October 14, 2019 Annual Council Report (Monday Business Sessions)

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October 14, 2019 Annual Council Report (Monday Business Sessions)

 

Morning Business Session, Presided by Ella Simmons, General Conference Vice President

Ted Wilson noted that the previous day’s motion to table the motion created confusion. He explained that the voted Rules of Order (6th edition) currently in effect are not consistently followed in all their technical language by all unions. While the voting process can be more elaborate than simply taking a “yes” or “no,” Wilson made an appeal for the attendees to vote the items (either up or down) rather than tabling or referring them. He clarified that tabling a motion does not have a specific time tied to it but waits until somebody brings it back on the table and that if section VII Art. 14 (that conference presidents from the division hosting the annual council would not have voice during the annual meetings) were voted up it would not be effective immediately but would go to the General Conference Session where it would have to be passed by a two-thirds vote.

 

Treasurer’s Report

Juan Prestol-Puesan, General Conference Treasurer, indicated that we are projected to break even by December 31st.

Ray Wahlen, General Conference Undertreasurer, gave a report concerning the 2020 World Appropriations and Allocations Budget. Two major factors playing into the 2020 Budget are the continued strength of the US dollar, and the NAD Tithe percentage, which will be decreasing from 6.1% to 5.85%. The total income increase in the 2020 budget is 0.3% ($440,000), while the total expense increase is 1.3% ($2.34 million). The difference of $1.9 million may be covered by approved use of reserves, as necessary. The tithe income budgeted for 2020 is projecting an increase of 1.9% ($1.6 million) possible parity with tithe gain in 2018. The world mission offerings income is budgeted for a 2.7% decrease ($2.0 million), bringing the total appropriations to a 2.8% (2.0 million) decrease. The GC administered funds increased by 14.9% (2.5 million), due to excess liability insurance premium, hospital and profession liability insurance premium, as well as a $600,000 allocation towards the Ministerial and other departmental booths at the General Conference in Indianapolis, and reinstatement of a contingency allocation of $1,000,000. The operating GC expenses are increasing by 3.3% ($1.6 million) in anticipation of the NAD remuneration, inflation pressure, and increased funding of depreciation transfer.

Comments:

Norbert Zens, EUD Treasurer: “You have been operating under the cap over the last years … by about $7 million, so why are you not using … the room in the cap … but instead propose to dig into the reserve to balance the budget for 2020? Wahlen responded: We have been doing this since 2016, … since NAD tithe was going down from 8% to 6%. … We had to provide a provision since we are already in the quinquennium… We agreed as a committee to allow for this factor to be put into the budget to be able to balance it… That is one component… the other is that… our current arrangement is that the cap is calculated at the end of the year, and so we didn’t know that we were under the cap by $7 million until three months after the year ended.” The motion was voted and it carried.

Ray Wahlen also reported on the use of tithe, noting that while all divisions submitted data, some were incomplete and thus projections of totals were used based on the received data.

The General Conference use of Tithe in 2018. Source: Ray Whalen’s Report, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlcTbCUCxi4

 

The Use of Tithe in all entities except for General Conference. Source: Ray Whalen’s Report, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlcTbCUCxi4

 

Global use of Tithe. Source: Ray Whalen’s Report, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlcTbCUCxi4

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Cheryl Doss, Direct of the Institute of World Mission gave a report with the IWM team. Oscar Osindo mentioned that for the past six years missionaries have been coming from everywhere and have been going everywhere and Enid Harris spoke about the training offered to the missionary children, as ones called along with the family into the mission field. Doss highlighted a new resource in missions –Introduction to Adventist Mission, authored by Gordon R. Doss.

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Ella Simmons introduced a project in collaboration with ADRA – Every Child, Everywhere, in School. A petition of 1,000,000 signatures will be presented to national leaders and decision-makers around the world to show the Adventist support for education. Michael Krueger, ADRA President, noted that 262 million children do not have access to education at present. He stated that ADRA finds it unacceptable that 90% of children with disabilities are not in school and refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school, and spoke about the life-changing importance of education, citing Ellen White. A video was featured in which children facing challenges like war, natural disasters, disabilities, child labor, and child marriage recite a poem, emphasizing the importance of freeing and empowering children through education. Williams Costa, Adventist News Network executive director and Communication Department, suggested that the press impact of such a petition would be significant, and encouraged everyone to sign the petition either online at adra.org/inschool, or via WhatsApp.

