After the Executive Committee meeting sent back the document a year ago, the leadership and membership of the Unity Oversight Committee was changed and the Committee was tasked to start over and find a better answer to the question, “How should the General Conference respond to non-compliance in entities and institutions of the church?” Many people would have preferred the UOC revisit the decisions in 2014 and 2015 that precipitated the current chain of events. Many would also have preferred the committee revisit the work of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee. But those issues were not in its terms of reference. Its sole mission was to determine the consequences for non-compliance. So whatever document they might have come up with, it was not their job to change the church’s direction, it was to guide the church in how to respond when entities were not in compliance with actions of a GC session or GCEC have already been taken. The documents being proposed are probably not the ones that would have occurred if the committee’s work were open-ended. The documents being put into play were the product of the original question.
The UOC began its work with listening and gathering feedback. It studied transcripts of speeches made at the GCEC in 2017. Every comment was probed for insight into how the world church was reacting to the actions of leadership at all levels. Then the Executive Committee members were polled as to whether there should be consequences for non-compliance and, if so, what kind of consequences there ought to be. Each member of the GCEC was asked not to give their own personal opinions, but to vote on the basis of how they thought the bulk of their members would vote. They were to “vote your constituency.” In the interests of transparency, the results of the poll were shared openly and the polling method came under some criticism, but the results were nevertheless taken seriously by the UOC. The most significant finding was that 66% of the GCEC members thought that there should be consequences for being out of compliance with church policy, in other words, the UOC should do “something.”
It was also agreed that that “something” should be legal and compliant in its own right. It was clear that a loyalty oath would be hard to sell. It was also clear that church policies did not allow for members of an executive committee to be stripped of voice and vote. A leadership that was seeking worldwide compliance needed to abide by its own rules. So legal counsel was sought in all the gray areas. One further legal issue was the accusation on the part of some that the vote in San Antonio (2015) had somehow been “rigged.” While there are anecdotes about parts of the world where leaders dictated how delegates should vote and also that some delegates were deliberately sabotaging the electronic voting system, the actual evidence of rigging has not proven conclusive. But the simple fact that these charges were explored was part of a heightened sense that legality and compliance is a two-way street and that leadership should also be accountable (although that language did not make it into the proposal, at least not explicitly).
Unlike the previous year, as soon as documents were voted or amended this year, they were immediately published online and translated into the twenty languages of the GCEC so that church members in general and GCEC members in particular would have months of time to go over the documents, ask questions and offer feedback. And feedback there has been, some of it quite hot!
The process being suggested also attempts to be even-handed with regard to the issues of non-compliance to be dealt with. This explains the five compliance committees which were selected on the basis of the five major concerns of members around the world: Creation/evolution, ordination, homosexuality, core policies particularly in the area of finances, and distinctive Adventist beliefs. Of those five topics the two considered the most urgent were ordination and church finances, so those two committees have already been tasked with assignments.
But that still leaves open the question, why these documents and not some other remedy? Was this the very best that leadership could come up with? And most importantly, will this be good for the church? We’ll get into these questions next time.