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God’s Last Choice: Overcoming Ellen White’s Gender and Women in Ministry During the Fundamentalist Era Part 2


This is Part 2 of a two-part article which will appear both on the Spectrum website and in the next issue of the printed journal. Spectrum, Vol. 45, No. 2 will also include all of the papers from the London Unity 2017 Conference (June 15-17).

The following article was written by Kevin M. Burton (M.A. Andrews University, 2015), a Ph.D. student in the American Religious History program at Florida State University. His research concentrates on Seventh-day Adventist history, with particular interest in the issue of authority. The article has been peer-reviewed by historians.

Unity, Authority, and Women in Ministry: Post-1932

As Seventh-day Adventism grew in size and spread to new countries and regions, the General Conference increased its authority and jurisdiction. The first significant step in this direction took place in 1889. The Constitution was heavily revised during this year and bylaws were added to it. Most significantly, the purpose of the General Conference was redefined: whereas it initially had the “purpose of securing unity and efficiency in labor” the Constitution now specified that its object “shall be to unify and extend the work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination throughout the world.” This newly stated purpose required increased authority and jurisdiction. Prior to this time, the General Conference only supervised ministerial and missionary labor. In 1889, however, these statements were revised so that the General Conference had “the general supervision of all denominational work.” In spite of this significant change, denominational ministries remained independent and retained much of their autonomy. This changed about a decade later.[1]

Adventists also began to meet in regular session biennially after 1889, which meant that the elected officers now served longer terms. The General Conference Executive Committee was also granted “full administrative power during the intervals between the sessions” and a new administrative tradition was initiated: the Annual Council, which met for the first time in the autumn of 1890.[2] The Annual Council soon became “one of the most important meetings of the General Conference Committee” because it acquired the authority to establish policies for church governance—a privilege previously reserved for delegates at General Conference sessions.[3]

Seventh-day Adventists began to institutionalize as the church expanded into foreign lands, but these changes also transpired in concert with the centralization of authority in the United States. As Ian Tyrrell has argued, “the late nineteenth century to the end of World War I was a crucial period for the growth of the federal state.” During this time America began to build an empire by acquiring several territories beyond its continental borders.[4] Federal authority continued to centralize in other ways between the 1910s and 1930s. Historians often interpret the presidential election of 1916 as “a foreshadowing of the New Deal coalition”[5] because Americans “argued that state and federal officials must work to regulate business, prevent labor abuses, create an educated populace, build a transportation infrastructure, ensure public health, and regulate private behavior.”[6] Ultimately, Americans got their wish in the 1930s when the New Deal was established. This “gave rise to Social Security, unemployment compensation, federal welfare programs, price stabilization programs in industry and agriculture, and collective bargaining for labor unions.” Previously, “these policy areas seemed to belong exclusively to the states,” but the New Deal centralized this power in the Federal Government.[7]

The concept of big business also emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth-century and by the early twentieth-century the “giant corporation proved to be the seedbed of a new social and economic order.” A new “managerial class” arose in America that was “governed by the engineering values of efficiency and systematic approaches to problems.” As Glenn Porter has stated, “soon almost the entire society would fall under the influence of corporate ways of doing things.”[8] Amanda Porterfield has observed the impact big business had on religion. As citizens in the roaring twenties “endorsed corporate organization as the path to social progress,” denominations, attracted by “centralized hierarchy,” began to translate “religion into business.”[9]

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was one of the denominations that began to translate itself into a big business in the early twentieth-century. A significant step in this direction was taken in 1901. Though some historians have focused on organizational decentralization during the 1901 General Conference session,[10] it is important to recognize that centralization ultimately triumphed. As Benjamin McArthur states, “The 1901 General Conference . . . offers a nearly perfect case study of the larger trends toward rationalized bureaucratization occurring in American society.”[11] Perhaps the clearest example of the General Conference’s increased authority was its takeover of the independent ministries. According to Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, “By 1902 the old independent associations had been replaced by four separate departments: Education, Publishing, Religious Liberty, and Sabbath School. By 1922 the church added eight more as the effectiveness of departments and the need for a broader range of activities became apparent.” The reorganization in 1901 therefore facilitated the centralization of authority though decentralization was intended. As Schwarz and Greenleaf note, “By bringing all church activities under the ultimate control of the General Conference, church leaders produced a new centrality to the organization.”[12]

Adventist administrators disagreed with the pioneers before them who had insisted that the denomination’s organizational structure remain simple. They began to reason (incorrectly) that “[t]he leaders of the church who developed a simple organization (1863) did not yet see the world field as a part of it.”[13] In point of fact, the Whites recognized the world as the church’s mission field when Ellen White received a vision in November 1848 about “streams of light that went clear round the world.”[14] Nevertheless, the church did rapidly expand in the 1870s and 1880s and by 1921 there were more Seventh-day Adventist members in other countries than in the United States.[15] As the church grew, General Conference officers reasoned that big businesses functioned best when authority was centralized at the top.

Theological innovations and the threat of “Modernism” also influenced conservative Christians to centralize authority in fundamental doctrines. Fundamentalists arose militantly to defend their “new form of ‘old-time religion’” in the 1910s.[16] Seventh-day Adventists were likewise distraught by the signs of the times and, as Paul McGraw has demonstrated, “During the first half of the twentieth century, Adventism produced various church leaders who began to seek common ground with the wider Christian community.”[17] Adventists of the twentieth century craved respectability and believed that an alliance with the Fundamentalist camp was the surest way to achieve it.[18] In 1926, I. A. Crane asked Seventh-day Adventists, “Are you really a fundamentalist?” He then answered for them, stating firmly, “Yes, when it comes to the Bible we are all strong for taking it to mean what it says. We are fundamentalists of the fundamentalists. We all thank God that this is so.”[19] Following Crane’s lead, Adventist leaders throughout the 1920s and 1930s repeatedly boasted that they were “the fundamentalists of the fundamentalists.”[20]

Fundamentalists were not favorable to women in ministry. According to Margaret Bendroth, “The events of the [1920s] finally put to rest the old stereotype of women as the true guardians of religion, replacing it with a new one emphasizing their moral weakness and theological shallowness. In the new formulation, fundamentalist men forsook their previously passive role in religion and, in theory at least, assumed full responsibility for guarding orthodoxy.”[21] Many of the new taboos were focused on women. Liberal women of the era—known as flappers—smoked cigarettes, listened to jazz music, bobbed their hair, wore shorter skirts, and painted their faces with cosmetics. Such women were a sign of moral decay and became the foil for the Fundamentalists’ ideal woman—one whose identity was intricately linked with modesty, propriety, motherhood, and homemaking. This new Cult of Domesticity stressed that women were not to assert themselves in the public sphere because a “plain” reading of Scripture indicated that the Apostle Paul’s proscriptions on women in public in were not “culturally conditioned.” As Randall Balmer has stated, “fundamentalist women are expected to be submissive, to demand no voice of authority in the church or in the home.”[22] Laura L. Vance notes the impact this new perspective had on Seventh-day Adventism, stating, “Whereas nineteenth-century Adventist women had been depicted as independent, competent, and intelligent workers (especially prior to 1880) whose responsibilities included, but were not limited to, domestic work, the woman portrayed in the Review of the 1920s and 1930s appeared to have little knowledge, experience, or ambition outside of the domestic sphere.”[23]

Fundamentalists raised a new criticism of Seventh-day Adventism that related to gender as the two groups came into closer contact with one another. In 1917, William C. Irvine became the first to declare in print that Seventh-day Adventism was a cult in his book, Timely Warnings.[24] Irvine believed that Adventism was a cult for a variety of reasons, but the issue of gender was central to his attack. He began his chapter on Adventism with these words: “Seventh-Day [sic] Adventism, Christian Science, and Theosophy have one thing in common at least—they all had hysterical, neurotic women as their Founders!”[25] Other Fundamentalists soon joined the counter-cult movement and railed against Seventh-day Adventism as a religion founded by “the incontrovertible logic of a woman.”[26]

