THE BIG TOPIC, Wednesday, July 8, 2015 GC

The morning session started about 9:30 a.m. and for the first two hours, the time was spent in sharing the theology of ordination, the history of the topic over the years in the Adventist Church, and three reports from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). We in the Pennsylvania Conference had two pastors serving on the TOSC and providing contributions, Pastor John Peters and Pastor Tara VinCross.
Two of the three reports recommended the ordination of women to the gospel ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Although that was classified as not being enough for a consensus of 90% of the TOSC, it was classified as being a super-majority. (66.6.%)

About 11:30 a.m. the GC Secretary read the motion coming from the 2014 GC Annual Council that would allow Divisions through their Executive Committees whether or not to ordain women pastors in their divisions.

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By the glory of God, I was able to be the first delegate to speak to the motion, and speak in favor of the motion. Just so that there is no mis-understanding of my words or my motives in speaking, my words are listed here:
“Mr. Chairman:
I respectfully ask all of us in God’s world church, how we should relate to the following questions:
If in 1911 Ellen White in Review and Herald May 18, writes “In the city of Portland the Lord ordained me as His messenger, and here my first labors were given to the cause of present truth.”
And–
If in 6 T p. 322 Ellen White writes:
It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.
And–
If in Acts of the Apostles p. 161, 162 Ellen White writes:
Both Paul and Barnabas had already received their commission from God Himself, and the ceremony of the laying on of hands added no new grace or virtual qualification. It was an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office and a recognition of one’s authority in that office. By it the seal of the church was set upon the work of God. p. 161,162
And–
If in Joel 2:28,29 God’s word states And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
2:29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
Then–
We must ask ourselves, is it possible God would have us recognize He is working through the daughters of the Adventist church?

If our Adventist daughters are being called by the Holy Spirit in these last days to serve the cause of God through the gospel ministry — Is it possible we are NOT honoring God, by refusing to recognize the calling of God to the daughters of the Adventist Church and permit Divisions to ordain?”

Since the floor was open for delegates to begin speaking about 11:30 a.m. delegates began lining up, until there were scores of delegates at many microphones. At 12 noon, we broke for lunch and very few delegates had been able to speak by then. The Chair of the session, Mike Ryan, assured delegates that those who had registered to speak by having their name tags scanned at the microphones could return in the order that they had been registered in. The chairman also followed a policy of alternating between those standing in favor of the motion and those opposed to the motion. The chair had declared at the beginning of the session, that discussion on the motion would cease at 4:30 and a vote would be taken at that time.

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What became interesting through the time of the session, was that although a large number of delegates were lined up to speak to the motion, there were a number of delegates that came to the microphone to raise a point of order, which enables a delegate to speak ahead of those in line. At the end of the day, only 40 delegates were enabled to speak to the motion either for or against, while 35 delegates came to the microphone to raise points of order. Since everyone only had 2 minutes to speak, including those raising points of order, then the 35 raising points of order used up quite a bit of time that the delegates waiting in line to speak to the motion, either for or against, ended up not being able to speak at all. My sympathies were for Mike Cauley, our former PA Conference President, now president of the Florida Conference, who stood at the microphone at 11:40 a.m. We dismissed for lunch, and then he retook his place at the microphone for the afternoon session, and stood there until 4:30 p.m. Due to so many raising points of order, he never received a chance to make his point at the microphone.

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At 4:30 p.m., the session ceased discussion. We were dismissed by rows within our seating sections of Divisions, and received a paper ballot with two options: “Yes” or “No” and each was listed by the 5 languages that the entire General Conference Session is being translated into. Only those with “delegate” badges that were scanned into floor scanners used to know who could speak at microphones as official delegates, were issued ballots. We were to mark them, and this file to the front of the auditorium where large plastic bins were place and employees of the General Conference Auditing Service were tasked with overseeing the collecting of the ballots.

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It took about an hour to collect the ballots and then to hand count them.

The vote results were:
Yes – 977
No – 1,381
Abstain – 5
Total – 2,363

The motion lost, by a margin of 404 votes. Interestingly, this was the largest number of delegates voting at any time during this entire session, up to this date.

