by Alvin Masarira | 18 September 2018 |

The Executive Committee of the General Conference is having its Annual Council 2018 in October. This meeting of the most senior leaders of the world church will have to deal with some unfinished business from the 2017 Annual Council. The 2017 meeting rejected and sent back a proposal from the General Conference Unity Mission Oversight Committee, on the “procedures for reconciliation and adherence in church governance.” This had been designed to deal with church entities and leaders who do not adhere to church policy or voted actions of the GC ExCom and Business sessions. The Committee was expected to consider the concerns raised by Annual Council 2017, and as expected, this has been ongoing since then.

However, it is not clear how much consultation has taken place between the General Conference leadership and the rest of the world church. Assuming that some consultation indeed took place, the level of robustness, as well as the level of willingness on the part of the General Conference to listen to different voices, is difficult to ascertain. What is evident, though, is that the General Conference leadership is going to present to the 2018 Annual Council a more rigorous proposal for monitoring and assessing compliance to church policy and doctrine, as well as punitive measures on those considered non-compliant. The mechanism to be proposed has been recently reported to the world church:

The major concern, in my opinion, is not necessarily the proposed compliance committees or what they mean to church governance in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My major concern is the lack of critical voices from church leaders from the majority of the world church. Even more worrying for me is the lack of such voices from the leaders of my own Adventist church in Africa.

The African church makes up over 30 percent of the world membership, and one would expect its voice to be loud and to be heard on such critical issues, issues that have the potential to drastically change the global church and how it deals with differences within the movement. Looking back in history, though, one notices that the African church (and its leaders) has never really expressed a critical voice to the views or proposals from the General Conference. The African church has tended to align itself with whatever has been proposed by the General Conference. I am not aware of any reasons provided by the church leadership in Africa for this almost consistent alignment. Or maybe the reasons are confidential. Or perhaps there are indeed robust engagements between the African Divisions and the General Conference behind the scenes. But as a life-long African Adventist, I have my own opinion which I will present, summarized in the following 5 reasons:

Reason 1: The General Conference disburses lots of funds and resources to the regions of the world church, and Africa would like to be considered favorably. Any dissenting voices would jeopardize their favorable status with the General Conference.

Reason 2: The African church believes the church in the West has lost its way when it comes to “true” Adventism, and hence is supportive of the General Conference in its attempts to bring the church in the West back in line.

Reason 3: The current General Conference (GC) leadership (especially the GC Presidency) is highly respected, honored and even revered by the leaders of the church in Africa, to a point where no criticism is tolerated. This view of leadership cascades down to all levels of the church in Africa. This is how African culture in general views authority, an attitude which is open to abuse.

Reason 4: The African church believes that what happens or is decided at the General Conference has minimal or no material impact on the ground. There is a belief that discussions around the Compliance Committees, for example, are only for those who are not serious about evangelism and the mission of the church. The church leadership knows that the general church membership in Africa cares little about GC ExCom discussions, and it is happy to allow that attitude to persist among members, as this frees leadership from any scrutiny by the general membership of its positions and contributions during GC ExCom meetings.

Reason 5: The General Conference leadership has significant influence on the appointment of senior church leadership, and as a result there is a tendency to be loyal to GC leadership. Those senior leaders loyal to the GC leadership also ensure that the rest of the church levels in their territory show that degree of loyalty. Hence it is not surprising to see church representatives/delegates vote on major church issues in a manner approved by their leaders.

Of course, Annual Council 2018 is still to take place and no one knows how it will turn out, or what positions the world-wide church leaders (including those from Africa) will take with regard to the GC proposals. My hope and prayer is that there will be many critical voices that will sufficiently interrogate the proposals and fully realize the long-term impact of this system of compliance committees on church governance. What might appear good under current circumstances might be detrimental to the organization under different circumstances and leadership.

There are a number of critical questions that need to be asked about these committees, such as, why were only these five broad areas chosen by which to assess compliance? Will we have more compliance committees in the future, depending on GC leadership? Since most committee members are GC employees, who will assess the General Conference itself for compliance? Will the General Conference assess itself? What does the phrase “core policies” mean in one of the committees, namely, the “General Conference Compliance Review Committee with General Conference Core Policies”? Who decides what core or non-core policy is? Is refusal to ordain deaconesses core or non-core? Is non-implementation of disciplinary procedures or financial mismanagement core or non-core? Is refusal to investigate church leaders who lie about their academic qualifications core or non-core?

The Adventist church has always lived with internal disagreements, but we have always been able to resolve them or come to the realization that these differences are not critical in the big scheme of things or for the mission of the church. The establishment of these compliance committees is contrary to the spirit and character of the church, and I hope the Annual Council 2018 will see it as such.

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Alvin Masarira is originally from Zimbabwe, and is a structural engineering consultant based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He and his wife Limakatso, a medical doctor, have three children.

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