Are Compliance Committees a Step Toward an Adventist Papacy? (AC18-9)

Many are concerned that the proposals coming before the Annual Council are an unwarranted step toward excessive centralization of control, an Adventist Papacy or dictatorship. For them voting these documents is another mistake like the action in 2014. To me, this is overstating the situation. The compliance committees are not arbitrary bodies with the power to search out and punish individuals and groups all over the world. They are actually sub-committees of the GC Administrative Committee. All GC committees are appointed by the ADCOM, so this is not an unusual action. What is unusual is that such an appointment is so widely publicized and so widely noticed. In a sense, these committees do not change anything. They are like consultants to GCADCOM, researching and processing issues that would otherwise have to be dealt with by a single body. The compliance committees cannot investigate any issue unless it is referred to them by the GCADCOM. They cannot investigate complaints and charges coming from individuals or even groups. All compliance complaints must come from a duly constituted executive committee action. They must be the product of more than even the biblical “two or three witnesses.” The compliance committees respond to actions or formal requests from conference, union, or division committees as processed by GCADCOM. As long as they are limited to the GC level, they are not likely to do much harm. But should compliance committees become a reality at all levels of the church, the “authoritarian culture” that Ellen White feared could become a reality in the church.

The idea for compliance committees arose in response to statements made in the floor discussion at the GCEC in 2017. They are an attempt at even-handedness in terms of the compliance issues that would be addressed. And those issues are about more than just ordination. An even bigger issue is finances. People have confidence in the church because it operates on tight financial compliance rules. But as the church has expanded problems in the financial area are increasing and the existing system did not seem capable of dealing with non-compliance in financial matters as each country tends to handle such things differently. The compliance committees are designed as investigative bodies that are supposed to do more than just recommend punishments. They are also tasked with diplomacy, trying to find solutions to problems. In the terms of reference, their primary task is to listen, talk and seek solutions. If they find there is actually no problem, or the problem has been fixed, they can decline to recommend action against an entity or institution. If they find there is a ongoing problem, they can recommend accordingly to GCADCOM, and the warnings, reprimands, and other penalties come into play. But they have no direct authority on their own, they only have power to recommend to the GCADCOM and from there to GCDO and GCEC. So the compliance committees actually add an additional layer of consideration and process. It is not a dictatorial or papal approach.

One of the greatest misunderstandings about these proposals is the idea that it has to do with individuals. A colleague of mine said to me recently, “Maybe neither of us will be working here anymore next year.” Such a conclusion is easy to draw from the panic in many of the media reports. But individuals and interest groups are excluded from lodging complaints with the compliance committees and their terms of reference clearly specify that individuals and groups are not in the cross-hairs of these committees as such. They are concerned with non-compliance in official voted actions of institutional executive committees. As the terms of reference state: “GC compliance review committee with doctrine, policies, statements, and guidelines for church organizations and institutions. . .
. . . teaching creation/origins
. . . regarding homosexuality
. . . regarding issues of ordination
. . . with GC core policies
. . . with distinctive beliefs”

The compliance committees are dealing with issues related to institutions when they take official positions against the church, its teachings and its policies. Example of this are the following: Choosing to ordain women before the world church makes that an option, conferences choosing to withhold tithe for their own use, single signatures on major financial transactions (where one person has total control), or a church body deciding they no longer believe in the Trinity. Two committees have already been tasked to act, the one on ordination and the one on core policies. A third issue is in discussion and may been announced shortly, but does not yet have the votes.

Whether or not you like this proposed system, it is not the establishment of an Adventist papacy. The church is not changing its doctrines. It is not significantly changing its structures. It is certainly a move in the direction of centralization. Many leaders believes that such an action is needed at this time because of the perceived slide toward congregationalism (the protestant tendency). Some fears are stoked by the perception that current GC President Ted Wilson is the most powerful president in the last hundred years and that he will use these processes to coerce consciences and enforce uniformity. But the system is filled with safeguards. The hot debate over these issues among top leaders is not for nothing. Those who do not trust Elder Wilson, whether conservative or liberal think of him as supremely powerful. But he is not as powerful as both sides assume. I am confident that he does not feel very powerful right now. This proposal is not what he was hoping for. It is the product of collective wisdom, collective debate and collective decision. With all of their flaws these proposals are the best that UOC could come up with in a year of work. So the big question is: If these proposals are voted next week, where will they take the SDA Church?

9 thoughts on “Are Compliance Committees a Step Toward an Adventist Papacy? (AC18-9)

  1. Satu Mäkelä

    Are these proposed compliance committees the most important? How about replacing them or adding to them compliance committee to oversee that pure, unaltered gospel message is preached by Adventist pastors through out the world? Or are we so sure that we do not have any variance or problem in this area? Is the Gospel being preached in all of its clarity?

  2. Ann Thrash-Trumbo

    Dr. Paulien, you note that finances are among the issues to be addressed by the compliance document. But I thought I heard Dr. Wilson state that finances were not going to be addressed by this document and the compliance committees that were emplaced. Did I misunderstand what he said? It seemed to take financial compliance off the table.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I was told by one of the formulators of the document that the Core Policies committee was to investigate particularly financial issues. Perhaps you misunderstood Wilson.

  3. Dwain

    Hmm it appears like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.

    Do you have any suggestions for inexperienced blog writers?
    I’d definitely appreciate it.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      Nothing brilliant. If people find what you say helpful and inspiring, share it with a wider audience. If you are skillful with the web and can make it real pretty, all the better.


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