A. History of the Sandra Roberts Saga
At a September 8, 2013, nominating committee meeting, Southeastern California Conference president Gerald Penick announced that he was not interested in another term as president, and would retire. The nominating committee was chaired by Fritz Guy, a liberal theologian and former president of La Sierra University, an “Adventist” school in Riverside, California, best known for the atheistic origins apologetics taught to students by professors in the biology and theology departments.
Denominational policy then and now is that the office of conference president must be filled by an ordained minister, and church policy does not allow the ordination of women. Fritz Guy and the other committee members well knew this, as did Pacific Union President Ricardo Graham, who was present as an advisor at the nominating committee meetings. Nevertheless, on September 15, in an intentional act of rebellion by Guy, Graham, and the other members, the committee nominated Sandra Roberts to become president of the SECC.
At the constituency meeting on October 27, 2013, Graham told the constituents that he had received a message from Elder Wilson warning that if a woman were elected president, it would put the conference and the union in conflict with the General Conference, and a woman president would not be seated or given a vote at the upcoming Year End Meetings in Maryland.
But Graham quickly assured the delegates that the nominating committee had followed conference and union by-laws “to a T”, and that any conflict created by having a female president would only be between the Pacific Union and the General Conference. In other words, he was assuring the delegates that he was their ringleader in this rebellion, and that the Pacific Union would block any attempt to discipline the SECC. The delegates elected Sandra Roberts president by a 72% to 28% margin.
A few days later, the General Conference officers issued a statement that read, in part:
At the 2012 Annual Council in a voted action . . . the world church strongly indicated that it does not recognize as ordained ministers individuals who do not meet the criteria outlined in policy. It deeply concerns the world leadership of the church that recently a local conference constituency elected as a conference president an individual who is not recognized by the world church as an ordained minister. Ordination to the ministry is one of the criteria set forth for being a conference president.
But statement or no statement, little was ever done about Sandra Roberts, except to not list her as SECC president in the SDA Yearbook.
Two years passed, and the world SDA Church in General Conference Session again voted not to allow local subdivisions of the church to change the church’s policy of male-only ordination. But the San Antonio vote was dismissed and ignored by the same people who had been ignoring church policy in the years leading up to San Antonio. The vote had no effect on the North American Division, the Pacific Union Conference, or the Southeastern California Conference, and Sandra Roberts continued as president.
In fact, at last year’s NAD year-end meetings, Dr. Randal Wisbey, current president of La Sierra University (is it just a coincidence that La Sierra seems always to be at the center of machinations to liberalize the SDA Church?) came to the microphone and read a prepared statement that ended with a motion to ask the General Conference to drop its symbolic discipline of the rebellious SECC:
“The attendees of the North American Division Year-end Meeting respectfully request that the General Conference provide Elder Sandra Roberts . . . the same respect, rights, and privileges of office as any other conference president within the North America Division . . . This will include inclusion in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook as president of Southeastern California Conference, and being provided with regular and official credentials at General Conference meetings, such as Annual Council, etc.”
Randal Wisbey’s motion was approved 141 to 32, an 82% to 18% margin.
B. Last Week’s PUC Action
Last week, the Pacific Union Conference’s President’s Council, in solidarity with Sandra Roberts, voted not to submit their names for inclusion in the SDA Yearbook. They stated:
Through God’s grace we have come to recognize that we only fully represent our shared faith and unity of purpose when we appreciate and respect one another. When the diverse perspectives and the dictates of conscience differ on important points this takes on heightened significance. As members of a faithful and complex community, our unity and mission of effective witness call us to faithfulness in all things, including how we demonstrate respect for one another.
Together we are finding that respect for the dictates of conscience, and respect for one another, are two sides of the same hand—extended in mission, ministry, and hope.
The following action was taken by the Pacific Union Conference President’s Council on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, and affirmed by the Pacific Union Executive Committee on Thursday, November 9, 2017:
Due to the continued absence of Elder Sandra Roberts’ name in the listing of the officers of SECC in the SDA Yearbook, the Presidents Council, consisting of the 7 conference presidents, 4 union officers, 3 ethnic coordinators, higher education presidents, and director of Education for the Union have chosen not to submit their own names for inclusion in the SDA Yearbook as leaders of their conferences or institutions. It was affirmed in this decision that each leader would exercise their own liberty of conscience on this matter.
The Union executive committee on November 9, 2017, received and affirmed this decision by the President’s Council. It is so noted in the Executive Committee minutes.
The union officers are: Ricardo Graham, president; Bradford Newton, executive secretary; Tony Anobile, vice-president; and Ted Benson, treasurer.
The conference presidents are: Ed Keyes, Arizona; Ramiro Cano, CCC; Jim Pedersen, NCC; Velino Salazar, SCC; Ralph Watts III, Hawaii; and Leon Brown, Nevada-Utah.
For all their talk of respect for one another, these men clearly do not respect the decision of the world church in General Conference Session. They do not respect the majority of the delegates, who voted against female ordination. Their “respect” extends only to those who share their ideology and their ideological goals, which they lawlessly pursue in defiance of church policy and the repeated decision of the world church in session.
Without a hint of irony, they claim that, “our unity and mission of effective witness call us to faithfulness in all things,” even as they are being unfaithful to the decision of the world church, and faithlessly disregarding church policy.
It would be wonderful if these men could be removed from church office as easily as their names can be erased from the SDA Yearbook. But, alas, they are entrenched, and their rebellion against the world church is entrenched and seemingly immune from suppression.
Oh my, does that comment seem disrespectful? Well, to quote them, “diverse perspectives and the dictates of conscience differ on important points” in today’s SDA Church. My conscience demands that we call out these church leaders as hypocrites, rebels, and a danger to the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.