I had two things on my mind when I started my journey to Maryland. What would Washington DC be like, and would the rain ever stop?
My wife gave me some good counsel as I left.
“You be careful up there” she said. “Don’t try to be a hero.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” I consoled her.
“Those people can be vicious, some of them,” she said. "They don’t think like us.”
“It can’t be that bad," I said. “Pastor Dave went there and he came back ok.”
She shook her head. “No there’s something wrong with him. He talks funny now, he uses words like diversity, toxic masculinity, and Spectrum. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“Listen," I said. “I’ll come back fine. I’m not going to war, just 2017 Annual Council.”
“That’s what I'm talking about,” she said. “One more thing, since you’re going to be gone a week, shouldn’t you take a change of underwear?”
“Couldn’t hurt,” I said. “Toss in an extra pair.”
So, I hit the road.
I was looking forward to the meetings and also wondered if I might bump into any free-range politicians in DC. I wasn’t sure what to look for, so I asked Big Mike—at potluck last Sabbath—how to spot politicians. “THAT’S EASY”, he replied. “LOOK FOR PEOPLE WITH TWO FACES.” I didn’t see none. At least not in the City.
The rain did stop. Eventually. After 6.5-hours of high-speed wipers and maneuvering around four hydroplaned vehicles, the coast was finally clear. Hello, Silver Springs.
I checked into the Sheraton College Park Hotel on Thursday night and started making serious preparations — namely finding the best vegetarian restaurant in the area. I found a good one in an Oriental restaurant called Vegetable Garden. Mmm–hmm.
Friday morning, I pulled into the rapidly-filling GC parking lot. At the security desk, I was given my Press Badge (the other two Fulcrum7 associates had already picked theirs up) and I wandered around until I found the Press Box. Thanks to Jennifer’s help, I took my place with the other writers, and started writin’.
On Sabbath, the speaker asked us to form into small groups to discuss Christ’s righteousness. Before you could say the word “diversification” we formed a group with Larry Kirkpatrick, Bjorn Karlman, Bonnie Dwyer and myself. We actually had a good time discussing Romans 15.
I mostly sat at the front table along with Loren Siebold and Bonnie Dwyer. I enjoyed getting to know them over the five days we were there (Bonnie and I prayed together during three separate “Turn-to-the-person-next-to-you-and-pray-for....” occasions). I noticed several passerby’s doing a double-take at Spectrum and Fulcrum7 sitting together peacefully. One likeable fellow (who may or may not be the Sabbath School quarterly editor) asked us a couple times if we were all getting along. We admitted that we were—I hope he wasn’t disappointed. We ought to be able to love people with whom we disagree.
Loren asked me if I was related to E.J. Waggoner. The short answer is “Yes, but not real close.” The long answer is that shortly (pun intended) after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist in 1989, I was asked that question so I consulted with my father, a historian and genealogist. Like a good Anabaptist who wished his son hadn’t left the faith, he reluctantly admitted that we were related to J.H. Waggoner (and thus to E.J.). He said Hans Waggoner had descendants that settled in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and our family line dropped a ‘g’ from our name three generations ago. If I can find a partner with the last name of Jones, just maybe we’ll write a book together. (While we are connecting the unexpected dots of life, my mother’s cousin, Ada Pfautz, married a man named Aiden in northern Ohio in April, 1918. You probably know him as A.W. Tozer.) But I digress.
By Sunday, the air in the GC auditorium was starting to fill up with perambulate anticipation. What would happen tomorrow? There were leaks and misinformation about a document that was coming on Monday, and some people were getting pretty riled up on the internet. I was glad for my extra underwear.
The Big Day
I arrived at the GC at 7:56 AM on Monday, and found the last parking space in the northeast parking lot. It was raining cats and dogs, and I finally discovered the answer to the oft-rehashed question “Do you get wetter if you run or walk through rain?” I’d say “Both.” It took almost an hour for me to dry off.
After lunch, we all made our way into the Auditorium. The meeting opened with a song and prayer. The document was passed out to each Committee member and also to each reporter in the Press Box. It was 14-pages in length. Jason Miller came over and with his sharp legal eye scanned the document quickly and underlined a paragraph on page 9.
The document was read aloud by a man with a slightly robotic accent that I couldn’t place, and he did a fine job reading it. The document had a section where it asked people in leadership positions to affirm by signature that they are in accordance with Church policy. If they couldn’t sign it, they would forfeit their voting or voice privileges. Made sense to me. GC Excomm members should already be in accordance with Church policy if they are members of the Seventh-day Church. If an employee of mine cannot support the expectations and standards of our corporation–it’s farewell employee. Go start a landscape company, Sir. Or, go join the community of Charismatics, to put it in Advent-ese.
The document was moved and seconded—then the microphones opened up for debate. Like Robin Ventura “charging the mound”, liberals rushed to the microphones to express their displeasure towards this Document that threatened to hold them accountable. “How dare you expect us to be compliant?”