It was much more difficult for Seventh-day Adventists to be perceived as honorable and to maintain self-respect once they had been designated a cult.[27] Since the designation was intricately connected with Ellen White’s gender, Adventists found ways to minimize her significance, or at least her gender. To call Ellen White the church “Founder” was particularly deplorable to Adventists of this period. The term itself was a big business label that pointed to the person(s) who established an institution. A woman, especially one who claimed to have visions, was incapable of legitimately possessing this status in the business world—particularly if the business was a religion—and the charge invalidated current Adventist managers and the rapidly growing institution they operated. It is not surprising, then, that Adventists of this period quickly responded to their critics that Ellen G. White “was not the founder of Seventh-day Adventism.” Those unwilling to give White founder status either remarked that she “was a great pioneer and leader in it” or merely “the leading writer.”[28] Others more generously admitted that she was “one of the founders of the Seventh Day [sic] Adventists.”[29]

But if White was only one of the founders, who else could be honored with this status? Accounts initially varied. Some stated that James White was “the [only] founder of the denomination,”[30] but more frequently a coterie was granted this status, including the Whites, Joseph Bates, Hiram Edson, Frederick Wheeler, and S. W. Rhodes.[31] The definitive answer eventually came from Everett Dick, a trained historian who published Founders of the Message in 1938. Dick specified that “three strong characters, two men and a woman” had emerged from the Millerite disappointment to found the Seventh-day Adventist Church—“Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen White.”[32] Though Dick’s claim was not necessarily historically inaccurate, it is important to note that it answered a nagging criticism raised by other Christians. Adventists of the Fundamentalist era were relieved that they could call Ellen White just a co-founder and place her name at the end of the list behind two men. A two-thirds male majority ensured the legitimacy of Seventh-day Adventism and enabled it to more credibly grow into a big business capable of missionizing the world.

Adventists now had a response to the founder question, but they also needed to answer the charge about a hysterical female visionary. Seventh-day Adventists published their first book-length apologetic works on Ellen White and the gift of prophecy during the 1920s and 1930s,[33] but a subtler, yet remarkably more potent response also arose at this time—one that specifically excused White’s gender. In the 1890s, J. N. Loughborough introduced a three-part story about William Foy, Hazen Foss, and Ellen Harmon. As the story goes, Foy was the first to receive a vision, but since he didn’t understand it he refused to share it. Next, Foss was given the same vision, but stubbornly resisted God’s command to tell it to others. Finally, the vision was given to Harmon—someone unafraid to share it despite the fact that prolonged illness had made her “the weakest of the weak.”

Most Adventists know this story, but do not realize that it has evolved over time into a complete myth. Loughborough occasionally presented his narrative as one connected story,[34] but typically mentioned the three persons in disconnected fashion.[35] Specifically, in his most popular works, he introduced Harmon some twenty pages after Foss, which obscures the cause and effect nature of the story—something other storytellers made explicit.[36] Furthermore, Loughborough’s story did not focus on gender. He never referred to Ellen Harmon as a woman or young girl, but gave her the proper title, “Sister Harmon” or “Miss Harmon.” Furthermore, he always connected the phrase, “the weakest of the weak” with her poor health. This, however, began to change in the 1920s. During this decade, storytellers added three elements to the story: first, Ellen Harmon was now presented as “a young woman,” or “a young girl”;[37] second, the phrase “the weakest of the weak” was detached from Harmon’s poor health and connected to the phrase “young woman” or “young girl”;[38] and third, Harmon’s first vision was typically situated within a room of “five women . . . praying earnestly for light,” which amplified the femininity of Harmon’s prophetic call.[39]

In the 1920s and 1930s, Adventists concluded that Ellen Harmon White was God’s last choice to receive the prophetic gift. One author prefaced the story in this manner: “Throughout the history of the human race, God has used men as channels through which He has communicated His will to other men. So, early in the history of this movement, God chose a special messenger.” This messenger was considered to be “special” because of her gender. The tale was now told with explicitly causal language and the gender of each subject was emphasized. God first turned to “a young man by the name of William E. Foy. . . . Because William Foy had failed to do the work that God had desired him to do, Hazen Foss, a young man . . . was chosen.” After Foss refused to deliver God’s message, the story continued, “the Lord called Ellen Harmon.” In what setting did this occur? “It was during a morning prayer meeting when she, with five women, was kneeling in prayer, that she was taken off in [her first] vision.”[40] In a more concise version of this tale, A. W. Peterson wrote, “On two different occasions two different men, William Foy and Hazen Foss, were given messages . . . but both shrank from the burden and the humiliation which has always been the part of God’s prophets. Then it was that God called a young girl, ‘the weakest of the weak,’ to speak for Him.” Peterson’s paragraph ended with this sentence, suggesting that a woman was weak, but Ellen Harmon was “the weakest of the weak” because she was a young girl.[41] By the mid-1930s, this newly gendered narrative had become entrenched within the collective Adventist consciousness. The moral of the story was simple: God failed to find a man who would serve Him so He was forced to find a weak little girl to relate His message to the people.[42] Unlike Dick’s selection of Adventist founders, this myth is riddled with historical inaccuracies.[43]

Adventists created ways to respond to the founder and visions questions, but they also had to contend with the fact that the Adventist Church had employed women preachers for decades and still had a policy open to women’s ordination. In Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers, John R. Rice railed against “Mrs. White and Seventh Day [sic] Adventism” because she was partially to blame for “the rise of women preachers” in America. According to Rice, “women preachers” promoted false “doctrine, radical emotionalism, ‘speaking in tongues’ and trances . . . [and] false pretenses of healing—these things surely should warn us that there is infinite harm in women preaching.”[44] Seventh-day Adventist policy in the 1920s still implicitly allowed women to serve as conference presidents or ordained gospel ministers because it was not explicitly forbidden. If they were to gain the respect of Fundamentalists and maintain self-respectability, this policy had to be altered.

The Working Policy and Church Manual changed this policy in 1930/1932. To be sure, Seventh-day Adventists had policies of procedure prior to this time, but they were not systematized into a single document until the Autumn Council approved the first Working Policy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 1926.[45] It is significant that Adventist policy on ordination did not change when the Working Policy first appeared: if policy had limited ordination to men prior to this time, this should have been reflected in the first edition of Working Policy. However, this was not the case. In fact, when the General Conference revised its descriptive policy statement in 1927 for the 1926 Federal Census of Religious Bodies, ordination to the gospel ministry was still open to both sexes. This changed three years later, however, when the Adventist Church officially specified in the 1930 edition of Working Policy for the first time that “ordination to the ministry is the setting apart of the man to a sacred calling.”[46] It is therefore important to recognize this point: prior to 1930, church policy statements on ordination were written in gender-inclusive language, but this changed in 1930—from this point onward church policy has explicitly restricted ministerial ordination to men.

This change was intentional. According to James E. Anderson, “a policy is defined as a purposive course of action or inaction followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern.”[47] Adventist administrators in the 1920s and 1930s recognized that church policy implicitly allowed for the ordination of women. Though no women prior to the 1930s are known to have been ordained as ministers, many had been ordained as deaconesses and some had been ordained as elders and performed the functions of that office. During the Colorado camp meeting held in 1922 at Rocky Mountain Lake Park, someone asked if women were allowed “to officiate at quarterly meeting” and “be ordained as church elder.” The question was answered in the negative at this time, but the respondent reluctantly admitted that he was cognizant of “[o]ne or two instances” in which women had been ordained as elders and officiated at the Lord’s Supper. Apparently, ordinations of this nature occurred frequently enough for the writer to plead with his brethren and sisters to cease and desist. Who was at fault? According to this writer, it was the women who were ordained. “[N]o woman should allow herself to receive ordination,” the writer implored, “much less to officiate [at the Lord’s Supper] even though she might have been ordained by someone who exceeded his authority.” Though the writer assured his readers that these ordinations were “not recognized by the denomination,” it is important to note that his claim was only supported by a general consensus, not church policy.[48] Administrators in the Fundamentalist era therefore dealt with this “problem” by making the policy statement on ordination explicit—it was, after 1930, for men only.

