Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division: Paul Charles "Does Not Possess Any Accredited Qualification"

In response to a spate of articles published in Adventist and secular media concerning allegations of fraudulent doctoral degrees being used by Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists (SID) Communication Director Paul Charles to advance his career, SID leaders have written a Statement On Pastor Paul Charles' Qualifications. The statement, attributed to the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, is published by the division's communication department of which Paul Charles is still acting director (he has been appointed Associate Communication Director for the General Conference, but has not yet made the move to the United States).

Church members in the division have also raised questions about the doctoral degree obtained by Division President Paul Ratsara, to which SID leadership responded, categorically denying accusations of foul play. The Paul Charles' Qualifications statement comes over two weeks after the division's response to an initial report in South Africa's New Age newspaper alleged that both Charles and Ratsara had acquired their degrees fraudulently.

In the Paul Charles' Qualifications statement, SID leaders note that "a consulting committee [whose task it was] to inquire into these allegations, has come to the conclusion that Pastor Charles undertook his studies at unaccredited institutions and consequently, he does not possess any accredited qualification." The statement goes on, "Even though in its practice SID does not encourage its employees to study at unaccredited institutions, Pastor Charles has not misrepresented facts about where he obtained his qualifications to the Church."

Seventh-day Adventist Church members in SID have asked to know the composition of the consulting committee charged with looking into the fraud charges. Citing confidentiality concerns, SID leaders have declined to provide that information.

The statement's three primary claims are significant: 1) a committee was formed to investigate the allegations concerning Paul Charles' qualifications, finding that 2) Paul Charles does not hold degrees from accredited institutions, and 3) the statement asserts that Paul Charles did, in fact, study at Freedom Institute for Theological Studies and Research, and therefore did not mislead the church concerning the degrees he obtained.

In a letter dated April 29, 2016, Gordon E. Christo, Director of the Adventist Heritage Centre in the Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists and former Dean of the School of Theology at Spicer College, has come forward to corroborate the existence of Freedom Institute from which Charles states he received a master’s and doctorate degree.

“To Whom It May Concern:

This is to state that I [Christo] was acquainted with Freedom Institute in the 1990s. I had agreed to serve as a doctoral research guide for them and received a prospectus which included all the courses, subjects and degrees which they offered through distance education. A few students on the campus of Spicer College registered for various programs listed. Paul Charles was one of them.

[...]

Freedom Institute definitely existed. I can confidently testify that Paul Charles did not produce his own certificate nor forge any signature on it.”

By putting the issue of "accredited qualifications" front and center (a letter from the South African Department of Higher Education and Training on this matter stated that purporting to hold a degree from an unaccredited institution could constitute criminal fraud in South Africa), the statement ignores other problems.

Primary among the problems pertaining to Freedom Institute is that the institution has no physical address and no online presence at all and that the man whose signature is apparently stamped onto the degrees Paul Charles has presented, Dr. Dewey Painter, has denied in writing having had anything to do with the degrees. Nor does the statement address the fact that Charles has gained significant institutional capital by using two claimed PhD's—in missiology and leadership, respectively—as evidences of God's leading in his compelling personal narrative of overcoming hardships. Evidence of the second PhD, purportedly from Canterbury University, has not materialized. Charles also stated for a 2013 interview with the General Conference-owned and operated Hope Channel that he was working on a third doctoral degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa). No evidence of his enrollment there has surfaced thus far. NOTE: On May 27, 2016, we received a message from the Hope Channel alerting us to the fact that this video had been deleted from the Hope Channel's YouTube account.

A growing group of concerned church members in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division has expressed further worries about SID’s characterization of Paul Charles’ qualifications. Rather than validating the legitimacy of Freedom Institute, they see Gordon Christo’s statement of Spicer’s collusion with Freedom as impugning Spicer’s legitimacy.

“Did they have authority to work with Freedom Institute? It seems unlikely that the SDA accrediting system would have allowed them to be contaminated with this fly-by-night and partially fake Freedom Institute where you can get 'quickie' doctorates,” the group said in a statement.

Going on, the church members note, “All academic institutions which have closed down still have a web presence and the failure of of Freedom to have any presence points to it being a farce (although it had a farcical presence at one stage). Why did Spicer not point out their working relationship with Freedom when enquiries were made a while ago?”

The church members also assert that they have not been shown evidence that Paul Charles completed his studies at Spicer Memorial College before pursuing graduate studies elsewhere.

Implicitly, the Adventist Church in South Africa concedes that Paul Charles has been improperly (at least in the eyes of South African law) presenting himself as a double PhD. The SID statement on Paul Charles' qualifications indicates that Charles has agreed to no longer represent himself of a holder of two doctoral degrees, but states nevertheless that the division finds nothing that disqualifies him from serving:

However, in view of the sensitivities of studying at unaccredited institutions with our national education system in South Africa, the church has requested him to cease and relinquish the use of any titles associated with those unaccredited degrees. And further, to complete his studies at an accredited institution. Pastor Charles has agreed to do so in respect of the South African national standards. While respecting the issues of national education standards, the fact that Pastor Charles has elected to relinquish the titles associated with those degrees does not, in our view, diminish his calling as a Pastor within the Church."

