This post is an interview with Attila Erdeg. Until April 15, 2022, he is the Media Director for the South-East Union Conference. He is also the son of Pastor Robert Erdeg and the brother of Anita Trto. This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
IA Note: Suppose you are just finding out about this story and need the background context of this interview. In that case, you can read Anita Erdeg’s story (her story in Serbian), the whistleblower transcript in English and Serbian, and other subsequent stories here. A video interview with Anita is available on YouTube. You can support Anita financially through the Intelligent Adventist Fund for Abuse Victims or directly on her GoFundMe site.
Adrian Zahid: How involved were you with your sister’s case?
Attila Erdeg: At the time, I lived with my parents, and Anita and I overlapped for a couple of weeks, living at our parents’ house, but then I moved out.
I assisted in helping my sister and her kids leave Bosnia to escape her husband [Caleb Quispe]. The initial idea was to visit her parents for a week, but she left him entirely. So, two weeks later, I went back to get all her stuff. Beyond that, I’ve never been too much involved in Anita’s case.
Adrian Zahid: Do you recall her condition?
I remember that she was skinny, like a stick. Physically awful. You could see that she went through some serious problems.
Adrian Zahid: What were your interactions with Caleb at this point?
Attila Erdeg: I went back to Bosnia to get some of Anita’s stuff, and then I went to get a drink with Caleb. He told me his part of the story, and he started crying. He said he loved his wife, wanted her back and wanted the kids back. He asked me if he ever came to see them and if he could sleep in my apartment. [I was about to move into my apartment and out of my parents’ house at this point]. I was like, “Yeah. Of course, man. You are still family to me.”
At this point, I didn’t know much. Anita wasn’t open to sharing as soon as she came home. She told me about her affair because she wanted me to hear it from her before anybody else could say it to me, but that was it.
Later that summer, I found out that Caleb was talking to one of his relatives and that he told his relative that Attila Erdeg was on his side and that he “had” me. When I found that out, and after my sister opened up more to me about some things, I decided that I would say no if he ever contacted me anymore and if he asked to sleep at my apartment. And of course, he contacted me sometime in September or August, and he asked if he could sleep in my apartment. I said, “sorry, but I don’t want to have anything to do with liars and manipulators” because I had found out some stuff about him during the summer.
Adrian Zahid: What was Caleb’s reaction?
Attila Erdeg: He started a moralistic speech with citations from the Bible. I finished with the Bible text, “thou shalt not lie.”
We kept in touch on a professional level since he was involved with the media department in Bosnia. We also went on a trip to Ukraine two years ago. He was representing the Bosnia media department as a media technician.
[IA Note: Even though the Union made a decision to release him from being a pastor, they allowed the conference to make the final call and Caleb continued to be a pastor for another six months after which his status was changed to media technician. His continued employment in this capacity is a disagreement between Anita and the Union].
Adrian Zahid: Were you involved in any of the processes at the Union level regarding your sister?
Attila Erdeg: No. Because I’m a family member, I couldn’t be present for those meetings.
Adrian Zahid: Did you ever observe your father dealing with this issue in his professional capacity?
Attila Erdeg: In his professional capacity? No. We work in two different cities, so it’s not like I can see my dad very often. I would ask my parents what was going on in the courts. I didn’t want to burden Anita so that I would ask them, but that is in my family capacity.
Adrian Zahid: When did you realize that the Union viewed your father negatively?
Atilla Erdeg: I started realizing it in February of this year.
I was in my dad’s office, and I knew that some church members were against Anita. Then she appeared on TV, and they were really against that, and my dad wanted to sit down with them and see if they could find some common ground. My dad shared the idea of meeting these members with me, and then he said he was going to meet with President Dragan later that same afternoon.
A couple of days later, we met with all the union members in Belgrade, and Dragan said he talked to my father, and he felt like the whole conference was falling apart because of this case with Anita. And he didn’t know how long they could endure this kind of pressure. And that he went to talk with my father, and he told him to sit down with these rebellious people and speak with them.
I found that very weird because Dragan stated to the committee three times, “I advised him” [ [Pastor Robert/Attila Erdeg’s father]. “I told him. I don’t know if he is going to do it or not. I would like him if he did.”
It was so weird because I knew that meeting with these people who had an issue with Anita’s case was my father’s idea, which my father had shared with me before he shared it with the president.
