Of Myths and Men

In spite of the fact that the General Conference leadership got the vote it wanted at Annual Council, it apparently still feels the need to justify the document “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions.” Three articles explaining it were posted by the Adventist News Network (ANN) in the ten days following the October 14, 2018 vote. There have been no articles about what comes next, when the Compliance Committees will begin meeting, or how the rest of the church will be informed about those committee sessions or actions.

Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference President, wrote the latest ANN piece arguing for the voted document. Titled “Mystifying Myths” with a graphic illustration contrasting “Myths vs. Facts” the article calls into question seven of the arguments that were made against the document before and during the discussion of it at Annual Council, calling them all myths. His responses to these myths, he labeled facts.

Multiple authorities on General Conference Working Policy with whom I spoke all said that Finley got it wrong. Everything that he listed as a myth is, in truth, a fact. His list of myths, that really are true are:

1. The document is an overreach by the General Conference to centralize power.

2. The document uses a non-biblical method of coercion.

3. The document is a heavy-handed authoritarian approach to problem solving.

4. The final vote of authority regarding consequences rests in Silver Spring, Maryland with the GC Administrative Committee.

5. This document changes the culture of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and inhibits freedom of conscience.

6. The General Conference does not have any entity to oversee its activities and actions.

7. The document is not biblical. It places policy above Scripture and therefore is contrary to the Protestant Reformation in that it violates freedom of conscience.

Pointing to lines and phrases in the document, he argues, for instance, that because the document suggests that the “entity closest to the issue of non-compliance is to initially handle the matter” it is not an overreach by the GC, but he also notes, “If there is non-compliance of a General Conference Session or Executive Committee voted action, the GC Executive Committee may become involved.” In other words, if the entity closest to the situation does not handle the situation in the manner the GC would like, then the GC will become involved. It is this granting the General Conference permission to discipline unions and conferences that changes Adventist structure. Ever since 1901, with the creation of unions that have their own constituencies, the General Conference has had no line authority over unions and conferences.

Two of his myths pertain to non-biblical solutions. He disagreed because the document includes suggestions for meeting and praying in the run-up to voting sanctions on presidents of entities who are deemed out of compliance. Just adding prayer to a punitive measure does not make it biblical. The use of blame and shame tactics which the document includes is not a biblical methodology for conflict resolution within the family of believers of Christ. The world Church has long had policies to address organizational malfunctions and rebellion. These policies have focused on addressing the organization involved. The Annual Council action takes a rather different pathway by adopting sanctions against an officer of the organization thus holding an executive responsible for the actions of a constituency. This is a subtle way of saying that authority resides in an individual rather than in a group.

He sets up the myth about which committee holds final authority, saying rather than the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM) to whom the Compliance Committees report, the General Conference Executive Committee holds the highest authority position, because it is the committee that approves actions to be taken. But he skips over the terms of reference for the Compliance Committees that includes making them the Appeals Committee for anyone protesting those actions on non-compliance. Finley’s piece focuses too much on the Document alone rather than also on the Compliance Review Committees. They are inseparable. The Terms of Reference for the Committees are more open ended than Finley acknowledges and while only recommendatory, give broad powers to investigate, recommend sentencing, and to insert themselves into the affairs of entities, specifically unions and conferences, not under the direct authority of the General Conference.

Regarding oversight of the General Conference, he suggests that General Conference Auditing Services (GCAS) oversees the General Conference finance and policy compliance. If GCAS oversight is sufficient for the General Conference, why is it not considered sufficient for all the other entities? They are also overseen by GCAS. Why is additional oversight needed for everyone else and not the General Conference? Contrary to what Finley claims, there is no process outlined whereby policy non-compliance by GC leadership is formally identified, reviewed, and sanctioned. The GC Executive Committee is not informed of these things. The implication that the auditing firm Maner & Costerisan, in preforming the financial audit, gives the GC a clean report on policy compliance is a claim of ignorance at best, or deception at worst. The firm performs a financial audit and in the course of that audit may encounter matters of non-compliance with financial policies. There simply is not a full scale policy audit. Non-compliance by the GC in areas unrelated to financial policies would not be the focus of the auditor’s work or report.

