In the face of a society and academic community where challenges to the Seventh-day Adventist fundamental belief in a "literal, recent, six-day creation" are rampant, delegates to the 59th General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia, voted June 30 to reaffirm that belief and possibly strengthen the church's fundamental belief language on that point.
"The Bible is, I believe, to be the authoritative word of God," said Ted N. C. Wilson, Adventist world church president. "It is God's word to us, and it is critical we accept Scripture as it reads."
Wilson said the first eleven chapters of Genesis "are not an allegory," but are "an authentic, true and literal explanation" of creation and events following, including a global flood.
"We're facing a critical time," Wilson added, where "the devil is trying to undermine belief." While "our doctrine and our beliefs are centered in Christ and his grace," he added, the seventh-day Sabbath -- which creation supports -- is "the one sign God is going to use to seal His people at the end of time."
Wilson, quoting Ellen G. White, a pioneering co-founder of the Adventist movement, called belief in the days of creation as being of indefinite length "the worst kind of infidelity and an impeachment of [God's] wisdom."
The motion to both affirm the 2004 statement reaffirming belief in creation and review the fundamental belief "has my 100 percent support. We must lift up the Word of God . . . God our Creator," Wilson said.
Following Wilson's comments, the motion, introduced by general vice president Gerry D. Karst, went to the floor:
"Part A, I move that the [59th] session of the General Conference endorse the 2004 Annual Council statement, reaffirmation of creation. Part B, further, that the General Conference administration be requested to initiate a process to integrate Fundamental Belief Number 6 and the statement 'A [Response to An Affirmation] of Creation' as provided for in the 2005 General Conference Session protocol for amending a Fundamental Belief."
In what some observers viewed as an attempt to stall the more critical aspect of the measure, Southern Adventist University president Gordon Bietz moved to divide the resolution. The motion passed, separating the affirmation of the 2004 statement from the reopening of Fundamental Belief 6 for review and rewriting, the latter to incorporate the intent of the 2004 statement.
However, both parts of the now-divided measure passed with strong votes.
"This statement [on creation] impacts almost every statement in the Fundamental Beliefs," said E. Edward Zinke, a delegate from North America. "If we don't accept creation, we have no reason to [exist] as a church."
Benjamin L. Clausen, a scientist at the church's Geoscience Research Institute in Loma Linda, California, opposed the measure to affirm the 2004 statement as worded, saying, "It is a dangerous position to base one's belief in Scripture on science," and that "we have no working 'short creation' [scientific] model and probably shouldn't expect one."
Another North American delegate, Donna Richards, supported the church's historic position on creation, saying that "teaching anything else is inaccurate." Alberto Timm from South America added his support, noting that "doctrines do not function in isolation" and that belief in creation is "important for all our doctrinal systems."
Dan Jackson, the new North American regional president, also took to the floor to affirm the importance of Fundamental Belief 6: "My Creator is my Redeemer -- the two are linked."
World church general vice president Ella Simmons, a former provost at La Sierra University, which was recently rocked by a controversy over the alleged teaching of theistic evolution, said that while academic flexibility is important, it "must come without betraying the Word of God. There are absolutes." She said that while it is important to hold Adventist "schools, colleges, and universities accountable" for what they teach, "we must first provide clarity" to those institutions.
Pacific Union Conference president Ricardo Graham, who also serves as chairman of the La Sierra board of trustees, supported both floor actions, saying Adventists believe "our faith informs our science," not the other way around.
Keith Mattingly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Andrews University, said that "how we promote the doctrine" is the issue, adding that he's had students who've questioned their faith because of how the matter has been handled.
Bill Knott, editor and executive publisher of Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines, urged delegates to pass both parts of the measure.
"If you support the clarity of part A before us, you must then also support the endorsement of part B. If you wish for clarity, follow through, and you achieve what this movement has always been about."
Both measures passed by large margins, and the examination and possible revision of Fundamental Belief 6 will proceed during the next five years, with the results being presented to the next Session.