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God’s Last Choice: Overcoming Ellen White’s Gender and Women in Ministry During the Fundamentalist Era Part 1


This is Part 1 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.


Seventh-day Adventism was wholly reinvented in the 1920s and 1930s.[1] Though the organizational structure did not change much after 1918, the church prior to this time was fundamentally different from the church that was created during the interwar years. Most Adventists are unaware of this reinvention and George R. Knight has correctly argued that many Adventists in the early twenty-first century incorrectly look back to “the years between 1920 and 1960 . . . as the era of ‘Historic Adventism.’”[2] This article supports Knight’s assessment through the lenses of unity, authority, and gender. Simply put, there was a time in which Adventists were united by a simple covenant: to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ. There was a time in which local churches were governed congregationally and in which a local conference, a union, or the General Conference, had no authoritative control over their daily operations. There was a time in which church policy did not prohibit women from serving as conference presidents or forbid their ordination to the gospel ministry. This was a time in which Adventists, and their churches, were autonomous and united.

In addition to items voted at General Conference sessions, the Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes four sources of authority that outline policy for governance.[3] Though the General Conference Constitution was adopted in 1863 and its bylaws outlined in 1889, the other three sources of authority have their genesis in the twentieth century. Between 1926 and 1932, the General Conference adopted a Working Policy (1926), a list of Fundamental Beliefs (1931), and a Church Manual (1932). In this article, I analyze the adoption process of the Working Policy and Church Manual and demonstrate the impact these sources of authority initially had on Seventh-day Adventist women.

Change regarding policy was intimately related to an evolving understanding of unity and authority. As the meaning of these concepts changed in the Adventist Church, the dynamics of power and governance shifted. Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek advise,

To ask where and when shifts in authority occur, why and by what process, and to inquire into their consequences is to place exacting demands on the description of change in governance over time, on the identification of causes and the weighing of their relative significance, and on the accurate portrayal of the new historical patterns they produce. In all of these ways, it encourages scholars to sidestep a priori logics of development, to question stylized treatments of history, and to anchor theory building more firmly in empirical evidence.[4]

This article illustrates how unnoticed shifts in denominational policy produced a “new historical pattern” of governance that took away women’s right to serve as ministers and conference officers. Since at least the early 1980s, scholars have recognized that “[s]omething happened to women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, beginning in 1915 and sharply accelerating in the mid-1940s, that led to the almost total exclusion of women from leadership positions in the church.”[5] Bertha Dasher, Patrick Allen, Kit Watts, and Laura L. Vance have analyzed the decline of women in leadership positions post-1915,[6] but the only policy changes thus far noted were the establishment of term limits in 1931, and the Annual Council’s 1923 decision that it was preferable that “the future home missionary and missionary volunteer secretaries” be “ordained ministers.”[7] This article provides a fresh analysis prompted by recently discovered documentation that further clarifies the “what” that “happened” to female leadership in Adventism.[8] Though multiple factors were involved, I argue that Adventist male leaders of the Fundamentalist era intentionally used denominational policy to exclude women from conference leadership positions and the ordained ministry.

Unity and Authority: 1840s to 1932

Seventh-day Adventists were hesitant to organize as a denomination because they were part of the Restoration Movement, which sought to return the church to its original purity before institutional hierarchies were introduced. Leaders of this movement, such as Alexander Campbell, “called for local church autonomy, exclusively biblical requirements for church membership, the unity of Christians around biblical essentials, and an end to sectarian creeds and ecclesiasticism.”[9] Because Adventists held these beliefs so fervently, they organized in the 1860s with extreme caution and intentionally established a simple ecclesiastical structure designed to protect local church autonomy and individual conscience.[10]

When the General Conference was established in 1863 to ensure that ministers and missionaries were equitably distributed in all regions of the field, it had a very limited jurisdiction—it only had authority over wage and labor distribution.[11] The constitution specified that the General Conference served two purposes: first, it had “the purpose of securing unity and efficiency in labor.” The key phrase, “securing unity,” was restricted to labor—an important and intentional limitation of power. The type of labor was clearly outlined, indicating that the General Conference jurisdiction included “the general supervision of all ministerial labor” and “the special supervision of all missionary labor.” Aside from this, the General Conference treasurer ensured that church laborers were paid and the executive committee organized and oversaw the regular meetings, which initially met annually.[12]

The General Conference’s second purpose was “promoting the general interests of the cause.” The work of “promoting” was very different from “securing unity” in that it denoted no relationship of authority. The phrase, “general interests,” was intentionally broad. While it initially included just the Publishing Association, many other ministries were added to the church in subsequent years. These ministries were not governed directly by the General Conference and were organized as independent entities with their own constitutions and governing bodies. In the nineteenth century, the General Conference counseled the “general interests” of the church, but these ministries were not technically within its jurisdiction.[13]

The General Conference was “higher in authority than State Conferences,” but this meant that it could only “mark out the general course to be pursued” by these conferences.[14] If the General Conference adopted a resolution that related to these conferences, then the state conferences had the authority to ratify, amend, or reject the resolution.[15] As James White explained, the state conferences chose “to carry out the decisions of [the] General Conference” only “if it be the[ir] pleasure.” This system of checks and balances was set in place so that “unity . . . [would] be secured” and autonomy maintained.[16]

This system of checks and balances also guided the relationship between the state conferences and the local churches. If a state conference adopted a resolution that fell outside of its jurisdiction, then the local churches in that territory had the authority to ratify, amend, or reject that resolution.[17] The local church was “congregational in its government” and strictly protected by Adventist Church policy. The General Conference explained the relationship between these two organizational units as follows: “The State conference . . . has general supervision of the churches and their work, though it exercises no authority over the local church, except as particular questions are submitted to it for decision.”[18]

Understanding the limited jurisdiction of the General Conference clarifies an often-misinterpreted resolution that the Adventist Church adopted in 1877. It stated, “Resolved,That the highest authority under God among Seventh-day Adventists is found in the will of the body of that people, as expressed in the dicisions [sic] of the General Conference when acting within its proper jurisdiction; and that such decisions should be submitted to by all without exception, unless they can be shown to conflict with the word of God and the rights of individual conscience.”[19] At this time, the jurisdiction of the General Conference was limited to wage and labor distribution, which indicates that the “all” who were to “submit” referred specifically to denominational employees, primarily ministers and missionaries.[20] At this time, the General Conference did not have the authority to establish theological beliefs for the denomination or institute policies that governed the local church directly.[21]

Seventh-day Adventists considered altering this policy a year later. During the 1878 General Conference session, the General Conference Executive Committee was authorized to “take immediate steps toward the publication of a Manual” that outlined church policies and parliamentary procedure.[22] Though the “Church Manual” was again discussed a year later,[23] no further action was taken until the church decided, in 1882, to publish the manual in the Review and Herald so that it could be peer-reviewed.[24] It was printed between June and October 1883,[25] but when the General Conference met in annual session a month later the Church Manual was unanimously rejected for four reasons: first, the Adventist Church was already united without one; second, it might lead to established creeds or disciplines; third, ministers and church officers would consult the Church Manual on matters of polity rather than the Bible and the Holy Spirit; and fourth, Adventist leaders reasoned and asked, “It was in taking similar steps that other bodies of Christians first began to lose their simplicity and become formal and spiritually lifeless. Why should we imitate them?”[26] Seventh-day Adventists at this juncture ultimately upheld their conviction that denominational organization must remain simple and that local church autonomy was a critical component of denominational unity and spiritual vibrancy.

