On November 6, 2018, the North American Division (NAD) Executive Committee responded to a General Conference (GC) Executive Committee approved document.
From November 4-6, 2018, the NAD Executive Committee met for their annual yearend meetings. The NAD committee is comprised of delegates from the unions and conferences from throughout the NAD. During these meetings, the NAD addresses various mission, funding and policy items.
This year, the committee also addressed the 2018 GC Executive Committee approval of a new document addressing compliance. The committee first discussed the document and charged a Writing Committee to develop a statement, which, if approved, would be sent to the GC Executive Committee. The statement was presented before the NAD committee for review and discussion on November 6, and subsequently received approval.
The response affirms our shared faith, commitment to oneness in the body of Christ, and the value of church structure in furthering mission. It discusses the church functioning as the body of Christ and points out that the church is characterized by both unity and diversity. The response rejects the voted action of the GC, believing it is inconsistent with the biblical model of the church. The statement also points out that this objection is in line with the 1877 GC voted action, which allows for questioning of any vote “shown to conflict with the word of God and the rights of individual conscience.” Finally, the response calls for three actions as quoted:
1. “We respectfully request, in light of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 and in harmony with the call for unity in the body of Christ in Fundamental Belief No. 14, that the General Conference Executive Committee at its 2019 Annual Council rescind the action approving the document.”
2. “We respectfully request that the 2019 Annual Council revise policies that enable majority fields to dictate management of non-doctrinal, non-biblical issues to minority fields (1 Cor 12:26) and create policies that protect the interests of minority fields.”
3. “We respectfully request that an item be placed on the 2020 General Conference Session agenda calling for a statement by the world church that (1) affirms our shared respect for the richness and variety of multiple culture and practices in which we minister; and (2) empowers ministry that is sensitive to local context (Acts 15; 1 Cor 9:19-23).”
On October 14, 2018, the General Conference (GC) Executive Committee met to discuss and vote a recommendation from the church’s Unity Oversight Committee. This recommendation, titled “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” (hereinafter referred to as “this/the document”) creates a new compliance process that assists with implementation of church policies and voted actions. This voted action is in addition to the policies regarding compliance built into the GC working policy.
The document outlines a process for dealing with non-compliance, as follows:
How is non-compliance reported?
Administrative Committees of conferences/unions/divisions/GC who identify non-compliance should report that issue in writing to the administrative level immediately above the reporting organization. If that level of organization does not address the issue, the next level of organization is automatically responsible to address the issue. (Conference Z writes a report regarding the non-compliance of Conference X to Union X. Should Union X not address the issue, Division X is automatically responsible to address the issue).
Who addresses the non-compliance?
Non-compliance should initially be addressed by the administrative level closest to the matter (Union X writes to Conference X regarding the report of non-compliance from Conference Z, asking Conference X to address the issue). If the issue is not addressed at that level, the next level of organization is automatically responsible to address the issue, or the issue may be referred to the appropriate GC Compliance Review Committee.
What is the process to address non-compliance?
Administrators must provide a written statement defining the non-compliance to the organization. The non-compliant organization has 60-90 days to address the issue either by providing evidence of compliance or a plan to become compliant. If the non-compliance, in the opinion of the conference/union/division/GC, has not been suitably addressed, the issue may be referred to the appropriate GC Compliance Review Committee, which will make recommendations for disciplinary action.
What is the disciplinary process?
If the organization does not come into compliance, the union and its duly elected leader may be disciplined as follows:
- Warning: The union of the affected entity will receive a “warning.” This requires a simple majority vote of GC Executive Committee.
- Public reprimand: The president of the union that is out of compliance may be given a public reprimand during GC Executive Committee meetings, which includes denoting the president’s name in the agenda and being mentioned at the opening session of the meeting. This requires a simple majority vote of GC Executive Committee. If the non-compliant organization comes back into compliance, the president may be reinstated to regular standing by the GC Executive Committee.
