Paul Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists (SID) has officially resigned the presidency amid a cloud of controversy over falsified academic qualifications. Ratsara has served as president of SID since 2005, before which he was the division’s executive secretary.
The General Conference Executive Committee accepted Ratsara's resignation Tuesday, May 31. A statement published on the Adventist News Network website quoted Ratsara as saying, “To refocus the church that I love, back to its God-given mission, and to prevent it continuing to be distracted, I have humbly decided to voluntarily request reassignment as a local church district pastor somewhere within the territory of the Indian Ocean Union, my home union.”
Trouble began for the embattled president on April 14 when The New Age, a daily newspaper in South Africa, reported allegations from SID church members that both Ratsara and SID Communication Director Paul Charles used falsified doctoral degrees to advance their careers. Both men have vigorously denied the charges.
At question was Ratsara’s 2014 Doctor of Theology (DTh) from the University of South Africa (Unisa) and Charles' PhDs from Freedom Institute and Canterbury University, respectively. A strongly-worded statement published on the SID website said, “The Church, after reviewing the relevant documentation and confirming with the educational institutions involved, can categorically state that both Dr. Ratsara and Dr. Charles successfully completed all requirements for their doctoral studies and obtained their degrees in a legitimate manner based on institutional criteria.”
In a hastily-convened session of the SID Executive Committee (EXCOM) called by General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson on May 24th (a week after the regularly-scheduled EXCOM meeting ended), that statement was proven false. During the meeting, SID Vice President Hopeson Bonya confessed that he wrote five of the six chapters of Ratsara’s DTh thesis. The committee placed a motion on the floor to ask Ratsara to resign, but the motion was withdrawn. A subsequent motion to "register displeasure at the way the doctorate was obtained by Paul Ratsara" narrowly passed—30 for and 28 against.
During the same meeting, the SID EXCOM approved a motion to require Paul Charles to complete his bachelor’s degree within the next year while employed as SID communication director.
In a 2013 video interview with the General Conference-owned Hope Channel, Charles claimed two PhDs with a third doctoral degree in progress. That video was removed from YouTube on May 26. Hope Channel Marketing Director Fylvia Fowler Kline wrote in an email, "We wanted to inform you that the episode, 'From Poverty to PhDs' was deleted yesterday from the Let’s Pray YouTube Channel. When the veracity of any content element or guest in a Hope Channel episode is being questioned or scrutinized, the executive team of Hope Channel reserves the right to no longer broadcast part or all of the episode in question."
The questioning of Charles and Ratsara's academic qualifications has gone on for several years. Ted Wilson was notified of the allegations in February, 2015. Email correspondence from leaders in the Southern Africa Union Conference sent to GC vice presidents Pardon Mwansa and Ella Simmons in October 2014 called for the General Conference’s intervention. In February 2015, another request was sent including “a formal request for arbitration and investigation by the GC in order to clear this matter.” Wilson and GC Education Department Director Lisa Beardsley-Hardy were among twelve recipients of that email message. Mwansa and Beardsley-Hardy were the only ones to acknowledge receipt of the messages.
At the end of the May 24 SID EXCOM meeting, President Wilson, who chaired the meeting, asked Ratsara if he would like to say anything. Ratsara then offered his resignation, acknowledging the difficulty he would face following what amounted to a no-confidence vote against him. Wilson told Ratsara to sleep on it, suggesting that his resignation might not be accepted by the General Conference.
The next morning at staff worship, Ratsara told SID leadership that he had offered his resignation and that Wilson had asked him and his wife Joanne to give it some time, prayer and further consideration, noting that the GC might not accept his resignation.
On Sunday, May 29, Ratsara confirmed his resignation to General Conference and SID officers and to SID EXCOM and made the announcement to the rest of SID staff Monday morning, May 30.
On Tuesday, May 31, the University of South Africa confirmed that it has begun an internal investigation into allegations that Ratsara fraudulently obtained his 2014 DTh.
Accepting Ratsara's resignation, President Ted Wilson thanked the outgoing leader for his service to the division: “We thank Paul Ratsara and his wife, Joanne, for their dedication to the cause of God and Pastor Ratsara’s many years of service to the church,” Wilson said. “Many positive aspects of church growth in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division have taken place under his leadership. We will pray for God’s guidance and blessing on their continued witness for the Lord.”
Ratsara has asked for reassignment as a local church district pastor in his home Indian Ocean Union, which includes Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles. It would be up to the local conference or field to invite Ratsara to work as a district pastor. SID Executive Secretary Solomon Maphosa will serve as as the division’s acting president until the election of a new president.
For more on this story see:"Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division: Paul Charles "Does Not Possess Any Accredited Qualification" and "Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division President Paul Ratsara Offers Resignation Amid Academic Qualifications Scandal."
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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