Women in Ministry: 1840s to 1932

Early Adventist understandings of unity and authority enabled women to play a critical role in church life and work. The most preeminent example was Ellen White, one of the founders of the Adventist Church. Though she began her prophetic ministry in 1844 and served as a public minister until her death in 1915, she never held a formal position of authority within her denomination and was never ordained by the laying on of human hands. She did claim that God had ordained her,[27] however, and Adventist administrators affirmed this ordination and gave her the same ordination credentials that men carried.[28] Adventists recognized that this ordination enabled Ellen White to speak publicly, to teach, and to have authority over men and women. Adventists were influenced through her teaching and work to be open to women serving as ministers of the gospel.[29] Early Adventists also used Ellen White’s gender as justification for other women teaching and having authority over men.[30]

Scholars have highlighted several notable women who served the church in official capacities.[31] Adelia P. Van Horn was the first woman to serve in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a formal position. Between 1864 and 1867 she was the editor of the Youth’s Instructor and in 1871 she was elected treasurer of the General Conference.[32] Sarah A. Lindsey was the first woman to receive a ministerial license, which was issued to her through the New York and Pennsylvania Conference in 1869.[33] A ministerial license enabled men and women to prepare for the ministry as itinerate as preachers and evangelists, but did not authorize them “to celebrate the ordinances, to administer baptism, or to organize a church.”[34] These licenses were given to “[a]pplicants for ordination to the ministry” and after “a limited term” the licensing conference would recommend that individual for ministerial ordination.[35] Dozens of women received ministerial licenses between 1869 and 1930 but, unlike their male counterparts, these women were not ordained to the gospel ministry, even though a few were given ministerial credentials.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Adventist leaders unanimously refuted the notion that the Bible commanded women to be silent in the churches.[36] Though Adventist ministers and theologians all affirmed that women could preach, prophesy, exhort, and pray publicly, the majority did not acknowledge that Phoebe was a deaconess[37] and rejected the notion that a woman could hold a position of authority within the church.[38] In 1866, Uriah Smith argued that women could preach and teach publicly, but qualified his stance by adding, “The leadership and authority is vested in the man. ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ Gen. iii, 16. This order is not to be reversed, and the woman take the position which has been assigned to the man; and every action on her part which shows that she is usurping this authority, is disorderly, and not to be allowed.”[39] D. T. Bourdeau also argued, “Paul does not suffer a woman to teach, or to usurp authority over the man; and we do not learn from the Scriptures that women were ever ordained apostles, evangelists, or elders; neither do we believe that they should teach as such. Yet they may act an important part in speaking the truth to others.”[40]

Adventist administrators and theologians began to alter their perspective in the 1870s, shortly after the Seventh-day Adventist Church began to grant women ministerial licenses in 1869. These licenses affirmed that women could serve as ministers but also raised an important question, Did the Bible allow women to be ordained? Adventist leaders apparently wrestled with this question throughout the decade.

By late 1878, Adventist discussions of women in ministry had taken a subtle, yet significant turn. In December, J. H. Waggoner, a leading minister and resident editor of the Signs of the Times, published an editorial, titled, “Woman’s Place in the Gospel.” Waggoner offered nothing new, however, and rehashed the same argument that Adventists circulated in the 1850s and 1860s. He argued that women could publicly serve as gospel laborers through prophesying, praying, edifying, and exhorting, but denied their right to serve in positions of authority. “A woman may pray, prophesy, exhort, and comfort the church,” he wrote, “but she cannot occupy the position of a pastor or a ruling elder. This would be looked upon as usurping authority over the man, which is here [in 1 Tim. 2:12] prohibited.”[41] As Nancy J. Vyhmeister has demonstrated, Waggoner also considered the office of deaconess to be illegitimate.[42]

Waggoner’s article may have sparked a debate. About this time, James White had requested that S. N. Haskell study the topic of women in ministry. Haskell responded by letter about the time the Waggoner wrote his article, but came to a different conclusion. He noted the examples of women who had positions of authority in the Bible, including Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, Anna, and others, and concluded that women could serve in the church as deaconesses and elders. Women could also, according to Haskell, serve as ministers and traveling preachers who baptized female converts.[43] Other Adventist leaders supported Haskell on these points, rather than Waggoner, and argued that Scripture allowed for women to hold positions of authority in the churches.

Shortly after Haskell’s letter was written and Waggoner’s article was published, several others wrote on the topic of women in ministry for the Review and Herald, which was edited by Uriah Smith. In January 1879, Ellen White wrote, “Women can be the instruments of righteousness, rendering holy service. It was Mary that first preached a risen Jesus. . . . If there were twenty women where now there is one, who would make this holy mission their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth.”[44] At this time, Ellen White apparently sidestepped any debate and affirmed the point upon which Haskell and Waggoner agreed: women were called to preach and teach the gospel publicly.[45]

Others openly challenged Waggoner’s view of women in ministry. In the same issue of the Review in which Ellen White’s article appeared, leading Adventist theologian, J. N. Andrews, affirmed that the Bible supported women holding certain positions of authority. “Romans 16:1 shows that Phebe was a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea,” he wrote, “and Acts 18:26 shows that [Pricilla] was capable of instructing Apollos.” It is important to recognize that Andrews’ statement about Phoebe broke new ground: J. B. Frisbie was the only Adventist minister to acknowledge in print that she was a deaconess prior to Andrews. But Frisbie’s article had appeared in 1856 and it took over twenty years for other Adventist ministers to support his conclusion in print.[46] Therefore, it is significant that Andrews publicly rejected the old argument that Waggoner rehashed and concluded that women could hold certain church offices and positions of authority—this was a significant advancement in Adventist theological understanding.[47]

A few months later, James White revised his previous position on the subject as well. In the 1850s, White had affirmed that women could speak publicly, but did not affirm that they could hold positions of authority in the church.[48] In 1879, however, White supported Haskell and Andrews’ new perspective by stating that women could hold positions of authority. He analyzed numerous examples in the Bible of “holy women [who] held positions of responsibility and honor” and built upon Haskell’s research. His first example was Miriam, of whom he stated, “Here we find a woman occupying a position equal to that of Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen servants to lead the millions of Israel from the house of bondage.” Next, White analyzed the position of Deborah and declared, “She was a judge in Israel. The people went up to her for judgment. A higher position no man has ever occupied.” In addition to several other examples of godly women, White concluded, on the basis of Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:17-18, “The Christian age was ushered in with glory. Both men and women enjoyed the inspiration of the hallowed hour, and were teachers of the people. . . . And the dispensation which was ushered in with glory, honored with the labors of holy women, will close with the same honors.”[49]

Several Adventist churches began to elect deaconesses after Haskell, Andrews, and White concluded that this office was biblically based. In 1883, W. H. Littlejohn stated that it was now “the custom of some of [the] churches to elect one or more women to fill a position similar to that which it is supposed that Phebe and others occupied in her day.”[50] In addition, more women began to serve the church as licensed ministers throughout the 1870s and into the early 1880s. By 1881, at least sixteen women had received a ministerial license[51] and the majority of Adventist leaders, including the Whites, Andrews, Haskell, Littlejohn, and Smith, had affirmed that these women could hold positions of authority within the church.[52] By contrast, Waggoner seemingly had few supporters and his old perspective apparently became the minority view by this time. Though none of these articles overtly addressed ordaining women to the ministry or to the deaconate, they did stress that women did have authority to teach and labor publicly. Since the subject was soon addressed formally, it is evident that church leaders were thinking about women’s ordination.

