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Annual Council Diary, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Women were the topic of the day at the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. An upbeat report from the Women’s Ministries Department kicked off the morning. Then the body spent nearly four hours discussing a request from the North American Division that would allow the growing number of women (and men) with “ordained/commissioned” credentials to be elected president of a conference.

Procedural questions challenged the chair and the committee members throughout the debate. The first question concerned the fact that the Executive Committee received similar but not exactly the same requests from two different divisions—North American Division (NAD) and Trans-European Division (TED). Should the requests be combined and considered as one request or taken separately? As chairman of the session President Ted N. C. Wilson finally decided to take the motions one at a time, with the North American Division request coming first.

Next, Wilson announced that Vice President Ben Schoun would temporarily take the position of chairman while Wilson went down on the floor to make a comment about the motion. Then Wilson would return to the platform and continue as chair of the session.

NAD President Dan Jackson (pictured) introduced it:

MOTION: To grant a variance to the model constitution to accommodate the unique needs of the NAD with the insertion of “ordained/commissioned” when referring to local field presidents in the North American Division.

To set the context for the discussion, Jackson cited Biblical texts including, “He has shown you O man what is good: to do justice, to show mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” He talked about the beauty of the diversity in the Adventist Church and the need to celebrate and respect culture. “It would be highly inappropriate in China to say that women ought not to preach,” he said, “when we know that a woman planted a church that now has 7000 members. It would be highly inappropriate of this body to say you ought not to do this.”

“We believe that the position of the president of the conference should be open to the treasurer, to the secretary, people who are not ordained, but who carry a commissioned credential. This is not just about women, but opening up the leadership track.

It is not about women’s ordination. It is about governance and leadership.

In pitching for the request from the Trans-European Division, President Bertil Wiklander said their request came from their year-end meeting where it was voted unanimously with all 13 unions represented. Their request was for a variance to the model constitution also and included union as well as conference presidents.

There is a very simple explanation for this request, he said. “The SDA church faces an extraordinary mission challenge in our territory where joining a church is an exception. The church needs to mobilize all its members for outreach and leadership and two thirds of the members are women. We therefore have many able women. And the society in which we work, it is required to be equal in treatment.”

With the requests introduced, Schoun took the chair position so Wilson could make his statement. Wilson noted the sensitivity of the matter and asked for members to respect each other. He said that without discussion at the officers level, the item had been simply referred to the floor. “You need to know that the GC administrative committee did not debate the requests,” Wilson said.

The opportunity is now for me to express my thoughts and conviction and they are just those. They are not the collective decision of the administrative committee. But I am going to express my position. I don’t want to offend anyone. But I do have to tell you that with respect and humble conviction. I differ from their opinion. The GC has a position on this and that is why they are asking for a variance. Let me explain my position:


The SDA church is not a corporate entity as such. The church is an ecclesiastical body by its very nature of being organized for the church. Now church leadership in the past has been based on spiritual leadership, trained leadership, prepared leadership. I don’t want to leave the impression that anyone who is not ordained is not a spiritual leader. However, according to Scriptural injunction and our own history we have a particular model which we have followed for top spiritual leadership. In as much as the conference president stands at the head of the conference churches he is the spiritual leader. This is a pastoral approach.

Commissioned minister credentials are used in many of our divisions. The commissioned minister can carry out many pastoral functions, except for organizing of churches, and ordaining of elders and deacons.” He said the overseer of the churches, which is what the president is, needs to be someone who can organize churches and who can ordain elders and deaconesses.

“Whatever we vote will have some impact on the world church. We have taken a position in the past that ordination is recognized around the world. We are not here as the American SDA church. We are the SDA church in America, in Germany, Congo, in Philippines. We are a worldwide church. I personally don’t believe that this is the direction that we should proceed.”

When someone started to clap, he responded, “I don’t want us to be applauding.” He concluded, I don’t believe this is the direction that the church should go. But you will need to make up your own mind.”

I would encourage you to vote against the motion.

Then he walked back up to the platform and took the position of the chairman of the meeting.

There were fifty people who commented in the following discussion, six of them women, and two of the women were against the motion.

Three of the General Conference Vice Presidents—Pardon Mwansa, Ella Simmons and Lowell Cooper—spoke in favor of the motion. Mwansa said presidential decisions were not doctrinal. Simmons reminded her African brothers of the oppressors who not so long ago oppressed them in the name of the Bible. Cooper said that because divisions have been charged with the work in their territory, when they speak he is inclined to listen.

Vice President Armando Miranda spoke against it.

Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division President Paul Ratsara worried that it would pit continent against continent. Jairyong Lee, president of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division said he was against the motion, not because he could not understand their needs, but more on procedure. “Here is a conference president who cannot organize a church or ordain ministers. How can this person function as a leader? I think we need to change the working policy and remove limitations from commissioned ministers.”

Inter-American Division President Israel Leito encouraged members to help a sister division.

Another speaker asked if in granting this to NAD, “will the cloak of my Lord remain one? He brought up the Anglican Church debates that had provoked the suppression of the African church. . . . “Let me put before you that this is a clever way that the Western world tries to make us do what they want us to do. Put in place a commission that will come with a strong theology of ordination,” he said.

Wilson reminded that body that the day before a plan had been outlined for the study of ordination. “In fairness to the NAD,” he added they did not want this to be seen as a side way to bring up the ordination of women. It has to do with all people who are given commissioned credentials.

A pastor from the Trans-European Division agreed with the president in what he said about respecting each other. “I have had the privilege of working for an African church in Amsterdam,” he said. “We are one serving the same Lord. It is not that we from our division want to impose on other divisions. It is a plea, it is a cry from the heart that you would respect us and our request. That we, in unity, have room and respect for groups in the world where this will have great effect. Please, I would like to emphasize that we do not want to impose this on other divisions.”

A man from Nigeria said he had a big problem with the process surrounding the motion. “It should have been discussed before bringing it here. With due respect to you,” he said to Wilson, for you to have started the discussion, it is now very difficult to speak. Having your response shot it down.

“We need to ordain women ministers, he said. “We can’t talk out of both sides of our mouth.”

The discussion went back and forth with approximately the same number of speakers on each side. There were reminders that 60 years ago, persons of color would not have been allowed in the conversation.

Former GC President Jan Paulsen asked, “What are you going to do with a conference that elects a woman if you say no today?”

The suggestion was made to wait at least a year and allow for discussion with constituencies.

A young woman delegate said she could only imagine what Ellen G. White would think about the discussion.

After all the people had made their speeches, Wilson said,“If we have erred in the process, ask for your forgiveness, ask for your forgiveness for making remarks at the beginning. . . We don’t want contention in the church. This subject does create friction. How do we deal with it however it may go? How do we deal with it if some go against the vote? I do know that God intended for this church to be united and not divided. We will have to rise above and come together. It was asked that the item be rescinded in 2009. And it was. When it was not looked at in 2010 NAD took another action. I don’t know of any other way to deal with this but to vote it on the floor.

There was prayer and then the vote by secret ballot.

The motion failed with 117 yes votes, and 167 no votes.

Jackson and Wiklander made gracious speeches in defeat.

Photo by Ansel Oliver/ANN.

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