"Is This Thing On?" -- Review

Recently on March 14, 2017, the North American Division (NAD) of Seventh day Adventists premiered a new strategy to further their agenda and promote their beliefs by taking their case to the SDA university aged crowd.  In a setting reminiscent of a Tonight Show, with an edgy feel, Apple computers abounded--connected to social media for questions and online responses.  Quickly it became obvious this event was highly scripted.  In fact, at the end, Dan Jackson, NAD president yucks it up with the college student extras saying as he lifted his pants leg to reveal very un 60+ aged hosiery, “You need to appreciate our socks.  They are jazzy.  Appreciate our socks.  We had lots of discussion about how casual to dress, how to appear, and a dear sister went and bought me socks.”  So much for any genuine transparency and authenticity!  Staged.  Scripted.  This is how it came across.  But what was the content?

This is the beginning of what NAD calls “A Conversation” with young people across the NAD.  They will be hosting the same format at other SDA Universities in a series of events.  Here’s the NAD official announcement:

SILVER SPRING, Md.: In a first, Adventist church leaders in North America will meet with students gathered at Union College to answer questions via audience and social media during a Facebook Live event on March 14, 2017. “Is This Thing On?” is a 90-minute conversation with Dan Jackson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, and Alex Bryant, executive secretary.

Back to episode #1 at Union College.  I believe that 90% of the truth of any communication is found in the non-verbal, the contextual, and the surroundings.  Actual words, while they count, are a small part of the “message” attempted to be conveyed.  Paying attention to body language, to trappings, to sets and backgrounds tells a lot.  To this end, Is This Thing On is two older SDA administrators who admit they won’t be “finishing the work”, rather you young people will.  They staged the event surrounded by young NAD college students with apparent selected diverse ethnicity and designed specifically to appear gender equal.  There are lime green chairs, purple uplighting, almost a disco feel complete with a house band – The Prescott Avenue Seven.  In many ways, this appears to be an SDA version of a Bernie Sanders rally wherein they discuss a host of social issues and hot button topics designed to rev up the younger people against the older folks who have clearly “failed in the mission.”  The objective appears clear:  Get the young minds aligned with the progressive goals of NAD leadership.  Tell them you are listening.  To that end, and to appear “hip”, Dan Jackson “jams” for a few seconds on the drums with the house band.  Scripted.  And staged.

Race relations 

Andrews University based recent racial tensions and follow up was surfaced. Dan Jackson spoke of the need of continued conversations.  He stated that everyone has a story to tell and we haven’t been listening to one another.  Racism was spoken of as a 1 way street = as in whites are racist against blacks. 

The question was raised by a student, why do we still have black and white conferences and churches?  This question was thrown to black Vice President Alex Bryant.  He stated that first, all conferences were integrated.  There was no policy nor mandate that any conference be of one color or culture.  He then stated that only the local conferences can vote themselves out of existence.  The GC or Union or Division cannot disband a conference.  He defended the continued future existence of black and white separate conferences based on 2 needs:  Missional and cultural.  If a culture gets integrated and diluted inside another, it’s mission to their own race and culture can and will get diminished.  He maintained this had always been the case back through time.

Dan Jackson wants to consider reducing the # of conferences in NAD to less than the current 59.  He believed we could get by with 20 something conferences as far more efficient, but admitted that was “heresy” to many.  Bryant reaffirmed his main position that letting workers work amongst their own race leads to missional growth.  Thus we cannot disband.  Jackson said his bottom line was we won’t go into Heaven till we love each other enough to get past racism.

My response:  I agree racism is a sin.  The SDA Church has a sin problem, not a skin problem!  Racism is in all races and cultures.  You cannot fix it by pretending that it only is primarily one color’s problem.  There are many white conferences, and churches that have black, brown and yellow leaders and pastors.  I don’t know of any regional / black conferences and churches with white leaders and pastors.  They may exist, but I know of none.  Jackson said that a Hispanic almost got elected secretary in a black conference, but didn’t.  That indicates to me there are none but blacks leading black conferences.

SDA Education issues

Dan Jackson stated that declining enrollments were a major concern.  We’ve closed 2 – 300 schools in last few years.  Some is due to the graying of the NAD SDA church.  There are less kids.  SDA members moving from rural to cities.  Thus rural schools are closing.  It is now effecting higher education institutions. There’s not the same commitment, or interest in SDA Christian education that there used to be.  It’s not cheap, it’s very expensive. 

What are we doing?  The key word used was “studies.”  All kinds of studies.  They admitted, we don’t have the answer.  They said we are trying all sorts of things.  Marketing.  Jackson said he doesn’t believe we need 14 colleges / universities in the NAD.  We need to implement economies of scale with fewer universities.  He also indicated the NAD will spend $10 million on setting up an Adventist learning community of online education to be cheaper and more accessible than in person education.  Gordon Bietz, former president of Southern Adventist University is recently hired to try to make a turn-around.

My Response:    I agree SDA education is in serious decline.  However, I see giant morality issues as foundational to this decline, not just merely sociological and economic issues.  My conviction is God’s blessing has been gradually withdrawn not unlike what happened in Israel of old.  The work / study programs of the past are essentially extinct.  We’ve departed the blue print of SDA Christian education given through prophetic inspiration.  We are reaping the consequences.  I also find it sadly ironic that these leaders noted that in the era before Christ returns that SDAs are migrating TO the cities, away from country rural living, not vice versa per instruction from Heaven.  Again, this leads to consequences which we now see.

