Did the Russians Hack the San Antonio Vote?

George Knight is at it again.  He’s out with another column opposing the establishment of five GC committees whose purpose will be to note instances of failure to comply with denominational policy. 

I am pleased to report that this latest piece contains no references to the papacy, the inquisition, Adolph Hitler or the Nazis.  Clearly, there is an effective, FDA-approved treatment for Wilson Derangement Syndrome, and Brother Knight has availed himself of it.  We are gratified and relieved, both for him and his family, that Knight has turned a mental health corner and is on the mend. 

Knight argues that the ADCOM document recommending the five committees “represents a massive amount of investigative machinery and places the denomination’s top administrators in a parallel role to the FBI . . .”  Okay, we’re improving.  Certainly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not the inquisition or the Gestapo.  (In fact, Knight’s Leftist readership should be feeling warm and fuzzy toward an FBI that has been revealed to be the investigative/counter-intelligence arm of the Democratic Party.) So Knight has toned his rhetoric way down, and good for him.

The main thrust of Knight’s piece is that if conservatives establish a policy enforcement mechanism, it will eventually be used against them.  As an example, Knight asserts that a conservative conference president diverted tithe money to an independent ministry, and one of these proposed committees might investigate him for that.  I am not familiar with any facts that might underlie that accusation, but Knight’s observation that these committees—if they are voted into being at Annual Council—will be used against conservative Adventists deserves careful consideration. 

That the Adventist Left will use any available machinery to persecute conservative Adventists is true.  Wherever Leftist Adventists are in control of local churches, the disciplinary process is used against conservative Adventists.  I know of several cases, including the persecution of a proponent of Last Generation Theology in the Midwest, and the censuring of one of our Fulcrum7 contributors, Dr. Elizabeth Iskander, for being too outspoken about the inroads of homosexual activists in the SDA churches of Glendale, California.   

A good example that Knight does not mention is the trademark power.  The church trademarked its name in response to a homosexual activist group, Seventh-day Adventist Kinship, using the name “Seventh-day Adventist.”  When it finally secured the trademark, the church sued SDA Kinship to force it to stop using the name. It lost the case.  The Church has subsequently given up trying to use the trademark power against gay groups; The Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, a homosexual activist group founded by Eliel Cruz, has used the name “Adventist” for many years, apparently unmolested by the General Conference legal department.   

By contrast, conservative groups and offshoots have been vigorously prevented from using any trademarked term.  I was involved with a group known as “Adventists United for Biblical Truth,” which any Adventist would easily understand to be a lay group, not part of the official church. One of our goals was to make more people aware of the Darwinism problem at La Sierra, and we sent out a series of mass emails to La Sierra alumni and constituents.  We quickly received a “cease and desist” letter from the GC legal department, so we did not send out any further emails.  The trademark power, a church mechanism created to use against the Adventist Left, has ended up being used mostly (if not solely) against conservative Adventist believers. 

So Knight’s argument that a new disciplinary mechanism might end up being used against conservative Adventists should not be dismissed out of hand.  It is a well-founded, valid concern.  Ultimately, however, I do not find it convincing, for two reasons. 

First, if nothing is ever done to enforce the San Antonio vote on female ordination, the notion that the SDA Church is governed by its worldwide constituency is a fraud.  GC session votes are advisory only; they are not binding church law. 

Second, if these committees are not brought into existence now, the Adventist Left will still use existing disciplinary mechanisms to persecute conservatives and, when they have the power, bring something like these committees into existence if they need them.  For the Adventists Left (as with the Left more generally), their commitment to laissez-faire and license lasts only as long as the power to discipline is in the hands of others, and instantly vanishes when the Left has the power. 

In casting about for an example of a conservative violating denominational policy, Knight goes completely off the rails, asserting that:

“ . . . the defining issue of the present administration thus far has been the General Conference president’s failure to report the findings of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) to the 2015 General Conference Session after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of tithe funds on the project that was to solve the issue once and for all. But the findings of the carefully selected committee were out of harmony with his ideas on the topic and he did not report them to the session before the divisive vote was taken.”

This is the rankest nonsense imaginable.  No attempt was made to hide the TOSC findings.  All the papers were posted on the Internet, at the Office of Archives and Statistics website.  They were publicly available at all times, before and after the San Antonio General Conference Session.

There was no attempt to hide the fact that the TOSC fragmented into three groups: one that opposed female ordination on biblical grounds, one that favored female ordination and found no biblical obstacles, and a third group that acknowledged that Scripture presents a pattern and practice of male headship, but held that this was not a “moral imperative” but an “organizational guideline” that can now be dispensed with. 

