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NEWS STORY: Scandal-plagued Seventh-day Adventist president resigns

c. 1999 Religion News Service UNDATED _ Robert S. Folkenberg resigned as president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Monday (Feb. 8), saying the controversy over allegations about his business relations with a Sacramento, Calif., man”is distracting from God’s work.” Folkenberg, 58, has been president of the 10-million-member international church since 1990 and was credited with”visionary”leadership […]

c. 1999 Religion News Service

UNDATED _ Robert S. Folkenberg resigned as president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Monday (Feb. 8), saying the controversy over allegations about his business relations with a Sacramento, Calif., man”is distracting from God’s work.” Folkenberg, 58, has been president of the 10-million-member international church since 1990 and was credited with”visionary”leadership by the same Seventh-day Adventist leaders who had questioned his ability to continue to lead the denomination because of the growing scandal.

Questions about Folkenberg’s continuing role as president of the Silver Spring, Md.-based denomination arose after church administrators learned he and the church, as well as others, were subjects of a suit alleging fraudulent business practices.

Folkenberg announced his decision at a specially-called meeting at the church’s headquarters, Seventh-day Adventist officials announced.”From my early childhood as the son of missionary parents … to my ministry as General Conference President, my entire life has been tirelessly and single-mindedly devoted to advancing the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,”Folkenberg told his staff.”However, over the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that the controversy surrounding the allegations of James E. Moore, made in the context of his lawsuit against the church and me, is detracting from God’s work.” Folkenberg said he chose to resign to spare his family and church further questions about his leadership.”While I have repeatedly and publicly acknowledged mistakes in my dealing with Mr. Moore, I rejoice that the integrity of my motives has not been called into question,”he added.

Asked about details of Folkenberg’s”mistakes,”church spokesman Ray Dabrowski declined to elaborate, saying,”I do not know exactly what he meant by that.” More than 500 staffers at the church’s headquarters attended the special meeting. Some stayed after he made his statement to shake his hand or tell them they were praying for him and his family, Dabrowski said.”There were those who stayed behind and expressed their feelings to Pastor Folkenberg,”he said.

Folkenberg’s status as president was to be discussed at a meeting of the executive committee of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that was moved up a month to March 1 due to the controversy.

An ad hoc panel established by the church with Folkenberg’s support had determined that concerns about his business dealing had prompted”a question of confidence concerning Elder Folkenberg’s continued leadership.” The group concluded that”the nature and gravity of these issues and their cumulative effect is such as to erode confidence in the functions of the president and to introduce doubts about leadership integrity.” Ethical concerns about Folkenberg voiced by the group included inappropriate business associations, conflicts of interest and”misuse of the office of the presidency for business advantages,”the church said.

The panel of 20 Seventh-day Adventist leaders spent two days in January reviewing the relationship between Moore and Folkenberg.

Moore, who is seeking $8 million in his suit, alleges that the defendants were involved in a fraudulent land deal. Church officials describe him as a business entrepreneur who served time in prison for a 1989 grand theft conviction. Lawyers called the suit against the church”without merit”and”frivolous.” Moore could not be reached for comment Monday. Reached earlier by Religion News Service, he confirmed that he spent time in a state correctional camp. But he stands by his charge that the Folkenberg and others owe him money.

The church has stated that the General Conference has no business dealings with Moore and that its Inter-American Division ended its relationships with him in 1989. Moore, who is not a Seventh-day Adventist, said business relations continued beyond that date.

Asked whether he expected his suit to lead to questions about Folkenberg’s leadership of the church, Moore said:”I have nothing to do with that. I am not the judge nor the jury inside the church as to Folkenberg’s statements.” Dabrowski said the March 1 meeting of the executive committee now will include consideration of Folkenberg’s resignation and election of new leadership.

The secretary of the executive committee, G. Ralph Thompson, will serve as acting president.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has about 900,000 U.S. members, is known especially for its belief that the Advent, or Second Coming, of Jesus Christ will occur soon and its observing of the Sabbath on Saturday, the seventh day of the week.

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