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2016 Discussions

Date: January 30, 2016

Speaker: Dr. Loren Seibold

Position: Executive Editor, Adventist Today; pastor, Ohio Conference

Topic: “The Suzy Principle: Why We Talk Too Much and Do Too Little”

Venue: Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 55

Presentation: Quoting Gal. 5:22-23, Is. 58:5-7, Lk. 6:31, Rom. 2:14-15, & Matt. 22:28-31, he told about Suzy, a 96-year-old SDA woman who saw homosexuality as a sin yet nursed her nephew’s gay partner with AIDS till he died. Suzy Principle: Wherever there is a contested issue, there is always an uncontested good we can do. We must go beyond the controversial question & ask, “What is the compassionate thing to do?” Examples he discussed included homosexuality, abortion, & women’s ordination. We can’t succeed in making good moral decisions unless we do the uncontested good all the time. Jesus said that love trumps truth; our compassion is more powerful than our judgments.
Date: February 27, 2016
Speakers: Dr. Mark A. Noll; responder, Dr. Nicholas Miller
Positions: Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame; Professor of Church History, SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University
Topic: “The Place of Scripture in the Founding of the United States”
Venue: Chan Shun Hall
Attendance: 100
Presentation: The Great Awakening (1740s-50s) & imperial wars (1740s-60s) attached the colonists to scripture, which they used iconically, typologically, rhetorically, & with principled argumentation. Noll explicated examples from the books & sermons of John Allen (1773), Anthony Benezet (1775), David Griffith (1775), Thomas Paine (1776), John Witherspoon (1776), & Jonathan Boucher (1792) showing how their political biases influenced their exegesis of Ex. 14-15, Judges 4-5, I Kings 12, Ps. 124, Gal. 5, Ps. 76, Rom. 13, & other “patriotic texts.” Miller’s Arminian views differed with Noll’s Puritan views to allow for other 18th C. Dissenting views (Quaker, Baptist, etc.) of scripture.


Date: March 5, 2016

Speaker: Dr. Manuela Casti Yeagley

Position: Senior Research Associate, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame

Topic: “Studying the Book of Life: Adventism and the Need to Go Beyond a ‘Blueprint’ Approach to Theology”

Venue: Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 41

Presentation: As architecture has skyscrapers (hierarchical), loops (community), and collaborative clouds (togetherness) models, so theology can be hierarchical (a single vision, imagery, & reductionist view of history) or a communal (multiple visions, images, & broad view of the past). Her model for Adventism is inclusive, open communication in a diverse community balancing vertical & horizontal perspectives. She showed slides of European SDA youth’s diverse biblical hermeneutics, wide-ranging beliefs on 18 topics, lifestyle issues, & prejudices on contemporary 10 hot-button issues. She concluded we need understanding, contextual focus, reflection, & faithfulness to God’s will.


Date: April 16, 2016

Speaker: Dr. Niels-Erik Andreasen

Position: President, Andrews University (1994-2016); Professor of Old Testament Studies, SDA Theological Seminary

Topic: “Adventist Higher Education: A Few Things to Keep in Mind”

Venue: Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 62

Presentation: Andreasen emphasized the need for economically efficient learning outcomes, individual character development, shorter & financially viable programs of study, administrative restructuring, a Christian emphasis combining academic quality with deep piety, growing Distance Education, building a Health & Wellness Center, reducing operations costs, nurturing new faculty, strengthening unity in diversity, a symbiosis of intellectual curiosity & genuine piety, top quality teaching (by professors with doctorates, fewer committees, who befriend students). He gave personal reasons for retiring & urged support for Andrea Luxton who will follow him as president.



Date: 27 August 2016

Speaker: Dr. Tiffany Summerscales

Position: Professor, Department of Physics, Andrews University

Topic: “What Can We Learn from Gravitational Waves?”

Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 64

Presentation: Dr. Summerscales, an AU alum, explained that gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein (“curvature in the fabric of space-time”).  They had been shown to exist based on their effects on systems that produced them, but had not been measured themselves.  Now they have been measured for the first time, and Dr. Summerscales was a member of the large team that did so.  It had previously been demonstrated that light coming from distant stars is indeed bent by gravity, as observed during eclipses when light passed a large mass object (the sun).  “Ripples” from an object through space are what we refer to as gravitational waves.  They are, however, very faint.  The most powerful waves cause a change in the width of an object the size of the earth of less than the diameter of a proton.

