Several churches, conferences, and unions have issued statements and open letters to the General Conference in response to the proposed documents to be voted at Annual Council 2018, “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Executive Committee Actions” and “Terms of Reference for Compliance Committees”, and the creation of a compliance committee system already approved and activated by the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM).
Below is a timeline of key events since Annual Council 2017 to present, as well as excerpts from the responses from church entities (with links to full statements).
Timeline of Key Events:
At Annual Council (AC) 2017, the proposed “loyalty” document, “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance,” was voted down. The 14-page document had called for a signed declaration from General Conference Executive Committee (GCC) members, pledging allegiance to GC Session and GCC actions, and the GC Working Policy, among other items. Those who did not sign would “forfeit their privileges of voice, vote and subcommittee participation.” With 184 in favor of rejecting the document in its current form and 114 opposed, it was returned to the Unity Oversight Committee (UOC) for revision. See “The Longest Day: Annual Council Diary, October 9,” by Bonnie Dwyer.
Shortly following AC 2017, it was announced that Thomas Lemon had been removed from chairing the UOC. Lemon had stated during his AC report that during his meetings with division and union leadership over the past year, “there was not one person who gave any hint of being in rebellion. Rebellion is an attitude before it is an action. I didn’t hear that anywhere. Concern but not rebellion. I want to allay that fear. We are children of God and we are in this together.” Many speculated this report led to his departure from the committee. See “Thomas Lemon Removed as Chair of Unity Oversight Committee” and “General Conference Responds to Tom Lemon’s Departure.”
The General Conference sent out a survey to division and union presidents asking for their views on what membership in their territories felt on several issues, essentially asking the same questions that were sent back to committee at AC 2017. See “General Conference Re-asks the Questions of 2017.”
The six-question survey was followed by an official announcement from the UOC concerning the appointment of a new chair, Mike Ryan, and the UOC’s plans for an “open and transparent” process. See “Unity Oversight Committee Releases Statement Regarding Way Forward.”
The UOC announced that of the 150 surveys sent to division and union presidents, 144 had been returned already (with a deadline of March 15), and that “dialogue meetings with world division leaders are currently taking place.” See “Update: Unity Oversight Committee Continues to Gather Data.”
At the end of March, the UOC announced the results of its six-question survey. Based on the results, the UOC concluded that “there is strong support for some kind of consequences for non-compliance,” as well as “strong support” for not allowing presidents of non-compliant unions to serve on committees, and “pronounced support” for not allowing these presidents to vote in GCC meetings. See “Unity Oversight Committee Survey Results.”
Spectrum asked Adventist researches to analyze the methodology and findings of the UOC’s survey and one provided a detailed analysis. See “One Researcher’s Comments on the Unity Oversight Committee Survey and Findings.”
The General Conference announced that after “several months of dialogue and gathering data, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Unity Oversight Committee has begun outlining elements of a compliance process that will be considered by world church leaders later this year.” It was also announced that by the end of May, the UOC had met with 12 of the 14 world church entities (there are 13 divisions and one attached union). UOC Secretary Hensley Moorooven called these meetings “very cordial and candid dialogues.” See “Unity Oversight Committee Begins Outlining Compliance Process.”
The General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) announced that it had voted and approved a document recommended by the UOC on July 17. The document, “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions,” along with the companion document, “Terms of Reference for Compliance Committees” will now move on to the General Conference and Division Officers Committee for discussion, and finally, on to GCC at October’s Annual Council. The “Regard for…” document calls for a hierarchical system to garner compliance, where if a matter remains unresolved, it will continue to move up the chain of command to the next highest level of Church administration until it becomes resolved. If, “in the event the due process referenced above does not bring about compliance,” a graduated system will be applied to the non-compliant leader: 1) warning, 2) public reprimand, 3) placed on removal for cause and subject to policy application. See “General Conference Administrative Committee Approves Compliance Document.”
In August, Spectrum Editor Bonnie Dwyer broke the story that a network of five compliance review committees had been established by the General Conference, each with a different topic to oversee: 1) General Conference Core Policies; 2) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Teaching Creation/Origins; 3) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines Regarding Homosexuality; 4) Distinctive Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and 5) Doctrines, Policies, Statements and Guidelines Regarding Issues of Ordination. The committees are populated by over 40 GC employees. Though a couple of lay people are included on the committees, no pastors or officials from other levels of church governance (such as unions or conferences) are included. See “Massive Oversight Committee System Set Up at the General Conference.”
