Unity document voted at Annual Council

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Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

The General Conference (GC) Annual Council voted today to accept a document entitled “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation” by a margin of 169 votes to 122.

As the Church moves forward it must ensure that unity is not confused with uniformity.

The main question being considered is how to respond to church entities that are non-compliant to Fundamental Beliefs and voted actions and policies of the GC. 

“The discussion and vote today at GC was very focused,” said South Pacific Division president Pastor Glenn Townend. “It outlined a biblical and Christian process of prayer and discussion aimed at bringing entities who are non-adherent to Fundamental Beliefs, voted GC actions and policies back into compliance.” 

Members of the General Conference Exectutive Committee review the “Unity in Mission” document. [Photo: Brent Hardinge/ANN]

The document (read HERE) begins by describing the diversity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church worldwide and says that, for this reason, it is important to come together to pray, plan and vote formal policies and guidelines. Once voted these decisions are not “something we should treat lightly or ignore”. 

“When any one entity decides to ‘go it alone’, the whole Church body suffers and is diminished,” the document states. “If not addressed, these actions can lead to charges of unfairness and can undermine the Church’s united mission.”

The document makes two recommendations. The first lays out steps of reconciliation such as listening and prayer, consultation, pastoral letters, more prayer and listening before finally moving onto phase two. Phase two is not outlined in the document apart from the fact that procedural steps will be added at the 2017 Annual Council. 

“While the document called for unity there were no outlined consequences given if those who were not adherent did not respond positively,” said Pastor Townend.

“Today’s discussion was frank, with points of view delivered clearly and in a positive, respectful manner,” said New Zealand Pacific Union Conference president Dr Brad Kemp. “I believe that it was helpful for the Church to engage in such discussion.”

Dr Brad Kemp speaks to the commitee at the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Annual Council. [Photo: Brent Hardinge/ANN]

“Unity in Mission” was first approved by the 78-member General Conference and Division Officers Committee on the evening of October 6 before being sent to the 343-member Executive Committee for discussion and a vote on October 11 (US time).

The document is a response to decisions by union conferences to ordain women since the 2015 San Antonio General Conference Session voted that divisions should not make the decision independently from the world Church. At least two unions are ordaining women, with another union suspending ordinations altogether in the wake of the San Antonio vote. 

Some delegates said they felt the document had been rushed through to a vote and needed more study.

Dr Kemp spoke against the motion to accept the document before the vote was taken. “As the Church moves forward it must ensure that unity is not confused with uniformity,” he said in an email to Adventist Record. “Unity is usually always focused around purpose and mission; uniformity, around practice and application of ministry to mission. We need to remember that we are part of a large, diverse Church and the bigger we grow, the more diversity will be needed in how we do ministry to ensure that the world Church remains united around its mission.”

The official tally of the “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation” document vote gets announced to members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Annual Council. [Photo: Brent Hardinge/ANN]

“For a document that aims to bring unity, the vote clearly shows we are still divided,” reflected Pastor Townend. “I don’t think a majority vote brings unity. I think this says that leadership at the GC and thus the Division has to move slowly in this area and consult widely.” 

In remarks made after the vote was taken, world Church president Dr Ted Wilson committed to that kind of consultation.

“We will work with diligence to bring a good dialogue and discussion,” he said. 

“The Lord is not going to let this Church falter. This Church will move ahead with mission.” 

According to Adventist News Network, the Executive Committee is the highest governing authority outside of a General Conference Session and meets every October for its Annual Council at Silver Springs, Maryland, US.