by AT News Team
Delegates from the local conferences of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in five western states will convene Sunday in a special session. It was called specifically to consider a recommendation from the Pacific Union Conference executive committee to end the practice of refusing ordination for women serving in pastoral ministry.
If the delegates approve the recommendation, it will be the third union conference around the world to take this step. The North German Union and the Columbia Union have already voted the same action. The Adventist Church in China has been ordaining women pastors since the 1980s.
The recommendation was approved by a vote of 42 to 2 by the union conference executive committee on May 9. It listed six reasons for the action: (1) There is Biblical support for the ordination of women in Joel 2:28-29, Micah 6:8 and Galatians 3:28. (2) Paragraphs 14 and 17 from the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church support the ordination of women. (3) The cofounder of the Adventist Church was a woman, Ellen G. White, “who remains an authoritative … voice.” (4) The North American Division Working Policy L 45 05 3 “assigns Union the final decision-making authority and responsibility with respect to ordination.” (5) The union executive committee has previously voted its full commitment to ordaining women on August 30, 1995; May 12, 2010; and March 15, 2012. (6) “The Pacific Union is enriched by Spirit-filled women who are responding to God’s call.”
In fact, if the recommendation is voted, the Pacific Union Conference will not change any procedures. It has for the last ten years processed approvals for both ordained and commissioned ministers together in one list and it will continue to do so. Local conferences will have the choice of ordaining approved women, and at least one of the conferences has already taken the step of issuing Ordained Minister credentials to the women who were commissioned in the past.
But that has not kept this meeting from being the focus of intense interest. The General Conference (GC) officers have issued two documents arguing that the delegates should vote against the recommendation. They give three reasons: (1) The GC Session voted in 1990 not to go ahead with the ordination of women to the gospel ministry although the study commission did not find any biblical reasons for not doing so. (2) At the 2010 GC Session the current GC president announced another study of ordination which was later authorized by the GC executive committee and is to result in a report to the 2015 GC Session. (3) If the union conference goes ahead of the current study it will break the unity of the denomination and result in “grave consequences.”
“Many administrators are skeptical of this study,” one retired theologian explained to Adventist Today, “because the General Conference has conducted several major studies on this topic over the last half century and each has come to the same conclusion: There is no sound biblical reason to refuse to extend ordination to women serving in pastoral ministry.”
Some Adventists argue the “male headship” doctrine which is taught by the Southern Baptist Convention, but the Adventist denomination has consistently taken a position against this doctrine as the Baptists have developed it over the last three or four decades and even conservative Adventist Bible scholars oppose it. Some even resort to the same arguments used by the papacy to defend an all-male clergy in the Catholic church.
Spectrum, the journal of the largest organization of Adventist academics, has published a list of three web sites that oppose the Pacific Union recommendation. “Christ or Culture asserts that ordaining women ‘presents a serious crisis that threatens to fragment our beloved church, create confusion in our homes, and cripple the progress of the three angels’ messages.’ The site purports to ‘provide biblical, historical, and church support for this position’ [and] some of the endorsers will serve as delegates to the PUC constituency session.” The other two web sites are both produced by Doug Batchelor, senior pastor of the Sacramento Central Church and director of the Amazing Facts television ministry.
Those who oppose the ordination of women have used the words “rebellion” and “mutiny” in recent weeks in response to the vote of the Columbia Union Conference constituency delegates by a four to one margin to end gender discrimination. Last week GC President Ted Wilson appealed for “unity” in an interview on the independent television channel, Three Angels Broadcasting. Spectrum has reported a “teleconference with union officials” in which Wilson discussed “potential sanctions against unions viewed as being out of compliance with the General Conference Working Policy,” although Adventist Today has not been able to confirm this.
Because the Pacific Union Conference includes an amendment to its bylaws on the agenda Sunday as part of the package of recommendations, that items will require a two-thirds majority vote. This opens the possibility of a mixed outcome in which the majority votes in favor of ordaining women but the bylaws amendment fails to get a sufficiently large majority to pass.
“That could result in significant anger and frustration on both sides,” a California pastor observed to Adventist Today. “Please ask people to pray for us on Sunday.” Either way, Adventist Today will report the results of the meeting.
The General Conference made a specific request to Adventist Today for us to publish the latest and most detailed statement from the GC officers on this topic: https://www.adventistreview.org/artcle/5601/archives/issue-2012-1522/questions-and-answers-regarding-issues-of-unity