Vote on Ordination: Majority Says “No” to Women as Adventist Ministers
By AT News Team, Updated Twice July 9, 2015: The delegates gathered at the General Conference Session in San Antonio took the vote that was scheduled nearly a year ago and has been the focus of much discussion, many hopes and even greater apprehension. “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?” The official ballot count was 977 yes and 1,381 no. Or, 41% to 59%, which is a significantly greater yes vote than the last time the same idea was put forward in 1995 at the session in Utrecht, Holland.
As the clock neared the agreed time for the vote, some 34 delegates made points of order, seeking more time for the discussion, complaining that the reports from the study committee took the entire morning. Pastor Raymond Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, stated that some people have been waiting in line at the microphones since the morning and moved that there be two more hours of discussion. The parliamentarian ruled that such a motion is out of order since Hartwell was making a point of order which cannot be used for such a purpose under the Rules of Order. Pastor Armando Miranda, one of the GC vice presidents, said that was because so much time was taken in the morning for the committee.
At 4:30 pm, the time previously mandated, the chairman, Dr. Michael Ryan, a retiring GC vice president, announced that there would be a season of prayer before the balloting started. All over the Alamodome delegates knelt together in prayer. He ended the season of prayer by praying for the entire delegation and the decision before them.
The GC Secretariat, in consultation with Nancy Lamoreaux, chief information officer of the GC, had prepared an alternative plan for the vote in case the electronic voting system did not work. This proved to be important because the delegates voted on the first day of the session to abandon the electronic voting system after it failed test runs.
“We have tried to be transparent, honest and thoughtful, and to ensure the privacy of the vote to the best of our ability,” Lamoreaux stated in a GC news release this morning. The paper secret ballot system was explained to all of the delegates when the time came to vote.
Delegates were dismissed by row and lined up at 14 stations situated around the seating area on the main floor of the Alamodome. Each delegate has a badge with a barcode and these were scanned by a staff member from the denomination’s Auditing Service who then handed them a ballot. This was designed to make sure that only delegates voted.
The ballots were printed on special paper 5.5 by 8.5 inches in size with a “Yes” in five languages on one half and a “No” in the same five languages on the other half. Delegates marked a box with a pen to indicate their vote.
There were four collection boxes where the ballots were deposited, each locked with clear sides so that it could be seen that there were ballots in the boxes. After all of the delegates had marked and deposited their ballots, the boxes were opened on work tables at the front of the auditorium and the auditors, together with the GC secretaries, opened the boxes and counted the ballots.
Dr. Jan Paulsen, the retired former GC president, made an appeal for the delegates to vote yes which brought a handful of angry reactions. Many church members around the world have expressed a strong antipathy to the disrespect that they feel was shown toward him in this reaction.
Dr. Ted Wilson, the current GC president, pledged to go with either outcome. He said, “I think it is well known what I think about this issue,” evidently referring to the opposition to women’s ordination that he has privately expressed for a number of years. Ironically, his father, Pastor Neal Wilson, who served as GC president until 1990, supported extending ordination to women pastors.
Natasha Nebblett, the president of the independent youth organization, Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), made a statement against women’s ordination claiming that many young adults in the denomination share her view. A young woman immediately sent a Twitter; “The female leader of GYC decides to say no to confirming the leadership of other women in ministry? You can’t make this stuff up!”
After the vote, the delegation from the North American Division met in Room 103 in the Convention Center to discuss the outcome. One of the major problems with this decision is that (so far as all polls show and in the opinion of the vast majority of the youth workers contacted by Adventist Today) young adults in the northern hemisphere are very negative about the refusal of the denomination to ordain women serving as pastors.
Three lines of thought emerged from the comments made during the discussion that went all afternoon. In each case the speakers addressed more than the specific question to be voted on and gave their opinions about the larger issue of whether women can have a role in pastoral ministry as the spiritual leader of a congregation.
Many of the speakers who lined up at the “No” microphone focused their comments on the Bible and expressed the view that the Bible does not permit women to be ordained ministers. They said Adventists hold the Bible as the only foundation for our teachings and it must be the basis for deciding any controversies; the Bible teaches that God’s word applies to all cultures; the Bible teaches that God created men and women with different roles; the Bible teaches that an elder must be of noble character and the “husband of one wife” in a New Testament passage; the Bibles is clear that no woman ever functioned as an elder; the Bible shows Jesus and the apostles as a model for church governance and women did not exercise this leadership. At least one speaker stated that allowing women’s ordination undermines three of the denomination’s Fundamental Beliefs. Some speakers stated that God used women to lead spiritual revivals and as prophets, and they are encouraged to participate in gospel work, but that does not necessitate ordination.
