August 5, 2019
85 Phillip St
Dear Friends and Churches of the NNSW Conference,
It has come to my attention that there is a newly created website which has posted my June 19, 2019 letter to the North New South Wales (NNSW) Executive Committee (EC). I’d like to say several things about this specifically and about the Nominating Committee (NC) situation generally.
Firstly, regarding the website, I know nothing at all about it and do not know who created it. I don’t even have suspicions about who it might be. What I can say is that I was not asked permission for my letter to be shared in this way. Furthermore, had I been asked I would not have granted such permission, as my letter was not intended as an open letter. If the creator of this website is reading this, I am asking that you remove my letter and name from your website.
My chief frustration with the website, in addition to the permission-less posting of my letter, is that my letter is seemingly being used to underpin a larger indictment of Pastor Jorge Muñoz’s ministry as the Australian Union Conference (AUC) President. I do not support the use of my letter for this purpose—a purpose which is not in keeping with either the spirit or the intention of my letter. As I clearly state in my letter:
I don’t want to impute motive to the chairperson [Jorge Muñoz]. I’ve never met or spoken with him, so I have no personal angst or prejudice toward him. I have no personal quarrel with him, but I am entirely dissatisfied with his professional execution of the present NC.
The thrust of my June 19 letter was, I believe, clear and specific: the chairing and execution of the NNSW NC. I do not sanction, nor do I appreciate, the use of my specific letter to frame a larger critique of Pastor Jorge Muñoz’s general professional competency.
Secondly, I’d like to speak to the NC situation generally and to some of the developments that have occurred over the last month or so.
For various reasons, the present NC has had three chairpersons (Michael Worker, Jorge Muñoz, and Glenn Townend). I think it is fair to say that this is not ideal and not conducive to either stability or consistency. The NC is one of the most important committees in the life and governance of a local conference. NCs are not standing committees, but are selected and convened when the conference calendar requires it (usually every four years, depending on the conference). For this reason, it is imperative that when a NC is convened it is executed well, as it can have a formative role in shaping the direction and culture of a local conference for many years to come. Therefore, it is imperative that relevant policy and best procedure are both understood and closely followed. Furthermore, precedent can be important, particularly longstanding precedent. A break with precedent may be warranted, provided policy allows for it, but reasons for the break should be marshaled and explained well. For example, I was a member of this year’s Selection Committee (SC) and the chairperson, Michael Worker, emphasized the role and importance of precedent several times in the lengthy meeting. This makes sense since precedent helps create stability and consistency of practice.
A few days after sending my letter to the NNSW EC, Jorge Muñoz, Glenn Townend, and Michael Worker, I received a phone call from Jorge. We had a pleasant and professional conversation. The conversation lasted more than two hours. In that conversation I restated my letter’s five points of concern regarding the current NC process. Jorge offered his perspective in a forthcoming and amicable manner. We continue to be in touch since that initial conversation. I sent him an advance copy of this letter, prior to making it generally available.
While I will not go into detail regarding our conversation and subsequent interactions, per Jorge’s request, I can say that the essential concerns raised in my June 19 letter were factually accurate. I hasten to add that neither our initial conversation nor subsequent interactions were ever heated or argumentative, far from it. I like Jorge, he seems like a gregarious, funny, and sincere person. But my critique was never of Jorge as a person, but specifically of his chairmanship of the NNSW NC.
We all make mistakes. For example, some believe that I made a mistake in writing my June 19 letter at all. I respectfully disagree. When unsolicited, and in some cases anonymous, information came to me regarding the way the NC had proceeded in the first two meetings, I was concerned. I sought to verify the information I had received and in doing so became personally persuaded that there was cause for serious concern. So I wrote out my concerns in a letter to the NNSW EC and Jorge, Glenn, and Michael.