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Of interest, were two General Conference Statesmen, Elder Jan Paulsen, former General Conference president, and Lowell Cooper, retired (as of the previous day) General Conference Vice-President both gave heartfelt appeals for the delegates to vote in favor of the motion.

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After the business session, Elder Dan Jackson invited the entire NAD delegation, special guests and guests, to conference room 103, where we had caucused on Friday for recommending our Nominating Committee members, to have a time to pray and to encourage the NAD to be a gracious supporter of the World-Church at large at this time.

Whatever way you may feel about the outcome of this vote, I am proud of our church for taking up this issue, giving it world-wide study, bringing the results of that study to the world church and that the world church took this seriously enough to provide a wealth of information, and then devote specific time for all the delegates to carefully consider it and vote on it. We have a world-church that is willing to consider things “together.” What a blessing! I am thankful for being a part of such a church where items can be raise, considered, prayed over and then processed together.

TUESDAY’S ACTIVITIES – JULY 7, 2015 GC SESSION.

Today, the delegates more time on the wording of our Fundamental Beliefs. We have had quite a long discussion on the exact wording regarding inspiration of scripture and whether it was “men” who were inspired or “authors.” Some urged that only masculine language be used. The committee shared with the delegates that the reason for using “authors,” was that there were times that the scriptures quote female prophets within the scripture record, and their words should be held as inspired also.

Then more discussion was conducted on the word on the record of creation. The main issue was to include the idea that God created the universe. Then in a “recent 6 day creation” God created this world. This generated several comments back and forth over “minor” (my emphasis) issues and perspectives. At one point, Bill Knott, Adventist Review Editor, and recent speaker at our PA Conference camp meeting was invited to come to the podium and share with the delegates how some of these statements were formed and why they were used. By the end of the discussion the suggested Fundamental Belief, as amended and brought back from the Fundamental Belief Committee after being referred back to the committee yesterday, was voted. You can read the entire amended Fundamental Belief number 6 on “Creation” in the reports of the Adventist Review.

DEFENDING THE FAITH — GC MONDAY JULY 6, 2015

You would think that discussions, presentations and motions on Church Manual policy and Fundamental Belief statements could be dull and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth!

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I went quickly to the microphone when the fundamental belief 23 on Marriage and the Family was brought to the delegates, and was the first to speak on this issue. The proposal was to change the wording from “marriage partners” to “a man and a woman.” Over the last 35 years, when the fundamental belief 23 was first voted, the concept of “marriage partners” has changed in the current society usage. When we first formulated this belief no one was assuming marriage partners meant anything other than a husband (man) and wife (woman). In today’s climate, it has an entirely different meaning. I encouraged the body of delegates to strongly support the proposed wording that clearly states marriage is between “a man and a woman.” I was glad that I did, since the next delegate at the microphone was from Holland, and wanted the statement to be retained as “marriage partners” as he wanted to keep that wording in order to accommodate other arrangements than the Biblical definition of marriage. I was glad I could uphold the Biblical view before the world church.

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The next item of interest was speaking to some wording on creation and the world-wide flood. Dr. John Baldwin was a speaker for our PA Conference Camp Meeting, and he and I spoke at length last summer and this summer about more detailed wording on these two beliefs. In regards to the flood, Dr. Baldwin had encouraged that we consider specific wording. The current wording speaks of a “world-wide flood.” Dr. Baldwin shared that the Andrews Theological Seminary was concerned that the wording be strengthened. It seems that some of our Adventist teachers are adopting a similar ideology to other bible teachers, in postulating that when a Bible author/writer speaks of a world-wide flood, that they are only saying, there was a flood over the part of the world that they were aware of. In other words, their use of a “world-wide flood” means “the world around me that I am aware of.”

So, after talking with Dr. Baldwin from the AU Theological Seminary, he suggested we as delegates consider requesting the phrase, “a global flood” be included, either as an addition to the present wording, or as a substitution. Thus, I went to the microphone and urged the adoption of that language to clarify that we as Seventh-day Adventists, believe in a global flood, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures and in the Spirit of Prophecy, and use this language.

