Friday, August 3, 2007

The Burbank Case: Do Seventh-day Adventists really have a representative church government?

by Charles Randall

This article is a reprint with minor editorial changes of the article of the same name that appeared in the Summer, 1967, issue of Perspective Magazine: A Quarterly Journal of Discussion and Dialogue for Seventh-day Adventist Laymen and Students.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matt. 28: 19, 20 RSV.

Every follower of Christ pays at least lip service to this command. Christians of all varieties have organized themselves to accomplish those portions of this commission that they can't individually accomplish. But have we thought about the implication of the universality of the gospel commission to these same organizations? It implies that people from a variety of cultural backgrounds will accept the teachings, be baptized, and perhaps even want to cooperate with a particular Christian church in carrying forward the gospel commission. It follows then that any church with such a cross cultural membership must develop a system of government that enables all its constituent elements to function effectively.

There are four generally recognized forms of church government; these may be summarized as follows: 1. Episcopal . . . 2. Papal . . . 3. Independent (Congregationalist) . . . 4. Representative--the form of church government which recognizes that authority in the church rests in the church membership, with executive responsibility delegated to representative bodies and officers for the governing of the church. This form of church government recognizes also the equality of the entire ministry. The representative form of church government is that which prevails in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.1

In view of the implications of the gospel commission outlined above, this choice of church government by our founding fathers was indeed wise, but it is the responsibility of each of us today to maintain its representative nature. Not only must we be prepared to accept a plurality of viewpoints and reactions to many situations, but we must also insist that these viewpoints be represented in the official organization and in the committees which plan the future and operate the present organized programs of our Church. The problems which can result from a lack of representation can become increasingly serious if the Church grows and begins to contact portions of society who's social backgrounds differ widely from those of its original founders.

The type of problems that can develop when the representative form of government breaks down are clearly illuminated if one examines the recent history of the Burbank Seventh-day Adventist Church. My purpose in reporting in some detail the events which took place within a particular church is not to glorify or vilify any personalities or congregations, but rather to provide a report of what has happened to one congregation and its pastor when it has sought to direct its own affairs in a manner representative of its members. No doubt similar reports could be written about other congregations and pastors.

Burbank, a suburb of Los Angeles, has a population of almost 100,00 drawn from a cross section typical of many American cities. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in this community has been in existence for many years. Until about 13 years ago it met in small quarters. Then under the leadership of their first full-time pastor, Euel Atchley, the church members felt the need for a more outstanding witness to the community and launched a building campaign that resulted in an attractive and functional building. Church membership grew to nearly 400, and laymen were active in the administration of the church. After several years of Elder Atchley's ministry, problems developed between the pastor and the conference which culminated in his being taken from the church over the objection of its membership, sent to the Theological Seminary for further schooling, and being re-assigned to a smaller church.

The following two pastors assigned to Burbank were fine men, having served as effective pastors to other congregations. One resigned after not quite 4 years; the other sought a call after 18 months. During this period the church membership dropped to under 200 members.

The next pastor, Wayne Jones, was intensely interested in making the local church a meaningful Christian witness to the community. About this time it became apparent to the congregation that one of the elements most detrimental to this goal was the type of local church administration in effect at that time. It was felt that the type of organization then in effect required the pastor to function as church administrator which required time and effort on his part which might better be devoted to his primary work of ministry. It was also felt that this type of organization invited financial problems, because each activity of the church was funded separately under this system, making it difficult to see the total cost and adequately plan for the overall support of the local church ministry. The congregation felt that these problems could be solved by making effective use of the demonstrated administrative talents of the members within the church. The problem in a nutshell was a local church organization that was not making use of the modern administrative procedures familiar to its members from their normal professional activities.

As the study of local church procedures was carried out, the congregation voted what they considered to be improvements. For example:

1) The local church administration was reshaped to allow the pastor to carry out his ministry on a full-time basis by releasing him from his duties as church administrator. The duties of church administrator were taken over by a competent layman. To further facilitate the pastor's ministry he was provided, within the local church financial structure, a budget for personal evangelism, worship resources, and pastoral care.

2) The finances of the church were put on a sound foundation by grouping all the separate operating funds of the local church into a church budget and realistically facing the fact that the church required a monthly income of about 2,500 dollars. This budget was then met by pledges of the members. As part of the educational program connected with the raising of the budget, new offering envelopes were printed which listed more simply the various locations to which money could be directed.