During the General Conference session of 1881, W. H. Littlejohn, B. L. Whitney, and Uriah Smith were elected as the Committee on Resolutions.[53] This trusted standing committee was tasked with thoroughly considering all propositions to be presented to the conference delegates in the form of resolutions that reflected their definite recommendation. As David Trim has noted, the men on the 1881 Committee on Resolutions were among the group of Adventists who “saw no objections to ordaining women to gospel ministry.”[54] This led them to formulate the following resolution: “Resolved, That females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry.”[55] After this resolution was presented, some delegates discussed the matter and it was then referred to the General Conference Executive Committee, which included G. I. Butler, S. N. Haskell, and Uriah Smith.

Adventists have wrestled with this resolution for decades, unsure if it was adopted or rejected. Three interpretations have emerged in the historiography: 1) that the resolution was directly adopted by a vote of the delegates; 2) that the resolution was indirectly adopted, but never implemented; and 3) that the resolution was indirectly rejected because it was referred to the General Conference Committee. David Trim has categorically refuted the first option—the official minutes do not explicitly state that the resolution was voted or adopted and the word “resolved” does not mean that it was approved. Still, others have cautiously suggested either option or two and three, but thus far no consensus has emerged. Only one of these options is correct and the matter must be settled, as Trim has affirmed, by clarifying “what ‘referral to the GC Committee’ actually meant.”[56]

After thoroughly analyzing the documentation currently available, I have concluded that the 1881 resolution was indirectly adopted and referred to the General Conference Executive Committee for implementation. I hold this perspective for four primary reasons (see Appendix): first, this interpretation is supported by the rulebooks Seventh-day Adventists used for parliamentary procedure in 1881; second, analogous referred resolutions were, in fact, all indirectly adopted and implemented; third, the report of the 1881 General Conference in the Signs of the Times states that the resolution was adopted; and fourth, this outcome provides a more convincing explanation of subsequent statements on policy. Though I argue that this resolution was indirectly adopted, it is important to stress that it was never officially implemented—no women are known to have been ordained as ministers prior to 1930. Nevertheless, I argue that after 1881, the question for Seventh-day Adventists was not could women be ordained, but rather, would they be ordained—a question that remained unsettled until 1930–1932.[57]

Though there is no known documentation that explicitly explains why the resolution to ordain women was presented at the General Conference in 1881, it seems that it was connected to both the growing number of female licentiates and the new practice of electing deaconesses in local churches. Perhaps early Adventists were concerned with the gender question and not with questions about role or function. In other words, it may be that they reasoned, if a woman can hold an office she can be ordained to that office, and if she can be ordained to one office she can be ordained to any office. What is clear is that Adventist leaders considered ordaining women to the ministry at the time that the churches began to elect deaconesses and it is unlikely that this timing was coincidental.

James White was the first Adventist minister to ordain a woman. On July 27, 1867, he set apart Phillip Strong as a minister and ordained his wife, Louisa, “as his helper.” James White reasoned, “My views and feelings are that the minister’s wife stands in so close a relation to the work of God, a relation which so affects him for better or worse, that she should, in the ordination prayer, be set apart as his helper.”[58] As Denis Kaiser states, “It does not seem, however, that this procedure became a general practice in the church.”[59]

Though women were not typically ordained as ministerial helpers, Adventist women were frequently ordained as deaconesses after 1895. Scholars have assumed that these ordinations only occurred for a few years, were limited to certain regions of the world, and were very rare. Further investigation proves that this was not the case, however. Since the resolution to ordain women as ministers was not implemented, it is not surprising that W. H. Littlejohn admitted in 1883 that it was not “the custom” of Adventists to ordain deaconesses.[60] This changed in 1895, however, when Ellen White stated in the July 9 issue of the Review, “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands.”[61] This statement prompted several Adventist ministers to ordain women as deaconesses; the first known ordination took place about a month later, on August 10, 1895. Records indicate that these ordinations were not localized or uncommon. Many women, in fact, were ordained as deaconesses between 1895 and the 1920s in several different countries, including Australia, Borneo, India, the United Kingdom, and all throughout the United States.[62]

Recently discovered statements on policy suggest that the Adventist Church remained open to the possibility of women’s ministerial ordination as long as women were ordained as deaconesses. At the turn of the twentieth-century, the United States Census Bureau initiated a census of religious bodies every ten years, beginning with the year 1906. The Bureau began to collect the data for the first religious census in 1907 and published the results in two volumes in 1910. The first volume included numerical data about the various religious bodies that worshipped in the United States. The second volume, however, was comprised of the beliefs, history, and polity of each religious group. According to Charles Nagel, the director of the census, “The descriptive statements were prepared, wherever possible, by competent persons in the denominations, who were appointed by the bureau as special agents for this purpose.”[63] The “general statement covering the history, doctrine, polity, and work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination” was prepared by the General Conference, under the direct supervision of Harvey Edson Rogers, General Conference Statistical Secretary and member of the General Conference Executive Committee.[64]

Since the General Conference prepared this statement, its description of the church and its work was authoritative. This statement did not introduce new concepts, but rather explained how the church operated to a non-Adventist audience. Seventh-day Adventist leaders were thrilled with the opportunity to share their faith in this manner and responded enthusiastically to these censuses because it gave them a chance to “place [their] work in proper light.”[65] Therefore, the censuses of religious bodies gave Adventist leaders a voice and occasion to portray their movement in the manner they believed the most accurate.

Since the General Conference wanted to present Adventism in an accurate manner, it is particularly interesting to note the sections of polity that dealt with the ministry and ordination. In a paragraph that outlined the different types of conferences—local, union, and General—and the function of the presidents and executive committees, the General Conference wrote, “Membership in the conferences or the ministry is open to both sexes, although there are very few female ministers.”[66] The context of this paragraph makes the meaning clear: it was possible for a woman to be elected to any office of a local conference, union, or the General Conference, including the office of president, and serve as a gospel minister. Though no women had served as conference, union, or General Conference presidents, policy did not prohibit this possibility. Furthermore, this statement affirms that there were some female ministers and that the title, “minister,” was given to both men and women—no distinction was made upon the basis of gender between those who filled ministerial positions.

The topic of ministerial ordination was addressed a paragraph later. Since this statement on polity declared that the ministry was open to both sexes, the wording of the clause on ordination was crucial. If Adventist Church policy did restrict ministerial ordination to men, it was necessary to clarify that point explicitly. However, this was not the case. Though the ordination paragraph did not explicitly state that ordination to the ministry was open to women, it was intentionally written in gender-neutral terms. The statement reads in full:

Applicants for ordination to the ministry are licensed to preach, for a limited term, by a conference, either state, union, or general. At the expiration of that term, on approval by the conference, they are recommended for ordination, and are ordained under supervision of the conference, by ministers selected for that service. This ordination is for life, but ministers are expected to renew their papers at each meeting of the conference which ordained them.”[67]

