Have SDA S in the BUC Outgrown Democracy

Have SDA S in the BUC Outgrown Democracy

A challenge to Pastor E-Mannix on his paper:

Has Democracy died in the BUC?

Dear Pastor Mannix. We have not met each other. I live and work in a remote part of the British Union in a small, almost unheard of town of Banbridge. I therefore do not know your background or your history. I did come across your paper “Has Democracy died in the BUC?” and it motivated me to pencil some challenges to your arguments and ask you if you could clarify your points a bit. Please accept this from me as a colleague with no motive other than to call for a slightly more rigorous debate.

If you would bear with me through this process, I propose that I would like to take the text of your paper and raise some questions in-line. Hopefully this will keep us succinct and to the point.

Let me begin by stating the main issue that I have with your paper. I feel that the bulk of it is a non-substantive emotional argument which does not address the core concerns of the restructuring proposals at all.

I could perhaps illustrate my point by making use of a hypothetical situation. Let's imagine that the first elder of one of your congregations comes to you one evening just before a church board and says: “Pastor, I've been browsing the Internet and I've come to the conclusion that you definitely do not have a big enough work load and that you are not committed enough to your district because all that you seem to have time for is to pick arguments with church leaders about documents that will ultimately have no effect on how we function on the ground in whatever district you're working in.”

This will in all likelihood upset you. It would upset me, and yet we are confronted by arguments like these very regularly in our ministry. Somebody has set up a preconceived notion of what they expect of us and they have taken that expectation to be an undeniable truth. Then they set themselves up as our prosecutor, our judge and our jury, all in a matter of one sentence and they have passed judgement without even giving us an opportunity to defend ourselves against their accusations, or to even call their accusations to question. I put it to you that the bulk of the argument that you make in this paper is done on the same emotional grounds, and in my opinion it does not contribute to the debate in a very meaningful way. I might be a little bit naughty and say that it would be difficult for me to defend myself against a hypothetical accusation such as the above, if I wrote a long document like this without really engaging with the real issues. (Did I mention in the beginning of the document that I don't know you at all? I hope you have a sense of humour – as I know that by pointing the finger in one direction three points back at me.)

But this introduction is already too long. Let's analyse the various arguments in your document a little bit more closely.

You wrote:

To begin with let me state that I have no agenda. I write this with a genuine spirit for truth to reveal itself. One has to say this because these days if a worker speaks upon an issue that is dear to their heart and conscience, and the administration seems to be going in an opposite direction, the person is branded a trouble maker. Also through the sophisticated SDA media the person who dares challenges the system, is said to be looking for office within the administration. It would be a good time to stress that I am not looking for office. I have nothing personal against any of our administrators as they do have a work to do and it is not an easy task to lead God’s people. So I speak plainly out of my love for the Church.

I question what you are trying to accomplish with this approach. I am prepared to take the statement that you're not looking for office at face value. A also have no doubt about the love for your church. It is the rhetoric about being branded as a trouble maker, and the strange reference to sophisticated SDA media that immediately make me wonder about the strength of your argument. You make statements that you don't justify or follow through with evidence … in fact the evidence seems to be against you, because your article is published on official church media for other people to see and evaluate. It definitely seems like a case of “I've made up my mind about something and I have conducted a trial in which I am the judge and the jury, and in which there is no room for somebody to pose a defence.” Surely we can raise the level of the debate. If the restructuring proposal is so important, we should make our case without apology or without rhetoric that immediately seems to call into question the integrity of those to whom it is directed. It ultimately comes back to us and calls our integrity to question. I don't believe it contributes anything to the argument for or against the restructuring proposal.

You continued:

My only ambition is for this short paper to reveal the truth on what is really happening to democracy in the BUC. Inside the SDA Faith gone are the days of feudalism, when Church members are treated like peasants and their lord’s ruled relentlessly over them. The tithe from the pockets of the average church member is what runs the church. The state does not fund the Seventh-day Adventist church, the average member does and therefore they should be part of the present debate going on about Restructuring. Presently it seems as if they are being railroaded to accept a concoction of propaganda that they are not really sure about. Nobody is talking about the side effects of such an action (Democracy dying).