It is significant to note that a General Conference session did not approve this decision. When the revisions to the Working Policy were suggested at the 1930 session, the changes were not presented to the delegates and the matter was referred to the General Conference Executive Committee for implementation without discussion.[49] The delegates were completely unaware that denominational leaders were planning to restrict ordination to the gospel ministry to the male gender. Though it is likely that the delegates would have approved this change in 1930, they were not given the opportunity. The concept of authority had changed since the issue was first addressed—in 1881 a General Conference session decided the question of gender and ordination.

Since very few people read the Working Policy, the General Conference ensured that Adventists would follow this new policy by including it in the Church Manual (1932).[50] This publication completely changed the nature of Seventh-day Adventism and its very adoption represents a new perspective on unity and authority.[51] Whereas the 1883 Manual was presented to a General Conference session for adoption, the 1932 Church Manual was not—the Executive Committee simply authorized and published it. Whereas Adventists in 1883 realized that they were united without a Church Manual, Adventist administrators in the early twentieth-century determined that unity could not be achieved or maintained unless they had one. Whereas nineteenth-century Adventists rejected a Manual because they wanted people to rely on Scripture alone, the 1932 Church Manual was advertised to church members as “the final word regarding the Church, its Officers and its work.[52] Whereas the autonomy of the local church had been intentionally guarded and protected, the General Conference now dictated what these bodies could and could not do in regard to matters of polity.

Between 1930 and 1932, Seventh-day Adventist administrators took authoritative action to bar women from ministry with three (if not more) policies.[53] First, the Working Policy and Church Manual officially stated for the first time that ordination to the gospel ministry was reserved for men only. Between 1906 and 1926, the descriptive policy statement in the Federal censuses included this clause: “Membership in the conferences or the ministry is open to both sexes, although there are very few female ministers.” Prior to 1930, General Conference policy allowed for women’s ordination to the ministry by not prohibiting it, but this changed when the Working Policy and Church Manual were published. The United States Census Bureau completed its final census of religious bodies for the year 1936 and this change was reflected in it. Harvey Edson Rogers oversaw this project once again and the General Conference approved it. Though other policy details remained essentially unchanged, the clause that specified that “[m]embership in the conferences or the ministry [was] open to both sexes” was stricken from the record.[54] Once the General Conference dictated that ordination was for men only, this statement no longer accurately described Seventh-day Adventist policy of ministry. According to Patrick Allen, between 1931 and 1933 “the number of female pastors dropped from six to zero.”[55]

Second, the 1932 Church Manual also took away the right of women to be ordained as deaconesses. As stated previously, many women had been ordained as deaconesses between 1895 and the 1920s, but in spite of this fact, the first Church Manual stated, “the practice of ordaining deaconesses is not followed by our denomination”[56] and women were not officially granted this privilege again until the eighteenth edition of the Church Manual was approved in 2010.[57] The topic of women’s ordination to the gospel ministry arose when Adventists began to elect deaconesses in their churches in the late 1870s and early 1880s, and in the early 1930s ordination to both of these offices was officially disallowed, even though women had been ordained as deaconesses around the world for more than three decades.

It is evident that Adventist administrators of the Fundamentalist era were focused on the gender question—if a woman could not be ordained to one office, she could not be ordained to any office. In 1936, the Home Missionary Department planned to reprint Ellen White’s 1895 article that specified that women should be ordained as deaconesses “as a leaflet.”[58] J. A. Stevens, head of the department, was alarmed to read from Ellen White’s pen that women “should be set apart . . . by prayer and laying on of hands” and brought the article before the General Conference officers because it seemed “to recommend the ordination of women.” As David Trim has noted, “The emphasis is on the gender question, not the role or function question (home missionary versus minister, elder or deacon). The Officers seem not to have identified that Ellen White was writing about the function of a deaconess.” Trim’s observation is strengthened by the fact that these administrators concluded that “this matter has never been acted upon during the years.” These men must have known that women had been ordained as deaconesses because it had happened frequently and, at times, by the hands of church administrators. The General Conference officers therefore apparently believed that White endorsed women’s ordination to any office. They had disallowed this just a few years prior to this time and now chose to silence their dead prophet by voting “[t]o recommend that the entire paragraph be eliminated from the leaflet.”[59] The General Conference did not republish Ellen White’s statement on women’s ordination until 1995.[60] This incident reveals that these Adventist administrators believed that if a woman was ordained to one office, she could be ordained to any office—something they could not accept, even if a prophet of God advocated it.

In 1931, Adventist administrators adopted a third policy that impacted women directly. At this time, the General Conference set term limits that fixed General Conference positions to twelve years, unions to eight, and local conferences and missions to six. Though term limits also impacted men, this new policy enabled church administrators to eliminate women currently employed in church leadership positions. In 1905, some twenty women served as conference treasurers while another thirty held the post of conference secretary. In 1915, about thirty-two women served as educational departmental leaders while the same number served as educational department secretaries. Also in 1915, about fifty-eight women were employed as Sabbath School Department leaders, while the same number served as Sabbath School Department secretaries. By 1950, men held all of these offices exclusively.[61] Though terms were limited, this policy protected the careers of men through transfers—the men were moved from one conference to another or promoted to a higher position. As Patrick Allen has noted, however, “The Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook statistics for the period 1920 to 1940 seem to indicate that women might have fallen victim to this policy, for there is virtually no record of such transfers.”[62] Not only were women officially refused the rite of ordination, but the unordained women who served the church were also excised from their leadership positions. Men were to lead the church and the women were only God’s last choice.


Adventist administrators in the 1920s and 1930s deliberately changed church policy to ensure that no women would be ordained to any office. Though no women were elected to a conference, union, or the General Conference presidency, or known to be ordained to the gospel ministry prior to 1930, if one had been set apart by the laying on of hands the act would have been in harmony with the policy indirectly adopted in 1881. Any local conference or union had the authority to ordain women between 1881 and 1930 and if they had done so they could not have been censured by the General Conference for an act that policy implicitly allowed.

By the 1920s, the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of unity had changed. In the nineteenth century, Adventists were united and autonomous—nothing infringed upon the agency of the local church. Yet, in the early twentieth-century, Seventh-day Adventists began to assume that they could be united only if all members adhered to an orthodoxy and an orthopraxy. The Church Manual was published to establish such uniformity. The Church Manual also gave the General Conference direct control over the local churches and, after it was published, the clause that specified that “State conferences . . . exercise[] no authority over the local church, except as particular questions are submitted to it for decision” was removed from statements on policy.[63]

These new understandings of unity and authority directly impacted Seventh-day Adventist women. For nearly fifty years, church policy implicitly allowed that women could serve in any church position and be ordained to the gospel ministry. Though none were apparently ordained as ministers, several did serve in this capacity. Numerous women were employed by the denomination in leadership positions, some were ordained as elders, and dozens served their local churches as ordained deaconesses. This changed between 1930 and 1932, however, when male administrators altered church policy.

