Members for Church Accountability Inc.
2000 Third 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 third quarter 2000:
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.
Due to other time constraints on the secretary treasurer, this quarter's newsletter is about a month late in publication. My apologies.
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.
Sam Ketting writes:
It would be important to me to hear the opinion of the advmca with respect to the radical changes voted through at the recent G.C. meeting in Toronto.
After the reading of the minutes of the decisions that were voted through with respect to the treasury department and the auditing department, it seems that there are very few gaps left open to allow for irresponsible persons to get away with spending any church funds without the green carpet being rolled out before him. So does the ADVMCA have any job left to see if it is leak proof?
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We appreciate your bringing up this subject and pointing us to the G.C. minutes. Briefly, it appears that under the new arrangement an auditing board will be elected at each G.C. session. This auditing board is to have heavy representation of laypersons. This board is to recommend who the head G.C. auditor will be, among other things.
We applaud any improvements in the auditing arrangements that are made at the G.C. These changes do seem to be good ones. The more effective that the conference auditing services are, the less likely it is that misconduct will occur.
However, there is still an inherent gap in the chain of accountability of church officers to church members that reforms in the auditing services can not cure. No matter how you twist it, the auditing departments are accountable to the church leaders, not to the general church members. We, in fact, believe that this arrangement is in itself quite proper. The church leaders need the auditing services to make sure the rank and file church workers are accountable to the G.C. leaders. We see nothing wrong with the arrangement whereby the auditors report to (and can be terminated by) the G.C. leaders and the G.C. session. (We do have a big problem with the G.C. leaders' lack of openness about such terminations that occur.) To have this new auditing services board with lay input into the selection of the directors of auditing is doubtless beneficial. However, we don't see any good way to get around the fact that it is still the G.C. leaders and the G.C. session who can appoint and terminate auditors. The auditing board itself is to be elected at the G.C. session. It is no secret that the G.C. session is dominated by church leaders of various rank who are many of the very ones who will be audited.
Again, we do not see major problems with the present arrangement that uses the auditing services to make the hierarchy of church workers and lower rank church leaders accountable to the G.C. leaders. What is glaringly missing is the link of accountability from the G.C. leaders to the general church membership. MCA believes that the most fundamental change that is needed to cure this problem is to enact a "freedom of information" amendment at all conference levels that will make all church information (other than certain personal records) available to all church members. We have gone into the details of such a suggested amendment at other places. Basically, church members must be free to know what is going on in their church. Many of us believe that a second change is of almost equal importance. Even if church members are free to know what is going on in their church, to make any difference, they must also have the ability to correct situations that are not right. We believe that there must also be a "one member one vote" amendment that assigns per capita representation on conference executive committees and in election of church leaders. We have given details of this suggestion in other places also.
At present, church leaders are free to simply ignore the concerns of church members. No real answers were ever provided to questions from leaders of this organization concerning the firing of the head G.C. auditor a few years ago. The current G.C. president has never answered the (certified) letter from this organization asking for open auditing, even though this same president in his address to the last G.C. session, urged church members to hold their leaders accountable.
A person who wishes not to be identified writes (in part):
The auditing department must be independent of administration; otherwise, it will not work. I am informed by one who seems to be in on the know; who was for many years in the Washington area; that if such arrangement had been in place the "Davenport fiasco" would not have occurred.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: As long as the auditors are selected by church leaders and perhaps as long as they are paid through the church, it is hard to see how they can really be independent.
Willard McGee writes:
Thanks so much for the MCA letter. I don't have a computer, and like to get your reports by mail. I do hope MCA can have a positive effect on our corporate church. Keep up your effort.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Thanks.
Alfred Lane writes:
We received the letter from MCA today. We have been interested in this on church accountability. But it seems you are stirring up more animosity than helping. I worked for the denomination for almost 35 years and I have set on a lot of meetings and a lot of business meetings. It didn't always go the way I thought. All I can say they did the best they could. Have you ever made a mistake? When you go printing all this garbage and even about people stopping paying their tithe, I have lost interest in your program. Are you praying as much for these people as you are criticizing them?
