by AT News Team

Updated August 20, 2012

For the third time this year a union conference constituency session has voted to authorize ordination to the gospel ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The vote was 79 percent in favor despite a personal appeal from Elder Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference, to reject the concept and two short speeches by Doug Batchelor, the noted television evangelist and senior pastor of the Sacramento Central Church.
Perhaps the most unexpected development of the day was a speech by Elder Ernie Castillo, a vice president of the North American Division and former executive secretary of the Pacific Union. He pointed out that the actions of these union conferences are in direct response to steps taken last fall by the GC Officers to force the NAD to back off on a policy that would have permitted commissioned ministers, including women, to serve as conference presidents. What is known as Working Policy E 60.
“This is not rebellion,” Castillo said directly to Wilson in front of the entire body. “This is a reaction. People who for 40 years have been repressed and discriminated against will eventually react. That is sociology 101.”
Wilson and Lowell Cooper, one of the GC vice presidents, made the same appeal that they presented to the Columbia Union Conference constituency session in July, although the language was somewhat softened with no reference to unspecified “grave consequences.” The delegates were asked to wait until the GC completes a study of the denomination’s theology of ordination launched last year. “It will be something more than ever before,” Wilson promised.
“It will be a very open and fair process. It is not window-dressing but an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to unite us.” He indicated that it would be balanced and gender-inclusive with lay members as well as clergy. He stated that the list of members of the committee that will integrate the studies at the world level will be announced soon.
Many delegates throughout the day specifically rejected this appeal largely because the GC has conducted three previous studies of the topic. Each time almost all of the Bible scholars involved have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in the Bible or Adventist heritage to prohibit extending ordination to women, yet the final recommendation is always negative because of “unity.”
“The majority of Adventists are opposed to this,” asserted Batchelor who has circulated video of sermons and printed materials for some time stating that women’s ordination is unbiblical. “There are Bible distinctions between the roles of men and women,” he said, advancing a position similar to that taught by the Southern Baptist Convention. He referred to a statement by Ellen White in the book Acts of the Apostles (page 95) to support his belief that she taught against women serving as ordained ministers despite the fact that she carried those credentials herself.
“It feels like there has not been fairness” in presenting the case against women’s ordination, Batchelor said. “This has been presented as an issue of equality,” stated Elder Steven Bohr, pastor of the Fresno Central Church, “but it is not really about equality. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal, but have different functions.” He cited an editorial (not written by Ellen White) in the Signs of the Times (January 24, 1895) which he said states that women should not serve as local elders.
The recommendation of the union conference executive committee to authorize ordination without gender discrimination was presented by Elder Larry Caviness, president of the Southern California Conference, and Elder Randy Roberts, senior pastor of the largest Adventist congregation in the world, the Loma Linda University Church. Roberts said that the recommendation is rooted in one of the fundamental doctrines of the denomination, number 14 among the 28 fundamental teachings, which states that “differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ” and cites Galatians 3:27-29.
Roberts pointed out that there are at least five policies on this topic that are clearly stated in the Church Manual and the General Conference Working Policy which are disregarded in many parts of the world and these variances have not caused significant disunity. He named these policies: (1) that deaconesses are to be ordained, (2) that women may serve as local elders, (3) that women serving as local elders are to be ordained, (4) that women may be employed as pastors, and (5) that women employed as pastors may conduct baptisms, weddings and the same sacred duties that men conduct.
Roberts called upon his training and experience in family counseling to make the observation that “there are few ways to more quickly fracture a family than to require uniformity.” He stated that the church in North America has no agenda to force the church in other parts of the world to implement the five policies cited above. “Where they feel it is inappropriate in their cultural context to implement these policies” they should be free to do so, and in Europe and North America “where it is necessary in our cultural context, we should be free to move ahead with the ordination of women to the ministry.”
Others who spoke in favor of the recommendation included Elder Ben Maxson, pastor of the Paradise (California) Church and a former department director at the GC; Elder John Brunt, senior pastor of the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace (California) and a respected New Testament scholar and former dean of the School of Religion at Walla Walla University; Elder Charles White, pastor of the Camelback Church in Phoenix and a great-grandson of James and Ellen White; and Dr. Randal Wisbey, president of La Sierra University. His father, Ron Wisbey, a retired minister and former union conference president in the Columbia Union, made one of the most moving statements.
“I have waited for over 30 years to be able to attend a meeting like this and speak to an actual motion to end gender discrimination in ordination,” the elder Wisbey said. “We allowed women pastors to baptize and the church did not split. We gave them the same level of pay as men and the church did not split.” Wisbey stated that he was told at each step that it would split the denomination. “Getting out in front has always been the road to change.”
Earlier in the afternoon it appeared that the proposal might not be approved. The bylaws committee had recommended a small change in the wording of one article which reads, “All the policies, purposes and procedures of this Union shall be in harmony with the working policies and procedures of the North American Division and the General Conference …” The proposed amendment would have inserted “in general” at the beginning of this article and replaced “shall” with “will” in order to provide some small latitude for policy variances.
This amendment failed by about four votes because changes in the bylaws require a two-thirds majority. A solid majority of 280 to 149 voted in favor, but that was only 65 percent of the delegates voting. The union conference officers were prepared for this and went ahead with the rest of the agenda. There was an appeal from delegates as to whether it was legal to do so and the parliamentarians ruled that the recommendation about ordination did not require that the bylaws amendment be adopted.
Wilson spent considerable time in this presentation responding to points made in articles by Gary Patterson and J. David Newman that Adventist Today has published recently. He did not name Patterson, Newman or Adventist Today, but clearly had these items in mind in his indirect references. In fact, he expressed appreciation for the “homework done on this topic,” but expressed the view that their conclusions were wrong and “more homework needs to be done.”
Adventist Today has been told that the North Pacific Union Conference has decided not to move ahead with an action similar to those taken in the Pacific Union, Columbia Union and North German Union. Adventist Today has also discovered that the rumor published by Spectrum, the journal of the largest organization of Adventist academics, that Wilson had a teleconference with union conference officers to discuss sanctions against these unions is not true. It remains to be seen what the next developments will be n this topic.
Adventist Today would like to hear from members of local conference executive committees that may discuss presenting female candidates for ordination. Adventist Today would also be interested in hearing about conferences that may vote resolutions against the practice, advocating continued gender discrimination.