The imprecise language of this statement is significant. James E. Anderson, political scientist and expert on policymaking, articulates the importance of clear language in relation to policy as follows: “Public policies in modern political systems do not, by and large, just happen.” Rather, policy is linked “to purposive or goal-oriented action rather than to random behavior or chance occurrences.” The language of policy statements, whether description or prescriptive, is thus crucial. Explicit policies require definite, clear, and precise language; policies intended to be open are written in ambiguous terms. According to Anderson, “The goals of a policy may be somewhat loosely stated and imprecise in content, thus providing a general direction rather than precise targets for its implementation. Those who want action on a problem may differ both as to what should be done and how it should be done. Ambiguity in language then can become a means for reducing conflict, at least for the moment.”[68] The descriptive policy statement on ministerial ordination in the religious census was written in ambiguous terms, whichimplies that the Adventist Church tacitly allowed that women’s ministerial ordination was possible, even though it had not yet been officially practiced. Though other details regarding policy were altered, it is important to note that these statements about the openness of ministry and ordination remained unchanged when the 1916 and 1926 censuses of religious bodies were published. Once again, Harvey Edson Rogers oversaw these censuses and the General Conference approved the statements.[69]

The significance of these statements is accentuated by a comparison with another document prepared by the General Conference shortly before the third religious census was taken for the year 1926. The Manual for Ministers was published in 1925, but was not an authoritative guide in a strict sense. Rather it was “printed as suggestive, and . . . not necessarily to be exactly followed” in all of its details. Unlike the policy statement printed in the religious censuses, the Manual for Ministers described ministerial ordination with gender-specific terminology. Words like “brother,” “him,” and “man” appear numerous times.[70] Adventist administrators were therefore inclined to use gender-specific terms to describe ministerial ordination, which highlights the significance of the policy statements in the religious censuses—particularly the one prepared for 1926, which was updated after the Manual for Ministers was published. The General Conference officers did not use gender-neutral terms in those statements accidently. Rather, it seems that they were aware that denominational policy had been open to women’s ordination since 1881. To be sure, the statements on polity provided in this religious censuses were not prescriptive—the documents did not serve the same function as a codified working policy. Nevertheless, these statements did provide an accurate description of Adventist policy prior to 1930, especially since the General Conference wrote it for a non-Adventist audience—people completely unfamiliar with Adventist policy and procedure. In the early 1930s Adventist administrators deliberately removed the clause, “Membership in the conferences or the ministry is open to both sexes, although there are very few female ministers,” from the polity statement in the religious censuses when an official declaration on ministerial ordination was finally made gender-specific in 1930—once policy stated that ordination was for men only, the ministry was no longer open to both sexes.


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

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


Notes & References:

[1] Many examples, which cannot be included in this paper, could be mentioned. I will include two notable changes, however, in this footnote. First, Seventh-day Adventists began to settle pastors in local churches in the 1920s. This was a significant shift in mentality and practice. As late as 1912, A. G. Daniells explained,

We have not settled our ministers over churches as pastors to any large extent. In some very large churches we have elected pastors; but as a rule we have held ourselves ready for field service, evangelical work, and our brethren and sisters have held themselves ready to maintain their church services and carry forward their church work without settled pastors. And I hope this will never cease to be the order of affairs in this denomination; for when we cease our forward movement work, and begin to settle over our churches, to stay by them, and do their thinking and their praying and their work that is to be done, then our churches will begin to weaken, and to lose their life and spirit, and become paralyzed and fossilized, and our work will be on a retreat.

A. G. Daniells, “The Church and Ministry: An Outline of Lesson No. 5,” Pacific Union Recorder (April 4, 1912): 1. It is important to note that the General Conference Executive Committee initially balked at this change, and at the Autumn Council of 1923 they expressed their “concern [with] the rapidly increasing practice of placing ministers over churches as settled pastors” and urged local conference executive committees “to give careful study to this question.” General Conference Committee Minutes, October 15, 1923, 486; cf. F. M. W[ilcox], “Standing by the Preacher,” Review and Herald [hereafter RH] (June 4, 1925): 5; G. A. Roberts and W. C. Moffett, “Building the Home Base,” RH (November 11, 1926): 7; H. E. Willoughby, “Stress Evangelism,” The Ministry 1, no. 4 (April 1928): 28–29. The “insistent cry” from local congregations “for pastoral help” proved too great, however, and voices of protest quickly died out in the 1930s and 1940s as Adventist views regarding ministry took on this new trajectory. J. L. McElhany, “A Greater Evangelism,” The Ministry 4, no. 1 (January 1931): 7; cf. F. D. Wells, “More Workers,” Atlantic Union Gleaner (January 8, 1930): 4; Charles O. Franz, “Alabama: A Trip Through the Alabama Conference,” Southern Union Worker (July 16, 1930): 2; H. A. Lukens, “666,” Canadian Union Messenger (January 23, 1934): 3.

Second, the rise of settled pastors in local churches occurred in tandem with the rise of a standardized church program. As Theodore N. Levterov states, “At the center of early Sabbatarian worship was the studying of the Bible and doctrines. Since most churches lacked the presence of a regular minister, Bible study was usually substituted for traditional preaching. It was also not uncommon for believers to read the Review and Herald and learn biblical concepts through its pages during worship.” Theodore N. Levterov, “Early Adventist Worship, 1845–1900s,” in Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, ed., Worship, Ministry, and the Authority of the Church (Silver Spring: Biblical Research Institute, 2016), 61–62. Prior to the 1920s and 1930s, spontaneity was presented as the desired norm. In 1907, J. N. Loughborough published, The Church: Its Organization, Order, and Discipline, which was republished several times until the 1920s. In this work, Loughborough addressed the question, “In the absence of a minister what is the proper manner of conducting the church service?” Loughborough’s answer was simple and intentionally vague. “There should certainly be the avoidance of any stereotyped, formal manner that would run things into a special rut,” he wrote. He then supported his conclusion from the writings of Ellen White, stating, “The ‘Testimonies for the Church’ give much excellent instruction on that point. As samples of this, see Vol. II, pages 419, 420, 577–579; Vol. IV, page 461; Vol. V, page 609, etc.” J. N. Loughborough, The Church: Its Organization, Order, and Discipline (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1920), 170. In spite of this council, other Adventist leaders did desire a standard order of service. In 1906, H. M. J. Richards published, Church Order and Its Divine Origin and Importance, and outlined a program that he believed Adventists should follow in their church services. H. M. J. Richards, Church Order and Its Divine Origin and Importance (Denver: Colorado Tract Society, 1906), 64–66. Richards’ publication had limited circulation in comparison to Loughborough’s book, however, and it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that Richards’ view became dominant. Some local churches began printing weekly bulletins in the 1920s, which outlined the order of service for that particular church on that particular Sabbath. “The Suggestion Corner: Advertise the Meeting,” The Church Officers’ Gazette 10, no. 5 (May 1923): 16; “News Notes: [Church Bulletin Weekly],” Columbia Union Visitor (January 3, 1924): 4; Robert S. Fries, “Boston,” Atlantic Union Gleaner (February 17, 1926): 2. In 1932, the first Church Manual standardized local church practice around the world with two suggested orders for service, one longer and the other shorter. Both of these program outlines are still followed by a large number of Adventists churches today. [J. L. McElhany], Church Manual (Washington, D.C.: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1932, 151–152; cf. Levterov, “Early Adventist Worship,” 72–73.

[2] George R. Knight, “Old Prophet, New Approaches: 45 Years of Crisis and Advance in Ellen White Studies,” Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary 17, no. 2 (2014): 99.

[3] Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, “A Study of Church Government and Unity,” n.p., September 2016, 7–8.

[4] Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek, The Search for American Political Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 123–124.

[5] Ottilie Stafford, “On Mislaying the Past,” Spectrum 15, no. 4 (December 1984): 31.