Following Spectrum’s report, the GC then issued its own statement on its compliance committees, stating that “the General Conference (GC) ADCOM established five compliance committees to serve unity, helping retain voted church beliefs and operating procedures and process.” See “General Conference Issues Statement on Compliance Committees.”
On September 18, the GC announced it had updated the compliance document that will be voted on by GCC at Annual Council in October. A second statement released that same day said “it was recognized that a procedural oversight was inadvertently communicated” that stated the compliance committees would be established by and report directly to GCC. In actuality, however, these newly established compliance committees were established by and report directly to the GC ADCOM. Additionally, after a unanimous vote by the GC ADCOM, two of the five committees were activated. See “General Conference Updates Compliance Document and Clarifies Committees.”
As Bonnie Dwyer reported in her analysis of the situation, “There is no established need for the committees without the approval of the…document on ‘Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions’ that still awaits action by the GCC at Annual Council in October. The GCC could approve an entirely different process for discipline, one that does not involve the committees that have already been appointed. ADCOM has jumped ahead of the game by assuming that it has this particular role. It is taking to itself specific responsibilities that have not been assigned to it.” See “ADCOM’s Overreach.”
As George Knight noted in his report for Spectrum, “Annual Council 2018 has been rendered irrelevant if the September 18 action of ADCOM is not successfully challenged.” See “ADCOM Action Renders Annual Council 2018 Irrelevant.”
More than 60 members of the General Conference and Division Officers (GCDO) Committee met on Thursday, Oct. 4, and split down the middle on a vote concerning the latest compliance document that has been drafted by the General Conference Administration. The vote to approve the document and place it on the Annual Council Agenda was 32 yes, 30 no, with 2 abstaining. Before introducing the document on Thursday, President Ted Wilson implored committee members to support the proposal. After more than an hour of discussion, the vote was to proceed with this latest version, although it still did not get any more traction than last year’s version. In informal discussion as people were breaking for lunch some suggested that the close vote meant that the whole matter should just be dropped. See “General Conference and Division Officers Divided in Latest Vote on ‘Compliance’ Document.”
On October 8, the General Conference released an article entitled, “Questions regarding the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its leadership” which was derived from a longer document that originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of the Executive Committee Newsletter. Written by the newsletter editorial team, the article address “some questions [that] have been raised regarding the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its leadership.” The list of seven questions and corresponding answers include “has the General Conference leadership become a persecuting power as identified in Revelation 13?” and “Is the General Conference leadership exercising ‘kingly power’ akin to papal authority?” Read the full document here.
Spectrum Editor Bonnie Dwyer reports on the program agenda for Annual Council 2018. See, "Policy Tops the Annual Council Agenda."
On October 14, 2018, the discussion and vote on the compliance document occurred, and the proposed document passed with 185 yes votes, 124 no votes, and 2 abstentions.
The following responses were all published in the lead up to Annual Council, before the vote occurred:
South Pacific Division President Glenn Townend stated, “Most Church leaders believe there needs to be consequences for not being compliant, but giving the power to [General Conference] ADCOM to work through the matters is against the elected representative system that we have traditionally worked in.” Read the article here.
In September 2018, the North and South German Unions issued a statement saying, “In the recent initiative of the world church leadership, we see a threatening development towards a hierarchical church structure, which we will resolutely oppose.” Read the full statement here.
The Executive Committee of the Pacific Union Conference voted on September 12, 2018 an open letter to the GCC, stating in part, “we voice our urgent objections to the proposed creation of ‘compliance committees’ as formulated by the General Conference Administrative Committee…. It is our prayerful call to Seventh-day Adventists, both in our Pacific Union territory as well as our brothers and sisters from every region of our church, to oppose the adopting of this new ‘compliance committee’ system into our faith and practice.” Read the full statement here.
A joint statement from the Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish Unions expressed “a number of concerns about the proposed strategy for attaining unity in our Church. Far from bringing unity, we believe that there is a strong possibility that the strategy outlined in the proposals will undermine our Church’s mission, by causing division and polarisation in the world Church rather than the bonds of peace spoken of in Ephesians 4:3.” Read the full statement here.
