Ernie Castillo, vice president of the North American Division, addresses the delegates at the August 19, 2012 special session of the Pacific Union Conference
ELDER CASTILLO: Thank you, Brother Chairman. It is good to be in the Pacific Union Conference. This is my home. I miss the earthquakes and the smog out here. You know, we had an earthquake back East some months ago. Oh, it felt good. In fact, I had the privilege yesterday to preach in my home church where my wife and I still hold membership, Baldwin Park. In fact, my pastor and his dear wife are here as delegates. So it's good to be back, and I long for the day when I can return. And after my speech today, I might be returning sooner than hoped.
Brother Chairman, if it's all right, I'd like to have a little translation because, once in a while, the Spirit just takes me into other tongues, you see.
ELDER GRAHAM: We have selected Elder Mario Perez. He's consented to provide translation for us as needed today. Thank you, Elder Perez, a member of the Southeastern California Conference. I believe he is assisting the president.
ELDER CASTILLO: Thank you, Brother Chairman, and when the Spirit moves me, Elder [Perez], you just get that mic ready.
ELDER CASTILLO: Brother Chairman, I'm going to try to make my comments very quick. I'm the type of person I like to cut to the chase. There are three issues that I'd like to just briefly mention and clarify, and I'm speaking from the heart today. My fourth item, I'm going to make an appeal to you. I have spent several years in ministry, so I think I'm eligible for an appeal to my fellow church leaders.
First of all, I'd like to deal with the issue of unity. You have heard much about unity. I have read the material that's been in our packets regarding unity. Elder Wilson, very respectfully and kindly, I would like to mention, it was back in the month of February of 2011, to be a little more specific, February 13, 2011, I was chatting with a General Conference vice president regarding this issue that we're dealing with here today, the ordination of women. The vice president of the General Conference told me very, very clearly, because he was differing from my point of view, but he told me very, very clearly, you know, the time has come that really the World Church really doesn't need the North American Division. The other world divisions can basically handle themselves on their own, financially.
Now, fellow delegates and Elder Wilson, I have always understood that the vice presidency is an extension of the president's office. That's what I have understood. If this vice president is speaking on behalf of your office, we do have a serious problem because I hear unity on one side, and yet, I hear something else on the other side. If he is not -- if this individual is not speaking on behalf of your office, then I would kindly appeal to you, Elder Wilson, please, put a stop to this.
Number two, I have heard a lot about rebellion; that the Pacific Union, the Columbia Union, [and] I believe we have a conference or a Union out in Germany, Trans-European Division somewhere, that has also taken a similar type vote -- that these entities are in rebellion. I would like to clarify something, and if it's all right, let me transfer into tongues here because we do have some fellow delegates I have noticed that are being translated by their neighbors, and let me make myself clear, so let me jump into Spanish, if it's all right.
(Through Elder Perez) Brothers and sisters, I want to clarify something in regards to rebellion. I have listened and heard in several places, and I know from where this comes. Pastor Wilson, once again, I know where this comes from, and I would like for you to put a stop to this issue because this is not helping in the unity of our church.
I want to just tell you, dear delegates, this issue of rebellion, the Pacific Union is not in rebellion. The Columbia Union, as I see it, is also not in rebellion and, also, the conference in Germany is not in rebellion.
Speaking frankly and honestly, all this that has taken place and has resulted because of what took place in October of last year, at the counsel of our World Church. I was there. Nobody told me. I heard it. I want to give it to you in a summary. The North American Division made a request, and there was a request made to the World Church to give permission to the North American Division to have a variance of policy. It was Policy E60, which you have read in your materials. Basically, the policy says that only a pastor with ministerial credentials can come to be a president of a conference. The North American Division asked permission to add that a commissioned pastor or an individual with credentials, commissioned credentials, that person also could be a president of a local conference. It was denied.
I heard, witnessed, with all respect to our brethren of our General Conference, that was not well managed. I saw it. I heard it. This isn't a rebellion. It's a reaction. It's a reaction of a group of individuals that for years, 40 years or more, have been suppressed and have been discriminated [against]. Brethren and sisters, when you, yourselves, are suppressed and are discriminated against, we are going to react. This is what we call Sociology 101. This is logical.
When a group of people, a group of individuals, are suppressed and are discriminated [against], that group of individuals, those persons, are going to react. That's what we're seeing here in the Pacific Union. Persons that are reacting. And we see this in the Columbia Union, persons that are reacting.
I want to present a quote from the "servant of the Lord." (In English) Translator, you just stand right in back of me. Brother Chairman, if it's all right, I'm quickly transferring into English and reading a quote here. I'd like for them to show the quote. This comes from the Spirit of Prophecy. And if it's all right with the chairman, I'd like to turn into a little bit of evangelistic here.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Though the following quotation is very similar to several statements made by Ellen White, this exact statement was actually crafted by a small committee established by delegates at the 1875 General Conference session. This statement was voted by delegates at the 1877 General Conference session, and reported in the Review and Herald, October 4, 1877. See the rather dramatic story of that vote below, after Castillo's comments.]
ELDER GRAHAM: As long as you do it shortly and briefly.
ELDER CASTILLO: That's right. I'd like for you to read this all with me. Ready. Here we go:
"The highest authority under God among Seventh-day Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, as expressed in the decisions of the General Conference when acting within its proper jurisdiction, and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without exception."
Now the next slide -- and I have taken this from Dr. George Knight's book "Organizing for Mission in Growth," but it's a Spirit of Prophecy quote. She finishes saying, read it with me,
"… unless they can be shown to conflict with the Word of God and the rights of individual conscience."
