Members for Church Accountability Inc.
1998 Second Quarter, No. 1
This is the quarterly newsletter of Members for Church Accountability. The objective of this organization is to promote accountability within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. MCA itself is primarily an umbrella organization within which representative/agents and their supporters can work to further this objective. A further description of the organization is included at the end of this newsletter.
This newsletter is in response to Article V. D. of the MCA bylaws which states:
Section 1 - Financial Report
Summary financial statements for 1997, first quarter 1998 and second quarter 1998:
We are not showing these statements in the web display because we have not yet figured out how to not have it scrambled in html.
Section 2 - Trustee's Reports
Norm Smith - Secretary Treasurer
It would seem appropriate in this first newsletter to give a terse history of this organization:
Section 3 - Amendments and Elections
Section 4 - Member Letters
This section is for printing the letters that members send in. It provides the means for members to communicate with one another. It is also one way that representative/agents can communicate with those in their group. Needless to say, these letters do not speak for the MCA organization itself. So far as time and budget allow, we will print all letters from members. We will print the shortest letters first.
WHY MCA? - Norm Smith
. Since this is the first newsletter from MCA, there are no letters to print from other members. I thought that this might be a good time to include my own letter expressing why I value an organization such as MCA and why I would want to be involved in it. I will first give in a rather abstract fashion, the reasons why an organization like MCA seems needed. Next, I will sketch the events which brought church accountability concerns to my attention. I apologize for my rather "dry" writing style here and for the length of this letter, but I want to be very careful of what I am saying. (I have contributed the added postage required to mail this rather long letter.)
. As a Christian, I believe that my Lord desires that all my dealings be characterized by honesty, integrity and fairness. I am convinced that a reasonable extension of this notion is that the Lord would like me to take the responsibility to assure that any larger organization to which I lend my support, also exhibits these qualities. I believe that this is especially true regarding my church. I am pleased with many things that are happening in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and am in support of the work accomplished through this church. I am not one who would take delight in rocking the boat. As a member of this church I do, however, believe it my responsibility to be assured that nothing in my church is done outside the bounds of simple honesty, integrity and fairness.
. Now, I have heard the notion expressed that the Lord will take responsibility for the integrity of his church and that individual members need not take such concerns upon themselves. I do not accept this last notion for two reasons. First, I do not find any convincing evidence from the Bible that this is the way the Lord would like things to be. Second, is the historical evidence that the Lord does not operate in this manner, in that He did not prevent the early Christian church from evolving into the papacy. ( I am not here trying to compare my church to the medieval papacy, rather, I am simply pointing to evidence that the Lord does not appear to offer any guarantee that He will intervene to prevent His church from changing in ways that do not seem good.)
. In order for members to take responsibility to assure that the church is operated in a manner in which they can morally approve, it seems that two conditions are necessary. First, they must have access to accurate information on how the church is in fact operated, to whatever level of detail is needed to obtain such assurance. Second, they must have a system in place to make changes where needed which is effective in actual practice. As an individual church member, I do not believe that I have the prerogative to dictate to the whole church the manner in which it will operate, except in concert with a majority of members who agree on needed changes. However, I believe that as an individual, if I believe there to be a problem that keeps me from knowing that my church is acting with integrity, I must find ways in which I can channel the energies and resources I expend, that do meet my own standards for honesty, integrity and fairness. I believe that a way I can thus channel my energies and expenditures is in working to bring about the changes needed in order that I can be assured that the general operation of the church meets at least what I believe to be minimum standards.
. In many organizations, access to detailed information about the organizations operations is not provided directly to the members. Rather the members rely on the reports of auditors who have access to the detailed information. I consider this arrangement to be acceptable provided that the auditors are allowed complete access to all information they think necessary and provided that the top level auditors are responsible to, directly report to and are directly financed by, the members. I find an arrangement where the auditors are accountable to the officers they are auditing, not satisfactory. I believe the auditing system of the church to be fundamentally flawed in this regard at the General Conference level. I am not opposed to the system of internal auditors whereby the general conference audits the lower conference levels. However, at the general conference level, the internal auditors report to and are employed by the General Conference officers. This is not adequate to give the members assurance that all is well at the General Conference level. I understand that the general conference does arrange for some external audits to be made also. However, these external auditors are again paid by the very officers they are auditing and the extent and focus of their audits are directed by these officers. I believe that all conference records should be open to professional auditors financed by and reporting to any group of church members who are concerned enough to foot the bill (which should rightly include the added expense incurred by the conference in cooperating with any such audit).