[6] Bertha Dasher, “Leadership Positions: A Declining Opportunity?,” Spectrum 15, no. 4 (December 1984): 35–37; Patrick Allen, “The Depression and the Role of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Adventist Heritage 11, no. 2 (Fall 1986): 48–54; Bertha Dasher, “Women’s Leadership, 1915–1970: The Waning Years,” in A Woman’s Place, ed. Rosa Taylor Banks (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1992), 75–84; Kit Watts, “The Rise and Fall of Adventist Women in Leadership,” Ministry 68, no. 4 (April 1995): 6–10; Kit Watts, “Moving Away from the Table: A Survey of Historical Factors Affecting Women Leaders,” in The Welcome Table, eds. Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart (Langley Park, MD: TEAMPress, 1995), 45–59; Laura L. Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis: Gender and Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999).

[7] Watts, “Moving Away from the Table,” 54.

[8] Some of the most significant works on this subject (in addition to those cited in footnote 6) include: John G. Beach, Notable Women of Spirit: The Historical Role of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1976); Bert Haloviak, “The Adventist Heritage Calls for Ordination of Women,” Spectrum 16, no. 3 (August 1985): 52–60; Iris M. Yob, The Church and Feminism: An Exploration of Common Ground (Englewood, CO: Winsen Publications, 1988); Lourdes E. Morales-Gudmundsson, ed., Women and the Church: The Feminine Perspective (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1995); Nancy Vyhmeister, ed., Women in Ministry: Biblical & Historical Perspectives (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1998); Josephine Benton, Called By God: Stories of Seventh-day Adventist Women Ministers, rev. ed.(Lincoln: AdventSource, 2002); Beverly Beem and Ginger Hanks Harwood, “‘Your Daughters Shall Prophesy’: James White, Uriah Smith, and the ‘Triumphant Vindication of the Right of the Sisters’ to Preach,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 43, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 41–58; Beverly G. Beem and Ginger Hanks Harwood, “‘What about Paul?’ Early Adventists and the Preaching of ‘the Marys’,” Spectrum 38, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 25–30; Ján Barna, Ordination of Women in Seventh-day Adventist Theology: A Study of Biblical Interpretations (Belgrade, Serbia: Preporod, 2012); David Trim, “The Ordination of Women in Seventh-day Adventist Policy and Practice, up to 1972” (paper presented at the Theology of Ordination Study Committee, Linthicum Heights, MD, July 22–24, 2013), accessed May 2, 2017,; Denis Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry: Theory and Practice in Seventh-day Adventism (1850–1920),” Andrews University Seminary Studies 51, no. 2 (Autumn 2013): 177–218; Laura Vance, “Gender,” in Terrie Dopp Aamodt, Gary Land, and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 279–294; Ginger Hanks Harwood and Beverly Beem, “‘Not a Hand Bound; Not a Voice Hushed’: Ordination and Foundational Adventist Understandings of Women in Ministry,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 52, no. 2 (Autumn 2014): 235–273; Ginger Hanks Harwood and Beverly Beem, “‘Quench Not the Spirit’: Early Adventist Hermeneutics and Women’s Spiritual Leadership,” Spectrum 43, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 66–71; John W. Reeve, ed., Women and Ordination: Biblical and Historical Studies (Nampa: Pacific Press, 2015).

[9] J. Caleb Clanton, The Philosophy of Religion of Alexander Campbell (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013), 2; cf. George R. Knight, Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of Adventist Church Structure, Adventist Heritage Series(Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2006), 15–27.

[10] As James White stated, “Those who drafted the form of organization adopted by S. D. Adventists labored to incorporate into it, as far as possible, the simplicity of expression and form found in the New Testament.” When White reminded Adventists in the early 1880s of this fact, he stressed, “The more of the spirit of the gospel manifested, and the more simple, the more efficient the system.” J[ames] W[hite], “Organization and Discipline,” RH (January 4, 1881): 8.

[11] James White clarified that the General Conference was to be organized as a means of “systematizing the[] labor” of Adventist preachers and controlling “all missionary labor in new fields.” [James White], “General Conference,” RH (April 28, 1863): 172.

[12] John Byington and U. Smith, “Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,”RH (May 26, 1863): 204–206.

[13] Ibid.

[14] [White], “General Conference,” RH (April 28, 1863): 172.

[15] State conferences typically ratified General Conference resolutions. A number were amended or rejected, however. Researchers can verify if a resolution was ratified, amended, or rejected, by comparing official General Conference minutes with official state conference minutes. Here are some examples: First, on March 12–13, 1870, the Battle Creek church voted to hold a Laodicean church trial (i.e., every member was put on trial) and give the General Conference Executive Committee the authority to settle each individual’s case. The General Conference session of 1870 voted to approve this request on March 15. The Michigan State Conference then ratified the General Conference vote on March 16. Authority was therefore delegated to the General Conference and the trial was soon carried out (J. N. Andrews, G. H. Bell, and Uriah Smith, Defense of Eld. James White and Wife: The Battle Creek Church to the Churches and Brethren Scattered Abroad (Battle Creek: Steam Press, 1870), 112–113; 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; H. S. Gurney and Wm. C. Gage, “Michigan State Conference: Tenth Annual Session,” RH (March 22, 1870): 110, cf. Kevin M. Burton, “Cracking the Whip to Make a Perfect Church: The Unholy Cleansing of the ‘Adventist Temple’ in Battle Creek on April 6, 1870,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, forthcoming).

Second, on November 17, 1873, the General Conference adopted a resolution that endorsed G. I. Butler’s leadership philosophy-theology. W. H. Littlejohn opposed this stance on leadership and feared that it would be ratified by the state conferences. He explained his concern to Ellen White in a private letter and stated that the General Conference resolution was cautiously worded “lest their doctrine should prove too bold for general acceptance.” James White soon opposed Butler’s leadership doctrine and traveled to each state conference to make sure that these bodies did not ratify it. In the end, the Michigan State Conference and Battle Creek church were the only two bodies that did ratify the resolution—all others rejected it (Geo. I. Butler and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the S. D. A. General Conference,” RH (November 25, 1873): 190; Wolcott H. Littlejohn to Ellen G. White, October 26, 1874, White Estate Incoming Correspondence, EGWE-GC; E. H. Root and I. D. Van Horn, “Michigan Conference of S. D. Adventists: Thirteenth Annual Session,” RH (September 16, 1873): 110; [Seventh-day Adventist Church of Battle Creek, MI], “Pledge of the Church at Battle Creek, and others, to the General Conference of S. D. Adventists, Nov. 14–18, 1873,” WDF 453 #3, CAR; cf. Kevin M. Burton, “Centralized for Protection: George I. Butler and His Philosophy of One-Person Leadership,” (master’s thesis, Andrews University, 2015)).

Third, on March 15, 1880, a special session of the General Conference adopted the following resolution:

Resolved, That the local elders and deacons in our churches should be elected annually, such election to occur in each church at a time set by each State Conference, except in churches where dissatisfaction with the incumbent has been expressed by at least a respectable minority of the church. In such cases it shall be the duty of the church clerk to notify the Conference committee of such fact; and elections in such churches shall be deferred till proper help is provided by the committee.

