When last they met in February, General Conference President Ted Wilson suggested to the North American Division officers and its union conference presidents that they propose a way forward on women’s ordination, given their ongoing disagreement over the issue. The General Conference maintains that the two unions in the NAD whose constituencies have voted to ordain women are out of compliance with the General Conference because of votes taken during General Conference sessions. The unions counter that the votes did not alter the General Conference Working Policy that designates them as the level of the church tasked with handling ordination.
North American Division President Dan Jackson prepared a letter outlining a possible way forward, after recent dialog with the NAD officers and union conference presidents, that was voted, and the letter was sent to Elder Wilson.
Because there is ongoing conversation with the General Conference about the letter, it has not been officially released, according to Dan Weber, communication director for the North American Division.
However, other people who have reviewed the document say that it acknowledges that for many NAD church members women’s ordination is an important matter of conscience. But the letter also accepts that the unions are out of policy and then goes so far as to suggest possible punitive actions against the unions that the NAD might be willing to accept. Until/unless the votes taken by the two union constituencies are reversed, the letter suggests the following:
1. The General Conference Executive Committee members (specifically the presidents) from the CUC and PUC would not serve in leadership roles on GC subcommittees although they would still retain voice and vote on those subcommittees and in the Executive Committee.
2. The ordinations of women from the two unions would not be recognized outside of the CUC and PUC.
3. As part of their core auditing of conferences and unions, General Conference Auditing Services (GCAS) would check for policy compliance on women’s ordination.
One possible reason these actions are included in the letter might be because one of the General Conference participants in the February conversation reportedly said that the way forward needed to include some “painful” elements. Those who have read the letter say that it does request that, in lieu of any of these punishments, there be the spirit of “godly forbearance.”
For NAD church members, the letter prompts a number of questions: Are these three modest proposals simply symbolic acquiescence by the NAD to the General Conference? Or does the letter sell out the unions by agreeing that they are out of compliance with policy and give away the stand that the two union constituencies voted? Other questions generated by the letter might begin with whether or not any of the conferences that have ordained women were consulted? Should the document have been presented to the entire North American Division Committee as were some earlier documents about women’s ordination in years past? How will this letter affect the conversation that the union conferences have set up for June in London? But, most significantly, will the letter be received by Elder Wilson and the General Conference with the “spirit of godly forbearance”?
Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum.
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