By the 1940s, very few women served in leadership and Adventists were beginning to forget their history. For this reason, Ava M. Covington wrote a book on the topic of women in ministry—the first Adventist book devoted exclusively to women who had served the church. Published in 1940, she gave it the perceptive title, They Also Served. Covington featured fifteen different Adventist women in her book including, strikingly, Ellen G. White. This was not an act of banality—the fact that Covington included White suggests that she believed that her contemporaries were forgetting that Ellen White was a woman who had also served the church.[64] To be sure, Covington knew that Adventists had not forgotten that Ellen White existed, but she was apparently aware that White’s femininity was excused. Ellen White was not the founder of Seventh-day Adventism, but only one of the founders. She was not supposed to be a prophet, but since God could not find a man who would accept the prophetic gift, He reluctantly gave it to a woman. Ellen White and all women who served the church were merely God’s last choice.

Appendix: The 1881 Resolution to Ordain Women to the Gospel Ministry

As indicated in the main article, the 1881 resolution to ordain women to the gospel ministry has been widely misunderstood. Most interpreters have assumed, or argued, that the resolution was indirectly rejected, but a more comprehensive analysis suggests that it was indirectly adopted, even though it was never implemented. I evaluate the three main factors upon which this question rests within this appendix: Seventh-day Adventist parliamentary procedure, General Conference Committee practice, and the Signs of the Times report.

Seventh-day Adventist Parliamentary Procedure

Though scholars have wrestled with the 1881 session of the General Conference for decades, none of the works I have reviewed consulted Robert’s Rules of Order or Key to Smith’s Diagram of Parliamentary Rules. Henry M. Robert’s Pocket Manual of Rules of Order was first published in 1876. In 1877, Adventist leaders began instructing Adventist ministers, missionary workers, and local church leaders on the rules of parliamentary procedure[65] and by 1879 the subject was taught at Battle Creek College. As stated in the Review, “Robert’s Rules of Order, for sale at this Office, is the text book used.”[66] In 1881, Uriah Smith published a simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order that he titled, Key to Smith’s Diagram of Parliamentary Rules.[67] Though Smith simplified Robert’s work, there is no substantive difference between parliamentary rules outlined in each text. It is therefore evident that by 1881 Adventists followed these texts for rules of order in their deliberative assemblies.

In 1881, the delegates of the General Conference took the action to commit, or refer, the resolution to ordain women to a committee. According to Robert’s Rules and Smith’s Diagram, this action was a subsidiary motion. Uriah Smith explained that subsidiary motions “are such as are applied to other motions for the sake of disposing of them in some other way than by direct adoption or rejection.”[68] Subsidiary motions therefore enabled delegates at deliberative assemblies to take action in regard to a resolution by indirectly adopting or rejecting it.

A motion or resolution could be indirectly rejected in a number of ways. For example, the delegates could lay it on the table, which “remove[d] the subject from consideration till the assembly vote[d] to take it from the table.”[69] A resolution could also be postponed to a certain day, but at the specified time the resolution could not be “taken up except by a two-thirds vote.”[70] If a resolution were taken from the table or reconsidered at a later date, it could be either adopted or rejected, but the two-thirds vote required to reconsider the matter made this difficult, if not unlikely. If delegates wished to reject a resolution in an indirect manner with no possibility for adoption, they took the action to postpone it indefinitely. The effect of this action was “to entirely remove the question from before the assembly for that session.”[71]

Delegates could indirectly adopt a motion or resolution by referring the matter to certain committees. Committees were not empowered to indirectly reject resolutions, however, and usually had the purpose to present a report to the deliberative assembly. The action to commit, or refer, was taken when the particular item at hand was debatable. The type of the debate can be determined by noting the type of committee to which the debatable resolution was referred. First, if the subject of the resolution was controversial, then the resolution would be referred to a committee of the whole. A temporary committee would then be composed of representatives from the larger body of delegates and be empowered to adopt, amend, or report on the resolution at hand. Second, a disputed topic could be addressed by referring it to a special (or select) committee. In such cases a temporary committee would be elected and asked to report on the item at hand, but it was not empowered to indirectly adopt or amend the resolution. Third, if the wording of a resolution was debatable, then it would be referred back to the Committee on Resolutions—a standing committee elected at each regular meeting (e.g., a General Conference session). In such a case, the Committee on Resolutions would rephrase the resolution and resubmit it to the entire assembly for adoption or rejection. Fourth, if the matter needed further study it would be referred to a committee for deliberation or investigation (e.g., a theology of ordination study committee). If this were done, Robert outlined that it was “of the utmost importance that all parties be represented” on a large committee so that when it reported to the full assembly “unpleasant debates” would be avoided.[72]

Just as there was one action to intentionally reject a motion indirectly, so also was there one action specifically designed to indirectly adopt resolutions—to refer the matter to a committee for action. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, “A committee for action should be small, and consist only of those heartily in favor of the proposed action.” If the delegates found a resolution to be acceptable, but debated its implementation, then it was referred to a committee for action. The committee was small because the resolution itself was not controversial; debatable resolutions had to be addressed by larger committees. Furthermore, committees for action were composed of people “heartily in favor of the proposed action” because the question related to implementation, not approval.[73] Unlike the other committees described, the small three-person General Conference Committee was a permanent executive committee—a committee for action.[74]

If the 1881 General Conference delegates wanted to indirectly reject the resolution to ordain women, they would have postponed it indefinitely, or possibly tabled it or postponed it to a certain day.[75] If the resolution itself were debatable, then the delegates would have referred the matter to a temporary committee, such as a committee of the whole, special committee, or the Committee on Resolutions.[76] If the resolution needed further study, a large committee for deliberation or investigation would have been organized and the question referred to that body.[77] These things did not happen, however. Rather, the matter was referred to the General Conference Committee—a committee for action. It must be stressed that, according to Robert’s Rules of Order or Key to Smith’s Diagram of Parliamentary Rules, committees did not have the authority to reject motions or resolutions. Committees of the whole and committees for action were empowered to adopt resolutions, but even these committees did not have the authority to reject resolutions. Therefore, an analysis of Adventist parliamentary procedure suggests that the delegates indirectly adopted the resolution and expected the General Conference Executive Committee to determine a way to tackle the challenge of its implementation.

General Conference Committee Practice

As stated previously, Seventh-day Adventists had followed Robert’s Rules of Order since the late 1870s and it is clear from denominational practice that they sought ways to implement items referred to the General Conference Committee. After poring through the first twenty-five years of General Conference minutes, David Trim found only two other “draft resolutions proposed by the Resolutions Committee that were referred to the GC Committee.”[78] In addition, Denis Kaiser has located another example worthy of comparison.[79] A thorough analysis of these three analogous draft resolutions reveals that they were all indirectly adopted. All of these resolutions were referred to the General Conference Committee because there was a question about implementation, but after the questions were addressed, each resolution was implemented.

The first example relates to an action taken at the Tract and Missionary Society in 1879. Though this action did not occur during a General Conference session, it is still worthy of comparison. On this occasion, the Committee on Resolutions reported fourteen different resolutions. Resolution 11 stated, “Resolved, That we recommend that the Stimme der Wahrheit, from the beginning of next year, be issued monthly instead of quarterly.” After various remarks from some of the brethren, the resolution “was referred to the General Conference Committee.”[80] It is evident that this resolution was indirectly adopted and later implemented because W. C. White stated a short time later, “The Stimme der Wahrheit . . . will hereafter be issued monthly.”[81]

Second, during the twenty-fifth session of the General Conference held in November and December 1886, the Committee on Resolutions presented a number of resolutions to the delegates. Resolution 35 stated, “Whereas, The providence of God has seemed, in a special manner, to open the way for distributers to be used in New York City, and for missionary work to be done in Castle Garden among those of all nationalities; therefore—Resolved, That Bro. Robert Sawyer and wife be requested to connect themselves with the work in that city.” After its presentation, this resolution “was referred to the Conference Committee.”[82] Since the Sawyers did not move to New York and since Adventists did not work in Castle Garden, scholars have assumed that this resolution was indirectly rejected. This was not the case, however. In January 1887, the General Conference Executive Committee met with the New York Tract Society and discussed the topic of city missions.[83] The General Conference had organized the Brooklyn, New York, Mission in January 1886 and wanted Robert and Mary Sawyer to work among the immigrants that passed through Castle Garden, which was America’s largest immigration station prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892. Since the Sawyers were unable to move to New York City, presumably due to Mary’s poor health,[84] Daniel Thomson was selected to take their place. Thomson arrived at the Brooklyn Mission in March 1887 with the intention of working at Castle Garden. Unfortunately, the plan could not be executed as the General Conference originally intended. As stated in the 1888 Year Book, “Bro. Thomson was disappointed in not being able to obtain the privilege of working as a missionary in Castle Garden.” Though Adventists were not allowed to work within Castle Garden itself, Thomson “immediately laid plans to reach the immigrants as they landed from the steamers or left on the railroads” and within nine months he had distributed some 10,000 tracts.[85] Though the 1886 General Conference resolution was challenging to implement, the General Conference Committee found ways to distribute literature among the immigrants of New York City.

