Members for Church Accountability Inc.
2001 First Quarter
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 first quarter 2001:
Section 2 - Trustees' Reports
Norm Smith - Secretary Treasurer
For any of you that would like to contact us by e-mail our address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our web site address is: 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. This is an economical means of spreading the word about MCA. Mailings 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 have had the tax return prepared with the help of the CPA again. We actually are not a large enough organization that this is mandatory. We go ahead and file the return just so that there will be no question about our tax exempt status.
See the Norm Smith letter below regarding some positive developments regarding the Rocky Mountain Conference.
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 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.
Elaine Nelson and others write with excerpts of news articles describing how a CPA admits to stealing at least $775000 dollars from an entity of the SDA church in California:
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Thanks for the information. Wouldn't it be comforting to have freedom of information bylaws in the conferences that would allow members to determine with greater clarity whether or not there was any lack of diligence on the part of conference officers that made it easier for this to happen? One would think that conference officers would also like such freedom of information arrangements as a means to protect their own reputations. One would at least think that church leaders would be anxious to explain to the entire church how it was that this was able to go on for six years without detection, and what is being changed to prevent such events in the future.
Clearly, the church's first line of defense against theft is the system of church auditors. Even if MCA and other member groups were allowed to monitor church activities to the extent desirable, it is not the intent of MCA to take the place of the church auditors. It is our intent to be able to make sure the auditing is getting done. We want to make sure the "red flags" that the auditors turn up are getting noticed by the church membership. We want to make sure that there do not continue to be areas that are excluded from the auditors view. We want to make sure that church members know about arrangements in church government that are open temptations to conflict of interest or other impropriety. We want to make sure that dangerous situations that may not be illegal in themselves, receive the open glare of public scrutiny ( sale of church assets to groups in which church officers have some interest and loans to church officers come to mind in this category ).
Stephen Morell writes (in part): (Mr. Morell was evidently the writer last quarter who forgot to sign his name. His current letter is extensive and includes additional material.)
In light of these quotes from the Servant of the Lord how can you dare to say that your MCA "does not have a theological agenda." Every true SDA has an agenda commanded by God Himself... In closing I will say that you should be "jumping up & down" with righteous indignation at what is being done with your money. You should be outraged & would be if you really were who you say you are & "profess" to be!...
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Thanks for writing again. I had hoped that I was clear in the last newsletter about MCA not having a theological agenda but not meaning to belittle theological concerns. The membership of MCA is a very diverse group. I am sure many of our members have theological concerns that they are very passionate about. In saying that MCA has no theological agenda, we are not saying that those who are members of MCA have no agenda. We are simply suggesting that members work their theological concerns through other channels. In order to focus on the task that MCA has set for itself, it seems best to limit our efforts in this organization to that one task. When it comes to matters of honesty and accountability we are highly concerned. I for one think that it is better to avoid strident language in public discourse, but I would hate for that to be mistaken for a lack of concern.
George Grames, Stewart Shankel and Richard Sheldon leaders of the MCA General Conference Reform Group write the following response to the summary of litigation by unsecured creditors against Boston Regional Medical Center board of trustees (This summary was included in our last quarters newsletter.):
This letter is in response to the lawsuit filed by the creditors against the Board of Trustees of Boston Regional Medical Center. It is not unreasonable to be alarmed over the loss of an asset that had been owned by the church for 100 years. How did this disaster evolve and what factors played a major role? Four major factors are readily apparent: the organizational structure, self-serving conflict of interest, incompetence, and heavy debt.
The organizational structure consisted of multiple interlocking corporations, including, but not limited to, Atlantic Union Conference, Atlantic Adventist Healthcare Corporation, Boston Regional Medical Associates, Atlantic Health Resources, and Boston Regional Medical Center, all controlled by a central core of individuals. A cash resource for these corporations was Boston Regional Medical Center. There is nothing illegal or inherently immoral about the structure itself or the transfer of profits from Boston Regional Medical Center to other church owned corporations. However, when debt is incurred to a third party, the moral obligation of the debtor shifts from the affiliated corporations to the creditor. The continued transfer of millions of dollars from Boston Regional Medical Center to other church owned corporations in the face of rising indebtedness without a repayment plan was immoral.
The president and chief executive officer of Boston Regional Medical Center, Charles S. Ricks, was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Boston Regional Medical Center and a member of the Board of Directors of Atlantic Adventist Healthcare Corporation. This arrangement, whereby the president and chief executive officer of the Medical Center is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Medical Center, obviously creates the potential for mischief. This arrangement provides the potential for members of the Board of Trustees to dine and socialize with, play golf with, or partner in financial investments with the Medical Center Administrator. Dispassionate accountability is thereby sacrificed. In this case the potential for disaster became a reality.
How can a healthy tension be maintained between the Board of Trustees and the Medical Center Administrator when the Medical Center Administrator is a member of the Board of Trustees? How can the Board of Trustees effectively monitor the performance of the Medical Center Administrator when the Medical Center Administrator is a member of the Board of Trustees?