I make no apology for being concerned about the proper and professional execution of my own conference’s NC. I would hope that all Seventh-day Adventist members and pastors would be similarly desirous to see our various governing bodies and committees operating optimally, ethically, and inside of policy. I know that some members and pastors have more of a “trust the process” and “trust the Lord” mentality, and I respect that. But we are not all constituted the same. Generally, I do “trust the process” and I certainly “trust the Lord,” and yet I am also aware that good people and good processes need good policy and good accountability to perform optimally and achieve good outcomes. I am not unwilling to speak up when I think an otherwise good process, with good people (remember, I was on the SC), is in need of some good accountability.
Regarding the “leaking” of my letter, I do not know who did it. My letter was sent only to the addressed persons and to a few pastoral and ministry colleagues who I have the utmost confidence in.
To be clear, I did not go chasing the information that caused me concern. Yes, after receiving some disquieting information, I did ask a couple general questions of some NC members like, “have the incumbents’ professional appraisals been distributed to the members of the committee?” But this question in no way compromises the confidentiality of the meeting’s content or proceedings; it is a general question of logistics not unlike, “are you all meeting at Stuart’s Point or down in Newcastle at the Conference office?” As a member of the previous NC, I was aware of certain practices and precedents and when I received the troubling report that the professional appraisals had not been given to the NC members I was admittedly incredulous. I thought, “there’s no way that can be right; I’ll ask one of the members of the committee and they’ll clear up this false report.” Unfortunately, the report proved to be accurate.
I should say that I have received a number of emails regarding my June 19 letter. Some want to enthusiastically affirm me and my letter and a few others offer admonishment. I did not plan, or hope, for my letter to receive such wide distribution, but I am unsurprised that some love it and others loathe it. I didn’t write my letter to receive either applause or attack; I wrote it for one reason: because I was genuinely concerned about the professional and ethical execution of my own conference’s NC. And while some might not appreciate my method, I would hope they could at least understand, if not affirm, the impulse: to do my part, with the information I had received, to help secure a fair, policy-following, and defensible outcome. The disappointment of some of my fellow NNSW members and colleagues is a burden I’m willing to bear. And the applause of others is both undeserved and unnecessary.
As it turns out, my concerns were not unfounded. Happily, efforts to correct the earlier gaps in process have been advanced. Are they enough? That is not for me to decide, but for the churches and constituents of the NNSW Conference.
Let me speak briefly to the issue of Matthew 18. A couple of the letters that I received suggested that my letter was somehow a violation of Matthew 18. So, I have my Bible opened next to me; the relevant verses are 15-20. Verse 15 begins, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you…” To be clear, Jorge (or any other member of the NC) has not sinned against me. My matter with him is not at all personal. The context of the passage is plainly that of personal violation and sin against a brother/sister. The NC situation my letter addressed was a matter of policy and of execution. There is no grave personal grievance here. Matthew 18:15-20 is an invaluable passage of Scripture that speaks to matters of sin, church discipline, and even salvation. This situation is none of those. I took a matter of policy and procedure to the proper places: Conference, Union, and Division leadership, which, of course, included Jorge since he is the AUC President.
It is my understanding that NNSW departmental incumbents’ professional appraisals are now being distributed to the NC members. There are denominational policies, which I won’t outline here, which clearly communicate that this is best practice. Furthermore, there is a longstanding precedent to do so in, at least, the NNSW Conference. And Pastor Chester Stanley, former AUC President, has said that the distribution of appraisals was his consistent practice in all AUC NCs during his 15-year tenure. I experienced this in practice firsthand four years ago as a member of the NNSW NC; on the very first day we were given a packet which included each incumbent’s full professional appraisal. Too, I have confirmed with members of the NC previous to mine that they also received the incumbents’ professional appraisals.
The practice of making the incumbents’ professional appraisals available to the NC is not only good policy and practice, and a longstanding precedent, it is manifestly reasonable, since very few of a given NC’s members will have firsthand knowledge of an incumbent’s professional competency and/or daily work culture. I am pleased to hear that this longstanding practice has been reinstated for the present NC. It should have been in place from the beginning. Too, it should be standard procedure in all AUC NCs, and I hope it will be going forward.