Wow! How exciting! Any delegate gets a chance to prayerfully seek to influence the good ministry of our dear World Church.

There were quite a few others comments on various fundamental beliefs. And you can read them in accounts in the Adventist Review.

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In the late afternoon, the report of the Nominating Committee brought back names for many of the Divisions to serve as president of those Divisions. It was a thrill to find that Dan Jackson, our incumbent North American Division president was re-nominated for NAD president. He was re-elected, and after the vote, most of the NAD delegation gave him a standing ovation and nearly brought tears to his eyes.

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Another interesting note, Jerry Page was re-elected as the General Conference Ministerial Director for the world field, and Janet an associate Ministerial Director. We in Pennsylvania have fond memories of them and value their contributions to the world field.

CHURCH MANUAL BUSINESS DOMINATES JULY 5, 2015 GC

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Today moved into more typical business session activities. The session took up several Church Manual revision proposals. While considering various items, some of which proposed changing the designation of minister to pastor, since in the secular world, minister can be someone with different portfolios, such as the minister of education, the minister of defense, the minister of agriculture, while the designation of “pastor” is widely recognized as being specific to the gospel ministry. However, a few delegates were adamant to leave the designation as minister. Also, they were concerned that the more inclusive language being proposed pre-determined an outcome on Wednesday in favor of ordination of women, and they were opposed to that outcome.

Also, of great concern to a number of delegates is the ongoing concern about using the electronic voting devices for “secret” or anonymous voting by all delegates (which we have used for NAD meetings and which the GC Nominating Committee is currently using). On Thursday, it was determined that the WIFI for the Alomodome was interfering with the frequency for the remote voting devices. By Friday, that had been totally repaired and restored. However, every time it was tested with the delegates, it was apparent that several hundred votes that were not being cast, compared to the number of delegates present. I personally spoke with the GC IT personnel who I know personally on Friday, Sabbath and today. And they said point-blank, “Ray, the devices are working perfectly. There are no problems with the voting devices at all.”

Some delegates had heard (disclaimer – hearsay on my part) that certain delegations had been instructed not to use the electronic devices. And that other division leaders had instructed their delegates to vote all together in a certain way. It was also said to them that if the electronic devices were used, the leader would personally interview each individual later to ask how they voted. Normally I would not give much credit to such stories. However, today, there were multiple requests by delegates (predominantly from the NAD) to use/test the voting devices today for voting on names brought in by the Nominating Committee.

Eventually, all the delegates were asked to stand and hold their devices. Each section was counted as to who/how many had devices. Then a test question was put to the delegates to vote yes or no.

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It didn’t matter how anyone voted, it was just to see how many devices where registered in the electronic receiving equipment. When the tally was reported there were about 500 votes less than there were delegates with devices present. So the motion was made to NOT use the devices. Later, delegates requested that paper ballots be used for “secret ballot” voting. This motion was voted down by the delegates. Yet it was interesting that the NAD delegates voted overwhelming in favor of that proposal, and the other parts of the world field (predominantly Africa) voted against a secret ballot. It was interesting to me, that in the discussion of that motion, a delegate from Africa, specifically stated his opposition to using voting devices or secret ballots, because he felt those systems could be manipulated. And if you believed in a position strong enough, you should be very public about expressing your vote.

So it appears that the rest of our voting through this session will be by uplifted voting cards. And the concern of some from some parts of the world field, is that this process of voting by upraised cards in public can be used to control or intimidate delegates from certain fields to vote as instructed by their leaders and be watched and punished if they deviate.

The dynamic all through the day brought into clear focus, that the NAD with only 7% of the population of the world church, is now clearly in a minority in regards to official church decisions. Almost all the votes today of any interest to the NAD delegates was soundly voted down.

