One of the Adventist journals in the United States recently asked me whether I could, towards of the end of the year, submit a substantial article on the procedures the Adventist Church uses to elect its leaders. The editor wants me not just to look at the past and to analyze the election procedures during the last few general conference sessions, but also to philosophize about possible alternatives. In short: a fascinating assignment.
This week I passed some time in the spring sunshine, on a small terrace in front of the arrival hall of London Luton Airport, where I was waiting—while nurturing a cup of Nero-coffee—for someone I was meeting for a short conference, before Easyjet would bring me back to the Netherlands later in the afternoon. As I was sitting there, I tried to compose a list of things that I would need to research in preparation for this article.
There are many things we no longer question. When the church—at all its levels—elects its leaders, we constitute a nominating committee that is to bring proposals that are then brought to the floor where the constituents take a vote—often after very little discussion. One of the items on the list of questions that I decided I will need to investigate is from where we got this system. Did Adventists use it from the very start of their organization? Did they see this system in other denominations? Possibly in the Christian Connexxion, the spiritual home of such Advent pioneers as Joseph Bates and James White, before they passed through the Millerite phase into the Advent movement? Or should we rather suspect a Methodist origin? Or did we only begin using the nominating committee system at some later date? If so, how did this happen?
In the book case in my study one may find a lot of books about Adventist history. I suppose they take about four meters of shelf space. A cursory search did not deliver any immediate results. A few hours of more concentrated searching in the materials that the department of archives and statistics of the world church has put on-line did not help me either. I decided to send an email to Bert Haloviak, the man who, before he retired, was for many years the director of the archives at the world headquarters. He is, in particular, an authority in the area of the Restorationist Movement and the Christian Connexxion. He replied within hours that he did not know the answer to my questions. But he did provide me with a few valuable tips that might point me to possible sources.
It made me think that it is actually quite strange how difficult it is to discover how particular traditions entered the Adventist Church. And this does not just concern the role of the nominating committee. We get so easily accustomed to things and procedures that they acquire an aura of sanctity—or at least of permanency. The result is that this tends to prevent us from looking afresh at our traditions and from asking ourselves: ‘Yes, why, in fact, do we do what we do? And might there perhaps not be other, more effective, ways?
Could we, perhaps, ask the nominating committee during the quinquennial GC session: ‘Give us two or three good candidates for each of the most important positions in the church, and then allow the 2.000-plus delegates from all over the world to choose from those candidates. That would surely give the election process a totally new dimension. (I should add in all modesty that I am certainly not the first person to think of that possibility.)
Well, if you are curious to know what I will discover about the origin of pour present election system in the church and wonder what I might have to say about other aspects of the procedures of electing our world leaders, look for the special edition of Adventist Today at the beginning of 2015. A number of writers will produce penetrating articles full of information and creative ideas! I hope my contribution will also be worth reading.