Section 8.8 of the North New South Wales Conference Constituency Meeting and Election Procedures is now, I believe, being followed by the NC chairperson. I heard from one departmental head who said that he had appeared before the NC in response to an invitation from the chairperson. This is great! And it is as it should be; as policy mandates. Indefensibly, the policy-granted right of a pre-vote “right of reply” was not extended to either the incumbent president or secretary. I am personally persuaded that this unfortunate decision had a determinative effect on the outcome of those nominations. So, yes, we all make mistakes, but not all mistakes are equal. This mistake potentially changed lives, families, careers, and even reputations!
If a formal accusation or professional concern is raised about an incumbent, either via letter or from a NC member, the incumbent should, in keeping with fairness and basic justice, be extended the opportunity to answer the accusation or concern, before the vote is taken. Otherwise, anonymous, unfounded, or mean-spirited reports could be allowed to assassinate a person’s character or compromise their ministry. Plainly, this is very situation that Section 8.8 is designed to address. In the not-too-distant past, a concern/accusation about a person’s fitness for office or performance had to be delivered personally to the NC––and, as I understand it––with the incumbent/potential nominee present! The incumbent/potential nominee was then given the opportunity to respond to the concern/accusation before the NC. This is a demonstrably better and fairer process.
I am pleased about subsequent efforts to align the NC with policy, fairness, and justice, but aren’t these changes to the NC’s operations a frank admission that a less than optimal process was in place during those initial meetings and decisions? And this is, to me, a crucially important point: the NC process was at its worst (in terms of following policy and ensuring fairness and justice) when the stakes were the highest and the most important leadership positions were being considered and voted—namely, the executive officers. I find this unacceptable.
It is right at this point that I feel compelled to address a narrative that has come to my attention. It is the narrative that Pastor Justin Lawman, former NNSW Conference President, is somehow responsible for my letter and for the current NC situation. Let me put that notion to bed right now: Justin Lawman had no influence at all on my writing the letter. Furthermore, I never told him that I was a writing a letter and I did not send him the letter.
I moved my family to Australia in 2014 in response to Justin’s invitation. Was I desirous to work with a leader who was so evangelistically-driven, passionate, principled, and committed to the last-day message of Adventism? I absolutely was. Was I disappointed when he voluntarily stepped down as the NNSW President? I absolutely was, and I told him so. Would I love to see him back in the role as NNSW President? I absolutely would. Was I disappointed to learn of Pastor Muñoz’s dissuasive speech and unfortunate words (“your blood will be upon your hands”) to the NC? Yes, I absolutely was, and I told him so. After all, this is the same man who was unanimously nominated and then overwhelmingly re-elected (97%+) just four years ago by the NNSW delegates.
And yet this is not about Justin Lawman. It’s not even about the outcome, as such. It’s about the process. The NC process needs at least three things to function optimally: good policy, goodwill, and good people. I believe that we have all three of those in the present NC; however, the NC’s initial meetings were not characterized by best practice. And mid-course corrections do not somehow automatically remedy the earlier and unfortunate missteps in process.
This is why I asked the NNSW EC to put on the upcoming General Session agenda: “Procedural and ethical concerns which seriously undermine the legitimacy of the NC process and report.” I hope that they will do so.
I appreciate the work of the NC and of its various chairpersons, including Jorge. However, I am persuaded that when mistakes such as these have been made and when policies have been either unknown or disregarded, that the best course of action is to take ownership of the missteps by making either a full restart (which I suggested in my letter) or a transparent and defensible amends.
Finally, I take great confidence in two things: 1) Jesus! He is still on the throne of the universe with His Father and 2) the members of the NNSW Conference. If the members of this Conference are satisfied with both the process and report of the current NC, so be it. If they are not, then they will have their chance to say so come September at the General Session.
Please distribute this letter to anyone you think would be interested in these matters. This is an open letter. Also, I am purposefully not posting this letter, or any reference to it, on my various social media accounts, as this this a local matter concerning the NNSW Conference.
Senior Pastor, Kingscliff Church