This item is taken from the Third Quarter 2002 newsletter.
MCA Activity: Members of the newly renamed Southern California Chapter of MCA have been working with Jim Walters and representatives of the Southeastern California Conference to establish a dispute resolution process. Adventist Today had a write-up on this activity that we reprint here. ( Since we are reprinting this from Adventist Today we might remind our readers again that MCA makes no comment on the theological position of any Adventist Today editorials. Indeed, MCA is not involved in theology other than the theology of honesty, fairness and accountability. )
Dispute Resolution Process in Southeastern California
Since the state of California is increasingly allowing ecclesiastical institutions greater latitude in resolving internal disputes, the Southeastern California Conference (SECC) believes it is wise to institute an orderly method of fairly resolving disputes.
In Schmoll vs. Chapman University (1999), a case involving a chaplain who was supposedly unjustly fired, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, ruled in part: "In this case of first impression, we hold that establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution bar judicial review in a lawsuit alleging a church-affiliated university modified the terms of employment of its campus chaplain in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act Government Code section 12900 et seq." In conclusion the appellate judges approvingly quote from a relevant 1989 California Appellate Third District decision: "Secular courts will not attempt to right wrongs related to the hiring, firing, discipline or administration of clergy. Implicit in this statement of the rule is the acknowledgment that such wrongs may exist, that they may be severe, and that the administration of the church itself may be inadequate to provide a remedy. But the preservation of the free exercise of religion is deemed so important a principle as to overshadow the inequities which may result from its liberal application. In our society, jealous as it is for separation of church and state, one who enters the clergy forfeits the protection of the civil authorities in terms of job rights."
Three years ago leaders of the SECC were interested in studying the concept of a judicial commission. They invited Dr. James Walters, professor of religion at Loma Linda University, to draft a proposal for such a commission, one that would enable persons who have conflicts within the church to resolve those disputes fairly and thereby avoid the necessity of settling such matters in secular courts. This proposal would draw on the experience of other Protestant churches.
Over the past several months, Walters and four colleagues from the Members for Church Accountability, Inc., (MCA), a nonprofit organization concerned with the financial integrity of the church, have prepared a document to be reviewed by the Constitution Committee of the SECC. The group has held three meetings with conference leaders. The SECC leaders were so attracted to the proposal that Secretary Gerald Penick suggested that a "trial commission" be established to fine tune the system before it was presented by the constitution committee to the next constituency meeting in 2004. The next meeting of the working group is planned for October, and the group hopes that the trial commission can be operational early in 2003.
The current suggestion is that there be 10 commissioners on the judicial commission (plus one chosen from the leadership of the SECC). The delegates to the constituency meeting would choose the 10 commissioners from a slate of 16 presented by the nominating committee. The nominating committee would compile the list of 16 from nominees forwarded by the constituent churches in the SECC.
The following excerpt is from the working document:
"Church members who [have a problem that requires resolution] are advised to follow Jesus' advice and seek to resolve the issue at the most personal level possible. Hence, the need to address the responsible individual(s) first. If there is no resolution, then the local pastor should be asked to intervene, who may request assistance from the Board of Elders. If this intervention is unsuccessful, then the final congregational appeal would be to the church board. If need be, the relevant conference department may be brought into the discussion.
"The judicial Commission would provide a mechanism to review unresolved disputes between church members, as well as problems between members and the SECC or other SDA organizations. The commission's recommendations would be forwarded to the SECC Executive Committee for final disposition. If the investigation involves an action of the SECC Executive Committee and remains unresolved, the findings and recommendations shall be forwarded to the next regularly scheduled SECC Session. If the matter is of sufficient urgency in the Judicial Commission's judgment, it could call for a special constituency session. Such sessions are likely to be rare." Interested readers who have constructive suggestions are invited to contact:
• Members for Church Accountability, Inc., PO. Box 1072, Morrison, CO 80465 E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, P. O. Box 8050, Riverside, CA 92505 FAX: (909) 509-2391
• Editor, Adventist Today E-mail address: email@example.com.
The Committee for Church Accountability presented a major symposium on issues of church accountability in October 2001 (See AT Nov/Dec 2001). As a follow-up to that symposium, the formation of a judicial commission for the purpose of resolving internal disputes in the Southeastern California Conference of SDAs has been recommended. The proposal has been presented to conference administration and is currently being evaluated for possible action at the conference's next constituency meeting scheduled for the fall of 2004.
volume 10 issue 5 Adventist Today 5