. Now I would like to sketch the events which lead me to be concerned about church accountability. I grew up an Adventist and have been an Adventist all my adult life. Until the last few years, I have been pleased with (even proud of) the manner in which the finances of our church have been handled. It has been my nature to be rather forgiving of the mistakes of church leaders. When the Davenport debacle occurred, I was disappointed, of course, but I had the impression that the right steps were made to correct the situation and was not greatly concerned about the general integrity of the church. I could imagine the pressures that the conference treasurers had been under to "step out in faith" and let the Lord bless with investments that seemed too good to be true. When Harris Pine went broke, I supposed that the managers had simply made poor business decisions. Then I heard of the scandals involving the leaders of the World Wide Church of God (if I remember correctly). I thought to myself , how foolish of those members of that church to allow that sort of thing to happen. I felt glad that in my church there was a strong system of auditing that I thought would prevent such things from happening. Now I by no means was in favor of all the polices and practices of the Adventist church, but I was under the impression that when it came to the bare moral essentials such as financial honesty and fair dealing, my church stood tall.
. The event that for me changed my attitude from one of confidence to one of skepticism regarding some aspects of the integrity of my church, was the reaction to the firing of the head auditor, David Dennis. As you know, Mr. Dennis was the head of the general conference auditing department of the Adventist Church. He was fired from this position and from church employment under the allegation of moral misconduct. Mr. Dennis denies this allegation. He subsequently brought suit against the church leaders over several aspects of this firing. He has also made several claims of misconduct on the part of church leaders, and he asserts that his unwillingness to overlook this misconduct was the real reason for his firing. The church leaders deny the claims made by Mr. Dennis.
. There is a crucial distinction to be made regarding the David Dennis situation. I, and quite likely you, are not in a position to knowledgeably form a judgment about the truth of the claims made against Mr. Dennis. Also, we are not in a position to form a knowledgeable judgment about the claims made by Mr. Dennis of misconduct on the part of church officers. (However, I would not be candid if I did not admit that the partial evidence of which I am aware, does incline me to believe Mr. Dennis.) The claims made by the conference leaders against Mr. Dennis or the specific claims made by Mr. Dennis against the church leaders are not in themselves the issue here which I believe should be of great concern to all church members. The real issue here is the church's lack of accountability to the general church membership regarding Mr. Dennis's claims, whether they be true or whether they be false. I believe that when the head auditor of the church makes claims of misconduct of church leaders under any circumstances, just because he holds the position of auditor, the leaders have a heavy responsibility to the members for creating an arrangement whereby the members can assure themselves about the extent to which the charges are true or false.
. I would maintain that the church leaders have the prerogative of firing the internal auditor if they have just cause. However, if they do such firing, it is an event of great importance to the membership simply by nature of the office of auditor. Regardless of the character of the head auditor or whether the claims against him are true or false, just because he is the head auditor (or any auditor for that matter), any claims made by the auditor would require an immediate, full, open and independent investigation. Failure of the conference officers to encourage, allow and fully cooperate with any initiative for such an investigation is a first class breach of accountability. Again, it is not the firing of an auditor in itself that is the issue here. It is the failure on the part of church officers to provide irrefutable evidence to church membership that the claims the auditor makes of misconduct by church officers are indeed false, that is of grave concern. However, if indeed the auditor were fired in an effort to silence his voice exposing misconduct by leaders, then his firing becomes a matter of great concern also. If it turns out that leaders were willing to fire an employee in an effort to keep hidden their misconduct, then that misconduct has passed from a matter of a simple blunder to a matter that would, in my opinion, call for a change in leadership. Whether in the end it is shown that the auditor's claims are true or false, the situation with this auditor has served to expose the flaw in the church's system of auditing and accountability.
