Annual Meeting of Adventist Governing Body Decides Unity Procedures Not Ready
From ANN, October 9, 2017: After six hours of debate, the Adventist denomination’s General Conference (GC) executive committee voted 184 to 114 to send a proposal for “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance (Phase II)” to the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee for more study and revision.
“The body has spoken,” said Pastor Ted Wilson, GC president. “By God’s grace, we will find a way of bringing something together again.”
The document outlines a proposed “Phase II” of a process of reconciliation regarding conflicts between various units of the denomination voted last year’s Annual Council. It proposes to set up standard procedures for maintaining denominational unity in matters involving Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions or working policies. Phase I, voted last year, seeks to provide a “pastoral” approach involving dialogue and understanding among those involved.
The Phase II proposal emphasizes the committee’s commitment to “preserve the governance and organizational structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on all levels” in the context of “godly forbearance, Christian charity, and redemptive grace.” It also proposed consequences for a denominational unit that persisted in disagreement with a policy.
“I believe that the church has been forbearing,” said Wilson during the day’s discussion. “Our purpose is to redeem. But we have to respect what the world church votes.”
The Phase II proposal that was referred to the committee for more study also makes an unapologetic case for the need of denominational policy, anchoring its roots in biblical references, along with principles articulated by Adventist co-founder, Ellen G. White. “Throughout scripture, organization has been a priority for God’s people,” said the document. “Church organization is also a clear biblical mandate and foundational biblical teaching for God’s end-time people.”
While recognizing that “the policies of the Church are not infallible,” the proposal explains that policies offer “the best judgment of a representative group of Church leaders at a given time on how denominational entities live and work together.” The General Conference Working Policy is the result of votes taken by representatives from around the world during the annual meeting of the executive committee.
The Phase II proposal stated that it is built on a section of the 700-page GC Working Policy Working identified as B 15 05, which clarifies “the authoritative voice” of the document and a section identified as B 15 10, which requires global adherence to it. The proposal stated that “non-compliant practices can be very complex expressions of cultural, ethnic, theological, communication and economic values, beliefs, and practices” and it “differentiates non-compliant practices into three categories” or three levels of disagreement.
Category 1 deals with the 28 Fundamental Beliefs or Bible doctrines of the denomination. Category 2 deals with voted actions of the GC that are “designed for global implementation” and which if not implemented “would adversely impact Church unity.” Category 3 involves “policies, initiatives, and practices that are local in nature, and not in violation of actions voted in General Conference Session or voted by the General Conference Executive Committee and would not impact Church unity.”
An introductory report was given by Pastor Thomas Lemon, a GC vice president and chair of the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee. Lemon was charged with facilitating follow-up to the Phase I document. “We took the process that you voted last year as a pastoral mandate, an opportunity to engage with people all around the world,” Lemon explained.
Throughout the year, invitations to meet and dialogue came from the denomination’s North American Division (NAD), Trans-European Division (TED), Inter-European Division (EUD), and South Pacific Division (SPD). Lemon met with the first three, while scheduling conflicts kept him from meeting with SPD.
Lemon said while there are compliance issues, he saw “no sign of rebellion” in his interactions with these units. “Commitment to the message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is as strong as I have ever seen.”
Lemon also introduced the Phase II proposal, which had been discussed by the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM) and the GC and Division Officers group (GCDO) before coming to the executive committee. Then Dr. G. T. Ng GC executive secretary, explained that while the proposal addresses the ordination of women to ministry and “was triggered” by that issue, it is much broader in scope, and “it is about governance.” Ng told committee members that “personal conscience is not on trial, but church governance is.”
Juan Prestol-Puesán, GC treasurer, also made introductory remarks. He stated that he favors the ordination of women as a matter of personal conviction. “However, there is one more overwhelming, superseding conviction—staying together,” said Prestol-Puesán. “My personal conviction needs to be subservient to what holds the body together.”
Comments by committee members ranged widely as they discussed the proposal. Both denominational executives and lay committee members from around the world spoke openly, and at times passionately, both in favor and in opposition to the proposal.
Some urged the committee to approve the proposal and move on, while others asked to refer it to a committee for further study and amendment. Questions were raised about certain sections of the proposal which may violate the GC constitution and bylaws. Some asked for refinements in the proposal.
Despite strong convictions on both sides of the matter, no one suggested a split within the denomination. “I want to give this body some assurance,” said Pastor Dan Jackson, president of the NAD. “We have absolutely no intention to split the Adventist church and to start our own church in North America. We will not split from this church. We are committed to the work of this church both in North America and around the world.”
The key vote at the end of the day started with a motion to refer the proposal to the GC Constitution and By-laws Committee. The motion suggested potential conflicts between the proposal and requirements in the constitution and by-laws. The motion was amended to refer the document to the Unity in Mission Oversight Committee, and was voted on by secret ballot, approved by a vote of 184 to 114.
Wilson pointed out that the vote means that the proposal will not come to the committee for further discussion until the 2018 Annual Council. He said that “we still have the challenge of those who are not in compliance. So, pray for those of us who need to work on that. And try to encourage compliance,” he urged members. “We will hope to come back with something that helps all of us toward our goal of mission.”
The full text of the proposal as it came to the committee can be downloaded here.
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