3) The door to door solicitation campaign of the Ingathering program was discontinued after a study showed that its overall effect on the witness of the church in the community was deleterious. Furthermore, many in the congregation felt that an inordinate weight was placed on the raising of one particular offering in the measurement of a minister's success. And in addition, a large number considered it to be unethical to kick back to the conference a large percentage of funds solicited in an appeal for humanity.

Because each of these "improvements" represented departures from regular practice, they were viewed with some suspicion by the conference organization. Within a short time after his arrival, Elder Jones had taken the pulse of the situation and told the conference that there were two ways to deal with it. Either make ineffectual the creative contributing leadership of the church, or have continuous study and dialogue between this group and the conference on meaningful ways to improve church organization. Elder Jones stated he was not adept at doing the former, and if the conference desired this solution, he should be moved. The representative approach was apparently chosen when Elder Jones was allowed to remain as pastor. However, there remained a continuing pressure on the pastor to "bring the church into line".

Believing that the work of the conference could be more effective by some relatively minor changes in the conference organization and realizing that the biennial constituency meeting is the correct place within the representative structure of the church to suggest these changes, a progressive delegation to the spring 1965 constituency meeting was selected by the Burbank congregation. The delegation requested published agendas before the next meeting, publication of departmental reports ahead of time to permit in depth study by the delegates, and some restudy of the policies of support given to the local churches for secretarial help.

The conference officials met with the Burbank Church just a few weeks after the constituency meeting because they felt "there has developed altogether too broadly within the conference the concept of a negative attitude toward denominational organization and policies on the part of the Burbank church." In this April meeting some of the actions of the church were discussed and a smaller committee was appointed to meet with the conference and further iron out differences. This smaller committee was unable to meet with the conference officials until the middle of September. When the committee did meet the basic topic was the formation of a church representative of the people within it. This involved a discussion of the Church Manual. Was this volume a guide or an inerrant rule to practice? This also involved a discussion of the function of the constituency meeting. Quoting from the report of this committee

Committee members felt that although the forms and theory are representative, in actual practice there is much that is autocratic. Delegates are sent from the various churches to these biennial meetings as representatives of the churches to the deliberations of the church organization at the conference level. Very few, however, actively get to participate in such deliberations . . . Our committee felt this was one of the reasons why many of the laity had the feeling that our procedures were not as fully democratic as they might be. Many church members decline to be chosen as delegates because of this situation

We must report that in the three hour discussion on these topics there was no complete meeting of minds between the Burbank committee and the conference officers, but that, as Elder Sandefur, [Southern California Conference president at the time] put it, 'Our differences are infinitesimal.' We feel that much progress was made by such an open and free discussion . . . The study committee plans to carry out the commission of our church board to continue to study these areas in depth.

But the committee was never able to meet with the conference officials again.

During the ensuing two years the church grew to nearly 300 members and continued to attract young leaders. It continued to become more deeply involved in the community affairs that the membership felt were appropriate for a Christian church. Principally through its pastor, the Burbank Church became active in the Burbank Interfaith Council, a group drawn from many religious faiths which seeks to improve understanding among the faiths without lessening a commitment to one's own faith. Through the efforts of the pastor and several members, the church also became active in the Burbank Human Relations Council, which seeks to promote better understanding between ethnic groups. The Burbank Church participated in another form of evangelism by supporting for one summer, a concentrated visitation program conducted by a junior ministerial student from La Sierra College. The church actively supported the "It is Written" program and currently has more than sixty persons working on the bible course under the supervision of a bible worker who is partially supported by the local church. The physical plant of the church was improved by the addition of a fellowship hall and additional air-conditioned educational rooms.2

Then came the 1967 biennial constituency meeting. Interestingly, several of the Burbank recommendations that had been voted down at the meeting two years previous were put into effect. Agendas were available to delegates before the meeting convened. Reports were published, and at least the treasurer's report was available to the delegates before the meeting began.

The proposals of the Burbank delegation at this meeting were few and simple:

1) In order to implement the findings of the study committee of nearly two years previous, it was recommended that a lay board be established to "foster and promote vigorous, continuous lay participation in the lay direction of the work in the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists." The board was to be composed of one elected representative from each church in the conference and was to establish its own rules of operation.

2) Recognize officially the problems in our society in connection with race relations, by establishing a Human Relations Secretariat within the conference organization.

3) Recognize the important contribution that can be made by modern statistical research techniques in directing the church in fruitful areas of work, by implementing these techniques and employing qualified professionals to direct this work.

