My dear friends, I greet you in the name of Jesus — our Lord — the Author and the Finisher of our faith!
Recently my wife and I had a group of friends over for Sabbath lunch. As 5-year-old Hailey entered our home, looking shy and a little afraid, her eyes surveyed the lay of the land. So I asked her, “Is there anything that you would like?”
Her response: “I’d like to see the basement.”
I said, “OK, let’s go there right now.” So down the stairs we went.
When we got there, the same process was repeated. “Is there anything that you would like?” “Yes, I would like to see the toys!”
You can be assured that we searched until we found toys for that precious little girl. Once she had them, she was happy for the rest of the afternoon. She knew exactly what she wanted and she went after it!
This has been a very challenging time in the life of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North American Division. Actions taken at the Annual Council last week have created a good deal of disappointment, confusion, disillusionment, and even anger — and for some, relief. Amidst this, we need to keep our focus — just like little Hailey.
Allow me to share briefly, from my viewpoint, some things that the document does not and does say to us — and then give some reactions.
First, the vote taken this last week does not alter the status of the unions, the North American Division, its officers, employees or its male or female pastors. Nor does not change the missional direction — the trajectory of our division. I want to quote the words of the General Conference president who, after the 2015 discussion in San Antonio, stated unequivocally: “Nothing has changed.” He stated this with specific reference to women serving as commissioned ministers. Nothing that was voted on Tuesday altered that statement.
So what does the vote say? It outlines the first steps in a process of how the GC expects all world regions to deal with non-compliance as it relates to a) doctrinal/theological matters; b) voted actions of the General Conference in session; and c) policy violations.
Though these first steps of the process espouse a seemingly gentle and collaborative tone, many of the 50 people who rose to address the three-page document, including the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, expressed their disagreement with the lumping together of doctrine and policy non-compliance. On this point, all of your NAD officers and all nine NAD union presidents are in strong solidarity. This same concern has been reiterated in most of the feedback that I’ve received from people in our division, including conference presidents, pastors, chaplains, educators, students, medical institution leaders, and church members.
The first steps of the voted document also identify that the next higher organization (i.e. the division) is expected to engage with non-compliant entities. The administrators of the NAD have committed to engage in open dialogue, listening, Scripture study, and prayer — and not to demonstrate a coercive spirit.
Our division continues to make this a matter of prayer, but not pre-occupation.
Friends, now let me tell you, my greatest concern today is the reaction to this document in our church. Reports are coming from many sources of the disillusionment of some young and some not-so-young members. Decisions (by some) are being made to leave this church. Our earlier foreboding and pleas about it have not cushioned the pain of hearing from each heartbroken parent and friend. I can’t speculate about the numbers, but judging by the reaction of Jesus to just one lost sheep, this tragedy must be a call to action.
So I want to address you, those who are discouraged and may have given up on our church. I wish I could look into your eyes.
I think I understand something of what makes you tick —
The beat of justice resonates within you –
That’s from God and your church needs it;
Your passion to help the marginalized, the hungry, the endangered —
That’s from God and your church needs it;
Your need to be heard, understood and respected —
That’s from God and your church needs you;
Your need to find and fulfill your purpose for being, your destiny —
Oh, that’s from God and your church so needs you to live that destiny.
Let me tell you something even more important. Jesus, our Leader, is the grandest, most noble Person to ever grace this planet. He is the Foundation, Cornerstone, and CEO of this denomination. But where we may have reduced Him to irrelevance, I ask that you please forgive us.
And may God forgive us too.
Please think this through again. Share with people near you what’s on your heart.
Whatever you do, do not leave God.
Friends, I am inspired by the White Helmets of Syria — fiercely brave, civilian Syrian volunteer rescue workers, over 3,000 in number, who, when shelling and airstrikes hit their country, run directly into harm’s way to save lives. They haven’t stopped the war, but they’ve saved about 60,000 lives [Time Magazine, “The White Helmets of Syria,” Jared Malsin/Gaziantep, Turkey, pp. 22, 23, accessed online, Oct. 17, 2016].
Friends, today the retention of our members, especially our youth and young adults, is one of our greatest challenges — even apart from this current situation. Again, consider our God’s reaction to just one lost sheep. His unending love for His children is a call to action for us today. May we see committed, brave “Adventist White Helmets” who sense the tremendous hurt some members carry around as they — disillusioned — make decisions. Listen to each other. Love each other.
Like little Hailey, let’s focus on what we want and then pursue it with intention and faith-filled energy.