In September, the Czech-Slovak Union Conference voted a declaration opposing the General Conference compliance document. It stated in part, “As part of the world church, we want to express our conviction that the best way to build and maintain unity is to engage in dialogue, mutual listening and respect for freedom of conscience in matters that are not fundamentally doctrinal in nature.” It went on to state three aspects of the GC’s compliance efforts that it did not think were beneficial to this spirit of unity, concluding that “These reasons lead us to reject the document as it is contrary to how we understand the biblical model of church administration and leadership.” Read the full statement here.
Though the North Pacific Union Conference has not issued a position statement on the actions of the GC, it has issued a call to prayer, with “specific principles and values of our church in mind.” This call to prayer can be read here.
On October 2, 2018, the Columbia Union Conference issued an official statement saying “The General Conference Administrative Committee’s proposed new system of committees to assure compliance and uniformity within the global church will not result in the unity it seeks. We find this approach to be deeply troubling for it will bypass established policies, protocols and processes and reach beyond longstanding governance practices that have contributed to the amazing growth of our diverse, yet united world church family.” Read the full statement here.
This statement followed an earlier call to prayer on September 18 from the Columbia Union Executive Committee and President Dave Weigley who stated, “This has moved way beyond ordination. It challenges our Protestant DNA, values and grassroots governance, and means we would become a more top-down organization. Let’s pray that the decisions will advance mission and not constrain the moving of the Holy Spirit.”
On October 3, 2018, the Mid-America Union Conference Presidents Council issued a statement listing several points of concern including, "
The Berlin-Central German Conference stated that it is “distressed about the content and mentality as represented in the documents ‘Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions’ and ‘Terms of Reference for Compliance Committees.’ They stand in opposition to our fundamental beliefs of cohabitance and to our understanding of the community of Jesus Christ.” The statement called on GCC members to “reject the documents,” “dissolve the Unity Oversight Committee,” and to clarify “whether the current Church leadership continues to have a vote of confidence.” Read the full statement here.
On October 1, 2018, the president of the Iowa-Missouri Conference, Dean Coridan, issued an open letter to constituents stating, “As your elected representative I feel it is my duty to communicate to you my concerns regarding the recent developments at the General Conference…. These developments have been an ongoing topic of discussion for the Iowa-Missouri Conference executive committee, which is entrusted with the responsibility of representing your interests between constituency sessions. The committee and I are greatly troubled by and strongly oppose the move toward a hierarchical form of church governance and a centralization of power within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Read the full statement here.
The German-Swiss Conference Executive Committee voted their agreement with the earlier joint statement by the North and South German Unions that warns against the development of the worldwide Adventist Church "towards a hierarchical church structure." Read the full statement here.
Responses from Churches and Other Entities:
The Adventist Church in Göttingen, Germany began circulating a petition at the end of August calling for German congregations to support their unions in their opposition of the GC’s documents. “We would like to voice our concern that the General Conference is increasingly developing centralistic power and control structures that we vehemently oppose,” stated the Göttingen Church. Read the full statement and petition here.
The Adventist Church is Basel, Switzerland followed the Göttingen Church’s lead and began circulating the same statement and petition on September 10 to members of the Swiss Union Conference. The Basel petition can be found here.
The Adventist Church in Linköping, Sweden voted a statement on September 20, 2018 that said the “proposed mechanisms are detrimental for the future of our church and our mission…. Enough harm has been done to the unity of our denomination by the very existence of these proposals. More harm will be done if the Annual Council votes these proposals into effect.” Read the full statement here.
The AdventNetwork, a group of lay church members and pastors in the Southern Africa Union Conference penned an open letter to the GC regarding its compliance committee system stating it "creates a sense of an investigative atmosphere amongst brothers and sisters that are supposed to have a fellowship experience when gathered." Read the full statement here.
On September 29, 2018, the Nærum SDA Church, located just north of Copenhagen Denmark, unanimously voted a strongly worded letter to the General Conference expressing “its grave concerns about the recent efforts to enforce compliance.” The statement continued saying, “we are horrified to see the previous threats of ‘grave consequences’ can now result in union leadership being publicly placed in pillory while under investigation. In addition, this disenfranchises the members who have elected the union leadership and voids the mandate the members have given them.” Read the full statement here.
The Women Clergy of the North American Division issued a statement on October 3, 2018 concerning the upcoming Annual Council that stated in part, “As a group of approximately two hundred professional women clergy, we share the conviction that nothing ought to be about us, without us. Additionally, we share a consensus of concern over proposals regarding governance that do not represent the heart of protestant faith, biblical fidelity or authentic Adventism; a document that advocates an overreach, if not abuse, of power that obviously misunderstands our unique governance system.” Read the full statement here.
