“Faithfulness to His Prophets” is the title for the 2018 Annual Council Agenda of the General Conference Executive Committee. Given that the meeting is being held in Battle Creek, Michigan, I was surprised the illustration on the program cover looked like a biblical prophet, Moses with his staff raised, rather than Ellen G. White in front of her home in the Adventist Historic Village. But whatever the role of Moses in the upcoming meetings, it will be Ellen White who will be given the last word — specifically from Evangelism, chapter 20 on “The Reason for the Delay.” Pages 694-697 will be read aloud, if tradition holds, at the close of the meeting on Wednesday, October 17.
When business is called to order on Sunday, October 14, after the Secretary’s Report and the Treasurer’s Report, the major document that has generated statements in opposition from churches, conferences, and unions scattered around the globe will be considered: “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions.” This is the one item on the agenda that includes the notation, “Vote to be taken.” It is also the item on the agenda that seems to be driving much of the rest of the meeting, too, because much of the policy agenda flows out of the “Regard Document” provisions. (There are three different agendas for the meeting: general, policy, and consent.) Six of the policy agenda items are proposed wordings to alter model constitutions at all levels to require that entities “purposes, policies and procedures shall be in harmony with the working policies, voted actions, and procedures” in their given Division. “Voted actions” being the addition that is being made.
It will be interesting to see whether these policy items are brought to the floor before or after the “Regard Document” is considered. These simple word changes to model constitutions seem to create work for the newly activated compliance committees, that were set up by the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM), in August. With these changes to the constitutions, plus the terms of reference for the committees, one could ask whether the committees could function with or without the “Regard Document.”
In his 2013 book Who Runs the Church, Gerry Chudleigh identified the Model Constitutions as one of the major ways that the General Conference has used to “clawback” the power it lost in 1901 when autonomous unions were created. The development of model constitutions and bylaws gradually gave more and more authority and control to the General Conference. “Finally,” he wrote,” according to the Model Constitution for Unions in the 2006 GC/NAD Working Policy, the unions can make changes to their own constitutions and bylaws, with these limitations: ‘Article VIII — Amendments. This constitution shall not be amended except to conform to the model union conference constitution when it is amended by action of the General Conference Executive Committee at an Annual Council. This union conference shall amend its constitution from time to time at regularly called constituency meetings, any such changes to conform to the model union conference constitution.’”1 In this way the unions are made totally subject to the General Conference, which is in complete contravention of their intended function.
Additional policy agenda items include giving unions and divisions the ability to call constituency meetings, if the entity below them has failed to do so; complete rewording of L 20 on Ministerial and Theological Education; and this rewording of the section on qualifications for ordination to the ministry: “L35 23 Examination of Candidates for Commissioning — The same qualifications and standards of examination outlined in L 50 shall apply to candidates for commissioning, notwithstanding the variances of authority between a commissioned and ordained minister.”
In Battle Creek this year, there will be plenty of reports from the various departments and ministries to hear, plus proposals for a world member survey, the World Church’s Strategic Plans for 2020-2025, discussions of integrity and accountability, plus nurture and retention.
But it is the policy agenda and the vote on the “Regard Document” that will truly determine the church’s plans and relationships going forward.
What would our prophet say? Chudleigh points to her writings in 1901 to demonstrate that she made it clear that God can give wisdom to union and local committees as well as He can give wisdom to the GC committee or GC delegates in session. ”2
In the dueling quotations match that erupts when people try to use her to end an argument, my quotation of choice is: “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed.”3
Notes & References:
1. Chudleigh, p.33.
2. Chudleigh, p. 30. See also his Appendix B.
3. "Search the Scriptures," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 26, 1892, 465; repr. Counsels to Writers and Editors, 36-37; and, in part, in Selected Messages from the Writings of Ellen G. White, 3 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1958-80), 1:37.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image: Annual Council 2018 theme photo, courtesy of GCC website.
Editor’s Note: The Annual Council business sessions will be live streamed on the General Conference Executive Committee website. The official hashtag of Annual Council (for following the conversation on social media) is #GCAC18. More information about this year’s Annual Council, including the full agenda, can be found on the Executive Committee website.
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