by Edward Reifsnyder© | 11 October 2018 |

The General Conference (GC) proposals regarding compliance have been adopted by the General Conference Executive Committee (GCC). Here is what I hope would happen next.

I believe the appropriate response by the NAD would be to take two actions as discussed below.

First, the NAD Executive Committee should vote that the entities of the NAD collectively reject the action of the GCC regarding compliance, and have no intention of participating in any compliance processes approved by the GCC vote for the following reasons:

  1. The GC is not a governance or management entity for the other entities of the Church. It is a facilitation and service organization. (In my view, the GC President is not the President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He/she is President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The Church and the GC are not synonymous.)
  1. The NAD will not accept any action, policy or process that makes the GC a de facto governance or management organization.
  1. In practice, the human dynamics around the proposed compliance process would not be consistent with the spirit of Christianity or the ethos of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
  1. The GC proposal assumes that the president of a Church entity controls, or should control, what happens in that entity and that constituents don’t count. It is assumed that the president of any entity should block, control, or manipulate the attitudes and/or votes of the constituency to reflect the GC’s desires. Any leader who fails to control the members gets shamed. This transgression against our culture is inimical to the heart of the constituent and accountability structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This proposal seems to reflect an authoritarian, hierarchical worldview of GC leadership.
  1. The NAD takes this stand because it appears that the GC, and specifically its President, shows no signs of seeking common ground but only seeks retribution and control. The GC shows only signs of continuing and escalating its abuse against the established dynamics of the Church to achieve its ends. Therefore, the NAD plants a flag firmly in the ground that it will not in any way recognize the attempted assertions of power by the GC.
  1. The NAD will be happy to explore other resolutions of conflicts about the ordination of women that recognize the ability of members of the Church to decide within reason how ministry may be performed in their territory. However, the NAD will not be a party to the changes in the nature of our fellowship that are being proposed as a means of punishment for actions of constituencies, unless those actions are heretical. Policy is not greater than the people of the Church. Further, the power struggles among the administrative leaders of the Church are not more important than the members. The members are the Church.

Second, the second proposed action of the NAD needs a little preamble. Let’s be intellectually honest for a moment. The Church apparently has a problem with compliance. It has been often mentioned that more than 80% of denominational entities are not in compliance with one or more policies. Most policies have some wisdom behind them based on experience and prudence, especially in the area of the Core Policies, which are primarily financial and operational in nature. It is these Core Policies that are audited by the General Conference Auditing Service (GCAS).

What is the nature of the frequent policy violations? A recent cumulative report for all the entities within one union in the NAD gives us some insights. The following Core Policies violations were the most common policy violations:

  • Missing or incomplete conflict of interest statements
  • Budgets not approved by the relevant committee
  • Local church and school reviews not completed every two years
  • Financial reports not provided to governance committees and/or management on a regular basis
  • Working capital (financial resources) below recommended levels

This list of five pertains to issues of prudent management, accountability, and financial stability. I don’t know what percent of all policy violations these five represent, but my sources say it is significant. We should be concerned about these compliance issues because they represent questions of good governance and management.

So a question arises as to what is the best way to achieve compliance with prudent policies? Is it to have the GC act as the enforcer? I submit that is precisely the wrong strategy. The idea of GC as enforcer is in itself is a violation of our legal structure and culture, in my opinion.

I believe the second NAD action at its year-end meetings should be to reinforce the idea that the Church is accountable to its constituents at every level. Accountability should not flow along bureaucratic lines because we are not legally organized along those lines. A conference president is accountable to his/her constituents, not to the union president. The union president is not accountable to the division, but to his/her constituency. In my opinion, that accountability structure needs to be located in the constituencies of Church entities. The constituencies are the closest thing we have to shareholders.

So, the second action I would like to see by the NAD at its year-end meetings is that accountability for compliance with policies is made the responsibility of the constituency of any entity.

I also believe that if this action were taken, the role of constituencies would have to change. Policy compliance would need to become a formal duty of the constituency. It would be desirable for each constituency to have an Audit Committee composed predominantly of lay members with relevant experience and expertise, and chaired by a lay member. The General Conference Auditing Service would present policy compliance and non-compliance issues to the Audit Committee. The Audit Committee would then make recommendations to the constituency. This arrangement would call for the leaders of the Church entity in question to defend their policy compliance issues to the people who elect them to their offices.

Further, I would extend this arrangement to any policy matter beyond the Core Policies. Consider the ordination of women as an example. Let’s assume for discussion purposes that the ordination of women is contrary to GC policy. I propose that this policy adherence should also be a matter for the constituency of a Church entity, unless it is a matter of heresy. The constituents of a conference or union are in a better position than either the GC or people on the other side of the planet to understand whether it is prudent and desirable to ordain women in their territory. This seems definitively true to me unless the ordination of women is a matter of theology or heresy, which so far I am not aware that anyone has publicly claimed.

In essence, I am proposing that we honor our constituency system and place accountability for policy where accountability for the election of leaders also resides – the constituency. Let’s strengthen the constituency dynamics regarding accountability, not weaken them by placing accountability along the bureaucratic lines – which is what the GC’s current proposal would do.

Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

To comment, click here.