It has been a very interesting last three months, operating the website UnityInTruth.com.
In case you are not familiar with the website UnityinTruth.com, it is platform for faithful Seventh-day Adventists to come together on issues in our beloved church and raise our collective voices in a respectful but effective manner.
Going into this endeavor, we had the general idea that in the church you have two groups: the conservative/faithful members and the liberals. We figured that aside from off-shoot movements such as feast-day keepers, 2520 Pippingerites, and anti-trinitarians, both sides were for the most part pretty unified in their purposes.
We thought this concept would be reflected in the results of the website. For years, we’ve often heard faithful Adventists complaining about much of the bad leadership in the church. So after the idea of the website was conceived, we thought people were going to jump at the opportunity to do something about it! Finally, they have a platform to lift their voices collectively and be heard by faithful leadership and even participate in calling for the removal of insubordinate, rebellious leadership. And many did! The website received lots of positive and encouraging responses.
We thought that with the great advertising the site got such as through Fulcrum7, Ordination Truth, and Secrets Unsealed, the petition would easily get 10,000 signatures. But at the end of the campaign, we looked into the website’s statistics and had some shocking discoveries. Some of these discoveries shed light on perhaps why the vote over the Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence In Church Governance document went the way it did this Annual Council.
I want to be careful to not focus on the shocking negative findings of the website and neglect the many wonderful things that happened. Thousands of faithful Seventh-day Adventists stood up and lifted their voices. Many members told us that they sent emails and letters to the General Conference. In total, there were 3,342 signatures by the time the petition was delivered to the top three GC officers.
3,157 of these came through the website itself and the rest of the number was from handwritten signatures scanned in and submitted by email. There were members in Australia, Germany, and the U.S. who printed the petition and went from church-to-church getting handwritten signatures from many different congregations. Awesome! We feel that all of these signatures made an impact by giving the laity a voice right inside the GC.
The website users had a lot to say, and in just three months the website received about 250 emails. That’s almost 60 emails a week! And about 60-70% of these emails were encouragement and gratitude.
A little over 2,000 of the signatures were from the NAD, and the rest were from the world church. As mentioned before, we thought the petition would get at least 10,000 signatures. Why didn’t it? After the petition was submitted to the GC, we had the chance to look at the website’s analytics, and we were shocked.
Here was one of the shocking finds. As previously mentioned the total number of signatures on the petition was 3,157. However, the total number of unique visitors was 20,730. (A unique visitor is one person who came to the site no matter how many times they came back to the website or how many of the pages they went to.) Almost 21,000 people came to the website and only 3,157 signed the petition. That means only 15% of the people who visited Unity In Truth actually signed the petition. This means 17,573 people came to the website and didn’t end up signing the petition. Why did so many people come to the website but chose not to sign?
We want to be fair and recognize that probably not everyone who came to the website was the target audience or even saw the petition. I think it would be generous to say that up to 20% of the website traffic were people who were curious, pro-ordination folks and therefore not interested in signing the petition. Let’s also say 10% had technical issues and couldn’t sign and another 5% never made it to the petition page. This would add up to 35% of the website visitors either couldn’t sign or because of their pro-ordination stance chose not to.
If you subtract this 35% from the amount of people who didn’t sign that still leaves almost 11,500 people. That’s almost 11,500 faithful Adventists who came to the website, saw the petition and chose not to sign it. If you add that to the existing signatures, there would have been 14,580 signatures! Well over the goal! There was the traffic for it, but for some reason not the willingness.
To us, this is shocking. Why would faithful Seventh-day Adventists pass up such a golden opportunity? We’re always hearing conservatives complaining about what’s happening in the church and then when they finally have an opportunity to do something about it, they don’t take it?
Now let me add a caveat, we don’t want to give the impression that if you didn’t sign the petition you’re not a faithful Seventh-Day Adventist. We don’t set Unity In Truth as the standard of who is faithful or not faithful. But we did want to understand why so many faithful would pass up this opportunity. Based on the insight from many emails and our personal interactions, we feel that we have narrowed it down to three possible reasons.
1) Differences of opinion
Based on some of our email response, we found a number of good, conservative Adventists did not want to sign the petition unless it reflected their exact sentiments. Meaning they wouldn’t sign it unless the wording was exactly how they thought it should be. Even down to the difference of a few words.
- “You need to make it more conciliatory…”
- “If it doesn’t address female elders, I don’t know if I want to sign it.”