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Willie and Elaine Oliver mentioned that we are celebrating 100 years of Adventist Family Ministries in the Adventist church since the first Home Commission was voted into existence in 1919 (Led by Arthur Spalding and his wife, Maud). The speakers gave a historic of the department and highlighted several resources available. Drs. Ron and Karen Flowers received the Arthur and Maud Spalding Medallion Award for serving 30 years in the department and their pioneering and visionary work, including establishing the current infrastructure. They are the second recipients of the award, the first being John and Millie Youngberg who established Family Life International in 1975. Mario Martinelli presented a special resource for couples – the Couple’s Bible, which has been in the works for three years and involved various specialists. The Bible contains over 170 articles on practical topics, including articles on marriage, a biblical theology of family, and habits for lasting marriages.

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Monday Afternoon Business Session, Presided by Thomas Lemon, General Conference

Ted Wilson expressed his appreciation for the NAD’s historic and contemporary contributions to the world church. The attendees clapped standing. Wilson indicated that during the last NAD year-end meetings the division has voted to request tithe parity. Following eight months of intense and good meetings, a proposal is ready to be presented for voting. Wilson remarked that the church will have to reorganize things in the most effective way as the NAD lowers its financial footprint.

Puesan, General Conference Treasurer, noted that parity implies leveling, equal division in responsibilities and mission work. Tithe is only one aspect, the other relates to policies and the general global perception of North America. He also noted that for many years the NAD tithe was higher than the world tithe, yet in time the world tithe grew, while NAD tithe decreased. The NAD, a division of ±1,300,000 members has been carrying a heavy load over the years, said Puesan. The adjustment to a lower financial footprint will involve reevaluating some programs and the disappearance of others. Some personnel may not be subject to election at the next General Conference in Indianapolis, and the overall function of the General Conference will have to be repurposed. In the beginning everything came from one source but ther world church no longer has a rich uncle, and the global church must “exercise the privilege of growing up a little more.” He indicated that the proposal will be painful both for the NAD and the world church, because it asks NAD to give more than required (3.8% as opposed to 3%) and calls for an additional 1% of all other divisions over the next 10 years. The function of some institutions such as Loma Linda University and Andrews University justify the request for 3.8% from the NAD. “We are exchanging stability for variability,” said Puesan in light of the fact that the US dollar is stable, while the value of dollars coming from overseas is variable. He reiterated what Wilson stated in reference to the needed change of scope, financial footprint, and programming of the General Conference. He also suggested that lay members should not worry about how much unions and divisions receive, but instead they just need to be faithful. “Once a lay member returns his tithe and gives his offering his business is finished and ours begins.”  … “Protect the lay members. Don’t let them be in this conversation because they can lose their faith… This is a burden of leadership,” said Puesan.

Ray Wahlen reiterated the plan for achieving tithe parity over the next 10 years as the following slides indicate:

 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfQeurP2X0o

 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfQeurP2X0o

Selected Comments:

Randy Robertson, NAD indicated that this is not a money grab on the part of NAD and the move has little to do with money and much with mission needed in NAD.

A lay pastor from SPD appreciated the GC’s good work in address this issue and the work of NAD in global evangelism, highlighting Stephen Haskell as the gospel bearer to their shore. He also suggested that by moving to 3% we are moving towards a top-heavy church and proposed that divisions remained at 2% including NAD, so that the funds stay closer to the harvest at the local church.

A speaker from WAD also thanked the NAD but expressed concern for the youth in the NAD and for timing and premises: “NAD may have a good reason, but for me, in my mind, I think that all these things are coming up because of a decision that was made by this committee last year. I may be wrong, but I have every reason to go into that line too.” He mentioned having watched the proceedings of NAD’s year-end meeting, stating: “Personally I was not too happy” and “The decision may be right, but the timing makes me feel very uncomfortable.” In his view, the NAD has an awesome responsibility, which must not be watered down. The attendee also suggested that some of the issues discussed should not be taken to the church members.

Nay Nadley, NAD, GC delegate, layperson said he recently became more aware of the tremendous impact this move would have on our world-wide education. He noted that to whom much is given much is required and suggested that more information about the impact on each division, GC departments, and education departments would be helpful before voting. He also indicated that a majority of lay people in NAD are very supportive of the world church and may redirect their funds outside of the NAD if the division decreases its support of the global church, which would have a negative impact on the NAD as well. He made a motion to table the motion until the GC session which would allow for more time to acquire information.

