2015: The Year of Regional Autonomy

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Published:
December 30, 2015

One of the biggest stories of 2015 for the Seventh-day Adventist Church was its refusal to grant regional autonomy to the Church's 13 divisions concerning ordination. During the San Antonio General Conference Session in July, a majority of delegates voted no on the question: "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?"

A Yes vote would have given each of the divisions ownership of the issue of ordination within its territory. The no vote meant that the status quo prevailed: in most places, unions are in charge of granting credentials to candidates from the conferences in their territories. That continues to be the case after San Antonio.

The ironic outcome of the vote against regional autonomy was . . . greater regional autonomy. In the weeks and months following the San Antonio General Conference Session, territory after territory issued statements on ordination that responded specifically to the circumstances within their respective territories.

Most of the news was from Europe, though several North American Unions and Conferences had made earlier moves independent of General Conference-preferred policy. This increasing departure from centralized control of ordination practice toward regional autonomy is notable—it is a story in itself. In addition to making statements in favor of ordaining women, several other organizational entities and/or leaders published conciliatory, even apologetic, statements directed at Adventist women in ministry (see for instance "Trans-European Division President Sends Letter to Women in Ministry" and "South Pacific Division President Affirms Women in Ministry." The tension between preference and organizational policy alignment is palpable.

Here are the specifics of key actions, gleaned from Spectrum reports. The official statements in full are referenced in the individual articles:

Berlin-Central German Conference Votes to Implement Women's Ordination
[5-10-2015] Delegates from the Berlin-Central German Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted  Germany to implement women's ordination. With immediate effect, the conference will start ordaining female pastors who are ready for ordination.

Adventist Church in the Netherlands Unchanged by Ordination Vote
[7-9-2015] Following the General Conference vote the Dutch church issued a statement reaffirming a previous position on worem’s ordination, saying, in part: “The delegates of the Dutch churches voted at their Session in the autumn of 2012 to ordain women in an equal way to their male colleagues. The vote took effect in June 2013 and will remain in effect. The decision of the General Conference Session in San Antonio does not change this.”

Adventist Church in Norway Will No Longer Ordain Any Pastors
[9-20-2015] The Norwegian Union will operate with only two categories of pastoral employees from now on. 1) Pastors in regular service, and 2) Pastoral interns. The Norwegian Union will not report pastoral employees to the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook until the General Conference has established pastoral categories that are not discriminatory. Union President, Reidar J. Kvinge stressed the fact that the Norwegian Union is not in rebellion against the global Seventh-day Adventist Church. But the vote of the Executive Committee comes as a result of a conviction that equality between the genders is a biblical principle.

Adventist Church in Denmark Joins Norway in Suspending All Ordinations
Just after the Norwegian Union Conference announced that it would cease ordaining all pastors, the Adventist Church in Denmark stated that it would do likewise. In the future DUChC will only use one term and one credential: “pastor” for both men and women who successfully have completed the intern-period.

Seventh-day Adventist Church in Italy Reaffirms Commitment to Ordaining Women
[10-15-2015] On October 15, 2013, the SDA Italian Church Executive Board voted a document supporting the ordination of women. Two year later– and post San Antonio’s vote – the same body reaffirmed their original resolution saying, in part:

“The Italian Union of Churches Conference feels compelled to signal its respectful but strong dissent and protest to the vote of the General Conference Session in the name of unity of the Church, it violates a basic principle of freedom, overriding the religious sensibilities and cultural characteristics of different territories. In the name of defending the dignity of women pastors operating in our territory, we cannot accept that their ministry will continue to be held as not fully recognized and, therefore, discriminated against."

Washington Conference Adopts Policy Granting New Rights to Commissioned Ministers
[10-20-2015] Women ministers in the Washington Conference who hold commissioned minister credentials will now be able to perform baptisms or weddings outside their districts (within Washington Conference) without first asking permission. Additionally, commissioned ministers may now ordain local elders, deacons or deaconesses; plant a church in cooperation with Washington Conference; and hold any leadership position in the Washington Conference. This extends to women the same rights and privileges that had long been unavailable to them because of their second-tier credentials. While women will continue to receive commissioned minister credentials instead of ordained minister credentials, they will no longer be restricted in the tasks they may perform.

Czecho-Slovakian Union Conference Issues Statement in Favor of Ordaining Women
[11-11-2015] Czecho-Slovakian Union Conference issued a statement that regrets the decision of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, during the July 2015 Session:

"The executive committee of the Czecho-Slovakian Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists issues the following statement in response to the decision of the General Conference, which rules it not acceptable for executive committees of the Divisions of the church to accept provisions towards women’s ordination to full pastoral ministry ... the delegates of the Czecho-Slovak Union Conference clearly expressed in May 2014 that they “agree that women can be ordained to full pastoral ministry in our union conference”. ... They voiced their full “support to the position of the executive committee of the Inter-European Division to women’s ordination, which was approved at the meeting of the committee in November 2013.” Our stance was further reinforced in June 2014 by the Final Report of the Church’s world-wide Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) ...We are saddened by the decision of the General Conference regarding women’s ordination to full pastoral ministry, which contradicts everything described above. We therefore interpret the decision as related to the authority of the church and not to Scripture and our beliefs, which guarantee equality of men and women in the church."

Hansa Conference In Germany Affirms Prior Decision to Ordain Without Regard to Gender
[11-22-2015] Voted action includes:

“The Board of the Hansa Conference notes with regret that the General Conference Session has not given the various world regions [Divisions] independent authority on the issue of inclusive ordination without regard to gender (ordination of women).

We regard ourselves as a loyal part of the World Church. This decision has not changed that. However, this decision has created a dilemma for us, which is not only about loyalty and unity, but about the correct understanding of the gospel. The gospel does not differentiate in the standing of a person (Acts 10:34), nor in the understanding of office. We continue to encourage female church members to opt for the pastoral ministry and hereby reiterate our intention to act in accordance with the decision of the NDV [North German Union / Norddeutscher Verband] general assembly of April, 23rd 2012, which recommends pastors to the ordination in ministry regardless of gender.”

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