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Australian Conference Rejects Attempt By Pastor for Ministerial Equality

In a move that reveals the separate, but unequal employment policy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the male senior pastor of the Avondale College church tried to equalize his employment status with female colleagues. It was rejected.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in northern New South Wales agreed in July this past year to process Dr Bruce Manners’s request to change his credentials from an ordained minister to a commissioned minister, the credential given to women serving as ministers in the church. The church forwarded the request to the church in Australia, which has only now issued advice not to approve the request.

The church in Australia writes that Bruce’s request is not in keeping with the purpose of issuing credentials. “There are only two means by which an ordained minister loses his ordination: either it lapses if a minister leaves the ministry for other employment and does not intend on returning or it is annulled as a disciplinary measure.”

In other words, it takes a loss of position or something like a moral fall for men to equal the employment status of female pastors in the church.

“I’m disappointed and saddened,” writes Bruce in his response to the church in northern New South Wales. “[This] does nothing to resolve the inequity between male and female pastoral colleagues, but rather highlights it.”

Bruce thanks those who have offered support and encouragement. “Even though I received a negative response,” he writes, “I don’t believe making the request was in vain because it signaled that some of us—I’m not alone—see this as a problem that needs addressing.”

Bruce gave in his request to the church these reasons for changing his credentials:

1. The gender inequity found in commissioning women and ordaining men, with ordination perceived as a higher calling

2. The reticence of the church to follow through on its precedent for ordaining women as elders

3. Sensitivity to the issues women who study ministry and theology face and to the perception they are training to be second-class ministers

4. A matter of conscience about fair play, which needed addressing in a practical way

The decision to request the change came because Bruce felt increasingly uncomfortable working under the current policy with women as ministerial colleagues. “Because I can find no biblical reason why women cannot minister on an equal footing with men, I saw we had created an unfair situation,” he wrote in an email to members of his congregation and staff members at Avondale in August this past year. “I’d hoped the recent [worldwide church] session would find a way to address this inequity, but it didn’t.”

The church in the South Pacific’s “Ordination and Commissioning to the Gospel Ministry” policy clearly references the Working Policy of the worldwide church as the document providing the criteria for ordination.

It is particularly significant that this is a news release from the Avondale College public relations department. Clearly Dr. Bruce Manners has the support of his local institution—apparently one that is not afraid to publicly apply local pressure in an effort to change administrative policy along the principles of equality and justice.

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