08 June 2022 | Delegates came out swinging, both for and against gender-exclusive language about conference presidents in the Church Manual during the second day of the 61st General Conference (GC) Business Session on June 7, 2022.

Questions about a lack of gender and age diversity among GC leaders also surfaced during the session, as did diplomatically phrased concerns that the church is getting too top-heavy, with too much of the church’s finances going toward maintaining this structure

But according to a tweet by Religious Liberty TV, “The General Conference in session may be the world’s largest international representative democracy. More delegates than the US Congress, representing and debating issues from every nation on earth. A remarkable achievement that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

Well, the delegates didn’t say all structure was bad.

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Morning Business Session Highlights:

Secretary’s Report

      • David Trim, the director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, presented the Statistical Report.
        • Since 2004, there have been more than one million accessions (total number of baptisms and professions of faith) per year, with the exception of 2020, which saw the lowest number of baptisms since 1997. From 2019 to 2020, accessions declined by more than half a million, from 1.32 million to 800,000.
        • The Adventist Church also lost more than one million members in 2019, the highest number of losses on record. However, this number can be attributed in part to increased diligence in reviewing church membership.
        • The number of unions and kinds of union grew by 54% from 1970-2020. Number of conferences and missions during that same time period grew by 93%.
        • Trim said some see the increase in the number of organizations as “a bad thing,” indicating more bureaucracy in the Church. Trim said the new organizations powered growth and that as the Church expands numerically, the number of organizations is bound to grow.
          • However, Timothy P. Nixon, senior pastor of the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Harlem, New York, U.S., alleged in a Spectrum article that the formation of unions is not always fair, saying that a small number of European churches that have not even made conference status were able to become unions and maximize their power, but that regional conferences in the North American Division (which supervise predominantly black churches within the territory of other conferences) have been denied the same opportunity.
          • Kayle de Waal, Trans-European Division delegate, questioned whether the current Church structure would maintain church growth and asked how much money was being put into maintaining Church structure versus mission work.
          • Erton Köhler, GC Secretary, supported Church structure but said it did need to be evaluated. “We don’t do revolutions in the structure because the church is a giant that moves slowly, but remains on [its] feet.”
      • Medical institutions have grown since 1970 from 329 to 1,976, in 2020, representing growth of exactly 500%.
      • Number of educational institutions has also grown: primary schools by 64%, secondary schools by 570%.
        • Mahase Ragoonath, a Caribbean Union Conference delegate, said his territory is indeed increasing the number of schools in their area, but are challenged by restrictions on tithe to fund and develop them, and is now considering closing down some schools. He asked for the Church to review its tithe policy
        • Ragoonath also said that while the Church is great at doing missionary work, they have done little about helping the environment.
      • Presentation by Church’s Vivid Faith entity makes it sound a lot like Adventist Volunteer Service. Are they the same thing or does the Church have (and thus fund) two similar entities?
      • Erton Köhler re-elected as executive secretary. Has served in this role since April 2021 following the retirement of his predecessor, GT Ng.
      • Paul Douglas re-elected treasurer. First elected to this office in 2021 following the retirement of his predecessor, Juan Prestol-Puesán.
      • 7 GC vice presidents voted in. Previously, there were only 6 GC vice presidents.
        • 5 previous vice presidents reconfirmed: Guillermo E. Biaggi, Abner De Los Santos, Thomas Lemon, Geoffrey Mbwana and Arthur Stele.
        • With the retirement of Ella Simmons (the first woman to become a GC vice president and who remained in office for 17 years), two new VPs added: Audrey Andersson, who served as executive secretary in the Trans-European Division, and Maurice Valentine, who served as a Vice President in the North American Division.
        • Simmons given a standing ovation after Tracie Mafileo, a delegate from Northern New Zealand, recognized and affirmed Simmons’ historical leadership.
        • Twitter user Anthony Boseman, who is also a GC delegate, observed it was “a strong slate of well-qualified VPs. Though, notably, all are at or approaching retirement age — what does this signal for the future of the church?”