Another interesting development, is that in order to speak as a delegate to any issue before the body, you have to take your name tag, present it to a person sitting at a designated area near your seating area. They will “scan” it with a laser reader, and this will indicate to the chair of the session that someone in the delegate area wishes to speak to an item. There are about 6 such stations and microphones spread out in the delegate area. The microphone, # 3, that was in our section, several times had difficulty with the laser scanner reading that a delegate wanted to speak, and the chairperson would not recognize them and would proceed with calling for the vote. One time I had to go to a different microphone some distance away from our seating area to call attention to the fact that several delegates were not getting recognized by the microphone in the NAD section.

Though all of this, I love our church. I love our message. I love our mission, and I love our Lord. May the Lord of heaven and earth guide and bless us so that we can continue to work together for the mission that we have in revealing Jesus and making disciples.

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At noon, Jeanne and I joined Mark and Bev Sorensen for lunch in the large delegate dining area. We got to sit across the table from an Adventist missionary surgeon serving in South Africa who was originally from Argentina. Just a couple of years ago, he was asked to head up the Adventist work to minister to AIDs victims. This very dedicated Adventist Physician told us some inspiring stories of his work as a surgeon for over 20 years, and now with the ministry to those with AIDs. There are more than 30 million AIDs victims just in Africa alone.

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Tonight, Jeanne and I participated in the governing board of The Hope of Survivors meeting held in conjunction with General Conference Session. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer of the PA Conference is also a member. This excellent organization ministers to the victims of clergy abuse. At the conclusion of our board meeting, I was elected chairman of the board for THOS. We were privileged to have THOS at our 2015 PA Conference Camp Meeting.

SABBATH, JULY 4 AT GENERAL CONFERENCE

Today was a wonderful time of Divine worship, inspiring messages and uplifting music.

Elder G.T. Ng had the Divine worship message. He warmly identified with the North American crowd, especially noting that today was the 4th of July, and inviting all the United States delegates to stand, and then since Canada Day was only a few days ago, the Canadians. His message was very spiritual and uplifting. He also noted the progress God’s church has made since its inception.

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Washington Adventist University Choir and the WAU New England Youth ensemble were joined by musicians from Montamorales University under the direction of Dr. James Bingham to provide several musical numbers and to accompany the closing congregational song. They were simply outstanding. So proud of our WAU musicians.

In the afternoon were several musical numbers that were top quality.

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Tonight, the North American Division gave the report of the mission and strategic directions of God’s work in the NAD. Then Elder Jim Nix, director of the E.G. White Estate shared some insightful stories of the life of Ellen White. A short clip of a new movie about the life and ministry of Ellen White was shown. This is a film that is produced by the South Pacific Division and it looks just excellent. I can hardly wait to see it in its entirety and to purchase a personal copy.

The second division report was from the Middle East, North Africa Division. These are almost exclusively Muslim countries. While our membership is very small in this division, Homer Trecartin shared some thrilling stories of God at work. Several pictures were shown during this report, but the faces in the photos had to be obscured to protect those practicing Christianity from repercussions in their own home countries. Pray for the work in the Middle East. I have a warm spot in my heart for that region, as my Aunt and Uncle, Raymond and Iva Hartwell served there for many years.

Reports, Elections, Preaching and Baptisms – July 3, 2015

This morning we heard a report from the General Conference Secretary, N.T. Ng, with a report of the size of the membership of various divisions, and the growth of the world church.

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This was followed by a report from the Director of the office of Statistical Report. Mr. Trim noted that our statistical membership records indicate that we have much lower rates of death than the general populace, and so significantly lower, that it is evident this is not from healthy living! The director of statistics shared with us that through research over 15 years, it is obvious that our membership records do not reflect an accurate accounting for when our members die. Recently the General Conference has implemented a new membership tracking system to more accurately reflect the actual membership in the world church. This will not show up yet with this session’s report, but show help in the future.

One item of note, was that our ratio of membership increase and membership decrease (baptisms and professions of faith compared to dis-fellowship, etc) is narrowing. We are “losing” members at a higher rate than in the past. The delegates expressed a great desire for us as a church to make a concentrated effort to do better in this going forward in the future.