Objections, objections, objections, objections, more objections, objections, objections, objections, objections, objections, objections, and even more objections ensued. According to a friend of mine from California, those objecting to the motion were roughly 5-times the number of those supporting it. This went on for about three hours. A great majority of the (apparently) scripted objections were “This is too soon, we need more time”, sprinkled with emotional appeals like “If we don’t have WO in Sweden, people won’t join the church.” Oh, brother.
Dave Weigley stepped to the microphone and referred the motion back (after indignantly condemning the Document). Then, it was amended to the Constitution Committee. Just when the confusion crescendo was hovering between tintamarre & bewilderment, a brother amended the amendment. Ouch. Ultimately it was voted to refer it back to the Unity Oversight Committee, the chairman of which—who has already said he "found no rebellion among the dissidents." Perhaps his passport wouldn’t allow him into London, or maybe he didn’t make it out to Loma Linda or La Sierra. And so we enter another year of delay—a painful prolonged procrastination.
There was way more ‘estrogen’ than testosterone in that room Monday. It bears a telling testimony of how deeply political correctness has wounded our collective spirit in the church. A young wife and mother summed it up nicely, saying most of the guys were “pansies.” Sad! Unfortunately, she is correct.
There was a palpable amount of unsanctified fear in that auditorium, Monday. It was odd. Where does that kind of fear come from? It could signal a lack of perfect love which drives out fear (1 John 4:18). It can arise from confusion (James 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:18). And it can come from acute distrust and an unclear conscience (Titus 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:19; 1 Peter 3:15-17). I don’t say these things unkindly, I care about the people in that auditorium on Monday, though ashamed of many of them.
You see, this is a symbolic debate. Liberal minded individuals in the Church are fighting for the right to merge the church with culture and the emotional arguments we witnessed on Monday provide a window into their motivations. Here’s one illustration.
On Tuesday night I received a phone call from a dear Amish friend. He is an unusually upbeat person. He had watched the Monday debate on his new smartphone. He said “I have never seen so many grown men act like babies.” Sensing his own frustration rising, he stopped listening to the complaints against the Document and started praying for Elder Wilson. Thank you, brother. Thousands of other people were praying as well.
One large elephant in the room is the leaking of sensitive information, and how it was used to sabotage the reconciliation/accountability process. Interestingly, the dissidents were doing exactly what George Knight called for in his Sunday Spectrum article “A Call to Action”— an article that acknowledges the leak in its opening paragraph (apparently there is more than one swamp in Maryland). There are many in the GC who sympathize with the culturally-positive issue of WO, and they are working to undermine the GC President's efforts to hold defiant sub-divisions of the Church accountable to the threefold votes of the World Church in Session. These NAD loyalists are part of an Adventist fifth-column, hollowing out the church from the inside. Several of them are placed on the Unity Oversight Committee itself.
It was encouraging to hear several calls for accountability on Monday, but unfortunately they (voting members) threw away the best mechanism we had for that process, a least for another long year. These people are playing with fire, risking theological and structural fragmentation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Lastly, I was struck by this thought on Wednesday morning when I stepped out of bed. What we witnessed in that auditorium on Monday afternoon, was an ideological clash between sociology and the mercenary soldier of policy. Sociology (or culture) versus policy is an unwinnable battle—policy cannot defeat culture because policy has no intrinsic moral authority. Only theology (the Bible) can drive the Sword of Truth through the heart of culture, cutting in order to heal. But theology was not in that debate, Monday. It was relegated to a back room, like the family simpleton. Instead of piercing the heart of sociological/cultural assailants with the Sword of Truth (theology), we are trying to overcome the enemy with a hundred policy papercuts. And it will fail.
I want to challenge/encourage each of you tonight. Any effort to be liked by this culture is the worst possible evidence that you are on the right track. Dear Pastors and church leaders, the culture will order up what it wants to hear, and if you study culture in order to be relevant, or give culture what it wants, you are not doing theology—you are doing sociology. Again, the culture will order up what it wants to hear, but the Church must follow the Bible and the Bible alone.
I had a good time at Annual Council. I met old friends and made several new ones. If the people in that auditorium were singularly focused on the Everlasting Gospel, we would be a powerful force for righteousness in the world. Let’s be honest, we aren’t even close to that kind of unity anymore. We are divided and distracted and we are weakened. The longer this hermeneutic distraction lingers the weaker we are becoming, and that makes us an easier target for the enemy. We have to resolve this insurrection immediately if we care about the people we have brought into this Church. Or, get comfortable with their spiritual blood on our hands.
To debate those who wish to rewrite Scripture—with just policy—is abandoning the outer courtyard defenses of biblical truth and withdrawing to an inner citadel only to discover that the enemy has pursued and infiltrated even there. Let’s think honestly, and then let’s fix this, ever mindful that failure to do so is a kind of rebellion itself.
"The greatest want of the world is the want of men - men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall."