Abandonment: A New Grounds for Divorce?
By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD
Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have believed in the permanence of the marriage institution. Basing their belief on the Genesis model of marriage and other passages of Scripture, Adventists find additional support for their position in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:32) and in His statement that:
“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. . . . Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:6, 9; cf. Mark 10:9-12).
The long-standing Adventist position on the permanence of the marital union is confirmed by Ellen G. White who also wrote:
“In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declared plainly that there could be no dissolution of the marriage tie, except for unfaithfulness to the marriage vow” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 63).
On the strength of the above statements, our church has taught that divorce was justifiable only on grounds of adultery (understood to mean sexual infidelity or unfaithfulness to the marriage vow), and that a divorced person could not remarry until after the death of the estranged spouse or unless he or she was the innocent party in an adulterous situation. Believing that divorcé(e)s who remarried without Biblical grounds lived in constant adultery, the Adventist Church typically disfellowshipped members who remarried if they were the guilty partners in divorces.
However, during the past five or more decades, the increase in the divorce rate in society, together with liberalism’s weakening of Biblical authority in the church, have produced a mentality in the church that views un-Biblical divorce and remarriage as a viable alternative to the "till death do us part" portion of the marriage vow. Those who have embraced the worldly mindset have argued that the church’s long-standing position on divorce and remarriage is too “harsh” or void of “grace,” too “judgmental,” and practically unworkable in our sinful world. In their opinion divorcé(e)s without Biblical justification need “healing” or “redemption,” not “punishment” from the church.
Thus, from the 1970s, as an increasing number of pastors have been reluctant to disfellowship offending members, there have been attempts to find a “Biblical” justification (other than sexual infidelity) to accommodate the un-Biblical divorce and remarriage practices that were rampant in some quarters of the church. In other words, instead of bringing our lives in harmony with the teachings of Scripture, we were looking for a methodology that would bring the Bible into accord with our lives.
By the 1990s, as church publications began carrying articles that sought to liberalize the Bible’s teaching to accommodate un-Biblical divorce and remarriage, attempts were also underway to revise the wording in the Church Manual to make its policy on divorce and remarriage more “redemptive.” The triumph of the new view divorce and remarriage took place at the 2000 Toronto General Conference session when the Church Manual was revised to include “abandonment” as a new ground for divorce.
As will become evident in this article, this new justification for divorce—“abandonment”—is ambiguous enough to allow for easy divorce and remarriage. Thus, for the first time in its history, the Seventh-day Adventist Church at a General Conference session went beyond the teachings of the Bible and legislated an un-Biblical ground for divorce.
Toronto General Conference Session
I was a delegate to the 2000 Toronto General Conference session. More than any other issue, this session will be remembered for its controversial vote on divorce and remarriage. To many, this issue has come to symbolize the domestication of liberal ideas in the church. How exactly did this surprising vote come about? And what should the church do with this questionable Church Manual policy? This chapter captures my views on the issue.
Immediately after the controversial decision, I was interviewed by a number of Adventist news outlets”—spanning a wide spectrum of theological leaning. The following interview was conducted by the news editor of Adventist Today, a liberal publication based in La Sierra, California. Because we tend to stand on opposite sides of theological issues, this interview, published in its entirety, can be read as a liberal-conservative exchange on the subject.
“The Parliamentary Maneuver” as Coup d’État
Dr. Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, a native of Ghana, seemed to be in the middle of every potential conservative-liberal debate during the entire 57th GC conference session. His cries for “theological integrity!” reverberated through the SkyDome on more than one occasion. More than any other individual, it was Pipim that represented the loyal opposition to the recommended divorce and remarriage amendment that was passed in a surprise parliamentary maneuver on Friday morning, July 7, 2000.