These actions were carried to the convention through the established channels, being first presented to the appropriate committees, and then brought to the floor as part of the committee reports. The first and third proposals were brought back from the committees, with favorable recommendations, though naturally the wording had been changed somewhat. These two proposals were then approved by the constituent assembly. The favorable response by the convention to those proposals was pleasing to the Burbank delegation, which felt that the representative process was indeed capable of functioning when properly used.

In view of the approval of the Burbank proposals by the constituency meeting, rumors concerning the removal of its pastor were at first discounted by the congregation. Four weeks after the constituency meeting, the rumors became fact when Elder Jones was told he was being sent to be an assistant pastor in another church with fewer members than the Burbank church.3 No preliminary, informal discussions of this move were made by the conference with either the church or Elder Jones. Elder Jones considered this call as he would consider any call. On the basis of study and prayer, he did not accept it.

Because of the obvious implications of conference dissatisfaction with the congregation and the seemingly arbitrary way in which the move was carried out, the entire church was concerned. A meeting of the church board, which in Burbank is open to anyone who cares to attend, was called to discuss this action with the conference executives. The first elder, Dr. William Evans, after reviewing the actions up to that evening, continued:

I had hoped that this evening the officers of the conference would feel free to meet with us and to answer our questions and to engage in a dialogue which would bring the matter to some fruition. As of a few moments ago, Elder Retzer, [Southern California Conference President] felt that the nature of his obligations required that he simply make a statement and retire. This is entirely within his right. I will appreciate the statement and any reason he wishes to give us for whatever action is contemplated. Beyond that, I certainly intend to protect him from any questions he does not wish to answer . . . If he can find it within his heart to stay with us a while and to learn of our concern I will be grateful.

Elder Retzer, after stating that the action was taken "out of love for Elder Jones and for the church," continued:

A change in pastors does not mean that a pastor has failed, or that the church is in trouble. The committee (and we hear all kinds of rumors, of course) did not vote to discontinue Brother Jones. This change of pastors was likewise not voted to punish him, but rather to expand his ministry . . . Usually when we talk about the pastor and the changes of pastors we work with a board of elders. We discuss the outgoing and the incoming pastor with them. When I learned that the entire congregation was here this evening, we felt that in fairness to the committee [Conference Committee] that we could not at this time enter into a discussion. If you wanted to discuss it we would prefer that the entire committee be with us to help answer any questions that you might have.

Elder Jones presented the pastor's view of the situation.

I feel we as a group need to face some issues, face ourselves, and, I believe, as a conference administration, we also need to face some issues . . . I think there are some differences of opinion . . . I think these differences of opinion ought to be worked out . . . I think that we should be old enough and mature enough to put our cards on the table, discuss what our differences are, pray them through, and argue them if need be, to the end that we have some sort of rapport. I've been in the conference office many times to discuss certain things, and I've recognized from the minute I left that what somebody was hoping I would do is next to an impossibility. I've also recognized the reluctance of any conference president to get into the type of dialogue I'm suggesting tonight. I'm not sure I'd want to if I were the conference president. But I do think that closing our minds to each other and walking away only entrenches our own phobias, builds up anticipation of the unknown, stimulates types of rumors like we've all heard, and cripples some people in their abilities to grow in Christian experience. Therefore I think that there ought to be some coming to grips with problems that exist.

It was soon apparent from additional remarks by the conference president that the call was no ordinary one and that the action was, in fact to move Elder Jones under any circumstances. With this action, the conference committee had placed a call to another pastor. Both actions were taken without the normal dialogue with the church referred to by Elder Retzer. That such actions could be taken without representative due process and without citing specific cause was very disturbing to the congregation. More than twenty people speaking extemporaneously from the floor registered their protests. These ranged from the Bible worker and those who had been members of the Burbank congregation for a number of years, to very new members of the congregation and new members of the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Perhaps the best definition of the area of conflict came from a long time member of the Burbank church, Dr. Winston Nethery.

The basic problem and the one I think we will have to face without mincing words is this: does the congregation have the right to rule itself, or must it take complete and minute orders from the conference. We claim that in many things we have the right to make the decisions for ourselves. There are differences of opinion on doctrine in any healthy Adventist church, but that has not separated us one from each other. There is no reason why it should separate us from the conference officials. For every difference of doctrinal opinion among us, we can find our counterpart in the General Conference or in some Union Conference. There are differences of opinion through the entire church, and that is exactly as it should be, because our religion is a personal religion. It isn't a Conference religion or a Union Conference religion or a General Conference religion. It's mine and it's yours. It must not be dominated by other people, because we go to Heaven as individuals, not as a church.

