After the Battle Creek meeting on Sunday, October 14, 2018, I wrote the following reflection.
A Lot of Why’s
As I watched "the spectacle of the leaders", I wondered a lot. Why do some see a coup in the measure that was proposed? Why were the provisions already in place in the Working Policy (WP) not implemented to tackle non-compliance and non-accountability? Why give another or even a two-year lease to those who have proven time and time again that they do not deserve the Church's trust?
Patience of Saints
But then I reminded myself that God's greatest act of grace is His patience towards us (“God bore long with Lucifer…”). Can we exercise that patience towards each other? I must admit that I have great difficulty with patience.
Indeed, the WP has provisions to tackle non-compliance (non-adherence), but the imposition of those 'for cause' measures was blocked in 2017, because the majority of the committee members felt that there should be more consultation. A democratic decision; Okay. But we did that in the past year. Everyone has been able to have his or her say and to give extra information, and some have really gone loose in the pulse - there were more than 12,000 extra words submitted.
Working Policy Explained - Again
Article 13 of the General Regulations of the GC contains crystal-clear, legally valid provisions to expel Union Presidents operating outside the governance structure from the Annual Council body (EXCOM). And since 1955, the sections B15.10 and B15.15 are in our Church policy—that those who, for whatever reason, cannot work in harmony with Church structure cannot be leaders in the Church. Every self-respecting organization has such provisions to prevent insubordination and chaos. Ted Wilson did not invent it and arbitrarily put it in the WP. It is not fair to say this because every Union and Conference president knows that no leader in our Church decides on his own.
The explanation of Karnik Doukmetzian at the beginning of the meeting was very significant. Those who listened well have understood well that the GC has obtained legal advice from three law firms specialized in corporate law and church law. Our church is, according to US standards, a company under the Associations Incorporation Act of 1981 - Sect 105C, and in order to maintain compliance, the Church must have those provisions in its bylaws. The State demands good governance from every corporation. This is also the case in the Netherlands. Look up in the Dutch Civil Code; just ask at any public administration or notary.
These lawyers concluded that the provisions in the WP are there to expel members (Union presidents) from the EXCOM meetings for well-founded reasons (referred to in the 'for-cause' section of the Bylaws article), with a vote of 2 / 3 majority and that the quorum required for this action is only 40 members; that the authority to remove also includes the authority to take disciplinary actions.
The lawyers indicated that the EXCOM body may decide to impose additional measures, such as the loss of voice and / or voting rights, if those provisions are mentioned in the Bylaws. This is currently not the case.
Thus, the GC (ADCOM) cannot propose additional measures (to EXCOM) that are not explicitly mentioned in the WP, i.e. the removal of voice and / or voting rights. The lawyers emphasized — after studying our WP — that the governance structure of our Church is based on trust and cooperation in the implementation of action that have been discussed and agreed upon, but that this does not mean that if this cooperation is intentionally not granted, no action can be taken. After all, one of the reasons for ‘removal for cause’ is persistently refusal to cooperate with the chosen authority of the World Church.
Finally, the lawyers indicated that a Union that does not want to cooperate, even on basis of a (hostile) action of its constituency or executive committee, although its president may want to, cannot be expelled from the ecclesiastical sisterhood of unions, on basis of Article 13 of the Bylaws. For that aim, there is another section in place in the WP: B 05, sec 3.
The document was designed with this legal input and put to the vote on 14 October 2018. The action contains three proposals for disciplinary measures against a straying administration or its President, who does not act in accordance with the beliefs and general policies of the Church: 1) warning; 2) public admonition (formal expression of disapproval of behavior) of the leader(s) of the organization; 3) termination for cause. And that a simple majority suffices, except for option 3, for which a 2/3 majority is required. Measures 1 and 2 have no influence on voice and voting rights, because these provisions are not currently included in the bylaws. These measures do not go against the spirit and the letter of the Church policy. In the past, each of these three situations has occurred. So, we should not pretend that something strange is happening to us now.
The action means that the deviant levels or persons will once again have ample opportunity and time to get themselves in line with the Church policy (policy that they accepted when they took up office). They took a solemn pledge of trust that they expressed in the sight of God for the occupation of a leader’s position on basis of mutual accepted Church policy. Now they are now battling against their pledge. The action means that EXCOM strongly appeals to the overseeing administrative levels to take up their responsibility (accountability) to call the straying administrations and administrators to order, just as every employee gets a performance interview and ultimately an assessment interview with attached measures, with his direct supervisor.
Can ADCOM appoint committees?