Though this was adopted by a General Conference session, it still needed to be ratified by the state conferences and local churches. The General Conference Committee reported the following in the Review in January 1881: “This recommendation of the General Conference was considered by nearly all our State Conferences during the past camp-meeting season, when sessions of these Conferences were held. Quite a number of them passed resolutions indorsing this action,” General Conference Committee, “A Change of Church Officers,” RH (January 4, 1881): 11. This report indicates that the General Conference resolution was only a “recommendation” even though it did not use that language. The 1881 report also reveals that the resolution was rejected by some state conferences. The following conferences ratified the resolution: Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. The following conferences rejected it: New England, New York, Quebec, and Upper Columbia. The Iowa State Conference amended the resolution by adding an appendix. Jas. White and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Special Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists, March 11–15, 1880,” RH (March 18, 1880): 187; S. B. Whitney and A. L. Dawson, “Dakota Conference,” RH (October 21, 1880): 269; R. F. Andrews and N. F. Craig, “Illinois Conference,” RH (September 30, 1880): 237; S. H. Lane and J. S. Shrock, “Indiana Conference,” RH (October 14, 1880): 253–254; Smith Sharp and W. E. Dawson, “Kansas Conference: Sixth Annual Session, Held at Wakarusa, May 20–24, 1880,” RH (June 10, 1880): 381; J. B. Goodrich and Timothy Bryant, “[Maine Conference],” RH (September 9, 1880): 188–189; J. Fargo and A. B. Oyen, “Michigan Conference,” RH (October 14, 1880): 253; H. Grant and D. P. Curtis, “Minnesota Conference,” RH (July 15, 1880): 61; D. M. Canright and J. B. Gregory, “Ohio Conference,” RH (September 30, 1880): 238; B. L. Whitney and D. T. Fargo, “Pennsylvania Conference,” RH (October 21, 1880): 269; A. S. Hutchins and C. E. Powell, “Vermont Conference,” RH (September 30, 1880): 238; Geo. I. Butler and D. A. Robinson, “New England Conference,” RH (September 16, 1880): 204–205; B. L. Whitney and E. W. Whitney, “New York Conference: Nineteenth Annual Session,” RH (October 21, 1880): 269; James White and D. T. Bourdeau, “Organization of the S. D. A. Conference of the Province of Quebec,” RH (September 2, 1880): 173; G. W. Colcord and Alonzo T. Jones, “Upper Columbia Conference Business Proceedings at the Milton, Oregon, Camp-meeting, May 20–31, 1880,” RH (July 15, 1880): 61–62; Geo. I. Butler and Ira J. Hankins, “Iowa Conference,” RH (June 24, 1880): 13–14).

[16] [Emphasis is mine.] [White], “General Conference,” RH (April 28, 1863): 172.

[17] Researchers can analyze this system of checks and balances by comparing state conference minutes with local church record books. Unfortunately, most church record books are unavailable and church clerks were often sparse in their commentary. Nevertheless, one of the clearest examples that illustrates this point is local church adoption, rejection, or amendment of the recommended church covenant. In 1860, local churches were counseled to adopt the following covenant: “We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together, as a church, taking the name, Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.” Most local churches did adopt this covenant, while some amended it and others rejected it entirely. The Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia, church, for example, modified the covenant slightly. Others, however, made significant changes or wrote their own covenant. On April 5, 1879, the Soliloquy, Virginia, Seventh-day Adventist Church organized and added various restrictions and promises to the standard covenant. Most notably, the church outlawed the usage of tobacco and alcohol and condemned the wearing of jewelry, artificials, bonnets, or feathers in hats in their covenant. They further promised to evangelize the world and maintain an active Sabbath school and Bible class. Similarly, in 1919, the Norfolk Island, Australia, church, adopted the standard covenant but added fifteen questions to it that must be asked to each potential member prior to their acceptance into the church. The Yarmouth, Maine, Seventh-day Adventist Church is an especially interesting example. This church organized in 1863 and adopted a unique covenant entirely unlike the standard suggestion. Perhaps the most significant aspect to note is that it intentionally, unlike the standard covenant, included all three members of the Trinity. The first part of the (long) covenant stated,

We whose names are herein after recorded, situated in Yarmouth, Me. and vicinity, believing the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inspired by God (2d Tim. 2.15) giving the doctrine and rules by which all men should be governed, and that we, by faith in Jesus Christ, have become the children of God (Gal. 3.24, 26) being regenerated and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8.15, 16. Titus 3.5) and made to hope for eternal life through Jesus Christ, as his second appearing (Matt. 25.46. Phil. 3.20, 21. Rom. 2.7. Col. 3.4) which we believe to be now near even at the door, (Matt. 24.14, 32, 33. Dan. 2.44) And believing it our duty, as Christians, to live according to the requirements of the New Covenant, to observe and practice its order, its institutions and ordinances, We therefore Covenant together . . .

Joseph Bates and Uriah Smith, “Doings of the Battle Creek Conference, Oct. 5 & 6, 1861,” RH (October 8, 1861): 148; Seventh-day Adventist Church of Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia, “Record of Meetings,” 1–2 (printed), WDF 285-e, CAR; Seventh-day Adventist Church of Soliloquy, Virginia, “Record Book, 1879–1905,” Church Covenant Page, VT 000225, CAR; Seventh-day Adventist Church of Norfolk Island, Australia, “Norfolk Island Church,” [1–6], WDF 285-e, CAR; [Emphasis is mine.] Seventh-day Adventist Church of Yarmouth, Maine, “Record Book, 1863,” [5–8], VT 000325 ASC Vault, CAR.

[18] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1926, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929), 25–26.

[19] James White and A. B. Oyen, “Sixteenth Annual Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (October 4, 1877): 106.

[20] Burton, “Centralized for Protection,” 146–157, 169–172.

[21] In December 1871, the tenth annual session of the General Conference adopted a resolution that listed ten different theological beliefs. They did not adopt these beliefs as a creed or statement of beliefs, however, but merely thanked God that He had revealed these truths to them. James White and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists,” RH (January 2, 1872): 20.

[22] James White and U. Smith, “Seventeenth Annual Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (October 17, 1878): 121.

[23] Jas. White and U. Smith, “General Conference of S. D. Adventists: Eighteenth Annual Session, Nov. 7, 1879,” RH (November 20, 1879): 161.

[24] Geo. I. Butler and A. B. Oyen, “General Conference: Twenty-first Annual Session,” RH (December 26, 1882): 787.

[25] First issue, of the eighteen-part series: [W. H. Littlejohn], “The S. D. A. Church Manual,” RH (June 5, 1883): 361–362.

[26] Geo. I. Butler and A. B. Oyen, “General Conference Proceedings: Twenty-second Annual Session,” RH (November 20, 1883): 733. It is worth noting that Ellen White was present during the discussion of the proposed Church Manual. W. C. White to Mary White, November 13, 1883, White Estate Incoming Correspondence, EGWE-GC.

[27] In 1909, Ellen White stated, “The city of Portland was remarkably blessed by God in the early days of the message. At that time able ministers preached the truth of the soon coming of the Lord, giving the first warning of the near approach of the end of all things. In the city of Portland, the Lord ordained me as His messenger, and here my first labors were given to the cause of present truth.” [Emphasis is mine.] Ellen G. White, An Appeal, October 19, 1909, LT 138, 1909; cf. Ellen G. White, An Appeal to Our Churches Throughout the United States, MS 003, 1910; Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to Our Churches Throughout the United States,” RH (May 18, 19110: 3.

[28] Vance, “Gender,” 286.

