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 Articles: Raymond Cottrell on Dr. Ford
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Exegesis of Daniel

by Raymond Cottrell

The Rubric of Openness and Immunity

Speaking for the General Conference at the opening session of the conference Sunday night Richard Hammill said: "Please be honest and say what you think. Here at this meeting you will have immunity. Say what you mean lest people misunderstand." The conference was to be "fair and open." For those who know Dr. Hammill there can be no doubt that he meant what he said, but during the week several administrators made unmistakably clear that, for them, the concept of openness and immunity applied only to those who said what they wanted to hear.

For instance, during the plenary session Tuesday afternoon Neal Wilson's petulant reprimand of Ford reflected frustration at his reluctance to submit his conscientious convictions on the sanctuary to the collective judgment of his administrative brethren:

You mentioned that you have changed your mind on some things and that you could be wrong. You have stated your great affection for Ellen White. Her counsel is that you should present your opinions to the brethren, and that if they see no light In them, you should lay them aside. Dr. Heppenstall has appealed to you to do so. Do you accept his counsel? . . . You never listen to your brethren. If you believe in Ellen White, and the brethren tell you what they think, you had better practice what you preach [about Ellen White]. If you are not willing to accept the counsel of your brethren..."11

Thursday afternoon K. S. Parmenter, implying that his Executive Committee had bound him to see that Ford was properly disciplined, chided him: "If you are honest you will pass in your credentials and do so without being asked." Both Wilson and Parmenter had obviously prejudged Ford.

That same afternoon Walter Blehm, president of the Pacific Union Conference, gratuitously warned the conferees that "some of our theologians are hotbeds of doubt," and Leslie Hardinge admonished the conferees to "beware of historians," in context a snide reference to some of the Bible scholars who had spoken. That morning in Study Group 2 K. H. Wood, Adventist Review editor, commented: "You can bury all of the scholars if an inspired writer has spoken"--in context implying that Ellen White's homiletical use of a passage of Scripture supersedes accurate exegesis of it. (Scholars but not administrators and possibly editors, Mr. Wood?)

Vindictive, derogatory remarks such as these addressed to Ford personally or to the Bible scholars as a group made the rubric of openness and immunity appear to be more fantasy than fact. How would the administrators have reacted if some of the Bible scholars had curtly addressed them in this fashion? (They always spoke with courtesy and respect.) What sane scholar would be willing to say what he really thinks when the administrators were obviously ready to pounce on anyone who did not happen to say what they obviously wanted to hear? In contrast, witness the resounding chorus of administrative Amens! that greeted Gerhard Hasel's comment Thursday afternoon that, when given, Daniel 8:14 applied exclusively to 1844! It was obvious that Wilson, Parmenter, Blehm, Hardinge, Wood, and others felt complete freedom to say that they really meant, and that when Dr. Hammill promised the scholars openness and immunity he was not speaking for all of the administrators. There was evidently complete freedom to agree with them, but not to disagree.

The reticence of many Bible scholars to speak openly, the caution with which most of those who did speak expressed themselves, and the silence of some throughout the conference all reflected the fact that, as a group, they did not feel immune from reprisal. One distinguished scholar who sat next to me each morning in Study Group 2 never spoke in public during the week, either in the study group or in the plenary session. When I encouraged him to participate he replied that it was not the part of wisdom to do so in the presence of administrators from his division of the world field. Others expressed similar caution. The scholars obviously did not feel "immune" and, with a few exceptions, did not express themselves freely and fully. How could they feel free to express their conscientious convictions openly on a sensitive subject knowing that administrators who hold their careers hostage may take exception to what they say? Wary of being blacklisted and ostracized, most of them either spoke more or less in parables or remained silent.

Effectively silenced in open discussion by admistrative procedures and pressure, from a third to a half of the Bible scholars went underground each day following lunch, where they were entirely frank in expressing their deep disappointment with the way in which the conference was being conducted.

The rubric of openness suffered severely again in the plenary session Friday morning when a "ten-point statement" dogmatically reaffirming the traditional interpretation of Daniel 8:14, the sanctuary, and the investigative judgment was read as a fait accompli and the conferees were forbidden to discuss or to vote on it. Administration evidently wanted the statement included in the proceedings of the conference but realized that it would encounter strong objections on the part of a majority of the Bible scholars and that debate on it would make any pretense of consensus untenable. It expressed the conclusion the administrators wanted but did not get in the officially voted Consensus Statement, and after the session they used the "ten point statement" as if it had been voted and represented the consensus of the scholars as well as the administrators.

The promise of openness and immunity was a tacit acknowledgement of the tension that had developed between administrators and Bible scholars during the preceding decade of obscurantism (1969-1979).12 It implied awareness of the fact that the scholars would be reticent to express themselves freely on a sensitive subject in the presence of administrators, and that they--the administrators--would not ordinarily be inclined to grant them immunity if they did.

In the twenty-three years during which I participated In every General Conference committee relating to biblical-theological matters (1952-1975) I never heard an administrator promise openness and immunity, nor did I detect hesitancy on the part of a Bible scholar to speak freely. Prior to the decade of obscurantism administrators and scholars always took responsible freedom of expression for granted, with complete immunity; no scholar ever considered it necessary to be reticent, or an administrator to offer immunity. The Glacier View promise of openness and immunity reflected recognition of a climate in which mutual confidence was lacking and the possibility of administrative reprisal a reality.12

The decade of obscurantism, during which General Conference administrators preempted the normal role of Bible scholars in the corporate theological and doctrinal processes of the church, preconditioned the Bible scholars at Glacier View to be wary of administration's promise of openness, freedom of speech, and immunity from reprisal. However sincere the promise was it could not erase the vivid memory of numerous experiences over the preceding ten years in which dedicated Bible scholars had been misunderstood, misrepresented, maligned, and ostracized. They had learned the hard way to be more than a little cautious when speaking on sensitive subjects in the presence of administrators who did not really understand or care about what they were trying to say. This climate of insecurity inevitably precludes openness, partnership, and authentic consensus.

The corporate pursuit of Bible truth requires a climate of mutual respect and confidence among those who participate in it. How they relate to one another as they search the Scriptures together is much more important than any impeccably accurate definition of doctrine. The former will be decisive at the pearly gates; in and of themselves, conscientious convictions for or against a particular interpretation of Scripture will be irrelevant. A climate of openness and mutual respect was clearly lacking at Glacier View. Daniel 8:14 is important, to be sure, but 1 Corinthians 13 is infinitely more important. And at Glacier View 1 Corinthians 13 was severely compromised. As a result, the deliberations and conclusions of the conference were seriously flawed. If the church ever resolves the exegetical problems inherent in the traditional interpretation it must find a more excellent way by which to do so. The dogmatic, authoritarian climate congenial to closed minds that has prevailed in the church since 1969 is not conducive to objective, reliable corporate Bible study, or to fraternal partnership or authentic consensus.

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