Now, it's surprising to me that our General Conference brethren haven't used that quotation before.
Now, brothers and sisters, fellow delegates and Brother Chairman, I would like to end with this appeal -- I would like to end with this appeal. My translator, that's all right, just stand right here. I would like to make my appeal to our fellow church leaders, starting with the General Conference president, right on down. When we, as church leaders, are elected to positions of leadership, we are elected -- the way I look at it, we are elected, number one, we're elected to lead. We're elected not only to lead, but we're elected to administrate the affairs of our church. Fellow leaders, we are also elected to our positions and to do our part to hold this church family together. That's our responsibility, and in a specific way to my General Conference brethren, I would like to appeal. Being that we are talking and discussing regarding the issue of ordination of women, if we have a personal conviction, a personal conviction, I'm not talking about a conviction, a doctrinal issue, I'm not talking about that. Neither am I talking regarding the issue where the Bible says "thus saith the Lord." I'm not talking about this conviction. I'm talking regarding a personal conviction such as we're discussing today. If we do not agree with it, please, please, please try to be professional enough, Christian enough, to lay that aside for the benefit of keeping our church together.
THE STORY BEHIND THE 1877 STATEMENT
At the start of every General Conference session in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the delegates elected a resolutions committee, usually three experienced ministers or administrators. Every day during the GC session those three men listened to proposals, then added those that they thought had merit to the next day's agenda.
But "Ernie's" resolution did not come from that resolutions committee. This was a resolution that came from a special committee appointed two years earlier, in 1875, to revise the "Address on Leadership" that had been presented and voted at the 1873 session, then published as a tract. As we see below, the Leadership Address was so offensive that Bro. W.H. Littlejohn -- and no doubt others -- had left the Adventist church because of it. The statement read by Ernie at the Pacific Union Conference session was really Part Two of the action taken in 1877 to correct the action of 1873. Uriah Smith reports that the committee had not found time to revise the whole tract, but that they were prepared to present two resolutions that would deal with the main issues.
Resolution One rescinded "all that portion of the Address on Leadership passed in 1873 which teaches that the leadership of the body is confined to any one man."
Resolution Two, the resolution that Ernie read, declared that, instead, the highest authority under God among Adventists is 1) found in the will of the body of that people -- not in individual leaders -- and that even a decision of the body of believers is authoritative only when it is 2) expressed in the decisions of the General Conference, when 3) that body is acting within its proper jurisdiction, when 4) the decision is not in conflict with the word of God, and 5) when it is not in conflict with the rights of individual conscience.
In addition to the five qualifiers listed above, it is important to note the reserved language used to describe any earthly authority, whether it is the authority of one person or the "will of the body." Some today carelessly use statements like "The General Conference in session is God's highest authority on earth" as though when God has something to say to the inhabitants of planet Earth, He speaks through the votes of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in business session. But this statement of 1877 speaks only of "the highest authority -- under God -- among Adventists." So the will of the body is only authoritative for church members, and even that authority is subject to a higher authority, God.
It is also interesting to note how hard the authors of this statement worked to avoid saying that the highest authority is the GC in session, as though the delegates in session had some kind of authority over "the body." Instead the highest authority is "the will of the body." So all Adventist believers, praying, studying and working together, have more authority than the GC officers or even the delegates in session. But how do we know what the will of the body is? We see it when it is "expressed" in the decisions of the General Conference in session.
Bro. Littlejohn declared from the floor in 1877 that this carefully-crafted five-part declaration was enough to bring him back to the church, where he would be happy to again labor. The delegates welcomed him back with a "rising vote," as opposed, apparently, to a voice vote or a show of hands. Elsewhere in these minutes it explains that a rising vote showed "that the people were entirely in harmony and sympathy with the sentiments expressed in the resolutions."
We should note that the question of how much authority a GC president had was a hot topic in 1863, when many left the Adventist believers because they organized and elected a president. And it was still a hot topic in 1901, when the delegates voted to abolish the office of GC president entirely and have the church run by an administrative committee, who would appoint their own chair.
Here is the 1877 Review and Herald report:
The report of the committee appointed in the annual meeting of the Conference in 1875, to revise the tract on Leadership, was called for. Eld. U. Smith stated that the committee, had not had time to devote to this revision, but as certain resolutions touching this question had been prepared to be submitted to this Conference, the committee would beg leave to endorse those resolutions, and present them for their report:
Resolved, That we rescind all that portion of the Address on Leadership passed in 1873, which teaches that the leadership of the body is confined to any one man.
Resolved. That the highest authority under God among Seventh-day Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, as expressed in the decisions of the General Conference when acting within its proper jurisdiction; and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without exception, unless they can be shown to conflict with the word of God and the rights of individual conscience.
The Conference accepted the report of the Committee, and unanimously adopted the resolutions.
Eld. White spoke of the pleasure of seeing Eld. W. H. Littlejohn at this meeting, and of the prospect of his once more being united with our people, find laboring in harmony with us.
Bro. Littlejohn thereupon said that the resolutions just passed had cleared away the difficulties that had stood in the way of his active co-operation with the body for the past four years, and he hoped that he soon would have the privilege of engaging actively in the work of spreading the truth again.
Eld. White then presented the following resolution:
Resolved, That this Conference invite Bro. Littlejohn to join us in the work in fellowship and in labor.
This was unanimously passed by a rising vote of the whole congregation.
Adjourned to call of the president.
JAMES WHITE, Pres,
A. B. OYEN, Sec. pro tem.
EIGHTEENTH ANNUAL SESSION