Adventist Church in North America Appoints Theology of Ordination Committee
by AT News Team
The officers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America have appointed a 13-member committee to participate in the study process on the theology of ordination that was announced at the 2010 General Conference (GC) Session in Atlanta. This is the third major, official study of the topic conducted by the denomination since the 1970s when church units in Europe asked for guidance on the appropriateness of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. Both of the two previous studies ended in an impasse when Bible scholars reported that there is no reason not to ordain women as clergy, but administrators were afraid to allow non-discrimination to be implemented.
The committee will prepare research materials from the perspective of the North American Division (NAD) over the coming year and present those to the 2013 annual meeting of the NAD executive committee for approval. This document will then be subjected to a lengthy and complex process in which a second committee, to be appointed by the GC administration in November 2013 for the purpose of reviewing similar reports from all 13 divisions, will prepare a combined report. This combined report will then be reviewed by the three top officers of the GC, three other administrative bodies and then presented to the Annual Council of the GC executive committee in October 2014. This body will make a decision at that point as to what, if anything, resulting from this process is presented to the delegates at the 2015 GC Session.
Although the purpose of this process is not specified in any policy document, it is generally understood that there are high hopes for the development of a consensus that will break the deadlock that has developed as a result of a mixed bag of decisions voted at the 1990 GC Session in Indianapolis. At that meeting it was voted by the delegates to (1) accept a report from a study commission made up of Bible scholars which stated that Scripture neither demands nor prohibits ordination from being extended to women; (2) authorize the ordination of women as local elders; (3) allow women to serve as pastors; and (4) not to ordain women to the gospel ministry in order to preserve unity in the denomination.
The 13 members appointed to the NAD study committee are all scholars with a doctoral degree or enrolled in a program to earn a doctoral degree. Six are faculty members at universities affiliated with the Adventist denomination. Four are pastors leading local churches. Two are denominational officials who supervise and resource pastors. One is a staff scholar at the GC’s Biblical Research Institute (BRI).
The committee exhibits the diversity of the Adventist membership in North America. Six are white, five are black, one is Hispanic and one is Asian. There are four women in the group.
It also seems to balance the range of views that exist on this topic. At least two are current or past officers or board members of the Adventist Theological Society (ATS) which is the more conservative scholarly group and several have been speakers for or active in groups that have advocated for the ordination of women pastors. One participated in the unauthorized ordinations that took place in 1995.
The committee is also a highly qualified group. At least two have written chapters in or edited books on the topic of the role of women in the ministry and life of the church. All are well-schooled in the methods of Bible study used to fully understand the text in its original languages.
At least seven of the members are on record approving the ordination of women, including some who are among the more conservative scholars. Three more are not on record so far as Adventist Today could determine, but likely to favor extending ordination to women pastors based on the guesses of close associated interviewed by Adventist Today. No information about their views could be found on two of the members and one is seen as having taken a negative position on the topic.
“It is likely that this group will prepare a report making a case for permitting women to be ordained,” one retired NAD officer told Adventist Today. “There is a strong consensus among the leadership in North America to move in that direction and it would be unfair not to make a strong statement supporting that consensus.”
Profiles of the Committee Members
Gordon Bietz was appointed chairman of the committee. He has a long track record of bringing together conservatives and moderates to effectively accomplish goals for the denomination. He is president and a theology professor at Southern Adventist University. In 1998 he was co-convener with Larry Geraty, the president of Atlantic Union College, of the first joint meeting of the conservative Adventist Theological Society (ATS) and the more moderate Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS). He has continued with ATS, speaking as recently as 2006 at a symposium on the trinity organized by the group.
Kyoshin Ahn has been vice president of the Illinois Conference since 2005. He was previously a pastor in Virginia and coordinator of Korean churches for the NAD. He is also a board member for The Hope of Survivors, a support group for victims of clergy sexual misconduct. Although he has a PhD, Adventist Today could find no record of his belonging to either ATS or ASRS. He was a speaker at a 2009 symposium on campus ministry organized by the Center for Youth Evangelism at Andrews University and received an award for excellence in ministry from the Ministerial Association at a recent NAD Ministries Convention.