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Just before lunch, the Nominating Committee brought in a recommendation (151-80) for the position of President of the General Conference. A delegate requested that the report be returned to the Nominating Committee. The delegate was invited to meet with the chair and secretary of the nominating committee. The concern was not at all related to the issue of women in ministry, but other matters that were appropriate to raise. After some consideration the original name was put before the session. A different delegate then requested the name be referred back again. This delegate was also invited to meet with the chair and secretary of the nominating committee. Again, after consideration the original names was put before the session. Then a delegate requested that the session vote on this by secret ballot, as the electronic voting devices seem to have some issues and it had been felt they were not recording all votes accurately, so were not being used. This request was declined, and all were instructed to use their voting cards for the vote. The General Conference in session elected Ted Wilson for another 5 year term. Some observed that in their opinion, this was the first time a name for president was presented to the delegates and there was a request (much less 2 requests) to refer the name back to the Nominating Committee.

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In the afternoon, Elder N.T. Ng was re-elected General Conference Executive Secretary and Juan Prestol was elected General Conference Treasurer.

Elder Jerry Page opened the evening meeting by leading the delegates and the thousands of guests in the Alamodome to pray for mission to the cities.

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Charles Huagabrooks and Christine Womman sang a moving duet, “Little is Much, When God is in It.” The words of this song have always appealed to my heart.
“In the harvest field now ripened
There’s a work for all to do;
Hark! The voice of God is calling,
To the harvest calling you.

Refrain:
Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame;
There’s a crown, and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus name.

In the mad rush of the broad way,
In the hurry and the strife,
Tell of Jesus’ love and mercy,
Give to them the Word of Life.

Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem so small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
“Welcome home, My child—well done!”

Kelly Mower was at the piano.

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Then tonight, Pastor Mark Finley gave an impassioned sermon for mission and reaching the lost. He appealed to the delegates that we be united around mission and not just be here for debate.

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Charles and Christine closed with the song, “I Dreamed of a City Called Holy,” and “The Holy City.”

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This was followed by the congregation singing the last stanza and candidates entered a baptismal pool and were baptized!  One lady moved here to San Antonio knowing no one and having no family. She came in April to the free medical clinic and now has joined the Adventist family and now has family here in San Antonio!! Others were also baptized tonight, including a husband and wife who participated in a small group ministry, “Homes of Hope.”

General Conference Session Day 1 – July 2, 2015

Some us Facebook, some now use Twitter, Instagram or Tumbler. I’m going to go old-fashioned and give a personal blog every day of General Conference and accessible on the Pennsylvania Conference website.

Today was the opening of the General Conference session. It starts with some basic functions, such as voting the agenda for the session, learning to use the electronic voting “clickers” and having each Division caucus by Division to suggest names of delegates to serve on the General Conference Session Nominating Committee.

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This afternoon I sat alongside of Mark Sorensen as we met with the North American Division caucus to select our recommendations for the GC Nominating Committee. Each Union of the NAD held its individual caucus and gave names based on the allocation a Union could have. The Columbia Union selected Dave Weigley, Union president, and Renee Battle Brooks, a lay person from the Columbia Union Executive Committee, who is a prosecutor in the state of Maryland. The entire NAD has about 24 members to sit on the Nominating Committee out of about 225 members from across the world field.

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Tonight, Elder Ted Wilson, current president of the General Conference is giving the President’s report, sharing some highlights of the various departmental ministries of the General Conference. He also highlighted the call to make a focused work in reaching the masses of the cities with the gospels.

During the report, Elder Wilson also highlighted the evangelistic and medical work that has been conducted by the Adventist Church in San Antonio ahead of the session. Evangelists, including Alejandro Bullon, Jose Rojas, Mark Finley and others have been conducting meetings. Also, a health/medical fair was offered free to the community. It was estimated that over $20 million of value in health care was given to community members who came to receive basic health services.

Hope Channel now has 36 fulltime channels around the world. Over 143 million copies of some version of the Great Controversy has been distributed around the world.

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On a personal note, it was a joy to be with Jeanne’s Uncle Dan Zacharias, who is a delegate here from Texas by virtue of being on the NAD Executive Committee.

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