The rest of the story: NCC constituency meeting

The Northern California Conference (NCC) Constituency Meeting on Sunday, May 18, faced three sensitive resolutions relating to unity with the world church. The resolutions were: 1) Homosexuality, 2) Evolution, and  3) Unity of the Church in regards to Ordination to Pastoral Ministry [delegate materialsfootnotes].

Each resolution was designed to enlist the influence of the NCC constituency in support of beliefs and policies established by the world SDA church, but which are being challenged within the church. 

  • Resolutions 1) and 2) were born from concern over higher-education teachers who have contradicted the church position regarding creation and the practice of homosexuality within church membership.
  • Resolution 3) asks the NCC to refrain from ordaining women to pastoral ministry unless authorized by the General Conference (GC) in session.

The manner in which these resolutions were processed brought disappointment instead of the respectful dialog and decisions we’d prayed for.  We are left seeking understanding of the underlying issues that divide—and God’s answers to them.


Though recollections vary, all agree that the resolutions weren’t officially introduced individually by name by the chairman, NCC President Jim Pedersen, nor by their sponsoring pastor, Larre Kostenko.

Pederson asked the pleasure of the assembly in regard to the “other agenda” items (these resolutions) in context of the lunch break scheduled in 25 minutes, offering several schedule options.    

As delegates thought, a pastor stepped forward and made a motion to refer the three resolutions to the NCC Executive Committee (to which he’d just been elected), describing the resolutions generally as poorly written and nebulous.

This move was no surprise because these plans had leaked out.  But Pastor Kostenko hadn’t felt comfortable racing to be first in line to speak.  He expected to momentarily be invited to introduce the resolutions, in keeping with prior protocol.   This motion to refer the resolutions to the Executive Committee before they were named, introduced or read appeared out of order to many, who expected it to be disallowed.

Instead, the motion was entertained.  Discussion followed pro and con.  Kostenko spoke opposing the motion to refer, adding that another minister had advised him not to even speak at the constituency meeting because it might cut short his time in his current district.  The correlation between this warning and the current motion to remove the three resolutions from the agenda was obvious to many.

The motion to refer the resolutions passed by a narrow majority (again, recollections differ—some remember 52% to 48%, others 252 to 248).

Pedersen later explained:

We didn't avoid or skip the formal introduction of each of the three items, which was where I was heading the discussion. We just didn't get to them because the motion was made to refer the items to the Executive Committee. That motion had to be addressed immediately, which of course kept us from reviewing the specific items. And once it was voted to refer, then we had to proceed to the remaining agenda items. So you're correct, there was no introduction of the items, but that was purely because of the other motion that took precedence.

In response to the question of how a motion could be properly entertained regarding a resolution before it is introduced, he added:

The parliamentary rules do allow for action, such as what was moved, pertaining to items that are on the agenda, even if they have not been formally placed into motion.  While it doesn’t happen very often, it is part of the rules.


The churches’ “right to place items on the agenda” granted in NCC’s Bylaws reflects the “representative” style of governance that SDAs practice, as opposed to “hierarchal” systems where decisions are made by a small, elite group.  NCC constituents are the highest authority; all other levels serve under their authority and direction.  (Of course, there are lines of authority to higher levels above conferences—unions, divisions and the GC. These resolutions asked the NCC to support the authority of the GC.)

Here are some irregularities that plagued the resolutions in their path to a vote:

1) Six informational Town Hall meetings were scheduled for delegates from March 10 – April 3.  These three resolutions weren’t even mentioned at one of the meetings, raising question about their discussion at the others.

2) During this time distorted reports regarding the resolutions began surfacing.   For example, two pastors believed they were only about women’s ordination.  One of them noted that the first and second resolutions on origins and homosexuality might have a chance of passing if the ordination issue had been left out.   Another pastor believed the resolutions contained some requirement about “signing on the dotted line.”  Not true.

3) Some delegates at the constituency meeting acknowledged they’d not read the resolutions.  Their placement at the end of the 89-page Constituency Session Book, though consistent with the agenda order, decreased chances that they would be read.

4) Then came the baffling handling of the resolutions at the constituency meeting, which many took as breaches of order and courtesy.  Delegates who came eager to invoke the NCC provision for grassroots agenda items felt disenfranchised. 


Though the resolutions could not be voted upon, open discussion was allowed later for those who voluntarily stayed by.   

Sponsors identified concern for the faith of our young people— future church leaders—citing reports that some teachers have taken public positions opposing the world church positions regarding origins and homosexuality.    Even more important than the use of tithe to support such a situation is potential loss of souls among young adults. 

One speaker cited a study showing that half of our young adults now believe the SDA church should accept homosexual practice.  He noted Christ’s example regarding the woman caught in adultery:  not condemning but charging her “Go and sin no more.”    This complete picture of the gospel is foundational to the world church’s guidelines, of not accepting as members those who choose to practice homosexuality.

Regarding the teaching of evolution one delegate suggested that, left unchecked, this theory threatens our distinctive identity and neutralizes our God-given message for this time—the gospel in the 3 Angels Messages.   He pointed out the vital connection between believing in the literal creation account and literal keeping of the Sabbath.  Left unchecked, the teaching of evolution destroys the faith of our youth and robs the church of future leaders who are sound in the faith.