The third example took place at the twenty-second annual session of the General Conference in November 1883. The Committee on Resolutions reported eighteen resolutions and number 14 stated,

Whereas, It is evident that it will soon be necessary to take advance steps in the way of establishing publishing interests in Europe; and—Whereas, Bro. W. C. White has had experience in this branch of work ; therefore—Resolved, That we recommend that the said W. C. White so arrange his business, the coming year, as to be at liberty to render the requisite assistance another season.

Upon motion, the matter was then “referred to the General Conference Committee.”[86] Since W. C. White did not go to Europe at this time, scholars have assumed that this resolution was indirectly rejected. However, further analysis reveals that it was indirectly adopted and implemented. White was apparently unable to travel to Europe at the time, but the Executive Committee found someone else to do the work. Shortly after the General Conference session closed, the Executive Committee met to take care of unfinished business. According to G. I. Butler, current General Conference president, several “cases were referred to the General Conference Committee. This committee, after the close of the Conference, considered some of them.” The resolution presented by the Committee on Resolutions was on their agenda and Butler explained that they “advised that Eld[]. M. C. Wilcox, of New York . . . arrange to go to England to labor,”[87] as a replacement for W. C. White. In February 1884, M. C. Wilcox stated, “In harmony with the request of the General Conference Committee, I have been, up to Feb. 1, working in the Review office, trying to obtain experience and knowledge to enable me to assist in the publishing work elsewhere [i.e., England].”[88] Wilcox helped to establish Seventh-day Adventist publishing interests in England shortly after his arrival and the first issue of a new periodical, The Present Truth, rolled off the presses in April 1884. According to G. I. Butler, this was in harmony with the “well known . . . vote[] at the last General Conference.”[89] Since the matter was indirectly adopted through its referral to the Executive Committee, they were empowered to implement the resolution by finding an alternative person to go to Europe in White’s stead.

The Signs of the Times Report

Adventist parliamentary procedure and practice suggests that the 1881 resolution to ordain women to the gospel ministry was indirectly adopted and a contemporary interpreter affirmed this conclusion. On January 5, 1882, a full month after the General Conference action on the resolution to ordain women to the gospel ministry, the Signs of the Times printed a partial list of “the resolutions adopted.”[90] The resolution to ordain women to the gospel ministry was the second item on that list. Some scholars have dismissed this report as a simple mistake, but further analysis discredits that notion.

First, it is important to take into consideration the credibility of the resident editor for the Signs of the Times. J. H. Waggoner held that position in 1881 and 1882.[91] He did not go to Battle Creek for the 1881 General Conference, but stayed in California at his post during the annual meetings.[92] Waggoner was a veteran editor, administrator, and minister—someone who, without question, was well versed in Seventh-day Adventist parliamentary procedure and practice. He had served on the General Conference Executive Committee for two years and understood what it meant for a resolution to be referred to this committee.[93] Since the report was printed as an unsigned article, Waggoner not only approved the report for publication, but likely authored it.

Second, it is necessary to analyze the General Conference report itself. It is actually quite significant that the report is an unofficial “partial account of the proceedings.” The wording of the resolutions in the report and the official minutes is identical, which reveals that the report was copied from the original source, not from a letter or telegram. Further comparison reveals that certain items were intentionally excluded from the report, including items that were not adopted as well as some that were.[94] This indicates that the Signs intentionally featured items interpreted to be adopted and important. Since the report is not an official record it should be read as a contemporary interpretation of Seventh-day Adventist parliamentary procedure—one that was approved and/or written by a capable and informed individual, J. H. Waggoner. The report is, therefore, a reliable source for historical analysis.

Third, it is significant to note that J. H. Waggoner was not favorable to women’s ordination. As mentioned in the main article, Waggoner did not believe women should occupy any office in the church. Waggoner’s son, E. J. Waggoner, also held this view of women in ministry. He wrote, “It is a sad fact that infidelity is creeping—no, not creeping, but stalking boldly, into the church.” He then listed some examples, including a reference to the Methodist Church, which was considering “the admission of women as delegates to the General Conference, and their ordination as ministers.”[95] Father and son were both opposed to the ordination of women, whether to the deaconate or to the ministry. This point is significant because it reveals that Waggoner was not likely to accidentally include a resolution he found heretical in his list of items adopted at the General Conference.

Finally, Denis Kaiser has noted that “the Signs did not print a correction regarding this resolution in subsequent issues.”[96] Adventist editors maintained high standards and when significant mistakes did appear in Adventist periodicals, a published correction or retraction was typical.[97] No such statement was ever offered in any Adventist periodical in regard to the 1881 resolution to ordain women.

In summary, J. H. Waggoner was not likely to make, or allow, a simple mistake to appear in the Signs of the Times report. Waggoner was not only an experienced Adventist administrator, but had “learned the printer’s trade” as a boy and was co-owner and senior editor of the Baraboo, Wisconsin,Sauk County Standard before he accepted the Adventist faith in the early 1850s.[98] He was a veteran editor and his Signs report remains a valuable contemporary interpretation of Adventist parliamentary procedure.

It is therefore unlikely that the 1881 resolution to ordain women was indirectly rejected. Rather, the weight of the evidence supports the interpretation that the resolution was indirectly adopted—a conclusion substantiated by Adventist parliamentary procedure, General Conference Committee practice, and the Signs of the Times report. As the main article also demonstrates, subsequent statements on policy issued by the General Conference itself also support this interpretation.


This concludes Part 2 of this two-part article. Read Part 1 here.

Image Courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.


Notes & References:

[1] Gilbert M. Valentine, The Prophet and the Presidents (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2011), 73–75.

[2] Seventh-day Adventist Year Book of Statistics for 1889 . . . (Battle Creek: Review and Herald, 1889), 132–133; Seventh-day Adventist Year Book for 1890 . . . (Battle Creek: Review and Herald, [1890]), 115–118; “General Conference Committee Minutes for 1890,” n.p., 1890, 21, accessed June 2, 2017, General Conference sessions were held in the late summer, fall or early winter from the 12th annual session in 1873 to the 28th annual session in 1889. Beginning with the first biennial session of the General Conference in 1891, the regular meetings have convened in the spring or summer so as not to conflict with the Fall Council.

[3] Department of Education, Lessons in Denominational History (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1942), 320; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1996 ed., s.v. “Annual Council.”

[4] Ian Tyrrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire, America in the World, eds. Sven Beckert and Jeremi Suri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 1–7. Matthew McCullough, The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War, Studies in American Thought and Culture, ed. Paul S. Boyer (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

[5] Lewis L. Gould, The First Modern Clash Over Federal Power: Wilson Versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016), 130–132.