But here, the president claimed that it was his idea and his advice. He presented himself as a savior in this situation who comes on the scene and solves every problem. And his description of the conference falling apart was an exaggeration because I checked with a conference employee to see if that’s true. The conference employee said that the case had not affected their working relationship with Pastor Robert.
Pastor Robert Erdeg was later fired/removed from his position as conference president for “conflict of interest and lack of confidence” over handling this issue by the Union.
[IA Note: This is the first instance where problems with Pastor Robert were discussed in committee and the first instance of misrepresentation by President Dragan where he said, “I advised him…and “I don’t know if he is going to do it or not” Pastor Robert had decided on his initiative earlier that he was going to meet with those members who were upset over Anita’s TV interview. It all started with these exaggerations by the president of the Union].
Adrian Zahid: How did things escalate from here?
Attila Erdeg: Two weeks passed, and then Dragan had a meeting with the pastors in the South Conference, and basically, the transcript (recorded by the whistleblower) starts with the words “the division doesn’t agree with us because you know he didn’t do anything morally wrong.” So basically, Robert must go whatever it takes. And basically, they (the Union) would do whatever it takes to get him fired.
And it was strange to hear because, in our meeting, we were told, two weeks before, that the Union was supporting Robert and that the Division was supporting Robert. But then, two weeks later, here he is saying that Robert must go.
Adrian Zahid: What was your relationship or friendship with the Union President?
Attila Erdeg: Well, I would consider him one of my best friends. I know some people will say how can that be, he is your boss, but you must understand that we used to meet, like a group of four of us, every morning for about half an hour together. Sometimes even after work. Occasionally he’d come over to my apartment and we would hang out together in deep conversations.
Through the years of our friendship, I’ve known him as an honest, vulnerable, and balanced person. I had always believed in his leadership. I accepted the call to be the media director in our union because I wanted to use my gifts in a team that practices honesty and transparency in its leadership. Dragan invested himself so much in building up this kind of leadership.
This is what I signed up for when I took this job. Working in this environment has truly fulfilled me as a person.
Adrian Zahid: What were your initial thoughts regarding the efforts to dismiss your father?
Attila Erdeg: I started asking the question of whether the principles and values in which our church leadership was grounded were still present. I had known about some actions towards Anita that I hadn’t considered to be in line with these principles and values, but I believed that in the end it would be handled well.
As the situation started to escalate, it seemed like this line was moving further away from these principles and values. But I still didn’t believe it would go as far as dismissing my father. I felt like if they were ready to do that, I would go down with him. Later, I said, I’m not going to do anything rushed. I’m not going to quit just because they fire my father. Resigning is an option only if I get convinced that the culture of leadership is distorted to the extent that I can no longer be part of it.
Adrian Zahid: Then they fired your father. What happened next?
Attila Erdeg: The next day, I get a call from Dragan asking me how I felt. I said I was confused. He offered to have a conversation in person. I accepted.
Adrian Zahid: Walk me through the conversation.
Atilla Erdeg: I’m sitting in Dragan’s office two days later.
I told him that I came because I loved him as a friend and still had hope for this friendship. However, I told him my confidence in him went from 100% to 0% because I saw some actions in the past month that were confusing for me, and it needed explanation. My biggest problem was the transcript from the South Conference. I tried to point out that his presentation at the South Conference pastors’ meeting was a smear against my family. He claimed that it was only my perception.
Since he hadn’t seen the transcript or any articles from Intelligent Adventist (he said he didn’t want to deal with them), I asked him if Dragan wanted to go through the transcript together. I needed an explanation for some claims he had made that I found to be untrue.
He agreed “for the sake of our friendship.” He agreed to ask for forgiveness in front of all pastors if I showed him the false statements from his remarks at the South Conference meeting.
Adrian Zahid: That’s incredible! What happened then in the second meeting between the two of you?
Attila Erdeg: Next week, I came to his office with the printed transcript. I handed it to him. But he refused to deal with it, and he put it aside.
He said, “after some thinking and prayer,” he had decided not to deal with the transcript. He shared some reasons why. He felt an aversion to dealing with the transcript. He said that even if we went through some details that “might be true from my (Attila’s) point of view,” the transcript appeared through a “criminal act” (recording). He felt disappointed that our church became an institution like the “KGB,” where recordings were done. He decided to “bury” this transcript and continue with his life, not looking back. He called this a “biblical principle.”
