August 16, 2016: In response to contradictory votes by its constituency delegates in 2012 and the denomination’s General Conference (GC) Session in 2015, the North German Union Conference of the Adventist denomination released this week a policy statement voted by its governing body on June 19. The policy seeks to establish an honest position between the vote at the union conference’s constituency meeting in April 2012 to ordain women serving as pastors and the vote of the world body in July 2015 to deny a request that would have allowed the Division organizations to decide the question.
The new policy recognizes that the GC Working Policy does not allow ordination for women, but does allow women to serve as Commissioned Ministers and specifies that an appropriate ceremony of commissioning is to be conducted for the women and men who are commissioned. Denominational policy also requires that men and women serving as ministers are to be treated equally.
“Committed to the biblical practice of the laying on of hands with a prayer of blessing,” the new policy specifies that this is to be the practice for commissioning of Adventist ministers in Germany. “This commissioning … is granted to both men and women without distinction and is valid in the territory of” the two union conferences in Germany, the policy states. It also specifies a similar “renewed commissioning” for ministers elected as conference or union conference presidents in Germany, again stating that this applies to “male or female” clergy.
Although some will undoubtedly label this action as “rebellion,” the document specifically states that this is “in agreement with … GC Working Policy E 5 10.” It also quotes from a statement released in July 2015 at the time of the GC Session, re-emphasizing that “we respect the will of the majority.”
It also points out that the commissioning ceremony specified by the GC Working Policy is the theological equivalent of what “ordination” is understood to be in Germany. This is a point that has been made by both proponents and opponents of including women in ordination.
The voted document also includes a 10-point rationale for the new policy based on many Bible texts and pointing out that “the equality of men and women is explicitly expressed in Fundamental Belief 14” of the denomination’s Fundamental Beliefs document. Also, “Fundamental Beliefs 6, 7 and 21 confirm that both men and women are called to exercise ‘dominion’ … as responsible stewards.” It also quotes Fundamental Belief 17 as the source of the policy regarding spiritual gifts in the church such as ministry.
Other union and local conferences in several places have made a similar decision to use the Commissioned Minister policy which is authorized by the GC and intended to be substantially equivalent to the Ordained Minister role. It is a way to avoid direct confrontation with the refusal of the GC delegates to allow for any change in the practice of ordination and at the same time avoid direct violation of the ethics of many Adventists regarding discrimination on the basis of gender.
The North German Union Conference includes four conferences with a total of 338 local churches and about 20,000 members in a population of 47 million people. This is one of the most urbanized and industrialized regions of Germany.
The full three-page document entitled “Statement of the North German Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists On the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry” can be downloaded in German and in English from the organization’s web site. The featured graphic with this articles is the flag of Germany.