The administrative committee of the GC, just like any other administrative level in our Church up to the level of the local congregation, is authorized to appoint its own advisory committees with associated terms of references. Those committees advise the board independently of the electorate (constituency). This is the status of the five "Compliance Committees".
There is nothing wrong with that, and statements of 'kingly power', 'lording over' or ‘power concentration’ really do not apply - these are bottomless accusations!
A Union or Conference or local church may and must first try to resolve any conflict that has arisen at its own level: the butcher is allowed to inspect his own meat. This was agreed upon at the GC Session in 2010 - the higher administration must stay aloof. A complainant can only appeal to the higher level if his administration has demonstrably infringed his rights. So now, ADCOM therefore urgently calls on to the Unions to take up their responsibility towards the Conferences and the Divisions towards the Unions, after the deviating field itself has first (once again!) had the opportunity to come in line on its own. That is the sole purpose of these 'compliance' committees. It is using the existing structure that has been in the Working Policy for decades, put into place by Union presidents – their own elective body.
What has now been decided on October 14th is that the advisory committees advise the GC ADCOM (who has installed them) on how to deal with presidents and fields, who, even after this extra redemptive consultation, refuse to adhere to the governing structure, where they said 'Yes' to when they were ordained - rules that they themselves (as an executive body) have instituted for when crises like these would occur. And those advisory proposals will come to the table in EXCOM or in a GC Session. So, they themselves will have a say in the ultimate measures to be taken.
More than women's ordination
Remember, the issue here is not women's ordination — it is a fallacy to simplify the current impasse in the Church to women's ordination. It involves a number of major issues, which are at the heart and the foundation of the Church's existence: (1) governance issues: governance, compliance, accountability, governance ethics, democratic consensus decision-making by majority, delegation from bottom-up, trust and reliability; (2) Church beliefs: creation, sabbath, marriage, sexuality, spiritualism, sanctuary message, the historical prophetic explanation, to name a few. There are many preachers in our Church who claim to stand behind the fundamental beliefs, but who convey their own personal opinions in word, writing and behavior.
It is perfectly clear that anyone who proposes theistic evolution as a possibility for origins, rejects belief 6; whoever drags the congregation into keeping the Jewish feasts rejects the sacrifice of Christ and His High Priestly service in heaven's sanctuary and our sanctuary message, beliefs 9 and 24; whoever promotes a Bible translation in which the little horn in Daniel is declared applicable to Antioch Epiphanes, rejects the historical prophetic explanation in beliefs 13 en 14; whoever proposes Baptism and Communion as dismissible rituals, rejects beliefs 15 and 16; anyone who claims that quoting Ellen White is obscene, rejects belief 18; whoever call the youth to clean dog kennels in the local animal shelter, or pick-up litter in the city park on Community Day or Grand Assignment Festival Day on the Sabbath day, encourages violation of the fourth commandment and rejects belief 20; whoever will have members believe that stewardship only deals with tithing, makes a caricature of belief 21; whoever baptizes and marries active homosexuals, rejects belief 23; whoever proposes and teaches spiritual formation as an acceptable worship style for the Creator God shows to have little insights in the greatest deception that Satan sends to people, rejects belief 26.
These things are all being preached today from our pulpits and taught in our educational institutions. Only anarchy allows for this. Anyone who narrows the current crisis in the Church to "women's ordination" is simply unfairly dishonest.
Indeed, the apostasy among the teachers in Modern Israel surpasses that of those in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Does this all deserve the beauty prize? No, but neither does the conduct of the deviant Unions and Conferences. They have allowed themselves to get this far by throwing out every rationality and decency. The point, however, is that the deviant Union and Conference presidents want to keep their course—and only approval of their deviant behavior will be good enough for them. The problem, however, is that ADCOM and EXCOM cannot give that approval - every right-minded person understands why: the Church's policy does not allow it, the State demands compliance from the Church; and finally, just as in the Netherlands, good governance is demanded of every company (see the requirements for associations, companies and religious organizations in the Dutch Civil Code and the general principles of good governance in the Dutch administrative law). Unless the Church, the pastors and members, want to give up their acquired tax benefits, on basis that their Church is ruled by their set policies. This is what the lawyers have explained to the Church and what Karnik Doukmetzian tried to make clear. It is really not all that difficult.
As a member of EXCOM, any Union president has the right to submit a motion at any time to change the governance structure of the Church. It is clear that EXCOM may accept such an agenda item, but that the decision will only take place at a GC Session, where the entire World Church is duly represented.
When will we have dialogued enough?