The problem is only a question of organization, and what a little thing that is to make such a big fuss about. I often wonder why the conference was so wrought up about this little two hundred and fifty-member church. We want to operate this church in a fashion we think works best in Burbank and for our personalities. We are not trying to get other people to follow suit. Do as you like, but when a person comes to tell me how to go about converting my neighbor, I'm apt to tell him he doesn't know what it's all about. I'll do it in my way, and that's what Burbank has been essentially doing.

The meeting was concluded after the congregation extended a call to Elder Jones, and requested a meeting with the conference committee in order to determine why Elder Jones was being removed. It was further requested that pending the satisfactory conclusion of negotiations with that committee, Elder Jones be allowed to remain in Burbank.

Though the dialogue with the conference executives during the meeting was limited, following the formal meeting there was a good deal of discussion on a personal basis. Some took place that evening, and much took place in the next few days. Concerned church members took time to talk personally with members of the conference committee.

The conference committee refused to meet with the entire church, but rather invited the board of elders to meet with them. The Burbank board accepted the invitation. No response was made to the other requests. In the meantime, Elder Jones was informed that his ministry to the Burbank congregation was to end as of the thirteenth of May. This action, apparently taken while a request for representative discussion on the problem was in the hands of the conference, alarmed the congregation. This alarm was conveyed to the conference committee when the meeting was held. Elder Retzer explained that while the date on the letter made it seem that the conference had acted in bad faith, in actual fact, the letter had been dictated before the board meeting held in Burbank.

Because of the imminent nature of Elder Jones removal, the discussion at the meeting began on this issue. The Southern California Conference Committee was again reminded that its policy of consulting with the church in the changing of pastors had not been carried out in the present case. The responses to this were interesting.

This committee feels that in the best interest of the overall church work certain changes should be made from time to time. So we move men." "These changes are made without consideration of the individual involved, but with the overall view of the work of the conference in mind, It often comes as a shock to the church to have their pastor moved.

In an attempt to get at the underlying problem, Dr. J. W. Kuzma of the Burbank Church, cited a lack of communication between Burbank and the conference.

Untrue accusations have been made against us: that we are going to secede from the Southern California Conference, that we are not paying tithe. Obviously these are false. Yet they have colored your decision to move Elder Jones. How can you make this decision without hearing our side? The lack of communication can be blamed for most of these problems.

Dr. Evans took the administrative system of the conference to task.

I am disturbed by a system which gives a person no tenure, either in Burbank or in the Southern California Conference. A man can be dropped without charges by a committee-a committee which is made up almost entirely of people in the employ of the conference who themselves don't have tenure; men who themselves could be removed for any sort of real or imagined infraction. To have men who are to teach and preach the truth, whether popular or unpopular, employed in such a way is a complete disruption of intellectual freedom . . . I plead for the gathering together of men who want to work for the cause, not because of financial security but out of the concern for the Christian message.

Perhaps the underlying issue was a difference of opinion as to the executive prerogatives of the conference administration as set out in the Church Manual. Mr. Al Hamra, the Southern California Conference Treasurer, explained, "The constituency elects the executive committee. It is the responsibility of this group to make decisions concerning pastors. We (the conference) feel that the Church Manual is a guiding principle. You in the Burbank congregation feel that it is something that should be accepted or rejected by a local church."

Dr. Edward Westphal of the Burbank church replied:

"The conference presents the Church Manual as an arbitrary rule of order which must be obeyed to the letter. We feel rather that it is a guide, as is indicated in the preface of all editions up to 1959 and still appears in the Spanish edition. The history of the manual supports our position. No manual existed until 1932. In 1883 a strong movement for a manual developed, and the General Conference appointed a committee to study the desirability of a manual. The manual was eventually turned down for reasons reported in the Review and Herald of November 20, 1883.

As the discussion continued, it became increasingly evident why the Burbank church was being deprived of what the congregation felt was a meaningful ministry. Dr. Evans reported later to the congregation:

The conference committee voted to replace our minister, because they conceive a major function of a minister is to transmit the policies of the conference to the congregation; to keep the congregation disciplined so there is not direct confrontation between the conference officials and the church members. It was pointed out that we viewed the church as a redemptive fellowship. If policies were in conflict with this, then we wanted dialogue directly with the conference. This they interpreted as a lack of communication.

The results of this meeting were an extension of Elder Jones ministry in Burbank until the middle of June, and an invitation to meet again with the committee to discuss a successor for Elder Jones. Before the second meeting took place, another open meeting of the Board of Elders was called, at which time a report of the meeting with the conference committee was made. The board meeting then turned into a brain storming session in which names of possible new pastors were noted for further investigation.