In this case, the team was able to measure the gravitational waves produced by a pair of neutron stars that spiraled into each other and then merged.  She went on to describe the interesting effects of binary pulsars which will also interact and pull closer to each other.

In the United States the National Science Foundation has funded the construction of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) with detectors in Richland, Washington and in Livingston Parish, Louisiana.  There are also gravitational wave detectors in Germany and Italy, and others under construction or planned in India, and Japan.  There is even a proposal for one in space.

Dr. Summerscales showed the actual data received from the LIGOs during an observation run that took place from September 2015-January 2016, and how the data matched up well with expectations.  The system they were viewing is some 1.3 billion light years away.

She also described some of the things that were learned, including that the black holes produced by the collapse of stars are unexpectedly big and that they is a much bigger population of black holes than was previously realized.  They also demonstrated that stellar models with weak solar winds, which predict larger black holes, are more likely.

There were numerous questions. One asked whether she could guess the effects of this new knowledge on practical science in the future and whether it might be possible to harness the energy of gravitational waves.  She noted that we are mainly learning more about the basic rules of the universe, while adding that gravity waves are so very weak that it’s hard to think we could harness them….”although never say never.”  Some of the technology used in building LIGO also can have industrial implications.

When asked if the discovery caused any new thoughts about natural theology, Dr. Summerscales responded that she was not aware of any, except that she highlighted Einstein’s  comment that the real miracle is that the universe is understandable.



Date: 24 September 2016

Speaker: Jeff Boyd, Director of the Adventist Peace Fellowship

Position: Research Support Specialist, Dept of Research and Creative Scholarship

Topic:  The Adventist Peace Fellowship (APF)

Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 43


Mr. Boyd opened with a number of photos of various demonstrations in which the APF has participated, including demonstrations against nuclear weapons, Guantanamo prison, etc.  He then sought to define the term “peace,” noting that it more than simply the absence of violence, which he termed a “negative peace.”  A “positive peace,” he said, involves the integration of human society.  He then entered upon a discussion of the term “Shalom” and how its definition involves wholeness or completeness.  Shalom is bound up with the notion of perfection and well-being.   He compared true peace to an onion, with war, violence, and abuse at the center of human society, but justice and flourishing well-being at the outer layer.

What does Adventism Offer Peacemakers?  Boyd suggests that Adventists bring the Sabbath rest; the concept of Creation; peace with our environment, etc.  He went on to cite a number of quotes from early Adventists about justice, the importance of caring for those who are oppressed, opposition to war (e.g. the annexation of the Philippines), etc.  He also noted the example of Carl Wilkins, the ADRA Director who remained in Rwanda throughout the genocide and was able to save many lives at the risk of his own.

Boyd called on Adventists to seek peace and reconciliation with all, to care for Creation, health and human rights.  It has its own website at www.Adventistpeace.org

A number of questions followed, including discussion about completeness and what concrete activities can be particularly helpful.



Date: 22 October 2016

Speakers: Dr. John T. Gavin, Dr. William W. Ellis, Dr. Curtis J. VanderWaal

Positions: Chair of Social Work Department at WAU (Gavin); Professor of Political Studies at WAU (Ellis); Chair of Social Work Department at AU (VanderWaal).

Topic: “Adventist Religion & Public Issues Survey” (Advertised as “How Will Adventists Vote?”)

Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: 51


Dr. Gavin opened by noting that questions of religious and social identity are deep and abiding.  Religious and social and political questions are challenging for Adventists and we need to understand more about the “Social” and “Political” Adventist.

Their presentation was based on the results of a March 8 survey invitation emailed to readers of Adventist Today (AT) and a similar survey emailed in May to a list of pastors with Advent Source.  They received a total of 615 responses (174 pastors and 441 readers of AT.

This was part of a series of studies, including a 2012 survey of SDA College faculty & staff and Dudley & Hernandez studies of 1984, 2004, and 2008.  They also envision a new project involving meta-analysis to develop a clearer picture of the Adventist political persona.

The speakers discussed the demographics of the survey respondents including their gender (94% male), marital status (93% married), age bracket, whether they were born in the United States, their income spread, their education level, and their ethnic background (55% white, 18% Hispanic, 13% black, 5% Asian, 9% multiracial or other).

They noted that the demographics of Adventists in the United States are more diverse than this sample.