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Thank-you also for sharing you thoughts. I would point out again as I did in the last newsletter, that we do not print all the allegations that we receive. We are not concerning ourselves with simple errors in judgement made by honest workers who are doing the best they can. We are not out to criticize every decision with which we as individuals may disagree. It is, however, of concern to us when church policies allow greatly detrimental situations to occur, or when church leaders clearly violate stated church policies and bring harmful situations upon the church. These are not simple mistakes or errors in judgement with which we concern ourselves. The reason the church has policies is to keep the same mistakes from being made again and again. When these policies are deliberately violated, we believe the church members should correct the situation.
This organization has not asked anyone to stop paying tithe. We regard that as an individual matter. Clearly, it is a sad situation when some find that this option seems to be the only effective leverage they have left. Again, MCA does not take a position on this, but we do provide a member holding account service for any members who themselves choose to "escrow" their (larger) contributions for a time but still receive the current years tax deduction. We also note that it is clear that several percent of the tithe money paid to the church goes to paying for church auditing services already (and we have no objection to that).
Yes, I pray for our leaders and hope that other MCA members do also.
Kalyna Birmele writes (in part):
Allow me to congratulate you on your initiative to organize the membership of our church into a body to bring our leadership to acceptability. For some time I have fought in various arenas of our church for members that have been cruelly mishandled by the leadership in our denomination. You were recommended to me by Dr. Jonathan Gibbs. For a time I thought I was an island unto myself.
Eldon Green writes (in part):
With the power structure in the church the way it is, and has been over the years, what are the prospects for education of the membership in order to achieve MCA's goals? The following is a take on Eric Alterman's thoughts ... about the U.S. Government ...
It is politically correct to laud the "democratic ideals" (so called) of the Adventist church organization. It has always been this way. Of course there are the critics, both within and without the church that dispute this "democratic myth" and clamor to see real change that would give them (the critics) more of a say in not only the policies of the church, but the direction the organization is going.
It has been asked whether the method of selection of pastors, and conference officials and their accountability to the membership has not bypassed the democratic ideals so thought to have been imagined by the founders. And there seems to be no debate by the rank and file, as to the need for a re-evaluation of present procedures.
Perhaps we fear examining the flaws in the ideals. Perhaps they were not meant to be put in practice. Perhaps they are just so much window dressing. Perhaps the goal of a "democratic" church administration is sending us on a fool's errand, so what is the point of even trying to approach it? Perhaps the organization is reform proof, and we should set our sights on something achievable.
On the one hand it is thought that the necessary preconditions might include a competent, civic-minded membership, with access to relevant details of denominational policy. But is this "utopian"? Is this a dangerous notion? Can we have an "omnicompetent" member? If only we could teach the members better how to participate in church governance, more facts, a deeper involvement in and taking more interest in church affairs, more lectures, and more reports, we could gradually educate the membership to a more democratic stance producing a church administration that would truly reflect the needs and desires of the members.
But presently the average member may be compared to a deaf spectator sitting in the back row of a sporting event, i.e. he does not know what is happening, why it is happening, or what ought to happen. He is living in a world which he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct! ...
EDITORIAL COMMENT: While we might not take quite as dim a view of the "average member" as expressed in this letter, we are keenly aware of the possibility that we are working at a difficult if not impossible task. We are well aware that a large fraction of members don't seem to care. Rather than "set our sights on something achievable" our response would be, how can we do anything but attempt to correct the problems of honesty in the church. We are not asking to take over the role of church leaders and direct the operation of the church. However, we can not "put our heads in the sand" and ignore church problems that involve things so fundamental as honesty and fairness. We believe this church is too important for members to abandon it because it has some serious problems. What can we do but continue to work to know what is happening in the church and work to be able to make changes when something is desperately wrong.
EDITORIAL COMMENT ON SOME LETTERS NOT PRINTED: We have received correspondence giving added details of problems of misconduct of certain hospital administrators. We also have allegations of misconduct of church officers in India (not just mistakes in judgement). Again, we would emphasize that one can not conclude that allegations are true just because they are made. We do not believe all allegations should be broadcast. However, we do believe that the church has a responsibility to discreetly inform its members of such allegations and to provide the needed evidence to members for them to know whether there is truth or not. Again, we believe that allowing open audits would be the essential element in establishing such credibility. By passing on the information that allegations have been made, we at MCA hope to alert members that there is need for concern. We wish that we were also in a position to pass on information about the truth or falsity of allegations. This is the main problem, allegations are made and we church members don't know whether they are true or not.
