by AT Staff

By Adventist Today (AT) News Team

It is likely that most members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America are unaware that there was ever a rule that prohibited women from serving as conference presidents. Since a woman—Ellen G. White—was the most influential of the founders of the denomination and served a lifetime as a preacher, leader and holder of credentials as an ordained minister, this news item may seem somewhat arcane.

Adventist Today (AT) has previously reported that during the annual meeting of the North American Division (NAD) of the General Conference last month the governing body of the denomination for this region voted to retain a policy originally voted in 2009. It is called Working Policy E-60 and it permits both ordained ministers and commissioned ministers to serve as conference presidents.

Although the vote was 163 to 61, a strong majority in anyone’s math, and some who voted against it expressed support for the concept, there has evidently been strong criticism of the NAD leadership in some circles. Pastor Daniel Jackson, president of the denomination in North America, has released a five-page document dated December 8 carefully documenting the background to the vote of the governing body and pointing out several things as untrue, presumably accusations made by some.

The NAD “has undertaken no action to alter the wording of the Model Constitution of the General Conference,” Jackson states, “and will not do so at any point in the future unless permitted to do so by the General Conference.” The vote of the NAD governing body “did not include the rejection of the authority of the General Conference, the undermining of the jurisdiction of the world body, nor an open rebellion of the North American Division against General Conference policy.” These facts are documented in detail.

It would be a mistake to think that these accusations were made by any current officer of the General Conference or of another division. There is a long-established pattern by which top leaders in the Adventist denomination discuss their differences of opinion, if any actually exist on this matter. It is done in private conversations and occasionally in private correspondence. It is never done in written, public releases.

It is more likely that Pastor Jackson’s statement is in response to rumors created by individuals outside the denomination’s leadership who are opposed to any change on the issue of women in ministry and would like to stir up a negative reaction. This particular item—policy allowing women to be elected as conference presidents—is currently a proxy for the larger issue of whether women serving as pastors can be ordained.

Despite a vote by a General Conference Session in the 1880s supporting the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, the issue has been debated since the 1970s. At the 1990 GC Session in Indianapolis the delegates voted not to move ahead to preserve the unity of the global movement, not because there was a consensus that the Bible is against it. Five years later the GC Session in Utrecht, Holland, turned down a request from the NAD to be permitted to decide the issue within its territory. Since that time there has been no further action although some would like to use the situation to foreclose any future steps.

At the most recent GC Session in Atlanta last year, the newly-elected GC President Ted N. C. Wilson promised that an in-depth Bible study of the concept of ordination would be undertaken with a report back to the next session in 2015. This fall the GC Annual Council established a step- by-step timetable for this study to be conducted in all parts of the world and the findings brought together.

Almost all Adventist Bible scholars say that there is very little material in Scripture that deals directly with this topic. Ordination is a concept that is rooted largely in extra-biblical traditions. The complete text of Pastor Jackson’s release is available here.