Members for Church Accountability Inc.
1998 Fourth 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.
Section 1 - Financial Report
Summary financial statement for fourth quarter 1998:
We are not showing this statement in the web display because we have not yet figured out how to not have it scrambled in html.
Section 2 – Trustees’ Reports
Norm Smith - Secretary Treasurer
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. Where it seems appropriate, the editor will make comments in response to letters.
Michael Babineau writes:
I do not agree with you position on the leadership of our Church. There is too much negativity concerning our trusted leaders who I believe the Lord has appointed. In the future, do not send me the Adventist Today magazine (which I believe is subtly used to undermine the confidence of members in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.) Do not send me your newsletters either. I will
pray for the leadership of the Church and I suggest you do the same. You know the old saying, if you can’t say anything good about somebody, don’t say anything at all. I like that saying, don’t you?
We appreciate letters such as Michael Babineau’s even though we do not agree with all that was said. First, it would be good to point out that MCA does not send Adventist Today to anyone. MCA is not associated with Adventist Today.
This letter brings up the fundamental issue of whether church members should actively seek to correct problems they see in their church. The stated objectives of MCA clearly support the view that members should seek to correct problems. We believe that the individual church members bear the final responsibility for the conduct of their church. We certainly do not wish to be hostile toward those who believe that the final responsibility for church conduct rests with church leaders; but we do disagree with them. We believe that our view is consistent with the notion of "the priesthood of all believers." We also believe our view is consistent with the generally perceived overt policies of the church concerning church government. (We do not think that the intent of these policies is very effectively carried out in practice, however.) Again, we believe that every church member bears responsibility for holding leaders accountable to ensure they operate the church with honesty, integrity and fairness.
Another concern is alluded to in this letter. It is not the objective of MCA to become an "attack" organization. It is not our intention in this newsletter to repeat every accusation of misconduct that we find made against church leadership. However, where we do find well founded concerns regarding the accountability of church leaders, we intend to pass this information on to our members. The MCA bylaws provide that the MCA organization itself shall be involved in investigative audits of church activities as resources are available. MCA bylaws allow a fairly wide latitude of reporting activities on the part of member groups within MCA. The objectives of MCA are further discussed in a letter by the editor, Norm Smith, later.
Daphne Dahm writes:
I want to thank you for including me in this. I have been concerned for some time about what apparently has been going on at General Conference level against Bro. Dennis & felt something should be done. I pray God will bring to light things as this is His church & has all the concern in the world for it. Praying for you all.
Mildred Sackett & John Rose write (in part):
May the Lord be with you in your endeavor to straighten things out within our beloved church. Would appreciate any news you may have regards the David Dennis lawsuit.
Ep De Beer writes (in part):
I wish you well in your efforts to promote accountability in the SDA church. I wish to point out a few problems which I think you will have to contend with. In the first place the church leaders propagate the idea that the structure of the church was inspired by God. This, of course, is not true. If you study the history of the SDA church carefully you will find that Mrs. White was extremely dissatisfied with the events at the General Conference Sessions of 1901 and 1903. It was the greatest sorrow of her life. In 1901 she stated. "O, my very soul is drawn out in these things … That these men should stand in a sacred place to be as the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be …, that is past." General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901 p. 23-26. At another occasion she said: "Yet we hear that the voice of the General Conference is the voice of God. Every time I have heard this, I have thought it was almost blasphemy. The voice of the General Conference ought to be the voice of God, but it is not…" Manuscript 37, April 1901. … If one studies the changes in the constitution from 1901-1998 it is very clear that the 1901 and 1903 constitutions which were not in harmony with God’s will, have been radically changed – for the worse. No wonder Judge Hart of the US Court, North District of Illinois East Division, declared in 1986. "The church documents that prescribe the church’s structure and governance confirm that all parts of the church are parts of a single entity. Next to the Roman Catholic church, the Adventist church is the most centralized of all the major Christian denominations in this country." DP vs. GC of SDA Case #81 C4938, Findings of Fact, Section B Church Objective and Structures, p.22. Surely this is not in line with God’s plan for His church. Most Adventists believe that their church is democratic and has a constitution approved by God! It certainly is not. …
Norm Smith (secretary-treasurer and newsletter editor) writes:
It seems well to occasionally discuss the main goals and means of operation of MCA, particularly for the benefit of new members. The bylaws of MCA (which are available to members on request) state 8 objectives of the organization. I believe that these stated objectives can be summarized in the general objective of making a reality of the accountability of the church leaders to the church members. As stated in comments above, we believe that each church member bears the responsibility to make sure that the church which he (or she) supports with the resources God has entrusted to him, conducts its activities with honesty, integrity and fairness. In practical terms, two changes stand out as needing to be made.