Another addressed ordination without respect to gender.  She said that this was not about women’s ordination, which many present might actually favor.  Instead it’s an issue of Biblical church order, where the decision should be made collectively, as one united church, at GC session (the higher authority).   

She said that a worldwide mission demands a unified world-wide structure, not nationalized branches or separate denominations. 

She cited times the GC has registered its disapproval of independent ordinations:  2012 Annual Council action, 2013 GC Officers’ statement and 2014 SDA Yearbook listings which omit names of women ordained against policy. 

Another noted the Arizona Conference’s Executive Committee’s recent action to not ordain women until the GC Session makes its decision next year.


  • Describing them as “Phariseeism” and as a “Trojan horse” being used to covertly roll back our church’s practice to an earlier time.
  • One individual said that Creationism is not a pillar of the SDA church. 
  • Another emphasized our need to adjust practices to societal change. 
  • The term “Darwin model” was rejected by one, suggesting this theory has been replaced with other evolutionary models.
  • A mother shared the positive spiritual experience of her daughter in attending a university in question. 
  • Another speaker referred to W.C. White’s letter about an issue at the 1888 Minneapolis GC session he attended with his mother, Ellen White,  quoting “…a resolution was introduced into the college meeting, that no new doctrine be taught there till it had been adopted by the General Conf.  Mother and I killed it dead, after a hard fight.” {1988 EGWE, MMM 123.3)  Comparing this to the “uniformity” called for by these three resolutions, he said the same needed to happen today—“We need to kill these dead.”

In words reminiscent of the civil rights movement, the final speaker said that she felt “sent to the back of the bus,” instead of exercising her privilege and right to vote on these issues. 


So why were these resolutions sidelined? And why is it so difficult to reaffirm what we already are supposed to believe? I can think of several possible reasons.

1) Some who might agree with the issues didn’t like the wording of the resolutions and thought amending better done in a smaller committee.

2) Movements in society have affected our church until some no longer believe as we did.  If they don’t believe  the SDA teachings on the three issues, they wouldn’t want our conference held accountable to them.

3) Another dynamic is preference for hierarchal models of leadership, where major decisions are made by a select few--systematic theologians, administrators, etc.

4) One additional factor is that administrators and pastors have become sensitized from years—or decades—of interactions with unbalanced “conservative” Adventists.  After feeling clobbered repeatedly, they have lost some objectivity:  now they react negatively towards all who speak these same beliefs & values.  (This dynamic also works in the reverse, where “conservatives” bristle at the hint of any “liberal” thinking.)   

Once objectivity is compromised, we don’t recognize when our own behavior mirrors what we most despise.  Or we knowingly adopt the same tactics (manipulation, control, distortion) believing strong measures are justified.

To these sensitized pastors & church leaders, an open discussion and vote on any controverted topic is a set-up for conflict, to be avoided at all costs.   


1) Recommit our lives to the control of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and His Spirit.  Be converted daily (Matt. 18:3).  Surrender our motives.

2) Renew our love for His truths.  Restudy them in the light of God’s Word and His guidance given through Ellen White. 

3) Pray for holy boldness to advocate these truths.  (Eph. 6:18, 19, 3T p.281, 5T p. 136)  Yet be gracious; refuse to use manipulation or control.  Expose error by focusing on truth.  (Manuscript 6, 1902)

4) View all respectfully and generously as brothers, not opponents--even when we disagree. (Eph. 4:32)  Don’t judge motives. (Romans 14:3) 

 5) Study the varied ways Christ treated those He knew to be in the wrong:  He shielded Simon the Leper from exposure, condemned the Pharisees openly, and forgave His crucifiers.

6) Break the cycle of sensitization by responding with more kindness than expected.  (Matt. 5:38-48).  Examine our hearts for loss of objectivity, praying for open minds to relate without the colored lenses of past experiences.

7) Claim the blessings in the Bible’s commands:  (love one another, accept…  speak truthfully to…  forgive…  forbear…  admonish…  etc.). All these deal with how we treat one another.

8) Choose our battles.  Be certain we’re taking stands on clearly-revealed beliefs which define and unify us as a world church--“pillars” of our faith.  Don’t waste energy on disputable matters, such as cultural/tradition issues.

9) Pray for God’s church in this sifting/shaking time.

10) Respectfully support church leaders in every appropriate way.  We don’t know their hearts and can’t predict their final decisions.  Even when we believe they’re wrong, we don’t know if they’re an Aaron or Caiaphas (as one leader reminds).  We can pray for a Damascus-Road experience, that they’ll become champions of truth.

11) Participate in church governance at every level, as God leads.  Model the transparency, high ethical behavior and Christian courtesy we expect in others.

12) Trust God, even in disappointing outcomes--they’re His problems and not ours. 

13) Pray for the NCC Executive Committee and (speaking particularly to the NCC constituency) contact them at  regarding these resolutions which they will address in August, asking that they boldly:

  • stand with the world church in reaffirming and practicing our beliefs
  • bring about needed accountability, particularly in higher education
  • foster revival and reformation 

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