Pipim, although now living and working in the United States, was a delegate of the African-Indian Ocean Division [AID], as he has been for every general conference session going back to New Orleans in 1985. He is currently employed by the Michigan Conference, serving as the Director of Public Campus Ministries, whose office is presently located on the campus of The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Pipim’s continuing status as AID delegate despite working in the United States is explained by the fact that he has continued to play an active role in the African Division church work. He regularly returns to teach theology and ethics to their students, conduct ministerial workshops, and speak at various camp meetings. Since 1995, he has represented the AID at the GC’s Biblical Research Institute Committee (BRICOM).
AT [Adventist Today] spotted Sam Pipim late Friday afternoon on July 7 as he was strolling through the exhibit hall near the AT booth in his yellow Ghanaian garb. When approached by AT, he was delighted to talk and in good spirits. When he saw my AT name tag his face actually lit up in a friendly smile, saying he read AT regularly and respected the fact that AT was not afraid to debate and take a stand on controversial issues, though he usually disagreed with its viewpoint. Pipim exudes a charming, radiant mental energy and self-assurance. The discussion we had there was brief but productive. It was agreed that we would continue our discussion via e-mail. The framework for this interview is based on that meeting, supplemented by the subsequent exchange of e-mails that followed from it.
AT: Dr. Pipim, your voice echoed several times in the Toronto SkyDome. Were there any specific issues that were of particular concern to you?
SKP: Every issue was important to me, but I was particularly interested in theological issues, since they concern the message and mission of the church. Moreover, just as the accountants and treasurers spoke forcefully on the auditing procedures in the church, you should expect a systematic theologian to show keen interest in doctrinal proposals suggested for inclusion in the Church Manual. The auditors were seeking to preserve the financial integrity of the church. I was arguing for the theological integrity of the church.
AT: You were obviously keenly interested in the matter that was passed this morning. Will you tell me what your thoughts are concerning what happened?
SKP: Certainly! First of all, I want to make it clear that the General Conference spoke this morning, and I therefore accept that decision and will respect it as such. But I’m confident that when the issue is sufficiently explored, it will be reconsidered at a future GC session. My concern is that as a church, we are slowly legitimizing a process which I describe as “legislate now, find Biblical answers later.” This happened with the questionable Annual Council decision on baptizing wives of polygamists (1946);[ ] then came another questionable decision on ordaining women as elders (1975 and 1984). Each of these Annual Council decisions has caused deep polarization and confusion in churches. Now divorce and remarriage (2000) has been added to the list of controversial decisions.
But this most recent decision in Toronto is worse than the previous ones. For whereas polygamy and women elders were Annual Council actions, the divorce and remarriage decision was made at General Conference session. As such, it is now going to be enshrined in the Church Manual! But as I said, the decision this morning is now the church’s official position. I will respect it as such, though I reserve the right to question its theological legitimacy. That must be emphasized, and everything else that I say must be taken in that context.
It is no secret that I am not happy about the means by which the Divorce and Remarriage amendment was passed this morning. The thought that went through my mind as it was being passed, was that these developed-country delegates must think that those of us from the so-called third world are awfully dumb. As you must have seen, those from the developing world are generally more conservative and tended to have more reservations concerning this amendment. Well, just because we speak with a different accent, [he does not mention color] does not mean that we cannot think or learn. Some of these delegates from the nonindustrialized world who saw this unfolding are prominent government officials in their own countries. They cherish and seek to uphold the ideals of representative democracy in their home nations. They are very intelligent and godly. I am afraid they will learn the wrong lessons from this.
Remember that the conservatives have numbers on their side. If we wanted to play power politics, we could have forced our views on North America and the world church. But I don’t believe in that. Issues involving principles or ideas should be decided on merit, not on politics or parliamentary tricks. That’s why I preferred to leave it up to a commission to study the matter dispassionately rather than having things settled on the floor in the heat of debate, as much as I enjoy that process. If the conservatives had tried to use force to get our way, I would have gotten up to oppose it passionately. This should not be about winning. It should be about coming to the right decision.
