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Of Myths and Men


In spite of the fact that the General Conference leadership got the vote it wanted at Annual Council, it apparently still feels the need to justify the document “Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions.” Three articles explaining it were posted by the Adventist News Network (ANN) in the ten days following the October 14, 2018 vote. There have been no articles about what comes next, when the Compliance Committees will begin meeting, or how the rest of the church will be informed about those committee sessions or actions.

Mark Finley, assistant to the General Conference President, wrote the latest ANN piece arguing for the voted document. Titled “Mystifying Myths” with a graphic illustration contrasting “Myths vs. Facts” the article calls into question seven of the arguments that were made against the document before and during the discussion of it at Annual Council, calling them all myths. His responses to these myths, he labeled facts.

Multiple authorities on General Conference Working Policy with whom I spoke all said that Finley got it wrong. Everything that he listed as a myth is, in truth, a fact. His list of myths, that really are true are:

1. The document is an overreach by the General Conference to centralize power.

2. The document uses a non-biblical method of coercion.

3. The document is a heavy-handed authoritarian approach to problem solving.

4. The final vote of authority regarding consequences rests in Silver Spring, Maryland with the GC Administrative Committee.

5. This document changes the culture of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and inhibits freedom of conscience.

6. The General Conference does not have any entity to oversee its activities and actions.

7. The document is not biblical. It places policy above Scripture and therefore is contrary to the Protestant Reformation in that it violates freedom of conscience.

Pointing to lines and phrases in the document, he argues, for instance, that because the document suggests that the “entity closest to the issue of non-compliance is to initially handle the matter” it is not an overreach by the GC, but he also notes, “If there is non-compliance of a General Conference Session or Executive Committee voted action, the GC Executive Committee may become involved.” In other words, if the entity closest to the situation does not handle the situation in the manner the GC would like, then the GC will become involved. It is this granting the General Conference permission to discipline unions and conferences that changes Adventist structure. Ever since 1901, with the creation of unions that have their own constituencies, the General Conference has had no line authority over unions and conferences.

Two of his myths pertain to non-biblical solutions. He disagreed because the document includes suggestions for meeting and praying in the run-up to voting sanctions on presidents of entities who are deemed out of compliance. Just adding prayer to a punitive measure does not make it biblical. The use of blame and shame tactics which the document includes is not a biblical methodology for conflict resolution within the family of believers of Christ. The world Church has long had policies to address organizational malfunctions and rebellion. These policies have focused on addressing the organization involved. The Annual Council action takes a rather different pathway by adopting sanctions against an officer of the organization thus holding an executive responsible for the actions of a constituency. This is a subtle way of saying that authority resides in an individual rather than in a group.

He sets up the myth about which committee holds final authority, saying rather than the GC Administrative Committee (ADCOM) to whom the Compliance Committees report, the General Conference Executive Committee holds the highest authority position, because it is the committee that approves actions to be taken. But he skips over the terms of reference for the Compliance Committees that includes making them the Appeals Committee for anyone protesting those actions on non-compliance. Finley’s piece focuses too much on the Document alone rather than also on the Compliance Review Committees. They are inseparable. The Terms of Reference for the Committees are more open ended than Finley acknowledges and while only recommendatory, give broad powers to investigate, recommend sentencing, and to insert themselves into the affairs of entities, specifically unions and conferences, not under the direct authority of the General Conference.

Regarding oversight of the General Conference, he suggests that General Conference Auditing Services (GCAS) oversees the General Conference finance and policy compliance. If GCAS oversight is sufficient for the General Conference, why is it not considered sufficient for all the other entities? They are also overseen by GCAS. Why is additional oversight needed for everyone else and not the General Conference? Contrary to what Finley claims, there is no process outlined whereby policy non-compliance by GC leadership is formally identified, reviewed, and sanctioned. The GC Executive Committee is not informed of these things. The implication that the auditing firm Maner & Costerisan, in preforming the financial audit, gives the GC a clean report on policy compliance is a claim of ignorance at best, or deception at worst. The firm performs a financial audit and in the course of that audit may encounter matters of non-compliance with financial policies. There simply is not a full scale policy audit. Non-compliance by the GC in areas unrelated to financial policies would not be the focus of the auditor’s work or report.

Finley’s arguments tend to make selective use of information. Even the author bio about him leaves out a significant detail. It describes him as a “well-known evangelist, author, and retired General Conference vice-president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” What it does not say, is the fact that he currently holds the title of Assistant to the President of the General Conference, and it is because of that position that he was called upon to write the article. Finley also serves on two of the Compliance Committees — the one on distinctive SDA beliefs and the one on issues regarding ordination.

After actions of the Annual Council, all of the representatives go back to their divisions and unions and decide whether or not to ratify what has been voted at the General Conference.

No policy becomes a law within their jurisdiction, unless their executive committee votes to implement it. No policy action is automatic. The response of the divisions, particularly North American Division, is the next chapter in this story of the struggle over power in Adventism.


Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Image credit: / ANN / Ansel Oliver


Further Reading:

Confounding Conundrums: A Response to Mark Finley’s ‘Mystical Myths’ Article by Randy Harmdierks

Annual Council Timeline of Key Events and Responses by Alisa Williams


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