Members for Church Accountability Inc.
2002 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 2002:
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 alternatively, http://members.aol.com/~advmca/home.htm. 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.
The MCA 2001 tax returns have been filed with the IRS.
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.
Stephen & Anna Brown write (in part): The church is not the general conference & never will be! ... You are wasting your time & money & effort on a structure which refuses time & time again to be reformed. ... Better to spend your precious time & money & effort on getting the warning message of the three angles out to a lost & dying world. ...
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Actually, this was a much more strident letter than these excerpts would indicate. These sentences, though, seem to capture one of the points the writers were making. The question of whether the work of MCA is a good way to be spending ones efforts and resources in this world, has indeed occurred to us. We have repeatedly said that we hope that accountability reform does not need to become a primary focus of very many church members. We do however, think that it should be a definite concern of all church members. As we ask ourselves the question of why should anyone be spending their time in this way, we keep coming back to the thought of how can we do anything other than object to the lack of accountability we see in the church. How could we live with ourselves if we simply ignore such a serious situation in the church. Again, there are those who would say that problems in the church are not our worry - that God will take care of any problems in the church. We simply do not believe that God wants us to ignore problems. We believe that the way He takes care of His church is by giving the responsibility to the church members.
We members of MCA are not making a big issue of some obscure theological point here. We do not claim to be accomplished theologians. We do not, however, think that anyone needs to be a great theologian to recognize that God places a high value on honesty and fairness. We are not asking anyone to stop proclaiming the good news about God. We would think, however, that our witness would be severely compromised if in our lives as church members we do not show that we value those things that God values.
There are those who would suggest just ignoring what the church is doing and going about independently doing your own service. While that may make sense to some, we do not share this attitude of giving up on the church. We do not think that it should be such a big thing to bring accountability to the church if only enough of its members were concerned. We would have to say that it is not yet apparent whether enough of the church members are concerned about accountability to make it happen.
Willard McGee writes: Thank you very much for the newsletter from MCA. It keeps me abreast with certain fiscal matters. All wrongs will not be corrected in this age, but we must do our best as stewards of our father's vineyard until He sends His Son back.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We couldn't agree more.
A pastor wrote to us detailing a situation in which his church had been dealt with in a deceptive manner. He did not seem to think that the wrong was being righted through regular conference channels.
READERS MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN PART OF OUR REPLY : ... It does indeed sound like you have an unfortunate situation on your hands. From your comments, I am thinking you might have a misconception about what MCA is able to do. There are indeed problems in the church. There are wrongs that should be corrected. There are actions that should be taken. We like you have seen that in all too many cases, the problems are not corrected and what is more, at times it seems like very few members care. MCA is simply an organization of church members who hope that by working together we might spark a change in this situation. It remains to be seen just how much effect we can have. At present our influence with the church leaders appears to be rather limited. Often they do not even answer our letters. MCA keeps going, not because we have been effective, but because we can in good conscience do nothing else other than to keep trying. At present our approach is to keep trying to help members know about some of the situations that cry for action and to try to find and enlist the support of those members who care about what is going on. Someday we hope that we can make the monitoring by church members of conference activities, more routine and organized.
You mention that you wonder how effective our organization is. I wish that I could say that we do have a marked effect. As it is, we still seem to have little influence with most conference leaders. We certainly have no direct say in what they do. I am afraid that you are looking to us as a source of some sort of help that we are not able to provide. You are not alone, various folk have had the mistaken notion that our group has some sort of authority. We are an organization that has a legitimate right to be involved because we are a group of church members, but unfortunately that does not in itself give us any power to directly change things. We can only bring change as the number of concerned church members grows to the point that certain conference officers can no longer ignore our calls for change. ...
Leonard Willett writes: Thank you for printing the David Dennis letter in the recent Members for Church Accountability newsletter. I had read the letter earlier, but felt it needed a wider circulation. Many of the situations reiterated in the Dennis letter are sad indeed. May God help the leaders of our church be more open to the members regarding the church finances and more honest in the handling of them. We do well to pray for them in this regard. Thank you also for providing the wording of the "Policy on Openness and Accountability."
Rick Nudd writes (in part): ... This is also to let you know about another thing that happened in the New York Conference. I was on the Constitution Committee for three years, ending in 1993, or 94. During my service to that committee we wrote a clause for the Constitution which set up terms for church properties to return to the local congregations in case of bankruptcy of any upstream organizations--New York Conference--Atlantic Union--North American Division- General Conference.
This clause was included in our Constitution at the next constituency meeting. I was then off the committee--but Jim Glass, our Conference Treasurer, couldn't seem to understand my term was over--since he kept sending me committee materials for another three years. First he told me I was reelected, then he told me I'd never finished, then finally he told me he was really sending stuff to my dad (who didn't live with me).
As a result of receiving those mailings I couldn't help but notice that our bankruptcy clause lasted only a short time. I know it was voted into our constitution, but I've asked, and no-one has any recollection of it being removed. The subsequent constituency meeting didn't remove it (but I believe it may have been removed by time of that meeting).
This bankruptcy clause would offer some protection to bankruptcy caused by our healthcare facilities debts, and other church financial dealings. This would protect local churches and schools for local use. ...
EDITORIAL COMMENT: In these days one does indeed consider the possibility of an Enron type debacle in the SDA church. I might add that we have never suggested that a small group like MCA be able to set policy for the church no matter what our worries. We do wish that most of the church members would wake up and show some intelligent concern, however. We believe that policy changes should come by vote of the church membership as it was in the case you described. Without knowing all the pros and cons, it does sound like your committee did a real service to your conference in bringing this issue before the members. The disturbing thing, as you have pointed out, is that the provision appears to have been removed without a vote of the members.
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.
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