What began as a single Unity Oversight Committee at the General Conference has blossomed into a network of five compliance review committees each with a different topic to oversee. Compliance Review Committees have been created for 1) General Conference Core Policies; 2) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Teaching Creation/Origins; 3) Doctrines, Policies, Statements, and Guidelines Regarding Homosexuality; 4) Distinctive Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and 5) Doctrines, Policies, Statements and Guidelines Regarding Issues of Ordination.
The committees’ terms of reference were voted in July at a meeting of the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) at the same time that the document “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” was approved to be placed on the agenda for Annual Council in October. In August, ADCOM specified the topics for the five committees that they created and then populated them with the names of over 40 GC employees who will serve on the committees. While a couple of lay people are included on the committees, no pastors, or officials from other levels of the church such as union or conference presidents are included.
In the surveys and conversations that the GC has held in the past year, documents and procedures have been discussed. But this entire new layer of oversight committees has simply been created by ADCOM, without review from entities outside of the General Conference. And the committees have been established before the document that would be the backbone of the committees’ work has been approved.
Each of the committees was given eight similar terms of reference and power to act. The committees are to:
- Be comprehensively knowledgeable and accept as authoritative the existing officially voted beliefs, policies, statements, and guidelines of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists germane to the committee of assignment.
- Develop and recommend to the General Conference Executive Committee (GCC) Guidelines that explicitly describe the conduct and behavior of denominational employees as well as any individuals representing the Church germane to the committee of assignment.
- Examine non-compliant entities as identified and recommended by the Administrative Committee (ADCOM) of a conference and/or union and/or division and/or General Conference.
- Advise and serve as a resource for the organization unit(s) addressing issues of non-compliance.
- Periodically receive progress reports from the ADCOM of a conference and/or union and/or division and/or General Conference developing and implementing compliance plans and periodically report plans and progress through the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) and General Conference and Division Officers (GCDO) and the General Conference Executive Committee (GCC).
- Exercise overview, and with divisions, work with germane-committee-specific non-compliance issues that primarily are the administrative duty of unions.
- After evaluating the results of the implementation of the document “Regard for and Practices of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions”, recommend to the GCC through the ADCOM and GCDO, the voted compliance plan of the non-compliant unit(s) or after much prayer and consideration, recommend to the GCC through the ADCOM, and GCDO, consequences identified in the document named above.
- Process appeals received from non-compliant unit(s) which do not agree with the recommendations of the appropriate Administrative Committee.
This newly created review/judicial system within Adventism began with the document on “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” that outlines a system of public reprimands to be meted out on the officers of entities not deemed in compliance with GC actions. While initially organizations are expected to self-report issues of non-compliance, if they do not do so, it becomes the responsibility of the next higher organization and quickly moves to the General Conference Compliance Review Committees which may make discipline recommendations. This is also the committee that hears any appeals.
With this new review committee system, the General Conference tasks itself with being both the legislative body that makes the rules and the judicial body that determines whether church administrative units and church employees are “in compliance.” With one sweeping action, it pulls all power to the top of the organization, thereby changing the current democratic nature of the church organization, ignoring the policies and procedures already in place.
When the document on “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions” was released on the official church website in July, all of the commenters to the proposal were opposed to the action. The first person to comment said:
This document has an initial assumption that needs to be verified. The document assumes that our church has a pyramidal, hierarchical structure. This assumption is in an open contradiction with the history and foundation of our church. Even more, this was the reason, the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church were so opposed to organize a denomination, as you can verify in any denominational history book. Our church has a representative system of governing. To respect that principle the only corps that have the authority to vote a document like this is the General Conference Session, not the officials of the General Conference.
If this document is accepted, we are accepting a pyramidal hierarchical structure de facto. I call to the leaders to reconsider this procedure because the consequences will be so dangerous for the church.
The second person to comment wrote:
Representatives at the annual council are there to represent their constituent members, not their own opinions. Punishing leaders who speak for their constituents is a direct attack on our churches[sic] bottom-up structure and is a move to top down authority. This document is man’s doing, not God’s. It is against the principals[sic] of Scripture and is the product of those who seek power and control. What did the Apostles recommend when the Gentiles had differences in the book of Acts? When did God ever force the conscience of anyone? I will not surrender my conscience to any Papal edict, whether it is in Rome or Silver Spring.
On other websites, writers have criticized the proposed method for shaming officers of non-compliant organizations and its use of simple majority votes for disciplining entities rather than a two-thirds vote that is usual for controversial issues.
In October, the proposed document will be on the Annual Council agenda of the General Conference Executive Committee for consideration, but the committee structure is already voted into place. Annual Council meetings of the General Conference Executive Committee for the past two years have seen proposals from the General Conference leadership for some kind of disciplinary action. Each of those proposals were sent back to committee, only to be replaced by something new and significantly different. This creation of a review committee system before the new document has been considered is a move that seemingly circumvents the General Conference Executive Committee itself. Whether or not the document is approved, the review committees are in place and can begin interpreting church policies with or without the document that has been proposed. And denominational employees as well as institutions can be targeted by the committees.
The individuals named to serve on the five committees are:
1. General Conference Compliance Review Committee with General Conference Core Policies J. Raymond Wahlen, II, chair Daisy J. F. Orion, secretary Guillermo E. Biaggi Claude J. Richli Two additional members to be named Invitees: Paul H Douglas, GCAS Associate from region under review Legal Advisor: Josue Pierre Ex Officio: Ted N.C. Wilson, G.T. Ng, Juan R. Prestol-Puesan
2. GC Compliance Review Committee with Doctrine, Policies, Statements & Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Teaching Creation/Origins Artur A. Stele, chair James L. Gibson, secretary Kwabena Donkor Chantal Klingiel Ronald Nalin Suzanne Phillips Karen J. Porter Michael L. Ryan Timothy G. Standish John H. Thomas Randall W. Younker Legal Advisor: Jennifer Woods Ex-Officio: Ted N.C. Wilson, G.T. Ng, Juan R. Prestol-Puesan
3. GC Compliance Review Committee with Doctrine, Policies, Statements and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Regarding Homosexuality Artur A. Stele, chair Elias Brazil de Souza, secretary Lisa M. Beardsley-Hardy Gary T. Blanchard Peter N. Landless Ekkehardt F.R. Mueller Neil Nedley Elaine Oliver Willie Oliver Kathryn Proffitt Gerson P. Santos Lori T. Yingling Legal Advisor: Thomas E. Wetmore Ex Officio: Ted N.C. Wilson, G.T. Ng, Juan R. Prestol-Puesan
4. General Conference Compliance Review Committee with the Distinctive Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for Church Organizations and Institutions Elias Brasil de Souza, chair Clinton L. Wahlen, secretary Raquel Arrais Mark A. Finley Pavel Goia Hensley M. Moorooven Jerry N. Page Heather-Dawn Small Ella S. Simmons Brad Thorp Alberto R. Timm Legal Advisor: Todd R. McFarland Ex-Officio: Ted N.C. Wilson, G.T. Ng, Juan R. Prestol-Puesan
5. General Conference Compliance Review Committee with Doctrines, Policies, Statements and Guidelines for Church Organizations and Institutions Regarding Issues of Ordination Guillermo E. Biaggi, chair Hensley M. Moorooven, secretary Abner De los Santos Mark A. Finley Frank M. Hasel Janet Page Jerry N. Page Michael L. Ryan Galina Stele Legal Advisor: Karnik Doukmetzian Ex-Officio: Ted N.C. Wilson, G.T. Ng, Juan R. Prestol-Puesan
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image credit: ANN
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