A Judicial Branch in Church Governance: Is it Time?

Speaker: Categories: May 08, 2004


[1hr, 19min, 10sec / 1hr, 2min, 23sec]


For some the reading of this month's presentation title may conjure up a host of interesting, even conflicting perceptions. If a judicial branch, then who's the judge. Would there be a jury of one’s peers? How binding might the decision(s) reached actually be? Does not the possibility of a judicial branch suggest that there might have been errors made by those persons who, according to our traditional religious belief, have been called to office by God? And would not all administrative decisions have been made onlyafterseeking God's guidance in prayer?

Dr. Jim Walters notes:"The Southeastern California Conference (SECC) Executive Committee last year set up a study committee, composed of both Executive Committee members and others, to explore whether SECC should adopt a mediation commission for its permanent governance system. The study committee has recommended that the Conference go forward with a plan for a mediation commission. This committee is proceeding to establish such. The result will likely involve two steps: a) mediation: church members and church organizations who are involved in a dispute can choose from a panel of trained mediators to help resolve the issue; b) arbitration: disputes that remain unresolved can be heard by an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators in a more formal church court, with the decision of the arbitrators being determinative."

"The theology behind this meditational initiative,"he continues,"is a practical theology ofour own sin. Church members and organizations have unresolved disputes, and recent years have seen high profile court cases (e.g., GC auditor xx). The Gospels are explicit, with Jesus asking,'And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?'Jesus instructed followers to resolve disputes at the lowest level possible -- personally, then with two or three witnesses, then before the congregation (Matt. 18:15-17). And if Christians must go to court,make an effort to settleon the way (Luke 12:57, 58). Particularly the Presbyterians and the Mennonites have taken these Gospel mandates seriously, and SECC's exploratory committee is significantly drawing on work from these two denominations for its own recommendations."


Jim Walters, professor of religion at LLU, is completing his 24th year of teaching Christian ethics at Loma Linda. He was formerly a pastor in both the Georgia-Cumberland Conference and in Southern California Conference. He has published 6 books, the most recent beingMartin Buber and Feminist Ethics, Syracuse University Press, 2003. His interest in church issues is indicated in his role as co- founding publisher/editor ofAdventist Today, former chair of the nominating committee in SECC, and his involvement in forming a mediatory branch of governance in the SECC.

Steven Hadley, Associate Pastor for Administration at the Escondido (CA) SDA Church, was a pastor for seventeen years in the Arizona and Rocky Mountain Conferences before attending California Western School of Law. Procedural and substantive due process regarding religious organizations is his area of interest and was the focus of hisHandbook of Church Courtspublished by Whittier Law Review. Most recently he has founded Mission Mediation and helped draft the proposed alternative dispute resolution program being presented at this AAFSD meeting.

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