by AT News Team
Last year at a constituency meeting, the Netherlands Union Conference was one of the first in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination to vote an end to gender discrimination in ordination of clergy. On May 30 (2013) the executive committee decided to implement the decision of the constituency delegates and ordain female pastors, recognizing them as equal to their male colleagues. The delegates from the churches had charged the church leadership with the task of implementing the principle of equality as soon as possible. After much discussion, and after weighing many options, the executive committee decided that the best way to implement equality is through extending ordination of men and women.
The 2012 constituency session voted this action: "Considering the biblical principle of the equality of men and women, the delegates in session indicate that they reject the current situation of inequality in the church on principle. For this reason, and considering the context of Dutch society, they charge the executive [committee] to vigorously promote this perspective in the worldwide church. As quickly as possible, and no later than six months after the next session of the General Conference (2015), equality between men and women will be implemented at all organizational levels of the church in the Netherlands. The equal ordination of female pastors also falls into this category."
"As [the] Dutch church we wish to stand firmly behind the principle that all human beings are fundamentally equal, regardless of gender, race, or background," stated a news release received by Adventist Today. "This equality informs an integral part of our fundamental beliefs. The decision not to distinguish between pastors based on their gender falls under this principle. Through this decision the Netherlands Union Conference will be at variance with the policies of the world church. We wholeheartedly wish to follow these policies, and recognize that there must be unity in the church of Jesus Christ. This made implementing the [vote of the constituency session last year] and making this decision particularly complicated. In the end, this decision was the result of weighing the principle of unity against the principle of equality. Other possibilities were also discussed, including the option of not ordaining any pastors until the world church recognizes equality, and the option of waiting until the upcoming session of the General Conference of the world church to reach a decision. Ultimately it was decided that from June 1, 2013, all ordained and commissioned pastors, regardless of gender, will be considered ordained in the Netherlands. In practice this means that Pastor Elise Happé-Heikoop (pastor of Arnhem, Nijmegen and Doetinchem) is now considered ordained, and that on September 21, Guisèle Berkel-Larmonie will be ordained together with her (male) colleague Enrico Karg."
An English translation of the item in the executive committee minutes, supplied by the Netherlands Union Conference, reads: "Considering the decision of the 2012 Union Session regarding the equality of men and women (#153), and taking our ethical objections to unequal treatment into account, the Netherlands Union Conference will no longer differentiate between male and female pastors as of June 1, 2013. All pastors, irrespective of their gender, will be 'ingezegend' pastors. When reporting to the world church, the Netherlands Union Conference will list all pastors as being 'ordained.'”
Because of the potentially delicate nature of this topic, it was decided that the communication of this decision would be delayed until July 5, 2013. This gave the leadership enough time to properly and correctly inform the Trans-European Division of the General Conference.
The Netherlands Union Conference has 5,276 members in 71 congregations (55 organized churches and 16 church plants). Last year the 26 pastors in the Netherlands baptized more than 150 new members. In recent years the church has grown steadily, averaging an increase of 3.5 percent per year. While some of this growth can be attributed to immigration, the church-planting movement has been particularly successful in reaching the native-born Dutch population in one of the most secular countries in the world.