Members for Church Accountability Inc.
Second Quarter 2003
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.
Section 1 - Financial Report
Summary financial statement for second quarter 2003:
For any of you that would like to contact us by e-mail our address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. We get the usual flood of unsolicited e-mail at this address, so it would be well to title your letter in a way that will make it distinguishable from the junk. Our web site address is now: http://www.advmca.org. Again we would like to encourage MCA members to read this web site and to invite their friends to read it. If you don't have access to the web, perhaps you could ask a friend who does, to let you read it. We are NOT asking that our members get our newsletter from the web rather than regular mail. It is still better for us to send our newsletter to our members by regular mail since so many do not have e-mail, however, this web site is an economical means of spreading the word about MCA to prospective members. Mass mailings to prospective members are quite expensive by comparison. Information about a web site can spread quickly on the Internet. If each person mails the site address with their recommendation to several friends, and they in turn tell others, the word is soon passed to a large number.
We encourage members to notify us when their address changes. We do appreciate those of you who have sent us your change of address. When you move and don't notify us we are not able to continue sending you the newsletter. Your newsletter, of course, is still sent to the old address and is then discarded. We know nothing about your address change until we do a first class mailing (required every so often by the PO for bulk mailings). At that time we either get your newsletter back with your current address or if the "PO forwarding order" has expired, it is sent back with no current address. We then have to remove your name from our mailing list.
The MCA research project sent the following letter to 65 conferences in the North American Division. We thought that we should get a more accurate assessment of how open the conferences in fact are with their financial information. We have not seen that the financial statements of the conferences contain any information that would be harmful to disclose to any interested party.
Dear Institutional Financial Officer:
Members for Church Accountability (MCA) is a coalition of Seventh-day Adventist members whose concern is to encourage, through responsible and constructive means, improved accountability within the SDA Church.
The primary focus of our coalition is to encourage financial accountability. We believe that this goal can be achieved mostly through the faithful application of existing institutional policies and procedures.
A review of several distressing financial losses incurred by the Church over the past three or four decades suggests that the losses were due to the failure to faithfully follow valid, existing policies and procedures. At MCA we believe that if our institutional bookkeeping was-as Ellen White said it ought to be-"open as sunlight," policies and procedures are much more likely to be honored.
Something on the order of a denominational "Freedom of Information" act, we believe, can save the cause from inappropriate and unwise use of the Lord's funds that have resulted from the failure to follow the procedures to which the Church's stewards are committed.
MCA is in the process of developing an accountability or "sunlight" recommendation that would make church members responsible for helping Church institutions to follow the policies and procedures it has enacted through constituency, committee or board actions. Through this letter we are probing the existing state of financial transparency that exists by requesting of you a copy of your institution's most recent annual financial summary.
If you are unable to send us such documentation, would you do us the courtesy of sending a copy of the institutional policy that prohibits sharing such an overview of your institution's recent financial condition with our coalition.
We hope that you share the concern for transparency that we have modeled at our website http:/ /www.advmca.org. We welcome your response at either our e-mail address or post office box.
Section 3- 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 intend to print all letters from members which appear to be written for inclusion in the newsletter (please say so if you do not wish your letter to be printed). We will print the shortest letters first. Where it seems appropriate, the editor will make comments in response to letters.
Peter Van der Paal writes: Lately we had an interesting discussion on SDA's policy in regard to financial accountability.
Some of the participants were convinced that our church guarantees a total openness toward its financial records. They were referring to an 1997 article by Michel Aimonetti, "Het Heilig Gebruik van de Tienden" (the holy use of tithes) published in a Newsletter of the Belgian SDA-Federation. Although not explicit, the author states that every baptized SDA-member is in fact authorized to verify the records and accounts without restriction.
Others - including myself - were rather doubtful about the statement. From your web-site I gather that things are indeed not as clear cut as Aimonetti seems to suggest. Hence the following questions:
1. Can you tell us what the official SDA policy is on this matter
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Our response to Mr. Van der Paal was, "These are issues we are working to bringing into better focus ourselves. If you find information to share with us we will be very glad to know. As it is I don't have much information to give you. All I can say is that it seems to vary from conference to conference."
As mentioned in section 2 above, our research project has been investigating this same issue. Since responding to Mr. Van der Paal, we have started to get some results back.
