Dan Wysong was the Pastor of the Chico Seventh-day Adventist Church who, two and a half years ago, allowed a local elder to baptize a young woman who was “married” to another woman. (The female elder who performed the baptism, Ginger Hanks Harwood, a professor of theology at La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, was herself ordained, against church policy, in February, 2013.)
Wysong recently resigned from the Seventh-day Adventist ministry and took a job as pastor in the very liberal United Church of Christ denomination. He then sat for an interview with Adventist Today, in which he brings to light some previously unknown details of the story.
“Four years ago, a couple who had been away from church for years started coming back. They felt loved and included, and found a home at our church. One of them had grown up in our church, and had been baptized as a child. Her spouse [Alice Machado] asked me what the process was for joining. I told her that it was through baptism, but that I wanted a chance to talk the issue over with our elders, since baptizing a person who is married to someone of the same sex is something of a new situation. I presented the issue to the elders, and asked them to spend some time in prayer about it.”
One wonders if Wysong went over the Adventist Church’s doctrines with Alice prior to certifying her for baptism. Did he tell her about Fundamental Belief # 23, which twice states that marriage is between a man and a woman? Oddly, he doesn’t mention that discussion—if it ever took place. Or perhaps Wysong believes that Justice Kennedy’s errant opinion in Obergefell not only struck down the state laws defining marriage but also re-wrote FB # 23 so as to read, “Marriage was divinely established in Eden and affirmed by Jesus to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman (or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman) in loving companionship.”
And what about studying the meaning of baptism itself? FB # 15 states, “By baptism we confess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and testify of our death to sin and of our purpose to walk in newness of life.” Doesn’t death to sin and purposing to walk in newness of life require us to leave behind our old, immoral relationships? One suspects this was another conversation that Wysong did not have with Alice Machado.
“After three months of praying and discussing the issue, our elders came back unanimous that while they might not agree on the subject of same sex marriage, they felt God was calling us to include Alice in baptism and church membership.”
It is interesting that the elders of the Chico SDA Church, apparently unfamiliar with Biblical passages such as 1 Cor. 5, saw no obstacle to baptizing into membership someone openly in an un-Biblical sexual relationship. As a practical matter, the SDA Church treats only ordained ministers as biblical “ruling elders” (1 Tim. 5:17), and it seems that the local elders of Chico have responded by disclaiming all responsibility to teach sound doctrine and refute heresy. (Titus 1:9) The infantilization of the office of local elder puts all the responsibility for upholding doctrine onto the ordained clergy, and on this occasion Dan Wysong was not equal to that responsibility.
“And although in Adventist polity only local churches have authority over who becomes a member, I went to the conference and explained the situation to them, too, since this was likely to affect them as well. My president said that I couldn’t do the baptism, since it would place me in violation of church policy. I went back and told my elders I couldn’t do it, and one of them volunteered to do the baptism instead. Alice was baptized, and the church strongly voted her into church membership.”
If Wysong could not perform the baptism because it would be a violation of church policy, how could it be within church policy for an elder to do the baptism? If Wysong, as an ordained minister, could not do the baptism, then how could Harwood, also purportedly ordained, do the baptism? Clearly, this was not about obedience to church policy, but about who could disobey it without fear of consequences, and the answer was Ginger Hanks Harwood, because she was not currently employed by a conference.
Wysong knew perfectly well, of course, that the baptism itself was wrong regardless who did it. And yet no discipline was ever imposed on Dan Wysong for this action.
Wysong tells the story so as to deflect criticism from his boss, then-Northern California Conference President, James E. Pedersen. But if Pedersen really told Wysong that the baptism would be a violation of church policy only if Wysong personally performed it, then Pedersen was completely wrong. Pedersen should have said, “if you perform the baptism or allow anyone else to do it, you will be fired.” But obviously Pedersen did not say that. To the contrary, Pedersen must have given Wysong the impression that it was only a problem if Wysong himself performed the baptism. Which shows that Pedersen was not really concerned about protecting church standards, and was wholly unfit for his position as conference president.
Wysong is also anxious to deflect criticism from himself:
“Amber and Alice were married long before they joined our church, and it wasn’t by me, nor did I baptize them, nor did I vote when they were voted into membership.”
Apparently, Wysong was just a powerless observer, a sort-of liaison officer from the conference sent to monitor events at the Chico SDA Church and report back to the conference from time to time.
“All that said, I am so proud of the Chico Adventist Church in how it has put Jesus’ highest commandment first: loving other people the way Jesus loved us.”