[6] Alison Collis Greene, No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 48.

[7] Robert E. Wright and Thomas W. Zeiler, eds., Guide to U.S. Economic Policy (Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2014), 137.

[8] Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860–1920, 3rd ed., The American History Series, eds. John Hope Franklin and A. S. Eisenstadt(Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2006), 93–94.

[9] Amanda Porterfield, Corporate Spirit: The Long History Behind American Corporate Society (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

[10] George R. Knight, “The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities,” Spectrum Online, October 7, 2016, accessed May 19, 2017,

[11] Benjamin McArthur, A. G. Daniells: Shaper of Twentieth-Century Adventism, Adventist Pioneer Series, ed. George R. Knight (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2015), 105.

[12] Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf, Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2000), 317, 330. It is worth noting that Ellen White, as well as other pioneers, such as J. N. Loughborough and C. C. Crisler, began to stress the importance of simplicity in organization as the General Conference grew in size and power in 1889 and 1901. A. Leroy Moore, “Kingly Power,” in Fortin and Moon, eds. The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, 920; Ellen G. White to the Brethren of the General Conference, December 19, 1892, LT 032, 1892; J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists . . . (Battle Creek: General Conference Association, 1892), 323–324; Barry David Oliver, SDA Organizational Structure: Past, Present, and Future, Andrews University Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, vol. 15 (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1989), 201–217; J. N. Loughborough, The Church: Its Organization, Order, and Discipline (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1907), 124–125, 141–143, 156; C. C. Crisler, Organization: Its Character, Purpose, Place, and Development in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1938), 14, 87, 106, 115, 187, 192–193, 212–213.

[13] Department of Education, Lessons in Denominational History, 320.

[14] Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White . . . (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1915), 125.

[15] Harwood and Beem, “‘Not a Hand Bound’,” 255–257; Gary Land, Historical Dictionary of the Seventh-day Adventists, 2nd ed., Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements, ed. Jon Woronoff (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), xxiv.

[16] Timothy E. W. Gloege, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 10.

[17] Paul Earnest McGraw, “Born in Zion? The Margins of Fundamentalism and the Definition of Seventh-day Adventism,” (PhD diss., George Washington University, 2004), 2.

[18] Some recent works illustrate some aspects of Adventist-Fundamentalist relations. Michael W. Campbell, “The 1919 Bible Conference and Its Significance for the Seventh-day Adventist History and Theology,” (PhD diss., Andrews University, 2007); Denis Kaiser, “Trust and Doubt: Perceptions of Divine Inspiration in Seventh-day Adventist History (1880 – 1930),” (PhD diss., Andrews University, 2016).

[19] I. A. Crane, “Are You Really a Fundamentalist?,” Southwestern Union Record, March 23, 1926, 2; I. A. Crane, “Are You Really a Fundamentalist?,” Columbia Union Visitor, April 22, 1926,8.

[20] James Lamar McElhany, “Are Seventh-day Adventists Christians?,” ST (May 10, 1927): 4; Varner J. Johns, “Gates of Brass,” ST, April 7, 1931, 14; Robert Leo Odom, “Why We See Protestantism in Eclipse,” The Watchman Magazine (September 1931): 8; W. H. Branson, “Loyalty in an Age of Doubt,” The Ministry 6, no. 10 (October 1933): 3; F. D. N[ichol], “Are We Justified in Proselyting?,” RH (January 23, 1936): 3; Carlyle B. Haynes, “What Do You Know About Seventh-day Adventists?,” ST (November 28, 1939): 4; Carlyle B. Haynes, “What Do You Know About Seventh-day Adventists?,” The Canadian Watchman (February 1940): 8.

[21] Margaret Lamberts Bendroth, Fundamentalism & Gender, 1875 to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 56.

[22] Randall Balmer, “American Fundamentalism: The Ideal of Femininity,” in Fundamentalism and Gender, ed. John Stratton Hawley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 48–49, 53.

[23] Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, 115.

[24] Cf. J. Gordon Melton, “Critiquing Cults: An Historical Perspective,” in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, vol. 1, eds. Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), 127.

[25] Wm. C. Irvine, Heresies Exposed . . . (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1921), 154; cf. H. F. D., “Seventh-Day [sic] Adventist ‘Heresies’,” Present Truth (September 30, 1926): 10.

[26] This work was originally published in 1938. Jan Karel van Baalen, The Chaos of Cults: A Study of Present-Day Isms, Rev. Ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1952), 196–197, 211.

[27] H. M. S. Richards, Feed My Sheep (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1958), 352–353.

[28] C. G. Bellah, “Getting a Minister’s Order,” Central Union Outlook (December 3, 1912): 2; [A. L.] K[ing], “False Statements Refuted,” Signs of the Times Australia (September 3, 1934): 6.

[29] “Adventist Founder Dies,” Northern Union Reaper (July 20, 1915): 3.

[30] S. H. Lane, “Indiana,” RH (March 24, 1903): 19.

[31] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1936, vol. 2, part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941), 27.

[32] Everett Dick, Founders of the Message (Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1938), 9. It is interesting to note that Dick was unable to publish an academic historical monograph for the church in the first part of the twentieth-century. As Gary Land states, “The leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference preferred the apologetic approaches” to their history and would not allow Dick “to address such matters as the ill health of James and Ellen White and the shut door doctrine.” It was for this reason that Dick prefaced Founders of the Message with this statement: “I make no claim that the volume is a critical, scientific history, but have frankly attempted to produce a popular work.” Ibid., 9–10; Gary Land, “Foreword,” in Everett N. Dick, William Miller and the Advent Crisis (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1994), vii–viii; cf. Jonathan M. Butler and Ronald L. Numbers, “Introduction,” in The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993), xvi.

[33] Merlin D. Burt, “Bibliographic Essay on Publications About Ellen G. White,” in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, eds. Fortin and Moon, 165–166.

[34] J. N. Loughborough, The Prophetic Gift in the Gospel Church, The Bible Students’ Library, vol. 164 (Oakland: Pacific Press, 1901), 44–48.

[35] J. N. Loughborough, “The Study of the Testimonies—No. 4,” Daily Bulletin of the General Conference, January 31 and February 1, 1893, 58–59; J. N. Loughborough, “The Prophetic Gift,” RH (July 18, 1899): 454.

[36] J. N. Loughborough, Rise and Progress,70–74, 91ff; J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement: Its Rise and Progress (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1905), 145–147, 182–183, 202–203.

[37] Carlyle B. Haynes, “Are Prophets Essential to the Church To-Day?,” ST (February 4, 1919): 13.

[38] V. P. Hulse, “To Keep Thee in the Way,” North Pacific Union Gleaner (June 15, 1926): 1.

[39] “Divine Leadership All the Way,” Inter-American Division Messenger (November 1927): 1.

[40] [Emphasis is mine.] “God’s Special Messenger,” The Church Officers’ Gazette 26, no. 4 (April 1939):28–29.

[41] [Emphasis is mine.] A. W. Peterson, “Where There Is No Vision the People Perish,” Youth’s Instructor (October 17, 1944): 15.

[42] Though he has incorrectly attributed this version of the story to Loughborough, Ronald Graybill has astutely observed that this story “helps to explain why [Ellen White’s] prophetic gift never translated into any belief that women in general might be fitted for leadership roles in the church and why to this day the central church leadership has refused to approve the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.” Ronald Graybill, “Prophet,” in Ellen Harmon White, eds. Aamodt, Land, and Numbers, 81. Though Loughborough did not connect the Foy-Foss-Harmon story with gender, Uriah Smith did make this association in 1866, but only in reference to Foss and Harmon—he never mentioned Foy. Smith’s statement was not remembered or repeated, however. The only person prior to 1935 to reference Smith was W. C. White, Ellen White’s son. When White cited Smith’s 1866 statement, however, he intentionally excluded the comments about gender. White did not accept the gender myth or even perpetuate Loughborough’s version of the story. He did not mention William Foy, utilize the phrase, “the weakest of the weak,” or make any connections with gender. [Uriah Smith], “The Visions—Objections Answered,” RH (June 12, 1866): 10; William C. White, “Sketches and Memories of James and Ellen G. White,” RH (March 14, 1935): 10.

