It suddenly became clear that the vote would be much, much closer between the “Yes’s” and “No’s” than any such wide-scale poll had ever come before on the question of ordaining women by geographical discretion around the world.
The two positions on ordaining women by divisional discretion had been separated by a huge margin 25 years ago, on a question almost identical to the one placed before the delegates in 2015, and some believed the vote would be very similar. But this was not to be.
Change in the Air
As I toiled in the Convention Center, promoting our special edition of the magazine and distributing books and publications for the advancement of Adventist Today Foundation, change was clearly in the air. At our table we offered free publications in both Spanish and English, presenting in measured tones the comparisons and contrasts of various ordination scenarios, and the demand for these booklets ran into the hundreds and then the thousands, with Spanish-language demand at times surpassing calls for the English (both of us at the booth were bilingual, and we could understand the background discussion as the Hispanic delegates, caught in a valley of decision, pondered what they were reading).
Despite massive and costly campaigns to argue the virtues of men-only ordained ministry, we sensed that this would be a far different vote than in 1990, and that in fact it very well could be “close.” The “Nay’s” still wore the spurs and carried the riding crops among the delegates, but the margins were narrowing, and in fact by the time the vote was tallied, the margin had narrowed to about three-to-two opposed. Clearly attitudes across the world field were on the move. Ellen White’s comments more than 100 years before on another issue applied here – when in doubt about an issue (paraphrasing), take note of the tone of those advancing each side of the argument. An accusative, bitter tone often accompanies an argument on the wane.
In fact, the Adventist Today booth (though small and simple) became a major gathering ground for those seeking understanding of the ordination issue and other questions. The two of us at the booth put in 10-hour days of nearly continuous bilingual dialogue, and Cherie was able to greet the African delegates with native aplomb from her days as a young missionary in Nigeria in the 1950s, and later in the 1970s.
The Voices of the People
From time to time the delegates recessed and were allowed to circulate in the aisles of the vast hall, filled with hundreds of booths ranging from sale of soy products to cases for hold-the-line traditionalism made by some ministry proponents. Prior to the session Adventist Today (AT) had prepared and circulated by mail and email, to each division, copies of a special “double” issue of the AT journal, focusing on the issues on the agenda at the GC Session.
Scores of delegates stopped by our booth to thank us for publishing the special issue (at not inconsiderable expense) and asking us in many cases for additional copies. Ours was a purposely measured voice in the hall, not non-supportive of a “Yes” vote on ordination, but always reasonable and never vitriolic in the tones we often heard from the other side of the issue.
Heard at Our Booth
- One of the most vehement such comments was a prediction that “ordaining women will inevitably provide a gateway path for the ordination of those caught up in an unrestrained homosexual lifestyle.” This argument seemed to carry water with few, if any, at our booth. Undoubtedly the measured reasoning over the past 25 or so years by the independent Adventist press has diffused that argument, except among the most decisively pro-male-headship cases.
- A second argument went like this, “If we ordain women, we will be taking the whole Church into apostasy, delaying yet further the coming of Jesus to take home His perfect Bride.”Interestingly enough, the “Ellen White argument” seemed to counteract this concern, especially among Hispanics who by and large hold the life and ministry of Ellen White in highest esteem. Came the response, “But our Church would not exist without the inspired leadership of a holy woman. If God can consecrate a woman in 1844 in full-time ministry, certainly He is free to do so even more in 2015!”
- But the message has gotten through convincingly that ours is not an Old Testament church and that the day-to-day practices of the prototypical tabernacle are no longer binding. Ours is a Christian faith, where a woman was allowed many times to view, in vision, the most sacred inner sanctums of heaven.
- We also heard at our booth words to the effect that “This is a liberal/conservative issue, where liberals support ordination and conservatives are struggling to hold the line on what they believe is apostasy.”Quite interestingly, some of the most persuasive arguments pro-ordination were being expressed at the Session by moderates and conservatives, and this was noted by visitors to our booth. “But aren’t Cindy Tutsch and Ty Gibson both conservatives?”“Yes, they are,” came back the response. “We no longer see this as a liberal/conservative issue. It’s an Adventist issue, and it’s not a moral issue; it’s a decision God makes, as to whom He will bless. Ordination simply recognizes the gift already divinely given.”
- A most surprising observation at our booth was this: “One of the most convincing arguments pro-ordination is the style and spirit of the anti-ordination advocates. If these are the kinds of arguments needed to sustain their position, maybe their position is not biblical.”
Adventist Today was a strong presence, but even so the VOTE did not go pro-ordination, but from our observations, the TREND is definitely moving that direction, at an accelerating rate. Women will continue to be ordained in moderate numbers, without great fanfare and controversy. There will be a death struggle by opponents, but the winning argument clearly will be: “God is God, and He has the right and privilege to break from tradition and bless us in special ways in these times.”
A Time to Move Forward
Adventist Today must continue to grow as an agenda-setter in a Church clear prone to conceptual and procedural missteps. The ordination issue has been a case study. One visitor asserted, “How paradoxical that one way to move an idea forward in North America is to arrange to have GC administration oppose it. That’s an overstatement, granted, but it does seem that on this one issue of ordination, the GC has lost a tremendous amount of credibility, and I understand the situation may be far worse in parts of Europe.”
Within this context, leadership from the intellectual grass roots of the Church is necessary, and this was pointed out to me by a delegate from Scandinavia: “Thanks for sending us your special issue. We read it and were encouraged that there is hope for the Church, despite this problem with the ordination question.”
Financial Needs Serious
As I have returned to the office and “counted the cost” of our sojourn in San Antonio, I note that it was an expensive foray, yet fraught with wonderful accomplishments and a vital, revitalized franchise direction for Adventist Today. Our news team this year consisted of several decisively youthful writers, with their refreshing points of view. We were able to publish an extremely vital special edition of the magazine that circulated throughout the world BEFORE the session and was distributed by the thousands during the Session itself. AT emerges from this Session in a stronger position of influence than ever before.
This summer we must replace our depleted resources with at least $30,000. Our needs are serious, but our platform is firm. We must cultivate what we have sown in San Antonio, and our first step in that direction is through an issue in just a few weeks, dedicated to analyzing exactly where the Church finds itself in the post-San Antonio milieu. (To accomplish this we will most certainly need that $30,000 within weeks, not months.)
We are moving forward. There will be contests ahead, but what has been accomplished must be pressed forward with dignity, aplomb, and convincing Christian attitude. This Adventist Today will do with your support and blessing.
Edwin A. Schwisow, Treasurer \ Secretary for Development \ Adventist Today