Paul Charles has duly ceased listing his PhDs on his Facebook page, which now says under education, "Studied Religious philosophy at Spicer Memorial College." Likewise Paul Charles' wife Caroline Charles has changed her Facebook profile's education information, which previously said, "Studied List of counseling topics at Open International University." Her profile now says simply, "Studied at Spicer Adventist University." Open International University for Complementary Medicines in Colombo, Sri Lanka, has been characterized as the largest degree mill in the world.

UPDATE: Since this article's publication, a flyer has surfaced for a 2012 Adventist-layman's Services and Industries (ASI) South Africa Union Conference event at which Paul Charles provided devotionals. The event flyer lists Charles as holding a PhD in Management (no mention of degrees in in missiology and leadership) and as being the author of many books including: The Wheelbarrow Kid, Unlocking the Secret of Oprah Winfrey, Dynamic Christian Leadership... in a Secular world, Revolutionary Preaching ... in a Secular World.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7438
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Jared, I first want to say that you have done some really solid award worthy reporting on this piece. Really appreciate all that you guys are covering! Secondly, any update from the General Conference regarding this situation?

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Thank you for the note.

Thus far, the General Conference has not updated its initial statement published in our previous article on the topic:

“Mr. Charles accepted the position and his job offer has not been rescinded at the GC. Carefully the Church is searching about the accusations but the research has not finished; this is why, at the moment we (SID and/or GC) don’t have a final statement to issue.”

-Williams Costa, Jr., Communication Director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

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Not only has Paul Charles “improperly” presented himself “as a double PhD,” but was not his profile “Paul Charles-From Poverty to PhDs” featured in 2013 by the Hope Channel? Isn’t Hope Channel owned by the SDA church and by this extension isn’t the SDA church also guilty of “improperly” presenting PC “as a double PhD.”

Is sex (think WO) the only crucial criteria for doing the Lord’s work? Doesn’t credibility count anymore?

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As the Native Americans might have said, the church “speaks with a forked tongue” on this issue. On the one hand, a lack of education is not seen as a disqualification for pastoral ministry. On the other hand, aspiring pastors are encouraged to begin an educational track that includes many years of collegiate and graduate education while assuming massive amounts of debt. While I admire the commitment that those obtaining those degrees make in order to serve, the question nonetheless arises, if lack of education does not disqualify a candidate, then why do we push them into it?

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We’ve previously discussed in this forum the variety of cultural understandings about a church leader’s authority. (E.g., block voting.) What are those understandings in the SID, & what is their potential impact on this committee assessing charges against its own division president?

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There is an article in the Seattle Times (April 2, 2012) about the dramatic increase of unaccredited institutions of higher education throughout India. The report mentions that, of the over 31,000 institutions of higher education in India, only 4532 are accredited. Accreditation is compulsory for all educational institutions (according to the University Grant Commissions Act of 1956) which makes it illegal in India for a non-accredited institution to grant degrees.

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“…the division finds nothing that disqualifies him from serving…”

What qualifies Paul Charles to serve at the highest level of the church’s communication operation?

Does he have any degrees in communication? As a media spokesperson and representative of the church’s top communication shop, credibility, top communication preparation, and unquestionable honesty, credibility and transparency are required.

How does Paul Charles qualify? Just what are his educational communication credentials? The Church has an outstanding cadre of global candidates to choose from who DO have credentials, experience, education, and credibility in communication.

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Great article.

Based on the information here, this scandal is going in exactly the wrong direction. When you lie to get your job, and in fact make your claimed educational accomplishments center stage and as part of your personal, supposedly inspirational story, then you should be fired and not defended. It’s very simple. This reeks of what the Catholic church did for so long to protect its clergy.

Very disappointing.

A secret committee? You’ve got to be kidding. This makes no sense at all. It shows they themselves are ashamed of what they are doing. As they should be: If you won’t publicly stand up and defend your position, you don’t have one.

Shameful.

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Apparently the SID sees no problems with fraudulent academic credentials, apart from the ‘sensitivities’ of the ‘national education system in South Africa’. They care a lot more about confidentiality than about integrity. This reminds me of the doping and corruption uncovered in professional sports (think cycling, track and field, and FIFA)

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This is both shameful and disgraceful. For SID to ignore the fraud while stating that his employment does not depend on scholastic qualifications ignores the true lack of morality on all involved. While touting doctoral degrees (plural) and in the same breath that they were not really necessary for the duties implicates the entire SID and those employees who were “covering” for both Charles and Ratsara.

This makes the entire division appear rotten to the core, not on the edges. A disgrace for the SdA church before the entire southern hemisphere!

Jared, excellent investigative journalism of the finest kind! There should be more “Spotlights” shined upon the church; this is not the only one.

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I don’t agree with the attempt to rehabilitate Paul Charles. He has demonstrated a serious lack of personal integrity that should disqualify him from working in the church in any capacity, never mind as a spokesman for the church at the General Conference level(!)

