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IMBTE: When the Solution Becomes Part of the Problem

The European branch of Adventism’s International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE) is led by two dynamic Romanian pastors, Barna Magyarosi and Marius Munteanu. They are active members of the Adventist Theological Society (ATS) and graduates of the Adventist Theological School in Cernica, near Bucharest, Romania. IBMTE has recently retracted the theological teaching endorsement from Prof. Hanz Gutierrez, a Spectrum columnist and professor of systematic theology at the Italian Adventist University, in Florence, Italy.

Beyond this negligible personal reference, a public issue of validity within the Adventist community emerges here. It concerns a General Conference institution’s linearity, transparency, and consistency in applying its own regulations. IBMTE must certainly have the prerogative to grant or withhold endorsement of its workers. But this legitimate prerogative must also respect certain essential steps, which are regulated by its bylaws and internal rules.

And it is here that the implemented action of the board, headed by brothers Magyarosi and Munteanu, leaves much to be desired. There has been superficiality, one-sidedness, and inexperience displayed, which can be summarized in four points:

1. Lack of direct involvement with the person

The IBMTE bylaws provide for the natural and understandable involvement of the theologian in question,1 either to ask for information or simply to inform them directly of the decisions made. This would allow individuals to avail themselves of the legitimate “Right of Appeal,” without which any decision-making process would be flawed. In fact, the IMBTE regulations explicitly provide for precise ways and times in using this prerogative.2 But the European Board has not respected this process.

Up to the present day, more than three months after the Inter-European-Division BMTE decision, they have not contacted Prof. Gutierrez, either by letter, email, phone, or direct interview. Can a formally legitimate process so massively and substantively ignore the person directly concerned? When this happens, it contravenes elementary norms of ethics.

In addition to this formal point, in recent weeks brothers Magyarosi and Munteanu have crossed paths with Prof. Gutierrez several times: in San Antonio, Texas (at AAR/SBL congresses) and in Florence. But they never questioned him there or visited him in his office. Thus, from a process perspective, the picture looks even more anomalous.

2. Lack of involvement with the local institution

The IMBTE regulations are very clear in requiring the immediate and direct involvement of the local institution.3 This is to avoid excessive institutional verticality and to implement the wise principle of subsidiarity. Such a process should assist in arriving, as far as possible, in shared decisions.

This failure to involve the local institution deforms the process. It can easily become only un-redemptive sanctioning, and not what the IBMTE regulations themselves explicitly call for.4 Moreover, this vertical sanctioning deformation, which is reinforced by failure to involve the local institution, was highlighted as a drift from due process by theologian Daryll Ward in an article published back in 2016.5

The Italian Adventist University (Villa Aurora) was not involved, either formally or informally, at any point in the evaluation process. This is an extreme breach of process. The university was only approached afterward, to receive the decision. And even today the Inter-European-Division branch of the BMTE struggles to involve the local institution in an appeal process by effectively delegitimizing it twice. First, because this takes away its space to try and manage the case locally. Second, by forcing the local institution to accept a decision it had no part in, this circumvents its authority. The Italian Adventist University comes out tampered with and denigrated. It appears to be “unable” to manage one of its employees, and seen as “powerless” in the face of a decision from above, which it cannot oppose. This is a Machiavellian and covertly perverse way of delegitimizing a sister institution, that should instead be protected by the BMTE itself. Just as Jesus said of the Sabbath with respect to man, so we might say that the IBMTE should be at the service of the local institution, and not the local institution at the service of the IBMTE, much less suffer its bullying. 

3. Lack of objectivity with regard to evidence

A primary rule of any legal or procedural system is the so-called “burden of proof”: “Cui onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit” (the duty to prove imputation falls on the verifying agency).

The accusatory dossier (which never reached Prof. Gutierrez, and only fragmentarily to Italian Adventist University) did not specify which writings were questioned and what the precise charge was. Only a generic mention was made of an article by Gutierrez6 on homosexuality, in German, edited by a group of European Adventist theologians, in a book published last August under the title: “Queergedacht.”7

Of course the accused, aside from guilt or innocence, might also be theologically inconvenient. However, one cannot force evidence, much less create it at the table. It should be part of the burden of proof to convincingly articulate an indictment with objective data, and using precise and coherent argumentation. 

