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Emphasizing the importance of denominational policies to the boards of Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities, the General Conference has issued a proposed new policy on board independence.
The 5-page discussion draft was distributed in April to the presidents of senior colleges and universities plus General Conference officers, education department directors and associate directors, division presidents, and the office of General Counsel.
In the memo accompanying the document, GC Vice President Lowell Cooper said, “this is a matter that has received some preliminary discussion by the General Conference and division presidents, members of the international Board of Education/International board of Ministerial and Theological Education and members of the Adventist Accrediting Agency.”
In response to questions about the document, Cooper added, “This subject has gained fairly widespread attention in recent years. Both the Association of Governing Boards and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Accrediting Association have put out statements on this topic. Similar issues are being talked about in other countries as well and the focus is not just confined to private or not-for-profit institutions. Further, Church and institution leaders worldwide want to accurately describe SDA institutional operations when working with governments for the granting of charters, etc. to establish universities recognized by the government.”
In addition to this broad interest in the topic, there is a more specific significance to the proposal, because this is a major issue in the La Sierra University accreditation discussions with both the Adventist Accrediting Agency and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, as well as the lawsuit by three former La Sierra University administrators.
One of the key provisions in the WASC document, to which Cooper referred, focuses on an institution’s relationship with “related entities.” It says, “The underlying principle is that the governing board must be able to make decisions in the best interests of the educational entity or . . . it is responsible for the ‘quality, integrity, and financial sustainability of the institution and for ensuring that the institution’s mission is being achieved.’ Governing boards are accountable to the institution’s constituents and to the public. In carrying out this charge, the board must be free from influence or control by persons who have competing or multiple interests and divided loyalties. . . . A general principle of governance is that an educational institution’s board and administration should preserve their independence from donors, elected officials, and external parties, such as ‘related entities’. . .”
In the General Conference’s proposed policy, there is also a section on “related entities.” It reads, “Boards of trustees govern their institutions as part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and thus carry very significant responsibility for knowing and assuring that institutional strategies/policies/practices are consistent with established denominational policy and mission purposes. A board is not free to disregard established denominational policy by claiming that the organization setting denominational policy is an external party (i.e. not the formal constituency or membership) and therefore limited in its ability to influence the operations of the institution.”
Another one of WASC concerns is independence of an institution’s board chair. Their statement reads:
Concerns can arise when the board chair is responsible to a related entity, such as a religious institution, or serves as chair of more than one educational institution. The board chair has a special leadership role, for example, in setting agendas, making appointments, and leading discussions, and therefore can wield more influence than other board members. Whatever loyalties the board chair may have to other entities, the board chair must act in the best interests of the educational institution when acting as board chair. The board chair should not have extensive authority to act alone but should ordinarily act with the advance approval and consent of the board and should respect limits on the chair’s authority as set forth in the bylaws or comparable organizing documents. Finally, a serious potential conflict exists if one person serves simultaneously as board chair of two institutions of higher education, which may be competing for students, faculty, and/or resources; therefore this practice is discouraged and will be subject to careful scrutiny by teams.
The General Conference Proposed Policy views this issue differently. It says:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes, with certain limitations, that a trustee may serve simultaneously on more than one board. General Conference policy outlines the following framework for persons serving on multiple boards: “Because of the common objectives embraced by the various organizational units and institutions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, membership held concurrently on more than one denominational committee or board does not of itself constitute a conflict of interest provided that all the other requirements of the policy are met. However, an officer, trustee, or director serving on an organization’s board is expected to act in the best interest of that organization and its role in denominational structure.
Pacific Union Conference President Ricardo Graham currently chairs the boards of both La Sierra University and Pacific Union College. This is an issue that was being addressed in the revisions being made to LSU’s bylaws.
The comment period for the General Conference document runs until May 31. Comments have been solicited from:
Since, in the North American Division, the unions operate the colleges, it might be noteworthy that union officers and education directors have not been directly invited to respond to the document. However, when Cooper was asked if the policy is being considered to fulfill a need by the General Conference to exert some control of union-operated institutions, his answer was an unqualified NO.
Cooper said he was not sure where in its final form the proposed policy will be placed—whether it would become part of the church’s Working Policy, or its accreditation guidelines, or suggested to institutions as something to incorporate into their bylaws. It is supposed to be considered for a vote by the Annual Council in October.
—Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.
BuzzFeed, the voracious chroncile of what's interesting to some people online, recently turned its attention to Adventist culture. On May 3, BuzzFeed Fellow Ashley Perez compiled a list of "31 Signs You Grew Up Seventh-day Adventist". Thus far, it has 39 comments and over 140,000 total views.
