My first visit to Pine Springs Ranch draws to a close today. The Ranch is the retreat center of the S.E. California Conference and is located in the mountains of Southern California, just above Hemet. Maybe an hours drive from Loma Linda. The occasion to be here is the annual Presidents Retreat,which sounds rather nice and relaxing, and in some ways it is, but the agenda is pretty full from breakfast and into the evening. The setting is quite beautiful, as the desert mountains can be, and while down in the valley, it was 70 degrees, by the time I drove to the ranch which is about 5,000 ft. elevation, the temperature that evening was 40 degrees, with wind of probably 35 to 40 mph all night! The result was it felt quite cold . . .
This meeting is one of my favorite experiences in the role of the presidency in that you have opportunity to connect with other presidents across the NAD, share ideas, stories, and maybe most importantly, talk about some issues of great importance that concern all of us.
Among the issues that came up the last two days was the value of Regional Conferences and whether the time has come to dissolve the regional/state conference arrangement in favor of conferences which do not exist along racial/ethnic lines. I am told by many who were present that this year represented the first time in anyones memory where the issues were discussed frankly, openly, with all parties participating in the conversation, both regional presidents and state presidents. My sole contribution to the discussion, but I think a critical one, was after lengthy discussion and a presentation by Dr. Leslie Pollard, President of Oakwood University, on the history and benefit of regional conferences, followed by a bit of a tense rebuttal on the "perceived value" by one of the presidents, I asked why we were not encouraging and giving opportunity for the several regional presidents who were present to be heard? I don't think anyone intended anything negative in this respect, but I grew increasingly uncomfortable as State Presidents debated back and forth and asked questions and posed theories and were doing so as if the three regional presidents were not even there . . .
It was a turning point, and I think my question helped make a transition that needed to happen,from a discussion/debate entirely limited to State Presidents, to a request to hear from those who have the greatest personal stake in the matter. I suggested that my friend and colleague Elder Dana Edmond, S.C.C. President headquartered here in Nashville,had some comments to make on the subject. He did!
Another topic of great discussion, and significant prayer, was last nights board meeting at LaSierra University, a meeting which continues into this afternoon. The topic at hand is the issue of seven-day literal creation vs. creation that spans perhaps thousands of years . . and so I'm told, "academic freedom" vs the obligation to teach and profess those tenets of faith that we adhere to which includes a 7-day literal creation.
The board at LaSierra has been divided on the issue, and several of our NAD pastors who were preparing to attend the meeting made clear that they would, as God so led, make their personal convictions, and those shared by many of us, known at the appropriate time. It is prayerfully hoped that their will be a positive outcome to what will become a difficult decision for the LaSierra board to make (I do not know exactly WHAT that decision is, as appropriately, we were not told those details) but apparently, today, represents a very important decision that rests upon this University Board to make . . .
Our prayers join those of many, that the outcome of all of this will glorify God, unify rather than divide, and that the Cause of Christ and the Mission of His Church will be advanced, rather than hindered or harmed.
Finally, we had several hours this morning to dialog with our new NAD President, Elder Dan Jackson. I have heard and observed Elder Jackson twice now; one this past November at Year End Meeting, and today, and I am enormously impressed with his authenticity, his kindness, his wisdom on a variety of challenging issues, but perhaps as important as anything, his humility. Without question his feet are grounded in the miry clay while his confidence is clearly in the grace of Christ to discharge the significant responsibilities of his office. He has made a great positive impression on the Presidents and I believe some very good things will result from his leadership . . .
Blessings in the day