Adventist historian George R. Knightbelieves we have reached a defining moment in the history of Adventism. What does the future hold? Will we still be a church in which power flows from the bottom upward, or will we have to accept that a hierarchy of power dictates in detail from above what all members of the church worldwide must believe, and which rules and regulations each denominational entity and institution must obey? Will we still strive for unity in diversity, or will uniformity be imposed by a control system that takes punitive measures against all who are considered to be out of line?
I find it increasingly difficult to understand how things got out of hand in the way they did. The decades of discussions about the ordination of women pastors had at long last led to a majority view that there are no real biblical objections against WO. This at least was the outcome of the TOSC process, even though the GC decided to discard the work of this 100-plus member committee. Nonetheless, the GC session of 2015 was asked to vote on a motion to allow world division to agree with the ordination of female pastors in their territory, if they felt the time to do so had come. This was, in fact, a further recognition of the fact that there were no real theological objections. There would, of course, never have been a proposal to give divisions the option to discard the Sabbath or to go their own way with regard to some other crucial issue. However, no such theological objection seems to have existed with regard to the ordination of women.
We know what was decided in San Antonio in 2015. The process was highly flawed and many delegates voted against the motion because they had not fully understood its intent. A few unions felt (and feel) that the ordination of their female pastors is a matter of conscience and that they therefore can no longer discriminate on the basis of gender. I can somewhat understand that the leaders of the General Conference find this rather difficult to deal with. But I completely fail to understand their continued attempts to place these unions and their leaders in the dock and enforce compliance. It is extremely unfortunate that the matter has degenerated into an ugly power struggle. And in recent months further oil has been poured on the fire by devising a system of ‘compliance committees’ that looks very much like a kind of inquisition.
Never before has there been so much open protest prior to an important meeting of church officials as we currently see. Publications and open letters from a number of unions plead with the members of the GC executive committee, that is to meet within days from now, to stop the unfortunate process that has been initiated.
Wherever I have been in the past months and have spoken with church leaders and members, I have met with the same question: “What do you think will happen at the meeting in Battle Creek?” I can only say that I do not know how things will go, but I fervently hope that everything will end well. I am not about to leave my church. But I have lost much of my respect for some of the top church leaders and I am deeply disappointed at recent developments. I agree with a retired church leader who recently told me: “The church did survive the Folkenberg debacle and I trust that, with God’s help, the church will also find a way to survive the Wilson debacle.” Together with many others I hope and pray that the church will emerge without further damage from the current crisis rather than sink into an ever deeper ecclesial quickmire.
See his recent publications and a recent interview: https://spectrummagazine.org/interviews/2018/most-serious-issue-church-has-ever-faced-interview-george-r-knight