Free State High Court Ruling Supports Adventists
Southern African Union has right to reorganize, court says
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
he Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Africa branch can reorganize its conferences, or administrative units of local congregations, the High Court of the Orange Free State, a South African province, has ruled.
While Justice J. Van Der Merwe had ruled that the congregations could bring the underlying action against the Union, he also found that the Union had acted properly and dismissed the plaintiffs’ action.
Initially, six congregations in the (historically White) Transvaal Conference and two congregations in the (predominantly Black) Cape Conference respectively, commenced litigation against the Southern Africa Union Conference (SAU) and Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division (SID). Their action sought to overturn the business session decision of the SAU to restructure and realign conference territories, in line with a new working policy adopted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the world church’s governing organization. During the trial six individual members were added as plaintiffs to the case as a precautionary measure in case the judge ruled against the plaintiff congregations. The Cape Conference congregations subsequently withdrew from the lawsuit.
The reorganization, which opponents had asked the court to declare invalid, was undertaken in line with Seventh-day Adventist Church policy, adopted in 2005, and means that the former the Transvaal Conference and Trans-Orange Conference territories can be realigned and formed into a new Northern Conference. It also brings an end to the litigation, according to Francois Louw, president of the Church’s Southern African Union.
“The judgment supports the decisions of the church in Southern Africa as well as that of the worldwide organization in its intentions towards restructuring the organization,” Louw said. “These decisions aim to unite the church administratively, creating an environment for church unity, improved growth and more efficient operations. As such, any real or perceived structure of discrimination that may be a barrier towards church unity could be removed.”
Louw added, “Some congregations and individuals in South Africa, mainly from the Transvaal Conference constituency, objected to the process which has been followed to conclude the restructuring. The court has now ruled and given clarity in the matter.”
Although the legal proceedings have been regrettable, costing the South African Union money that could be used for the furtherance of its mission, Louw said reconciliation remains the chief goal.
“It is (and has been) the intention of leadership to discuss and negotiate with the church community as a whole, in a continued spirit of reconciliation, Christian fellowship, and unity, ways whereby we could affect the implementation of these decisions. We are eagerly looking to move forward, united, in accomplishing the mission of the church.”
Almost one-third of the 112,000 Seventh-day Adventists in South Africa are members of churches in the Cape Conference and the Trans-Orange Conference, according to 2007 statistics on file at the world headquarters.