Editor’s Note: The AdventNetwork, a forum of both lay church members and pastors in the Southern Africa Union Conference, has issued a statement regarding the Annual Council compliance vote. The statement follows in its entirety:
On the General Conference Annual Council decision on October 14, 2018, to establish Compliance Committees
On Sunday (October 14, 2018) the General Conference Executive Committee deliberated on the proposal “113-18G: Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions." It is a process designed to enforce compliance with organizational policies as well as actions voted at General Conference Sessions and Executive Committee Meetings.
Those that fail to comply face disciplinary measures as outlined in the document. The Executive Committee voted to accept this proposal and the AdventNetwork of Southern Africa would like to express our disagreement with this decision. Considering the exhaustive and prayerful study and discussion of this specific development considering the biblical understanding of Unity, it is difficult to see God’s hand in this decision, yet.
In our letter on October 4, 2018, we raised seven areas of concern with this proposal, the setting up of the GC ADCOM Compliance Committees, and the terms of reference. We would like to reaffirm our concerns and belief that this decision will not achieve the intended goal, namely the Unity of Faith. Also, it will have an unintended adverse effect on the mission God has given to His church.
Though there have been concerns raised for many years about the non-compliance with policies in various parts of the world (even in our own Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division), the GC ADCOM never saw a need to create Compliance Committees. These were matters that threatened the very heart of the Gospel Mission. We don’t want to share specific examples, as it is not the spirit through which we intend to convey our concerns – public naming and shaming. (Yet it seems to be the preferred method of the GC Compliance Review Committee.) It is only after GC Session 2015 that the process of Compliance Committees was initiated and came to this drastic measure, this past Sunday.
We would like to reiterate that it is the mission that drives policy development and not the other way around – “form follows function.” Union Conferences were set up during the major church organizational restructuring of 1901 to facilitate the mission in their geographical territories while having cognizance of the locally prevailing conditions. These conditions vary from one part of the world to the other. For example, the General Conference Working Policy C70 (Polygamy) was designed to deal with a matter some parts of the world church (mainly Africa) were grappling with. This policy is meant to support the mission of the church and is more helpful in Africa than in North America or Europe.
The unity we all desire is not and cannot be achieved through “naming and shaming” and other punitive measures foreseen in this voted document. As a matter of fact, this document will in effect create an “us and them” approach. It will divide the church even more. It is in light of these concerns and the decision taken that we would like to make the following statements:
1. Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division is not monolithic in its views. Although the representative system of governance that the SDA Church follows implies that delegates to business meetings do not necessarily have to consult their constituencies prior to taking a vote, we would like to indicate that our Division and Unions (like all others) are not monolithic and there is a wide range of diverse positions on this matter. Which in our understanding of what transpired at the council of Jerusalem is perfectly in order and does not constitute disobedience to God’s Church yet invites a spirit of Unity and not conformity as it allows for individual conscience. Does this mean we reject the leadership of our delegates? No, certainly not, it merely means we will not always agree with our elected leaders. Does this mean we will reject the policies of the Church? No, policies change, even our fundamental beliefs can be adapted and clarified, which means we keep ourselves open to the work of the Holy Spirit. When policies do not follow function, the Seventh-day Adventist Church at the Business Session of the General Conference and the Annual Council of the General Conference change, propose, and adapt policies to fall in line with function. As much as we don’t agree with the GC Compliance Review Committees, we will continue to evaluate it and engage it considering the Gospel Mission (Function), as we are currently doing.
2. Compliance with all policies and not a targeted few. We hope that the required policy compliance shall be applied fairly across all (policies and regions of the world church). It would be unfortunate if only specific policies and regions become primary targets of the Compliance Committees. In forming the AdventNetwork of Southern Africa we wanted to create a safe platform, an informed platform, a visionary platform for the members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Southern Africa. Something that has its origin in our painful past as we suffered under injustices – even though they were voted policies and legal.
3. Formation of Compliance Committees. The matter of the Compliance Committees, as well as their member composition, was not debated nor voted on at the GC Annual Council. This process needs to be opened to ensure it is transparent so as not to be misconstrued as a “private police.” The majority of lay members, at least in our part of the world, have been caught unawares by this major development within their Church, and therefore transparency moving forward will be of paramount importance.
4. Church entities/institutions/members spying on each other. There is a real danger that Adventist entities (including individual members) will initiate their own investigations, against both existing policy and stated provisions of the voted compliance document, to identify policy violations in their local or Union Conferences as well as Divisions/GC and report these. There will be mistrust between brethren and church entities. As indicated, there are numerous cases of policy violations which take place all across the world church and it should be very easy to create, report, and publicize a catalogue of these. This is exactly what we have always raised as a real and present consequent of this process of compliance committees. What was intended to be a whip, will now become a guillotine. Discussions of mission have now become archaeological expeditions for skeletons in closets. This is not prediction, this is happening as we speak.
It is our firm view that the establishment of compliance committees was not necessary as the church has adequate processes to deal with disagreements and differing points of view.
We pray and hope that our leaders will not be scared of asking for help. You have 20 million people as a collective pool of shared wisdom. We are sure in our day and age we can tap into this wisdom and come up with a policy that fosters unity. We will continue to prayerfully engage the issue at hand. We are not ashamed of the Gospel, and will continue to speak boldly, but in the full knowledge of our duty to “Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly…”.
Yours in the Master’s service,
Members of the AdventNetwork of Southern Africa
*the AdventNetwork is a forum of both lay church members and pastors from across the Southern Africa Union Conference (in Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division). The forum engages on church related topical as well as general matters which pertain to the role of the church in society.
Image: a map of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Courtesy of Adventist.org.
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