There has been much conversation across our church in the past few weeks regarding the General Conference (GC) compliance process. Many have expressed strong opinions, for and against, regarding the process. In this article, I want to take a step back and answer a few basic questions about the process itself.
What are we talking about anyway?
On October 14, 2018, the General Conference Executive Committee approved a new document that defines a unique compliance process beyond that already provided for in the GC Working Policy. It is designed to ensure that all church administrative entities (Conferences, Unions, Divisions, and Universities) abide by all policies and actions voted by the GC executive committee and the GC in session, including fundamental beliefs and denominational working policies.
How did it come about?
In 2012 two unions within the North American Division (NAD) approved the ordination of both men and women as ministers. This was a catalyst for further study of the ordination theology and process. That led to a vote at the 2015 GC Session, which refused to allow division executive committees to make provision for the ordination of women wherever deemed appropriate.
According to Elder Ted N.C. Wilson, GC president, this new compliance document and process is necessary as a response to the vote in 2015 with the GC administration noting a continued lack of compliance in ordination practice and other areas. As a result, five "Compliance Review Committees" have been established that will research perceived compliance issues, facilitate compliance, and, if necessary, recommend consequences to the General Conference administration.
The five committees will oversee:
- Core Policies (including financial policies)
- Distinctive Adventist Beliefs
What is the process?
The compliance process has three major steps: report, address, discipline. It includes a hoped-for fourth step as reinstatement. (In the examples below, "Conference X" is the terminology used to signify a non-compliant entity.)
1. Report an Issue
Any Administrative Committee (AdCom) can report perceived non-compliance of any other entity across the world. The complaint is to be delivered in writing to the administrative level immediately above and closest to the perceived matter of non-compliance (Union X receives a written non-compliance complaint regarding Conference X.)
2. Address an Issue
- It is the responsibility of Union X to notify Conference X of the accusation and create a plan to come into compliance. If Union X chooses not (or is unable) to effectively address the accusation, it automatically becomes the responsibility of Division X. If Division X chooses not (or is unable) to address the accusation, it automatically becomes the responsibility of the General Conference administration to address the accusation.
- The process allows 60-90 days for an entity to demonstrate their compliance or a plan to achieve compliance. If they are unable to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of Union, Division AND GC executive officers, their case may be referred to the appropriate GC Compliance Committee by the GC Administrative Committee.
3. Bring Discipline regarding an Issue
If resolution does not happen to the satisfaction of the GC Compliance Review Committee, progressive consequences can be recommended.
- Warning ... For some types of non-compliance, a warning may be given to the Union President of the affected entity. This requires a simple majority vote of GC Executive Committee.
- Reprimand ... If an entity has not complied with GC Executive Committee actions and/or GC Session actions, including Working Policy, the affected Union President may be publicly reprimanded. This requires a simple majority vote of the GC Executive Committee. This would include a public reminder of the reprimand at every subsequent official GC Executive Committee meeting (spring and fall).
- Removal ... When non-compliance of any entity continues after public reprimand of the Union president, the affected President can be removed from GC Executive Committee "for cause." This requires a two-thirds majority vote of GC Executive Committee at Annual Council.
- Reinstatement ... If the affected entities come back into compliance with all GC policies and actions, the related GC Compliance Review Committee may recommend to the GC Administrative Committee that the entity and the warned or reprimanded representative Union president be reinstated into regular standing by the GC Executive Committee.
How does it affect my local church?
This compliance process does not include typical local church issues in its scope. The process document clarifies that churches should continue to address compliance issues according to the church manual. Local pastors and lay leaders are also not included in these new compliance actions. However, if a church as a whole is viewed as out of compliance — say changing services from Saturday to Sunday — this would seem to fall under the noncompliance procedures of this document.
Why are some concerned?
Four areas have generated the most conversation.
- This compliance process treats all issues with apparently equal importance. For instance, policies regarding employee vacation are addressed by the same process as the Sabbath doctrine. Also, the process seems to leave little space for cultural context. Some fear this opens the door to policy enforcement in violation of personal conscience.
- Some see using public reprimand as discipline to have distinct echoes of the shunning and shaming that has been used throughout history to separate people groups. They struggle to see how Jesus would use such behavior.
- The compliance process provides direct mechanisms for General Conference administrative involvement in local affairs. This access is unprecedented since the development of Unions in 1901. This level of direct involvement is comforting to some, but appears as a dangerous centralization of power to others.
- This process has encouraged an environment in which Adventists identify faults and view others with suspicion.
Why do some embrace the process?
1. Some see this process as encouraging uniform consistency of practice that strengthens the bonds of unity among us. Others would say enforced unity is no unity at all.
2. Some see this process as a protection against the watering down of doctrine and the loss of the authority of Scripture. Others see a difference between the doctrines held in common and issues of conscience and culture.
A process intended to bring us together has revealed differences in basic world views that would make one think true unity is impossible. And it reminds us: unity has never been about agreements forged at summits or councils. Unity has always been a gift of God's Spirit, as His people work together for common purposes.
The truth is there's still much ambiguity in the process document. Few, if any, have a clear idea of what will actually happen as a result of this action. While members and leaders differ in their perspectives on this process, we are still called to be on mission together.
Together we can:
- Keep serving – where we can and how we can.
- Keep following the calling of Jesus to make impacts in our local communities.
- Keep seeking where the Spirit of God is at work in the world. And join in.
- Keep talking. Stay engaged and connected in the local church. Now is a time when every voice and every perspective is important.
- Keep praying for church leaders as they continue the conversations and seek out God's will for the future of the Adventist Church.
- Keep supporting the work of God by returning tithe through the regular process. Almost every ministry we value in our Oregon Conference territory, the Northwest and beyond is funded by these faithful contributions.
- Remember, It's all about Jesus. In Oregon, we've claimed this as our mission statement and it has never been more true. Jesus is the one we serve. He will hold His church together.