12 September 2019 | What is going on with the “Compliance” regime voted by the Adventist denomination’s governing body last fall at the 2018 Annual Council? On Wednesday of last week (September 4) the website of the Association of Adventist Forums published a news note by Bonnie Dwyer, the editor of Spectrum, the journal for Adventist academics which AAF publishes. It stated, “The non-functioning Compliance Committees created prior to the 2018 Annual Council … may never see the light of day. Last week, the General Conference … ADCOM voted their demise. [That] action to end the Compliance Committees that were created a year ago but have never functioned will now be forwarded to [the 2019] Annual Council.”
There was no hint what the source of this news might be and the minutes of ADCOM have not been distributed so far. Adventist Today has talked to many sources at the General Conference, in the North American Division and other divisions, and in several of the union conferences. As of today, no source has told AT that they were present when this decision was voted, nor has anyone seen the minutes of the meeting, but rumors are widespread.
Another clue was published in the Fall issue of the newsletter of TEAM, Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry, an organization that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over recent years for scholarships to enable women to pursue education that qualifies them for careers in pastoral ministry. AT received a copy of this newsletter earlier this week. It includes a report on a June 3 meeting of four representatives of TEAM with officers of the North American Division (NAD), including Pastor Dan Jackson, the president; Debra Brill, a NAD vice president; and Dr. Ivan Williams, the ministerial director of the NAD, as well as one of his associates, Brenda Billingsly. This meeting covered a number of topics, but one item is especially relevant here.
“Elder Jackson has been approached by the General Conference (GC) President seeking reconciliation. Elder Jackson advised the GC President that reconciliation with the NAD would require rescinding the 2018 … Annual Council action and eliminating the compliance committee apparatus. Response: ‘No’ on rescinding the … action and ‘No’ on eliminating the compliance committees, but a commitment was made by the GC President that the compliance committees will not meet.”
Adventist Today was told by one source that Pastor Ted Wilson, the GC president, has discussed the compliance committees with at least a few division presidents outside of North America and in the southern hemisphere, and been told that they were not very supportive of the concept. Other sources have told us that if Wilson wants to be re-elected GC president next summer, he needs to back off from the compliance plan.
Retired GC Vice-President Dr. Lowell Cooper told Adventist Today that although he had no first-hand involvement in the current discussion, “the Compliance Committee proposal was poorly designed, and a very significant error on the part of my colleagues at the GC. “The concept,” he writes,
was driven by an intention to discipline, in some way, those unions that had proceeded with the ordination of women to ministry. … I suspect, although without firsthand knowledge, that the administration began to realize that the Compliance Committee process would collapse of its own weight. Nor could the volume of non-compliance matters be satisfactorily addressed by a small group at the GC. … The proposal had weaknesses of many kinds. Perhaps most disconcerting was the not-so-subtle way that the role of a division would be diminished and the authority of the GC office personnel significantly strengthened with investigative authority.
He adds, “This is not to assert that a compliance review process is inappropriate for an organization such as the Church. But that is a discussion that needs to proceed in a more neutral environment.”
The 2019 Annual Council is scheduled for October 10 through 16, just four weeks from now. Adventist Today executive editor Loren Seibold will be present to cover the meeting, but the most important developments may occur in off-the-record discussions in back rooms.
The annual meeting of the NAD governing committee is scheduled for October 30 through November 5. Adventist Today has been told that Jackson will likely announce his retirement at that meeting.
The 2020 Session of the GC is scheduled for June 25 through July 4 next summer in Indianapolis, Indiana. Any proposal that will go on the agenda for that meeting must be voted at the Annual Council this fall. “In due course, all will become obvious,” a retired GC staffer told Adventist Today.
The reality is that the Adventist movement is more than 175 years along in its development now. It has grown from a few hundred believers scattered around the northeast quarter of the United States in the aftermath of the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, to a membership of close to 20 million in almost every nation on the globe. (Some estimate as many as 30 to 40 million, which includes people who tell census-takers and survey interviewers that their religious heritage is Adventist, as well as children too young to be baptized members.) It has become a very complicated, multicultural faith community, one that may be too complex for the existing governance and policy-making structure. One that is clearly beyond the experience of anyone in the denomination’s leadership at this point.
It should not be surprising that many people, in many languages, are united in praying for the future of this global faith community.