George Grames writes: The following is a quote from an article in Christianity Today that is very relevant to our anticipated requests for financial statements. The title is an "Open-book Ministry". "Wall Watchers, a Christian ministry monitor, announced in November that 45 of 475 organizations…did not send copies of financial statements even after five requests. It's a serious charge. Several of the non-profit organizations are required by law to send informational tax returns to anyone who asks, or at least to say where they can be found online. Violators can be fined up to $10,000, with an additional $5,000 penalty for willful failure."
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Interesting in light of the above activity of the MCA research project.
Leonard Willett writes in a letter not entirely reprinted here because not all of it is of general interest: Regarding the Potomac constituency meeting, I am glad to share comments. [Regarding a motion to allow members to obtain copies of annual financial statements Mr. Willett writes,] The wording about giving local church members access to the annual financial statements was fine as far as it went. The conference treasurer told me in an e-mail that they (conference officers?) had decided to interpret the wording as allowing a member to see the statements in the presence of the treasurer in his office, but not to be allowed to have copies. ... Before the motion came to a vote, the conference president said that he was, at that point, changing the policy of his administration and that members would be allowed to have copies. [Other issues including a report on the financial difficulties of the Potomac ABC, were also described in the letter. In summary Mr. Willett commented,] I feel some gains were made in transparency at the meeting.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: This example shows, it seems, how progress is made, mostly by individual members working for change in their local conferences. Perhaps if enough local situations can be improved, it will be easier to make some progress at the higher conference levels.
Maxine Peterson writes (in part): Thank you for the information you've sent to me. ... There is so much amiss in the church that it makes one ashamed. ... Many are sending tithe to radio, TV and satellite outreach programs.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Among my friends who are close enough that one would share such things, I also know of those who no longer trust the conferences with their contributions. I suspect that the financial difficulties that some of the conferences are experiencing might be lessened if trust could be restored among such members.
Rudi Hoffmann writes (in part): I became an SDA in 1946, and as the years rolled by, I witnessed the falling away of standards. The leaders of this organization wants to take a good look at themselves, and say are we following our Lord Jesus Christ, or are we following Satan? ...
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We often receive letters such as this one from those whose main concern is a doctrinal one or a concern about the general morality of the church. We certainly respect such concerns. I would, however, mention again that the objectives of MCA are more limited. In our bylaws we are restricted to concerns relating to financial integrity and fair treatment of employees. While we do not oppose the wider general concerns of these writers, we leave these matters to other groups.
Julia White writes (in part): I look forward to receiving you newsletter… I agree wholeheartly with Malcom Dwyer and Priscilla McNeily [last newsletter] and I stand behind David Dennis 100% and I'm sure many others do also.
Elder Andreason received his retirement benefits only after the General Conference was forced to give them to him by the state of California...
I am going to pray that that "large ground swell of favorable opinion" materializes that something will "pressure the Brethern to reconsider." Are there not enough members in "Members for Church Accountability" to initiate that "ground swell"? I hope that there are!
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Indeed, we too wish that there were a "ground swell of favorable opinion" regarding the need for greater accountability in church finances. However, we can not claim that such is the case or that there are yet enough members in MCA to have a large impact on the conferences.
Another writer who asks not to be named writes about defending David Dennis: We concur with the writer's request not to print this letter. We mention this letter because it suggests that we "have taken a strong stand for David Dennis." It suggests we be "more cautious about coming to his defense."
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We would like to state again that which we have repeatedly stated in the past. We do not have, nor do we expect that we should have, the information that we would need to know in order to make any judgment regarding the claims that the GC leaders made against Mr. Dennis. We have not come to Mr. Dennis' defense in this regard. What we have taken a strong stand about is the lack of adequate answers to the allegations that Mr. Dennis made concerning the GC leaders. We believe that these allegations should be investigated and answered simply by virtue of that fact that Mr. Dennis was the head GC auditor. [We also object to the manner in which Mr. Dennis was dismissed. He does not appear to have had a fair hearing. The relative harshness of the judgment against him makes the whole process appear to have been politically motivated.] If the newsletter of half a year ago dealing with Mr. Dennis' case seemed to be one sided, it is because the GC refused to answer our letter requesting that they present their view of the issue.
Norm Smith writes: I am a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference. I wrote a letter to the RMC solely as a member of RMC rather than as a member of MCA, although I did state that I am a member of MCA. In that letter I expressed my concern for accountability in the church. I will not burden readers with that part of my letter. However, I hoped that you might be interested in that part of my letter that contained some suggestions for needed changes. I expect to be able to let you know in a future newsletter what the response to this letter is. Here is the part of the letter:
I am asking that you get together with executive committees of other local conferences with the purpose of changing the way accountability is handled in our church so that it can be clear to members that we are free from conflict of interest and unethical behavior. Yes, I do have some specific suggestions.