When I disagreed with him, pointing out that I didn’t find it biblical to bury mistakes after hurting people and continue as if nothing had happened, he asked me to give him the right that he was able to do that. I reminded him about his promise to ask for forgiveness in front of all pastors if his untrue claims were presented to him. He remembered his promise, but he had thought about it and had concluded that he didn’t want to deal with the transcript.
Throughout our conversation, I confronted him with some of the untrue claims from our last conversation that I heard from him during one of our union meetings. He started contradicting himself and covering his false statements.
For example, when I brought up his comments about Anita refusing to engage in counseling [which the marriage counselor himself denied talking to anyone at the Union about the case], Dragan changed his answer three times. At first, Dragan said, “I didn’t say that.” Then he said the marriage counselor had told him that fact. Then he said another person said that. After that, I asked him if Caleb had told him, “I can guess who told you that. Caleb told you that.” And then Dragan replied, “No, Caleb didn’t tell me that.” And then, 30 seconds later, he said, “Ok, Well, yes, it was Caleb.”
Then he said that he had that information from two sources. One is Caleb. But another person also shared this info with him, and both claims correspond. Then I said: “yeah, the other person is probably from Bosnia, right?” And Dragan slapped the arm of the chair he was sitting on and said, “so what?” “Whoever said it, it doesn’t matter.”
[IA Note: It did matter because of the false narrative about Anita not engaging in marriage therapy, someone stated why she was at fault.
I still didn’t get a proper answer as to why Robert was fired. He shared some points, and I said they were pure exaggeration and misrepresentation of facts. I backed up my claim with facts, after which there was silence where you could hear only the clock ticking.
He advised that I should make a balance between the things that burden me and my calling. When I said that it burdened me that he didn’t want to deal with the transcript, he said, “you have to understand that I can’t deal with it.”
My impression of Dragan was that he was not sorry for what he said. He was sorry that it was recorded that he had said them. And he was going to bury the transcript; he didn’t want anything to do with it. And that he said it was “biblical” to do so.
Adrian Zahid: So, what did you think after this meeting?
Attila Erdeg: After coming out of his office, I felt betrayed and I felt that everything I signed up for when I accepted to work for the union had crumbled.
A good friend of mine tried to make me believe that the two of us could function together even if we disagreed on this matter. And with time, this disagreement would fade away.
But this disagreement goes so much deeper than reading the transcript or not. I clearly disagreed with the escape methodology used when facing mistakes. But my disagreement went even deeper. I disagreed with the course of our leadership heading away from principles and values I believe I stand for – honesty and transparency.
When the leader of a religious system is ready to prioritize the idea of seeming peace and unity over Christian understanding of dialogue, confession, and forgiveness; when he is ready to sideline transparency and honesty to please the larger interest groups; when he chooses to sacrifice a friendship because he has worked himself in a position where he believes he cannot face his own mistakes; and when these moves are supported by other leaders, who are also ready to let these principles and values fade away, you realize that this culture goes against everything you stand for within the SDA church. You start asking yourself serious questions – if nothing changes, how long can I last in an environment like this before compromising myself? How will I stand up against this?
This was the moment I gave space to the thought of my resignation.
Adrian Zahid: Tell me about your thought process regarding resignation?
Attila Erdeg: I felt so empty when I went to Belgrade for work. I felt like I no longer belonged. I think of the betrayal I experienced, and how they treated my sister. And how they treated my father. I think you get the picture of an attempt to maneuver for personal interests within the system. And I felt I couldn’t be part of this. And it’s not about how badly they treated my sister and my father. Life is not easy, and people will hurt you. And you can’t just drop everything because someone mistreated you or is acting wrong.
I know that by sharing these thoughts in public, I am taking a step further from just resigning. This exposes not only the current practices of the leadership but also my personal motives to people’s scrutiny, interpretations, judgment, and gossip. I take this risk because of my true desire to see something I value and want to stand for, and I genuinely believe God also wishes for His Church.
IA Concluding Note:
Attila shared with us his resignation letter to the South-Eastern Union Conference.
Please accept this letter as notice that I am leaving the position of Media director at the SEEUC of the Seventh-day Adventist church on April 15, 2022.
The reason why I’m leaving this job is because the church institution does business like an insincere political organization that creates an agenda in accordance with personal interests, which is contrary to my values and beliefs.
Thank you for your cooperation, trust, chances and knowledge. I will remember the beautiful moments we spent together, both formally and informally. I wish you and the church success in the future.