- Removal for cause: The union president of the non-compliant organization may be removed as a representative member of GC Executive Committee “for cause,” as defined by Working Policy. This requires a two-thirds majority vote of GC Executive Committee. If the non-compliant organization comes back into compliance, the president may be reinstated to regular standing by the GC Executive Committee.
Is there an appeals process?
In order to appeal the decision of the GC Executive Committee, the organization appeals to the GC Compliance Review Committee that recommended the discipline under the working policy appeals process.
The Compliance Review Committees were established by the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM) to review issues of non-compliance submitted by the relevant conference/union/division ADCOM. These committees were created during the July 17, 2018 GC ADCOM meeting, and were approved during the same ADCOM session that the “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” document was approved.
The Compliance Review Committees are responsible for researching perceived non-compliance, facilitating compliance, and recommending how to address non-compliance, including discipline, as outlined in the document (see “What does the document say?” for more information about how the Compliance Review Committees may act). The Compliance Review Committees will act upon request.
GC ADCOM created five committees that will oversee compliance in the following areas:
- Core Policies (including financial policies)
- Distinctive Adventist Beliefs
During President Ted Wilson's opening remarks, he addressed the origins of the document. He stated that the document came from the Annual Council floor in the fall of 2017, and that there were many recommendations made that were taken into consideration regarding the document (the 2018 document is the result of revisions to a document presented in 2017 – see History of the Document for complete details). He also stated that a comment from the committee floor, “why should you be focusing on women’s ordination or this kind of thing when we have 83% of our entities that are out of compliance from GCAS?” was a huge reason why the document was revised as such.
“The understanding that we need to have, as a group, is that whatever decision is made, that we will work with that decision. And really, that’s the crux of the matter as to why we’ve even come to this point, because it does focus… [pause] although the subject of women’s ordination is what has driven much of the anxiety and tension, but that’s not really the issue to which we are addressing ourselves today,” said Wilson. “The issue we’re addressing ourselves is should organizations be willing to abide by the rules that they, themselves, have set up and that when we vote something, especially at the highest level, and you can’t get much higher than the GC at session, that that needs to be respected. So our attempt to bring a document to you is simply to help clarify a little better how to approach this need for us to follow what we have agreed to do in terms of working together [sic].”
According to the Unity Oversight Committee chair, Michael Ryan, the committee took to heart the recommendations of the GC Executive Committee when revisiting the document. Before moving forward with presenting the new document, Ryan shared the committee’s operating and procedural values, which include transparency, wide input, brevity, adherence, and acceptance.
The committee worked with the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) to create a survey regarding compliance. David Trim, Director of ASTR, presented how the survey was conducted and summarized the results. All 137 of the union presidents received and completed the survey. The union presidents were encouraged to meet with their respective executive committees to determine responses that would be in line with their constituency. Additionally, meetings were held in each world division and one at the Middle East Union to discuss compliance issues, and ASTR heard from more than 680 church leaders. The survey revealed that while there were varied opinions on how to deal with compliance, there was consensus on one point: non-compliance cannot be ignored, and it should have consequences in terms of how our church works as an organization.
The committee also asked the Office of General Counsel, the legal department for the world church, along with two other independent legal firms, to review the document considering the current working policies. The legal opinions stated that the document did not act contrarily to the working policy.
Keeping those items in mind, the committee developed a document that addresses non-compliance in a multistep process.
At the 2011 Annual Council, a timetable for studying the theology of ordination was announced as a result of a 2010 request from the GC Session to study ordination. Each division would request their Biblical research committee study the theology of ordination and its impact on that region. These studies would be presented to the various divisions at the annual meetings in 2013, and subsequently recommended to the Biblical Research Institute (a GC entity) for consideration by a committee to study the theology of ordination. The committee would study the materials presented by the divisions and prepare a combined report to be presented at the 2014 Annual Council meeting. If, after review at the 2014 Annual Council meeting, it was determined that something needed to be voted, it would be placed on the 2015 GC Session agenda.