Many of the speakers who lined up at the “Yes” microphone expressed the view that it is important to include women and men equally in the ordained ministry. They stated that the Bible teaches that men and women were equal in all things at Creation with no female submission to male headship mentioned until after the fall as a result of sin; women are used as leaders in multiple ways by God throughout Scripture; Jesus made no reference to gender, just service; the Holy Spirit give spiritual gifts to all believers for the fulfillment of the mission of the church with particular mention that in the last days spiritual leadership will be poured out on men and women and ordination is the church’s official recognition of the choices that the Holy Spirit has made. Some speakers pointed out that certain Bible passages have been misunderstood by those who oppose women’s ordination. The text in Timothy is not about ordination but learning from teachers. The text in 1 Corinthians is not about ordination but improper dress. The text in 1 Timothy 1:12 applies to both elders and deacons and there clearly were women serving as deacons. It was also pointed out that Ellen White never used these passages to limit women functioning as leaders. These speakers agreed that there is no divine command in favor of or in opposition to ordaining women and Ellen White has written nothing opposing it, so the basis for it is the gifting of the Holy Spirit. It would be theologically wrong to impose an interpretation on people since Biblical truth cannot be decided by vote. Adventists in various situations must decide the matter based on what is best for God’s work where they are.
A few speakers tried to bridge the two opposing views. Some suggested that the GC should affirm that men can be in headship in the home and follow the traditional pattern of church leadership although it is not presented as an imperative in the Bible; that the church should recognize that leaders were chosen to further the mission and unity of God’s people and if that can be better met by women in leadership then it should be allowed. At least one speaker pointed out that in the Bible, God called Deborah to lead His people and did not require circumcision of the Gentiles in the New Testament church, demonstrating instead unity amongst differences. The church cannot take it upon itself to impose what God does not clearly impose.
Natasha Nebblett, the president of the independent youth organization, Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), made a statement against women’s ordination, claiming that many young adults in the denomination’s North American Division share her view. A young woman immediately sent a Twitter; “The female leader of GYC decides to say no to confirming the leadership of other women in ministry? You can’t make this stuff up!”
A youth pastor in New York City sent a Twitter comment: “The next time someone wants to know why the youth are leaving the church, show them a tape of this meeting.” ….
At the “No” Microphone
One of the first speakers made a motion to first “deal with the disobedience of the union conferences that went ahead” with the ordination of women pastors. The chair declined to take this motion and the delegate complained that his motion was not respected, but nothing came of it. The exchange seemed to indicate that some of those against women’s ordination wanted to take a very hard line on the topic.
Dr. Frank Hasel, a Bible scholar at Southern Adventist University, stated that is shows wisdom to not to treat the issue “as if it is a pillar of our faith. It never has been in the past. It is not now and it won’t be in the future.” He seemed to accept that ordination of women was happening and would continue to happen at least in some areas, because his main concern was “how do we preserve the rights of those who do not think women should be ordained?”
The next speaker stated, “Jesus is the truth [and] we practice the truth. … He didn’t ordain any woman to the gospel ministry than [and] we need to follow Jesus.”
An older delegate said that “since 1973 I’ve been part of the committees that dealt with this issue. There has not been much change since the first time. The same Bible texts, the same paragraphs from the Spirit of Prophecy always come up, and we always come to conclusion that we are based on the Scriptures and will abide by the Scriptures. Someone asked me what the strongest argument against the women’s ordination is and I said, I’m not looking for arguments; I’m looking for attitudes. My concern is to keep the body together, so I plead with the delegates to accept the same way of reading the Scriptures; not having two ways of reading the Scriptures, one biblical and one cultural.”
Doug Batchelor, a pastor from Sacramento, California, who directs the Amazing Facts media ministry, spoke against women serving as pastors and on behalf of male headship theology, which he believes the Bible requires. In the last year he raised large amounts of money to print a book and send several copies to each of the 6,000 local churches in the North American Division, as well as quantities overseas.
Dr. Gullermo Biaggi, the president of Euro-Asia Division, who was elected a GC vice president on Tuesday this week, indicated that as he reads the Bible and the writings of Ellen White it appears to him that women’s ordination is against God’s will. “I consider that it is better for our church to have only one body of ordained pastors,” instead of allowing ordination in some divisions and not others. He appealed for the need to stay away from women in the Adventist ministry “because of mission” barriers. In Russia, “I’ve been told that we are an American sect. The Orthodox Church in our region says don’t ordain women because it’s not biblical.”
Khanyisani Malufu, a delegate from Zimbabwe, also spoke against having different policies for ordination in different parts of the world. “When someone is ordained into ministry they are ordained for the world church.” Woman can still be very useful even if they are not ordained, he said.