4. A question of opportunity

The IMBTE bylaws do not prohibit those who chair the Board from being members of any specific theological association. However, it is common sense not to be an active member of any association, precisely because the institution one heads should be a guarantor for all theologians in the broad theological spectrum present in Adventism. This spectrum naturally includes theological traditionalism, as represented by the ATS (Adventist Theological Society). But there is also an equally legitimate progressive Adventism present in the ASRS (Adventist Society for Religious Studies). Brothers Magyarosi and Munteanu are thus legitimately but inappropriately active members of the ATS. And this fact raises some questions of expediency and administrative wisdom.

But the European theological issues, which the IBMTE is called upon to coordinate and not just sanction, go further and deeper. For reasons of space, I’ll only mention three theological nodes, on which the IBMTE should foster dialogue and not hinder it. 

1. The relationship with the outside world 

Demographics affect and condition theology. For 315 million people in South America, there are 2 million Adventists. Theology there can afford to be “ecclesiocentric”, “intra muros.” In the Inter-European-Division (EUD) there are 180,000 Adventists for 340 million people. In the Trans-European-Division (TED) there are only 87,000 Adventists for 205 million inhabitants. In Europe, therefore, Adventism cannot focus on itself. Its wealth should be built through healthy and equal relationships with the outside world, both religious and secular. European Adventism should necessarily be dialogical and ecumenical. Hence it derives a theology with a different emphasis, one that IMBTE still does not seem to understand.

2. De-Europeanization of European Adventism

European Adventism has always had a particular profile (L. Conradi, A. Vaucher, N. Hugede). This is not a quantitative but a qualitative richness that is beneficial to the worldwide church. Due to migration and short-sighted institutional choices, we are witnessing a de-Europeanization of European Adventism, which is increasingly described as anomalous, atypical, and even apostate. Suppose, in a dream future, we could raise the number of Adventists from the current 250,000 to a hypothetical 3 million adherents. But also suppose these new Adventists no longer expressed traditional European Adventism. Then Adventism in Europe would still be dead. The church must learn how to enculturate itself, not just in Bucharest, but in Milan, Berlin, Hamburg, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Rome, and Geneva. This is the number one lesson of European Adventism that IMBTE does not seem to want to understand.

3. Homogenization of European Adventism

Europe has always been confronted with true multiculturalism. There are different territories, ethnic groups, and especially different languages that force the European into dialogue and confrontation. This is much less the case in other parts of the world. European Adventism has always reflected this structural diversity. But, for some time now, a strong homogenizing wind has been sweeping over European Adventism with force, aiming to erase these differences and wanting to coerce European Adventism to become monolithic, to bring it into line with a purported Adventist mainstream that is more anomalous, perverse and weak than people think. Given the way IBMTE is structured and how it was born, it is difficult for it to understand this lesson about the benefit of cultural and theological diversity. But miracles and institutional metanoia sometimes occur. Though, when this doesn’t happen, the pretend solutions become part of the problem they intend to solve.

  1.  “A teacher who has been denied endorsement, or who has been placed under review, has the right to appeal that decision.” See: Handbook of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial and Theological Education, Appeal Process, p. 60. ↩︎
  2. GC Working Policy 2021-2022, FE 20 25 Division Boards of Ministerial and Theological Education, no. 7. ↩︎
  3. “Any significant concern that arises at the BMTE division shall be referred back to the institution to be addressed there.” See, Handbook of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial and Theological Education, The Re-Commitment, Re-Endorsement Process, p. 59. ↩︎
  4. “Individuals and entities with serious concerns about particular faculty member’s actions in relation to the five documents may express them using the model set forth by Jesus in Matt. 18:15-17, bearing in mind that God’s central concern is a redemptive one (Matt. 18:1-145). See, Handbook of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial and Theological Education, Expressing Concerns, p. 59. ↩︎
  5. Daryll Ward, “Why the Proposed IMBTE Endorsement Process Would Betray Adventist Identity,” in Spectrum, December 14, 2016. ↩︎
  6. Hanz Gutierrez Salazar, “Sind gleichgeschlechtliche Beziehungen unmoralisch?” (Are Homoerotic Relations Necessarily Unmoral?). ↩︎
  7. Werner E. Lange, Dennis Meier, Reinder Bruisma, Queergedacht. Beiträge für eine offene Diskussion über gleichgeschlechtliche monogame Beziehungen, (Adendorf: Stab-Verlag, 2023). ↩︎

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About the author

Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of Villa Aurora and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy. More from Hanz Gutierrez.
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