Again you're making a number of statements, that I cannot see justified in this document. Where is the evidence that church members are treated like peasants? I cannot find an argument here. All that I see are emotional rhetoric. Thinly veiled accusations of corruption of power; patronising references to self evident truisms that church members fund the work of the church and not the state (Has anybody tried to convince us of anything else?). Strong words like “railroaded” and “propaganda” - words that immediately raise a frenzy of public sentiment, but if anybody takes a step back, there is still not evidence. Perhaps the evidence will follow in the next paragraph, but will it?

So I carry on reading

We the SDA church, prides ourselves upon the doctrine of democracy. The whole reason for us having Union and Conference sessions is to reflect this principle of liberty. There are four forms of church government, Episcopal, Papal, Independent and Representative. I will explain the four forms of government briefly.

‘Episcopal: - the form of church government by bishops, usually with the three orders of Ministers, as bishops, priest, and deacons.

Papal: - the form of Church government in which the supreme authority is vested in the Pope. From him the church is governed by cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests. The Local church or individual member has no authority in church administration.

Independent: - the form of church polity that makes the local church congregation supreme and final within its own domain. This is usually referred to as congregationalism.

Representative: - the form of church government which recognizes that authority of the church rest in the church membership, with executive responsibility delegated to representative bodies and officers for the governing of the church. This form of church government recognizes also the equality of the ordination of the entire ministry. The representative form of church government is that which prevails in the Seventh-day Adventist church’[1]

The principle that the Laity, being filled with the Holy Spirit, puts in power as to who the leaders should be is the basis that the church prides itself upon the principle of democracy through the Representative form of Government[2].

OK. This might be useful if it supports a good argument. And I think there is a bit of an attempt later on to develop an argument based on this information. It does not change the fact however that the BUC restructuring proposal is placed squarely within the Representative form of church government. That is what we are, and it is within this reality that there is a call to see how we can make the representative model work better for us. … but still we're a good bit into the document and I'm beginning to wonder if we're ever going to get to a point that is actually meant to try to convince me for or against the proposal.

We continue

Somehow the church, in Britain, has lost its spirituality and the members are not really developing true relationships with their creator. The administration has allowed the church to be lethargic by not providing resources for good bible study. Instead we have allowed Ecumenism to dictate to us to the point that we are bordering on losing our identity. (Why are we using the ‘Alpha Course’ to win SDA’s?) The Ministry is suffering in silence under the cloud of disillusion, innocent or not they are expected to lead churches that disrespect them. Everything is unclear in the church in the UK because it has been allowed to drift and float on into the state of Laodicea. Now it seems there are some who are questioning our right to have democracy in our union.

Ah, so far we've argued that people who ask questions are branded as people seeking power. We've argued that there is a corruption of power and that we forget that church members pay our tithe. We've given an explanation of various forms of church governance. It seems that now is a good time to list a number of other complaints about the church. a. The members are not spiritual. b. Church administration serves us badly and does not provide resources. (Hey! Does that not sound like a problem that the restructuring proposal is seeking to remedy?), We got in a pet complaint about Alpha courses (have you heard the argument that it has something to do with brainwaves?), and the church is dabbling with ecumenism.... May I suggest a better way to state the argument so that we are under no illusions of what you are trying to say: “The problem is that all the problems of the church lies with a corrupt administration. I have nothing to do with the problems. It is a case of us and them. The us are always right, and has everything together. The problems need to be laid at the doorsteps of “them”. “They” need to be accountable. In reality we have no power.” Again, I wonder how this contributes to the argument for or against the restructuring. It is a lot of emotional statements which amounts to us patting ourselves on the back, and feeling persecuted. Again I suggest: surely we can raise the level of debate. Perhaps if we can begin to get to the point a little bit more clearly, our members will also respond by growing a bit more.

The last sentence of the paragraph again offers some hope that there might be an argument on its way that actually tries to address the concerns of the restructuring proposal:

Now it seems there are some who are questioning our right to have democracy in our union.

The real Question is this, are there forces inside the Adventist church trying to take away our liberty to be democratic. I have heard the argument that the present system needs to be restructured. Probably it does but if it changes the rights of the local church member to exercise their democracy then that is a step backwards which is not good for the church. It would seem that there are those inside the Adventist church in Britain that would gladly take away this privilege of democracy simply because they have lost being in control by becoming the minority[3].

