During the first day of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist’s Annual Council Business Session held Oct. 14-17 in Battle Creek, Michigan, members of the GC Executive Committee voted 185 to 124, with 2 abstentions, to approve the document presented by the Unity Oversight Committee titled “Regard For and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions.”
Following morning reports including the most recent membership numbers and information pertaining to “extraordinary tithes,” the Executive Committee members sat through a 1.5 hour introduction to the document from General Conference employees/representatives, including an explanation of the process and values that had been considered.
When the floor was opened for comments, more than 70 people representing most of the Adventist Church’s 13 world divisions lined up at microphones to speak to issues surrounding the proposed document. The discussion, chaired by GC president Ted N.C. Wilson, lasted close to three hours. The majority of comments centered on the need for compliance, uses and abuses of authority, the role of conscience, growing polarization in the church, and the desire to “get on with mission.”
Multiple conference presidents from within the Mid-America Union Conference spoke directly to the pertinent issues, as did MAUC president Gary Thurber who urged that matters of church discipline should be left with constituents. “The role of the Unity Committee should be to look at current policies that are getting in the way of mission and revise them,” Thurber said. He added that the proposed additional policies and compliance committees would not prove to be helpful and would bring resentment, not peace.
Same basic desires, opposite viewpoints
While all who spoke agreed on a desire for unity and that the Church must have authority, there were decided differences of opinion as to the best means for achieving peace and order. The observation was repeated multiple times that the Adventist Church has adequate policies for dealing with compliance that have been in place and served us effectively for more than 100 years. Others stated that the current policies are insufficient for today’s situations.
Several speakers pointed out that the document had come to the floor by a 32 to 30 vote of the GC Administrative Committee, signaling a split in administration, and questioned the wisdom of even bringing it to the Executive Committee. One person observed that the Holy Spirit can speak through close votes, and questioned whether administrators were taking time to discern the Spirit’s message. Some called for a “new process.”
Others expressed concerns about the environment of suspicion and paranoia that could quickly result from the activation of the proposed compliance committees. Some warned there would be “unforeseen consequences that will haunt us” and “everyone would be suspect.” Some predicted “erosion of trust” and “constant and prolonged conflict.” Some further urged that voted policy should not be placed on the same level as our Fundamental Beliefs.
Many said we should focus on what unites us, not what divides us, and look for a way to build a bridge to peace.
Unity, Authority and Policy
One gentleman noted that we are two sides of a coin and must remain committed and accountable to each other. Another gentleman said that historically we have not punished anyone based on non-biblical grounds. Another lamented the fact that his church does not respect him as a conscientious objector, while yet another said that individual conscience should give way to the church’s majority vote.
Several speakers stated that if each does “what seems right in his own eyes” the result will be chaos in the church and that there must be obedience to voted policies to maintain order. One speaker pointed out how Jesus used “harsh public reprimands” in His ministry on earth.
One of the few lay persons who spoke expressed his concerns about using tithe money for the work of the five proposed compliance committees and asked if anyone knew how much it was going to cost.
Cause and effect
The reality of our church’s diversity was apparent in the fact that some comments were polar opposites: “Rules bind us together.” “Policy does not hold us together.”
One person stated that “policy is the result of unity, not the cause of it.” Another said that trust will solve noncompliance and encourage unity in a way that policy cannot. One individual observed that this document undermines trust in the local constituents. Another person pointed out the inherent lack of fairness with the appeals process.
Approximately twice as many spoke against the document as those who spoke in favor of it. Only a handful of women and young adults spoke.
The final vote, conducted by secret ballot, required only a simple majority to pass instead of a super majority of two-thirds, as is required for some votes.
Read the document that was voted