Beware of the sound of one hand clapping

Just about halfway between dogmatic and awkward on the linear leadership scale there is a middle point that is a mixture of both. Over the last twelve months, the North American Division (NAD) of the Adventist church has spent way too much time in this unfortunate middle ground.

Before I continue, the special word for this article is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is manipulating the boundaries of voting constituents to affect the outcome of a vote, or attempting to hijack an electoral process. In several ways, the NAD is doing the latter as it attempts to impose its agenda on the entire world church.

Unless you are a cave dweller in the Jacumba Mountains, you probably know that the Women’s Ordination (WO) issue has become the critical issue of the last decade in our church. It’s an issue that is apparently important enough to North American Division leaders to risk splitting the church over. Gives new meaning to the term “division...”  And these are leaders, people we are supposed to look up to and follow.

I’m all for great leaders, in fact one common denominator of great nations, families and movements are that they usually have great leadership. Many Adventists around the world, however, are asking a question regarding North American leadership, “Uhh...who’s leading the ship?” That’s not a bad question, and it brings me to exhibit A of NAD gerrymandering.

Consider the bias of the Adventist Review magazine regarding the WO issue. The official magazine of the world Seventh-day Adventist church would surely be objective on an issue that has received as much scrutiny as WO, right? Well, no. There is a lack of any material in their magazine presenting the complementarian view of male/female roles (other than the obligatory description of TOSC Position 1 in October 2014). There is a mass of pro WO material. This says a lot about who is guiding the ship. An agenda is guiding the ship. Recently their efforts to help further the WO agenda led elder Ed Reid to write a comprehensive open-letter rebuke to the editor of the Review in March of this year. Ed Reid was spot on in his analysis of the slanted Dave Gemmel article. There are many Adventists in North America that oppose ordaining women, and they are not given the right to have their views represented in the Adventist Review. This is unethical, and an unnecessary offense to thousands of tithe-paying loyal church members in North America. To my knowledge, there has been no retraction from the Review for the factual errors in the Gemmel article. Beware the sound of one hand clapping.

Such bias causes people to seek alternative sources for news and articles regarding the issues that currently confront the church. At ADvindicate we hear from them through letters, email and in person at various venues. One venue at which we won’t hear from them, however, is the upcoming General Conference Session in San Antonio. That brings me to exhibit B.

Last August we submitted an application for a booth in the exhibit hall at the 2015 GC session. They accepted our payment and assigned ADvindicate a booth number. Within 20-days though, we received an email from General Conference Exhibit Manager Dean Rogers stating ADvindicate would not be permitted to have a booth at the session: 

The operating guidelines for screening exhibitors is that we ask the Division where the exhibitor operates to give our committee a recommendation.  Therefore, I sent ADvindicate’s application to the North American Division for their review and recommendation.  Their recommendation was that ADvindicate not be an exhibitor.

We were not given an answer why we were denied booth space when we inquired. Not only was ADvindicate denied booth space at the session, but was denied as well. Gerrymandering had poked its head up again. This confirms that the NAD has not been fair and open with the WO discussion; they have a strong slant on the issue.  So we accepted the decision—puzzling as it was—and our payment was refunded. Two weeks ago, I emailed Rogers at the GC with a question? “Are Spectrum and AToday going to have booths at the GC session?” 

He replied “Yes they are.” Beware the sound of one hand clapping—in this case it is a slap.

Since four out of the last six GC Sessions have been in North America, giving the NAD veto power over exhibitors could place inordinate power in the hands of a biased division. Perhaps it’s time to have sessions in Manilla, Argentina, or Geneva.

So how should we respond to a division whose main agenda is the dogmatic pursuit of their premiere expectation? How can we resist the gravitation pull of such bias? I suggest three responses.

Pray for them. Seriously. We live in a fight-or-flight western culture. Some will try to ignore the gerrymandering or find a way to justify it. Others will get angry and want to lash out. None of these approaches satisfy me. We must pray, not that God puts X’s on our opponent’s eyes, but that He opens their eyes. By praying for them we learn to forgive. Some people can take a little longer to forgive than others, I’ll admit that. We can ask God’s forgiveness to cover for us while we get there. If we go to San Antonio with an open heart, we can leave it with an open heart.

Take Inventory. As a convert to the Advent movement, it has been helpful over the years for me to recount the way the Lord led me here. Go back and retrace the ways that God has led you, pausing at each waymark in wonder of His grace and goodness. It keeps things in perspective.

Stand.  “Having done all, to stand.” These words of Paul remind us that we are still in a hostile world, and we must stand for truth. Those of us who desire to win the world for Christ, must be prepared to come into conflict with it, and we are given a moral armor with gospel features to protect us in the good fight. A truth-hating world may order up what it wants to hear, but God gave us ears to love the truth, and mouths to speak it. It is also helpful to remember that what is happening in the church is a reflection of what is happening in the culture around us. We have heard the arguments of those who wish to rewrite male/female roles, and have understood them.  We have gone to Scripture to “see if those things are so” and concluded that they are not.

In summary, we regain ground in Adventism by making the church what it should be—true to the Word of God. When you reduce faith to politics and distraction, it loses its substance, and without its substance it is, among other things, uninspiring. Yet beyond the partisan sound of one hand clapping there is another sound—one worth listening to—it is the still small voice of God saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

EDIT: In March of this year, the NAD sent out a Theology of Ordination Q&A brochure to every church in North America.  Two facts: The brochure is exclusively in support of ordaining women, and the creation and distribution costs were funded by tithe dollars.  I spoke with the NAD secretariat office today and confirmed that the brochure was paid for with tithe.