body. It was, however, no great surprise. And if the presidency had not gone to him, Erton Köhler would probably have become president. He is the recently elected (and now re-elected) general secretary of the General Conference, already waiting in the wings to take over from Wilson. This Köhler, who is from South America, is in many ways a copy of Wilson. We can expect Köhler to be the main candidate for the highest church post in the next round of elections. But I would not at all be surprised if Wilson finds a reason to resign shortly before the expiration of his new term, and then puts Köhler forward via an election process at an Autumn Council. This has now become a tried and tested method of ensuring the continuity of a particular vision for the church.

What is particularly striking in the election of the hundred-plus GC-positions is the huge percentage of re-elections of incumbent leaders. Is it really so difficult to find new leaders whose creativity and fresh ideas can revitalize the church? Or do we simply see an attempt to obstruct all innovation and to leave everything as it is? It was to be expected that the only woman on the presidential team (Ella Simmons who is retiring) would be replaced by another woman (Audrey Anderson). Incidentally, of course, it remains extremely strange that a woman who is elected as one of the vice-presidents of the world church does not have to be an ordained minister, while she cannot become the president of a local conference, because the (once again tightened) rules do not allow for this. Anyone who understands this should try explaining it to me . . .

My interest was, of course, mainly in the election of the new leadership team in the Trans-European Division, to which the church in the Netherlands also belongs. That there was going to be a new president did not surprise me. I am curious to hear in the coming weeks from insiders about the considerations that played a role in this. The choice of Dr. Daniel Duda is reassuring. He is someone in the theological middle, and I know him as someone who does not hide his personal, often progressive, opinions. Moreover, he is an inspiring speaker. But whether it is wise to choose all three division top executives from the countries of Eastern and Central Europe is a question for me. Although, as I write these words, I immediately realize that in the past, administrators with a Western- or Northern European origin were always over-represented!

The agenda of the 61st General Conference was extremely boring. Unfortunately, there were all kinds of signs that the current conservative course must be safeguarded. The ill-fated idea of having someone appointed in local congregations to promote Ellen White will only reinforce the current polarization around her person. It will be interesting to see how many local congregations will comply . . . The Damsteegts’ attempts to reverse what little has been accomplished in recent years in terms of the recognition of women in the church have, thankfully, remained unsuccesful.

That most of the comments from Spectrum and Adventist Today sympathizers have been negative should surprise no one. The newly elected leaders of the church can simply ignore them, because, after all, they come from a relatively small percentage of church members who are already on the margins of the church. That reaction, however, would be as wrong as it is short-sighted. For these negative comments reflect the opinion of an ever-growing number of Adventists who are in the process of dropping out, because they no longer feel connected with what is happening at the higher church echelons. The leaders who are now beginning a new term are facing an ever-growing segment of the church that no longer cares about what they do and say. That should worry them. If they are determined to continue the policies of recent years, they will find that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to large numbers of fellow-believers.