In 2012, the Theology of Ordination Study Committee was formed, with the goal of reviewing the history of ordination in the Adventist church, developing an Adventist theology regarding ordination, studying the subject of ordination of women to the gospel ministry, and, in areas of disagreement, focus on potential solutions that support the message, mission and unity of the Adventist church. This committee was comprised of members of all different backgrounds and varied opinions.
Additionally, in 2012, a document titled “Statement on Church Polity, Procedures and Resolution of Disagreements in the Light of Recent Union Actions on Ministerial Ordination” was presented before the council and voted into effect. This statement expressed concern about unions going contrary to previous world church votes that disallows for ordination without regard to gender and called for the church to remain as one, recognizing the collective-decision making process as the best way to resolve matters while holding the church together as a family.
In 2014, the Theology of Ordination Study Committee presented to Annual Council. It was voted that, in 2015 at the GC Session, the body would vote on the following question: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.” In years past, votes regarding ordination stated that ministerial ordination is for males only (1990, 1995) and has been the worldwide church stance on ordination. This question would allow divisions to determine a stance on ordination more locally, rather than having a worldwide approach.
During the 2015 GC Session, this question was brought before the delegates. It was voted “No,” that divisions could not make provision for ordination of women in their territory.
In 2016, a document titled “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation” was approved during Annual Council. This document outlines a process by which organizations should approach compliance to voted actions, working policy, and fundamental beliefs. This document focuses on approaching conflict in a prayerful manner, and this process is meant to take one year from beginning to end. The document did not outline what would happen after the initial 12 months. During this discussion, Michael Ryan, an assistant to the GC President who helped develop the document, stated twice that the document was not about women’s ordination, but rather that the document addressed non-compliance in general.
During the 2017 Annual Council, the Unity Oversight Committee presented “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance: Phase II,” which was intended to address compliance after the initial 12 months outlined in the document voted in 2016. The Executive Committee voted to send the document back to the Unity Oversight Committee for review, redrafting, and presentation at the next fall meeting.
On October 14, 2018, Annual Council reviewed and voted to approve the recommended document: “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church uses a representative model of governance that recognizes authority as residing in the body of members. The carrying out of that authority is through elected leaders on four different levels. The leaders lead and manage the church as stewards and are accountable to the membership.
Our church organization, from its inception, built in authority buffers that limit the exercise of authority, starting with the individual believer leading up to the General Conference. The Adventist church has four levels of church organization: Local Church, Conference, Union, and General Conference. The local church is made up of individual believers. The local conference, or local field/mission, is made up of several local churches in a state, province, or territory. The union conference, or union field/mission, is made up of conferences or fields within a larger territory (often a grouping of states or a whole country). The General Conference is made up of all unions/entities in all parts of the world. The North American Division (NAD), which incorporates nine unions plus the Guam-Micronesia Mission, is a section of the General Conference, with administrative responsibility for North America, Canada and the surrounding geographical areas. In the Adventist church, each level of the organization functions under a constitution that defines its territory, boundaries, and function, and the higher organization is limited in its exercise of authority beyond the boundary that separates it from the next level.
E.G. White supported this organizational model: “It has been a necessity to organize union conferences, that the General Conference shall not exercise dictation over all the separate conferences. The power vested in the Conference is not to be centered in one man, or two men, or six men; there is to be a council of men over the separate divisions.” EGW, Manuscript Release 14, p. 279.2
The General Conference (GC) Executive Committee meets each autumn to hear reports, discuss and vote on any necessary measures. These meetings, known as GC Annual Council, take place every year. The GC at session supersedes the executive committee, much like a conference constituency session supersedes a conference board of trustees meeting.
The document does not address matters at the local church level, but rather encourages local churches to process non-compliance issues through the Church Manual. The document includes a statement that enables higher administrative levels to adopt a similar compliance process if so desired. The Minnesota Conference is focused on empowering you, our member, to do mission, which means helping people come to know, love, serve and share Jesus with others. Our use of policies and voted actions aims to promote mission, and as such, the Conference administration keeps our EYES on Eternity in light of this document.