AT: Does that mean you did not hear Garry Hodgkin get up yesterday afternoon and announce what he was going to do this morning?
SKP: No, I did not. I’m not sure many of our people did. Otherwise they’d have been there in great numbers. You know that the divorce-remarriage issue was a hot potato item. The chairpersons were at times confused.
Delegates offered conflicting suggestions on how to proceed. But it was clear to most of us that the matter had all been settled for this session, and would not come up again until St. Louis. So we were caught completely by surprise. Hardly anybody from our delegation was there. It was Friday, the last working day of the week. Many went to confirm their air tickets for their departure on Sunday. Remember that there were rumors of an Air Canada strike. Others went shopping and packing.
AT: But most of the NAD [North American Division] delegates were also absent.
SKP: Yes, but proportionally, I think our delegations were less represented. There were only about 150 delegates present altogether. How can it be fair for them to overturn a decision that passed with most delegates present?
AT: Do you accept parliamentary procedure as valid rules under which to conduct church business?
SKP: Oh, yes. I want to emphasize that what they did, procedurally or legally, was OK. When a church business meeting is called, if you are there, you are there; if not, it is still a valid meeting. Some are questioning whether the decision was valid, given the fact that a quorum was not there. I say that’s a waste of time and disagree with those who wish to make that an issue now, though I think it true that if a quorum had been challenged then, that challenge would have been upheld.
But it is possible for things to be legal, while still violating the spirit of fairness. The question before us is not whether the action was legal in a technical sense, but whether the individuals from the industrialized countries act “rightly and fairly” in a more fundamental sense.
Those who are really pushing this new view of divorce and remarriage—most of them from these industrialized countries such as North America, Australia, and Europe; regions that constitute less than 10% of the world Adventist membership—came in and staged their theological coup d’état by utilizing parliamentary procedures to rescind the previous action, cut off all debate, and overturn a prior decision taken by an overwhelming majority of delegates.
I say it was a coup d’état, because the proponents decided to do so when the overwhelming majority of delegates from Africa, Inter-America, South America, the Pacific Islands, etc., were not there. Only about 150 people [about 7 or 8% of GC delegates] were present. Do you understand the dynamics? One hundred fifty people from certain segments of the industrialized countries took advantage of the absence of a large segment of the delegates, and overturned a prior decision by an overwhelming majority of delegates. Some may dispute the 150 number, but I believe my criticism would still be valid, even if 50% of the delegates took the decision to overturn the previous actions. [Read this endnote. ]
Remember, Dennis, the issue was considered so important that they had to suspend Nominating Committee meetings so its members could be there to speak to this issue. That was Tuesday and Wednesday. And with an almost full house of 2,000 delegates present, we voted that the entire document, bearing in mind our concerns, be referred to the Church Manual Committee.
I have spoken to many people, including people who disagree with me theologically; I’m talking about even liberals. And they all concede that the action was really wrong. It didn’t show maturity, sensitivity, or a sense of fairness.
Now our people from the developing countries can be faulted for not being there. Perhaps they were too naïve or trusting, oblivious to the many ideological undercurrents at GC sessions. Undoubtedly, they have themselves to blame for this theologically questionable position now enshrined in the Church Manual.
AT: Let’s set aside the parliamentary issue for one moment and consider the merits of the amendment that got passed, against what it will replace. I know you object to certain elements in it, but as a package, what do you think of it?
SKP: As a whole, I think there is much to like. There is no doubt that it appears more redemptive than what it replaces. Among its strengths is that, instead of the old Church Manual which began with a statement on “divorce and remarriage,” the amended document begins with a positive statement on marriage. That chapter in the Church Manual now is titled, “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage.” I think that is positive. We distort things when we begin discussing a negative, (“Divorce and Remarriage”) without first putting it in the context of something that is very positive (Marriage).