First, the system of financial accountability needs to changed. The needed change is not an inherently complicated change, but it is an important one. The present system of accountability and auditing is critically flawed. The top level auditors report to and are in practice controlled by, the top level church leaders. This leads to no effective assured financial accountability of the top leaders. ( This problem was made painfully clear by the "recent" firing of the head auditor of the church. ) Two general steps are needed to correct this situation. One needed step is to have the selection of auditors be made by direct vote of the various constituencies in a manner not under the practical control of the church leaders. A second perhaps more important auditing step is to make all church records ( except certain private personal records ) open to public inspection by qualified auditors hired directly by church members. If such were to be allowed, MCA would like to finance such audits as funds become available.
Second, the present token system of representative church government must be reformed to, in reality, give control of church policy to the church membership. Such change might acceptably take any of several forms. That discussion will not be taken up in this letter.
I believe the above are the main goals of MCA, the reasons for its existence. There are other related objectives and other ways of stating these objectives, of course. "Righting" wrongs done to individual church members and workers, comes to mind. Also, groups within MCA may have related objectives on which they focus. Some objectives are hard to distinguish from methods of operation. I would like to discuss the general plan of action for MCA which some of us ( I don’t know how many ) see happening.
We do not realistically expect that the church leaders will willingly open the church records for auditing by the church membership. We would be pleased to have that happen and see no reason why anyone should be opposed to such audits, but if past responses from church leaders are an indication, we don’t expect it in the near future. Neither do we expect that church leaders will show any inclination to alter church government to make a reality of accountability to church membership. In light of such low expectation for quick progress toward MCA’s two primary goals, one may well ask what action can MCA take to effectively work toward its objectives.
The primary action we see is to educate the church membership about our concerns, in hopes that many will join us in requiring a solution to church accountability problems. Each MCA member can be a part of this work by telling their friends about their accountability concerns in a straightforward manner and by asking if they too would join the MCA effort. We have again included a membership blank in this newsletter which you can copy and distribute to your church member friends. As our membership grows we will have an increasingly noticeable voice in requiring action from church leaders. In particular, the General Conference Reform Group plans to repeatedly make initiatives for change at the GC level.
Another method by which MCA can work is to provide a focus for an alternative channel through which members can work for and relate to, the church structure. When one finds oneself having serious accountability concerns about church activities to the point of questioning ones own support of such activities, what options does one have? One can resign oneself to accepting a situation in which there is little accountability. Many of us find this option unacceptable. One can simply leave the church fellowship. Regrettably, many have chosen this option. However, many of us can not bear to leave the church. Far too many people have given their life’s energies in building this church, for us to now abandon it to a few leaders who refuse to show satisfactory accountability. As a third, alternative, option, MCA provides a means for us to remain in the church with a clear conscience, knowing that we are working to change the situation. It not only gives us a channel for our energies, but it also gives us a channel for our monetary resources. Some of us believe this is appropriate, but we would hasten to point out that such belief is not required for MCA membership. We believe that the work of keeping the church honest is an appropriate channel for money the Lord asks of us. Evidently the church thinks so too, as according to one recently published union conference financial report, approximately 6 percent of that union’s expenditure of tithe derived money was for the support of auditing activities. We expect criticism from those who claim that if all church members channeled their resources to solving auditing and accountability concerns, the work of the church would cease. We claim that if all members were concerned about accountability for honesty, integrity and fairness, the accountability problems the church has would be quickly solved, and the work of the church would go on better than ever. We believe the church is already losing great resources withheld by members and former members who have serious concerns about accountability.
We sincerely hope that the day will soon come when our work of educating members about accountability will be replaced with the task of working with church leaders in making the needed accountability reforms. We believe that there are many leaders who would work toward that end now, were they not fearful of retribution from higher leaders. We would like to see the day soon come when the only role of MCA is the mundane task of providing the independent audits of church activities needed to complete the chain of auditing accountability to church members. However, even if that day does not soon come, we would rather spend our energies and resources in working for change, than to resign ourselves to a situation which we cannot in good conscience accept.
