These letters are taken from the First Quarter 2002 newsletter.
Correspondence with Elder Jan Paulsen:
Stewart W. Shankel, Richard Sheldon and George M. Grames wrote to Elder Jan Paulsen:
Dear Dr. Paulsen,
We have been very concerned about the allegations of malfeasance by officers of the Church expressed by David Dennis in his lawsuit against the General Conference. On April 8, 1996 four hundred and fifty seven individuals petitioned Elder Robert Folkenberg to engage a team of independent, professional investigators to thoroughly investigate all of the allegations of David Dennis. We believe that if these allegations are false accusations, the church officers would be exonerated, and the integrity of the church would be preserved. If the allegations have merit, offenders could be properly disciplined, and again the integrity of the church would be preserved.
Elder Folkenberg did not respond to our letter, but we did receive a letter dated April 17, 1996 from Robert W. Nixon, General Counsel to the General Conference. In that letter Mr. Nixon stated that, "Elder Folkenberg consistently has supported the possibility of setting up a blue-ribbon commission to look into all allegations once the litigation terminates."
Now that the David Dennis lawsuit has been withdrawn we are requesting that Elder Folkenberg’s concept of a "blue-ribbon commission to look into all allegations", be honored by your administration.
Elder Paulsen wrote back:
I have given considerable thought and prayer to your recent letter requesting that the General Conference appoint a blue-ribbon committee to investigate the allegations made by David Dennis in his lawsuit against the General Conference. I also have consulted with others concerning your proposal, and I intend to get additional input on this issue from international church leadership as I have opportunity.
Such allegations concern me too, because like most church members, I value credibility and expect responsible church leadership, whether at the congregational, conference, union, division, General Conference, or institutional level. But the reality is that the church is made up of humans who from time to time make mistakes. We must confront those mistakes, deal with them as we think appropriate, learn what we can from them, and move on with the work of the church, which is the mission.
As I reviewed your letter and thought about the possibility of a blue-ribbon committee to review the Dennis allegations, I thought to myself: Would this essentially be a positive step contributing to the credibility of the church, or would this more likely be a negative step that could consume countless hours and dollars of administrative time and church dollars and yield little, if any, information that isn't already in the public domain and hasn't already been legally and administratively reviewed?
It seems to me that our history as a church, together with personnel changes that have occurred, have moved us past the time that a blue-ribbon committee would be a positive move for the world church. We have suffered the pain! I think we have learned some important lessons, and healing is taking place. I sincerely believe it is time to leave this chapter behind and move on with the true work of the church, taking the Gospel to the world.
Stewart W. Shankel, Richard Sheldon and George M. Grames wrote back to Elder Paulsen:
Thank you for your letter of February 25, 2002 in response to our request for an independent investigation into the David Dennis allegations. We appreciate that you recognize that we have a legitimate concern for the credibility of the church, and with you expect responsible church leadership at all levels of the church. We are disappointed that you believe that an investigation would not contribute to the credibility of the church. You are concerned about the consumption of countless hours and dollars of administrative time that would "yield little, if any, information that isn't already in the public domain and hasn't already been legally and administratively reviewed."
Certainly little official information has reached the public domain of the church membership at large. Most of the information has come through Spectrum and Adventist Today, neither is a church sponsored publication and neither enjoys wide circulation among the Adventist laity. In as much as the case has already been "legally and administratively reviewed," which allegations have merit and which allegations are without merit? Dennis alleged high-level corruption involving more than one individual. If any of these allegations were accurate, what disciplinary action was taken against church officials involved in corruption? In David Dennis' open letter to you dated October 30, 2001 he states that former president Robert Folkenberg remains employed by the church with full salary and benefits. Is that true? If so, what justification is there to retain him in any position with the church?
We have also received a copy of the open letter to you from Donald G. Morgan, date December 1, 2001. During the David Dennis court hearings he witnessed the testimony of church leadership: "During the hearing and much to my astonishment, I heard Neal Wilson, a former president of the General Conference, and Kenneth Mittleider, a former vice president of the General Conference, assure the judge that no official of the Church accused of adultery has ever been retained or reemployed in an official position of the Church." Dr. Paulsen, do you acknowledge the accuracy of the testimony of Elder Wilson and Elder Mittleider?
You believe that "it is time to leave this chapter behind and move on to the true work of the church." When a church scandal runs its course, it immediately becomes another chapter in church history. Any attempt by lay church members to review or investigate a church scandal has been met with resistance by the church administration, whose admonition is to leave the scandal in the past and focus on the future. During the MCA conference on October 20, 2001 we reviewed seven financial misadventures dating from the Davenport affair to the recent Boston Regional Medical Center debacle. Tragically, what impresses even the casual observer is that the church does not discipline offenders and recurrent disasters are the predictable consequence.
As physicians, we would compare this problem within the church to a deep seeded abscess that continues to fester and infect the whole system. It can be treated only with wide incision and "open" drainage. Any attempt to cosmetically treat this abscess is fraught with disaster!
The David Dennis scandal can be laid to rest with the church gaining respectability and credibility only when an independent investigation is completed or the results of the "administrative review", administrative discipline, and corrective action is made known to the lay membership of the church. A church operation open to scrutiny by the church membership that it is dedicated to serve would not only let the "sunshine" in, but would also restore integrity and credibility to the church organization.
We respectfully request that you reconsider your decision. Thank you.
EDITORIAL COMMENT (these letters are certainly clear enough without comment, but your editor can't resist adding his two cents worth): We eagerly share Elder Paulsen's desire to "leave this chapter behind". We sincerely believe, however, that leaving it behind without taking corrective action is a ticket to disaster. Verbal assurances that "we have learned some important lessons" are simply not adequate to correct the situation. As Elder Paulsen points out, the "church is made up of humans". We need to transform the church operation to one where we humans know that making such mistakes will not be a profitable thing to do. Disciplinary actions would be a helpful deterrent, but the primary requirement is for changes in bylaws, policies and procedures that are clearly adequate to prevent this continuing stream of debacles. At the core of such reform must be changes that will immediately make all church actions and activities open to public view. Hand in hand with these changes must come changes giving representative control of the church to its membership so that action can be taken by the membership when infractions and other problems arise. Such changes must be widely publicized in the church media so that the membership knows what changes are being made and what options are open to them to assure themselves that reforms are indeed being put into practice. So far, as is sometimes said, "the silence has been deafening".
We sincerely appreciate Elder Paulsen's responding to a letter this time. His letter clearly offers no solutions, though, other than "we have learned some important lessons". We would hope that Elder Paulsen would continue to correspond so that two way communication could be maintained. With all respect, in this letter Elder Paulsen misses the point that this attitude of "just trust us" just won't "cut it" anymore. It simply hasn't been working. It seems clear that church leaders are not going to take adequate action unless the membership demands it. Our worst fear is that church leadership may be correctly concluding that the lethargy of the membership will shield them from any need for real reform. The issue comes down to this; will enough of the church membership be concerned about church accountability to bring about a change. At this point, it remains to be seen.
We also appreciate Elder Paulsen's concern regarding consuming "countless hours and dollars of administrative time and church dollars". However, the old proverb about being penny wise and pound foolish keeps coming to mind. We heartily endorse the multiple millions that the church spends each year on auditing services, but after spending that much, are we then to refuse to pursue the matter when one of the auditors claims to be pointing out situations that should be corrected? Or again, after spending multiple millions in court keeping the government from evaluating the case, are we to then to turn around and tell the church members that they don't need to know what is going on either because in comparison an investigation would cost a little more? Please, Elder Paulsen, keep talking to us because it still doesn't make sense to us.