Another positive aspect of the document was the attempt to make it a little more user-friendly. For example, instead of talking about “disfellowshipping,” it talks about “removal from membership”; it’s a change in terminology. Also, instead of talking about “the guilty party” in a marriage situation, it uses the phrase “the spouse who has violated the marriage vow”—a phrase which means the same thing, but doesn’t look so judgmental. These were positive changes that I think they brought together, and I am happy about that.
AT: Now tell me about the problems you see in it.
Role Distinctions in Marriage
SKP: Let’s start with the issue of role differentiation in marriage. For the first time, this document sets forth a new view of marriage, which I would describe as an “egalitarian” form of marriage. Some call it a “partnership” form of marriage.
AT: But you are not saying that there is something wrong with the idea that both partners in a marriage relationship are in principle equal, are you?
SKP: Of course not. The equality of men and women is not an issue, though liberals and feminists try to portray it that way. God created Adam and Eve as equals with neither superior to the other. They were created as equal but complementary spiritual beings with different roles for male and female to govern the home and the first church. Role distinctions do not imply inequality.
The document that was initially submitted to the delegates for consideration suggested that male headship and female submission began at the Fall, instead of its inception at the Creation. The subtle implication here is that male headship may have been done away with at the cross.
By taking away role distinctions at Creation, the document set a theological foundation for not only women’s ordination, but by logical extension, the condoning of homosexuality and homosexual marriages. After all, if the roles of men and women in their relationship with each other are completely negotiable in God’s view, then why not a homosexual relationship?
Many people may not appreciate the full implications of recognizing role differentiation. To them, homosexuality and women’s ordination issues were unrelated to the discussion on the floor. In fact, one associate editor of Adventist Review expressed “surprise” at my comment. He apparently believes the comment by one delegate that those of us questioning the theological fuzziness of the proposal were appealing to those with “a scare mentality.”
I may be wrong. But my guess is that many have not seriously thought through the theological implications of the issues involved in the theologically ambiguous proposal. In fact, I myself at one time was a supporter of women’s ordination because I did not recognize the validity of Bible-based role distinctions for men and women. But after much Bible study, I changed my mind, publishing my reasons in my book, Searching the Scriptures (1995). I have opposed it since then. For my most recent attempt, see my three chapters in Prove All Things (2000).
At Toronto, we succeeded in removing some of the most blatant statements endorsing this egalitarian view before we were prevented from making any further amendments to the document. But some of it’s still there in some fuzzy and feminist language. For example, they refer to Paul’s teaching on headship and submission (Ephesians 5:21-28) as though it is discussing male superiority and female inferiority.
Abandonment by an Unbelieving Partner
It also introduced another ground for divorce, namely, “abandonment by an unbelieving partner.” Historically, Adventists have insisted that the only ground for divorce is adultery and/or fornication. But the document which the Church Manual Committee presented before us introduces a new ground; they call it “abandonment by an unbelieving partner.” Then they inserted 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 as their proof text that it is another ground for divorce! Now this is extremely problematic in terms of its hermeneutics, logic, internal coherence, as well as its application.
The Church Manual committee has injected a reference to 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 into their document, as if that text is talking about divorce. Does it really? By making that assertion, they have raised the issue of hermeneutics—how to interpret the Bible. Responsible scholars and commentators seem to be in agreement that the precise meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:15 is not crystal clear. So why do we build a theological position on an obscure passage? We never got a chance to discuss it.
Having read the document all the way through, it is apparent that a logical contradiction has been created that has serious ethical and practical implications. On the “Grounds for Divorce,” the document states, “Scripture recognizes adultery and/or fornication (Matthew 5:32) as well as abandonment by an unbelieving partner (1 Corinthians 7:10-15) as Biblical grounds for divorce.”
Yet they continue to assert that only adultery and/or fornication by the other partner allows one to remarry. This asymmetry is not logical, and in my opinion betrays the artificial mental gymnastics that were used to create this new ground for divorce in the first place. How can the grounds for remarriage logically be different from the grounds for divorce? The fact that one is not free to remarry implies that one is not really divorced. Shouldn’t divorce mean divorce? Give us a break!
