by Monte Sahlin

By AT News Team with information from an official news bulletin, June 5, 2014

The majority of the members of the committee assigned to study the topic by Seventh-day Adventist denominational leaders expressed a willingness to permit the ordination of women serving as pastors at its final meeting this week in Silver Spring, Maryland. A total of 95 of the 106 members of the committee voted with the following results:

A total of 40 members voted that “each entity responsible for calling pastors be authorized to choose either to have only men as ordained pastors or to have both men and women as ordained pastors.”

A total of 22 members voted “we recommend that denominational leadership at a proper level be authorized to decide … whether such an adaptation [permission to ordain both men and women] may be appropriate for their area or region," despite the widely-held belief that there is a “biblical pattern of male leadership … in the office of the ordained minister.”

A total of 32 voted to continue the "practice of ordaining/commissioning only qualified men to the office of pastor/minister throughout the world church.” The official news release gave no explanation of why this option seems to have ignored the fact that the denomination's Working Policy has since the 1990s allowed women to serve as commissioned ministers.

This means that a total of 62 out of 95 members who voted (a two-thirds majority) expressed a willingness for the extension of ordination to women pastors in those divisions or union conferences that decide to do so. Yet, denominational leaders seemed to steer away from coming to a conclusion on the question which Adventists have debated since the 1970s.

“The results of today’s poll shouldn’t dictate any outcomes for the world church, but they should be given their appropriate weight,” said Pastor Geoffrey Mbwana, a vice president of the denomination's General Conference (GC) and vice chairman of the study committee. “No one should quickly say, ‘This is all a clear matter.’ All that is really clear at this moment is that we have strong differences about the matter of ordaining women to ministry.” The official news release labeled the vote "an informal poll" and stated that was seen by denominational leaders an evaluation tool to determine if consensus positions had developed in the committee.

The assignment of the committee was to do an in-depth study and analysis of the subject of ordination with input from GC divisions around the world. The committee wasn’t organized to be proportionately representative of the number of members around the world. The next steps in the decision-making process will come in groups where the large imbalance between the number of members in North America, Europe and Australia and those in Africa, Asia and Latin America may become significant.

One committee member wistfully noted to the group that Wednesday (June 4) was Pentecost in the Jewish calendar. He said he hoped that a miracle of unanimity might conclude the two years the committee has spent on in-depth study of the Bible, theology, church history and the Adventist heritage. The committee included many of the denomination's Bible scholars, as well as key denominational administrators and some pastors and lay members.

Pastor Ted Wilson, president of the GC, addressed the committee after the poll results were announced by Dr. Artur Stele, the chairman of the committee. “As we move forward with this process, I’m asking that we each act with humility, not authoritatively or in an overbearing manner,” Wilson urged. “We should do all things in the spirit of Jesus.” He has repeatedly over recent years expressed concern about the unity of the very international, multicultural denomination.

Wilson also thanked the committee members for an action they had voted unanimously earlier in the meeting. They had voted “to affirm that in spite of the differences of opinion on the subject of women’s ordination, the members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee are committed to the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as expressed through the 28 Fundamental Beliefs.” The Fundamental Beliefs document does not take a position for or against the extension of ordination to women pastors.

“We will be very open and fair in the way we approach the handling of this matter,” Wilson assured the committee as he sketched key steps the denomination will take in the months ahead. First, several administrative groups at denominational headquarters will consider the written report of the study committee during meetings June 16-19, Wilson said. Those groups will position the matter for the agenda of the annual meeting of the denomination’s governing body October 9-14 in Silver Spring, Maryland.

GC administration has promised to make all materials from the study process and supplemental documents available in advance to the more than 300 members of the body. It will decide what to recommend to the denomination’s quinquennial GC session attended by delegates from all nations which is planned for San Antonio, Texas, in July next year. Wilson said that multiple presentations will be made at the scheduled meetings to help the members openly review the subject.

Wilson urged committee members to remain hopeful about the ultimate outcome of the process as the Wednesday session ended. “We may not yet see just where the Spirit is taking us on this issue,” he said. “But we firmly believe that God will open the way for His church to fulfill its mission.”

Stele praised the spirit of committee members during four weeks of meetings over the past 24 month. “Though we’ve had challenging and difficult discussions at times, we’ve developed a camaraderie, a respect for each other, during the last two years,” he said. “A large majority of participants learned to trust each other as they prayed together, ate meals together, and talked in the hallways. This is the first truly global study process on this issue that has ever been attempted. It’s been gratifying to see and feel how much this unique process has built up mutual understanding and better relationships.”

Dr. Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, GC education director and a committee member, focused on the long-term gain to the church from the study process. “One of the most important developments for us as a global, multi-national church was to revisit our hermeneutics, and think about how we study the Bible across many cultures,” she stated. “This experience helped us to clarify what we believe, and why we believe it, as well as focusing us on how we unitedly pursue our mission.”