The next meeting with the conference committee took place the following week with the Union Conference President R. R. Bietz present, and four of the seven laymen on the conference committee absent. Though the conference committee attempted to restrict the meeting to a listing of names of possible pastors, the Burbank delegation made it their first order of business to present their recommendations as a permanent way to lessen tensions between the Burbank church and conference. This opening presentation of the church's recommendation was interrupted by a member of the conference committee. "Do we have to listen to this?" This indication that the committee did not wish to hear the recommendation of those intimately concerned was particularly surprising to the Burbank board members because none of the committee members, except the Conference Secretary, had ever attended services at the Burbank Church. Thus the committee had no first hand experience upon which to base its actions.

However, after some discussion, the conclusion of the presentation was permitted. The recommendation was for a smaller committee to be appointed from the conference committee to meet with a similar committee from the Burbank church. This smaller discussion group would meet periodically until certain specific problems had been dealt with. Without this continued dialogue, the Burbank congregation felt that simply dropping in a new pastor would solve nothing. Dr. Evans brought this out.

To present a list of names without appointing such a committee and having the benefit of its study, is to put the church and the new minister in untenable positions, resulting in the minister being assigned to discipline the congregation. I intend to try and protect any minister from being put in such a position. We have a meaningful service at Burbank, and we need a man who can wholeheartedly enter into this. It is my conception of this meeting that we are here to work for the best interests of our church.

After lengthy discussion the Union Conference President accepted this proposal, with the assurance to the Burbank delegation that the Southern California Conference would designate the smaller committee. The discussion then turned to names of possible new pastors. It was hoped that some discussion by the conference would enlarge the congregation's store of information about the men, but response was limited to approximate age, educational background, and time in present location.

The smaller committee met nine days later. It was opened with a lengthy lecture by the Union Conference President on various forms of church organization and the necessity of organization - propositions which the delegates from Burbank and the conference committeemen acknowledged to be valid. The group then began to explore the justification of the conference committee's expectation that local congregations be absolutely obedient to it. During this discussion, the Burbank delegation answered some specific questions concerning current, widespread misinformation.

For instance, the persistent rumor was cited that Burbank did not do Ingathering. While it had been voted not to carry out a house to house public solicitation campaign, that action did not prohibit individual lngathering efforts.4 It was further pointed out that the Burbank Church supported missions with a yearly sum larger than its Ingathering goal. Rumor had it that Burbank did not use the SDA church hymnal. This rumor was laid to rest by Elder Retzer who had visited the church on the preceding Sabbath. It was also rumored that Burbank diverted tithe. The fact was that every penny that came to the Burbank church treasurer marked tithe was sent to the Southern California Conference.5 Finally, the rumor had circulated that the Burbank church provided a private "slush fund" for the pastor. The fact was that as part of its regular expense budget, the church provided a budget for the expenses incurred in the pastor's personal evangelism, pastoral care, and the procurement of worship resource material.

Each of these items was discussed in some detail. The lack of consultation with the church in the matter of a change of pastors was again decried. The conference officials stated once again that the reason for moving the pastor was "a lack of leadership in Burbank." The meeting was evidently a very useful means of communication, for Elder Beitz closed the meeting by saying, "There are no problems that require this group to meet again . . . Up to this point you have a clean slate."

Shortly thereafter, the first elder of the church was presented with three names for the church's consideration as possible pastors. This marked a considerable change from the original action of informing the congregation after a new pastor had been called. A committee of elders was formed and proceeded to interview those men who were residing in Southern California. These negotiations concluded in the selection by the conference committee of one of the names as the new pastor.

Though Elder Jones wished to continue in the ministry, he received no additional calls to a specific location. This led the Burbank Church to call him to represent them in a new, experimental "Ministry of Social Concern". This ministry was to those young people of the Southern California area who are having a difficult time relating their faith to the modern world and to religious institutions. If no suitable denominational calls were to come to Elder Jones, he planned to accept Burbank's new challenge and to pursue graduate training to help him in this new ministry.

When reading the minutes of these various meetings, it is interesting to compare the statements made by the Burbank representatives and by conference committee members. These reactions reveal a real difference in thinking between men who have spent their lifetime as church employees and men who live and work in a variety of other professions. This lay thought needs representation within the organizational structure of the church if we are to be representative in more than name only. This different viewpoint is not represented by the quiet laymen who presently sit on the conference committees.6

However, this lack of representation is not entirely the fault of the paid employees of the church. There are a large number of laymen within the church who don't know, don't care, or don't feel they can do anything about this critical problem of representation. Haven't these men and women abdicated their God given responsibility to make the Christian church meaningful in the complexities of an irreligious and cynical modern world?