[29] Laura L. Vance has noted that Ellen White’s “later writings ([late] 1870s–1915) more frequently encouraged Adventist women to engage in ‘public gospel work,’ and Adventist employers to treat female employees well and pay them equitably.” Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, 180; cf. Denis Fortin, “Ellen White, Women in Ministry, and the Ordination of Women,” in Women and Ordination, ed. Reeve, 102. Jerry Moon has analyzed many of these writings and concluded, “The list of roles open to women in gospel ministry embraces a wide range of job descriptions and vocational options, including preaching, teaching, pastoral care, evangelistic work, literature evangelism, Sabbath school leadership, chaplaincy, counseling, and church administration.” Jerry Moon, “‘A Power That Exceeds That of Men’: Ellen G. White on Women in Ministry,” in Women in Ministry, ed. Vyhmeister, 203.

[30] In the 1880s, Adventist missionaries argued with some men on Pitcairn Island that “had withdrawn from the church” and “would not attend the meetings as long as the ‘woman [Mary McCoy] continued.’” These men believed “that if they attended the meeting while a woman taught, the word of God would be broken; for a woman must not ‘usurp authority over a man.’” Mary McCoy lamented, “So the greater part of the men absented themselves, and the women who attended, did not come with a right spirit.” Two days later, in another meeting, the topic was debated, and those supportive of women teaching men argued, “Does Mrs. White teach?” They stated emphatically, “‘Yes,’ and no one dares to condemn her work and labor of love.” This was undoubtedly not a singular occurrence. J. O. Corliss, “The Pacific Islands as a Mission Field,” RH (February 21, 1888): 118–119.

[31] Josephine Benton published a partial list of Seventh-day Adventist women ministers from 1884 to 1975. Benton, Called by God, 155–162. Another partial list appeared in Habada and Brillhart, eds., The Welcome Table, 359-381. More recently, Andrews University Seminary Studies and Pioneer Memorial Church sponsored Sarah Burton to compile another list made from official conference minutes with included source references. Her partial list runs from 1869 to 1973, but it is much less thorough after 1905. Though this list has not yet been published, the author has a copy in his possession. [Sarah E. Burton], “Women Ministers and Missionaries,” n.p., [2014].

[32] Terrie Aamodt, “Van Horn, Isaac Doren and Adelia P. (Patten),” in Denis Fortin and Jerry Moon, eds., The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2013), 532; Jas. White and U. Smith, “Business Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Session of the General Conference of S. D. Adventists,” RH (February 14, 1871): 68.

[33] E. B. Saunders, “Report of the N.Y. and Pa. Conference,” RH (October 12, 1869): 126.

[34] Geo. I. Butler and U. Smith, “General Conference Proceedings: Twenty-fourth Annual Session (Concluded),” RH (December 8, 1885): 760.

[35] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), 23; S. N. Haskell, “Ministerial Licenses,” RH – Supplement (October 23, 1879): 2; Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 202–203.

[36] Beem and Harwood, “‘Your Daughters Shall Prophesy’,” 41–58; Beem and Harwood, “‘What about Paul?’,” 25–30; Harwood and Beem, “‘Not a Hand Bound’,” 235–273; Harwood and Beem, “‘Quench Not the Spirit’,” 66–71.

[37] J. B. Frisbie is the only known Adventist to affirm the position of deaconess prior to 1879. J. B. F[risbie], “Deacons,” RH (July 31, 1856): 102; cf. Nancy J. Vyhmeister, “Deaconesses in History and in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 43, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 147–149. Though most Adventist leaders did not acknowledge Phoebe to be a deaconess in their own writing, Uriah Smith did reprint an article that that stated this. J. A. Mowatt, “Women as Preachers and Lecturers: [Reprinted from the Portadown News]” RH (July 30, 1861): 65–66; cf. [Reprinted from the Golden Rule], “On Keeping Silence,” RH (December 16, 1858) 27.

[38] Note that all of these writers affirm that women can speak publicly, but did not extend to them a position of authority within the church aside from the prophetic office. J[ames] W[hite], “Paul Says So,” RH (September 10, 1857): 152; D. Hewitt, “‘Let Your Women Keep Silence in the Churches’,” RH (October 15, 1857): 190; J[ames] W[hite], “Unity and Gifts of the Church, No. 4,” RH (January 7, 1858): 68–69; B. F. Robbins, “To the Female Disciples in the Third Angel’s Message,” RH (December 8, 1859): 21–22; B. F. Robbins, “The Promise of the Father. Luke xxiv, 49,” RH (January 5, 1860): 53; S. C. Welcome, “Shall the Women Keep Silence in the Churches?,” RH (February 23, 1860): 109–110; “Questions by Bro. McDonald,” RH (April 22, 1862): 164; M. W. Howard, “Woman as a Co-Laborer,” RH (August 18, 1868): 133; Mary Van Horn, “Letters: From Sr. Van Horn,” RH (August 10, 1869): 55; M. M. Osgood, “Extracts from the Writings of the Learned, No. 2,” RH (January 24, 1871): 47; [Reprinted from the Morning Star], “Shall Women Speak in the Church?,” RH (March 14, 1871): 99; I. Fetterhoof, “Women Laboring in Public: [Reprinted from theEarnest Christian],” RH (August 8, 1871) 58–59.

[39] [Emphasis is mine.] [Uriah Smith], “‘Let Your Women Keep Silence in the Churches’,” RH (June 26, 1866): 28.

[40] D. T. Bourdeau, “Spiritual Gifts,” RH (December 2, 1862): 5–6.

[41] [J. H. Waggoner], “Woman’s Place in the Gospel,” Signs of the Times [hereafter ST] (December 19, 1878): 380; cf. “Wanted, Men and Women,” ST (December 16, 1880): 566; “[Women Needed in the Home],” ST (December 30, 1880): 571.

[42] Vyhmeister, “Deaconesses in History,” 149.

[43] S. N. Haskell to James White, December 13, 1878, White Estate Incoming Correspondence, EGWE-GC; cf. Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, 197.

[44] E. G. White, “Address and Appeal, Setting Forth the Importance of Missionary Work,” RH (January 2, 1879): 1; cf. Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 189–190.

[45] In 1880, Ellen White was about to preach to a large congregation when someone passed a note to S. N. Haskell, who was with her, that quoted a “certain text prohibiting women speaking in public.” Haskell quickly took the preacher’s stand and, as Ellen White remarked, “took up the matter in a brief manner and very clearly expressed the meaning of the apostle’s words.” It is evident, therefore, that White supported Haskell’s view regarding women in ministry. Ellen G. White to James White, April 1, 1880, LT 017a, 1880.

[46] See footnote 37. George R. Knight, “Early Seventh-day Adventists and Ordination, 1844–1863,” in Women in Ministry, ed. Vyhmeister, 109; Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 208.

[47] J. N. A[ndrews], “May Women Speak in Meeting?,” RH (January 2, 1879): 4.

[48] W[hite], “Paul Says So,” 152; W[hite], “Unity and Gifts of the Church, No. 4,” 68–69.

[49] [Emphasis is mine.] J[ames] W[hite], “Women in the Church,” RH (May 29, 1879): 172.

[50] W. H. L[ittlejohn], “The Church Manual,” RH (July 3, 1883): 426.

[51] These women included: Sarah A. H. Lindsay, Ellen G. White, Julia Lee, Ellen S. Lane, Roby Tuttle, Elbra Durfee, Anna Fulton, Julia Owen, Hattie Enoch, Lizzie Post, Libbie Collins, Libbie Fulton, A. M. Johnson, Ida W. Ballenger, Helen L. Morse, and Day Conkling. [Burton], “Women Ministers and Missionaries.”