Finley’s arguments tend to make selective use of information. Even the author bio about him leaves out a significant detail. It describes him as a “well-known evangelist, author, and retired General Conference vice-president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” What it does not say, is the fact that he currently holds the title of Assistant to the President of the General Conference, and it is because of that position that he was called upon to write the article. Finley also serves on two of the Compliance Committees — the one on distinctive SDA beliefs and the one on issues regarding ordination.

After actions of the Annual Council, all of the representatives go back to their divisions and unions and decide whether or not to ratify what has been voted at the General Conference.

No policy becomes a law within their jurisdiction, unless their executive committee votes to implement it. No policy action is automatic. The response of the divisions, particularly North American Division, is the next chapter in this story of the struggle over power in Adventism.

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image credit: Flickr.com / ANN / Ansel Oliver

Further Reading:

Confounding Conundrums: A Response to Mark Finley’s ‘Mystical Myths’ Article by Randy Harmdierks

Annual Council Timeline of Key Events and Responses by Alisa Williams

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9154
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what i hope is that unions, even MH unions, will recognize their responsibility to stand up to this evident power grab on their independence and authority that the voted document represents…this is a time that calls for strong leadership that won’t back down over implied threats, or become confused and side-tracked over false notions of unity that are really coercion dressed in sheep’s clothing…

while i think divisions can play a role by rallying around their affected unions in a strong show of support, as dan jackson appears to at least want to do now, i believe we are witnessing what is truly a union moment…and it is really compliant unions that need to take the strongest stand…this will have an impact that a stand by a non-compliant union, however noble, cannot have…the reality is that all unions’ independence and authority are at stake…

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I pity Mark Finley. He believes that if you become a leader in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, you necessarily give up your right of personal conscience that God has bestowed upon you, a right that has historically been defined as inalienable.

I shudder to think that he or any Seventh-day Adventist church leader has done this. I shudder to think that anyone as a church leader has felt the need to subordinate the Word of God as he or she understands it to Church policy.

Martin Luther was a church leader. He was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg and the provincial vicar of Saxony and Thuringia. Just imagine if he had felt constrained and submissive as Finley urges all church leaders must be. There would not have been the Protestant Reformation.

What are the character traits that differentiate great men (and women) such as Martin Luther from lesser and more malleable individuals such as Mark Finley? This is a question that all of us, created in the image of God and endowed with certain inalienable rights, should ponder.

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Jeremy, I definitely share your concerns expressed here. But prior to the vote you convinced me that the compliance committees may not have that bad an effect. First of all there’s a warning and then a 60 day window. Now I know that the reprimanding of union presidents is not a good thing. But the final step is removal of the offending union president from the GC executive committee which requires a two-thirds vote. I don’t think that there is a two-thirds majority on that committee considering that the vote for the document was less than that. I forgot to mention about the appeals process. Also nobody knows when the compliance committees go into effect.

This is going to be an interesting opportunity to test our structural checks and balances and our courage to use them as we should. We will be fine if we do but not if we don’t.

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Thank you, Bonnie. Your response to Finley’s defense is clear and on target. I hope leaders throughout our church will get their voice and speak out with your conviction.

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I don’t know where the GC gets the idea from that except them, everyone else is an idiot that they will be able to manipulate. They just offend other people’s intelligence when they say things like the article published by Finley. Does he really believe that only brainwashed or cognitively impaired people are going to read it? Outrageous!!!
@elmer_cupino

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Hi Bonnie, excellent article. But would you care to tell us who these multiple authorities are? Or are we expected to trust that you are telling the truth and nothing but the truth. Can’t trust the GC according to spectrum and I am not sure if I can just take you at your word. :slight_smile:

i have mixed feelings about the actual workings of the compliance review committees…first of all, as you note, removal of the leader of a non-compliant entity requires an unlikely 2/3 vote by GC EXCOM, according to the bylaws of the GC constitution…second of all, there is an appeals process, which raises the possibility of exemptions for policy non-compliance matters like WO, especially given the fact that the GC’s own secretariat has extolled the virtues of collaborative diversity, as opposed to independent diversity…and third of all, there is the drawn out nature of things, which if started today, would certainly continue well past indianapolis 2020, at which point a substantially new GC could be in place, with presumably the power to repeal the compliance review committees and any action they may have begun…

but all of this is hardly the point…the reason i’ve come to believe the compliance review committees are a fundamentally bad thing rests on two indisputable realities: in the first place, they wrest independence and authority from the unions, contrary to our 1901 restructuring approved by our prophet - and in my view, this is all that is needed to determine that they are a bad thing - but in the second, possibly more important, place, they equate voted policy with inspired doctrine, given that the exact same punishment is reserved for either form of non-compliance, which is a development that true adventism cannot accept…these two factors move our GC’s actions at battle creek, which were obviously premeditated and orchestrated, into unforgivable territory in my view…they are all the more egregious because they purport to have been done to promote unity and, on a possibly more proximate, although less conceded, level, cleanse the church from worldliness…

i don’t think a conscientious adventist can look at this and not protest: everything is upside down and contorted, and staring at us through a hideous grimace…

