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How to Promote Women In Leadership


Last Sabbath morning, the attendees of the Association of Adventist Women annual conference considered the difficult subject of abuse.

During the Sabbath School hour, after some moving music by vocalist Heather Robberson and a violin solo by the director of Southern’s symphony orchestra, Laurie Redmer Minner, the group screened a short film called The Hidout. The film was made by Southern University film student Daniel Wahlen as his senior project last year, and has won a number of awards since then, including the top award at SONscreen. The film follows a young girl as she experiences abuse at the hand of a trusted adult. In a Q&A with Wahlen and Southern professor Tara Hargrove following the viewing, we talked about ways to stop the scourge of abuse and things we can all do in our own communities to help keep young people safe.

During the church service at the Collegedale Church, Southern Adventist University President Gordon Bietz spoke about abuse, the high percentage of people who experience it, and the need to confront the problem so we can combat it. He also spoke about how beliefs like headship theology can lead to abusive and controlling behavior.

Sabbath afternoon

The afternoon session began with a panel talking about Adventist women mentoring each other, and women in leadership positions in the Adventist church. They came up with some concrete ways of promoting more women, such as having a list of qualified candidates ready whenever anyone asks for recommendations to fill a position.

Panel: Gloria Ceballos, Carla Baker, Tara VinCross, Sandra Roberts

Then the conversation moved to the vote that Annual Council just decided will be taken at the GC session in San Antonio, asking delegates to vote on whether divisions should be allowed to decide for themselves whether women can be ordained within their territories, or not allow women to be ordained at all. The discussion was focused on concrete actions we can take in the run-up to the vote in summer 2015, with the desired outcome of allowing women to be ordained. The floor was opened for everyone to offer suggestions. Some mentioned the organized and well-funded campaign by Amazing Facts and others to influence the decision-makers and to stop the ordination of women in North America.

Others talked about the importance of not trying to control the church in places like Latin and South America from the North American Division, but only reaching out to people we know personally. Attendees talked about making sure that the book Questions & Answers on Women’s Ordination, by Martin Hanna and Cindy Tutsch is widely available, and translated into Spanish, to help counteract the misinformation that is out there and make sure that people have all the facts. Someone lamented the fact that Stephen Bohr, a strong proponent of the male headship theory, is lined up to be a speaker at GYC, speaking to thousands of young people.

Following the panel, Sandra Roberts, president of the Southeastern California Conference and the first woman to lead a conference in the Adventist church, spoke on “Mentoring and the Woman Pastor.” She talked about specific women pastors in her conference, and their experiences with mentoring and being mentored. She talked about the groups that the women pastors have formed to support each other, including a “texting group” of about nine women who share with each other; a monthly breakfast all the youth pastors have together; and regular group gatherings organized by Kendra Haloviak Valentine. Haloviak Valentine is a professor at the La Sierra School of Divinity, but she is also employed by the Southeastern California Conference specifically to mentor its women pastors. 

Roberts also talked a little bit about her own call to the ministry — how she first got a degree to work as a dietician, then got a job as a girls’ dean, but all along knew that ministry was where her heart was. Les Pitton at the North American Division took an interest in her, and worked it out so that she could attend the seminary at Andrews University. She was going to work as a youth pastor at Atlantic Union when some of the administrators in the Southeastern California Conference insisted she stay and take a job there. “These men believed in me beyond what I could see,” Roberts said. “They saw through God’s eyes. They were willing to take risks, and see things out of the ordinary.”

Women-of-the-Year Awards Banquet

The final event of the annual conference was the Women-of-the-Year Awards Banquet, held in the President’s Banquet Room in Wright Hall on the Southern campus. Attendees sat at round tables, ideal for conversation, and partook of hors d’oeuvres and a meal, with music provided by award-winning pianist Roy Treiyer.

Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson, president of the Association of Adventist Women, presided over the evening.

The first award, for community service, was presented to Freddie Harris, who with her husband, has founded a residential Christian drug rehab program in California that has had excellent results.

The second, for spiritual leadership, went to Sandra Roberts. Morales-Gudmundsson described her as a “woman of vision and courage” and told the story of the day she was elected to be president of the Southeastern California Conference.

Freddie Harris and Lourdes-Morales Gudmundsson

Thanking the Association, Roberts said she looks forward to the day when “we have a whole bunch of women conference presidents in the room.” There are so many gifted women in the church, she said. As we continue to mentor, support and encourage, Roberts said, “I look forward to seeing what God can do.”

Association of Adventist Women Board and Women of the Year Honorees

Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson, Anette Guldhammer-Beals and Freddie Harris

Pictures courtesy of Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson.

Read a report of the first day of the conference here.

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