Is that the way Jesus loved other people? By papering over their sins and neglecting to invite them to repent? I think not. Jesus loves, forgives, and heal us, but His love for us would be false if He did not ask us to leave life-destroying sin behind. (John 5:14; 8:11) In fact, when the real, righteous Jesus comes into your life, you automatically change your ways. (See, e.g., Luke 19:1-10)
Ah, but Pastor Wysong has grown beyond such a simple and straightforward understanding of Scripture:
“The more I’ve grown and matured, and the more time I’ve spent with the text, the more I have noticed that Adventism has quite a few priorities that can conflict with embodying Christ through loving people well. Adventism tends to care a lot about having the truth figured out, being the remnant, following Sabbath as the seventh day, conditional immortality, and predicting the eschaton. The problem comes when these things become more important than following Jesus and His one commandment to love others as He has loved us. Orthodoxy is viewed as being superior to orthopraxy.”
The editors of Adventist Today found this comment so profound that they titled their piece, “Choosing Orthopraxy over Orthodoxy,” But it is really just gibberish. There is no conflict between adhering to correct doctrine on the Sabbath and the state of the dead and loving others as Christ loved them, and Adventists have never recognized any such conflict. There is no conflict between correct doctrine and correct practice. To the contrary, right practice flows from right doctrine.
And, as we see in the sad case of Dan Wysong and the Chico SDA Church, wrong practice flows from wrong doctrine. Wysong apparently believes that loving people as Christ loved them entails bringing public, unrepentant sexual immorality into church membership, a belief entirely contrary to biblical Christianity, and one that for two millennia has never been considered Christian orthodoxy, except in the most liberal denominations and only in the very recent past. This false doctrinal belief led Wysong into a false practice, to wit, allowing a woman in a lesbian “marriage” to be baptized into his SDA Church, a church that was his responsibility to rule as the “ruling elder.”
Wysong well understands that his beliefs and practices do not comport with Scripture and, as has become customary among Adventist liberals, seeks to justify his heterodoxy and heteropraxy by appealing to the Holy Spirit. As if the Holy Spirit were going to inspire him and his Chico “elders” to do something contrary to what the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible writers to write:
“I think the church’s basic purpose is being the beloved community, responding to the Spirit’s movement in the local context. This worked well in the early church, where the Holy Spirit was the locus of authority, and eroded with the rise of the Doctrine of Apostolic Succession and creation of the institution as the source of authority.”
This “spirit ethic” has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit and everything to do with ad hoc excuse-making for a gross departure from biblical standards and church policy.
“The reaction of the wider church to our local decision to baptize Alice and include her in church membership was pretty disheartening. I believe the Spirit was at work in our local congregation, and the denominational pushback seemed to be placing itself at odds with where God was moving. The General Conference in San Antonio was pretty rough for me, as well. Instead of moving forward, it felt like the church was moving backward. Rather than following the Spirit toward inclusiveness, Adventism took steps toward a more exclusive practice of religion.”
Clearly, Wysong believes that those of us who want to uphold standards of behavior and church membership, as well as biblical criteria for church leadership, are resisting the Holy Spirit. Wysong thus ends any debate by demonizing his opponents—we are resistors of the Holy Spirit—and ends the need for Bible study, because God’s living Holy Spirit overrules whatever was written in a dusty old book thousands of years ago. But of course anyone can play the “spirit” game. For example, I could say that Dan Wysong is being controlled by a spirit from the pit of Hell.
It is pointless to continue with a line by line refutation of Wysong’s beliefs; you get the gist of them. But you might well wonder how someone like Wysong—someone who believes that any attempt to have the SDA Church be more than social club is hateful and divisive—ended up in ministry in the SDA Church. Well, he didn’t want to be a pastor, but he was in the in-crowd. He was a multi-generation Adventist, and both his father and grandfather had been pastors. He was in the good ol’ boys’ network. So he got multiple calls to the ministry despite not feeling called and not even majoring in religion in college:
“I grew up immersed in Adventist faith. I’m a sixth-generation Adventist, and a third-generation Adventist minister. . . . Having grown up a PK (preacher’s kid), I didn’t really want to be a pastor. I was a few months away from graduating from Union College with a degree in business finance. I was prayerfully considering some really good job offers from some secular business corporations as well as Adventist Health, when I got a call out of the blue to go pastor a church. The conference president recommended that I pray about it, send out my resumé and see what happened. I ended up getting four calls to be a pastor even though I was a business major. I figured it was divine intervention and took one.”
Yep. Divine intervention.