We are in a spot of bother here in San Antonio.
If the electronic voting system had worked as it should have done from the first click, there would have been no argument. Sorry Meridia or IT boys: YOU GOOFED. The voting card is red.
But how did conspiracy theory get off the ground? Why would we even think that hundreds of people would conspire? Who decided that absolute confidentiality was that paramount? Why would we be distrustful of each other's motive in the first place? How come the most innocuous of Church Manual amendments get connected to Ordination? What is the real problem?
Answer: Power is concentrated in the hands of the few, and it is not trusted. Forget about personal innuendo, it's systemic.
The belief that 'The General Conference Session is the highest authority under God' is in serious trouble. From the outset the system that conflates, Executive, Parliamentary and Judicial roles in the hands of the same circle of Clerics is just not sustainable.
For example: One of the early debating points was about the appeal system for inter-organizational disputes. So let's have a hypothetical: The North & South England Conferences have a joint Camp Meeting. It gets flooded out, the members don't show up and the Conferences are jointly liable for uninsured losses. But their committees can't agree on the split. How will this be resolved by ascending committees deciding on the basis of democratic opinion? How would referring it to the Division, GC or Session help?
The Church now represents about 18 million people, more than many nations. Systems set up for 'the little flock' or 'the remnant' are simply not adequate. Even in our small neck of the woods we get bogged down with vexatious or litigiously minded disputes that consume disproportionate amounts of time. Eventually we muddle through with the elasticity of good will, but ultimately we need an independent judicial system with people qualified to operate it, on terms accepted by jurisprudence.
Sunday, July 5, was consumed with Points of Order, and jostling over textual nuances. Awkward people you say? No – a substantial number of the revisionists were people who confessed a General Conference tag. They are the people who voted these changes to come to the floor. Either they were not listened to at Annual Council, or not paying attention at Annual Council, or they are trying to achieve something they failed to achieve at Annual Council. What I really think happened was that these masses of documents swan their way around in cyberspace entering various drop boxes on the way without the scrutiny that now pops up on the floor. The system is not working. Why? Executive and Parliament/Congress are conflated.
To further illustrate this conflation is the election of Vice Presidents.
The Vice President chairing the Session is one the names for re-election so he rightly steps aside only to be replaced by his Senior, the President himself. So far so good. Save that the list of appointees, conflates a strategy to reduce the number of VPs and in the process eliminates two cherished incumbents. So we are really voting on three issues, two of which are strategies in which the Chairperson has a vested interest. Had the issues been separated and clearly enunciated, they could have been dealt with simply, each on their own merit. We don't need a secret ballot on a strategy, or on a cluster of appointees.
So what are we dealing with? The choices are Naivety, Incompetence or Deception?
Were I the Chair, the first two would be likely, when it's the head honcho for the sake of our own rationality we dismiss the first two and believe the latter, and bang goes Trust. The solution: separate Executive and Chairmanship throughout the system.
I fear that too many decisions, including the contentious ones, will not be credible whatever the outcome. People have to trust the process, but we know it’s broken, though with clear separation of duties, it could be fixed.
Maybe it is God's will that we live with ambiguity, after all that makes us more attentively responsible.*
(*Traffic managers discovered a drop in casualties when white lines are removed from busy roads because drivers have to drive more slowly, and think for themselves.)
Victor Pilmoor is the Treasurer of the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and a delegate at the 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo Credit: Steven Norman / NAD