Paul S. Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists (SID), has offered his resignation as division president amid an ongoing scandal involving allegations of fraudulent doctoral qualifications. General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson has asked Pastor Ratsara to reconsider.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have confirmed to Spectrum that Ratsara offered his resignation after a majority of members of the SID Executive Committee voted their disapproval of the manner in which Ratsara obtained his doctoral degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa). Spectrum has also confirmed that Hopeson Bonya, elected SID vice president during the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas, has confessed that he authored much of Ratsara’s doctoral thesis.
During SID’s regular meeting of the Executive Committee (EXCOM), chaired by SID Executive Secretary Solomon Maphosa and scheduled to end on May 17th, an action was taken to conduct a forensic investigation into Paul Charles and Paul Ratsara's academic qualifications.
Charges that Pastors Ratsara and Charles had used fraudulent doctoral degrees to advance their careers first emerged publicly in an article in the South African daily newspaper The New Age.
SID leaders initially responded with a strongly-worded rebuttal to the charges of fraud, saying “[SID] along with Dr. Paul Ratsara and Dr. Paul Charles, categorically deny the claims contained in a recent article published in the New Age Newspaper. There is simply no truth to any allegations contained in the article and the representations made regarding education and compensation are unfounded."
After further revelations emerged in Spectrum and elsewhere, SID leaders appointed an ad-hoc consulting committee to look into charges against Paul Charles. That investigation led to a public statement on the SID website saying that Paul Charles “does not possess any accredited qualification (degree),” and that Charles would “cease and relinquish the use of any titles associated with those unaccredited degrees [and] complete his studies at an accredited institution...in respect of the South African national standards.”
The statement from SID leaders maintained that “Pastor Charles has not misrepresented facts about where he obtained his qualifications to the Church.”
However, for a group of concerned academics, the statement pointed not to Charles’ innocence regarding the allegations of fraud, but to a broader culture of dishonesty at the highest levels of the division. In an open letter to President Ted Wilson, sixteen academics and church members from SID appealed to the General Conference for intervention.
The letter noted that church members within the division have raised serious questions about Paul Ratsara’s doctorate degree, suggesting that his doctoral dissertation on Women’s Ordination may have relied on work done by the SID Biblical Research Committee for the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), the organization tasked by the Adventist Church with studying the issue of Women’s Ordination in advance of the 2015 General Conference Session. Each of the denomination’s thirteen divisions was asked to convene a Biblical Research Committee to conduct a study of the theology of ordination and to present its report to TOSC. SID presented a summary of its position (strong opposition to women’s ordination) but never submitted its full BRC report to TOSC.
Instead of intervening on behalf of the concerned church members, the General Conference intervened on behalf of the beleaguered SID leaders.
Spectrum has confirmed the following details with sources in the SID with first-hand knowledge of the proceedings.
Members of the SID EXCOM were contacted after the regular meeting ended on May 17 and told not to leave as the committee would reconvene the morning of the 18th. Elder Ted Wilson called Solomon Maphosa and instructed him to reverse the actions of the 17th. Maphosa refused, despite significant pressure to comply. The meeting on the 18th was supposed to be convened to compel the EXCOM to rescind its actions concerning Paul Charles and Paul Ratsara. That meeting never took place.
EXCOM members were then told to make themselves available for a special EXCOM meeting on May 24th to be chaired by Wilson.
All union presidents from within SID were summoned to a pre-meeting on May 23rd with Wilson chairing (Wilson had flown in from Rwanda on Sunday the 22nd, where he was conducting a two-week evangelistic campaign).
The May 24 EXCOM special meeting convened with the clear purpose of protecting Paul Ratsara and Paul Charles. During that meeting, Hopeson Bonya came forward and confessed that he wrote five of the six chapters of Paul Ratsara’s dissertation. At that point, the May 17 action to conduct a forensic audit of Charles’ and Ratsara’s qualifications was rescinded.
In separate actions, the committee entertained a motion to relieve Paul Charles of his duties and allow him to go study at an Adventist institution. That motion failed. A subsequent motion was approved, requiring that Charles finish his BA (his undergraduate studies) in one year while continuing to serve as SID communication director.
A motion was made to ask for Paul Ratsara’s resignation, which was later withdrawn. A motion to "register displeasure at the way the doctorate was obtained by Paul Ratsara" was narrowly supported—30 for and 28 against.
At the end of the day's proceedings late on the evening of the 24th, Elder Wilson asked Ratsara if he wanted to say anything. At that point Ratsara indicated that he wished to step down, citing difficulty being able to serve in the face of what essentially amounted to an implicit no-confidence vote. Elder Wilson responded in front of the committee asking Ratsara to sleep on it, adding that the General Conference might not accept his resignation. Wilson also noted that only the General Conference can act to replace the division president and such an action could only be taken at the General Conference’s Annual Council. All thirteen division presidents are also vice presidents of the General Conference.
During the SID morning office worship this morning, May 25th, an announcement was made that Ratsara had indicated his intention to resign but that Wilson had asked him and his wife Joanne to give it some time, prayer and thought, noting the fact that the GC might not accept his resignation.
Ratsara became SID president in 2005, before which he served the division as executive secretary.
Pastor Ratsara lost his wife, Denise, to cancer in 2013. He married Joanne Davies, who lost her husband to cancer, in November of 2014. The couple have a blended family of nine children.
Amid those significant events in his personal life, Ratsara was also enrolled in a doctoral program at Unisa. Ratsara states that he received a Doctor of Theology (DTh) Degree in Systematic Theology in 2014 from Unisa. However, following Bonya’s confession, it is clear that Ratsara did not complete the work himself. Physical evidence of the degree has not been produced despite requests from church members.
The concerned academics group has formally asked Unisa to conduct an investigation of Ratsara’s doctoral degree. Ratsara is not listed among Unisa’s “illustrious alumni” with degrees in religion, and his dissertation is not available, either in hard copy or electronic copy, from the Unisa Institutional Repository, which “contains and preserves theses and dissertations, research articles, conference papers, rare and special materials and many other digital assets.”
The group has informed Hensley Moorooven, associate secretary of the General Conference, previously SID associate secretary, that the group will also be providing evidence and supporting documents to the South African Department of Higher Education and to Unisa's forensic investigation department.
Ongoing scrutiny of Paul Charles’ doctoral dissertation, submitted to the unaccredited Freedom Institute, has revealed that Charles plagiarized a significant portion of the dissertation from the 1994 book, 19 Gifts of the Spirit, by Dr. Leslie B. Flynn. (As an aside, Flynn used the title “Dr.” as the recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from Denver Seminary.)
UPDATE ONE: On May 26 the General Conference issued the following statement:
The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) is working with the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division (SID) in reference to questions raised about division leadership. Since this is an ongoing review, certain details remain unclear. We invite you to join us in prayer as we work through this matter.
UPDATE TWO: On May 29, Ratsara confirmed his resignation to GC and SID officials, and on May 31, Unisa confirmed an internal investigation into Ratsara's DTh.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.