A significant portion of the North American Division (NAD) 2019 Year-End Meeting business session on November 3 was focused on the General Conference (GC) response to a financial parity request from the NAD Executive Committee. 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 that conferences and congregations face while trying to reach their communities. The concerns launched a discussion about percentages of tithe sent from the NAD to the GC in comparison to other divisions — NAD currently gives 6.1 percent and will begin paying 5.85 percent in January 2020, while the other 12 divisions give 2 percent. Further, members of the Executive Committee emphasized the desire not to inflict financial harm on the world church but hoped for the GC to find more equitable ways to assist the advancement of the division's mission.
A motion was passed on November 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, the NAD administration sent the proposal to GC leadership, which convened a meeting with leaders of all of the church’s divisions on January 29, 2019. 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 world church leadership, including the 2019 Spring Council of the GC Executive Committee, which took place in April 2019.
“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 NAD, during the 2019 year-end 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’s 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 the 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 NAD 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 in October 2019 for discussion and a vote. The final vote was to reduce the tithe percentage of the NAD by 2 percent — from 5.85 to 3.85 percent over four years beginning in 2021 — and have the remaining 12 divisions increase their tithe percentages from 2 to 3 percent over 10 years. 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," Bryant said. "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 NAD 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.
Before the voted action that took place at Annual Council on October 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 GC would meet once a week to make decisions for North America, according to Prestol-Puesán. During this time, 21 percent of the tithe was sent up from conferences and unions to the GC, 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,” Prestol-Puesán said.
A voted action during Spring Council in 1993 transferred the Adventist Church’s media center in North America to NAD ownership and officially organized the Adventist Volunteer Network. Both actions led to a rearrangement of financial distributions for the NAD, with it receiving additional funding for the two entities.
In 1995, tithe percentages were adjusted further. Of the 20 percent of the tithe coming from conferences, and 1 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,” Prestol-Puesán said. “They took place over a period of time, with discussions, conversations in a collegial spirit, but at the same time, in meetings very straightforward.”
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 the tithe sent to the GC for further distribution to the NAD. The amount given to the GC was reduced from 10.72 to 8 percent, and the amount given to the NAD from 10.28 to approximately 9 percent. The remaining funds were allocated for retirement.
Further, the rest of the world divisions were told to raise their contribution from 1 to 2 percent.
“This was a wake-up call for the divisions,” Prestol-Puesán said. “Some divisions absorbed that 1 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,” Prestol-Puesán said, 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 before 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,” Prestol-Puesán said. “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 in achieving financial parity, according to Robinson. He outlined to the delegates the remaining significant issues that need to be negotiated as part of the larger conversation on parity. The items include additional contributions to the health care defined benefit plan, mission funds for NAD, General Conference Auditing Services (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 GC on the matter is scheduled for November 21.
“The next steps for the NAD will be to redefine how we deliver ministry,” said Daniel Jackson, president of the NAD. “To think that there will not be cuts or rearrangements of how we do things in the NAD would be to 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,” Jackson added.
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 GC 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 a deep appreciation for the actions of GC Treasury,” Jackson said. “They took our request seriously, and we deeply appreciate it.”