[43] First, Delbert Baker has demonstrated that William Foy did not refuse to share his visions, but rather continued to serve God his entire life. Delbert W. Baker, The Unknown Prophet, rev. ed. (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2013). This disrupts that causality of the narrative: God did not choose Foy first, then reluctantly turn to Hazen Foss, and finally settle on Ellen Harmon. Second, there is no evidence from the 1840s to suggest that Foy, Foss, and Harmon all had the same vision. In 1866, Uriah Smith did claim that Foss had the same vision as Ellen Harmon, but he made no mention of Foy. The next documented moment in which this topic arose came in 1890, when Ellen Harmon White wrote a private letter and said that Foss told her that he had seen the same vision that she had received. White did not endorse or deny Foss’s purported claim, however—she simply repeated it. [Smith], “The Visions—Objections Answered,” RH (June 12, 1866): 10; Ellen White to Mary Foss, December 22, 1890, LT 037, 1890. Third, Ellen White never claimed, or affirmed, that she was God’s last choice and that God would have preferred a man to be His prophet. Though William Foy, Hazen Foss, and Ellen Harmon were all real people who had visions, the connections that have been made between the three of them lack historical merit. “Did God Choose Ellen G. White to Be [a] Prophet Only Because Two Men Refused His Calling?,” Center for Adventist Research, September 1, 2015, accessed May 2, 2017,

[44] John R. Rice, Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers: Significant Questions for Honest Christian Women Settled by the Word of God (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1941), 58.

[45] Constitution, By-Laws, and Working Policy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (Battle Creek: Autumn Council, 1926).

[46] [Emphasis is mine.] Constitution, By-Laws, and Working Policy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (Battle Creek: Autumn Council, 1930), 71.

[47] [Emphasis is in original.] Anderson, Public Policymaking, 7.

[48] “Questions and Answers,” The Central Union Outlook (September 12, 1922): 6.

[49] W. H. Branson and M. E. Kern, “Report of Committee on Constitution and Working Policy,” RH (June 19, 1930): 234.

[50] [McElhany], Church Manual,139.

[51] Though I strongly disagree with his analysis and conclusions, Peter Hitchens has also recognized this point. Peter Hitchens, A Hidden Shadow: An Investigation Into the Church Manual (Anaconda, MT: Bob Vun Kannon, 1993). George R. Knight and Barry D. Oliver argue that this concept of unity originated in response to the 1901 General Conference session. George R. Knight, “The Role of Union Conferences in Relation to Higher Authorities”; Oliver, SDA Organizational Structure, 317n2, 341.

[52] [Emphasis is in original.] “The New Church Manual,” RH (June 2, 1932): 527.

[53] During the Fundamentalist era women were sidelined in many conservative Christian assemblies and ministries. The women’s missions movement began to decline in the 1920s and about this time women were barred from management positions in the Moody Bible Institute and forbidden to take classes on preaching. Tyrrell, Reforming the World, 227; Gloege, Guaranteed Pure, 125–126, 160. “In 1930 the Independent Fundamental Churches in America explicitly eliminated women as voting members.” This organization, formed in 1924 as the American Conference of Undenominational Churches, had allowed women to serve as pastors, but after 1930 they became “almost a nonentity as far as formal activity was concerned.” Bendroth, Fundamentalism & Gender, 63.

[54] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1936, vol. 2, part 1, 29.

[55] Allen, “The Depression and the Role of Women,” 53. According to Allen one female pastor was added in 1935, but he did not specify how long she held that position.

[56] [McElhany], Church Manual,34.

[57] Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 18th ed. ([Silver Spring]: Secretariat of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2010), 78–79. Though the Church Manual did not allow for the ordination of deaconesses until 2010, several Adventist ministers ordained deaconesses anyway in the late twentieth-century. Nancy J. Vyhmeister, “Deaconesses in History and in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 43, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 151; Ruth de Graaff, “Blossburg Deaconesses are Properly Ordained,” Columbia Union Visitor (October 15, 1986): 6.

[58] E. G. White, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” RH (July 9, 1895): 434; This statement has been republished several times in various periodicals, presumably by those in favor of ordaining women to at least the office of deaconess. E. G. White, “A Working Church,” The Canadian Union Messenger (May 30, 1911): 86; E. G. White, “A Working Church,” Northern Union Reaper (February 21, 1911): 2; E. G. White, “A Working Church,” Southern Union Worker (March 2, 1911): 65; E. G. White, “A Working Church,” Australasian Record (March 9, 1914): 2; “Council to Workers,” Columbia Union Visitor (May 18, 1933): 2; Ellen G. White, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” Southwestern Union Record (May 16, 1934): 2; “A Broader Dorcas Work,” The Church Officers’ Gazette 36, no. 10 (October 1949): 22; “A Broader Dorcas Work,” The Church Officers’ Gazette 37, no. 6 (June 1950): 22; Ordell R. Rees, “Northern Union Conference Gateway to Service: Dorcas and the Church,” Northern Union Outlook (February 28, 1956): 3; R. A. Pohan, “Dorcas Activities in North Borneo,” Far Eastern Division Outlook (March 1956): 9; R. A. Pohan, “Dorcas Activities in North Borneo,” The Messenger 6, no. 2 (March-April 1956): 6.

[59] Trim, “The Ordination of Women,” 17–18.

[60] Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry (Silver Spring: Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1995), 75, 224. Several Adventists have intentionally extracted this statement from Ellen White’s article in their publications. S. T. Shadel, “Laymen’s Missionary Movement,” Lake Union Herald (March 17, 1926): 7; P. T. Jackson, “The Master’s Example,” Lake Union Herald (October 29, 1946): 4; “A Work for Women,” Pacific Union Recorder (March 27, 1950): 11.

[61] Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, 172–178.

[62] Allen, “The Depression and the Role of Women,” 52.

[63] This statement appeared in the 1906, 1916, and 1926 Federal censuses of religious bodies, but was removed in the 1936 statement on polity. United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1926, vol. 2, 26; United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1936, vol. 2, part 1, 29.

[64] Ava M. Covington, They Also Served: Stories of Pioneer Women of the Advent Movement (Takoma Park: Review and Herald, 1940), 83–104.

[65] G. W. Colcord and F. M. T. Simonson, “Quarterly Report of the Ill. T. and M. Society,” RH (February 8, 1877): 43; [Uriah Smith], “The Biblical Institute,” RH (November 22, 1877): 164; Ex. Com. Gen. T. & M. S., “Tract and Missionary Institute,” RH (November 28, 1878): 176; [Uriah Smith], “Tract and Missionary Institute,” RH (January 2, 1879): 4; “Constitution and By-laws of the American Health and Temperance Association,” RH – Supplement (January 9, 1879): 2; B. L. Whitney, “Wellsville, N. Y., Institute,” RH (February 20, 1879): 63; D. M. Canright, “Ohio T. and M. Institute,” RH (January 29, 1880): 74; [Uriah Smith], “The Institute at Battle Creek,” RH (February 26, 1880): 136; D. P. Curtis, “The Minnesota T. and M. Institute,” RH (April 15, 1880): 253; Geo. I. Butler, “Tract and Missionary Institute in Iowa,” RH (September 23, 1880): 219; R. F. Andrews and N. F. Craig, “Illinois Conference,” RH (September 30, 1880): 237; T. M. Steward and A. A. John, “Illinois T. and M. Institute,” RH (January 18, 1881): 44; W. W. Conklin, “Institute in Dist. No. 4, Iowa,” RH (January 25, 1881): 60; R. F. Andrews and F. A. Lawrence, “Illinois Conference,” RH (September 27, 1881): 220; cf. “Literary Notices: Robert’s Rules of Order,” Health Reformer 12, no. 4 (April 1877): 126.