If the Scriptures really allow these two grounds for divorce, why shouldn’t an abandoned believer who allegedly has Biblical grounds for divorce, not be permitted to remarry? It is this kind of theological ambiguity, fuzziness, and inconsistency that some of us were pointing out. This kind of theological “doublespeak” is always a common prelude to liberalism’s revisionist theologies.
AT: Following your logic, one might argue that this logical asymmetry also will create practical problems, because it will create a class of single people who are left in limbo to live like nuns and priests.
SKP: Absolutely. If living this life of celibacy were Biblically mandated, there would be no problem. But that case has not yet been made by proponents. I find parallels here with the debate on homosexuality. Some argue that being a homosexual is not a sin. But they proceed to argue illogically that homosexuals cannot get married!
As far as I’m concerned, there are only two logically sound alternatives. If homosexuality is not a sin, we should allow homosexuals to marry and hold offices in the church. But if it is a sin (which is my position), the church should not allow homosexual marriage.
In the same way, if the Bible grants divorce on the ground of abandonment, we should allow such divorcé(e)s to remarry. Otherwise, we create second-class divorcees in the church. In this respect, the illogical Church Manual proposal is neither “compassionate” nor “redemptive.”
For those people who still believe that Ellen White is an inspired writer, the Church Manual proposal also raises some troubling questions. Mrs. White states very clearly that the only ground for divorce is unfaithfulness to the marriage vow, understood by the church to mean adultery, fornication, and various forms of sexual immorality or perversion, including homosexuality and child abuse. Mrs. White wrote:
In the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:32; 19:9] Jesus declared plainly that there could be no dissolution of the marriage tie, except for unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 63.)
This statement was quoted in the Church Manual. As some of the speakers rightly argued, the “abandonment clause” raises a direct contradiction to this Ellen G. White statement already in the Church Manual. So all these questions were raised.
Besides, Ellen White has spoken on this very question of “abandonment of the unbelieving partner,” divorce, remarriage (see, for example, Adventist Home, pp. 340-352). We cannot adopt the Church Manual proposal without a careful discussion of the all these concerns vis-à-vis the writings of Ellen White.
Practically speaking, allowing the abandonment provision for divorce into the Manual is like allowing the proverbial camel’s head under the tent. The rest of the camel is bound to follow.
What constitutes “abandonment”? Is it ten years? Is it two years? Is it five weeks? The document is silent, but the camel will keep pushing. That’s just the beginning. The second phase of the camel’s invasion will be to argue for what could be termed “emotional abandonment.” For example, I may not physically abandon my wife, but my wife or I (depending on which one of us wants to divorce) can say, “You know, even though we live in the same house, he or she has emotionally abandoned me.” Then there will be the push for recognition of what may be called “sexual abandonment,” when one spouse’s sexual needs are not met. This logical extension of the definition of abandonment will eventually create room for anyone, for whatever reason, to seek divorce.
AT: Well, not quite. It has to be abandonment by “an unbelieving partner.”
SKP: That phrase is also a problem. Who or what constitutes an “unbelieving partner”? During the debate, they defined an unbelieving partner as “one who has not embraced the three angels’ messages.” In other words, an unbelieving partner is a non-Adventist.
So, according to this new proposal, if a Seventh-day Adventist who is married to a Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, and this non-SDA spouse (“unbelieving partner”) abandons the other on say his/her birthday, anniversary, or for two weeks, months, years, etc., the Adventist has grounds to go to the church and say, “See, my Baptist or Methodist husband/wife has abandoned me. Therefore, I have a right to a divorce.”
Does this double standard make good theological sense when applied to divorce? Our church will begin to be known as that church which encourages splitting of families, creating some missiological problems.