We include the following blank for use in recruiting new members. ( Make lots of copies to pass around. )
MEMBERS for CHURCH ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. (MCA) APPLICATION (nl4Q98)
/__/ I wish to be a member of the General Conference Reform Group
You will receive:
A copy of the MCA bylaws upon request
The MCA newsletter
Send to: Members for Church Accountability, Inc.
PO Box 1072
Morrison, CO 80465
Addendum to 1998 Fourth Quarter Newsletter.
This letter was not received until after the main newsletter was copied. Since this topic is of such high concern we are appending to the main letter. Stewart W. Shankel and George M. Grames write:
The recent resignation of Robert Folkenberg, the president of the General Conference, punctuates the need for our organization. The resignation followed an internal investigation which was prompted by the legal investigation in defense of a "frivolous lawsuit" filed by a non-church member on August 21, 1998 and served in late December, 1998. The discovery of the legal documents led to the appointment of a 19-member Special Ad Hoc Group chaired by Andrews University President Niels-Erik Andreasen on January 13, 1999. "The committee’s work was difficult because it involved business relationships so complicated that even attorneys have a hard time figuring them out." The report expressed "concerns over inappropriate business associations, possible misuse of the presidential office, and the president’s reluctance to accept the advice of colleagues." This Ad Hoc Group gave its report to a special General Conference Administrative Committee at a meeting on January 27, 1999.
You may recall that our calls for an independent investigation into the David Dennis allegations where rebuffed by the General Conference because of the active litigation. Our response was that "the current litigation by David Dennis in no way precludes a simultaneous church sponsored investigation." This glaring inconsistency of the General Conference cries out for an explanation. The former Director of the General Conference Auditing Service filed a lawsuit and made a number of serious allegations. After four years and repeated appeals for an investigation into the allegations, there has been no investigation. In contrast, after the filing of a "frivolous lawsuit" by a non-church member not very knowledgeable in the internal affairs of the General Conference, an immediate investigation is launched!
We applaud the internal investigation, which was initiated and completed before the civil action was settled. Again, why was there no independent investigation of the David Dennis allegations? The failure of the General Conference to address the serious allegations of David Dennis casts a cloud of suspicion over our church leadership. Another question that must be addressed is, how could a church official with a background of being involved in "business relationships so complicated that even attorneys have a hard time figuring them out", be elevated to President of the General Conference? Are the personnel files of church officials devoid of meaningful information? Still another question is, did Elder Folkenberg’s "computer sales operation" conduct any business with any church entity? Our Church is being slowly destroyed by lack of candor and accountability.
FURTHER EDITORIAL COMMENT:
Since Elder Folkenberg’s situation came to light a good deal has been written on the internet to the effect that church members should be eager to show forgiveness in this situation. We would not want statements in our newsletter to be taken as being against forgiveness. We are in favor of forgiveness. However, we do not think that a willingness to forgive needs to be accompanied by what we would consider a foolish indifference to steps that need to be taken assure the integrity of our church and the accountability of its leaders. We suggest that three actions should be taken in the present case.
First, we suggest that steps be taken to prove to the membership that indeed no conference funds are involved in this situation. Past experiences have made it difficult for some members to be satisfied with simple assurances from conference leaders that this is the case. Further steps need to be taken to prove this to the members. Second, steps need to be taken to show to the members that no secret "sweetheart" deals were made between Elder Folkenberg and other church leaders in order to secure his resignation. Third and perhaps most important, members must be shown that church funds are not going to be used to provide for legal defense in this matter. If indeed it is true that the only church involvement is that Elder Folkenberg misused the church letterhead in some of his dealings, the case against the church would seem to be frivolous as claimed, and the church should not need more than the minimum of defense. One could argue that Elder Folkenberg should pay for the church’s legal costs. Certainly the church should not pay for his. This is a matter of concern since the church leadership has not seemed very open about legal expenses in the past. Estimates have been made in the several millions as the cost of the conference’s high powered legal team in the David Dennis lawsuit yet little has been said to church membership about this expenditure nor has there been an explanation of why such high priced defense was necessary.
We believe that all of these steps could be accomplished by opening all church records to professional audit sponsored by any group of church members. This is what we have been suggesting all along as the best way to conduct the church at all times. This is the kind of auditing we would like to accomplish through MCA.