It is an evasion to pretend that the issue is accredited vs. non-accredited. It isn’t like the “Freedom Institute” is a real place with real teachers and students that, like Weimar or Hartland, does not want to seek accreditation. The problem with Paul Charles is that he never did any real doctorate level work, and he publicly claimed–on satellite television, no less–to have two doctorates. In my opinion, that’s a serious enough case of fraud and self-exaltation (the sin of Lucifer) to bar him even working as a pastor.

This incident betrays a worldliness in the church that is unbecoming; it shows an idolatry of formal educational attainments that is itself a stumbling block and directly contrary to the counsel of Ellen White. We need a few scholars who well understand the ancient languages in which Scripture was written, but most of these doctorates in “missiology” and whatnot are of little or no value to the work of the church. Our pastors and administrators should have much better things to do than to pursue these worldly baubles. We are too late in this world’s day to waste our time with this nonsense.

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I agree with your assertions about Charles’ integrity. However, it would seem that Spicer College, through its representative, Dr. Gordon Christo, may bear some responsibility for recommending Freedom Institute to Spicer graduates or students for graduate/post-graduate work, if only by his presence there as a doctoral research guide! Certainly, as a lowly undergraduate, I would assume that my Dean would not associate himself with a less than worthy institution.

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Even if one were to give Paul Charles the benefit of the doubt as regards the degrees apparently conferred by Freedom Institute, there are too many other anomalies in his various stories. There appears to be a pattern of dishonesty here. It is difficult to understand how or why the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division continues to regard him as fit for church employment.

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anyone understanding non-white poverty in apartheid south africa, even after apartheid was lifted in 1991, but effectively in 1994, will see the wisdom and compassion in this statement…as i understand paul’s background, he was in foster homes for essentially his entire childhood, and at times lived on the streets, surviving by eating out of garbage cans…the grinding, hopeless poverty he was born into would have overcome anyone with less character…in my view, paul is to be commended for taking advantage of the pittance of the opportunity that was open to him through freedom institute, which no doubt would have seemed like a ladder straight out of heaven…the fact that he didn’t misrepresent where he obtained his degrees rules out any attempt to mislead or advance himself fraudulently…no doubt SID also considered the fact that paul’s work itself was satisfactory, and that egw, most of the apostles, and christ himself were uneducated…

in view of paul’s background and valiant effort to overcome his daunting circumstances, the church should send him to one of our own universities on scholarship and give him the opportunities he obviously never had…something tells me paul would make the most of any opportunities that came his way, and not disappoint any investment made on his behalf…

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In the SDA Church, possessing a penis is unquestionably the single most important qualifier for doing the Lord’s work. No other quality, including character, can compensate for the absence of this almighty spiritual organ. Many of us view this as a most embarassing phallacy, but not the current leadership.

So which educational attainments are “worldly baubles” and contrary to the counsel of Ms. White? A bachelor’s degree? A master’s degree? A doctorate? A professional degree (law, dentistry, physician, etc.)? Help us understand what you are suggesting.

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It appears that the response from SID deals exclusively with the Master’s and PhD from Freedom Institute. However, considering the facts that have been made available, one would count two PhDs detailed in the 2013 Hope Channel video (in Missiology and Leadership), a third in the works (from Unisa, also detailed in Hope Channel video) and a (presumably) separate PhD (in Management) mentioned in the ASI brochure from 2012. That’s not counting the Master’s from Freedom Institute dated 1997.

That would suggest the completion of either two or three research degrees in the space of 6 years with another research degree already underway in that same time frame. There are not to my knowledge any gaps in full-time employment during that period.

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…but nothing related whatsoever to journalism, communication, crisis communication, integrated marketing, spokespersonship, advertising, public relations, editing, professional writing, publishing, strategic communication?

Does anyone see anything related to his background and education and his new job at the General Conference as Associate Director of Communication? Anything?

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The Facebook pages for both Paul Charles and his wife, according to this column, say that they “studied at Spicer.” That strikes me as an evasive answer. We still do not know whether or not they PASSED their examinations there. And I would assume that they would need a good grade point average to progress to any higher level of study. The suggestion has been made that the church should sponsor Paul Charles to study at an accredited institution. Wouldn’t that depend on his grade point average? Spicer needs to be forthright about the specific results attained by this couple. There is the possibility that they are non-academic types, incapable of doing the higher levels of accredited university study. One is not eligible, of course, simply on the basis of extreme poverty in childhood.
I’m also intrigued by the claim that he “studied religious philosophy.” That raises many questions. How does that equip him for the GC Communication Department? Was it Hindu philosophy that he studied? Or comparative philosophies? Or SDA philosophy, whatever that might mean? The nature of the descriptions given by this couple are very vague.
As an honorary research fellow at an accredited SDA college I have had a little experience with students doing higher degrees. In my opinion, this whole saga of Paul Charles and his wife sounds dodgy.

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What exactly does this indicate?

  • Option 1: the committee was chaired by Mr. Charles, the still communications director of SID
  • Option 2: the committee members fear for their lives (or reputation at least) for exposing Mr Charles
  • Option 3: the committee members fear retribution for not being more upfront about the fraud

There probably are more options… But these certainly would not speak of an open, transparent climate, but of a severe need to cover up things.

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