Do you agree with the list? What did BuzzFeed miss?
This week's films explore the wonderfully strange world of experimental film and performance art. Both can be hard for most viewers to access and like poetry, can seem quite confusing. However, both forms can be powerful and provocative methods with which to explore an issue. The films span from elegant and minimalistic to performances that might leave you frustrated and scratching your head. I've also included my recent piece Mother Godde, which was created as part of an installation art piece for an art show in downtown Los Angeles last month.
1. 'Balance' by Tobias Hutzler
2. 'I am' by Katie Brillhart
3. Tanner Hill Performance by "Tim Hinck and Tim Banks"
4. 'Mother Godde' by Leslie Foster
1. Oakwood University won the $50,000 Tier I prize from Home Depot. They will build an outdoor pavilion, equipped with outdoor kitchen appliances, grills and fireplaces.
2. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will address the 134 graduates of Southwestern Adventist University on Sunday.
3. Adventist Health System/West, and its affiliated hospital White Memorial Medical Center have agreed to pay the United States and the State of California $14.1 million to settle claims that it violated the False Claims Act, the Justice Department announced today.
Raised in contradiction, my father was a drunk and my mother was a saint. My dad not infrequently disappeared for days, sometimes weeks, taking his paycheck and leaving us wondering how to pay for groceries. When you are a child of an alcoholic it is not uncommon for you to internalize feelings of unworthiness and abandonment. The self emerges hobbled. The mind of a child cannot articulate his feelings; nevertheless he feels something is wrong with him. There must be a reason Dad does not show up to school open houses or Little League games. "I do not matter" is the answer.
So my religious mother presented the church to me as a solution for the failure of my dad, but the God of my mother’s fundamentalist church did not like me much either. My hair length, my music, my literature, my ideas, language, movies, card games, school dances, flashy clothes, jewelry of any kind, boy-girl romances, and certain friends were suspect and to be shunned. My culture was to be avoided. It had too many minefields where God was reluctant to tread. More paradox: Jesus incarnated into my culture but then my culture is stripped of all identity except what the church approves. I wondered if denuding the culture was salvation. The separation between secular and sacred further supported this idea: the Son did not come for ‘us,’ He came for the sanitized. Culling the herd seemed more the goal. Further, I needed to insulate myself in church schools where I would learn behavior that pleased God. I needed to wear ‘the robe of Christ’s righteousness,’ so the Father would find me worthy of a relationship. Apparently I did not qualify, thus creating more feelings of unworthiness like those my father engendered. ‘Separatism,’ was a holy doctrine. My church-culture found my character deficient, in constant need of cleansing and development; I was unacceptable as I was. God loved me just as I am; well, almost. Such certainty about uncertainty led me to conclude: my mother’s God needed to see a therapist. Contradiction continued its work.
Do not get me wrong, my mother loved me. She was a saint by church standards, but I never fit the mold her religious mind had constructed. I too easily wandered off her reservation. She would tell me, in a mother’s loving way, how I disappointed her. I forgot my lines in her screenplay. My mother was deeply caring but judgmental. I found that puzzling, not unlike the church in which she worshipped. On the other hand, when my father and I reconciled years later, he had no criteria by which to measure the value of our relationship. He did not care if the square peg did not fit the round hole. Satisfied with our renewed relationship; our time together was all that mattered. Because of his own brokenness, he never expressed disappointment with me. His life history reminded him not to be judgmental and, therefore, he welcomed me without qualification. Paradoxically, I learned more about grace and forgiveness from my sin-ridden father than I did from my faithful Christian mother.
More catch-22: I elected to become a minister in the same church that separated itself from the precise culture it targeted to save. As a minister, I thought God would find me acceptable, but a few years of this mistake and the damn broke. I bolted to find an existence away from this agonizing dilemma of believing in a loving God but finding instead the church’s ‘hanging judge.’ I concluded my church of fences and motes was an insidious system of salvation by behavior. I frantically searched far and wide, reading every author I could find who spoke about God’s infinite love for the sinner. On my Damascus Road, I discovered the Father adored me, even liked me. Jesus, Father and Spirit each possesses a heart of love and acceptance. Jesus was not a bridge from me to a distance wrathful Father, but a bridge straight from the Father’s heart to mine. God’s primary essence was not perfect moral rectitude, but love and fellowship and inclusion as evidenced by the Trinity. God’s holiness is His perfect love and communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I learned I was not separated from God because of me, but I was included because of Him. Like the earthquake that shook the chains off Paul and Silas,[i] the Gospel set me free.
