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 Articles: Raymond Cottrell on Dr. Ford
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Exegesis of Daniel

by Raymond Cottrell

Group Dynamics at Glacier View

Following Desmond Ford's discourse on the investigative judgment at Pacific Union College October 27, 1979 the college administration and the Pacific Union Conference referred the matter to the General Conference (GC). Assuming jurisdiction, the GC allotted Ford six months in which to prepare a definitive statement of his views. The product was a monumental 992-page document with the impressive title, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement, and the Investigative Judgment.1 It also appointed a "Sanctuary Review Committee" consisting of 125 top-echelon church administrators and Bible scholars around the world to evaluate the document, and set August 10 to 15, 1980 for them to meet at the Glacier View ranch of the Colorado Conference near Boulder.

This chapter reviews the Glacier View conference of the Sanctuary Review Committee, with special attention to the role of group dynamics--the way in which administrators and Bible scholars related to one another as they deliberated together. Group dynamics proved to be a crucial factor in determining the course of the conference and its outcome. This analysis of group dynamics at Glacier View is based on complete shorthand notes2 of the plenary sessions and Study Group 2 of which I was a member, and from the perspective of twenty-three years of participation in every GC committee involving theology and doctrine. Differences in background, perspective, motivation, principles of interpretation, and procedure inadvertantly affect communication in a way factors extrinsic to the issues themselves should not.

There were both positive and negative aspects to the Glacier View conference of the Sanctuary Review Committee. On the positive side it demonstrated the importance of doctrine in the life and mission of the church, of administrators and Bible scholars understanding each other and respecting each other in their respective areas of expertise, of openness in their deliberations, and of consensus rather than majority vote in forming conclusions.

One noteworthy positive accent of the conference was scholar-administrator Dr. Richard Hammill's orientation address Sunday night which reflected genuine openness, a spirit of comraderie, love for Desmond and Gillian Ford, awareness of the problems at issue, and a sincere desire to deal fairly with all of the evidence--and with Ford. As a GC vice president and chairman of the Guidance Committee that had counselled with Ford in the preparation of his formal defense document, Hammill's remarks created a positive atmosphere for the conference. With three major exceptions, deliberations over the next five days more or less fulfilled the expectations generated by his pacific introduction to the conference and gave birth to the hope that it portended what would prove to be the policy of the new GC administration3 over the next quinquennium. This initial optimism evaporated into thin air two days later as a result of Neal Wilson's petulant, caustic reprimand of Ford Tuesday afternoon and the star chamber proceedings Friday afternoon, two hours or so after the conference adjourned sine die.

Dr.Jack Provonsha's attempt Thursday afternoon to repair the considerable damage of Wilson's scolding of Ford two days before, provided another moment of hope. Except for K. S. Parmenter's4 intransigent unwillingness to join Wilson and Ford in the proposed rapprochement, Provonsha's irenic solution might well have succeeded. In similar vein W. Duncan Eva's5 proposal during and following the conference to relocate Ford in London would have provided an opportunity for him to reestablish himself as a trusted minister and teacher. The success of either attempt would have spared the church the traumatic purge that followed in the aftermath of the conference.

On the negative side were such mistakes as making the official Statement of Fundamental Beliefs (instead of the Bible) normative in evaluating doctrinal issues, of preconceived opinion overriding the weight of evidence, of the lack of full administrative-scholar partnership, of lapses in applying the promised openness and immunity, of flawed communication between scholars and administrators, of the Bible scholars' fear of administrative reprisal for expressing honest, informed opinion, and of prejudgment and vindictiveness.

This review and evaluation of group dynamics at Glacier View recognizes and appreciates the positive aspects of the conference. Its primary attention to the negative aspects is a positively motivated recognition of factors that tend to limit the effectiveness of the corporate biblical-theological-doctrinal processes of the church, and of administration's response to doctrinal issues. The following evaluation endeavors to be objective, and proceeds with charity for all and malice toward none. It is explicit and specific in order to avoid ambiguous and dubious generality.

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