by AT News Team

Corrected October 15, 2012

Thursday evening the 2012 annual meeting of the executive committee of the General Conference (GC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church opened at the denomination’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. It has “a packed agenda,” reported the official Adventist News Network (ANN) and there are rumors of unprecedented policy proposals and unorthodox parliamentary procedures.
 
The 350-member group is the governing body of the denomination between the every-five-year GC Sessions. It includes all of the union conference and union mission presidents, the GC and division officers and a limited number of pastors, educators and lay representatives.
 
Actions taken by union conference constituency delegates in the United States and Europe concerning the ending of gender discrimination in ordination to the gospel ministry and the opposition of the GC officers may come to a head at this meeting. Sources have told Adventist Today that the GC officers have prepared a secret recommendation to punish those conferences that have, with the approval of their union conferences as specified in the denomination’s Working Policy, recently ordained women serving as pastors and issued Ordained Minister credentials to women pastors.
 
Adventist Today published an article earlier this year by Gary Patterson, a retired GC officer, listing a number of items in the Working Policy that provide a framework for the actions taken against gender discrimination by constituency meetings in the North German Union Conference, the Columbia Union Conference and the Pacific Union Conference. Sources have told Adventist Today that a large package of proposed policy changes has been prepared to eradicate this framework and greatly curtail the autonomous role of the union conferences.
 
Many veteran observers find this astounding because (1) the union conferences were created in 1901 at the strong urging of Ellen G. White specifically to decentralize authority in the denomination; (2) the current study of the theology of ordination has been announced as an open process without a predetermined conclusion; and (3) the proposed policy changes are being kept secret. In fact, sources have told Adventist Today that it is the intention of the GC officers to ask the executive committee to vote the changes without reading the document.
 
“There seems to be an inordinate fear of this being done in the light of day, seen by church members,” one retired GC staff member stated. “Why are they afraid for people to read this in advance if it is a good recommendation?” There are very real questions both about the legal standing of such a procedure and its outcome. Will denominational leaders from around the world be willing to participate in such an unorthodox and perhaps unethical vote?
 
Another element in this decision is the fact that there are numerous variances from policy items in various places around the world. Will union presidents be willing to take the risk that such drastic actions might be taken regarding their own policy issues? Adventist Today has been told that at least some division presidents have urged GC President Ted Wilson not to make a major issue over the actions taken about ordination.
 
ANN has announced that other items to be considered during the week-long meeting include a report on the Theology of Ordination Study Committee, revisions to the denomination’s official statements on homosexuality and a new policy regarding the percentage of tithe that the North American Division will share with the GC. In addition, there will be a name change for the Euro-Africa Division with headquarters in Berne, Switzerland, since all of its territory in Africa has transferred over several years to other divisions or the new Greater Middle East Union, which is attached directly to the GC. And there will be proposals for adjustments in Northern Asia-Pacific Division and in the African nation of Burundi.
 
The change in tithe policy comes as a recommendation from a study commission that provided an initial report to last year’s annual meeting. For many years the North American Division has contributed eight percent of the tithe turned in by members in the United States, Canada and Bermuda to the GC headquarters, while all of the other divisions contributed only two percent. The proposal is to reduce this to six percent, although the change will be slowly phased in over a period of eight years.
 
Pastor Wilson will be the Sabbath-morning worship speaker for the meeting. It will be broadcast on the denomination’s Hope Channel. There will also be “updates on several presidential initiatives,” according to ANN, “including the Great Controversy Project, a global distribution of the book written by church co-founder Ellen G. White and Revived by His Word, a Bible reading program.”
 
It is unclear what issues regarding the unity of the Adventist movement will surface during this session. Adventist Today has been told one story that may be an indicator of what is to come. Therezinha Barbalho, a young woman who is employed by the Potomac Conference as pastor of a Brazilian immigrant church in Richmond, Virginia, was recently invited by Brazil Adventist University in Sao Paulo to speak. Pastor Erton Kohler, the president of the South American Division, contacted the university administration and forbade her to speak at any public gathering because she was from a “renegade” conference that is ordaining women pastors. She is not an ordained minister, although she is on an ordination track.
 
Adventist Today will publish further news about the annual meeting as information becomes available.