OK, there are the beginnings of an argument here. In fact two arguments. The one argument states that the new structure will take away church members ability to participate democratically in the church. - I would like to see how. Perhaps you make the argument more clearly further on. The other argument states that it might be a ploy by minority church members to regain power in the church structure. And the implication is that this will be at the expense of the majority. A footnote even seemed to offer some evidence in support of this second argument, but when I went to read it, it turns out that it was a plea by a single church member in a letter to an editor. I cannot follow the line of evidence to the point where we can now confidently state that this is a major motivation behind the re-structuring. Perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps you could state this argument a little bit more clearly. In the mean time, I must say that I think it sounds like another attempt at emotional scaremongering.

So let's see how the argument develops:

The British people voted in May 2011 ‘NO’ to the new AV system because it was felt that a town had the right to send whom they think should be sent, and not for bureaucrats to decide for them, to parliament. It would also seem the minority parties have pushed for this AV System because it was a way to give them Power. Have the minorities, in our church, (even though they may be the indigenous) sort a way to take power away from the majority in our Laity in order for church bureaucrats to decide who the leaders should be? If we have restructuring it should benefit the masses (the laity), not the administrators (the clergy).

So there is a reference to the AV vote which demonstrates how it might be likely that minorities might seek a change in the system so that they can take more control in the system. This could be plausible. The question to ask would however be what reasons are proffered for the re-structuring? The reasons I find are: we can get more workers in the field. Making sure that there is greater investment in local churches. A response to different needs and a different social environment (we live in a technological age as opposed to an agricultural age), we spend too much resources maintaining a structure, rather than doing soul-saving, the segmentation of the work in the BUC leads to lack of efficiency (examples mentioned include attempts to set up a television channel, and duplication in media centre investments), a list of 7 very specific management areas are listed that would benefit from a restructuring.

Your argument ignores practically all of these motivations and it proposes that what really lies behind the restructuring is a political motive of a minority to gain power at the expense of others. You are of course entitled to this view, but I think it is disingenuous to reduce the whole restructuring proposal to this one assumption (which needs much more work in terms of presenting evidence) and ignoring the main motives offered by the clear and open statements made by the proposal document.

Perhaps we can try to make sense of the argument that follows:

On 2009 May 17th the BUC held an extraordinary session, to bring about changes this paper does not seek to critique the rights or wrongs of the matter but just to deal with the facts as they came. There a number of issues that sprung from the famous ‘green paper’[4] which posed serious problems to our liberty to vote, which I will not go into. Instead I wish to focus upon two of the points that affected our democratic rite to choose our leaders. The Administrators wished to take the power from the delegates to choose the people to be on the Recommendations committee and give it to the Missions or Conference committee, even though the Union officers would sit on that committee[5]. The other point is the delegates would have lost their power to vote in the nominating committee, because the recommendation committee chosen by the executive committee would have voted it in instead of the delegation[6].

However those that had proposed the changes did not get their way. The delegates felt there was a conflict of interest in allowing the executive committee to decide the recommendation comm. and the delegates were given back the power to decide. Also it was felt that the recommendation comm. exceeded it power to decide the people on the nominating committee so power was given back to the delegates[7]. Thankfully democracy has been restored back to the delegates because of the amendments that were made to safeguard the rite of the laity to determine their leaders.

Tempting fate, what would have happened if those who had proposed the changes had their way? We in the BUC would have only in name the representative system of Government, because the delegates would have no democratic power. Unfortunately the role would only be to advise the administration what to do for the next five years. The Laity would be at the mercy of the church’s administration and they put in power whoever they chose. So we would be at the mercy of an Adventist pope who sat upon his throne at the BUC.

A very nice history lesson of a particular constitutional conversation that took place not too long ago. The inference is that this was a deliberate attempt to limit democratic process in the church. This is stated as though it is fact, and no real attempt is made to sketch the context (am I right that it was an attempt to save on the costs of running church union sessions?). Neither is any attempt made to nuance the arguments of what the proposers of this particular failed amendment made in favour of the change. We are simply asked to accept that their motive was clearly to establish an Adventist Papacy. The other problem is that you assume a continuity between that particular issue and the current proposal on the table, almost as though they failed then, this time they hope to win. This whole line of argument only has power because it is emotive, and raises fears and threats, but I do not see the solid evidence base. At this late stage in the document I am also becoming frustrated that I have yet again been subjected to allegations of abuse of power, and corruption and even apostasy with our leaders. (Suddenly they have become papists!)... and yet not a single argument has been made to counter the clearly stated motivations for the proposed change. Dear Pastor. I repeat my request: Is it possible for us to raise the level of debate?