by Nic Samojluk
For several decades now the Adventist Church has been involved in a never ending debate over the issue of gender discrimination regarding women’s ordination. The main bone of contention has been over whether uniformity is a requisite for church unity. Can we have true unity without doctrinal uniformity? Can the church function with unity on essentials and diversity on peripheral issues.
The Case for Unity and Uniformity
The leadership of the church has been striving for unity and uniformity over the controversial issue of women’s ordination. The best scholars of the church have invested enormous amounts of time and effort in an attempt to discover what the biblical teaching is regarding this highly contested topic without reaching a consensus.
Given this lack of agreement among the experts in biblical studies, the Adventist leaders kept urging fellow Adventists to be patient and avoid making a move that might threaten to split the Adventist community over this seemingly crucial issue.
When the Pacific Union Conference [PUC] decided to schedule a constituency meeting for August 19, 2012 to decide this controversy, Ted Wilson, the president of the General Conference, made desperate efforts to convince the delegates to vote for unity and uniformity.
The Case for Unity and Diversity
The view of the majority opinion in the PUC was summarized with unusual clarity by Randy Robert, the Senior Pastor of the Loma Linda University Church; who argued for unity on essentials with diversity on peripheral issues. He reminded his hearers of the fact that when dealing with similar controversies in the Christian Church, Paul did not insist on uniformity over non essential doctrinal issues like food which had been offered to idols and even the Jewish circumcision ritual.
He added Paul’s practice of forbidding women from speaking in the church, which is universally ignored by Christians and Adventists today. We do allow women to teach, preach, baptize, and teach both other women and even men, which Paul considered to be unacceptable. The classic example of the wide acceptance of this practice is the case of Ellen White, who was allowed to preach and teach the entire Adventist community both with verbal and written instructions for over a century now.
Needless to say, the opinion of Randy Roberts prevailed to the dismay of Ted Wilson, who reacted by announcing that the General Conference will study in the month of October on how to properly respond to this undesirable event which, according to him, seriously threatens to break the unity of the Adventist community of faith. Of course, for him, unity without uniformity makes no logical sense.
Unity on Peripherals and Diversity on Essentials
My personal view on what is taking place in the Adventist Church is that we have been fighting for unity on peripherals while practicing diversity on essentials. We have been majoring in minors and minoring on majors. The church’s insistence on depriving women; who are allowed to study for the ministry, and who after graduation are permitted to teach, preach, baptize, and to officiate at wedding ceremonies; of the privilege of prayer, laying of hands, and a piece of paper which recognizes their spiritual calling for the ministry; represents to me a good example of our stress on unity on peripherals or majoring in minors.
Contrast this with the church position on abortion, which represents in my view a violation of one of God’s Commandments enshrined in the Decalogue, which the Lord wrote with his own finger on two tablets of stone. On this life and death issue, which has deprived millions of innocent human beings of what is the most sacred asset God bestowed on humanity, we as a church have so far allowed for diversity in spite of the fact that our Adventist pioneers considered the practice of abortion as plain murder.
When our Castle Memorial Hospital was faced with a demand for abortion back in 1970 by their non-Adventist physician staff, the church did not say: We must have unity and uniformity over this controversial issue. Neal Wilson, the then president of the North American Division, did not say: “Let’s wait for the entire worldwide community to be united on this issue before we allow our North American hospitals to offer elective abortions in our medical institutions.” Profit from abortion prevailed over unity and uniformity, and moral duty took a back seat.
Eventually the church approved the policy contained in the document known as “Guidelines on Abortion,” a non prescriptive set of suggestions which pretended to speak on behalf of the unborn, but which provided a long list of exceptions that opened the door wide for abortions on demand, and which eventually led 12 of our Adventist hospitals to offer abortion services to their patients with impunity. One of these institutions was described by a General Conference representative as an “abortion mill.”
So much for unity and uniformity on a major life and death issue! Said Guidelines on Abortion document was never submitted to the worldwide Adventist Community in a general session of the General Conference where delegates from the entire world are present. Thus, diversity on a crucial doctrinal issue affecting one of God’s Commandments prevailed without an insistence on unity and uniformity.
My question to my fellow believers is: Do we have a moral and logical right to insist on unity and uniformity on women’s ordination if we have neglected to require such unity and uniformity on a life and death issue like abortion? Is a piece of paper entitled Ministerial Ordination more important than the life of millions of unborn human beings? Why do we insist on uniformity on a minor issue like ordination but allow diversity on what is clearly condemned in the Decalogue? Wasn’t this the problem of those who crucified the Son of God?
Nic Samoujluk is the author of a doctoral dissertation entitled "From Pro-Life to Pro-Choice: The Dramatic Shift in Seventh-day Adventists Attitude Towards Abortion. He is the editor and manager of the SDA Forum, an independent Web site.