The Loma Linda University Church held several discussions over October 5 and 6 to address the questions and concerns of church members about the GC’s compliance document. Watch the videos here.
The Springwood Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brisbane, Australia added its voice, stating, “We believe this new GC proposal will be detrimental to the robust health of our church-at-large, as together we pursue the Lordship and authority of Jesus in living out the Gospel Commission within our unique local context.” Read the full statement here.
This article will be updated if additional statements are released.
Additionally, a number of opinion pieces have been written for Spectrum concerning the GC’s actions. Those can be found in our Views --> Church Politics section. A selection is also listed here:
The Adventist Church Needs a Martin Luther by Herold Weiss, December 6, 2017
Ordaining Women: Why “The Survey” Won’t Help Elder Wilson's Efforts to End It by David Larson, March 14, 2018
You Could Cut the Tension with a Knife: Reflections on the 2017 Annual Council by Roy Adams, March 26, 2018
Compliance or Conscience? Charting Our Discord about Ordaining Women by David Larson, March 27, 2018
“Reformatio in Capite et in Membris” — 17 Questions That Need an Answer by Edwin Torkelsen, May 27, 2018
The Use of Pillory and the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Finn F. Eckhoff, July 23, 2018
What is the Mission of the Church? by Herold Weiss, July 27, 2018
A Troubling Disconnect by William G. Johnsson, August 2, 2018
Triggering Public Reprimands: Simple Majorities are Not Enough by David Larson, August 3, 2018
From Union Conferences to their Presidents: General Conference Considers "Targeted Killing" by David Larson, August 17, 2018
Church Democracy and Orthodox Faith by Edwin Torkelsen, August 28, 2018
Adventism’s Shocking Fulfillment of Prophecy by George R. Knight, August 28, 2018
Unity by Authoritarian Means by Charles Scriven, August 30, 2018
When a Bowl is Not a Bowl by Barry Casey, September 4, 2018
Is there a Fundamental Shift in Church Governance Coming? by Brad Kemp, September 6, 2018
The Unity I would Like to See: An Open Letter to the General Conference by Mary Christian, September 11, 2018
Truthfulness Abandoned? by Charles Scriven, September 14, 2018
Thoughts on Our Church Governance and Leaders by Mike Smith, September 19, 2018
Noncompliance and the Abuse of Authority in the Women’s Ordination Saga by Matthew Quartey, September 20, 2018
An Alternative Solution to the General Conference Unity Oversight Committee Document by Finn F. Eckhoff, September 21, 2018
Clarification of the Clarification (with tongue fully in cheek) by Edwin Torkelsen, September 21, 2018
The Adventist FBI and the Sticky Wicket Thicket by George R. Knight, September 21, 2018
The Gods Dissolve Like Clouds by Barry Casey, September 25, 2018
An Interjection by Lothar E. Träder, September 27, 2018
The Dilemma in Battle Creek and Beyond by Reinhard Rupp, September 27, 2018
Is Schism in the Adventist Church Unavoidable? by Tor Tjeransen, September 27, 2018
"The Most Serious Issue This Church Has Ever Faced" — Interview with George Knight, September 28, 2018
Where Run the "Paths of Rome"? by Gilbert M. Valentine, September 28, 2018
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism by Charles Scriven, October 3, 2018
Time to Speak Out by William G. Johnsson, October 3, 2018
Policy and Poetry by Michael Pearson, October 8, 2018
A Candid Conversation with Bill Johnsson by Barry Casey, October 8, 2018
Continuity and Change: The Dangerous Border the Church Must Cross by Roy Adams, October 9, 2018
Our Moment at Jabbok by Barry Casey, October 9, 2018
Revisiting Gerry Chudleigh's "Who Runs the Church" by Ray Tetz, October 11, 2018
Is Public Shaming the Christian Way? by Matthew Quartey, October 11, 2018
Why do General Conference and World Church Leaders Support Hierarchy? by Hugo F. Chinchay Sr, October 12, 2018
A Lesser Disappointment by Barry Casey, October 15, 2018
Should the Church in North America be Independent from the General Conference? by John Brunt, October 16, 2018
Who Have I Become? by Guro Edvardsen, October 16, 2018
Triumph, Injustice, and Lost Face: How to Reconcile after a Heated Debate by Cristian Dumitrescu, October 17, 2018
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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