The survey also asked about the respondents’ political orientation (conservative, moderate, liberal); party affiliation (Democratic, Republican, Independent); their religious outlook (fundamentalist, conservative, moderate, liberal); and what issues were of most concern to them (economy, health care, foreign policy, Supreme Court, terrorism, immigration, education, taxes, gun control, the environment, abortion, gay marriage).

The presenters mentioned a number of the questions from the survey and compared the survey to the Pew 2015 survey on issue priorities.  In conclusion the presenters noted that SDA opinions seem to mirror general society.

The audience posed a range of questions.  It was noted, however, that the advertised title “How Will Adventists Vote?” had not really been addressed and one of the presenters conceded that perhaps the advertised title was not quite accurate.




Date: 12 November 2016
Speaker: Dr. Oystein S. Labianca
Position:  Professor of Anthropology; Associate Director – Institute of Archaeology
Topic: Welcome to the Anthropocene:  The Earth in Human Hands
Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall
Attendance: 50

Dr. LaBianca described how humans are affecting the future of this Earth.  “What kind of world are we leaving for our children?” he asked, citing a quote that “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors.  We borrow it from our children.”
“We have a God-given duty to care about what we are doing to the Earth,” he stated, citing Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and all its fullness thereof.”
He mentioned the research at Tel Hisban, Jordan, where he and his team of archaeologists have dug down through 21 layers dating back three millennia, while noting how the sharp increase during the past century in humanity’s population to over 7 billion is overwhelming the Earth’s natural systems. Along with the population surge has been an equivalent surge in everything from water use to methane production to power, dams, etc.  There were slides to show the increase in each respect.
LaBianca also compared the impact of human vegan, lacto-ovo, and meat-based diets – both organic and conventional – on the production of greenhouse gases.  A vegan organic diet had the least impact, while a meat-based conventional diet resulted in the production of many multiples of the amount of greenhouse gases.
The International Group on Climate Change has express concern regarding rising oceans and the impact they will have on populations in coastal areas.  Natural disasters also seem to have increased over the past 30 years.
LaBianca contrasted those who seek to reduce the impact on Earth’s atmosphere with climate change deniers, including the large number of them in American governmental positions up to and including President-elect Trump.  We need long-term thinking, not just short-term thinking.  Short-term thinking in capitalism leads to the demand for profits now without adequate concern for negative externalities, both in regards to production and consumption. Short-term thinking also leaves out concern for future generations. In fact, if everyone lived like an American we would need 4.1 Earths just to support the Earth’s current population.
We are all in this together, LaBianca argued.  This means ending the practice of treating the environment and future generations as inconvenient externalities, and instead embracing the mandate to be stewards of God’s Creation. An example of what we can do right now is becoming more Earth aware as we shop, and to help with that, LaBianca recommended an app called Good Guide for iPhone which “lets users scan barcodes to get health, environment and social responsibility ratings while in the store.” For more about this app see http://www.goodguide.com/about/press/releases/iphone .
LaBianca concluded by reminding that a “bottom up” effort “trumps top-down.”


Date: 19 November 2016
Speaker: Dr. Rachel Williams-Smith
Position:  Assoc. Professor of Communications; Dir. – Communications Graduate Program
Topic: Toward an Understanding of Religious Extremism
Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall
Attendance: 71