[52] Cf. S. N. Haskell, “What We Need,” RH (June 19, 1879): 195; S. N. Haskell, “Onward,” RH (January 1, 1880): 12; E. G. White, “Christ’s Commission,” RH (June 10, 1880): 369; J. W[hite], “All Branches of the Work,” RH (August 5, 1880): 104; G. B. Starr, “Does Paul Contradict Himself?,” RH (December 16, 1880): 388; N. J. Bowers, “May Women Publicly Labor in the Cause of Christ?,” RH (June 14, 1881): 372; Brian E. Strayer, J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald, 2014), 361–362.

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

[54] Trim, “The Ordination of Women,” 15–17.

[55] S. N. Haskell and U. Smith, “General Conference: Business Proceedings (Continued),” RH (December 20, 1881): 392. The official General Conference minutes were printed in the Review and Herald, but also appeared unaltered as a printed tract. Report of the General Conference and Other Anniversary Meetings of the Seventh-day Adventists, Held at the Tabernacle, in the City of Battle Creek, Michigan, Dec. 1–19, 1881 (Battle Creek: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1882), 8.

[56] Trim, “The Ordination of Women,” 14–16.

[57] The case of Lulu Wightman is worthy of note. Wightman formally began her ministry in 1897 when she received a ministerial license from the New York Conference. A. E. Place and Wm. A. Westworth, “New York Conference Proceedings,” RH (November 9, 1897): 717. After four years of ministerial labor, Wightman sought ordination to the gospel ministry. Significantly, she requested ministerial ordination through her local conference, not the General Conference. Wightman did not need permission from the General Conference since the 1881 resolution was indirectly adopted. Nevertheless, when her case was considered at the 1901 New York Conference meetings, it was rejected. R. A. Underwood, the union president, “and others” were in favor of ordaining Wightman, but G. B. Thompson, the local conference president, and A. G. Daniells, the General Conference president, were opposed. Thompson and Daniells’s recorded response is telling—they apparently did not state that ordaining a woman was against policy, but reasoned that “they felt . . . that a woman could not properly be ordained—just now at least.” Haloviak, “The Adventist Heritage,” 53–56; Bert Haloviak, “A Place at the Table: Women and the Early Years,” in The Welcome Table, eds. Habada and Brillhart, 27–32; cf. T. E. Bowen, “New York Conference,” RH (September 24, 1901): 626. Therefore, these details provide some support for my suggestion that church policy was open to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry prior to 1930.

[58] James White, “Report from Bro. White,” RH (August 13, 1867): 136. Francis Nelson praised Louisa Strong in the Review a short time later, stating, “I would say to all who may avail themselves of the benefit of her labors, that sister Strong was a great help to the sisters just starting out in the health and dress reforms, in which they have made good progress.” Francis Nelson, “Thanks for Labor,” RH (December 17, 1867): 16.

[59] Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 197–198.

[60] L[ittlejohn], “The Church Manual,” RH (July 3, 1883): 426.

[61] E. G. White, “The Duty of the Minister and the People,” RH (July 9, 1895): 434. Denis Kaiser has demonstrated that “by the 1890s, Ellen White recommended the ordination of people, both male and female, for various lines of ministry. Thus, she emphasized that ordination was not an act linked solely to the clergy, but she envisioned ordination as a practice that set apart and committed people to various specific lines of ministry such as deaconesses, missionaries, and medical physicians.” Kaiser, “Setting Apart for the Ministry,” 213–214, 218.

[62] Vyhmeister, “Deaconesses in History,” 150; Arthur N. Patrick, “The Ordination of Deaconesses,” RH (January 16, 1986): 18–19; Douglas Morgan, Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America, Adventist Pioneer Series, ed. George R. Knight(Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2010), 276; H. F. Phelps, “Minnesota,” RH (March 1, 1898): 145; C. H. Castle, “What We Are Doing,” Pacific Union Recorder (April 23, 1903): 4; Anna M. Nicholas, “Toledo,” The Welcome Visitor (March 30, 1904): 2; H. H. Burkholder, “Wilmington,” The Welcome Visitor (July 20, 1904): 2; W. H. Green, “Second Church, Pittsburg, PA,” Atlantic Union Gleaner (January 31, 1906): 54; “[Elder Burkholder],” The Welcome Visitor (April 25, 1906): 4; F. H. DeVinney, “Report of Labor,” The New York Indicator (November 20, 1907): [2]; W. A. Westworth, “Southern New England,” Atlantic Union Gleaner (March 4, 1908): 75; W. E. Bidwell, “Locust Point, Medina, O.,” Columbia Union Visitor (April 29, 1908): 3; “Northern Illinois,” Lake Union Herald (May 25, 1910): 7; B. W. Spire, “Among the Churches,” Field Tidings (June 25, 1919): 3; F. A. Detamore, “First Fruits in Sarawak,” Asiatic Division Outlook (September 1 and 15, 1921): 5; “News Notes,” Southwestern Union Record (September 27, 1921): 4; F. A. Detamore, “First Fruits in Sarawak,” RH (December 8, 1921): 11; Kasim Ali, “Nowshera Bath, Punjab,” Eastern Tidings (June 1, 1923): 8; cf. “Are They Not Important Now?,” ST (January 24, 1900): 16. It is important to note that Adventist periodicals noted the ordination of local church officers (elders, deacons, and deaconesses) far less frequently than the ordination of ministers. The dozens of specific examples documented in periodicals thus represents a meager percentage of the actual number of women ordained to this office. Furthermore, several other sources mention that deaconesses were elected in numerous Adventist churches around the world, but say nothing specifically about ordination. Since it was standard procedure to ordain newly elected officers in the local churches it is possible that these women were also ordained. Here are a few representative examples: G. B. Thompson, “Rochester,” The New York Indicator (January 24, 1900): 1; Mae Dart, “Lexington,” Southern Union Worker (January 5, 1911): 4; “East Pennsylvania,” Columbia Union Visitor (March 22, 1911): 5; J. Gershom Dasent, “Decatur, Ala.,” The Gospel Herald 9, no. 2 (February 1913): 1; “[Redondo],” Pacific Union Recorder (September 7, 1916): 8; Geo. H. Skinner, “Port Arthur Church,” Western Canadian Tidings (February 14, 1923): 7.

[63] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906, vol. 2, 7.

[64] H. E. Rogers, “Church Elders, Attention!,” RH (February 7, 1907): 30.

[65] H. E. Rogers, “Report to Bureau of the Census,” RH (April 21, 1927): 24.

[66] The word “membership” should not be confused with “church membership,” which is the topic of the paragraph that immediately follows this sentence. The entire paragraph in which this statement appears reads as follows:

Each conference has an executive committee for the conduct of its business along the lines of different departments of the church’s work. The presidents of the state conferences and chairmen of state departments are ex officio members of the executive committee of their union conferences, and the presidents of the union conferences, together with the chairmen of union departments, constitute the executive committee of the general conference. Membership in the conferences or the ministry is open to both sexes, although there are very few female ministers.

United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906, vol. 2, 23. It is worth noting that people did read these census statements and that other authors quoted this particular clause in their work. Rulon S. Howells, His Many Mansions: A compilation of Christian Beliefs . . . (New York: Greystone Press, 1940), 39.

[67] [Emphasis is mine.] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906, vol. 2, 23.

[68] James E. Anderson, Public Policymaking: An Introduction, 8th ed. (Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015), 7.

[69] United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1916, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919), 22; United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1926, vol. 2, 26.

[70] Manual for Ministers (Takoma Park: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1925), 2–9.


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