Dedrick Blue is pastor of Ephesus Church in Harlem, West 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue, New York City. He is involved in many social causes as a board member for Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI), a multi-faith community organization, and cofounder of Adventists Against AIDS in Africa, and international relief agency, but evidently is not active in ATS or ASRS. He has been a faculty member and administrator at Oakwood University. His wife, Elfreda, is an associate professor at Hofstra University with a PhD from the State University of New York (SUNY). The couple conducts marriage weekends together.
JoAnn Davidson is a professor in the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University. She wrote a chapter entitled “Women in Scripture: A Survey and Evaluation” for the 1998 volume Women in Ministry: Biblical and Historical Perspectives. Both she and her husband, Richard Davidson, the Old Testament scholar at the seminary, are on record in support of extending ordination to women. He has been an active member of ATS and the author of a chapter in the book mentioned above which demonstrates that there is no biblical support for the Southern Baptist doctrine of headship which is championed by some Adventists in opposition to women’s ordination.
Dwight Nelson is senior pastor at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University and one of the most widely-known Adventist television preachers. He was the lead evangelist for the NAD’s NET 98 campaign. He is clearly on record in support of ordination for women, helping his large and influential congregation to work through conflict about ordaining women as local elders more than two decades ago and speaking to current issues on January 21 with a sermon entitled, “Of Perfume and Tears and Grumpy Old Men.” This sermon can be seen online at www.adventistonline.com/video/dwight-nelson-on-women-s-ordination.
Kendra Haloviak-Valentine is an associate professor in the H. M. S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University and a New Testament scholar who has written on the Book of Revelation. She was one of the women clergy ordained in 1995 at Sligo Church in Takoma Park, Maryland. Both of her parents were employed for many years as part of the General Conference staff, where her father retired as Director of Archives and Statistics.
Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson is also a professor at La Sierra University and the editor of the 1995 volume Women and the Church which includes a number of scholarly papers related to the current assignment. She has served as president of the Association of Adventist Women (AAW) which has repeatedly urged the GC to approve ordination for women and recently signed a petition in which thousands of church members have expressed their support.
Stephen Richardson is the administrative pastor at Dupont Park Church in Washington DC and a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University specializing in the Hebrew Bible. He has been principal of Pine Forge Academy as well as the pastor of a number of suburban and inner city churches in the Washington area for the Allegheny East Conference. Both he and his wife are the children of well-known Adventist clergy. Sources have told Adventist Today that he is supportive of extending ordination to women.
Edwin Reynolds is a professor in the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University and editor of the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. He was one of the coauthors of a report in 2004 which recommended that “the General Conference consider initiating an appropriate process which would enable Fundamental Belief #6 on creation to speak with greater clarity regarding the historicity and timing of Genesis 1-11” which seems to have played a key role in the decision by the new GC president in 2010 to announce such a process. So far as Adventist Today has been able to find he is not on record about the issue of women’s ordination.
Russell Seay completed a PhD in religion at Vanderbilt University in 2008 and more recently became an assistant professor at Oakwood University. His dissertation was on Martin Luther King, Jr. He served as a district pastor in rural Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; and Jackson, Mississippi. He was also senior pastor of the South Nashville Church. Sources have told Adventist Today that he is sympathetic toward the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
Tara VinCross is a pastor in Philadelphia and working toward the Doctor of Ministry at Andrews University. She is the director of a successful urban ministry program in which young adults engage in community service and sell Adventist books door to door. Sources have told Adventist Today that she definitely favors extending ordination to women.
Clinton Wahlen is an associate director at the Biblical Research Institute at the GC. He earned a PhD in New Testament at Cambridge University in 2002 and was a faculty member at the denomination’s seminary in the Philippines which serves two divisions in Asia and the Pacific, the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS). He has published numerous scholarly articles in respected, refereed journals and was a contributor to the InterVarsity Press Dictionary of the Old Testament. He is a member of both ATS and ASRS. Sources have told Adventist Today that Wahlen opposes the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
Ivan Williams is ministerial director for the NAD, a role he was appointment to as part of the new administration in late 2010. He has served as a pastor in the Pacific Union Conference and ministerial director in the Northern California Conference. Sources indicate that he is supportive of ordaining women in ministry. Last year his department sponsored a major gathering of women clergy from across North America and his keynote address affirming women in ministry can be found online in video form.