Safeguarding Mission in Changing Social Environments

Documents October 15, 2007

Seventh-day Adventists are engaged in a mission to communicate to all peoples the everlasting gospel of God’s love, leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and Lord, to unite with His remnant church, and to prepare for His soon return. This mission is advanced through many and varied methods of preaching, teaching, and healing. A worldwide infrastructure links local churches as part of a global faith community. The Church has also established numerous educational, publishing, and healthcare institutions that perform a vital role in demonstrating and communicating the Church’s focus on mission and witnessing to the gospel through service to others.

Seventh-day Adventist churches and institutions operate in diverse social, political, and religious environments.  The development of national and local legislation in many parts of the world has been influenced by, or is compatible with, Christian worldview and morals.  More recently, concern for social policy is becoming a dominant factor in the development of laws.  This results in rather new, and at times challenging, environments for the practice and advocacy of historic Christian beliefs and values relating to morality.  The actual situations vary widely around the world making it difficult to outline a single global response.

Legislation concerning employment practices represents one area in which Seventh-day Adventist values and beliefs may be subject to challenge.  For example:  societies may establish laws providing new definitions for marriage or protecting a range of expressions and behavior associated with gender identity.  Seventh-day Adventists believe that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman in loving companionship 1 and that the Bible makes no accommodation for homosexual activity or lifestyle. 2 The Church does not accept the idea of same-sex marriages nor does it condone homosexual practices or advocacy.  The application and practice of these beliefs in cultures that adopt other norms for such relationships is likely to be a focal point of dispute.

In many countries, the Church enjoys freedom of religious expression and the opportunity to exercise preferential hiring practices.  However, numerous offices and institutions exist in areas where, except for purely ecclesiastical roles, preferential hiring practices are not permitted.  Wisdom and careful judgment is required in order that the witness of the Church is not muted by its actions nor is the opportunity to bear witness compromised by the needless arousal of opposition.  The following principles are designed to assist Church leaders in addressing situations while continuing to uphold denominational beliefs in matters of church and employment life.  It is

RECOMMENDED,  To approve the following principles as a guide for denominational entities and institutions that, from time to time, must review and safeguard their ability to pursue mission in the midst of changing social circumstances.  These principles should be weighed collectively in determining an appropriate course of action in those situations in which the Church or its institutions encounter tension with obligations imposed by the state.

  1. The ability to maintain mission and witness.  Christian mission, witness, and proclamation take place in a fallen world, amidst circumstances that are not always favorable or neutral.  In such situations, the Christian response is not to retreat or abandon mission, but to find ways of bearing a witness in spite of circumstances.  The ability to bear witness and to carry on mission should be an important consideration in determining how to respond in difficult situations.
  2. Demonstration of good citizenship.  Christians live simultaneously in two communities, the secular state and the kingdom of God, and have loyalties and obligations to both.  Christians should be good citizens of both communities.  In situations where tension arises between the two, a Christian will demonstrate allegiance to faith convictions informed by the Bible.  In all other matters, the Christian is advised, by teachings of the Bible itself, to accept and discharge the obligations of earthly citizenship.
  3. Realization that boundaries exist and cannot be breached if mission is to be sustained. Church members and church organizations live in the world but are not “of the world.” This constant reality explains why the Church cannot always accommodate itself to the prevailing customs of society. Faithfulness to its understanding of Bible teaching will require the determination of boundaries beyond which the Church cannot and will not go. To do so would render its efforts at mission contradictory and meaningless. The particular course of experience through which an organization is brought to that point will vary from place to place. Each situation needs to be assessed in the light of its presenting circumstances.
  4. Adjusting practices to comply with legislation does not redefine denominational positions. There is every likelihood that response patterns from various entities will differ somewhat before reaching the boundary–the point beyond which the Church would be in denial of its convictions and abandoning its mission and witness. The central concern in these situations is not one of questioning or redefining the Church’s position but of finding a way to translate that position into practices that safeguard the mission of the Church.
  5. Employment policies to be reviewed periodically in light of local contexts.  All employing organizations are expected to establish and periodically review employment and employee benefit policies as well as behavior standards that apply to the workplace.
  6. Institutional response determined by controlling boards or executive committees. The Seventh-day Adventist Church will exercise its right to freedom of religion and preferential hiring practices to the extent permitted by law. When and if, in the judgment of an organization’s board of trustees or controlling committee, the application of laws or the removal of religious freedom interferes with the organization’s ability to pursue and accomplish its mission, the organization may choose to seek legal protection (either by initiating a lawsuit or defending itself against lawsuits asserted by another party) and, in the event of failure to obtain such, to reorganize or discontinue operation.
  7. Consultation rather than unilateral action.  A Seventh-day Adventist organization or institution will not act unilaterally in such matters.  Its executive committee or board will seek counsel from the administration of supervisory organizations (conference, union, division), or from the General Conference administration in the case of General Conference institutions, before deciding the nature of its response to legislation that obligates the organization to practices deemed in conflict with its beliefs and values.
  8. Counsel before entering into litigation.  In situations where litigation is contemplated by a denominational entity, or where an entity must defend itself in a lawsuit regarding employee sexual orientation and expression, the administration of the entity shall also seek counsel, from the General Conference Office of General Counsel, before initiating or responding to litigation.

This document was voted during the Annual Council session of the 
General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on October 15, 
2007 in Silver Spring, Maryland.

  1. See “An Affirmation of Marriage” approved by the General Conference Administrative Committee on April 23, 1996.[]
  2. See “Position Statement on Homosexuality” approved by the General Conference Executive Committee, October 3, 1999, and “Seventh-day Adventist Response to Same-Sex Unions–A Reaffirmation of Christian Marriage” voted by the General Conference Administrative Committee, March 9, 2004.[]