Some have not listened to that explanation ... do not want to listen to that explanation, because it doesn't fit their purpose. Every proposal gives them reason to lament, and some have been doing exactly that for the past 8 years. Persons with 'influence and stages' make use of the fact that 'their followers and public' do not understand the Church structure and they continue to throw oil on the fire and expose 'approvals and likes' of their followers. They call for dialogue, while they ruthlessly suppressed every question of conscience with much manipulation and hypocrisy. One must have experienced it personally, to see through the game they are playing.
In any case, it is more than clear to me that if there ever was a chance to get women's ordination through, those opportunities are now totally gone. It has become a prestige issue for the proponents: they want to force the General Conference 'on its knees', obviously not realizing that they are the GC. No dialogue, no rationality or redemptive approach will make an impression. The only thing that can bring people to repentance is to enter into a personal dialogue with the Holy Spirit. When I see how some leaders called for prayer and help from the Holy Spirit prior to the meeting, but after the meeting declared that the Holy Spirit was not present because they did not get their way, I wonder if the Spirit still communicates with such persons.
Is a decision with a 97.2% majority sufficient?
It is sobering to realize that the drifting Unions and Conferences in 'the civilized West' only make up 2.8% of the number of members of the World Church. This picture below presented in a recent article on Fulcrum7. It shows that there are only three Unions that have actually ordained women - including the Netherlands. That there are three Unions that have, among other things, in protest stopped ordaining men - including Belgium. It is remarkable that these unions and conferences also have problems with the fundamental beliefs issues that are part of this Church crisis.
Looking at the picture above, we can understand that the so-called West is even divided in itself with respect to what compliance and accountability entails. Obviously, a majority of Western Union presidents believe that we are treading a dead-end road if every Union is allowed to do what is right in its own eyes. It will be death in the pot for our Church (2 Kings 4:38).
I have constructed an interesting table from the Adventist Yearbook 2017. It shows the ratio of members per voting Union president in the GC EXCOM.
One notices right away that the West is highly over-represented in the assembly: more than twice as many representatives and that 10% of the Church members are represented by 33% of the voting Union presidents. Makes me wonder … Are the Union presidents from the 'Third World' lesser members in EXCOM? What would happen if we would rectify this skewed ratio? Would we still have a discussion on the validity of GC-Session actions?
Still, God is gracious. During all these quarreling years our Church has been growing for five years in a row with more than 3,500 new members a day ... exclusively in Third World countries and not in the West! It is time that these fields get the voice ratio the deserve. In fact, it’s high time they get it!
The question that every one of us - every SDA in the world – should ask himself and reflect upon is, apart from the content of the controversy: Do we want to be a Church, in which 2.8% determines it for the rest? Do we want that 2.8% to get their own way, because they are in the privileged, rich position that they bring in more tithes and offerings? A minority to have the power to suppress the majority, while the issue concerns personal opinions or personal conscience? Where is the concern for the personal conscience of the 97.2%, who show faithful compliance and accountability?
In the outcome of 60:40 (this was with the same voters as in 2016 - 58:42), apparently a number of Union presidents have come to the conclusion that their attitude should change. The accusations made by some that "Third World countries won the battle this time again" and that they hold back the progress does not stand up and is very much, at least, an un-Christlike attitude of superiority as if the fellow administrators in Third World countries are simple-minded ignorant ministers and Church leaders who ‘bought their diplomas and credentials on the black market'. One should think ten times before even thinking of such a suggestion, let alone express or repeat it. In the Church of Jesus Christ, this beautiful, diverse and multicultural Church of Seventh-day Adventists, it is highly inappropriate to 'black label' a brother who hold the same church administrative position, but who happens to live in a part of the world where the sun shines a little more brightly. For children of the heavenly Father, who does not consider skin color or ancestry important, making such a statement is very, very petty, and demonstrating a baby faith.
No one won on October 14th - we all should be crying our hearts out from grief, because we are all losers, and if we are not careful, this crisis will cost us our eternal life.
How to get it over with
Will we ever get out of this snake pit? Yes, but only if we stay sober-minded and commit ourselves to good decisions and good governance. If some have stated at the microphone that there is much more wrong at the administrative level in their Unions and Conferences, then I hope that theirs was a cry of shame and grief and not presenting a motive for maintaining their deviant positions. Their consciences should have told them that instant that they, as a leader-union president, have the duty to go home and put things in order, like King Josiah did (2 Kings 22:11). That they should point out to their administrators that they do not come close to the Biblical prerequisites of 1 Corinthians 12:28 "ability to govern".
As Paul says:
“Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15).
Ingrid Wijngaarde is a member of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee in Netherlands Union of Churches Conference. She is a member of Groningen SDA Church, and a senior policy advisor for the Dutch government.