Top Officers of the Adventist Denomination Respond to Election of a Woman as Conference President
by Monte Sahlin
By AT News Team, October 31, 2013
The top three officers of the General Conference (GC) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church issued a statement Thursday morning (October 31) expressing concern about the election of a conference president in the Southeastern California Conference "who is not recognized by the world church as an ordained minister." The statement was distributed without additional comment by the denomination's North American Division.
"Ordination to the ministry is one of the criteria set forth for being a conference president," the statement said. It refers to a document voted a year ago at the 2012 annual meeting of the GC executive committee in response to a number of union conferences in which constituency sessions have voted to extend ordination without the gender discrimination that has traditionally been practiced. The statement says that the 2012 vote "strongly indicated that [the GC] does not recognize as ordained ministers individuals who do not meet the criteria outlined in policy." This is generally understood to mean ministers who are women, despite the fact that there is nothing in the Working Policy that specifically prohibits women from being ordained to the gospel ministry.
Although the statement does not name the conference or the individual involved, it clearly refers to n historic vote by delegates to the regular constituency session of the denomination's Southeastern California Conference on Sunday (October 27) to elect Pastor Sandra E. Roberts as conference president. As reported by Adventist Today on Sunday, a total of 72 percent of the delegates from the local churches and denominational employees voted in favor of Roberts' election while only 28 percent voted against it, despite a request from the GC president to defer action as announced by the chairman at the session, Pastor Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference.
"General Conference administration is working with the North American Division administration as they deal with the implications of this local conference action," the statement this morning said. "By God's grace and through the Holy Spirit's guidance, the church will find its way through this challenging time. … We urge all church members and leaders to pray that the Holy Spirit will unite us to fulfill Christ's promise that 'this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come.' (Matthew 24:14)"
The statement stressed the importance of Working Policy to denominational unity around the world, while acknowledging that "policy is not inflexible" and "it can be changed." It cautioned that "when personal convictions are placed ahead of the collective policy decisions … troubling precedents are set." It made no reference to situations in which the "personal convictions" are moral stands taken by an overwhelming majority of duly elected constituency delegates. In fact, exceptions to the Working Policy have been voted on many occasions because of local legal requirements and cultural factors.
The North American Division executive committee has repeatedly voted amendments to its Working Policy to allow Commissioned Ministers to serve as conference presidents and thus sidestep this issue. The current GC leadership has specifically opposed this solution. The 2013 annual meeting of the committee begins this evening in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the denomination's world headquarters. Roberts has been appointed a member of the committee by name to assure that the Southeastern California Conference is duly represented at this meeting.
The statement was signed, "The General Conference Executive Officers." The GC constitution defines this as the top three officers, "the president, secretary and treasurer." Currently those individuals are Pastor Ted Wilson, president; Dr. G. T. Ng, executive secretary; and Robert Lemon, treasurer.