October 11, 2016: The denomination’s governing body, the General Conference (GC) executive committee, voted to adopt “Procedures in Church Reconciliation,” a controversial document that Adventist Today has reported. The document describes a process that denominational officials can follow when an administrative body fails to follow “biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions, or working policies of the Church.”
The GC executive committee is made up of denominational executives from around the world as well as few local pastors and lay members from each of the 13 world divisions and key institutional leaders. After a lengthy discussion from the floor, the document was accepted by a vote of 169 to 122.
Discussion of the document began with an introduction by Pastor Ted Wilson, GC president. He reminded the committee that Ellen G. White, perhaps the most important cofounder of the denomination, referred to the committee “as a group with authority.” He urged members to vote the approval of the recommended document.
Dr. Mike Ryan, a special assistant to the GC president, described the reasoning behind the creation of the document and urgent need for its approval. Ryan stated that many will assume that the proposed new procedure relates primarily to the issue of women’s ordination and the vote against allowing Division organizations to approve women’s ordination that was taken last summer in San Antonio at the 2015 GC Session. He stated that the document can refer to many different situations when entities don’t abide by voted policy.
Discussion on the document by the group of more than 300 resulted in many different statements both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed document. All nine of the union conference presidents and a large number of the local conference presidents from North America voiced their concern that more dialogue was needed before the document could be approved and the widespread disappointment that would result among their members and especially younger Adventists if the new procedure was pushed through.
Pastor Daniel Jackson, president of the denomination’s North American Division (NAD), spoke of his own baptism in 1963. “When I was baptized I joined the Adventist family, and because of that I am part of a much larger group. I am an African, I am a Bolivian, I am an Asian. We all are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its mission.” After more than 90 minutes of discussion a vote was taken by paper ballot.
The denomination’s Pacific Union Conference (PUC) with headquarters in California immediately issued a statement: “As with any substantive policy document that impacts our mission, the officers of the Pacific Union Conference regard this with great seriousness, and will begin the process of conferring with our conferences and their leadership, our Executive Committee, and our constituents to formulate our response.”
“Although the document was presented as a generic recommendation on policy matters, not designed to address any one issue in particular,” the statement continued, “we understand that it is directly related to the Pacific Union’s support for women in ministry.” Pastor Ricardo B. Graham, president of the PUC, expressed his confidence in the ministry of women throughout the Pacific Union: “We know that God has gifted the Seventh-day Adventist Church for effective global mission through every believer, and we continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who gifts people of every age, gender and ethnic background according to His purposes. … We seek your prayers and support as we are faithful to our calling and the mission of spreading the gospel in the Pacific Union Conference.”
In response to the document and the concerned voices in his division, Jackson expressed his desire to reinforce the position of the NAD on the role of women in pastoral leadership. “I want to share my strong support for the role of women in pastoral ministry. Voted church policy allows for women to fill this very important position and this will never change within the North American Division. We want to recognize the calling that God has placed upon both men and women to spread our message of hope and wholeness to everyone that resides in the borders of our territory. We will do everything in our power to move forward with the mission that God has given us all.”
This story is based on releases from the Pacific Union Conference and the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The complete document can be viewed here.