Photo: Ken Crawford, president of the Alaska Conference, is one of the North American delegates to this year’s GC session. He’s shown here hosting the conference’s My Alaska video program.
If you want to know how the 2,566 delegates for the 2015 General Conference (GC) session are apportioned worldwide, you can wade through the official explanation, which seeks to distill the exceedingly complex formula in the GC Constitution.
If you prefer a quick graphical breakdown of delegates’ gender and age and the geographic regions they represent—and how that compares to church membership as a whole—Spectrum has created some handy graphics.
But maybe you want to know something more personal: “Who’s representing me at this important event? And how do I contact my delegates if I want to encourage them to vote in a particular way on key issues that will be addressed?”
If so, read on. (Or just skip to the list at the bottom of the article.)
Who Are My Delegates?
First, let’s put aside the 1,007 “at-large” delegates, who are mostly officials from the GC, divisions, and institutions. These include people such as
- GC president Ted Wilson,
- Adventist Review editor Bill Knott,
- Oakwood University president Leslie Pollard,
- Adventist Development and Relief Agency president Jonathan Duffy,
- every GC department director and associate director,
- and many others.
That leaves us with 1,559 “regular” delegates selected by unions and divisions to represent their membership. We’ll focus on the North American Division (NAD), where most of our readers reside.
The NAD gets 241 delegates, most of which are parceled out to the unions, based in part on membership. The Southern Union—the largest in the NAD—has about twice as many delegates (41) as the Mid-America Union (18) despite having four times as many members.
In each union the three union officers (president, secretary, and treasurer) and each conference president are automatically included.
From there, it gets complicated. The union executive committee selects the other delegates based on a formula set by the NAD.
- Half must be non-administrative church employees (pastors, for example); half must be laypeople.
- Each conference gets a minimum of two delegates, per GC policy.
- The group must contain a certain percentage of women, people of African descent, and Hispanics.
To balance out the preponderance of male church employees, most of the lay delegates must, by default, be female.
Where Are the Laypeople?
A look at the NAD’s GC delegation reveals a potentially troubling fact: most of the delegates are church employees. The breakdown is approximately as follows (based on those unions that shared information on their delegates):
- Administrators: 40%
- Other Church Employees: 30%
- Laypeople: 30%
What about the rest of the world? The minimum number of laypeople in each division’s delegation, according to GC policy, is 25%. Unions with a larger membership have proportionately more laypeople, since fewer slots are taken up by administrators. But since few unions worldwide are vastly larger than the NAD’s unions, and many are smaller, 30% seems a reasonable estimate for the percentage of lay members among the regular delegates.
When we factor in the 1,000-plus at-large delegates, though, the proportions become much more imbalanced. GC policy requires as few as 54 laypeople in the at-large group, though there are additional slots that may be filled by lay members.
If only the minimum requirements were met, church employees (mostly pastors and administrators) could comprise 83% of the group that makes decisions at GC session! In reality, the proportion is probably between 75% and 80%.
On the positive side, these leaders should be highly aware of the needs and concerns in their area of the world. But with a vast majority of the delegates having a vested interest in maintaining their positions, there is significant risk that the current system will tend to perpetuate the status quo, resisting changes that might threaten the participants’ employment.
How Can I Become a Delegate Next Time?
Becoming a GC session delegate is not a democratic process of election by your fellow church members. There’s no application form to get your name considered. It’s an appointive system, which means you need to know the people who make the decision.
Assuming you are not in line for a high-level church leadership position, your best shot at a delegate badge for the 2020 GC session is to get to know your conference and union leaders through involvement in church affairs.
What advantages and disadvantages do you see in the current delegate selection and distribution process? How could it be improved? Post your thoughts below.
“Most of the lay members … are recommended and chosen as delegates because they have already showed an interest and experience in church ‘governance,’” reports the North Pacific Union Gleaner. “They have spent time on a local conference or union executive committee, so have an understanding of how the church operates in a business session.”
Ideally, this process would produce well-informed, committed delegates. A potential drawback is that leaders could handpick delegates who support their views, regardless of whether most church members share those views. Thus the entire delegation could be essentially controlled by a handful of administrators. Another danger is that individuals with deep pockets or the right connections could use their influence to secure a spot at the expense of less prominent members.
How Can I Influence the Outcomes?
Even with a flawless selection process, most church members will never serve as a GC session delegate. But there is one way we can all have a positive impact on the decisions at this year’s session: prayer. We encourage you to pray for your delegates now and throughout the session. The lists below will assist you in doing that.
Find Your Union’s Delegates
Most NAD unions have chosen to publish their list of GC delegates. Some have even provided a way to send comments to the delegates. If you do contact your delegates, we urge you to do so in a spirit of encouragement and Christian courtesy!
(March Gleaner, p. 7)
Adventist Church in Canada
This union chose not to publish their list due to concerns over Canadian privacy laws, according to Stan Jensen, communication director.*
Read more about the selection process
Includes a comment form that can be submitted to send a message to the delegates
Read more about the selection process
Includes a link to send an email message to the delegates
Includes e-mail contact for each delegate
The link to the delegates list is under the main section of text on the home page.
(June Tidings, p. 31)
This union chose not to publish their list, according to Pat Humphrey, communication director.*
* The union president is a delegate per GC policy. The union secretary and treasurer and all conference presidents are automatically included as well.
Updated 6/24/15 to include Pacific Union delegate list.