In the lead up to Annual Council, the Adventist Grapevine Information System goes into full swing. “What have you heard?” becomes the question of the day. The events of 2016 heightened the importance of these conversations, because there were “nuclear” proposals to dissolve unions over the women’s ordination issue and the proposals were being kept secret among a small group of people. The intent, it seemed, was to spring these proposals on the General Conference Executive Committee at the last moment, take a vote, and be quickly done with a very controversial action.
Except that the proposal leaked. People inside the Administration questioned the wisdom of what was being proposed and told friends. And the Adventist Grapevine went to work. As word got out, the enormity of what was being proposed took hold. Instead of the nuclear option, the administration backed down and sent a proposal to the Executive Committee that was a reconciliation process loosely based on Matthew 18. Meetings, prayers, and letters were to be used in an effort to bring disagreeing units within the church into unity over a year long period.
Except the reconciliation procedure was not followed. So in 2017, it seemed like the situation would be repeated. Actions taken to Annual Council go through a committee vetting process. That meant that everyone wanted to know what actions were being proposed to the ADCOM (Administrative Committee) and GCDO (General Conference & Division Officers Committee). But the administration was determined not to have leaks spoil their plans this year. Copies of the proposal were distributed to specific individual committee members with their names on them. Once people had read the proposed action, the papers were immediately collected, apparently even before the discussion of the item. Votes were taken on the proposal without the exact wording in front of people. Committee members were sworn to secrecy.
Except that it leaked. At first, it was just stories of the vote itself taken on Sunday when the GCDO group was on a bus tour of Adventist history sites in New England. The vote was 32-31, I was told. President Ted Wilson lost. Then someone else said, Ted won. What was the real story? When the votes were initially counted on Sunday, Wilson apparently won, but it was later learned that Wilson had included several proxy votes, a procedure not practiced in church committees, meaning that according to regular church practice, Wilson’s proposal lost by several votes.
Next, word began to leak that he plans to proceed with his proposed action of taking away voice and vote from “non-compliant” union presidents on the General Conference Executive Committee. But someone else heard that all Union officers—not just the president—would also lose voice and vote on the North American Division Executive Committee.
Except that taking away voice and vote violates the constitution. According to the constitution, the only option for “punishment” is to dissolve the union. It is the nuclear option or nothing.
Another leak suggests that the action to be voted on Monday will include a loyalty oath that Executive Committee Members would have to sign, pledging their loyalty to the church and promising not to ordain women. This would be an unprecedented move in the history of the church. While a loyalty oath has been proposed a time or two, it has never passed.
And the latest information is that the upcoming action will contain a provision for a review panel to measure the “non-compliance” of unions (which is left undefined, though in this case non compliance means continuing to ordain women) and that an automatic penalty would follow a finding of non-compliance. Some have wondered if establishing such a review panel signals a quasi-judicial system within the church, a significant change in the structure of the church and one warranting much more discussion and consideration.
The labour of the moles who have shared this information over the past year has truly been a labor of love for the church, not wanting to see “nuclear” actions blow up the organizations that have faithfully followed the voted decisions of their constituents.
It is the secrecy surrounding the proposals that exacerbates the situation. These actions have the potential to affect the lives of thousands of church members. Yet, no one at the unions, conferences, or institutions that stand to be affected have been told what the proposed action will be. The group of approximately 60 people who have reviewed the proposal are all part of the General Conference. Not one union president, conference president, pastor, or layperson has seen the proposal.
As British-American journalist Heather Brooke says, “Leaks are not the problem; they are the symptom. They reveal a disconnect between what people want and need to know and what they actually do know. The greater the secrecy, the more likely a leak.”
Trust is required in a united church. And trust dies in the dark. To build unity, there is a real need for openness and transparency in the culture of the church administration. The labour of moles will continue as long as there is darkness. The way to solve the mole problem is to bring the actions of the administration into the sunlight.
*A group of moles is known as a labour of moles.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
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