The Seventh-day Adventist church stands at a crossroads in its history. Will it adhere rigidly to an increasingly complex structure of rules, beliefs, policies, and programs, continually refining these to benefit a group of people with similar backgrounds or personality, emotional stability and culture? Or will the church encourage the flexible Christianity of Christ that measures an idea's worth by its contribution to the basic requirements of love to God and love of neighbor? The second course is much the more challenging. It places on the individual the responsibility of accepting the relationship with God and his fellow human beings which is the most meaningful to him, consistent with his personal understanding of the revelation of God to man. Because of the wide diversity of personalities created by God, this relationship, beyond its basic foundations, will take a multitude of forms. The highest challenge to the Adventist Church is to provide a community based on love, beneficial to each individual's religious progress while not threatening his or her individuality.

It would be unrealistic to deny that organizations which have chosen a narrow organizational route have made significant contributions to society. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church chooses this course, it is choosing to exclude people who don't fit into its organizational mold. This creates what one person has called "a brain drain which the Church can ill afford." The creative individuals presently in the Church will not and can not work with an organization that does not have a place in it for creative approaches to new problems. Even church membership may become meaningless to these people. It further follows that if the energetic and creative individuals within the Church are not valued, there must be a similar group in society as a whole who will never be attracted to this crippled form of Christianity.

If the Church can remain flexible enough to benefit a wide diversity of personalities and personal commitments, the way is open to growth and progress. This flexibility promises us a Church that can help people meet today's problems because it will be a part of today's world. Flexibility is also essential if the Church is to successfully adapt itself to meet the needs of coming generations in an ever more rapidly changing world.

This road of progress will have its bumps and potholes, and traveling along it won't always be a pleasant experience. The Burbank congregation is certainly aware of that fact. But the congregation is also aware that growing up means occasional physical and emotional bruises. To travel this route successfully, the basic requirement is a representative church; a church in which its various creative elements are represented in governing, planning, and operation. We must come to realize that a plurality of viewpoints is valuable and healthy.

What of progress toward this utopian goal? The answer lies not only with the clergy, but with lay men and women as well. The representative form of government is not completely dead in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Laymen will be heard and acknowledged if they shout loud enough. At the recent constituency meeting, a significant number of the proposals of the Burbank Church were accepted. In the face of determined and united opposition on the part of the Burbank congregation, the Southern California Conference backed away from its action of appointing a new minister without consulting the congregation. The new Burbank pastor was selected only after he had met with the church and the church had given its recommendation to the conference. (There is, however, considerable room for improvement, when it is possible for the mutually beneficial relationship of a pastor with his congregation to be destroyed over the objections of both the minister and the congregation.)

While it is of utmost importance to have a church organization that is responsive to the laity, it is also of crucial importance for the laity to be responsive to the needs of the world around them. Church members must care about making a meaningful contribution to their community through their church, recognizing that in making this contribution, portions of the local church may need to be reshaped. The congregation in Burbank has endeavored to do this in the community where it finds itself. It will continue to do so.

1. Page 43, SDA Church Manual, 1959 edition. All other quotations in this article are from slightly abridged transcripts of the various meetings referred to. In some cases the syntax of the original extemporaneous statements has been altered, without, I hope altering their original content.

2. In planning the church budget, the recurring need for facility expansion had been anticipated and included. This enabled the church to build the addition without launching a special building campaign. is interesting to note in passing that the Burbank Church had been told that it could not have an assistant pastor because of a policy of not providing assistant pastors to churches of less than three hundred members.

4. Because of the previously discussed objections to the Ingathering program by many in the congregation, Burbank's contributions to this fund are admittedly small.

5. There are members in Burbank who have lost confidence in the financial acumen of the conference administration and for this reason are directing their tithe to what they feel to be more promising fields of endeavor. However, this has never been voted as a church policy or encouraged publicly in the church.

6. Not a single comment was made by six of the seven lay members of the conference committee in any of the encounters with the Burbank Board of Elders. The seventh made only occasional comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


As I read The Burbank Case, I remembered the group of spiritual and intellectual giants I was so privileged to have been with for those years, my first experience as a church pastor. The article brought back many emotional, personal, and church related political memories. It shaped me and my decision to leave the ministry, and I have not regretted this decision even though I have never liked any job as much as I liked the pastoral work.