If the events as depicted are accurate, the case for self-serving conflict of interest and incompetence is irrefutable. The Board of Trustees and the Atlantic Union Conference could not have failed to recognize the obvious. Has there been disciplinary action? Has the Board of Trustees assumed any culpability? Have there been any changes in organization or policy?
Norm Smith writes:
There have been some initial positive events in the Rocky Mountain Conference (RMC). I am reporting these in this letter section rather than in the Secretary Treasurer section above because I was acting only as a concerned church member and as a member of MCA in making these contacts with the RMC. I was not acting in my role as MCA secretary treasurer.
It seems to me that Jim Brauer, the RMC president, and Jim Green, the conference treasurer, have been extraordinarily careful to promote open communication with conference members. I have not experienced this degree of openness and candor before from conference leaders. (This simply reflects my experience and is not intended as a complaint against former officers.) This openness has been evident on numerous occasions. Elder Brauer in one of the regular conference newsletters invited members to write with their questions. I responded to this invitation and a sequence of emails followed. As a result, Elder Brauer extended an invitation to submit a proposal for a "freedom of information" policy to be considered by the conference executive committee. I submitted the policy proposal included below. It was brought up for consideration in the March 27 executive committee meeting, which I was invited to attend. At that time it was agreed that it would be considered again after the leaders had some time to study any legal implications that the policy might have. This should happen toward the end of May.
I am not aware of any problems in the RMC that would presently make such a "freedom of information" policy specifically needed. Indeed, most of the notions suggested in the policy are already in operation in the RMC. Rather, the policy was proposed because it is the kind of policy that one would like to have all conferences adopt whether they are having problems or not. The situation is similar to that in former days when temperance workers would ask folk to sign the "temperance pledge". They would generally ask folk at supporting churches to sign the pledge before they would ask the folk on "skid row" to sign it. The idea was that if you can't get the folk in the big marble church to sign the pledge, why even bother trying to get the folk on "skid row" to sign.
It would seem a good thing if all conferences would adopt policies providing for open access to information. However, we would not delude ourselves that such policies would by themselves prevent unfortunate instances of misconduct by conference officers from ever occurring. If officers engage in activities outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, one would not expect that they would openly report such activity to church members. However, when allegations arise from other avenues, such "freedom of information" policies would hopefully both clear the way for access to documentation that would credibly discredit the allegations if they were false or, on the other hand, make it harder to deny access to documentation that would support the allegations if they were true. Even though we admit that access to information will still leave it hard to detect determined and willful misdealing, there is yet another important beneficial aspect to openness of information. While there appear to have been cases of intentional misconduct in the past, it appears to some of us that problems more often arise in situations where those involved are able to rationalize that their conduct is acceptable. Sometimes there is such eagerness to accomplish some good end that deviations are tolerated. Sometimes individuals rationalize inappropriate generosity in their own compensation. Sometimes folk rationalize a conflict of interest. Such people might not be willing to take the step of deliberate and clear misconduct, but hide behind their rationalizations. It would seem a reasonable hope that the "goldfish bowl" environment of open information would make such folk much more hesitant to engage in inappropriate activities, since in actively hiding them they would have to admit to themselves that they are indeed misconduct.
If this effort proves successful at the RMC, perhaps other members will want to propose similar policies in their conferences. Admittedly, the greatest need for member access to information is at the higher conference levels. If however, enough local conferences were to provide freedom of access to information, perhaps the higher conference levels would see greater value in such policies and follow a similar course. Admittedly, this effort is based on the hope that most problems do not arise because leaders are intent on evil, but rather arise when a lax standard of conduct has come to be considered an acceptable norm.
The following is the policy that was proposed to the RMC. It was submitted as an initial draft that is likely in need of further editing to meet both the needs of church members and the needs of the conference operation.
Draft policy for consideration by Rocky Mountain Conference Executive Committee:
Because the SDA church has traditionally believed that God has placed the final human responsibility for the welfare of His church in the hands of the church members rather than in a ruling church hierarchy, it is right that conferences have various policies that help members to fulfill this responsibility. The purpose of this "Freedom of Information" policy is to assure that members have access to information they need to fully know how the business of the church is being conducted and to provide an avenue for correction if needed. Members need the means to be certain that the church is being operated in a manner of highest integrity, that its employees are being always treated fairly and that the conduct of the church organizations is always in agreement with stated policy. This policy is not adopted at this time in response to any present difficulty in the Rocky Mountain Conference but rather to give Rocky Mountain Conference members added assurance that they have the means to avoid here some of the concerns that have occurred elsewhere. It is adopted to strengthen policies already in place and to explicitly guarantee privileges already present to a large degree in current practice. As we continue to follow Christ's example in John 18:20 of doing nothing in secret, the Conference will strengthen its practice of openness in the following ways.