Perhaps there are other ways than these suggestions to achieve the goal of members knowing that their church is conducting itself in an ethical manner. I would be glad to hear and discuss them with you. What I am asking is that you find some way to fix the basic problem. The basic problem, as I see it, is that local conferences seem to take no responsibility for their support of the 'higher' conference levels. It is a very good thing that the 'higher' conference levels keep a close eye on the conduct of the 'lower' conferences; I appreciate that very much. However, who holds the 'higher' conferences accountable for their conduct? Perhaps local conferences do and I just don't know about it, but I think not. If you in the local conference do hold the 'higher' conferences accountable, I would like to talk to you about some of the conduct you have allowed. However, I think the problem is that you just pass on contributions to the 'higher' conferences without making them accountable. I am basically asking that you take whatever steps are needed to make accountability work in the 'upward' direction also.
It might be well to further explain why I am making these suggestions to you a local conference executive committee. The reason is that you are the group closest to direct election by the church membership. You are at the front line of accountability to church members. If there is any group that could be expected to listen to the needs of the church membership it would be you. ... Also, I hear that you are involved with selection of delegates to 'higher' level conference constituencies. I realize that it is not traditional for local conference committees to take responsibility for the behavior of the 'higher' conferences, but you might give thought to the notion that you should take responsibility. After all, of the tithe money entrusted to you, you do pass on a large fraction to the higher conferences. I realize that you can well say that in the present scheme of things the actions of 'higher' conference levels are outside of your responsibility. I am asking that you change this view and make it your responsibility. Current bylaws and constitutions may not give you the authority to make needed changes but you can pass resolutions, select delegates to 'higher' conferences with change in mind and work with other local conferences to achieve accountability goals.
Here are the suggestions I am asking if you would adopt and work with other local executive committees to have accepted generally. It seems to me that one essential step in ensuring ethical conduct, is to make the GC auditing department truly insulated from influence from the GC leadership. Indeed I would agree that the GC leadership needs to have the auditing department submitting their reports to them. However, it seems clear to me that they should not control the auditing department. They should not have the prerogative of firing or even hiring the auditors. It would seem that any hiring or firing of personnel at the first two tiers of authority in the auditing department should have the concurrence of at least two thirds of the local conference executive committees. The conduct of the GC should also be subject to audit by the auditing department.
A second step that is needed is to transfer the financing of the auditing activities to the local conferences. There is no reason that the percentage of tithe that ends up paying for auditing anyway could not be deducted from the share of tithe passed on from local conferences to the unions and GC, and sent directly from the local conferences to the auditing department. Constitutional changes would doubtless need to be made to make this happen. Also the local conference executive committees should be recipients of all auditing department reports made on 'higher' conference levels.
A third step that needs to be taken is to bring about constitutional changes that guarantee that the auditing department is charged with auditing all church financial activities. That is, that GC leaders do not have the authority to direct that any aspect of church activity is outside the auditor's responsibility. (This has apparently indeed been a problem in the past.) This must include all institutions and organizations owned by the church or bearing the church's name or on which church leaders serve on the board of directors. (Publicly traded companies of which the church owns shares would be excepted.) One might not want to require the auditing department to actually perform the auditing of the hospital system, but it should be carried out under their supervision.
A fourth step is to enact strict requirements guarding against conflict of interest in any church dealings. The auditing department should be charged with the responsibility of carefully examining all transactions between church entities and church employees or organizations in which church employees own an interest. Certainly all property transactions with church employees should be carefully examined. As another aspect, it would seem that church controlled organizations should be forbidden to hire in any capacity any church employee who has served on their board of directors. In particular, no conference official who has ever been on a hospital board (or worked in the auditing department) should be allowed to work for the hospital system.
A fifth step is that the responsibility of the auditing department should be increased to include the monitoring of ethical practices in the church and compliance with the ethics policies of the church. ...
A final suggestion is that at least every year, every local conference executive committee should hold an accountability conference, at which the executive committee would be willing to address any accountability concerns of church members. I would doubt that such conferences would be highly attended; however, to a segment of the membership they would be extremely important.
Unfortunately, the above reconfiguring of the GC auditing department is not presently the prerogative of local conferences. However, to repeat myself, local conferences may adopt resolutions calling for change in the auditing department. This conference could work with other local executive committees in this union to adopt similar resolutions. If all of the local conferences were united in this regard, meaningful change in the auditing department could become a reality.
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