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Thank you again Bonnie for your excellent elucidation of the ongoing egregious events and their exculpatory explanations emanating from Silver Spring.

Fortunately Spectrum readers are not at the mercy of the THREE ARTICLES EXPLAINING THE VOTE POSTED BY THE ADVENTIST NEWS NETWORK.

—-a white washed sugar coated propaganda spin —what Trump would label FAKE NEWS.

Thanks to SPECTRUM and our stellar team, we have total transparent truth telling.
Also, articulate analysis of the devious denominational duplicity.

We now happily toss the denominational generated “ fake news “ in the waste basket.

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It never amazes me how actions betray words. It happens with the best and happens with the worst including “well-known” evangelists who of all professions should model their message. During Parent Management Training, parents are constantly reminded that the best way to raise a child is to “walk the talk.” But we are frail and human whose goal in life is to present a public facade in order to be accepted and liked even if it required “managing information.” Sometimes we intentionally “manage information” and other times we unintentionally “manage information.” For those who dislike “managing information” and seek help, mental health professionals refer psychodynamic psychotherapy also known as “Insight therapy” with the likes of Dr. Tichy @GeorgeTichy profession. Insight therapy is a technique which assumes that a person’s behavior, thoughts, and emotions become disordered as a result of the individual’s lack of understanding as to what motivates him or her, such as unresolved old conflicts or beliefs.”

If I were an assistant to the president of a large organization focused on improving other people’s behaviors and realized the need to do better than to “manage information,” I’d quit. A position of high responsibility does not need to engage in insight therapy. It does not bode well for the organization. Why follow a blind person?

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We should all read and reread Bonnie"s last paragraph because it clarifies her article’s earlier suggestion that recent General Conference actions have changed our church structure.

Maybe they have and maybe they haven’t and this depends on us and not General Conference.

The GC still has no line authority over people in addition to those who receive their paychecks from it. Also, it has no line authority over any other organization all of which have their own Executive Committees or Boards.

Yet we are vulnerable to the degree that we are moral and emotional weaklings who do not have the minimum amount of courage it would take to make full use of the checks and balances our denominational ancestors bequeathed to us for cases like this one.

I have some experience in these matters. Many years ago, a General Conference president sent a messenger to me who instructed me in the name of the president to cancel an international conference on a controversial topic. I said that I would not be doing this and I explained why. Instead of discussing my explanations he informed me that the GC president had decided that the conference would not be taking place and therefore it wouldn’t be. I asked the messenger to tell the president that it was good to hear from him, that the conference would occur and that if he still objected he could take my “insubordination” to the Board of Trustees of the institution for which I work.

Except for one thing, I never heard from him again on this issue . I think that this is because the president knew that sending a messenger directly to me instead of working through the "proper channels, was a violation of longstanding policy and precedent.

The one thing about which I did hear from him again is that just before the conference began he sent me a letter to read to all the delegates at the first session. It welcomed them all to this important event, apologized for not being able to be there himself and wished them well.

I happily read it to them. I did not think of him as being dishonest and I still don’t. He in the mean time had had a chance to give the matter more thought and he had concluded that welcoming the delegates instead snubbing them would be better for everybody.

This took no courage on my part. All it took was knowledge of the policy and acting in harmony with it.

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Great report. It is easy to go from “We have the Truth” to I am the man.

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Its a ‘call it what it ain’t’ world, and now its a ‘call it what it ain’t’ SDA church.

