[Friday afternoon, June 16] Since Wednesday evening about 80 people from more than a dozen countries are meeting in a hotel near London Airport for a conference that has ‘Unity 2017’ as its theme. There is something very special about this convention. I have been to countless church-organized meetings, but these meetings were always officially ‘authorized’ by some level of the denominational organization.
This meeting is an exception: it is ’unauthorized.’ In fact, it is a meeting the top leadership of the church does not want to take place. You will not read about it in the official church media, such as the Adventist Review. The General Conference wants to ignore this meeting. What is even more serious: It has done what it could to obstruct the organization of the conference. The meeting was to be held in a denominational institution, but that institution was put under pressure ‘from above’ to withdraw the offer of hosting it. Furthermore, when comparing the list of speakers that was announced a few months ago with the actual program, there is quite a difference. A number of church-employed academics have been told it would be unwise for them to attend and to make a presentation. In fact, that is why I am now one of the speakers. I am replacing one of the persons who has been told not to attend! And yes, like several of the other presenters, I am retired and am relatively ‘safe’ as I do not have to fear any disciplinary measures.
This is a very serious and tragic situation. It smacks of a dictatorial mentality and it smells of fear. But, maybe it was to be expected. For the topic of the conference is closely related to the issue of gender equality and women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It focuses specifically on the way the church wants to use it authority to force so-called ‘non-compliant entities’ to give up their ‘rebellion’ en desist from any further ordinations of female pastors.
This initiative taken by ten unions (from Europe, the USA and the South-Pacific region of the world), attempts to provide an opportunity for further dialogue about the explosive issue that threatens to divide the church. But was this current year not supposed to be a year of dialogue and of listening to each other? Or was this just a pious smokescreen to obscure the real message: Get in line, or else . . .?
We are now two days into our program. So far we have listened to six excellent presentations, and we have engaged in group dialogue and in a panel discussion. For me, it has been a learning experience, but also a spiritual stimulus. We are meeting in a spirit of togetherness, bound by a deep desire to see some fundamental changes in the church we all love. We hope that the conference will not only have an impact on the participants, but that the materials that are presented will be disseminated widely and that they will give a better understanding of the core issues to leaders all over the world, in preparation for some crucial decisions to be made at the Autumn Council in August. At that time the 210-plus members of the executive committee of the world church will have to decide whether or not punitive measures must be taken against the unions that have ordained women pastors or are planning to do so.
I would encourage you to go to www.adventistunity2017.com where you can find the papers of the presenters. And also to make others aware of this material, especially if you have persons in your social network that are part of the decision making process in the church. Let’s make sure that this perspective on the issues of women’s ordination and of church authority is heard, even when it will not be reported by the official media. These media, as well as top church leadership, were invited. But only the independent media (Spectrum and Adventist Today) have accepted to be present. They have sent people to report on this conference first-hand. Well, I am sure they will do a good and objective job!