[66] “Editorial Notes,” RH (January 2, 1879): 5; S. Brownsberger, “Students and Teachers, Attention,” RH (July 24, 1879): 36.

[67] Uriah Smith, Key to Smith’s Diagram of Parliamentary Rules . . . (Battle Creek: Review and Herald, 1881); W. H. L[ittlejohn], “The Church Manual,” RH (September 18, 1883): 602.

[68] It is important to note that the word “dispose” does not mean reject—it means to take action. As clear from the context of this statement, resolutions were disposed of by direct or indirect adoption or rejection. Smith, Key to Smith’s Diagram of Parliamentary Rules, 5; cf. Henry M. Robert, Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies . . . (Chicago: S. C. Griggs and Company, 1879), 28§7.

[69] Robert, Pocket Manual, 45§19; Smith, Smith’s Diagram, 13–14.

[70] Robert, Pocket Manual, 53§21; Smith, Smith’s Diagram, 16–17.

[71] Robert, Pocket Manual, 59§24; Smith, Smith’s Diagram, 19.

[72] Robert, Pocket Manual, 54–56§22, 77§29; Smith, Smith’s Diagram, 17, 22–26.

[73] [Emphasis is in original.] Robert, Pocket Manual, 147–148§53, 54–56§22; Smith, Smith’s Diagram, 17.

[74] In 1873, J. N. Andrews described the General Conference Executive Committee as a committee for action. He wrote,

The efficiency of our system of organization depends very much upon the existence and the action of this committee. During the interval from one Conference to another, the general management of our affairs as a people is in their hands. They constitute an executive board to carry into effect the measures which are determined upon by the Conference. Without their action, much of the Conference business would end in mere talk. By their means we are able to act as a body, and at all times are represented by those who are authorized to act for us.

J. N. Andrews, “The General Conference Committee,” RH (October 28, 1873): 160.

[75] Here are some examples of Adventists taking these actions: Lay It on the Table: Geo. I. Butler and U. Smith, “Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (March 11, 1873): 108; “Transcription of Minutes of GC Sessions from 1863 to 1888,” 158, accessed May 12, 2017,–88.pdf#view=fit; Jas. White and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Special Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists, March 11–15, 1880,” March 18, 1880, 187; S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “The General Conference Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 13, 1881): 376. Postpone to a Certain Day: Jas. White and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Special Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists, March 11–15, 1880,” March 18, 1880, 187; S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “The General Conference Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 13, 1881): 376; S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “General Conference: Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 20, 1881): 392.

[76] Here are some examples of Adventists taking these actions: Committee of the Whole: J. O. Corliss and D. H. Lamson, “S. D. A. Ministerial Association of Michigan,” RH (April 11, 1882): 238; S. N. Haskell and M. L. Huntley, “International Tract Society (Continued),” RH (November 25, 1884): 742. Special Committee: Jas. White and U. Smith, “General Conference of S. D. Adventists: Eighteenth Annual Session, Nov. 7, 1879,” RH (November 20, 1879): 161; Geo. I. Butler and U. Smith, “General Conference Proceedings: Twenty-fifth Annual Session (Continued),” RH (November 30, 1886): 744. Referred Back to the Committee on Resolutions: S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “General Conference: Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 20, 1881): 392.

[77] Here are some examples of Adventists taking this action: “Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association: Thirty-ninth Annual Meeting, Held in the Tabernacle, Battle Creek, Michigan, March 9, 1899, 10 A. M.,” The General Conference Bulletin 8, no. 18 (March 16, 1899): 186–187; Jno. I. Gibson, “The Publishing Association,” RH (March 21, 1899): 187; H. W. Decker and Edith Starbuck, “Minutes of North Pacific Conference,” Pacific Union Recorder (June 19, 1902): 7; cf. Henry Lyon, David Hewitt, and Wm. M. Smith, “Report of the Committee Chosen to Investigate the Financial Condition of the Review Office,” RH (December 18, 1855): 96; “Quarterly Meeting of the State Board of Health of Michigan,” Good Health 18, no. 2 (February 1883): 59.

[78] Trim, “The Ordination of Women,” 16.

[79] Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 190n64.

[80] S. N. Haskell and Maria L. Huntley, “Fourth Annual Session of the General Tract and Missionary Society,” RH (December 11, 1879): 185.

[81] W. C. White, “The Time to Work,” RH – Supplement (December 11, 1879): 4.

[82] Geo. I. Butler and U. Smith, “General Conference Proceedings: Twenty-fifth Annual Session,” RH (December 14, 1886): 778–779.

[83] M. H. Brown, “The General Meeting at Rome, N. Y.,” RH (January 25, 1887): 61; M. H. Brown, “The Work in New York,” RH (February 1, 1887): 77; P. Z. Kinne and J. V. Willson, “New York Tract Society,” RH (February 8, 1887): 86; An Important Testimony to Our Brethren and Sisters in New York; and an Appeal from the New York Conference Committee (n.p.: T. & M. Society Press Print, [1887]),14.

[84] E. E. Andross, “Obituaries: Sawyer,” RH (December 1, 1890): 23.

[85] Seventh-day Adventist Year Book . . . [for] 1888 (Battle Creek: Review and Herald, [1888]),143; “[Daniel Thomson’s Change in Address],” RH (May 3, 1887): 287; “[International Tract and Missionary Society Advertisement],” RH (August 16, 1887): 527; Geo. A. King, “Notice,” RH (January 31, 1888): 80; J. E. Robinson, “The Brooklyn, N. Y., Mission,” RH (July 24, 1888): 471.

[86] Geo. I. Butler and A. B. Oyen, “General Conference Proceedings: Twenty-second Annual Session,” RH (November 20, 1883): 733.

[87] Geo. I. Butler, “Changes in Fields of Labor,” RH (November 27, 1883): 752; cf. G. I. B[utler], “Business Councils,” RH (December 18, 1883): 798.

[88] M. C. Wilcox, “General Report,” RH (February 19, 1884): 125.

[89] G. I. B[utler], “The New Paper in England,” RH (April 1, 1884): 217. Though the referred resolution referenced Europe, rather than England specifically, it is clear that England was the place to which W. C. White was asked to go because Adventists had been attempting to establish a printing press in that location for several years. Jas. White and U. Smith, “General Conference (Concluded),” RH (December 11, 1879): 190.

[90] “General Conference,” ST (January 5, 1882): 8.

[91] “[Masthead for the Editorial Page of the Signs],” ST (January 5, 1882): 6.

[92] S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “The General Conference: Twentieth Annual Session, Dec. 1, 1881,” RH (December 6, 1881): 360.

[93] J. N. Andrews and Uriah Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (May 25, 1869): 173; Jas. White and Uriah Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (March 22, 1870): 109.

[94] “General Conference,” ST (January 5, 1882): 8; S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “General Conference: Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 20, 1881): 392.

[95] E. J. Waggoner, “How Readest Thou?,” ST (December 29, 1890): 601–602.

[96] Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 190n64.

[97] Cf. “[Editorial Correction: Dropped, Not Drafted],” RH (November 8, 1864): 192; J. H. W[aggoner] to Locals, [187–], Lucinda Hall Collection, Folder 5, EGWE-GC.

[98] [A. Kunz], “Death of Eld. J. H. Waggoner,” RH (September 3, 1889): 558; “Baraboo Standard,” Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin, September 10, 1851; “Editorial Change,” Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin, March 24, 1852.


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