The official news service of the Inter-European Division
April 18, 2017 | Bern, Switzerland. | Marcos Paseggi, AR, EUD NEWS.
Some document statements were made more comprehensive than before. “Relate with propriety to those of the opposite sex” became “Relate with propriety to all those I encounter.”
The major significant changes to the text, however, are included in the “Ethics and the Law” section of the document, with a completely new sub-section on “Child Safety,” and revamped sub-sections on what now are called “Physical Facilities,” “Supervision,” and “Staff Background.”
The “Child Safety” paragraph reminds everyone that “in many countries, it is a legal requirement for those working with children […], to attain a police check or equivalent clearance from a government entity.” Thus, pastors ministering in such countries are reminded “to ensure they have the necessary legal clearance to minister to children.” The sub-section also explains that irrespective of any legal requirement enforced by local authorities, “the minister’s physical contact, behavior, conversation and ministry with children needs to exemplify the highest moral, professional and Christian standards.”
“We need to have clear statements about what our expectations are for protecting children and [what constitutes] ethical behavior towards children,” said Beardsley-Hardy.
Both the “Physical Facilities” and “Supervision” sub-sections try to use vocabulary that makes the physical and emotional well-being of everyone involved in church activities a priority. At the same time, they strive to protect the church from legal liability.
Finally, the updated version of the Staff Background sub-section reminds that “one way to avoid problems with employees or volunteers is to be aware of their background.” Consequently, a careful vetting process may inform the selection of employees or volunteers, helping to “avoid problems with those who are unfit for service.”
“Pastors and theological teachers are held to high ethical standards, and the updated document clarifies the ethical expectations for how they conduct themselves,” said Beardsley-Hardy.
A Word on the Process
The process of updating the Handbook and associated documents on pastoral and ministerial training started in 2015, as an IBMTE Handbook revision task force met at Andrews University for the first session of discussion in July 2015. Subsequent meetings in the Philippines, Australia, and Kenya in late 2015 and early 2016 shaped the documents step by step, as suggestions were discussed and often incorporated. As part of this process, a dialogue session with scholars also took place in Atlanta, Georgia, United States in November 2015, at the annual meetings of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies and the Adventist Theological Society.
“[The IBMTE Handbook revision task force] had representation by expertise, by church administrative levels, by region, by the broad areas of ministry,” said Mbwana, as he stressed that the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education worked “very intentionally” to appoint task force members with the most variety of backgrounds as possible.
Beardsley-Hardy explained that among the board members were people from every relevant area. “We had both men and women representing theological education, pastoral ministry, and those serving in chaplaincy,” she said.
Mbwana said he believes that this process, while painstaking, is essential. “The way the Seventh-day Adventist Church does its work is through committees,” he said. “We don’t elect or appoint a king who then makes all these pronouncements. We work through committees.”
Kent also emphasized the consultative nature of the process. “The General Conference Ministerial Association received input from pastors, church administrators and Office of General Counsel (OGC), as well as Adventist Risk Management Service. It has been a thorough process,” he said.