The motion to table was voted down.

A speaker from the NAD serving in Middle-East North Africa Union noted that it is not the NAD’s responsibility to reach the 20 countries and 545,000,000 in that division who don’t know Jesus, but that the responsibility is with the global church.

Kwasi Ansah-Adu from the Caribbean Union spoke in support of the motion but noted that baby boomers are regular in their giving, while the next generation may not exhibit the same giving pattern. He suggested we should become more proactive in strategizing and downsizing as necessary before time comes. “Let’s go home and rethink where the money goes.”

William Cox, Allegheny West Conference President, spoke along the same lines, suggesting that we reduce staff in order to live within our means. He also mentioned that the younger generations in our church wonder why all the money going up isn’t coming down and that NAD needs more funds for evangelism.

Kathy Hickock, NAD member, said she feels an obligation to represent tithe payers who don’t support this motion because they are concerned about how it will impact global mission. Since tithe parity will require budget reduction by 25%, it will affect several GC departments, as well as ADRA, education, youth ministries, hope channel, and Women’s Ministries. She indicated that parity does not include level playing fields, because “Those with the least money will have to pay more while receiving less.” Remind the attendees that the Adventist mission is to take the gospel to the end of the world, she proposed an amendment (subsequently made a motion) to refer to the 2020 General Conference session and let the world body decide since they will live with the consequences.

In response, the chair indicated that a referral is to a committee not to the General Conference, and that a motion to table has already been voted down. The speaker reiterated her motion asking for secret ballot. The legal counsel clarified that the motion made is not an amendment and that we cannot amend the body it goes to. Preston further clarified that this is a policy issue, and policy issues are dealt with by the executive committee, not the General Conference session, which has a different agenda. He urged the body to vote the motion up or down as part of their responsibility.

Clinton Wahlen, General Conference, spoke for countless not in favor of parity and reducing our giving because it is not who we are. He stated that the NAD has always been supportive of world-wide church with people, projects, and finances, and that we do not have enough information to grasp the ramifications. Tithe is not our money but God’s, said Wahlen in conclusion.

Randy Roberts, Loma Linda University, NAD representative at GC, emphasized the NAD’s great passion and commitment for giving but clarified that the emerging generations are no longer ready to give without knowing where the dollar goes. He recalled earlier references about refraining from informing lay members and spoke strongly against that, stating that we owe our members transparency if we wish to win their confidence.

A speaker from the SID indicated support for the motion and affirmed his trust in God taking care of the church. He also expressed hope that we present this in a way that won’t affect the perception of the church members which in turn will cause them to redirect their funds. “If NAD says they can’t be a father, that’s fair enough. … Let’s emphasize the capability of the God of the global church to carry us through…. Let’s not put things into the minds of members, let’s just acknowledge that each division will have to pull themselves up and push the mission of the church.”

Debbie Jackson, NAD lay member, stated that she does worry where her tithe goes as a brother’s keeper called to help the 44.5 million immigrants residing in the US, the 38 million people live in poverty in the US, as well as the 15 million underinsured children. It is the local church’s duties to help both the world and our own communities.

Bob Lemon, General Conference, recalled the tithe developments of the church while he served as Undertreasurer in 2001 when the NAD tithe went from 10.7% to 8% and the other division’s tithe went up from 1% to 2%, as well as when the NAD tithe went from 8% to 6% while he served as Treasurer. Subsequent to these changes he witnessed God blessing overseas. Lemon noted that God already made provisions before the church made the change and that this change made the church stronger. He expressed his full support for the motion and his interest to see God blessing as never before.

Marine, layperson, said she watched pathfinders struggling to function financially, schools being closed, and community children taken out of schools. While before she never worried about tithe use, these financial challenges raised concerns about what happened in local churches. As an immigrant in this country she expressed her concern for overseas mission, but she also encouraged support for the document, trusting that God’s strength will carry us through.

Michael Hewitt, Mountain View Conference President, said they have extremely faithful givers but not enough people, and that finances are always challenging. He reaffirmed the support for world mission but noted that financial support is much needed at home in order to reach the local field.

Daniel Honore, Northeastern Conference President, expressed his gratitude to missionaries who brought the Gospel message to his home country, and his 100% commitment to world-wide mission. However, as a current representative of the region where the Adventist church was born, he mentioned that a college was recently closed, and hospitals, academies, and elementary schools are also failing for lack of resources. He emphasized that this is not a selfish or retaliation but a legitimate request to fund mission in the territory that gave birth to the church.