EDITORIAL COMMENT ON THE FOLLOWING LETTER: We have received a copy of a politely written letter from Jonathan Gibbs, president of Adventist International Ministries. This letter alleges that on the advice of a union conference vice president and an SDA university vice president, AIM invested nearly 3 million dollars in the Worldwide International Bank. This investment evidently turned into a great loss, although we do not have documented details of the loss. We also have copies of letters from two individual investors affected by this situation. These investors allege to have been given hope of an extraordinarily high rate of return. The letter from AIM states "Since SDA Church Officers made the referral for this investment we must hold these men and the denomination responsible for, not only their referral, but also for their dishonesty and fraudulent behavior."
This writer has reservations about the notion that the denomination is legally liable for the loss sustained by AIM. It would seem that the leaders of any sort of an investment group would need to carefully evaluate investment advice from any source and then to evaluate the level of risk they are willing to assume. They should then make their investment decisions and be willing to themselves take the responsibility for the outcome of those decisions. It would seem that if people take the role of leaders in some sort of group investment, that some level of investment competence should be assumed. On the other hand, I personally would not hazard an opinion about the level of denominational responsibility for the losses of individual investors.
There is, however, an aspect to this situation that is terribly troubling. That is that church leaders would in any way take on the role of offering investment advice to church members. One reason is that a great deal of ill will may be generated toward the church if the advice turns out to be bad. Much more important than this is the possibility such practice opens up to conflict of interest and even fraud. Such was the case in the "Davenport debacle" when certain church leaders were alleged to have been given finders fees and other favors in return for influencing church and church member investment. Surely the church has or should have a policy against leaders giving investment advice to members. If there is such a policy it is apparently not always enforced.
On this subject, I would like to bring up another situation of which I am aware. I would like to commend the Kansas-Nebraska conference for their action a few years ago in directing their pastors not to become involved in a popular multilevel marketing business because of possible conflict of interest.
Stewart Shankel and George Grames (leaders of MCA's General Conference Reform Group) and Richard Sheldon have written the following letter to Elder Jan Paulsen, President of the General Conference, regarding this matter (some names edited):
Dear Dr Paulson:
We are in receipt of a copy of the letter dated October 22, 2000 with enclosures sent to you from Jonathon Gibbs, Ph.D., Director of Adventist International Ministries (AIM). The letter discusses the activities of Elders [A] and [B], who we understand were vice presidents of [a] Union Conference and [an] SDA University respectively.
If the testimonies of [C] and [D] are correct, we are amazed that church officials learned nothing from the Davenport disaster and the Family Enrichment Resources (FER) debacle. The promise of breathtaking, unrealistic returns on investments is a common thread that runs through these three tragic episodes in the life of the SDA Church.
The following are quotations from a letter dated March 15, 1979 from Donald Davenport to the president of Pacific Union College: "for every $100,000 that you put in a joint savings account in a bank that we mutually agree upon, I will pay the difference between the passbook rate and ten percent......If you put $200,000 in, and leave it for two years, I will make a $50,000 contribution to a building or a fund of your choice."
Quoting from the Columbia Union Visitor of February 15, 1997, "the investor was very upset but said he believed in the project enough to put together a private group of investors who would allow the profits from the investment to go to the video project." Further in April 1996, "Otis told the officers that any money sent to Canada would be returned by the end of June 1996 and would eventually result in millions of dollars of profits." The investor also promised to give FER a donation of $25 million."
The letter of [C] stated, "When things began to unravel with Worldwide International Bank, Pastor [A] steered us to yet another high return investment that, according to his statement, would double within three months."
The activity of [A] and [B], as high-ranking church officials, outlines another chapter in the history of the SDA Church, which exposes a pattern of behavior that has created a tremendous financial liability for the Church.
We believe that the church would be best served by settlement of the financial issues with AIM before a protracted legal battle wastes valuable capital and continues to alienate thoughtful and dedicated church members who are concerned about the integrity of the church.
Furthermore, Members for Church Accountability (MCA) continues to urge the church to establish a commission of lay experts in finance, with the authority to investigate the financial activities of the church. The commission's purpose would be to provide meaningful oversight and thus avoid repetition of these destructive episodes. As President of the General Conference you are undoubtedly concerned about the integrity and ethical behavior of church officials. MCA shares those concerns and remains desirous of meaningful dialogue with you.
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 (nl1Q99)
/__/ I wish to be a member of the General Conference Reform Group
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Send to: Members for Church Accountability, Inc.
PO Box 1072
Morrison, CO 80465