A significant portion of the 2019 Year-End Meeting Sunday afternoon business session on Nov. 3 was focused on the General Conference’s (GC) response to financial parity request from the executive committee of the North American Division. The agenda item was a follow-up from a motion presented in 2018.
During the 2018 NAD Year-End Meeting, many delegates expressed concerns about the increasing financial challenges conferences and congregations face while trying to reach their communities. The concerns launched a discussion about tithe percentages that are sent from the North American Division to the General Conference in comparison to other divisions —NAD currently gives 6.1 percent, and will begin paying 5.85 percent in January 2020, whereas the other 12 divisions give two percent. Further, members of the executive committee emphasized the desire to not inflict financial harm on the world church but hoped for the General Conference to find more equitable ways to assist the advancement of the division’s mission.
A motion was passed on Nov. 5, 2018, to have the leaders of the NAD meet with leaders of the GC to discuss the issue of financial parity, with parity to be accomplished in two to three years.
From there, NAD administration sent the proposal to GC leadership, which convened a meeting with leaders of all of the Church’s divisions on January 29. The leaders drafted a general, unofficial proposal a week later showing support for the request, but asked for it to be done over a period of five years rather than two or three years. The details were then added to the proposal during additional meetings of Church leadership, including the 2019 Spring Council of the GC executive committee, which took place in April.
“There was never a time where any comments were made publicly that this was a bad request from the NAD. Just about all the comments were prefaced with, ‘We think this is a good, fair request.’ Some even said if it were their divisions, they would make the same request. There was never a hostile attitude toward the NAD,” said G. Alexander Bryant, executive secretary of the North American Division, during the 2019 YEM business session.
“The General Conference did a tremendous job, in our opinions, in setting the stage to show that the North American Division has carried the “lion-share” of the load economically for the church for years. They acknowledged that it's time for the rest of the divisions to help carry some of that load so that we can better do the mission the Lord has given us here,” he said.
In July, with knowledge that many of the division’s leaders would be present at the Chosen International Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, an unprecedented meeting of the executive committee was called to give members a report on the GC response and time to discuss and consider options for an updated proposal. Executive committee members who were present, or joined the meeting via conference call, voted to recommend a schedule that would decrease tithe sharing with the GC from 5.85 to 3.75 percent over four years.
The voted action was sent to the GC Annual Council meeting last month for discussion and vote. The final vote was to reduce the tithe percentage of the NAD by 2 percent – 5.85 to 3.85 over four years beginning in 2021 – and have the remaining 12 divisions increase their tithe percentages from 2 to 3 percent over a 10-year period. The vote also called for re-evaluations of the tithe-sharing to take place in 2024 and 2028.
“I would like to add my thanks to the General Conference treasury department and administration for getting started on this conversation so quickly. The request would not only affect the NAD, but would also affect the world divisions — to have this discussion at this point for the world leadership and about 60 or so days after we voted was to me incredible,” said Bryant. “It showed a level of high regard for our request, and very deliberate and determined effort on the part of the GC leadership to try to meet that request.”
History of Tithe Sharing
Juan Prestol-Puesán, treasurer of the General Conference, was invited to share the history of tithe-sharing as it relates to the North American Division and the GC.
“This is a family conversation. We thought him giving a history would help take away the notion that somehow the NAD is reacting to or retaliating against recent actions that we have seen in the world church. That is not at all the case,” said Randy Robinson, NAD treasurer. “There has been a long conversation about this; it’s got a lengthy history.”
The story spans nearly 30 years, starting when the division officially became its own entity in 1990 with the election of the division’s first officers.
Prior to the voted action that took place at Annual Council on Oct. 8, 1990, the GC, and the financial and operational matters related to North America were intertwined. A general vice president, associate secretary, and associate treasurer of the General Conference would meet once a week to make decisions for North America, according to Prestol-Puesán. During this time, 21 percent of tithe was sent up from conferences and unions to the General Conference, where it was then split to fund the operations of the GC and efforts related to education, evangelism, and other projects of North America.
“The affairs of the North American Division were always taken on and taken care of by the General Conference,” said Prestol-Puesán.
Voted action during Spring Council in 1993 transferred the Church’s media center in North America to NAD and officially organized the Adventist Volunteer Network. Both actions led to a rearrangement of financial distributions for the division, with it receiving additional funding for the two entities.
In 1995, tithe percentages were adjusted further. Of the 20 percent of tithe coming from conferences, and one percent from unions, 10.72 percent was given to the GC, and 10.28 percent was given to NAD.
“There’s no magic on how these things have been evolving over time,” said Prestol-Puesán. “It has been over a period of time, discussions, conversations in a collegial spirit, but at the same time, they were very straight-forward meetings.”
An action taken in 2001 related to tithe-sharing was especially significant, according to Prestol-Puesán, because it adjusted the distribution of the 21 percent of tithe sent to General Conference for further distribution to the NAD. The amount given to the GC was reduced from 10.72 to eight percent, and the amount given to the NAD from 10.28 to approximately nine percent. The remaining funds were allocated for retirement.
Further, the rest of the world divisions were told to raise their contribution from one to two percent.
“This was a wake-up call for the divisions,” said Prestol-Puesán. “Some divisions absorbed that one percent, others passed it along to unions and local fields. The overall process took some years.”
Fast forward 11 years to the 2012 Annual Council where the world church’s executive committee re-examined the Church’s tithe-sharing and took “one of the most meaningful actions we’ve [ever] taken,” said Prestol-Puesán, with the further reduction of NAD’s tithe-sharing to 5.85 percent.
“This journey of North America, and the GC in this process, is both for you and for us a search of identity,” Prestol-Puesán continued. “We did in months what could’ve taken years. We could not have done that without the presence of the Lord. We need to continue this in the spirit of prayer.”
As was outlined by Bryant prior to Prestol-Puesán’s presentation, leaders of the world church have continued to extend support for the division’s ongoing journey to parity.
“The GC has been shrinking its footprint. I’m saying this with no feeling of malice,” said Prestol-Puesán. “We’ve done this conscious of the fact that North America has been the bedrock for the world church, and we thank you for it.”
“I would not have been able to convince the world divisions, the presidents, and other officers ... without Elder Ted Wilson’s full support,” Prestol-Puesán remarked regarding the support of the GC president.
He added, “I don’t want to take full credit here when it doesn’t belong to me. The Lord was in this.”
Tithe-sharing is only one factor of achieving financial parity. Robinson outlined to the delegates the remaining significant issues that need to be negotiated as part of the large conversation on parity. The items include additional contributions to the healthcare defined benefit plan, mission funds for NAD, GCAS cost sharing, shared services of Planned Giving and Trust Services, and additional assistance on excess liability premium. According to Robinson, the next conversation with the General Conference on the matter will take place on Nov. 21.
“The next steps for the NAD will be to redefine how we deliver ministry,” said Daniel R. Jackson, president of the North American Division. “To think that there will not be cuts or rearrangements of how we do things in the NAD would be to totally misgauge the future. We have got to be able to review what we’re doing.
“We have come this far by God’s grace, but there is still more self-differentiation for this division. It’s going to take courage on the part of this committee and the leadership,” continued Jackson.
At the conclusion of the agenda item during the afternoon’s business session, upon the recommendation of Jackson, the executive committee voted to affirm and accept the voted actions of the General Conference, and to express appreciation to their colleagues at the GC for responding so quickly.
“Recognizing there are some issues that we will do our best to sort out, and all that Elder Prestol [sic] has said, I have deep appreciation for the actions of GC Treasury,” said Jackson. “They took our request seriously and we deeply appreciate it.”