Leslie Pollard, Oakwood University President, noted that storm and conflict has always been the rule of progress, and that he believes this is a time of progress. As the NAD grows with mission, so will the dollar amount. He also indicated that Andrews University and Loma Linda will continue to indirectly support the world church in several ways.

A General Conference representative spoke in support of the motion as it will help us grow. He also corrected the language of a previous speaker, stating: “That language wasn’t right when he said that a child who does not grow disappoints his parents. Mr. Chairman, I got offended,” said the speaker, jokingly alluding to his stature and engendering loud laughter from the audience.

The motion was voted up, after which Dan Jackson came to the microphone for a brief speech: “I was reticent to say anything at all during the discussion, but I want to thank our world brothers and sisters for the support of the North-American Division. Thank you very much. God bless you.”

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Abortion Statement

Artur Stele, Elias Basil De Sousa, and Eckehart Mueller introduced the next item – a statement on abortion. Mueller mentioned that the BRI Ethics Committee, formed in 2012, was made up of a small number of administrators, ethicists, Old Testament and New Testament scholars, systematic theologians, physicians, psychologists and sociologists. Almost all had pastoral experience, highly educated, some interdisciplinary specialized.

De Sousa noted that abortion is not a purely medical matter, but also a political issue sometimes used as weapon to divide people and define political lines. He reiterated the fact that this statement is for church members and for the world to know where Adventists stand on this issue, and that it should not be used to punish people and push them away. It is not a guideline at this point, only a statement preceding processes and protocols in the making.

Stele mentioned that while the Bible does not directly address the topic of abortion, we can derive some principles from it. He briefly commented on the fact that language used in the Old Testament for “fetus” is the same as for a born child. Also, addressed the question of whether Moses had in mind miscarriage in Exodus 21:22, 25, he noted that the author does not use this word, though he knew it and used it in 23:36. The value of the unborn baby in Ex. 21 is the same as that for a born child. Stele also touched briefly on Psalm 139:13, noting that the word “form” is a term of ownership, indicating that God owns the unborn life, and that “womb” is described in serval Hebrew words, but the root means “trust, security, and nursing.” Interestingly, God’s mercy is described using the same root as “womb.”

The document was read.Click here to read the initially proposed Abortion Statement.

Selected Comments:

Ricardo Graham stated that he sees more of a proof-text methodology and noted that usually a statement becomes a guideline and eventually policy. On this note, he asked whether this was the progression with this statement going forward. In reply, De Sousa stated that proof-texting is wrong when the text does not prove the point, but if it does there is no problem using texts, as long as the meaning is understood in context. Stele clarified that there are no plans to put it in the working policy or in the church manual, but that the document is to inform members of the position of the church and to facilitate protocols and processes for health institutions.

Thomas Mueller, Denmark Union President, asked why it is necessary to form it as a statement and not just update the guidelines, since we already have guidelines. In reply, Thomas Lemon said that in 1992 guidelines came from somewhere with no statement behind it, and a better progression going forward is to have first a statement as a good foundation on which to build guidelines and protocols

Jiri Moskala, Seventh-day Adventist Seminary Dean suggested some improvements, noting that the idea of the Beatitudes and Jesus’ broadening the sixth commandment not to kill, implies that it had a narrower sense in the OT, while in fact He did not intend to bring something new, but to explain the original intent of this commandment. Moskala also noted that the document is silent about the most painful issue in regards to abortion (rape) and expressed concern about the potential perception this strange silence could engender.

Several medical doctors offered further suggestions for improvement:

  • the phrase “or were forced to have an abortion” should be dropped because it is confusing without offering criteria for interpreting the term “forced.”
  • Make an allowance for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk and the only choice is between saving the mother and both the mother and the child dying.
  • The title should be changed to “sanctity of life”.
  • Whenever we use the term “abortion” we should refer to it as “elective abortion,” since the term “abortion” medically means several things.
  • The document should be more explicit about circumstances when the mother’s life is at risk.

Eckehart Mueller clarified that the document deals with the rules, not with the exceptions. He noted that 1% of abortions are due to rape and 7% of abortions are due to complications, reiterating that the statement refers primarily to the 93% cases; it acknowledges exceptions but those are for guidelines.

The document was referred back to the committee for revisions and was subsequently passed during a vote later that week.

 

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Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.