For example, it wouldn’t be too helpful in Utah where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, score a lot of points with their family emphasis. It would also create problems in Africa, where our people are winning many converts from other churches. Sometimes under very difficult circumstances (e. g., when a wife is being persecuted by the husband for joining the SDA Church), all they want to hear from the pastor is a license to go ahead and divorce the spouse. Under this new questionable Church Manual proposal, a person in this kind of situation can divorce the unbelieving partner. In the opinion of several of the delegates who spoke against the proposal, this liberalized position is going to open a can of worms.
AT: Speaking of worms or camels, I suppose one could also argue that since a nonbeliever is defined in terms of a negation of “belief” rather than official membership, an argument could be made that one’s officially SDA spouse is not really “a believer” if he or she is a liberal or evangelical SDA.
SKP: Yes, if the terms “liberal” or “evangelical” imply a negation of some Fundamental Beliefs of the SDA church. And I’m sure some will also argue in this way: “My spouse, though officially an Adventist, is actually an unbeliever because he/she does not practice the SDA lifestyle. He/she worships his/her TV, sports, computer, clothing, etc.; hence has violated the second commandment!” My point is that, this “unbelieving partner” provision in the divorce and remarriage package raises the fundamental question of who or what constitutes a true SDA believer? Don’t we have a right to debate the issue?
To summarize, the questionable vote on Friday regarding the marriage and divorce proposal was more than a “change of wording.” I therefore reject the “spin” that has been put on the issue in some of our official publications and news outlets. The vote was a calculated attempt by proponents to liberalize the church’s long-standing position on divorce and remarriage. And I’d hope that some fair-minded Adventist journalists will hold them accountable. It is the right thing to do—regardless of one’s theological leaning.
Believing that “it is better to debate an issue without settling it, than settling an issue without debating it,” I have always welcomed candid and vigorous debates on theological issues. But to maneuver the parliamentary process to rescind a decision made by an overwhelming majority of delegates, to cut off debate, and to vote into the Church Manual a document that is riddled with theological fuzziness, and which is arguably defective in theology, holds the potential of splitting the church. Some conscientious pastors and church members can argue that they cannot accept the Church Manual as an authoritative document to govern the church since this provision is contrary to Biblical and Ellen G. White teaching. A rejection of the authority of the Church Manual will be a sure recipe for congregationalism.
Unless such tactics as were employed in the Friday morning coup d’état are repudiated, this is going to have serious consequences in future sessions, and cause a mistrust to grow that will only deepen the divisions that already exist between the industrialized and developing countries, between liberals and conservatives. This is why I felt compelled this morning to use a “privileged motion” to register my protest.
I knew that nothing would come out of it, but I wanted the world and future generations of Adventists to know that there was at least one person at Toronto who refused to be party to that theologically questionable decision. And of course, one day God will hold all of us accountable for what we did and refused to do on this issue.
AT: Dr. Pipim, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. I truly admire your passion and the purity of your logic, although we may differ in our presuppositions and the underlying logic we employ. Would you be willing to discuss the underlying foundational issues sometime in the near future?
SKP: I would love to discuss the foundational issues. Unless our logical foundation is Biblically sound, then everything built upon it becomes questionable. Let’s continue to dialogue. Perhaps I will succeed in making you a good, happy conservative. Then we can have another kind of Adventist Today!
[Note: Following the publication of this interview, several asked me questions about (a) lessons I learned from Toronto, (b) the validity of the vote by a few members of delegates, and (c) what attitude church members should take now. The following is a summary of my response.]
Lessons from Toronto
1. Those who are called upon to attend General Conference sessions do not go there for sightseeing or their personal agenda. They are there to conduct the business of the church. Therefore delegates have a responsibility to attend all the sessions. To do otherwise is to be negligent in one’s obligations.
2. The questionable vote on divorce and remarriage took place on the very last day of the session—when most people thought the issue had been settled already. Delegates must always remember that until a business session is adjourned, anything can happen. Typically, some of the most important issues tend to be brought to the floor during the closing hours of business sessions—when many are tired or not present.