A few years ago my wife and I were visiting her SDA parents for Sabbath lunch. They had 3ABN turned on and Mark Finley was speaking. I was barely paying attention until I believe I heard him describing the disciples as dragging their weary, depressed way back into Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension from the Mount of Olives. I could be wrong. But I had no way to replay that broadcast sermon. I just knew that the completely opposite was true if one ‘Believe(s) in His Prophets’:

When the disciples went back to Jerusalem, the people looked upon them with amazement. After the trial and crucifixion of Christ, it had been thought that they would appear downcast and ashamed. Their enemies expected to see upon their faces an expression of sorrow and defeat. Instead of this there was only gladness and triumph. Their faces were aglow with a happiness not born of earth. They did not mourn over disappointed hopes, but were full of praise and thanksgiving to God. With rejoicing they told the wonderful story of Christ’s resurrection and His ascension to heaven, and their testimony was received by many.” {DA 832.3}

The disciples no longer had any distrust of the future. They knew that Jesus was in heaven, and that His sympathies were with them still. They knew that they had a friend at the throne of God, and they were eager to present their requests to the Father in the name of Jesus. In solemn awe they bowed in prayer, repeating the assurance, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:23, 24. They extended the hand of faith higher and higher, with the mighty argument, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Romans 8:34. And Pentecost brought them fullness of joy in the presence of the Comforter, even as Christ had promised.” {DA 833.1}

So, might we have a case of ‘non-compliance’ here ? . . . or was I just ‘hearing things’ ?

I think that SDAs seriously need to consider, as I have, that the SDA church has long been infiltrated by organizations not friendly to God or His truth, and is not really ‘SDA’ anymore. It has happened in the U.S. Congress, and one doesn’t need to watch ‘Godfather III’ to understand that. When criminals go legit by entering the corporate world, lobby Congress, pay off Congress-persons and otherwise rule the U.S. from behind the scenes, that’s ‘infiltration’.

in 2004-2005 I took a temporary 90-day job for the State of Michigan as an Electrical Inspector in a county that was being ‘disciplined’ by the Department of Labor and Economic Growth, Bureau of Construction Codes . . . . I hated it, but I must have impressed someone, because I was ‘offered’ another County near the end of 90 days.

This ‘offer’ was made at a yearly department training conference that I would not have been invited to if I was not wanted to stay on. But then the head of the department got up in public before 400 people, held up a book on corporations, said he had been reading it, and that we in the department needed to be more like corporations, and that he himself planned on retiring soon and going into business consulting corporations . . . I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes ! No way was I staying on ! If ‘government’ is not willing to govern the most powerful, then who will protect the most weak ?

And that is why it is so hard for construction workers like me to make a living wage in Michigan. If corporations don’t like the laws on the books, they write their own and ‘buy off’ a state legislator to introduce them and get them passed. This happened in 2015, and now contractors can legally hire 2 more apprentices than the previous 1, before they even have to think of calling a licensed electrician like me. And of course this drives the wages down proportionately. . . . (I used to be a foreman for one of the powerful contractors who sponsored the new 2015 law. I had 8 apprentices working under me on my first project as foreman. No other licenses. I usually worked 10 hrs a day to keep up, but turned in 8 . . .
I thought I was no good.)

So, no one can tell me that the same thing has not, and is not, still going on in the SDA ‘corporation’: Infiltration. Invasion. ‘Corporate raiding’. ‘Corporate take-over’, even of government and religion.

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… In the meantime, what percentage of time, effort, and funds have gone into sharing the Gospel, compared with bolstering the authority of the church …?

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Time for shrinks, & Spectrum Korahites to get a shrink.

Diagnosis: Institutional enmeshment.

Nancy Reagan had it right. “Just say no.”

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Exactly! That shouldn’t be too hard. By this I mean "just say ‘no’ to anyone who attempts to force any administrative committee you are on, from the local congregation to the General Conference, to do what your committee otherwise would not do. Do what you are supposed to do as a member of that committee, which is to vote what you think best, and leave whatever then happens to God.

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That used to be what I told my patients, earlier in my career, who were victims of domestic violence to say, “Just say no.” Never worked.

As a matter of fact, that is exactly what God told Adam & Eve who were both perfect in the Garden. Didn’t work either and we know how that story ended.

Perhaps Dr. Tichy @GeorgeTichy can elucidate on what that “mystery” might be that makes us all vulnerable.

@davidrlarson46

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Any Divison IS the General Conference in a given part of the world. Divisions don’t have constituents. Authority in Adventism ultimately resides with local churches that elect Conference and Union officers who are mandated to lead in unity and love, not to polarise and escalate tensions.

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