by AT News Team
A prayer vigil had participants in many places across the country, some starting on Friday night at sundown, as the Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination prepared for what may be an historic constituency meeting today (Sunday, August 19) at a hotel in the Los Angeles area. Several churches in California had gatherings of delegates and interested members on Sabbath afternoon to discuss the issues.
Perhaps the largest gathering had more than a thousand people at the Loma Linda University Church for a two-hour discussion of women’s ordination and related issues. The Southeastern California Conference has long been a leader on this topic, formally studying the issue beginning in 1989. In 2000 the conference instituted equality in ministry through its “commissioned-ordained” designation of both male and female ministers, and in March of this year it issued Ordained Minister Credentials to replace the commissioned-ordained credentials for all its ministers.
The conference organized the meeting to provide information to the delegates it is sending to the constituency session and to any interested member. It featured several speakers, all passionately in favor of extending ordination to women serving in pastoral ministry. One attendee asked why there were no anti-women’s ordination speakers present, with no good answer given. In fact, the meeting was not so much academic discussion as a pro-ordination rally. For example, Chris Oberg, senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church, along with Redlands Church senior pastor Zachary Thorp, moderated the meeting, and she got the first applause when she said, “In our conference your pastors are being treated with equality!”
Brad Newton, executive secretary of the Pacific Union Conference, provided an overview of the issue and, in later comments, declared how he will be voting. He addressed the issue of “harmony,” given that the Pacific Union constitution speaks of the union conference acting in harmony with the General Conference (GC). Harmony means a blending of various voices—not unison, said Newton.
Bert Haloviak, former director of the GC archives, shared a historical perspective. In the1890s Ellen White addressed whether God more directly led church leaders at Battle Creek where the GC office was at the time or in Australia, with her giving a non-hierarchical answer. He portrayed Ellen White as calling for equality of male and female “public laborers” who should generally be paid from tithe funds. More recently, in the later part of the last century, the Internal Revenue Service threatened to disallow ministerial standing to Licensed Ministers if they did not perform full ministerial functions, and Haloviak cited how rapid, unilateral actions were taken by leaders to thwart IRS threats.
John Brunt, senior pastor of the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, spoke as a Biblical scholar. Many of the texts that are often applied to ordination are taken out of context and are irrelevant to the issue. In fact, ordination as such is not specifically mandated in the Bible, and this is true of many other necessary practices. Regardless, the Gospel is clear on one highly relevant matter: God is “no respecter of persons.” There is no “male or female, but all are one in Christ.” Brunt ended by appealing for delegates to the constituency meeting to vote for the gospel position.
Gerald Winslow, vice president for mission and culture at the Loma Linda University Medical Center, addressed the question of the relationship of ethics and policy. Integrity must triumph when ethics and policy differ. He cited Ellen White who called for following conscience when truth is at stake. Happily at the constituency meeting, delegates need not vote for principled integrity over church policy, as the church has no policy against the ordination of women to gospel ministry, said Winslow. He told the delegates that they stand at the crossroads of history and can vote for “fundamental fairness” in gospel ministry.
Mark Carr, professor of religion and ethics at Loma Linda University, spoke on concepts of unity and uniformity. He distinguished spiritual unity in the body of Christ as separate from structural uniformity. But more important than the content of the decision about ordaining women is the importance of maintaining a character of integrity.
After the presentations the crowd was permitted to ask questions and during this time a number of points were made, including:
–Around the world the Adventist faith is characterized by diverse practices on wedding bands, worship styles, Sabbath observance and a number of other things. Our unity is found in Christ, not uniform practices.
–For over 40 years church scholars have studied the ordination of women, and it is time to do the right thing in the Pacific Union Conference.
–Some Adventists have not learned from denominational history, as some members left the early church because the name “Seventh-day Adventist” is not “Biblical.” James White’s position was that policies should bear rational scrutiny and not be banned by Scripture. Haloviak curiously opined that he survived working at the GC for 35 years by “living in the 19th century.”
–The women’s ordination question is a non-issue with younger Adventists, and the church will lose further creditability if the Pacific Union constituency votes against equality.
–The gospel is incompatible with discrimination against women, but the Asian culture is traditionally hierarchical and sexist, said a Korean pastor. He encouraged American church members to take the “first step” and if it's the right direction, the Holy Spirit will lead.
Gerald Penick, conference president, introduced the meeting and it opened and closed with prayer. The large audience, only a fraction of whom were delegates, only occasionally expressed itself through polite applause. The size of the audience in response to the limited announcements of the meeting spoke loudly.