3. As far as possible, delegates should be given copies (or summaries) of the issues that will come up for discussion long before they arrive for the session. It takes extra motivation after long travel hours for a person to comb through hundreds of pages. Some of the materials tend to be written in terse language. This suggestion is especially crucial in matters dealing with Church Manual revisions.
4. It costs thousands of dollars to send a delegate to a ten-day session (airfare, hotel, food, etc.). To ensure that God’s tithe money is well spent, only knowledgeable individuals who have a burden for the work should be asked to serve as delegates. GC sessions are not designed to reward individuals for faithful service or for being political allies of leaders.
Is the Decision Valid?
Several years ago, Mrs. Ellen G. White stated what our attitude ought to be with respect to GC session decisions: “But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 260).
However, Mrs. White also indicated that in order for a GC session decision to have its full force of authority, such decisions should not be surrendered to a “small group of men.” She considered it an “error” to accord “the full measure of authority and influence” to the judgment of a small and/or unrepresentative group of delegates. Sister White wrote:
God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. The error that some are in danger of committing is in giving to the mind and judgment of one man, or of a small group of men, the full measure of authority and influence that God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 261).
In the light of the above statements, one can legitimately argue that the Biblically questionable vote taken at Toronto on divorce and remarriage cannot be accorded the “full measure of authority and influence that God has invested in His church.” How can the decision by a “small group of men” represent that of “the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work”? It seems to me that those who attempt to implement this un-Biblical policy can only do so at the peril of the “prosperity and advancement” of God’s work (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261).
Proponents can flatter themselves into believing that they now have a policy on divorce and remarriage that is “compassionate” and “redemptive.” The truth, however, is that this questionable policy now enshrined in the Church Manual will not solve the divorce problem. It will rather worsen it. More importantly, the policy will compromise the message and witness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a counter-voice in today’s world.
What Can We Do?
1. Remember that there is a judicious procedure. Let’s remember that the SDA Church has a judicious procedure to address this kind of situation. Churches can direct their grievances to the appropriate quarters of the church–from the conference level, through the union and division levels, to the General Conference level–requesting that the issue be revisited. When this happens, and when the issue is sufficiently explored, I am confident that this questionable policy will be overturned at a future GC session.
2. Teach the dangers of violating Biblical teaching. Church members, elders, pastors, and leaders should counsel all who are contemplating divorcing and remarrying under the present policy about the dangers of violating Biblical teaching. Jesus is coming soon; this is not the time to lose heart. The Lord Himself understands their painful situations. If we determine to do God’s will, He will give us strength to cheerfully bear the cross. In some cases, He Himself will find a way out that does not contravene His teaching.
3. Be Always Vigilant. The church must constantly be alert. We must guard against the ever-present temptation to “legislate now, find Biblical answers later.” As we noted in the interview, this happened with the questionable Annual Council decision to baptize wives of polygamists (1946), and to ordain women as elders (1975 and 1984). Each of these Annual Council actions has caused deep polarization and confusion in our churches. Now, divorce and remarriage (2000) has been added to the list of controversial decisions. What will come next? Homosexuality? Drinking alcohol? Eating unclean foods? Rock music and dancing in the churches? Evolution? The enemy will not rest. He will plant his tares when many of us are asleep (Matthew 13). We must remain faithful watchmen over Zion. We must demand an immediate freeze or moratorium in the implementation of the questionable policies that have been slipped into the church.
4. Pray for our leaders. We must pray daily for our church leaders. They face constant pressures from different quarters. It is not always easy to be courageous. Send them words of encouragement from time to time, and let them know that you are counting on them to hold high the banner.
5. Be faithful no matter what. Finally, determine that when all choose to go the path of rebellion against God’s truth, by God’s grace you’ll remain faithful–regardless of cost.