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Women in Top Positions of Adventist Leadership Remain Extremely Rare


The Pew Research Center has released information about women in top positions of religious leadership. Pew’s finding: women as top religious leaders are rare. When it comes to Adventist leadership, women are extremely rare.


The study “looked at nine major religious organizations in the U.S. that both ordain women and allow them to hold top leadership slots. Of those organizations, four have had a woman in the top leadership position. And, so far, each of these four has had only one woman in the top position.”

Here’s more of Pew’s analysis:

Currently, the American Baptist Churches USA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are the only groups in our analysis with women in their top leadership positions. Susan Gillies is interim general secretary of the Baptist churches and Elizabeth Eaton is the presiding bishop of the Lutheran group.

The Episcopal Church had a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori, serving as presiding bishop from 2006 to 2015. In the United Methodist Church, another woman, Rosemarie Wenner, served two terms as president of the council of bishops, an international body charged with providing spiritual leadership to Methodists around the world. (The church does not have its own governing body in the U.S.; Wenner, who is German, is based in Europe.)

The Unitarian Universalist Association has had women running in the past three elections for president, but, so far, no woman has won. This year, there are two women candidates.

The Union for Reform Judaism, the central leadership arm of Reform Jewish congregations in the U.S., has never had a woman president. However, a woman, Denise Eger, serves as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the principal organization for Reform rabbis in the U.S. Additionally, another woman, Daryl Messinger, is the chair of the North American board of trustees, which is the top lay leadership post in the organization.

Likewise, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has never had a woman as its CEO, the professional leader at the head of the organization. However, a woman currently holds the office of the international president, a lay position. Margo Gold is the second woman to serve in this capacity.

Many churches, including many of the largest denominations in the United States, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the Southern Baptist Convention, do not allow women to be ordained or hold top church leadership positions.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church fits into that latter category, at least at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which last summer voted not to allow divisions to make provisions to ordain women within their territories. However, a diversity of practices persists.

Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official administrative structure, women in top leadership positions are extremely rare, even given a generous definition of “top leadership positions.” In my analysis, I have included officers at the General Conference, Division and Union levels, and Conference presidents, as well as department heads and field secretaries at the General Conference level and ex-officio members of the General Conference Executive Committee, who serve by virtue of other leadership positions. Obviously, I could have counted other positions—like GC associates, department directors at various layers of church strata underneath the General Conference, or women in senior pastor positions—and by so doing, included more women leaders that way. My excluding those positions from this analysis is not meant in any way to diminish the contributions those individuals make. My goal was simply to analyze Adventism’s top administrative leaders in light of the Pew findings (and because of Adventism’s refusal to ordain women, I went looking further than Pew did).

My numbers are based on the current information given in the online version of the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook.

The tallies I came up with reflect a stark reality: barring women from being ordained means barring women from leadership, plain and simple. This is not saying anything new, but the numbers are striking:

Out of 221 total leadership positions in my analysis, 9 positions4% belong to women (and Nancy Lamoreaux serves in two of those positions simultaneously). Out of 850 conferences and missions, there is a grand total of one woman president (0.12% of conference/mission presidents are women).

General Conference
Officers: 3 (0 women)
General Vice Presidents: 6 (1 woman)
Secretariat: 2 (0 women)
Treasury: 2 (0 women)

Chief Information Officer: 1 (1 woman)
Field Secretaries: 6 (1 woman)
Human Resources: 1 (1 woman)
Departmental Directors: 14 (3 women – children’s ministries, women’s ministries, education)

East-Central Africa Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 10 (0 women)

Euro-Asia Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 9 (0 women)

Inter-American Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 23 (0 women)

Inter-European Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 11 (0 women)

North American Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 9 (0 women)

Northern Asia-Pacific Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 3 (0 women)

South American Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 16 (0 women)

South Pacific Division

Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 4 (0 women)

Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 10 (0 women)

Southern Asia Division
Officers: 2 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 6 (0 women)

Southern Asia-Pacific Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 9 (0 women)

Trans-European Division
Officers: 3 (1 woman)
Union Presidents: 11 (0 women)

West-Central Africa Division
Officers: 3 (0 women)
Union Presidents: 10 (0 women)

General Conference Attached Field
Officers: 1 (0 women)
GC Ex-Officio Members: 17 (1 woman – Andrea Luxton, Andrews University)

Things look significantly better (though still nowhere near parity) for women in Adventist Higher Education. Of the 13 North American colleges and universities that make up Adventist Colleges and Universities, 23% of presidents (3 out of 13) are women (including newly-appointed Andrews University president Andrea Luxton, who takes over later this year). If Atlantic Union College (whose president Dr. Avis Hendrickson was appointed in 2014) were included (AUC is not currently accredited), the number would grow to 28.6% (4 out of 14).

There are approximately 100 Adventist colleges and universities outside North America (102 by my count), but none with women in top leadership positions, as far as I could tell.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has ensured through its stance on women’s ordination that female leaders in the church will serve, by-and-large, in subordination to male leaders. That reality notwithstanding, in the few positions where women do lead, their leadership is exemplary.

Here are the women leaders included in my analysis:

Ella Simmons, General Vice President, General Conference

Nancy Lamoreaux, Chief Information Officer, Field Secretary, GC

Ruth Parish, Human Resources Director, General Conference
Linda Mei Lin Koh, Children and Family Ministries Director, GC

Lisa Beardsley Hardy, Education Director, General Conference

Heather Dawn Small, Women's Ministries Director, General Conference

Audrey Andersson, Secretary, Trans-European Division

Sandra Roberts, President, Southeastern California Conference

Avis Hendrickson, President, Atlantic Union College

Heather Knight, President, Pacific Union College

Vinita Sauder, President, Union College

Andrea Luxton, President Elect, Andrews University



Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

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