. The church officers have made the claim that they are not at liberty to be candid about the facts concerning Mr. Dennis's charges because of the continuing litigation Mr. Dennis has brought against them. I regard this claim as completely bogus. First, if simple honesty, candor and full disclosure would have a significant adverse effect on the litigation, then we do indeed have a severe problem with church integrity. I want my church to be so squeaky clean that the glare of any spotlight will cause no embarrassment whatsoever. Second, even if there were to be an adverse effect on the litigation, I believe that the maintaining of accountability to the membership of the church is a much higher priority than concern of financial loss to the church due to the litigation. Third, it would appear that the amount already expended by the church in legal expenses to fight the litigation is approaching the amount of the damage claim itself. It appears to this writer (not a legal expert) that the church's legal tactics so far have been aimed at stalling the legal process rather than at the reaching of a quick and honest judgment. Also, any claims to be protecting the confidence of the charges made against Mr. Dennis would seem bogus, for as to my knowledge, Mr. Dennis has made no request for confidentiality.
. I repeat, I am not in a position to judge the truth of claims made either by Mr. Dennis or by the church leaders. I am convinced, however, that in the case of Mr. Dennis, I together with other church members have witnessed an utter disregard on the part of church leaders of their responsibility to be accountable to church members.
. Again, in many areas of church policy I believe that I should go with the group even though I may disagree. However, when it comes to matters of basic morality regarding honesty, integrity and fairness, I must demand adequate accountability. When a situation comes about where these demands are not met, I believe it is my responsibility to rechannel my energies and resources into efforts to correct the situation. I am of the opinion that the MCA organization provides me the structure by which I can thus work toward correcting the problems of inadequate accountability. I am not willing to solve the problem by abandoning my connection with the Adventist Church. I am not willing to "pack up my marbles and go home". I am eager to work with other church members in an organization such as MCA to correct the serious accountability problems in this church.
. I have a strong attachment to the Adventist Church. I would prefer that concerns over accountability would not detract from the ongoing work of the church, which I heartily support. But folks, it is the head auditor who has been fired here. This is serious stuff. If accountability concerns in this matter are a distraction to the church, the fault lies with the church leaders who have not taken care of their accountability responsibilities. I do not enjoy a rocking boat, but there can come a time when the boat needs to be rocked. On the other hand, achieving the objectives of MCA need not be a distraction to the church at all. In fact, one could wish that the efforts of MCA would be welcomed by the church leadership. One could wish that the church leadership would say, "Great! You want to conduct independent audits? Our books are open. Have at it." One could also wish they would say, "Some of you members want to change the way the church is governed in order to assure greater accountability? Fine! Write up your proposed constitutional amendments and we will put them up for vote at the next round of constituency meetings." This would not have to be a distraction. I would be pleasantly surprised if the leaders would react in that manner.
. I also expect that there are those who will say, "Don't these folk have anything better to do?" or "Obviously these people who are so worried about audits need to get a life." I certainly agree that all of us have better things to do - I know that I do. However, I can't escape the fact that in order for me to give my full support to my church, there are these minimum criteria for honesty, integrity and fairness that the church operation must have. I would certainly agree that it would be a big mistake for anyone to let efforts such as we are undertaking here at MCA, become the focus of their Christian experience. However, I can't just ignore what has happened, even though that would be a lot easier. I must pay some attention to trying to correct the situation.
Brief Description of MCA
(Here we describe the functioning of the umbrella MCA organization itself. The primary activities of MCA are left to the groups within MCA and are not described here.)
Members for Church Accountability
How We Work
MCA MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION ( for recruiting additional members )
Telephone (In case we can't contact you by mail) ___________
Agent to Represent You (Optional) __________________________
You will receive:
. A copy of the MCA bylaws, upon request
. The MCA newsletters
. Communication from only the agent(s) you have asked to represent you