by AT News Team
The Columbia Union Conference has joined the Mid-America Union Conference in a vote of support for the regular ordination of women who serve as pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In the last few days the executive committee during its spring meeting renewed its request to authorize such ordinations. This request was originally made nearly a quarter century ago.
The intention of the church administrators, pastors, educators and lay representatives involved was to “propel the subject of women in ministry to the top of [the] agenda this year,” according to a statement from the union conference’s communication office. To items were voted, to establish a committee to recommend ways to affirm women serving in pastoral ministry in its eight-state region and to renew “our previous action requesting the NAD to grant us permission to ordain women in ministry.”
This is not a surprising development. On several occasions this executive body has voted ordination approval for specific pastors who happened to be women. The General Conference Working Policy gives union conferences the final approval in ordaining clergy. There have been repeated communications between the leadership of the Columbia Union Conference and General Conference administration. The committee has in the past been brief on these conversations and heard an informal report that the former GC president, Pastor Jan Paulsen, hoped that the GC executive committee would open the way.
Evidence of the strong feelings on this topic held by the members of the committee is the fact that they asked the study committee to report back at their next meeting on May 17. The study committee includes representatives from each local conference and has been assigned five tasks. (1) “Review past history of Columbia Union practice. (2) Review biblical and Spirit of Prophecy mandates regarding the role of women in ministry. (3) Review Columbia Union Conference Bylaws and General Conference/NAD policies. (4) Study and review cultural implications regarding women in ministry. (5) Recommend to Columbia Union Executive Committee appropriate initiatives for supporting women in ministry.”
Many Seventh-day Adventists in North America, Europe, Australia and other places continue to feel very strongly that the failure of the denomination to move ahead on this issue is causing a large share of young people who grow up in the church to drop out. Research has shown that most Adventist teens and young adults see the denomination’s current position as out of touch with contemporary realities and do not buy the argument that to ordain women pastors is unbiblical.
General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson announced in 2010 that this issue would be studied again and the GC executive committee has announced a theological study process. David Newman, the editor of Adventist Today, recently announced his intention to retire as senior pastor of New Hope Church near Baltimore in July and pursue a PhD program in the U.K. to complete an in-depth study of the topic of ordination.
The Columbia Union Conference statement promised that more information will be released after the “committee’s report to the Executive Committee on May 17.” A retired denominational officer pointed out to Adventist Today that the GC in Session approved the ordination of women in 1881 and when the issue was brought back to the 1990 Session in Indianapolis, the official decision includes a statement that study of the Bible and the writings of Ellen White do not prohibit this step. “Look at the minutes. It explicitly states that the decision not to move ahead with ordination of women was due to unity, not for doctrinal reasons.”
Despite that history, there are Adventists who strongly oppose the idea, believing it to be unbiblical. Large majorities of delegates from outside the western world voted against the 1995 request of the North American Division to decide the issue within its territory, although there is no clear evidence as to why they took this position. Some Adventist leaders from the southern hemisphere have suggested privately that it may be a concern about unity and not a full conclusion on the Bible foundation. More recently the GC Officers have allowed the Adventist Church in China to do what the NAD requested in 1995 without taking the decision to any public meeting.