Colleen Zimbeva, a delegate from the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, advocated maintain the status quo. She said women “have been teaching, preaching and evangelizing. Things have been running smoothly with no problems. I looked at the Spirit of Prophecy which is very silent about [the topic]. It is better to be conservative, to keep the present situation and the unity of the worldwide church.”
Kevin Nwagwe, a delegate from Nigeria: “A committee was set up to find the position of the church [and] it is not clear on women’s ordination. This means the church is still open to further study and if we take a decision today and then find another way [later], what will we say?” He expressed concern that it would confuse people if one division ordained women and others do not. “I ask the delegates to vote no not because women are inferior. We need our sisters. God created a divine order at creation. Sin did not change this. God gave Adam headship.”
David Poloche, a pastor from Venezuela, said “there was a time [in the Old Testament] when there were no judges and everyone did as they pleased. That will not happen to the Adventist Church. We have been united until today. For more than 30 years specialists have sought Scripture to support women’s ordination and the church has been united in not adopting women’s ordination. We haven’t found a new manuscript of the Bible that says differently. The last two years study by our theologians has proven the same as we believe today. We need to be united. There cannot be divisions that say one thing and divisions that say another thing. That is not unity.”
Samuel Larmie, a pastor from Ghana, stated, “The devil is against the truth. What we are talking about is not just about allowing women to teach. We are not talking about prophets. We are talking about the initiation of women into ministry. The Holy Spirit is our infallible guide. Ellen White was never ordained. Jesus and Paul never ordained women.”
Frederick Nyaga, a delegate from Kenya, said “at all the past GC Sessions this issue has not been approved. Does this mean that we don’t need unity? If there is a time that we needed unity, it is now. We are not against women doing ministry, but if we are going to say No, let’s say No as a church. It is not an issue of life or death, so I’d rather we say No to maintain unity.”
At the “Yes” Microphone
Pastor Raymond Hartwell, president of the Pennsylvania Conference, asked a multipart question: “If Ellen White wrote that the Lord ordained her, and wrote that the Holy Spirit ordains both men and women to be pastors, and in Joel, God’s word states, ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh … for sons and daughters,’ then is it possible we are not honoring God by refusing permission for women to be ordained?”
Dr. John Brunt, a well-known Bible scholar and senior pastor in California, shared that he has worked with five women as associate pastors and has seen them work with more than 14 men as associate pastors. He has seen them work well together. They just want to minister alongside the men. “For my ministry to be recognized in a way the world church is not willing to recognize these women makes me feel unclean, as if there is segregation. It is my deep moral conviction that unity of mission is achieved through diversity of practice, not requiring or forbidding.” He spoke of his experience in segregated South Africa when black members of the church were not permitted on “white only” beaches. He considered the segregation issue to be a moral issue. He rejected segregation on moral grounds because of his commitment to equity. Likewise, with women’s ordination, he cares because it also involves a commitment to equality. To not care about women’s ordination is to ignore the moral issues.
Dr. Lawrence Geraty, a Bible scholar and retired former president of La Sierra University in California, stated that there is no Biblical basis for ordination by gender. “We in North America are appealing for the world church to recognize the need in our division, to allow us to use women since men have already been granted recognition. It is a matter of justice in harmony with Fundamental Belief Number Four. We are not forcing other divisions to have ordained females. We are asking for the graciousness to be allowed to make our own choice. The mission field in the 20th century was the global south and the global north facilitated that. We now ask that the global south help the global north in mission in the 21st century.”
Pastor Bradford Newman, secretary of the Pacific Union Conference, said women as pastors are here to stay and they have been a blessing to those whom they have reached. “We do not specify gender and there is nothing in the Bible regarding women’s ordination that the Church agrees upon. YES is the key to finishing the work: Y is for youth and reaching them. E is for evangelism; 7 billion men and women need every spiritual and ministerial calling for mission. The Holy Spirit does not distinguish gender when giving gifts. S is for submission to one another in love. It is the time to reach out and ask what will assist other parts of the world.”
Marc Woodson, a pastor from Concord, California, pointed out that this issue is not found in the Fundamental Beliefs, in the GC Working Policy, in the constitution and bylaws, or in official church statements. It is not included as a testing truth nor does it involve any other major Adventist belief. It is not a moral issue. If we do not move forward with women’s ordination, we will gain a false sense of unity. Unity must be based on mission not on uniformity. As a world church we are based on diversity which is why we have 13 divisions.
Pastor Jeroen Tuinstra, president of Belgian-Luxembourg Conference, said the reality is that God is calling women to pastoral ministry and leadership in my part of the world. They can nurture and guide spiritually our youth and immigrants that come from other cultures. They only want to respond to God’s calling, not to cause a controversy. They feel they seen as less capable only because of their gender. If we move forward with WO, we will keep the church “real.”
