By Stefani Leeper for AT, July 7, 2015:   Discussion of Adventist women in pastoral ministry turns up the surprising (to many) fact that Adventists in China have been ordaining women clergy since the 1980s. A group of 13 female Adventist leaders from China are attending the 2015 General Conference.

While it is a positive example demonstrating women’s ability to be spiritual leaders, it is not as large as one might think. There are only 140 ordained Adventist ministers in China, the largest nation on the globe by population. That is a mind-boggling 0.00001 percent of the total population.

Yet the story of female clergy progress in China is gaining worldwide recognition in San Antonio as delegates who have never heard of it are told for the first time. Opponents of women’s ordination have said that the Adventist church in China is not really part of the denomination, yet it has a delegation at the GC Session which has been introduced publicly. In fact, this is the second time there has been a delegation from China at GC Session.

There are about 30 women who are ordained Adventist ministers, or about one in five of the total Adventist ordained group in the country. The clergy make up a relatively small portion of the 400,000 Adventists—and 1.37 billion Chinese citizens—an Adventist leader told Adventist Today in an interview in San Antonio.

The ordination process is different in China from that used throughout the rest of the world. It is not as clearly defined by organizational policies and more unstructured. For example, clergy status can be denied by one congregation and granted by another. In fact, credentials are not issued to those who are ordained.

In fact, Chinese Adventists are split in their opinions about female leadership, much as they are in the rest of the world. But, where they are comfortable with women clergy and where God has called women to leadership, it is allowed to function without interference. As a result, women in China are a powerful source of spiritual leadership for the Adventist faith. “God is using women in a marked way in China,” said a leader of the movement there.

Tomorrow, delegates will be asked to vote yes or no on the idea of allowing Adventists in the rest of the world to make their own decisions about allowing or restricting females among their ordained ministers. A number of union conferences in the United States and Europe have already made a separate decision on women’s ordination, alongside the Adventists in China.