Letter from Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh day Adventists

Dear Brother and Sister:

Elder Folkenberg asked me to reply to your letter of December 1996 in which you expressed concern over violence that erupted toward two men, Livingstone Kul and Jonathan Gray, in Papua New Guinea, and you expressed the hope that some disciplinary action might be taken toward the church officials.

I had not heard of the incident until I read your letter, so I made contact with the South Pacific Division officers in Australia to discover what took place. They had not heard either. Isn’t it strange how stories circulate the globe, and create criticism and anger, while the people where the incidents are said to have happened sometimes know nothing of it.

In this case, there is some truth to the report, and some error. We now have a report from our leaders in Papua New Guinea. It appears that the trouble began when a group of disloyal independent Adventists held a camp meeting in a province of Papua New Guinea, and, without any authority from the Church, ordained two of their number to the gospel ministry. This was done by a man from the African country of Zimbabwe who has no authority to ordain. These independents had built their church alongside the Adventist church, and then proceeded to brand the Adventist church as “Babylon,” and the leaders of our Church as corrupt.

It is true that a fight broke out and two men, Jonathan Gray and Livingston Kul were beaten. But it was not the officials of the Church who did this. It was ex-Adventists who beat these two men. You see, in Papua New Guinea, most of the people are uneducated, superstitious village people, not far removed from heathenism. In their culture, if someone accuses another to the point where it is hurtful, he gets a beating for it.

Our church leaders have encouraged our Church members to leave off these old customs, and to ignore the taunts of the independent group. And apparently our members have accepted the counsel. But the ex-Adventists were not inclined to let it go unpunished. These former Adventists were very jealous for the Church to which they used to belong. They are not prepared to hear it criticized and abused the way the independents do it, so it was they, the ex-Adventists, who dealt out what they consider to be just punishment. In fact, they went even further and burnt down the church which the independents had built.

We do not condone such conduct, nor do the Papua New Guinea Union officers. But we have no authority to discipline ex-Adventists. Now that you have a clearer picture of what happened, I’m sure you will understand some of the difficulties our leaders face in trying to shepherd the Church along the pathway of life.

Our prayers ascend with yours for peace and progress in the work of God.

Your friend in Christ,

Athal H Tolhurst


(301) 680-6643