By Jiggs Gallagher, January 28, 2017: The last two weeks of January have been tumultuous in the American political realm, as everyone knows. It has been equally eventful inside the Adventist denominational organization on the contentious issue of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. Last week the General Conference (GC) leadership met with the nine union conference presidents from North America (eight in the United States and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada), together with the officers of the North American Division, as Adventist Today reported at the time.
This was announced as part of the continuing process of “prayer, conversation and consultation” initiated at the 2016 Annual Council. At that time a document was voted laying out a number of steps aimed at reaching reconciliation and unity on women’s ordination before the next annual meeting of the GC executive committee in October 2017.
The union conference presidents brought to the meeting a letter of solidarity, both in support of denominational unity and specifically supporting the idea that the Holy Spirit calls both men and women to pastoral ministry. It reminded the GC leaders that there is no Bible barrier to non-gender-specific ordination in the Adventist church.
It was something of a surprise that the seven union conference presidents whose territories have not ordained women to date, joined with their brethren in the Columbia Union Conference and the Pacific Union Conference where constituency sessions have removed gender as a consideration and local conferences have ordained women pastors. This made a solid phalanx of “ampersands” in support of women’s ordination.
The letter signed by all nine union conference presidents said, “We are united with the world church in the following: (A) We are fully committed to all of our 28 Fundamental Beliefs. (B) Bringing our Remnant Message to a dying world is our top priority. (C) The partnership of the North American Division with all our sister world divisions is important for both the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for our own spiritual health. (D) We affirm the recent TOSC [Theology of Ordination Study Committee] ‘Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination.’ (E) We affirm the necessity in finding the best spiritual/missional resolutions to the challenges of unity we face in order to remove challenges to our mission.”
The letter goes on to suggest the recommendations of TOSC as a basis for dealing with the issue of ordination. TOSC was appointed by the GC executive committee and chaired by a GC officer yet its recommendations were largely ignored at the 2015 GC Session.
Adventist Today published the official announcement of the meeting the same evening. It simply acknowledged that the reconciliation process is ongoing, a rather bland joint statement. The GC officers made no response or even acknowledgement of the union conference presidents’ letter.
Old hands in the denominational structure remember the current GC president’s father, Pastor Neal C. Wilson, who was well knows for talking a contentious issue figuratively to death. It was commonplace in the era of Numbers, Rea, Davenport, et. al., for committees to study an issue, meet to discuss it, table the motion, create another committee, etc., etc. The singular and memorable exception to that rule was the Glacier View meeting in August, 1980, where Dr. Desmond Ford met with a swift and final conclusion to his questions about the Heavenly Sanctuary doctrine. It was out of character for Wilson, who was widely expected to continue to study, meet, and talk about the issue for some time.
The consultations in the current process will continue for another eight months at least, leading up to the Annual Council in October. The world church, and especially North America, will be watching intently. “There is no weakening” a source in the NAD told Adventist Today.
Jiggs Gallagher is a senior editor for Adventist Today and teaches journalism at California State University. He has served as a communication officer for a number of Adventist institutions and worked for the GC as well as in secular news media. His report was edited by the Adventist Today staff.