With the recent announcement of his plan to retire, General Conference Secretary G. T. Ng re-opened the political season in the world church. Election of the three top officers of the General Conference, plus the 13 world divisions, takes place once every five years at the General Conference Session, thus the political season centers on that event. In the first few months of 2020, speculation about whether or not General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson would be re-elected was widely, if not openly discussed. Then came COVID and the postponement of the GC Session and the officers’ terms were extended to the 2021 date set for the Session. This year, another postponement of the Session until 2022 again extended their terms. Ng’s plan to retire on June 1, 2021 means the Nominating Committee plus the other administrative committees at the General Conference will have to choose his replacement during the upcoming Spring Meeting April 13–14. So, the political season is now open.
Of course, church officials maintain that the Adventist system eschews politics, there is no campaigning for officer positions, and any hint otherwise can automatically doom a person’s chances for being nominated. But whatever people may say, politics are alive and well in Adventism. It’s just not an open and transparent form of politics. It’s talked about in personal conversations, or phone calls. Never in writing, never in the Adventist Review, or Executive Committee Newsletter. And while multiple candidate names will be brought up in the Nominating Committee, only one name will go forward for consideration by the General Conference Executive Committee to ratify. The proceedings of the Nominating Committee will not be officially shared. The politics will stay behind that closed door. Thus, most church members don’t know very much about how and why certain candidates rise to the top.
Over the years, the process has evolved. With the growth of the world church outside of the United States, elections have become geopolitical. Now it’s about more than just the individual. It’s about where the person is from. G. T. Ng represents Asians within the church, just as his predecessor Matthew Bediako represented Africans. Among the three top officers, three different parts of the world need to be represented. This geographical representation requirement has ramifications beyond a single office.
For instance, discussion about who will take Ng’s place has implications for the other officer positions. Should a South American be elected Secretary, that could rule out any other South American for the other officer positions. The name of Magdiel E. Pérez Schulz, a well-qualified candidate from South America who now serves as assistant to President Ted N. C. Wilson, has been mentioned for the secretarial spot. Should he be chosen, that would damage the potential candidacy of Erton C. Köhler for the presidency in 2022. Köhler’s name has circulated as a possibility for the top spot. He is currently the president of the South American Division and the longest standing division president of the 13.
The worldwide nature of the church is certainly enhanced by this effort to represent the various people groups within the church. However, there is one very large group of people who are totally overlooked. That is the female half of the church. How could that be addressed?
The Nominating Committee will have less than two weeks to search for a new Secretary, given that a vote will be expected by April 13–14. If they look within the Secretariat there are several well-qualified candidates: Hensley Moorooven, the undersecretary, is a native of Mauritius. He earned his BA in theology at the Adventist University in Rwanda, and a Master’s in Leadership from the Adventist University in Kenya. Other possibilities within the Secretariat include Archivist David Trim and Gary Krause, who is in charge of Adventist Missions. Both have strong educational backgrounds and have served with distinction. Both are originally from Australia. Being a white male from a “Western” country does not help their possible candidacies. Others who could be considered for the position would be the Executive Secretaries or officers from the other Divisions. One person who would bring new meaning to the concept of representation is Audrey Andersson, the Executive Secretary of the Trans-European Division.
While gender representation is considered when choosing delegates to the General Conference Session, for instance, and in local constituency meetings, it has yet to become a factor at the top level of the church. It needs to be if we want to consider our form of governance to be representative. Women make up more than half of the membership. They deserve representation at the top of the church just as much as members from the various geographical areas deserve representation. The Nominating Committee could make that happen. It’s time that they did.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.
Image: Delegates voting on agenda items at the 2019 Annual Council. Photo by Brent Hardinge / GC Communication, courtesy of ANN on Flickr.
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