Response to the Vote on Ordination by Divisions in Europe, North America
From News Releases, July 9, 2015: The vote on ordination yesterday afternoon in the GC Session brought widespread disappointment among Adventists in the northern hemisphere. Both the denomination’s Trans-European Division (TED) and North American Division (NAD) issued statements last night.
The TED News published the following response to the vote: The outcome was not unexpected within the context of the World Church that struggles at times to develop understanding across cultural and even theological boundaries on issues that are outside of the denomination’s core 28 Fundamental Beliefs.
For the TED the result was disappointing. Many countries within the Division are among the most secular in the world and not only have strict rules on gender equality in the work place, but have many talented young people in the church who struggle to see why the ordination of women should even be an issue.
Following the vote Pastor Raafat Kamal, president of the TED, reflected that he saw today “as a global decision affecting a local context.” He stated, “We will have to deal with the local repercussions of it within the context of the TED.”
There are currently more than sixty female pastors serving within the TED territory. Another thirty women serve within an administrative capacity. “They have been watching today’s process with very keen interest,” he said. “For them, as well as all our members across the 22 countries the TED represents, we need to discuss a way forward. We need to support our female pastors, their constituencies and their congregations.”
Delegates listened carefully and respectfully to comments from those both for and against allowing Divisions to make a choice whether or not to ordain women in their particular region. For many opposed to the decision, the question was one of unity. Khanyisani Malufu from the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division argued that “letting individual Divisions decide on this matter will make for individualism. We need to stick together and not go against the Bible.”
That Bible view appeared to revolve around a more literal interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Uchechukwu Nwadike from West Central Africa stated that “the Bible says that God does not change… Jesus is the truth. He gave us the truth. He did not ordain any women to the gospel ministry. If that is the truth then we must live by the truth.”
Natasha Nebblett, a passionate and sincere young lady from North America and a leader in the Generation Youth for Christ Young adult conferences stated, “I do not need to be ordained. I say ‘no’ to the question and ‘no’ to dividing the church.”
The ‘Yes’ vote also had its strong proponents including GC vice president Lowell Cooper who stated that a “Yes response indicates that we will trust our brothers in Division Committees.” James Standish from Australia noted that “We are Bible believing Christians on both sides.. He then asked, “Can we respect each other? Vote ‘yes’ and get on with the mission of the church.”
One of the most poignant pleas came from Jeroen Tuinstra, president of the Belgian-Luxembourg Conference. He stated, “I am just trying to keep the church real. We may not be of this world but we are still in this world. We may wish to be in heaven tomorrow, but we are standing with our feet in the dirt of the Lord’s vineyard, showing the love of Christ.”
He then illustrated his point by telling of Maria, a young lady born in Colombia but who grew up in Belgium and who felt the call of God to be a pastor. He said, “She is a good pastor, open to her members, guiding them spiritually and being able to identify specifically with the children of the many immigrants from South America, who are caught between two cultures. Appreciated by many members, she shows evidence of God’s calling.”
However, following a pastors’ meeting where the issue of women’s ordination was raised, he found her in tears. “She cried because, when she listened to the call of God, she never wanted to be part of a controversy in the Church. She only wanted to respond to the calling of God in her life. She cried because she had to hear that, simply because she was born a woman, she was less than her male counterparts and that her church saw her as less capable or less called than if she were a man.”
So what is the way forward? Pastor Sam Davis, president of the South England Conference stated, “Many of our female pastors will be severely disappointed by this vote, as I am.” However, he refuses to be discouraged. Speaking on behalf of church leaders in Europe he said, “Many of us have female pastors working for us and they will continue to work for us.”
However, those pastors, and many of their male counterparts will need encouragement. Anna K. Z. Termey from Hungary reminded delegates of the Sabbath School lesson in the second quarter of 2015. Studying the gospel of Luke she saw that “Jesus lifted up women within a first century culture where they were seen to have very little value at all.” She pleaded for value for women in ministry.
Maja Ahac, ADRA director for Slovenia, is one of those who is hurting from today’s decision. “Being a female in leadership,” she wrote on the TED Facebook page, “today’s decision was really painful. How can I still fight for justice and equality for every human being while we don’t have it within our own church?”
That is an issue for the church to deal with in the coming months, and certainly leadership in Europe will take that issue seriously. Yet even with a level of disappointment they will fully agree with Pastor Ted Wilson, GC president, and his “John 17 wish that we should be one with Him [Jesus] to be able to finish God’s work.”
North England Conference president, Pastor Lorance Johnson summed it up at the end of a very long day: “I was very impressed with the way in which the delegates and observers conducted themselves. A positive example in how to engage as a body in dealing with difficult and sensitive issues. Following the outcome of today’s business, I pray that we all will focus on uniting together in fulfilling the mission given to us by God.”
North American Division Statement
The NAD communication department released the following statement last night (July 8): “The North American Division (NAD) of Seventh-day Adventists acknowledges the vote that took place earlier today at the 60th General Conference Session, not allowing for regional accommodation of those world regions asking to allow for the ordination of women. After much prayerful study and discussion, the delegates voted 1,381 to 977 to not pass the motion on the session floor.
“The leadership of the NAD is saddened by this vote, but respects the decision of the world body in session and we are committed to continual cooperation and fellowship with the world church. While today’s vote does not allow for each division of the church to ordain women to gospel ministry, we will continue to follow General Conference policy by commissioning women pastors, and ordaining women elders and deaconesses.
Many individuals in the NAD have weighed in on the conversation preceding this vote, and some of these conversations have become emotionally charged. NAD President Daniel Jackson shared his desire for the division after the vote. “We ask our members to focus their energies on the one thing we can agree with, the mission of the church. God has called all of us to serve Him in ministry, whether we are recognized by the church or not. The NAD recognizes that every person no matter his or her race, age or gender has a vital role to play in sharing the gospel message with the world. Let us be united as a family that is bound by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. While we may disagree on various approaches to ministry, let us all agree on the need to reach all people with the message of hope and wholeness, and a new life in Jesus. We will continue with our intention of placing as many women into pastoral ministry as possible. We affirm the important role they play in reaching all of God’s children. We ask that all members of the Adventist Church keep praying for God’s guidance as we move forward in mission.”