Global executives of the Silver Spring, Maryland-based Seventh-day Adventist Church chose 64-year-old Jan Paulsen, a Norwegian, on March 1 as successor to church president Robert S. Folkenberg, who resigned February 8.
Folkenberg, 58, left the job three weeks after reports surfaced of a lawsuit against him and the 10.3 million-member denomination, which had grown 68 percent during his nine-year tenure.
"We are going to work our way around whatever differences that may be, because it's important that at the end of the day we pull together, and that is what the Lord has in mind," said Paulsen, who has been a pastor and later was chairman of the Adventist Disaster Relief Agency. Since 1995, he has been an Adventist conference vice president.
Just before the vote, entrepreneur James E. Moore of Sacramento, California, who claimed damage from business dealings with Folkenburg and Adventist organizations, said the civil action had been settled out of court. The terms have not been disclosed.
Moore, who was convicted of felony grand theft in 1989, alleged that in reneging on a real estate deal, Folkenberg and the Adventist Church were responsible for Moore losing $8 million. A General Conference statement called the allegation "frivolous," and the denomination has filed motions to have itself dropped as a defendant in the case.
In his resignation letter, Folkenberg said, "While I have repeatedly and publicly acknowledged mistakes in my dealings with Mr. Moore I rejoice that the integrity of my motives has not been called into question."
News accounts of the suit created a stir within the denomination known for its emphasis on prophetic teaching, health, and the seventh-day Sabbath. In January, a committee of leaders met to discuss Folkenberg's situation, setting in motion the events leading to his sudden resignation.
KEYS TO CHURCH GROWTH: During his presidency, Folkenberg, known for a somewhat brusque management style, shook up the denomination, spearheading mass communications initiatives that have led to massive growth in membership. A key effort has been in satellite broadcasting, with annual "Net" campaigns beamed to church locations around the world.
These have resulted in thousands of new members for the denomination, which claims to baptize a new member every 44 seconds of every day while organizing five new congregations daily.
Much of that growth has come through evangelistic campaigns in the former Soviet Union, Africa, and the South Pacific. Today, 90 percent of Adventists live outside the United States, where the group organized in 1863. Income for the church jumped 57 percent during Folkenberg's presidency, to $1.5 billion.
Such progress could not mask other divisions in the movement, including twice-rejected efforts to allow the ordination of women as Adventist pastors. In 1998, a move to establish a "Board of Ministerial and Theological Education" in each church division drew fire in several quarters and is on hold.
Lawrence Geraty, president of Adventist-run La Sierra University in Riverside, California, told the Adventist News Network that while Folkenberg "never asked anyone to do what he himself was not willing to do," his methods raised hackles. "His leadership style of 'management by destabilization,' while perhaps useful in other settings, was not appropriate for the church where 'doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God' is what we expect of our leaders."
Observers say that while Folkenberg's resignation will have little impact on the day-to-day aspects of the denomination, the circumstances will be noticed.
"Adventism has very high moral standards, and it just will not work in Adventism for any church leader to be found guilty of any malfeasance of any type," says Desmond Ford, a leading Adventist biblical scholar removed for questioning the role of founder Ellen G. White and the Adventists' "investigative judgment" doctrine.
According to Samuele Bacchiocchi, a theology professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, the bulk of Adventists who live outside the United States have had scant contact with a man whose job the Adventist scholar described as administrative and not theological in nature.
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