By Edward Reifsnyder, 9 November 2017.
The conversation took place in the Office of the General Counsel of the General Conference. (NOTE: The conversation was with a former General Counsel, several decades ago, not the current General Counsel.)
I can’t recall what prompted it, but I recall the key message.
I asked the General Counsel what arrows the GC has in its quiver to deal with a wayward entity of the Church. I was motivated to get to the bottom of the matter – I can’t recall why – so I was persistent.The General Counsel referred to all kinds of dust that might be kicked up by the GC at the Division and/or Union Conference levels, involving threats to officers and threats to constituents. When I kept inquiring what that might look like, it all involved using the bully pulpit, but no real powers to pull any triggers.
I kept pushing. This back-and-forth went on for a while. The conversation included the possibility of dissolution of a unit, but also included an assessment of the realities around Policies B 95 05 and B 95 15. We talked about things like the requirement that a Division Executive Committee must find the majority of the members of a wayward entity to be in apostasy and in rebellion. How would you prove that?
But if the Division made that determination, it could then recommend dissolution of the entity to the GC Executive Committee. Only then does the GC Executive Committee take up the matter. But the GC Executive Committee does not actually have the ability to order the dissolution, but can only recommend such action to the next GC Session. In other words, the GC can’t act alone.
The conversation lasted quite a while, during which I kept insisting that the powers of the GC to actually perform on the attorney’s suggestions were very limited. He was putting forward jawboning options, but not real actionable powers.
At the end of our conversation, two rights remained as under the purview of the GC: (1) determination of who is included in the Church’s U.S. blanket tax exemption, and (2) use of the Seventh-day Adventist name. The GC controls those two factors.
I don’t know under what circumstances the GC may determine that an entity no longer qualifies as a legitimate unit of the Church so that it would be kicked out of the tax exemption and denied use of the SDA name. I assume that it would be in a case where the entity no longer appropriately represents the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Personally, I find it unrealistic to say the Unions that ordain women do not appropriately represent the Church.
One of the key things said by Elder Ted Wilson at the 2017 Annual Council was that the GC does not have many levers to pull when trying to discipline entities of the Church. Did you catch that? It was easy to miss in the flow of discussion. That statement reflects the reality described in my conversation with the GC General Counsel.
I predict we will continue to see the GC leadership search for a creative way to assert discipline in the face of their lack of powers to do so. It wouldn’t surprise me if they attempted to change B 95 05 and B 95 15 so they can actually act.
I would prefer they used their energy to facilitate accommodation among viewpoints, but I’m not optimistic about that.
But just remember, most of what they will propose will be some form of jawboning for which they hope they can get external support. The 14 page document at the Annual Council was just such an attempt. It failed because it threatened to gore everyone’s ox. We will probably see other attempts.
Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado.