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Money, Sex, Power, and Better Communication: Spring Meeting Takeaways

Spring Meeting - Auditorium

The General Conference Executive Committee met for its Spring Meeting on April 9 and 10 to conduct regular and non-routine Adventist Church business. The most attention-grabbing item, a plan to exert more control over Adventist educators, came on day two, but other business included financial reports, more presentations from a sexuality taskforce, and new leaders elected.

Treasury Reports Solid Finances

As is customary at Spring Meeting, Treasurer Paul Douglass presented the GC’s financial position, describing it as “strong.” Tithe to the GC increased slightly to $91 million. Offerings saw a larger increase, rising from $87 million in 2022 to $97 million in 2023, more than $20 million above what  was budgeted. The GC ended 2023 with $310 million in net assets.

Overall, the GC spent $172 million in 2023, with $49 million of that going to office operations.

In 2021, the GC received a large unrestricted financial gift that it is still dispersing through a special Mission Impact Fund. The second iteration of this fund will be going toward “territory-wide evangelism” in different world divisions over the coming years.

Sexuality Taskforce

At last year’s Spring Meeting, the GC announced a new Human Sexuality Taskforce, with President Ted Wilson describing it as combating “a huge onslaught of aggressive conditioning of people’s minds from social media, from culture, regarding LGBT and other aspects.”

This year, Vice President Audrey Andersson gave an update on the taskforce’s work, describing it as addressing a variety of topics including “sexuality, masturbation, marital relationships, dating struggles, pornography, LGBTQ.”

The main product of the taskforce so far has been the website, which was launched at the end of 2023. Gina Wahlen, editor of the site, described it as collecting peer-reviewed articles that “go through quite a robust reading before we post them.” As the site currently stands, most of the content appears to be republished from various Adventist publications and newsletters.

Advocates for the Adventist LGBTQ community have denounced the church’s recent efforts related to sexuality. “I find the website to be a total embarrassment,” wrote Floyd Ponitz, president of SDA Kinship International, in a post on X. “And it is obvious that its main goal is to condemn Adventists who are LGBTQIA+ and to affirm their family members to make them feel justified in ostracizing their queer loved ones. I have found very little redemptive spirit in there.”

Bisexual Pastor Leads to Several Presentations

Mario Brito, president of the Inter-European Division, gave a report about tensions between the GC and German church leaders over Saša Gunjević, pastor of the Grindelberg Church in the Hanseatic Conference, who came out as bisexual last year. The conference refused to rescind Gunjević’s credentials, and GC leaders proceeded to release a statement announcing their displeasure about the situation.

Last year, Brito said, two union presidents also wrote in the German official Adventist publication Adventisten Heute advocating for the church to change its anti-LGBTQ stance. Brito stated that there has been “great upheaval, resentment, and polarization” in his territory and that division leaders have spent many hours meeting with officers in local conferences and unions. In response to the situation, Brito said that the February 2024 issue of Adventisten Heute was made “to present the position of our church on LGBTQ+ topics to compensate for the one-sided view of the September 2023 issue.”

In response to accusations that his union was not enforcing church teachings, Brito said that decision making is a complex process and that each level of the church “has its own ecclesiastical and administrative autonomy.” 

“We want to assure the worldwide church that the Inter-European Division’s leaders fully support the church’s theology, principles, and teachings,” Brito added. A few days later on Sabbath, April 13, Dennis Meier, president of the Hanseatic Conference, and Gunjević appeared before the Grindelberg Church and stated that through mutual agreement Gunjević’s employment at the church would be ending. 

Personnel Changes

The nominating committee also filled several vacant positions. Pierre E. Omeler was elected as a GC vice president, filling the vacancy left by the unexpected death of Maurice Valentine late last year. Most recently, Omeler has been the president of the Atlantic Union Conference, which is made up of six conferences in the Northeast United States. Omeler has been a leader in the Haitian Adventist community in the United States. 

Galina Stele will be the new Women’s Ministries director, filling a vacancy left by the death of Heather-Dawn Small.

Three departmental director positions were also filled. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, currently the associate director of Health Ministries,will replace Peter Landless as department director, who will be retiring later this year. A graduate of Loma Linda University, Charles-Marcel is the former medical director of Lifestyle Center of America and former vice president of the Wildwood Lifestyle Center.

On Independent Media Access to Top Church Meetings

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the two yearly General Conference Executive Committee gatherings—Spring Meeting and Annual Council—moved mostly online. The decades of access for laity to observe the proceedings in person ended for obvious reasons. This included members of the Adventist independent media. 

Since then, as in-person restrictions have loosened, Wilson has initiated a policy change that reduced in-person attendance for the majority of executive committee members at Spring Meeting.

As Spectrum reported during the 2023 Annual Council, 20 percent of executive committee members voted against limiting church leader in-person access to Spring Meetings. Union presidents and laity expressed concern that not being in the room would limit open debate. Wilson told them to “trust your administration.” “I do trust the current leadership, but we don’t know about the future leadership,” said Niklas Rantanen, a lay member from the Trans-European Division. “Unless, of course, the current leadership is certain who the future leadership is, in which case I don’t trust the current leadership!”

At this year’s Spring Meeting, 71 invitees, including associate department directors at the GC, were able to attend.  

It’s time for the Adventist independent media to be allowed back in the building during these global executive committee meetings. 

With hundreds of leaders only able to see what the General Conference cameras show, it is important to have an independent viewpoint. The camera has sometimes gone dark without explanation. There is a lot happening in the room outside the official mise en scène

Major denominations not only allow independent church member observation but also are covered by the secular press. Spectrum reporters carry official credentials from the Associated Church Press, the premiere North American religion communicator organization since 1916. The Southern Baptist Convention states that its “Annual Meeting is open to members of the working news media or those on assignment for news publications, programs, websites, or other news media that are generally recognized, and regularly updated, distributed or disseminated, where the primary purpose of registration and attendance is for legitimate news coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

More than a month before this annual denominational meeting, Spectrum contacted Williams Costa, director of the GC Communication Department, requesting in-person access to this annual meeting of the Adventist Church. There was no reply. Spectrum asked again a week later. Then a week after that, and finally a few days before the event. Costa replied an hour after the meeting began. Without explanation about his lack of communication, Costa merely sent Spectrum a link to view the proceedings, which the Spectrum team had already been publicly reporting on via both X/Twitter and Threads. 

It’s time for the General Conference to adopt a more professional communication approach to its own members who want journalism outside of denominational control. The GC currently lags behind most Christian denominations, Adventist constituent entities, Adventist corporations, and other institutions. If the GC cares about truth, the top denominational witness should model transparency, accredited media access, and two-way communication with all.

About the authors

Alex Aamodt

Alex Aamodt is an editor-at-large and the Roy Branson Investigative Reporter for Spectrum. He graduated with degrees in English and Spanish from Walla Walla University and lives in Portland, Oregon. You can contact him here. His work is supported by donors who have given to the Bonnie Dwyer Investigative Journalism Fund. More from Alex Aamodt.
Alexander Carpenter, editor of Spectrum.

Alexander Carpenter

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