In a July 24, 2015, email sent to readers of the Australian-based Seventh-day Adventist Record, Director of Communications James Standish, offers some surprisingly candid thoughts about the value and function of the present General Conference system.
He admits that his candor may be a career risk to himself, so obviously his concerns are of a magnitude worth the personal risk. “I love our Church. I love it enough to take the career risk to talk openly about my concerns,” he writes. His editorial notes specific concerns.
One is the financial cost of holding a General Conference. Using Australian Dollars he quotes estimates of $A45 million (USD 33 million) for the official organization and the supporting ministries represented. He asks if these donated funds are best spent every five years “competing…for positions and donor money,” or if instead this amount might be used for a similarly funded 60,000 Adventists converging “on Paris, Lagos, Shanghai or Melbourne” for a city evangelistic effort every five years. Or feeding 25,000 starving children every day for the next five years?
But more than the cost of holding a General Conference are concerns about its agenda and its composition. Firstly, he notes that the conference stated we do not know how many Adventists there are in the world, and that our 18.5 million estimate is likely an overestimate. But even if there are that many Adventists in this world, the present system of delegates is clearly unfair and not representational of Adventism.
Referring to church membership statistics showing that over 50% of our members are female, Standish notes, “there is something troubling about a room of almost 2600 delegates debating the role of women in the Church, where only 17% of the delegates are women.”
Also, the present program of many delegates being “ex-officio” limiting choices to ordained ministers who now by definition are male, makes the future changes for a representative General Conference almost impossible. “This produces a self-confirming circularity that is both unwise and unfair.”
His main concern, however, were the votes that imposed restrictions on belief by one group in the church over another group in the church. “We believe God speaks to all. But we voted to shut down the conscience of others. We have no creed but the Bible. But we spent an inordinate amount of time debating jots and tittles in Fundamental Beliefs. As a movement, we are drifting very dangerously into the hierarchicalism, formalism and dogmatism that our pioneers explicitly rejected.”
For solutions, he has suggestions, but was not able to offer a mechanism for implementing those suggestions. “We desperately need a far more transparent, democratic process for selecting delegates.”
Do we have Adventist management experts, organizational counselors, legal minds, political advisors to lay out a plan for the Adventist church to retool the mechanisms to reach these goals? Pastor Standish’s original article can be read here: James Standish “Thoughts” July 24, 2015.