This year has introduced a new meeting to the week of meetings here in Maryland that are commonly grouped under the title "NAD Year End Meetings." They often begin on Wednesday with a half day meeting with ARM (Adventist Risk Management), include additional meetings that are optional, such as Review and Herald luncheon meeting on Friday, last year's Women Clergy meeting on the campus of Washington Adventist University, Philanthropic Services meeting, and at least one year, a meeting for Conference Presidents with Andrews University Seminary Dean. Those are simply the additional meetings, added on to the main meetings, held in the GC building from Thursday thru next Tuesday.
The new meeting added yesterday, and one in which I changed my flight schedule to accommodate as conference presidents were alerted on Monday of the new meeting for Wednesday, was driven by the NAD officers desiring to meet with local conference presidents. While this is a meeting that will now continue as an annual part of the meeting agenda going forward (and I publicly affirmed Elder Jackson for having a meeting where WE can learn first-hand issues and information), there is no question THIS meeting was initiated in response to the crisis over the GC Annual Council vote on "Statement of Unity" and the two NAD Unions vote to ordain women pastors. I use the word "crisis" intentionally and not recklessly, as I believe a true "crisis" is in the making over the next one to two years as this process of "consequences" for Pacific and Columbia Union's unfold.
It was THIS topic which was the sole agenda item presented last night with, I believe, perhaps 40 of the 58 conference/mission NAD Presidents in attendance. Here's some things I learned last night, in no particular order of importance, as they were ALL important!
1. Interestingly, there are 13 NEW conference Presidents across the NAD, many of whom seem to represent regional conferences, and two new ones from Canadian Conferences.
2. There is a HUGE philosophical and practical "divide" between NAD leadership and GC leadership over what defines the term "consequences" for the two Unions out of policy on this issue.
Elder Jackson made clear last nite that he has never defended "no consequences" position for the two unions over this issue; he takes great exception to the more drastic forms of those "consequences" as suggested by the first documents presented at GC session earlier this month. And that leads to the next points . . .
3. I learned last night, that in the Pacific Union, the seven conferences which make up its constituency are not all practicing ordination of women. Only three of the seven actually practice and implement it: Northern California, S.E. California, and Southern California, meaning Central Cal, Nevada-Utah, and Arizona do not. However . . . . one of the other presidents from the four NOT practicing it, made a stirring speech last night to the effect of "make no mistake about it; all seven of our conferences ARE in solidarity and unity that our Union will NOT be mistreated over this issue by the General Conference!"
4. There were several speeches of righteous "anger" from local conference Presidents, and no, I wasn't one of them, that the GC has taken a heavy hand in this issue with the possibility of fragmenting and wounding the NAD and, according to several who quoted some GC leadership, a willingness to "lose hundreds of thousands of members" over this issue if need be. I hope that is not a correct understanding of those who quoted such intentions, but, it was stated by several who said they have heard this stated. More anger was vented over what was/is viewed as an intentional GC strategy that is being publicized as a generic "statement on unity" or, "addressing ANY division that might be out of policy compliance," only to be viewed by several in the room as a thinly veiled strategy to punish the two unions and the NAD and having no other intention than that outcome, and that outcome alone. In other words, this re-newed initiative from the GC is entirely about punishment of Pacific and Columbia Unions, AND, the desire for them to return to policy compliance. ON that point? Number five below.
5. NAD leadership, as well as those present representing Columbia and Pacific Unions reiterated with if anything a growing and deepening resolve (perhaps which was always there?) that they will never, never, never, (a quote ) retreat on this issue, as Unions, and will never vote to "discriminate" again, as the church has in the past (in their views) on this issue. I'll also add, that many of our African American presidents seem to join in the opinion, that this IS a social, moral, discrimination issue similar to what they, as American blacks, have first-hand experience with in the country, and in the church. The point as you can tell is this: the opinions "against" returning to policy compliance on ordination, seem to be openly growing MORE entrenched and more in solidarity, even including the more moderate presidents, as the issue of being "under attack" by the GC is perceived to be rising (I'm only sharing what I sensed in the room by the way).
I have a good friend who I've known for many years, who is a President in Columbia Union. A President who rarely says anything in these meetings, and with his voice laced with anger, spoke for probably six or seven minutes on the topic of "catholic like power" that Adventism has always rejected in terms of GC authority and the historic recognition of the church and Ellen White that men of conscience not be bullied and intimidated into conformity on a matter such as this. He ended his speech with his intention to personally visit with Elder Wilson.
The meeting lasted just under three hours, and it was/is clear to me that for many in the room last night, this issue IS a matter of equal rights, non-discrimination, the threat of harming the church in North America over the simple biblical dynamic of recognizing men . . .and women . . . to serve in ministry. I will add that is not my own view, though I affirm women serving in ministry; again, I'm simply sharing what I heard and sensed in the hours together . . .
I did make a brief speech last night, that when we're together at pastors meeting, I'll share my expressed thoughts at last nights meeting, but I'll conclude by adding, this issue is NOT going away; it is headed toward perhaps a distracting and volatile and possibly divisive horizon, and I am personally grieved that
this has/is, and will become, THE major point of ecclesiastical "war fare" going forward in the NAD, and, with implications, possibly for the World Church at large ( I will share THAT possibility as well when pastors meet in January).
It is my belief that, once again, I'm reminded that only God can bring peace out of this most challenging issue that I've ever witnessed for the church at large during my ministry. Perhaps thru prayer, and God's spirit, an outcome that presently doesn't seem possible right now, might prevail.