Contradiction is a force, two tectonic plates ripping a new landscape, grinding truth out of the life. My personal inconsistencies challenge the delusions I have constructed. We thrive on illusions; they puff us up and make us what we’re not. We fabricate almost unperceptive self-views based on lies we tell ourselves. We become frauds. When I think I am witty and full of insights; when I think I have life under controI, I do something reckless or unbelievably contrary. I eloquently preach love but behave like a bigot. I talk of faith but doubt crushes me. My views of righteousness demean or disqualify others. George MacDonald writes, “Indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself one, and become wise.”[ii] Therefore, I embrace my contradictions for they remind me who I am.
There is a difference between a contradiction and paradox. Paradox is more than opposites colliding; a paradox is a truth that tells us something about ourselves. I yearn for life and indulge self-destructive behaviors. That is a contradiction, but it is also a paradox revealing a fact about me: my nature is conflicted with inner realities that clash. A plight I suspect afflicts most of the human race. We are the elder brother and the prodigal. We are a mixed bag. Being haughty or self-righteous, therefore, is an illusion and a lie. Admitting we have contradictions and paradoxes is a form of confession, another word for honesty. I am not as together as I think; in fact, the opposite is true. Jesus arrives in my mess and saves me from being an ‘empty suit’ and contradiction is frequently the tool He wields. When I admit that goodness and badness together find a place in my heart, I move towards a restored self. My contradiction becomes my paradox: for as I lose life I find it. As I confess my brokenness, I begin to find wholeness. I realize again and again ‘that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from me (ourselves)...’ (2 Cor. 4:7). Our achievements, accomplishments, good deeds and positive strides at character development are valuable and encouraged, but they can become illusions by which we define ourselves. The truth we cannot avoid or deny is that our demonstrably flawed humanity needs a Savior.
I learned the origin of my contradictions grew in the Garden. The Tree of Good and Evil offered us eternal bliss or Pandora’s Box. The lid blew off, and the Garden morphed into Charles Bukowski’s seedy world of drunkenness, debauchery, and cigarette smoke in dingy apartments.[iii] The beginnings of self-destruction and environmental decay, and worse, a misunderstanding of the character of God. From sin’s inception, a loving Father was suddenly thought to be frightening, eager to punish, and not to be trusted. He needed blood to love and forgive. Sin birthed the destructive and persistent reality of projecting on God our fears and misgivings, our inability to trust or be trusted, and our need for illusions, like fig leaves, to hide us from ourselves. Our understanding of God further plummeted into regions of darkness and fear. ‘Caught in the devil's bargain/ And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,’[iv] yet we believed Him as capricious, angry, or distant and indifferent, or receded and absorbed by all things, notions generated by tainted hearts. Though this view of God is a pernicious contradiction, ironically, at the moment of our fall, the Father comes looking for us like the woman seeking her lost coin.[v] He clothes us in our shame (a symbol of adoption),[vi] to let us know it is not He who has changed, but us. In our brokenness and disgrace, Grace visited us and relentlessly still does as the Hound of Heaven[vii] asking, ‘Where are you?’ (Gen. 3: 9). Our incongruities and sins notwithstanding, He is Immanuel.
From the Incarnation, I learned the heart of the Father. Jesus arrives in our messy lives not to judge, but to let us know we are loved and welcomed. From eternity, God called and adopted me,[viii] and though the Fall made God confront chaos and brutal savagery, it did not change His relationship with me. He knew the risks of becoming like us, but He came nonetheless. Dr. Ray S. Anderson writes, ‘God anticipated the risk of creating life with the possibility of death…The incarnational love of God presupposes a tragic dimension when the infinite is exposed to suffering the impossibilities of the finite.’[ix] It is this love of the Father that inspires me to be like Him. Where He finds me He says, ‘This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Jesus is the Father with us, the truth of a God ‘who so loved the world’ that He came to our disordered and fractured planet as one of us to redeem and retrieve. My Holy God loving the likes of me, the most poignant of contradictions and the one I will ponder for eternity.
—Greg Prout is a member of the Southern California Conference Executive Committee.
[i] Acts 16. All biblical texts are from New American Standard Bible, 1972.
[ii] George MacDonald,Lilith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 26.
[iii] Charles Bukowski, an American author and poet (1920-1994) wrote from experience about the darker, seedier side of life.
[iv] Joni Mitchell’s song,‘Woodstock,’ 1969.
[v] Genesis 3:8, 9; Luke 15:8-10.
[vi] A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (London, 1910), p.78. See Genesis 3:21.
[vii] Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven,’ (1893).
[viii] Ephesians 1:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:9.