Dr. Charles Randall. I think I have never known any person who could record so word-for-word a meeting, by just taking notes. He would sometimes chair a meeting and the report he would write was as if it was from a taped recording. He was such a "genius" in so many areas and gifted with a "spirit" of goodness that I have seldom seen in anyone. To think of him and then recall his untimely death on a family outing, seems almost too much to incorporate into my simple "God is watching out for all of us".

Dr. William Evans. What a giant of a man, then chief of the huge LA County Hospital and whose father was one of the pioneer-founders of Loma Linda University School of Medicine. I remember so clearly his response to Conference President R. when he was "talking down" to the congregation and reading Bible verses to add insult to injury. Bill got up and quoted from memory the many texts that refuted the emphasis R. was trying to promote. R. looked so "lesser than" in both intellect and perception.

Dr. Winston Nethery. He was straightforward in confronting the issues. Pussyfooting around or double speaking in generalities was not his style. "Does the local church or does it not have the right to make it's own decisions in certain matters." He was raised in China, and his commitment to Adventism could not be questioned, as was his authority to critique church organization and its "misuse" of power.

Dr. Ed Westphal. He was a straight shooter and dedicated to our church and congregation in Burbank. He too had the ability to sit down and type up a meeting with almost perfect recall. He was brought up in the South American mission field where money was very tight, and where commitment to the cause of Adventism was primary and complete. This gave him a "moral authority" that the Conference President and President B. of the Union did not have.

As the apostle Paul once wrote Heb. 11:32 "time would fail me to tell of" the Kuzmas, Hornings, Van Puttens, Hamms, Hendricksens, Rathbuns, Taylors, Crowders, Bolanders, Geretys. Heppenstalls, and Craines; the sisters Katie and Crystal who were born on a ranch and were feminists before feminism was cool; Mother Colvin at 90 undiminished in her English and single mother independence, unafraid to speak her peace and not intimidated by conference "black suits"; Dorothy and her son George, who was only seventeen at the time but had a sharp independent mind and spoke out against the Conference misuse of power; young Etcheverry, the UCLA motorcycle riding bright and fearless graduate student who felt it not discourteous to speak up with vigor in a conference leaders' meeting with the church membership; hard working, salt of the earth families like Burns and Nigro who were not intimidated by "young turks", intellectuals or conference mercenaries"; the Farrahs who worked at the Voice of Prophecy and searched the Spirit of Prophecy writings to discover that local church authority was praised and promoted by Sister White; Bob Ashlock with his radio voice, six foot three in frame and leg lost during the war who demanded you look him straight in the eye if you had an issue with him as Sabbath Superintendent; his wife Edith who faithfully churned out the bulletin and newsletter and still does similar work for the Conference president; the Inman's and Smiths and Shepherds.

And Wesley Nash, the Burbank Church's first administrator, who in 1960 as a delegate to the Southern California Conference Constituency Meeting from the Glendale City Church, made a motion at that conference to have an independent audit of conference funds. If this motion had been accepted and implemented, the Unions and General Conference might have followed suit. This action might have prevented some of the financial debacles that have occurred in the intervening years. Wes was about thirty years old at the time and the youngest member of the finance committee of the Glendale City Church as well as a Vice President of United California Bank.

It is interesting to remember that some laymen at that conference questioned the fact that independent audits were necessary with such "godly men" running things. This notion remains a green light for those who seek to misuse power and position.

I think if Conference Pres. S. had remained as president, the Burbank church might have continued and become a pilot church in experimenting with some of the changes that have followed since. S had been a pastor long enough and of enough big churches to understand the dynamic possibilities of the Burbank congregation. I believe that he recognized that the "Burbank Case" was more than just a power struggle of a church vs. conference authority. R. didn't have this pastoral background and Conference President C. who followed R. had pastoral background but never seemed to be his "own man".

Looking back to 1967, the decision I made to go on and get a Masters in Social Work was the right decision for me. I am appalled at some of the things that have gone on since then, and it is clear to me that I would not have lasted in the ministry.

I have sometimes referred to the SDA church government as a kind of Mafia family with a long-standing pecking order rather than a religious club of equals. Early SDA families established a pecking order and carved out family territories that became known as Divisions and Unions. These Divisions and Unions met periodically to decide territory issues. For instance, if a conference president got out of line or didn't seem able to keep the good name of the "family" safe and without dissent and criticism, he needed to be disciplined or at least shifted to someplace where he couldn't do any more damage.

This Mafia analogy best describes the North America church that I knew. However, I imagine that the same thing is true of other administrative units of the church, because when these Division and Union "Dons" get together in General Conference Committee, seniority often overrules democratic decision-making.

