Artur Stele: No Theological Solution on Women's Ordination

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Published:
October 12, 2014

SILVER SPRING - During a meeting of young adult delegates at the 2014 Annual Council, young church leaders received first-hand information about the upcoming women's ordination discussion and several more agenda items.

Approximately twenty young adults (numbers shifted slightly as some came and went), serving as members of the General Conference Executive committee for the 2010-2015 Quinquennium, gathered in a small room on the General Conference building's second floor to talk with Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) chair and GC General Vice President Artur Stele.

GC World Youth Director Gilbert R. Cangy chaired the meeting and told attendees that the meeting would focus on "juicier" portions of the Annual Council agenda. Elder Cangy said the definition of young adult varies from place to place. In this meeting, it meant 30+, "and nobody is defining the plus." Cangy noted that the assembled group included a thirty-something division treasurer and union president.


Cangy invited the young adults around the table to introduce themselves. The group was divided almost evenly between women and men, and came to Silver Spring from nearly every part of the world: Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Rwanda, Tunisia and several more countries represented. Delegates included lay members, pastors and church administrators.

After introductions, Cangy turned the time over to Artur Stele for one of the juiciest Annual Council agenda items: discussion of women's ordination.

Stele narrated the TOSC process, starting with the request from the floor of the 2010 Atlanta General Conference Session that initiated the undertaking in motion. The General Conference steering committee discussed the request and reponded positively to the idea of seriously studying ordination, Stele said. The approved method for studying the issue dictated that every division would establish biblical research committees with key scholars, administrators and institutions taking part. Many divisions had such study committees in place, but some had to establish them. The biblical research committees started work a year before TOSC convened.

TOSC included all views on ordinationeven those considered extremeso nobody could say "our voice was not heard," Stele reported. Stele said that there were those almost willing to die for their extreme views, which made moving forward difficult. Stele noted that while all took the Bible very seriously, they differed over how to interpret it. "The crux is, do you want it or not?” said Stele.

TOSC met four times: three times for three days each, and once for five days. The committee began by developing a theology of ordination without the gender issue. They consulted Scripture and the writings of Ellen White to answer the question, what is ordination? What is it not? The committee produced an ordination document between 70 and 75 pages in length, but it became evident that there would be no consensus on the lengthy document. The committee struggled to present all positions. They drafted a short consensus document of a little more than one page on ordination, Stele said. "When it comes to Annual Council Tuesday, we hope we can all endorse this document," he told the young adults.

After creating the short statement on ordination, TOSC tackled the issue of women’s ordination. "Sometimes the temperature in the room went so high we had to get on our knees to pray," Stele said. The committee couldn’t reach consensus on women’s ordination, so they outlined three positions. Each of the three groups proposed a way forward.

When the President's Executive Administrative Council (PREXAD) met in advance of Annual Council with the General Conference and Division Officers (GCDO), they produced a document for Annual Council that narrows the options to two, which Stele would not disclose in advance of Tuesday's discussion.

Stele said that PREXAD came to "a strong consensus" that when the issue has no theological solution (and it was clear this issue had none) administrators must solve it ecclesiastically. But administrators should not dictate the outcome, they felt. So on Tuesday, suggested language from PREXAD will come to Annual Council delegates who will be asked to vote on the question to send to GC.

When Stele finished his remarks, Elder Cangy opened the discussion to questions. Cangy began by noting that while theologians have long studied and discussed the issue, delegates will have only a short time to come to terms with the issue once it comes to a vote. Stele noted that it will not be a theological issue that delegates face, reiterating that ecclesiology will be the framework of the issue. He elaborated, stating that if it were a theological decision that the church made, it would carry the weight of a Fundamental Belief. However, the Fundamentals, Stele pointed out, were widely agreed upon wheras the church is deeply divided on ordination.

A young lady from Rwanda asked Stele in French, and Cangy translated, whether the churchGC delegates in particularwill be educated on the issues before a vote takes place. Stele answered that whatever question Annual Council delegates send to the GC in 2015 will be the basis for an education campaign. Stele mentioned the Hope Channel and the Adventist Review as two vehicles for disseminating information.

Ellen White and Fundamental Belief #6

After discussing ordination, Stele briefly reported on upcoming changes to Fundamental Beliefs. Stele noted that after a request from the floor in Atlanta, the General Conference decided to re-tool Fundamental Belief #6 on Creation to harmonize it with an Annual Council 2004 statement on creation. The GC Administrative Committee appointed a review committee to do the harmonization. After working on Belief #6, AdCom asked the committee to look through all 28 Fundamental Beliefs to see whether some revisions were needed. One proposed change involves clarifying the Spirit of Prophecy. Stele said the language will specify the difference between what Scripture says about the Spirit of Prophecy and what Adventists believe about Ellen White. Significantly, Stele said the clause, "As the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction," will be amended in order to preserve the Sola Scriptura principle.

Additionally, Stele said that gender inclusive language has been suggested throughout. But in case anyone worried that doctrines were being revised, Stele hastened to add that "nothing changed nothing as far as beliefs."  The proposed changes, he said, clarified language.

After Stele finished speaking to the young adult group, GC Undersecretary Myron Iseminger provided more previews of the Annual Council agenda. The Church's mission statement will be made more concise, and the Ellen White Estate will report on changes happening there. Elder Iseminger discussed the rationale for Oakwood University's move from under the auspices of the GC to the North American Division. Iseminger said the NAD is in the process of "moving out of the shadow of the GC" so they can function more as a Division. Iseminger noted the NAD now has a press (Pacific Press), and with Oakwood, the division will have a university.

Undertreasurer Juan Prestol followed, briefly discussing appropriations set aside to support pastors in war-torn regions of the Adventist world field, and allocations to supplement the loss of income when two hospitals in the Northern Asia-Pacific Division for administrative reasons ceased contributing significant funds to the division. Prestol also noted that, as already determined, the North American Division will reduce the amont of tithe it gives to the General Conference by 1%. "We're still fine," Prestol said. He noted that GC Treasurer Robert Lemon will retire in July. During the Annual Council, Lemon will present a 20-year retrospective of GC finance. Annual Council delegates will consider these and many other budgetary issues this week. "We believe in strong working capital and strong liquidity," Prestol told the group.

Just before the group dispersed, GC Associate Youth Director Jiwan Moon introduced himself as a resource and leader of ministry focused on Adventists on public school campuses.

The young adults were set aside for these special previews.

Jared Wright is managing editor of spectrummagazine.org.

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