[ix] Ray S. Anderson, The Soul of God, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), p. 82.
Image: Salvador Dalí, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937.
Dear Mr. Standish,
In your May 4, 2013, editorial in the South Pacific Division's RECORD entitled "A Tale of Two Movies," you compare our feature documentary film, Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins, with a short film made by Avondale University students which both deal with the issue of being gay in the Seventh-day Adventist church. We have deep respect for the stories shared by the students. The more people within the church start talking openly about this topic, the more we all grow in compassion. However, there are a number of errors and omissions in your article about our film that we feel we need to address.
First, we think it's important to point out that the reason you have not seen our film is because you chose not to come to a screening. As you know, but did not include in your column, you were personally invited by both of us to attend one of the three screenings in your area (including one that was only a few miles from your office) while we were doing our Australian tour in March. The reason you gave for not attending was "because I don't want my attendance to be used to promote the film." Of course, we never had any intention to use your attendance to promote the film, but we are only screening the film at community (and church) screenings right now. And we still hope you'll choose to watch the film one day. It's especially powerful to get to experience it with an audience so you can see how the film is being received by your fellow Adventists. At most screenings, we do have a Q&A session afterwards, but it's not a "required directed discussion" as you wrote. Nobody is required to stay! However, many stay, share their thoughts, hear more about how the people in the film are now, and just linger in the listening space that the film creates. Actually, while some have wanted us to tightly control the conversation by limiting the questions or controlling who can speak, we've always pushed for an open and honest discussion because this is something that is vitally missing in most of our churches.
Given the overwhelmingly positive response we've had from the many church leaders, pastors, teachers, and just average Adventists who have come to see the film (from the left, right, and middle), we can assure you the film is much less scary than you seem to think! These are good Adventists caught in a very real dilemma, and they share their stories with deep honesty and authenticity—and there's a lot of fun Adventist humor along the way! As Dr. William Johnsson, who is a fellow Australian as well as widely respected thought leader in the church and the retired long-time editor of the Adventist Review said after seeing the film at one of our first screenings, "The movie, which simply tells stories rather than taking an advocacy stance, is powerful. It can, I believe, do much to make Adventists more compassionate in this controversial area."
Second, we have not received any funding from the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), as you wrote. The SFFS acts as our fiscal sponsor which means that they are able to receive tax-deductible donations from people and organizations on our behalf who want to support the film. Almost all our funding (except for one small grant from the Pacific Pioneer Fund) has come from supporters within the Adventist community who are looking for ways to make the church more compassionate and loving. Absolutely no funding has come from groups outside the Adventist community "advocating for the redefinition of marriage". And, yes, in some ways we are activists, if you define that as people caring deeply about those who are most marginalized in our church. We believe we all have a responsibility to take action to stop the staggeringly high suicide rate among gay Christian youth and to be more compassionate and loving to all those in our church, particularly those stories who have not been heard.
Finally, we made this film simply so we can hear the stories of our members who are struggling to be both gay and Adventist. There is a lot of fear-mongering, stereotyping, and misinformation about this issue, and sometimes it's good to just sit and listen, to walk the proverbial mile in someone else's shoes. We made conscious creative choices while making the film to allow those stories to be raw, honest, and authentic. If you'd seen the film, you would have discovered there is no "sweeping music" (in fact, there is no film score at all which was done intentionally to limit the editorial bias), but rather just people living their lives, which look a lot like yours and ours.
So far over 11,000 people, most of them Adventists, have seen the film in film festivals, churches, and other screenings we've done in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. We're currently working on a DVD and online version that we'll be releasing as soon as our festival tour is over, so many others can see the film when it's ready to be released.
We hope you'll choose to see the film one day, as so many of your fellow Australian Adventists have (we love Australia!). The biggest issue with criticizing a film you haven't seen is that it's exactly what the institutional church typically does when it comes to everyone on the margins—judge, condemn, and talk about a group of people without actually listening to their stories and learning what their walk is like. That era is ending though, as more and more people are realizing that we must listen wholeheartedly to all of the stories around this topic, not just the ones that fit in our theological box. The reconciliation both Jesus and Paul call us to requires that we show up in genuine spaces of listening and love. And that's especially true when it comes to those whose voices have not been heard.
We'll look forward to talking more once you've experienced the journeys of Sherri, Marcos, and David, the main film subjects, whose courage, vulnerability, and genuine love for God even in the midst of a difficult situation have been moving Adventists around the world to greater love, compassion, and understanding.
Stephen Eyer & Daneen Akers
Photo: Seventh-day Adventists packed into a church watching the documentary.