In introducing her topic, Dr. Williams-Smith cited several recent examples of religious extremism, including the 9/11 attacks; Westboro Baptist Church; Jonestown; the Branch Davidians; and the Fundamentalist LDS group.  She noted that the Amish and some Mennonites also separate themselves from society.
Her parents also got into a type of religious extremism when she was a child.  Her father, who had been an Air Force captain, was an authoritarian figure.  The family was very religious, and as young Rachel neared age 6, her parents had been reading Ellen White’s writings to try to understand how best to live and to prepare for the end of the world.  They implemented major “reforms” in their family’s diet, dress, and education with the intent of separating themselves from the world.  They eventually moved to a very isolated 50-acre farm in the mountains of Tennessee and lived without electricity, indoor plumbing, and most other modern conveniences.
They still thought of themselves as Adventists but were no longer attending church, regarding the organized Adventist Church as a form of Babylon.  The family had one-hour worships three times each day plus additional intense “training sessions.”  Eventually Rachel began to question some of her parents’ views, which were focusing more and more on minor details and prompting verbal fights with a neighbor over minute details.  Her parents’ refusal to take her brother to the hospital after he was badly burned caused further questions.  Eventually her father left home and she went to Fountainview Farms, a self-supporting institution in British Columbia.  There she met people who helped her understanding of principles as a basis for thought and action as opposed to rules.
Dr. Williams-Smith noted that extremism includes:  authoritarian-based, simplistic, unintellectual thinking; imbalance and upside down religion; polarization that includes either/or alternatives, us versus them thinking, and separatism and information control; and apocalyptic urgency.  She emphasized the importance of principle-based thinking instead of simply rule-based thinking, but said that relationship-based thinking and being is the most important.  She said that if one is raised in a fundamentalist way of thinking, one can easily be flipped back into that mode of thinking.  She added that for those who grow up in rule-based thinking and behavior, it is harder to look at someone who has messed up and have compassion.
Dr. Williams-Smith noted that many in the Adventist Church have focused too much on information-based thinking.  Principles must trump rules and laws.  An important lesson she has learned, she said, is that God created the world, not in black and white, but in full color – yet it takes the lenses of relationships to truly see that.
Dr. Williams-Smith considers it a miracle of grace that she has been blessed with the outcome she has had.  She does not feel angry about her upbringing, although she went through that stage.  Her advice to parents would be to “spare nothing in loving your children-both the nurturing kind and the tough love.”



Date: 3 December 2016

Speaker: Dr. Ann Gibson

Position:  Professor Emerita of Business, AU; Assistant to the General Conference Treasurer for Treasurer Training

Topic: Where Do My Donations Go? A Conversation on SDA Church Financial Structure

Venue:  Garber Auditorium, Chan Shun Hall

Attendance: ~55


Dr. Gibson began by saying she would relay facts and figures concerning the financial structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She was interested in answering the question: What happens to one’s donations after they are given to the church?


She first provided an overview of church structure as a framework for understanding the disposition of donated funds:


Local congregation – Where everything starts; the most important structural level

Local conference – Collection of local congregations; 57 in North American Division

Union conference – Presides over local conferences; 9 in North American Division

Division – Oversees the union conferences; 13 divisions worldwide

General Conference – Presides over the divisions


In addition to the ecclesiastical structure, there are many types of institutions – schools, universities, hospitals, etc.


Current membership in the SDA Church:  19.1 million. The largest division is the Inter-American Division with 3.6 million members. This is followed closely by the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division with 3.5 million members, and the East Central African Division with 3.2 million members.


The total annual contributions to the church equal 3.5 billion dollars, of which 2.5 billion are designated as tithe. The North American Division contributes a total of 1.5 billion. The church is organized for world mission; the intent is to share resources around the world where they are most needed to expand mission. Local decision-making is favored regarding use of funds.


The General Conference uses it share of income primarily for special appropriations to the divisions and to General Conference institutions, especially for missionary work, evangelistic work, publishing, and software. The operating expenses of the General Conference amount to 2% of the total tithe income.


The North American Division takes in 983.25 million dollars in tithe, of which 810.82 million is retained at the local and union conference levels. The North American Division appropriates funds to the General Conference, tithe exchange, evangelism, special assistance, Adventist Media Center, auditing, defined benefit plan, etc. The administrative costs of the North American Division amounts to 1.92% of the gross tithe income. Non-tithe expenditures go mostly to K-12 education.


Things that keep Juan Prestol, General Conference Treasure, awake at night:


  1. Volatile currencies and exchange rates. Currently, U.S. dollar is strong. Annual Council voted to provide overseas appropriations in local currencies – This saves the GC exchange losses due to the strong dollar.
  2. Brexit and its ultimate effect on the British pound.
  3. Brazil’s currency in decline – Brazil contains the highest proportion of SDAs in South America.
  4. Mexico’s government blockage of currency.
  5. Previously voted plan for a decline in the percentage of tithe that will be sent on to the General Conference from the North American Division–i.e., the voted plan for the NAD to retain a higher percentage of tithe than was done so previously.
  6. Reduced income to General Conference from the North American Division, once the NAD moves to its own facilities in April 2017 and no longer pays rent to the General Conference.


Dr. Gibson’s responsibilities as Assistant to the General Conference Treasurer for Treasurer Training include training treasures in the various divisions – she will work in five divisions in 2017 – and she manages a website for treasurers which includes over 150 presentations.





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