18 January 2018  |  

A questionnaire sent yesterday to division and union presidents raises again issues from  “Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance, Phase II,” a document that was presented to the October 2017 Annual Council in Silver Spring, but that was voted to be returned to committee after an intense discussion. The new questionnaire was sent on behalf of the GC’s Unity Oversight Committee by David Trim, Director of Archives, Statistics, and Research at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The questionnaire instructs division and union presidents to “record what you believe is the view of the majority of members in your territory (as opposed to your personal view).” The questionnaire appears intended not to be anonymous, as it was to be emailed back to Dr. Trim by respondents. The respondents are asked to answer yes or no to the following questions:

  1. Should the General Conference Unity Oversight Committee appoint a team to listen sensitively, counsel and pray with the presidents of unions not in compliance with voted actions of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee?
  2. Should there be further organizational consequences for unions that do not comply with voted actions of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee?
  3. Should church leaders be asked to sign a document saying that they will follow voted actions of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee?
  4. Should presidents of unions not in compliance with voted actions of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee be allowed to speak (i.e. have voice) at meetings of the GC Executive Committee?
  5. Should presidents of unions not in compliance with voted action of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee be allowed to vote in meetings of the GC Executive Committee?
  6. Should presidents of unions not in compliance with voted action of General Conference Sessions and of the GC Executive Committee be allowed to serve on standing committees or ad hoc subcommittees of the GC Executive Committee?

“Because of the vote in October, this questionnaire may at first appear redundant,” says Loren Seibold, Adventist Today Executive Editor, who covered the meeting last fall. “But it must be remembered that ‘Procedures for Reconciliation and Adherence in Church Governance, Phase II’ was not voted down. It was sent back to committee. The comments from the floor made it clear that many were upset about the process used by the General Conference’s leaders to bring it to the floor. Among the complaints: that the first phase of the procedure hadn’t been carried through; that the document was dropped on the GC Executive Committee without members having been able to read it beforehand, in spite of their requests for it; that constitutional conflicts in the document hadn’t been addressed; that it was in effect a loyalty oath; and that the document appeared to have been drafted not by the Unity Oversight Committee, but by the General Conference President’s team.” 

“Although many disapproved of the punitive tone of the document,” he adds, “it could be argued that the Unity Oversight Committee is simply doing due diligence, by trying to discover whether it was the consequences to disobedient unions that bothered committee members, or how the document was presented. Perhaps the drafters of the document hope if they improve the process, they can still get a vote at the 2018 Annual Council to punish those union conferences and their leaders that, in their view, have defied the 2015 San Antonio vote against ordaining women.”

The survey does not ask about the issue that may have been most crucial in the vote to return the document to committee: are the consequences in violation of the General Conference constitution? If they are unconstitutional, then the opinions of administrators are beside the point. Because the GC does not have an independent judicial body, this could become a constitutional crisis for the denomination.

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