For some time rumors had been circulating that some African Adventist church leaders were less than truthful in the way they acquired their PhD. Now the truth has come out. On April 14 the South African newspaper The New Age published an article in which it was stated that Paul Charles, the communication director in the regional office of the church for the southern section of the African continent, and Paul Ratsara, the president of this region (South Africa-Indian Ocean Division) had acquired their doctorates in a fraudulent manner, with the aim of furthering their church career.
I followed the unfolding of this piece of news (mainly as the result of some excellent investigative journalism of Spectrum) with more than ordinary interest. I got to know Paul Ratsara some 25 years ago, and once you have met someone you automatically pay attention when that person’s name surfaces in the news. At the time I worked in the division office for Francophone Africa in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (The division structure in Africa has since been changed considerably). I was invited to conduct an evangelistic campaign in Madagascar. It was a very special experience. During an entire month I preached every evening in the largest lecture hall of the university in the capital city Antananarivo. Every evening Paul Ratsara, then a pastor in the church in Madagascar, was my translator. Through the years I have seen his ecclesial star rise. He was elected secretary of the division, and then president of the division of which also the church in his home union is a part.
At first it seemed as if Paul Charles was the main culprit. His doctoral degree appeared to be quite phony. It was a worthless piece of paper supposedly granted by a spurious, non-accredited institution in India. In acual fact, Mr. Charles did not even possess a regular bachelors degree. Paul Charles was extremely ambitious and believed that a PhD-title would be advantageous for his church career. It seemed to work. He was about to move to the United States, where he was appointed as an associate leader in the communication department of the General Conference. Of course, that offer is no longer valid.
Paul Ratsara received his doctorate from UNISA, a respected South-African university. But after close investigation it became clear that there was a serious problem. The rumor that Paul Ratsara did not actually write most of his dissertation himself was found to be true. A church worker named Hopeson Bonya came forward and confessed that he had written five of the six chapters of the dissertation. When the story further developed Ratsara’s credibility had been so much damaged that he felt he had no option but to resign from the division presidency. At this point GC president Ted Wilson became more actively involved, since a division president is also a vice-president of the General Conference. At first it appeared that Wilson did not think Ratsara’s mistake had been such that he would have to resign from his position. Wilson’s role in this affair is highly questionable. It raises the question whether the General Conference does not place high importance on the moral integrity of his colleaques. But Ratsara felt he could not remain in his office and he did resign, however without admitting any wrongdoing.
The whole story makes you wonder why people—especially those in high church leadership roles—want to have a PhD so badly, that they are even prepared to sacrifice their integrity as a Christian leader.
A completed academic education is a ‘must’ for those who aspire to teach in an institution for higher learning. And there may be other valid reasons a person would want to pursue a doctorate. However, I know from experience that writing a dissertation is fram from easy while holding a fulltime church office. If at the time I had not been able to take a year’s study leave, I might still be working on my degree. Pursuing a PhD at a reputable university demands sacrifice, usually also by the partner. Anyone who has this aspiration must decide whether it is worth all the sacrifice, and whether it is a realistic project.
Most importantly, one must realize that a person’s value, and his competence in his work depends on many different factors and not just on whether or not one has a PhD. And if a person thinks he needs a PhD to further his international church career, he is totally misguided.
After the recent incidents the discussion should not focus on the importance of doctoral degrees, but on personal integrity. I assume many have by now understood this. Hopefully this also applies to the highest echelons of church leadership. Regrettably some leaders did not give a clear moral signal when confronted with the recent events. It makes one wonder.