As I am writing this, the 61st session of the General Conference is meeting in St. Louis. The world-wide pandemic delayed this meeting for 2 years and caused it to be held at a different venue (St. Louis) than originally scheduled (Indianapolis).
From time to time I hear people say things that suggest bringing people together from all over the world (at least, those who are not prevented from coming because of Covid 19-some are attending virtually) is unnecessary because-at least as it relates to choosing the leader of the world church- “It has already been decided”.
People say that with conviction; I don’t think anything can dissuade them from believing that a small, international (I suppose it is international-the vast majority of Seventh-day Adventists live outside the United States-almost 50% on the continent of Africa) cabal have gotten together somewhere and decided the major offices, issues, etc., in advance and that the General Conference session is 10 days of window dressing.
I would not argue with anyone who thinks in that manner, but I think the scenario of a small group of people getting together and deciding everything in advance of General Conference is unlikely. Here is why:.
1. If There Was A Meeting to Decide Everything In Advance, That Meeting Would Have to Remain Secret-And There Hasn’t Been A Meeting In the Church That Remained Secret-Ever (that might be an exaggeration-but not by much)
As someone who has sat in zillions of meetings on all levels of the church over these past 44 years, my experience is that nothing remains secret for very long. I have said many times that the only secret in the Adventist Church is that Jesus is coming again. That seems to be the only thing that we as Adventist don’t tell.
I remember a conference administrator being justifiably upset with the board/committee that he chaired because some information that did not need to get out, surprise-got out. He made that board/ committee all but swear in blood that they wouldn’t share any information that came up at the next meeting. And-they didn’t-or, so he thought.
I remember listening to Brother Administrator exult after the next meeting of that group, “This meeting was tight-nothing got out!”. I decided not to burst his bubble by telling him that even though I wasn’t a member of that particular board/committee, I knew-without asking anyone, anything-everything that had transpired.
A meeting that decides the major issues of the General Conference in advance of General Conference would have to be a secret meeting where nothing got out. There are no secrets in the Adventist Church. If a meeting was held and nothing got out, that would be the first time in the history of the church on any level where a meeting occurred and nothing about it got out (again-that is probably an exaggeration-but again, not by much).
2. The Election of Leaders Comes Through the Recommendation of the General Conference Nominating Committee.
In order for everything to be really decided in advance, it would require the cooperation of the Nominating Committee. The majority of the Nominating Committee would have to agree in advance to do whatever the small group of decision-makers have decided in advance that they (the Nominating Committee) would do.
There are 3 problems with doing that:
First-the Nominating Committee at the General Conference is made up of about 250 or so people from all over the world. Each of the 13 world divisions has individuals on the Nominating Committee and outside of the people who are on the Nominating Committee from the same division, almost none of the Nominating Committee members know one another-in fact, it is unlikely that all of the people on the Nominating Committee from the same division all know each other.
I have never been on the General Conference Nominating Committee. But I have been privileged to serve on a conference nominating committee, a couple of union nominating committees and 2 division nominating committees. And I never knew everyone in any of those Nominating Committees.
So-in order for everything “to already be decided in advance”, whoever the small group of deciders are, they would have to get with enough people on the Nominating Committee in advance to get them to agree to do what the deciders want them to do.
Except-and this is the second problem-the Nominating Committee members are not all chosen in advance. I do not know what the other world divisions do, but I have been involved in choosing the representatives on the Nominating Committee from North America on two occasions. The North American Division generally chooses its General Conference Nominating Committee representatives the day before the first meeting of the General Conference Nominating Committee.
So-if there is a group of people getting together to decide everything in advance, they would be doing that before the North American Division chooses its Nominating Committee representatives. If most of the other divisions follow that same practice-and I believe they do-then, it would be difficult for the deciders to influence the process in advance-because they would know whom they would need to influence.
Now-it is possible that the secret influencers are the only people in the Adventist Church that can actually keep what they are doing secret. It is possible that they are so adept at keeping things secret that most of us are unaware of who these secret deciders are and how they do there work.
Thirdly, even if the alleged small group of deciders somehow:
A. Managed to influence enough members of a Nominating Committee made up of people from around the world, who are chosen right before General Conference begins, and,
B. Managed to do that without the whole world knowing they were doing that
There is still one more hurdle the deciders would have to surmount-the 2,000 General Conference delegates from around the world. They have the final vote and the final say in whatever happens at a General Conference.
I have had the privilege of being a delegate to General Conference twice. If there was some grand design or plan at the two General Conference sessions where I was a delegate, no one told me.
But in the end, it does not really matter. Because…the people who claim that everything important at this General Conference session is decided in advance are actually right-just not in the way they think.
There are those who think a small group of men get together and decide everything in advance. I on the other hand believe that God gets together with the Godhead and decides everything in advance.
I know that it is not as popular to believe this as it used to be, but I still believe that this is God’s church. What happens to it is in God’s hands. He sets up leaders, He sets them down. Men and women can strategize and analyze and politicize-but in the end, they can only do what God allows them to do. God is in control.
Ellen White talks about the fact that above the play and counter-play of human events sits God, silently working out His will. Man rules, but God overrules.
The real purpose of the General Conference session or any church meeting where leaders are chosen is for us to ask God to help us to decide to do what He has already decided He wants us to do.
So-it is true-everything has already been decided-decided by God. It is up to us as to whether we shall cooperate with Him in the fulfillment of His plan.