Andy, as far as change in church government is concerned, I come back to something you said back then, "The church will change, but it will be because of money or lack of it, not because of self examination". The SDA church is too far-gone for ethical reform to have a significant effect on administration. I mean by this that like the Catholic Church, administrators serve for life. Consequently, the status quo, rather than reform is very likely to be promoted by most insiders. Change, if and when it comes, will be the product of external forces.

In my view, the SDA church is like a family or small business that started with the sacrifice of its founders and grew because of their efforts. The second, third, and fourth generations have gotten into control and power by heritage, seldom by talent; never by sacrifice. Reform will not happen until there is near bankruptcy facing the company, wherein the "money grabbers" see that there is nothing left for them, and leave. (Note the exodus of church administrators to the Adventist Health System!) Then maybe a new group of sacrificers will come in and take over.

Back to The Burbank Case. This article deals mainly with the time during which I left the Ministry in 1967. It should be pointed out that the Conference thought that forcing me to resign would cure the problem. This strategy had worked in the past and would have worked again if the Burbank congregation was following the pastor and not doing their own thinking. This action turned out to be a serious miscalculation. When the Burbank church hired me to be a "Minister of Social Concern" it was the first time a church had done such a thing. This was done without notifying the conference and without the expectation that the conference would pay my salary. (I was awarded the same salary and benefits I got as a pastor employed by the conference.) This was in essence a move that confused the conference administrators and at the same time allowed me to go to graduate school and prepare myself for another profession.

The conference first demanded that I not attend the Burbank church, which was impossible to enforce. This gave the Burbank group a taste of power and revenge that was like winning a big game in the first round of the play-offs. The Conference then sent another minister to get the people in line. Burbank lucked out in getting Jack Powers as that pastor. He was able to work with the Burbank leaders and accept a limited, new pastoral role in which he was not chairman of the church board. He worked well under this arrangement and was there five and a half years. I believe he was able to do this because of his age and maturity and the ability to deal with the Conference and not go to them in panic. In short, he told them all was under control. He and I were not close, nor were we in conflict, so I don't know exactly what he thought. (I think he got "tired" of the situation, however, because he accepted a chaplain call before he retired. Ken Richards came but stayed only six months. I think he saw the potential "blow up" coming.)

Mike Blaine came and tried to "fit in" but gave into the Conference direction to "get them in line". This resulted in his locking the church. This was when all hell broke loose with the church cutting the locks. The police were called by members of the Burbank church to keep order because the conference sent over a number of employees to try to keep the members out of the church. A restraining order was ultimately issued against the Conference until a trial. Mike Blain has passed away, so it is now impossible to learn what went on with him and Conference during his time there.

What is to learned from all this? I'm not sure because even though the Burbank church was ahead of its time, events like these are not so unusual when compared to other groups ahead of their time in various organizations. If the Burbank group had been more into the freedom fighters mold and able and willing to carry on guerrilla warfare, I suspect it could have brought down some part of the local conference organization in a more direct way with perhaps lasting structural changes. However, I don't see many SDA moderates and liberals as diehard "true believers".

In my opinion, the Burbank church was a unique happening. It was small enough for the pulse of the entire congregation to be known and felt and organized. It had both young and older capable leaders with the "smarts" and fiscal capacity to carry through what they wanted to do. It had a mixture of conservatives, moderates, and liberals who were dedicated to the vision of an Adventist church responsive to the needs of its members and the community as well as the church organization. This vision required that church administrators explore new ways for congregations to operate within the official structure of the Adventist Church. Jack and I were able to keep the peace between factions in the church because almost without exception, we were accepted as "good guys", and members were satisfied with the way we analyzed problems and were willing to accept the "oil" we poured on troubled waters.

By the time the Burbank Church got expelled from the sisterhood of churches at the constituency meeting of 1975, it was pretty much the "Young Turks" who carried the ball and won the support of a third of the 900 delegates. No small thing as I think back on this.

The conference made the mistake of disfellowshipping seven of us by declaring we were members of the Conference Church. Ervin Taylor argued that this was against General Conference policy. He pushed this all the way to the General Conference, and it was reversed. I remember the day that I received a letter from the conference notifying me that I was again a member in good standing. They admitted no wrong doing, of course.

I think the lesson the conference learned was the local church does have a lot of power because individual membership lies here alone. I am guessing that the conference hierarchy may also have learned that it is better to either negotiate a peace or kick out a group early. Of course I don't really know if they learned anything, but I would so advise if I were their counsel.

Well Andy, that's about it. Blessings to you and your family and Adventist Perspective,

Brother Wayne