Women’s Ordination (WO)

The NAD president said most incredible words on this!  He affirmed it was difficult to be a part of a world church that had voted “no” to WO for 3 times.  He claimed that 81% of NAD leaders are in favor of WO.  He wished he could spend the millions to hire Gallup to survey the NAD constituents.  Jackson said emphatically, “I personally believe in WO, and I have for many years!”  There was sustained applause from the college crowd at this point.  Jackson and Bryant clearly relished this applause.    Jackson then stated that two unions were going ahead with WO.  He said, we have women pastors, we will keep them.

Then there was “breaking news.”  Alex Bryant revealed he is head of very special project in the NAD.  He clearly supports WO and stated he disagrees with our world church.  He affirmed there were three no’s from the world church.  "So we respect the world vote, but under Dan Jackson’s leadership, we have created a “building block” of female ministry.  Here it is:  The NAD will 1) double the number of women pastors from 107 to 214 over 5 yrs.  We at the NAD incentivize local conferences by paying 3 years of salary for women pastors!  The “no vote” only says you can’t ordain as pastors.  We can still hire and make women pastors as ordained elders."  Yearly, the NAD is spending $450,000 / year to pay for women pastors.  He stated that 44 a year are being salary subsidized at this point.  Jackson and Bryant then indicated that when we get from 500 – 1000 women pastors in the NAD, then the rest of the world church will change their ideas.  Both leaders reaffirmed that they don’t agree with the world church at all.  Jackson said in conclusion – “This topic ain’t going away.  To be continued.”

My Response:  Dan Jackson and Alex Bryant assume most members in the NAD are in favor of WO!  They also assume that this is not a fight between women & men, it’s a fight between men & men.  I believe they are doubly wrong.  I think a significant minority if not a majority of NAD members, after purposeful study Scripture and SOP on WO are left with major questions about the Scriptural appropriateness of women’s ordination.   I also hear from a large number of women in the NAD that they don’t approve of WO to the pastoral ministry.

For many, it’s really NOT ministry calling driven so much as it is money driven!  Jackson told the story of a woman who had waited for 20 years to pastor, but because she was never hired (paid), she hadn’t pastored.  I am a qualified, trained SDA pastor.  I’ve chosen to not be church-employed.  Instead, I have pastored for 16 years paying my own way, including raising up a successful church plant, ALL without pay!  It may be genetic, because my maternal grandmother pastored in the early 1900s for years without pay!  She too founded an SDA Church.  She debated non-SDA ministers in public as she advocated for the 3 Angels Messages!  She organized evangelism and gave Bible studies for many years.  Her “pay” was out of this world.

I note that neither Jackson nor Bryant had a single word to say about the BIBLICAL and SOP conscientious objections so many SDAs across the world field have to WO.  This is boiled down to obeying God vs man for many of us SDAs!  These leaders don’t get it!

LGBTQ Issues were next

Dan Jackson said that every human, no matter how they self-identify, is a child of God.  He likened the LGBTQ issues to racism.  No one is better than anyone else.  We are all God’s children.  He appealed to love and acceptance of everyone.  His solution to the Scripture’s clear denunciations of the LGBTQ lifestyle was:  “I would hope that the LGBTQs will find fellowship, but not membership in the SDA Church.  Community & fellowship is what is important, not membership.  That’s what folks want today, fellowship, not necessarily membership.” 

My Response:  “As it was in the days of Sodom…”  Why wouldn’t we expect to see the twin institutions of Eden--which safeguard our sanity and morality--challenged by Satan before Christ returns?  The Sabbath and Marriage came directly from the hand of Christ, that hand that stretched out willingly to take my nails on the Cross!  We shouldn’t expect anything less than a total onslaught of false doctrines attacking gender, marriage, Sabbath sanctity at The End.

The final issue: Multiple Adventisms

Alex Bryant stated that in Adventism we have now conservatives vs liberal vs moderate.  His solution was to put people first.  Then divisions will cease.  WO doesn’t matter when you help others first. 

A college student then asked:  Is there any hope for the church?  Is it dying?

The NAD president replied,

I get discouraged by older SDAs, not younger SDAs.  Silence can kill the church.  Giving up kills the church.  Leaving our bigger grand institutional churches after school to attend a small church is disheartening.  But don’t give up.  God didn’t call my generation to finish his work.  He called you guys, you’re the ones!  I mean that!  YOUR generation will complete it.  Speak up!

Alex Bryant said he echoed Jackson’s words:  

Our hope is in you guys.  Peel away the traditions from the essence of the church.  We’ve over-prioritized some things that don’t matter.  Traditions?  Strip them away.  You guys are asking the right questions.  You’ve challenged us.  Don’t let your voices be silenced.

My conclusion

The Is This Thing On conversation was heavy on current liberal buzz concepts:  Inclusive, diversity, social activism, gender equality, culturally sensitive, non-imperialistic missionaries, social justice, etc.  Again, it reminded me of a Bernie Sanders activist town hall meeting wherein some older guys tried to get a buy-in from a young college crowd by acting out of their norm and carefully managing their appearance and vocabulary to try to garner support for their agenda.   In this case, so much of their agenda doesn’t exactly line up with Scripture.  I was reminded of President Reagan’s prescient words that I will paraphrase into our Church’s current crisis:  It’s not that our Liberal SDA friends are ignorant…it’s that they know so much that isn’t so!



Writing from Loveland, Colorado, Ken Wiseman is Vice President of Aviation for a US Fortune 300 company.  Ken is also a Lay Pastor, and very committed to the Advent Message..