On August 19, delegates from the Pacific Union Conference will convene in Woodland Hills, California to vote on changes to the Pacific Union Conference Bylaws.* If approved, the proposed changes will enable the union to enact a previously-approved measure to ordain ministers without regard to gender when a local conference requests such approval. The Pacific Union Conference stands to be the second union in the North American Division to authorize ordination without regard to gender, following the Columbia Union Conference. Outside of the North American Division, the North German Union Conference voted in April of this year “to ordain female pastors as their male colleagues.”
Delegates to the PUC session will vote on changing the bylaws from their current wording:
“All the policies, purposes and procedures of this Union shall be in harmony with the working policies and procedures of the North American Division and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”
To this revised wording:
In general, the policies, purposes and procedures of this Union will be in harmony with the working policies and procedures of the North American Division and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”
The meeting is scheduled to last up to four hours, during which delegates from five Western states will have ample time to debate the three-word revision to the bylaws.
Ahead of the special constituency session, the Pacific Union Conference has created a website with information for delegates, all of whom are listed on the website. The site includes video and written resources that discuss the history and theology of ordination, responses to frequently-asked questions from readers of the Pacific Union Recorder, a link to the Columbia Union Conference session webpage, and a “watch session live” tab. The session will be live-streamed from the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills.
The Pacific Union Conference is comprised of seven conferences: Arizona, Nevada-Utah, Southern California, Southeastern California, Central California, Northern California and Hawaii. The conferences could be rated on their support for the proposed changes, and what those changes would permit, “strongly support,” “support,” “neutral,” “oppose” and “strongly oppose.”**
Of those conferences, two are likely to be in the “strongly support” or “support” column: Southern California and Southeastern California with Southeastern being the strongest supporter. Arizona is in the “neutral” column, though it may be leaning toward support. Hawaii and Nevada-Utah are unknown quantities, and may be the “swing states” in this session. The most vocal opposition comes from the Northern and Central California Conferences, where influential leaders such as Doug Batchelor and Stephen Bohr have published materials and made strong media presentations against women’s ordination. However, it is important to remember that while the conferences can be categorized as blocs, the vote will made by individual delegates who are free to vote their consciences. That means there will be people for and against the motion from all of the conferences and what the final mix will be is anyone’s guess.
According to the Pacific Union Recorder’s August 2012 edition (downloadable PDF file), Southeastern California Conference has the most women pastors with 25. Southern and Northern California Conferences are a distant second with five each. Nevada-Utah and Central California both have two, and Hawaii currently has no female pastors.
The General Conference under the leadership of Ted Wilson has made clear that it opposes the moves of church entities to move forward on ordination equality until such time as the church can proceed together as a whole. This would require the consent of countries in Africa and other parts of the World Church that have strongly opposed women’s ordination in the past. The Wilson Administration has sent a letter to delegates asking them to vote against the proposed change. A similarly-worded letter to the Columbia Union Conference delegates and a speech from Elder Wilson did not deter voters there from overwhelmingly approving a motion to authorize ordination without regard to gender.
Because the Pacific Union Conference action entails changes to the union’s bylaws, a 2/3 or 67% vote in favor is required to pass. This high threshold of support would have been no problem in the Columbia Union Conference, where 80% of voters supported the motion for ordination equality. However, with the potential for larger groups of resistance, the PUC vote is expected to be much closer.
In addition to the live video feed from the site of the meeting, Spectrum will provide live coverage of the vote on Sunday, the 19th, beginning at 1:00pm, providing up to the moment analysis of the significant moments of the session.
*UPDATE: As some have noted in the comments below, delegates to the Special Session have been notified that there will be two discussions and two votes on August 19. The motion to amend the bylaws will require a 2/3 majority to pass, the motion to ordain ministers without regard to gender will require 50 percent plus one.
**Assessment of support among conferences for the proposed change based on number of female pastors within the conference, anecdotal reports from union representatives about the attitudes of key leaders, previous actions taken, and materials published online or distributed by mail to delegates.
Correction: the story has been edited to reflect the fact that Doug Batchelor is a pastor in the Northern California Conference.