- “Is this going to work? What’s really the effectiveness of a petition?” (Someone took the time to write a several paragraph email, but then didn’t take the smaller amount of time to sign the petition. Strange.)
- “Too much church policy and not enough Bible.”
Now, we don’t believe that the website is 100% perfect, and we realize that there’s always room for improvement, but were these small preferences really worth passing up the opportunity to contribute to an effort that finally gave the laity a collective voice that made it to the desks of the top three GC officers?
(Also, most people don’t realize that after people start signing a petition you can’t change it. This is because you would be making changes to a document without the consent of the previous people who have put their names on it.)
“We only want to promote it if it’s focused on unity only and not associated with the debate on women’s ordination.”
One large, conservative Adventist ministry was considering promoting the website, but didn’t want to unless it was promoting unity only. All links to websites such as OrdinationTruth.com and SecretsUnsealed.org had to be removed if they were going to promote it. We weren’t willing to do it. We would have had to rename the website UnityInUnity.com.
We saw many faithful Adventists who just haven’t made the effort to inform themselves about the issues in our church. Many didn’t know that Annual Council was happening or what Annual Council even was.
Some were informed about the UnityInTruth website, what it’s doing, and how important it is, but they didn’t act. There seems to be an attitude of, “If it doesn’t affect what’s happening at my local church, it’s not that important. As long as it doesn’t affect me and my local church, let the big guys at the top fight it out.” All that matters is their week-to-week church experience, and as long as that’s fine it really doesn’t matter to them what’s happening among leaders, administration, and in their meetings.
The big problem with this mentality is that by the time it does get down to negatively affecting their local church, the problem will be so much worse that it will be like dealing with a stage four cancer.
Several other interactions lead us to believe that fear kept many away from signing the petition or sending in letters. We had one individual tell us, “It’s going to hurt my ministry.”
We couldn’t help but think, how do you think it’s going to affect your ministry when your church’s hermeneutics change due to the acceptance of women’s ordination? How will it affect your ministry when you have to explain to new converts that your church allows gay clergy?
One point that needs to be clear is that if you’re not willing to stand up in your own church you’ll never stand up in the world.
It Didn’t Work Anyways
Some may say it doesn’t matter because the petition didn’t work anyways. Something that’s important to realize is that it was just as important for God’s people to get used to coming together and speaking up as a unified group as it was to actually deliver a petition and letters to the GC.
For decades, faithful Adventists have been far too separated, unorganized, and unmotivated to make a difference in our church. It’s really only a small, liberal constituency that runs the NAD and other non-compliant divisions and unions. The only way this could’ve happened is if the liberal fringe was more organized and persistent than the faithful. The enemy stole a watch while many of us faithful Adventists were sleeping.
The Invaluable Lesson
The experience of this petition is that we’re not there yet. Even among faithful Adventists, we are not as unified as we should be.
During the recent crisis we have all been focusing on unity in regards to the dissenting leadership coming into harmony with the world church. However, what we’ve realized thus far through operating UnityInTruth.com is that there exists a lack of unity among us faithful Adventists too.
Both the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy picture a very unified church at the end. In vision Ellen White describes the last church with these words,
“They moved in exact order, firm like a company of soldiers” (Spiritual Gifts, v.1, p.185).
Over and over the apostles pled with the early church,
- “Be of the same mind one toward another” (Romans 12:16).
- “Be of one mind, live in peace;” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
- "Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together,” (Philippians 1:27).
- “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Prior to outpouring of the early rain the Scriptures say that they were “all of one accord.” We know this will also have to be the case prior to the Latter Rain.
Praying for and Brainstorming a Solution
What are some of your ideas of how we as faithful Seventh-day Adventist can be more unified? Here are some of our ideas so far:
- Plead with God for this deeper unity among us.
- Make time to communicate about the issues happening in our church. World Church Affirmation Sabbath would be a perfect platform for this networking and communication to happen.
- Not compromise an inch on moral truth, but be willing to compromise a mile on that which is only personal preference.
God is calling His faithful people to greater unity and greater humility. The more we resemble this picture, the more influence and power the church will have. Let’s pray for and seek this deeper unity with each other. Let’s organize at the grass roots level to help our local conferences to reflect everything our church claims to stand for, and let’s take advantage of opportunities to work together at union, division, and worldwide levels.
Gabriel (Gabe) and Jennifer Arruda operate the Unity In Truth website, and live in North Auburn, CA.