Each of these three groups prepared position papers of 6 to 10 pages, and each also prepared a one-and-a-half-page summary of its position.  Again, these have always been available to anyone with access to the Internet, the mail, carrier pigeon, or some other means of contacting David Trim at the SDA Office of Archives and Statistics. In September, 2014, the Review ran an article urging the entire church to read the TOSC documents, including the three position papers; links to all the articles were provided, so it was not necessary to figure out how to navigate to the Archives and Statistics website.

But here’s the clincher: the shorter summaries were read to the delegates before the San Antonio vote.  I repeat: the position summaries were read to the delegates—and presumably translated as needed—before the vote!  I was inside the Alamodome while the summaries were being read, and heard them being read.

Knight’s assertion that Ted Wilson “failed to report the findings” of the TOSC to the San Antonio General Conference Session is beyond absurd.  It is a relapse into Wilson Derangement Syndrome.  (Keep taking the meds, George, the plan will work if you work the plan.)

If anything, Elder Wilson and his administration bent over backwards to present all three perspectives that emerged from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee.  Had it been my call, I would have ignored the Miller-Trim position as not having been properly vetted.

The “third way” position of Miller and Trim was mainly a combination of elements of the other positions; they basically agreed with the biblical interpretation of the anti-female ordination caucus, while completely agreeing with the proposed solution of the pro-female ordination caucus: a local option for female ordination.  Their unique element—and also the weak link in their argument—was their contention that the Bible authorizes exceptions to the general rule of male leadership in the church. 

But because the Miller-Trim position was presented only in the final meeting, it did not go through the same examination as the other positions.  If conservative scholars had been assigned to critique the claim that the Bible allows for exceptions to the male headship rule, the committee would have been better able to form a judgment as to the merits of this claim. Thoughtful rebuttals came later: I critique their position here, and Kevin Paulson deals with it here.  I’ve also separately addressed one of their frequently repeated arguments, the assertion that the Jerusalem Council created differing obligations for Jews and gentiles, a contention that squares neither with Scripture nor the writing of Ellen White.

Near the end of the final TOSC meeting, an unofficial straw poll was taken to see how many of the committee members identified with each of the three positions.  The results were as follows:

Pro-female ordination) – 40

Anti-female ordination) – 32

Millerites (male leadership ideal; local option female ordination) – 22

The results of the poll were leaked to Spectrum immediately, were published in Adventist Review, and I reported them here within a couple of days of returning from the meeting.  A clear majority—54 to 40—concluded that the Bible teaches an ideal of male leadership. But Spectrum trumpeted that an even larger majority—62 to 32—believed that unions or divisions should be allowed to independently decide the issue of female ordination. The September Review article urging the entire church to study the ordination issue included a link to the June Review article in which the vote totals were reported.

Obviously, there was no attempt to keep secret the results of the straw poll.  And yet, bizarrely, George Knight seems to believe that Ted Wilson helmed a sinister conspiracy to keep these numbers away from the San Antonio delegates, and that this conspiracy explains why they voted as they did:

“[Ted Wilson] failed to mention that a super majority (62 for and 32 opposed) of the TOSC committee and nearly all of the world division reports favored permitting divisions the option of ordaining women. One result has been ongoing turbulence in the denomination and the three-year search for the proper way to punish noncompliance.”

If only Elder Wilson had reported the straw vote totals to the delegates at San Antonio, the pro-female ordination faction would have won the vote and we would all now be living happily ever after—is the delusion that Knight and others of the Adventist Left are suffering under. 

But the TOSC Committee was not, and was never intended to be, representative of the church as a whole.  The Committee membership was heavily weighted toward North America, academics, pastors and institutional employees.  The point of the Committee was to have all points of view represented, not for it to reflect the demographic composition of the church.  Elder Wilson specifically emphasized this point to the Committee on (per my recollection) more than one occasion.  No sane, honest person could ever have formed the belief that the San Antonio delegate vote should be expected to mirror the TOSC Committee straw poll barring some untoward manipulation of the vote.

And yet we now find George Knight believing and relaying the contemptible lie that Ted Wilson hid something significant from the GC session. 

I see a troubling characteristic in the Leftist mind: it cannot abide the reality of having fairly lost a vote.  Immediately after losing such votes, the Leftist mind creates myths designed to delegitimize the vote the Left lost. For two years, the American Left has promoted the absurd fairy tale that Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because Russia hacked the election by stealing some DNC emails and placing a handful of Face Book adds that went unnoticed by 99.99% of the electorate.  Now, we have the Adventist Left promoting the even more ludicrous fairy tale that the pro-female ordination faction lost the San Antonio vote because the delegates were not again told about an insignificant, unrepresentative straw poll that had already been reported in the Review and numerous other Adventist media outlets. 

This is a psychological problem that is just as serious as WDS and TDS.  Pharmaceutical companies, please get to work on this.