In light of the recent General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, could it be that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is embroiled in a fight much like the great Battle of the Alamo? Is it possible that such a battle has been raging for years?  

 

The Alamo is a Texas state shrine. Numerous non-fictional works have been produced concerning its historical impact— i.e., Disney’s Davy Crockett (1955) and The Alamo, starring John Wayne (1960), and a 2004 version starring Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton. From July 1-11, 2015, the 60th Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) was held around the corner from this sacred shrine where the final epic battle of the Alamo was fought between President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s governmental forces and the revolutionary Texian Army. SDA delegates, from around the world (over 2600) deliberated and voted on various agenda items, chief among them being ‘whether to allow SDA Divisions to ordain women as pastors as they felt led by God on a per-division basis. The final vote was 1381 (No), 997 (Yes), and 5 (Abstained). Like the pivotal battle of the Alamo when the future land determination of Texas was decided, so the SDA decision of Women’s Ordination and intra-church social relations will be pivotal for the church’s faith, practice, and unity. I believe it will be pivotal because it reflects deep pathologies that fester in our church concerning race and gender.

The background to the Texas Alamo event is compelling. The fact that Santa Anna was president indicates that San Antonio was Mexican territory at the time of the infamous siege from February 23 to March 6, 1836. Up that time, Texas had been largely populated by immigrants from the United States. These immigrants were familiar with a federalist form of government and reacted in revolt against Mexico’s centralist approach to governance. It is recorded that Santa Anna wrote to US President Andrew Jackson concerning the non-conformist immigrants and their interference with Mexican cultural affairs.[1]

A present-day SDA Alamo battle

I reference this episode in US history not as a strict designation of anyone or anything today being the replication of the parties involved then. Rather, this conflict is gripping because it provides a bridge for viewing what occurred at San Antonio among SDAs in light of her own history and as she moves into the future. In my view, the SDA Church has been under siege beyond the issue of women’s ordination. My observations concern SDA dysfunctionality around social disunity, while proclaiming its version of speaking for God in these last days. The following situations are evidences of a kind of present-day SDA Alamo battle, and the takeaway is the same hidden underbelly of structural racism, marginalization, male supremacy and social disunity.

alamobattle
Like the pivotal battle of the Alamo when the future land determination of Texas was decided, so the SDA decision of Women’s Ordination and intra-church social relations will be pivotal for the church’s faith, practice, and unity.

First of all, at the close of business near the session’s end, a “Question of Privilege” was offered by a delegate who serves as a Vice President of the North American Division (NAD) of SDAs. His commentary encouraged taking a moment of silence in respect and solidarity in the aftermath of the tragedy of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC where nine unarmed people were gunned down while attending a Wednesday night bible study. And this Question of Privilege came in the aftermath of this tragedy, the day before the Women’s Ordination vote, when South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley stated, “This flag [Confederate], while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.” A “Question of Privilege” comes under parliamentary rules as a Privileged motion and interrupts everything except a vote in process. However, it requires admission by the chair, who in this instance asked “didn’t someone say something about that this morning?” The Chair’s casual response to this motion and thus to events that have shocked and polarized our nation is (in my opinion) emblematic of upper-level administrator attitudes in the SDA church. On a previous occasion, the newly elected president of a Regional [Black] Conference asked the previous NAD President if they could pray [during a morning worship gathering] for the newly elected 44th President of the USA, Barack Obama, which was denied with the retort, “You pray for him.”

Some will say, I’m overly sensitive, but I respond that when I see similar church actions, I sense a red flag. An example of such is that the, now former, Vice President of the General Conference, Delbert Baker, who has served the SDA Church with distinction that made him worthy of the position. Dr. Baker, who has served as editor of Message Magazine and president of Oakwood University (which attained university status during his tenure), was not reelected. I hear some saying, “It was God’s will,” and “the church must be more fiscally sound by merging responsibilities at its upper administrative levels.” I respect those opinions, but wonder why, in an increasingly diverse global church would we not reelect at least one of the two black male VPs?

I am amazed, but not surprised that there must have been much struggle with God’s will when the incumbent president Ted Wilson’s name was taken back to the nominating committee three times before it was decided to reelect him. From my conference level experiences, presidents use their influence to affect the downline of their future cabinet. Perhaps, it is true that Baker was not retained because of a philosophical disconnect between he and Wilson. Maybe Baker’s non-reelection also had to do with his attending the SC funeral of the Emanuel AME Nine as an “unofficial representative of the SDA Church.” Whatever it is exactly, it reminds me of Elijah Muhammad’s censor of Malcom X, when against organization restrictions, Malcolm explained to a reporter his interpretation of the JFK assassination—“It is a matter of chickens coming home to roost.” Perhaps, the recent vote against division enablement for Women’s Ordination and my “red flag” observations above can be viewed as being similar to the struggle between the Mexican government and Texian immigrants that led to the Alamo showdown or to Malcolm’s editorial statement concerning JFK’s assassination.

I am “Adventist born, Adventist bred, and probably Adventist ‘til I’m dead.” But the stand-offish behavior of SDAs, particularly whites, as demonstrated in the exhibit hall C during the general conference session. On several occasions throughout the session I was asked, (in spite of a large backdrop picture and caption that read ‘Pastor Dr. Mark McCleary’) if I were SDA. My sister and those who helped in our booth all took note of the body language of mostly whites who avoided my display booth altogether. As an SDA pastor, this made me appalled and disappointed. Some of the “avoiders” even distributed materials to our next door neighbor Spectrum and then went past us to the next manned booth. It happened too often to be an aberration. These experiences and observations give me pause that my church continues to maintain a ‘Good old boys’ or segregationist spirit. Such spirit is often ineffable yet expresses motivations and intentions that are unctuous and swim in the depths of human sub consciousness as forgotten sea monsters…

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[1] Scott (2000), pp.74-75.

 

*****NOTE: This article is a snippet of a paper entitled “After the Alamo and Back Again.” You can download it in it’s entirety for FREE in our store.*****

 

Mark McCleary
Mark McCleary

Mark
McCleary

Dr. Mark A. McCleary holds both Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, and brings with them a passion for conflict management, church renewal and social justice. Having been born in Baltimore, he recently returned to his hometown to pastor the Liberty SDA Church. He is the author of several books including The Gospel Presentation. You can contact him via Facebook or email.

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