Caleb Jara, a delegate from North America, stated that God calls us to preach the gospel and in Job the Bible says, in the last days the Holy Spirit will pour out on all flesh the power to preach; it will go to everybody. Your daughters will have the gift of prophecy and spiritual gifts will be given without regard to gender. In Revelation it says that we as a people have already been made a “priesthood.” Ellen White has written that the Holy Spirit prepares workers of both genders to become pastors for the flock. The Bible does not prohibit women’s ordination.
Pastor Lowell Cooper, a GC vice president, made six points. Number one, a Yes vote best aligns with theology of ordination report; a No vote puts practice in conflict with our theology of ordination. (2) A Yes vote best aligns with the Biblical teaching about spiritual gifts; a No vote denies the God-given teaching on spiritual gifts. (3) A Yes vote is an expression of permission to allow the Church to react to varying situations around the world; a No vote blocks opportunity for mission. (4) A Yes vote indicates trust in our brothers and sisters; a No vote shows distrust. (5) A Yes vote is entirely consistent with earlier decisions to permit women to be ordained as local elders; a No vote is inconsistent. (6) A Yes vote enables the world church to move forward with an agenda of more than 50 years.
James Standish, communication director for the South Pacific Division, said this issue is distracting to the church’s mission. There are Bible following Seventh-day Adventists who believe women should and should not be ordained. What should we do with this distraction? It’s not a matter of salvation. There is no Biblical distinction between pastors and elders; it is a manmade distinction. It is not worth splitting the church or imposing one view on another person. We need to let each other live in peace.
Roger Robertson, a delegate from North America, stated that this is not an issue based in the Fundamental Beliefs or the pillars of the faith of the early pioneers. This is an issue of the world. “I want to follow the Lord the way He is presented in the Bible. Paul and Barnabas also had disunity. Please allow us to go in the direction we think we need to because we believe it is based on the Word of God; we are preaching the same gospel message as you are.”
Roscoe Howard, a delegate from the NAD: “We all see the world through different cultural lenses that affect every aspect of life. It cannot be escaped. Culture invades everything and it will continue as the world grows larger. I used to be against women’s ordination until God gave me a text; Ephesians 6:5. Slave owners used this text to support slavery in the United States. This Bible text can be misconstrued and used to suit any diabolical or holy perspective.” Other texts can be misused the same way.
Pastor Marvin Wray, a pastor from California, stated that this issue is about methods of enhancing the work of spreading the gospel, not about theology. From North America, “we strove to give you what you needed to meet the needs of the global south. Would you please allow us the same privilege that we gave you even when we did not agree with everything that was needed to help you? We must allow for variance by division, otherwise it will be destructive of the church and of the mission.”
Pastor Glenn Townend, the newly elected president of the South Pacific Division, said we are united in mission. If the church for the last 40 years has been discussing the issue of the role of women in the church and there is no consensus, then it obviously does not unite us. We don’t need uniformity. We need the Spirit of God to unite us. We don’t dictate how people worship and we should not dictate who leads.
Charles Sandefur, the former president of ADRA currently working for a health care ministry, shared how he knew a woman who waited 40 years to be ordained and was better qualified than he, yet he was ordained as a young man. There are differences of conscience. Circumcision and non-circumcision were allowed to be a matter of choice in the New Testament church. We can do the same thing here with conscience and ordination. We don’t need permission, but blessing to fulfill the mission of the church.
Pastor Bruno Vertallier, president of the Inter-European Division. said we are concerned about the doctrine of creation, but we continue to discriminate on the creations of the Creator. These are His creations. The women were created by God and are precious to God. If we want to be consistent, we need to recognize women in their full dimensions. Glorify the Creator by respecting those whom He created.
Dr. Cheryl Doss, a faculty member in the seminary at Andrews University, pointed out that two thirds of the TOSC agreed that ordination should be opened to women. This is an indication of the Holy Spirit’s leading. Just as the body requires different parts to function, the church requires different parts to function to the best of its ability. Ordination is functional not sacramental in Adventist theology. We need the freedom for divisions to make decisions to help their part of the body function well.
Pastor Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference, reminded the delegates that the GC created Regional Conferences in 1944 because of segregation of races and these conferences have proved beneficial for the church. Accommodations have been made to allow people to worship and minister appropriately. Why can’t this be done again? Even a new Fundamental Belief [on the doctrine of brotherhood] was created to allow for the needs.
After the vote, the delegation from the North American Division met in Room 103 in the Convention Center to discuss the outcome. …..