The first level of openness is that the conference will use current technology to actively make records of all conference activities and dealings available to members. Exceptions regarding personal privacy are noted below. While recognizing that there are practical limits to the degree of detail that could possibly be of interest to members, the conference will make every effort reasonably within its means to make information available on its internet web site. Understandable versions of financial statements will be made available. "Understandable" here does not imply "overly simplified" but rather that enough added explanation is available to allow readers to know the purpose and functioning of the various accounts and to intelligibly trace financial transactions. Records of significant actions of the executive committee and other conference officers will be available. A directory of all policies governing the operation of the conference will be available. The degree to which the actual policy statements will be included will be governed by practicality. As higher conference levels conduct audits of the activities and conditions in the Rocky Mountain Conference, the reports submitted by such auditors will be made available. Such additions to the web site will be made to give members assurance that information is available, even though it is not likely that this information will see heavy traffic.
A second level of openness is that the conference will make all its records (with exceptions noted below) available to members upon written request. That is, members may receive a copy of any document in the conference's records by specific request (as opposed to a blanket request for a large number of documents ). Conference officers shall be of assistance in helping a member know what specific documents are needed to work his/her concern. A reasonable fee for copying and handling may be assessed.
A third level of openness is that the conference will allow members or groups of members to engage independent audits of any area of conference activity (again with the exceptions noted below). Such audits would be for the purpose of investigating activities relating to a specific member concern rather than blanket audits of all conference activities. It would be required that any such auditors would be professionally qualified in the area of their investigation. It would be understood that the expenses of such an audit would be born by the members arranging the audit. A reasonable expense for conference employees to cooperate with such an audit would also be born by the members requesting the audit. Clearly, it is hoped that because of the expense and disruptiveness of such an audit, that members would engage such only when the other means mentioned above have not alleviated their concerns and when the matter involved is of high significance. While this auditing possibility is indeed needed to assure members that they have ultimate access to information, it is hoped that this option would be a last resort and would in fact never need to be exercised.
The exceptions mentioned above relate to personal privacy. The conference shall continue its policy of not allowing access to personal giving records and to records of employer/employee evaluations or disciplinary actions. Exception to this prohibition shall be in the case that the individual whose records are in question has made specific written notarized request that such records be made public. This might be the case if the individual believes that his/her employment has been unfairly terminated (and arbitrated) or that his/her contributions have been misdirected.
Since members cannot take responsibility for the conduct of the church unless they have an assured avenue to corrective action, provision shall be made for individual member access to church decision processes. Any church member shall have the right to place an action on the agenda of the executive committee or constituency meeting for consideration and vote by that respective body. This provision shall be for actions relating to financial conduct of the church, fair treatment of its employees or compliance with church policies. Actions will, of course, be expected to have wording appropriate for publication.
New Book by W. Arden Clark - And the People Said, 'We Will Serve the Lord'" An Analysis of Church Government
This is not a letter, but at the suggestion of George Grames we wanted to recommend this book to our members. We do not suggest that all readers will agree with everything that the book says. We do think that it is a significant addition to the discussion of church government and accountability. The following is the preface by James W. Walters, Professor, Faculty of Religion at Loma Linda University and Publisher, Adventist Today:
This book is unique. It comes from the heart, but addresses matters of the head. It comes from a veteran church pastor, but it focuses on principles of denominational governance. It is written without an ounce of rancor, but it addresses sensitive political topics that have wreaked the careers of high-level Adventist leaders and weakened confidence in leadership.
In a word, W. Arden Clarke is a dedicated and wise retired Adventist pastor who possesses a holy passion to see his denomination live up to the basic standards of democratic governance. This book is the author's personal study and appeal, articulated through his telling of Biblical, church and Adventist history and his assessment of Western thought leaders. Throughout the volume, the author has supplemented his own ideas with the republication of relevant articles from the general and Adventist press that he has collected for years.
Don't pick up "And the People Said, 'We Will Serve the Lord'" An Analysis of Church Government, if you are looking for an academic, professional account of church governance. Pastor Clarke waited for a scholar to do this job, and only when this void went unfilled for years did he tackle this seven-year project.
This volume is a very American work, as should be expected of an American pastor writing about his American-based church. The die from which Clarke's thinking about governance emerged, came from his love of the founding documents of the United States. Similarly, Adventism's cofounder Ellen White praised the conceptual underpinnings of the United States: "In that grand old document which our forefathers set forth as their bill of rights - the Declaration of Independence - they declared: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...'" (The Great Controversy, p. 295). Because we are all "created equal," we all share that most fundamental right - to vote on our leaders and major governmental decisions.
As an America-based denomination (note that Ellen White spoke of "our forefathers"), it is not coincidental that the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual from its inception has spoken of our system of governance as "representative." Adventist polity is representative democracy.
Arden Clarke is on solid ground in his fervent advocacy of governance policies in our church that are member-oriented and open to the fresh air of democratic processes. In that Clarke opposes hierarchical governance and champions the value of the individual person, he is very Protestant and true to his historic Adventist faith.
This popular work on church governance offers much to consider as we embark on a new millennium.
Published by TEACH Services, Inc., 254 Donovan Road, Brushton, New York 12916.
We include the following blank for use in recruiting new members. (Make lots of copies to pass around.)
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