Afternoon Business Session Highlights:

  • Douglas gave the treasurer’s report. Modest increases in world tithe and mission offering. World tithe: $12 billion. World Mission Offering: $429 million. “Giving for world missions has been on a steady decline over the years,” said Douglas.
    • The balance of cash and investments for 2021 was $414 million (20% increase from 2019), total assets were $594 million (16% increase), total liabilities were $62 million (23% increase) and total net assets were $532 million (15% increase).
    • The total revenues and gains for 2021 were $270 million, of which approximately 60% were from tithes and offerings.
    • Total expenses in 2021 were $215 million, of which 32% were for division appropriations, GC institutions, and the 10/40 window.
      • Of the 2021 appropriation monies set aside for Adventist Church world divisions (55% of $67.6 million, or about $37 million), the East-Central Africa Division received the largest share (12.4%, or about $4.6 million), followed by the West-Central Africa Division (11.5%, or about $4.25 million), and Trans-European Division (11.2%, or $4.14 million).
    • 2021 showed a positive gain of just over $29 million for the GC’s main operating fund. Some of the key drivers for this were a large distribution from the life estate of a member, savings from reducing operating costs during 2020, and positive increases in tithes and offerings.
    • On Tithe Parity: to offset the disproportionally high tithe rate historically required by the North American Division (NAD), a newly established global rate of 3% tithe per year has been implemented for the remaining 12 divisions, up from 2% at a 0.1% increase per year over 10 years.
  • Berlin-Central Conference delegate Johannes Bochmann’s comment that delegates should receive important documents, such as the treasurer’s report, well in advance of the GC session was received with applause.
  • Proposed Church Manual amendments about pastors and church employees (see pages 61-66 of GC Session agenda) led to indirect discussion, and revealed division, on women’s ordination.
    • Flaviano Dalisay, a delegate from the Southeastern California Conference, challenged the exclusively male pronouns used in the description of conference presidents. “When the Word of God explains God gave ‘some apostles,’ it does not say ‘some men apostles’; when it says ‘some prophets,’ it does not say ‘men prophets’; when it says ‘evangelists,’ it does not say ‘men evangelists’; and when it says ‘some pastors and teachers,’ it does not say ‘men pastors and teachers.’ … Christ is the only man in this picture.”
    • Valérie Ballieux from the Franco-Belgian Union Conference, asked that the description for conference president read “ordained or commissioned,” which would open the door for women to serve in that role. Ballieux said she was not stating a position on women’s ordination, just seeking a way for all to be involved in the church.
    • Victor Marley, president of the Norwegian Union Conference, said the gender-exclusive wording for the conference president position was discriminatory and “ethically problematic.” He also said it would put European Unions in conflict with national and European law.
    • Others were staunchly against women being ordained. Emmanuel Dike, a delegate of the West-Central Africa Division, argued for male headship, alleging it was biblical that only men should be pastors.

Evening Business Session Highlights:

    • Delegates voted to cease debate on item with conference president gender-exclusive language, with said item going back to the Church Manual committee.
    • Amendments about elders and their role in the church (items 409-411) are voted on and passed with relative speed.
    • Item about a standing nominating committee sees questions about how long committee would last and what exactly defines a family member, but discussion interrupted by a partial report of GC nominating committee on the undersecretary, associate secretaries, undertreasurer, associate treasurers, GC Auditing board members and services, and directors of GC departments.
    • The nominating committee’s list of directors of GC departments saw some pointed comments from delegates. Nina Myrdal, a delegate from the East Norway Conference, questioned the lack of age diversity among the GC department head nominees.
    • Debbie Jackson, a Central States Conference delegate, made a motion to refer the report back to the nominating committee because she was “very concerned about the lack of women in the committees that are coming forth.”
    • Motion to refer the report back to the nominating committee defeated in a vote. Ultimately, the nominating committee’s report was approved by 84% (1,311 voted yes), with 16% against (255 voted no).

Other Highlights:

  • Todd McFarland, associate general counsel, addresses concern over the number of delegates voting on items this morning and assures delegation 70 percent+ have been voting consistently, sufficient for Session guidelines.
  • Easygoing Hensley Moorooven, undersecretary of the GC. The guy’s got fans.

    (Photo: GC Vice President Ella Simmons, who is retiring, received a standing ovation during the 61st GC Session’s Morning Business Session on June 7, 2022, in recognition of her 17 years of leadership to the Church. Simmons was the first woman to hold the office of GC Vice President. Photo via YouTube screenshot.)

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