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Lest We Forget – Part II

The Mohaven Conference

The list of conference attendees reads like a veritable who’s who in 1970’s Adventism. They were no light weights! Represented were women such as Leona Running, Miriam Wood, Kit Watts, LaVonne Neff and Josephine Benton along with men such as Gerhard Hasel, Raoul Dederen, Frank Holbrook, Charles Scriven and James Spangenberg. The quality and depth of research presented by scholars such as Betty Sterling and Madelynn Halderman was impressive. (1)

Submitted by Arthur White for inclusion and read at this conference was a previously unpublished paper by Ellen White. Very specifically and very pointedly White wrote that paying women who work in the cause of God the same wages as that of men was a matter of justice. It must be done, she wrote, because “God is a God of Justice.” She goes on to affirm that “there are women who should labor in the gospel ministry” and she stressed that they should be both “recognized and paid” accordingly. (2)

The Camp Mohaven Document

At the close of the conference, the participants prepared a report for the General Conference known as “The Camp Mohaven Document.”(3) The consensus of the attendees was that the church should encourage women in pastoral, evangelistic, administrative and leadership roles at all levels in the church and should pay them accordingly. How revolutionary! How audacious!!

Most participants also agreed that the rite of ordination for women was not prohibited by Scripture nor was it contrary to the teachings of the gospel or the writings of Ellen White. The eligibility for and administration of this rite was to be a function of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Naively, the expectation of those in attendance was that the contents of the Mohaven position papers would be propagated to the church at large and made available to delegates prior to the 1975 General Conference session.

Aftermath of Mohaven

When the Mohaven report and its recommendations were submitted to the Annual Council a month later the reception was cool to say the least. The council voted to “receive” the report, not to accept, adopt or approve it. They did, however, take overt action to strongly emphasize the church’s position that the primary role of the married woman was that of a wife and mother. While the Mohaven report was made available to the President’s advisory council and to the world division leaders, the council urged that continued study be given to the theological soundness of women serving in any church office that required ordination.

In December of 1973, the Review and Herald published the entire text of the Annual Council’s response to the Mohaven report including its emphasis on the church’s continued support of women as wives and mothers; the Mohaven document and its recommendations for women’s role in the church were completely excluded. (4)

The following year the Annual Council again called for “further study” on the role of women. Essentially this action was seen by most as a mere stalling technique. The records from this meeting reflect the words, “The time is not ripe nor opportune” to ordain women to the gospel ministry. The Council cited “world unity of the church” as being its primary concern. Not surprisingly, there was no action planned nor taken to educate the world church as to this issue nor to provide study materials ahead of time for the delegates to the upcoming General Conference session in an effort to bring about unity on this topic.

In its spring meeting prior to the 1975 General Conference session, the Council did vote to allow women to be ordained as local elders if “the greatest caution and discretion” was exercised. It also authorized women to be ordained as deaconesses. This action regarding ordination of women in the local churches was reaffirmed at the Annual Council in 1984. Interestingly, it was not until this past June in Atlanta that this 1975 action regarding deaconesses finally made it into the church manual! (5)

In a reversal of progress, the 1975 Annual Council voted to end a 100 year policy of granting ministerial licenses to women. Two years later the Council did vote to allow women to serve as associates in pastoral care with conference “missionary credentials” but not ministerial licensing. Shortly thereafter, several local conferences began hiring women as associate pastors in their districts and sponsoring these women in their seminary training.

One recommendation of the Mohaven conference came close to being implemented. In 1974 the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) commissioned a follow-up study on the role of women in the church. The Institute collected 13 papers from the church’s leading teachers and theologians including six revised papers from the original twenty-six submitted by Mohaven conference participants. However the Institute did not release these papers for general study as requested by the Mohaven document. It wasn’t until 1984, ten years later, that a limited number (100) of typed copies were made available at the second annual Adventist Women’s Association conference under the title, “Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church.” (6)

George W. Reid was chairman of the Biblical Research Institute at this time and he wrote the Introduction that accompanied this collection. He made his own personal views on the subject of ordination very clear. He stressed that “for more than 18 centuries virtually all branches of Christianity have agreed that only men should serve as ordained ministers. Most Christians belong today to churches that follow this historic practice.” (7)

Reid reasoned that the upsurge in interest regarding women’s role in the church was merely a reaction to the general social unrest of the 1970’s. The papers produced for the Mohaven Conference and the subsequent BRI study papers he saw as a reflection of the prevailing spirit of the times. By inference, he implied that the church had been wise by not releasing these documents earlier. By placing his personal caveat at the front of these papers, it gave the impression that this viewpoint was the official position of the church. And it probably was.


Since 1973 the historical record of the Adventist church regarding woman’s issues, the role of women in the church including ordination has been rife with “studies”. Repeatedly over the last thirty five years, the call has gone out for “more study”. What has been lacking is a systematic effort to circulate these study materials to the church at large and an honest attempt by church administration to educate both clergy and laity worldwide as to the conclusions and results of these many studies. (8)

The very fact that the church initiated a meeting on the role of women in 1973 and solicited input from women was itself a first. Four decades ago it gave those in attendance at this conference reason to hope and many of the participants left Mohaven on an emotional high. (9) For them, the momentum looked great for the full and equal inclusion of women in the life of the church including that of ordination to the gospel ministry.

Adventism of that era is often remembered in the negative by words such as “Davenport,” “Rae” and “Glacier View”. Seldom mentioned and oft’ forgotten is that for “one brief shining moment” there was also “Mohaven.”


  1. The complete set of the papers from the Mohaven Conference is available through the Women’s Center at La Sierra University or at the Andrews University Research Library.
  2. Bert Haloviak. “The Long Road to Mohaven.” The Adventist Women. Publication of the Association of Adventist Women. Vol. 12, Sept/Oct 1993. Page 1>/li>
  3. White Estate: Ellen White Manuscript #43A – 18983
  4. Kit Watts. “Wrestling with a Reluctant Church: The Debate on Women’s Ordination, 1973-2002.” Adventist Today. Adventist Today Foundation. Riverside, CA November, 2003.
  5. Mark Kellner. “Church Manual Revisions Move Forward.” Adventist Review. Review and Herald

    Publishing Association, Hagerstown, MD Vol. 186. November 12, 2009. Page 11.

  6. It should be noted that the papers prepared in 1974 for the Biblical Research Institute were finally published by the Pacific Press in 1995.
  7. George Reid. “Introduction.” Symposium on the Role of Women in the Church. Duplicated and Distributed by the Biblical Research Institute Committee, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Copyright 1984. Page v
  8. Since its inception in the early 1980’s the organization, Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry (TEAM) has collected and distributed articles, books and study materials on this topic.
  9. Madelyn Jones. “A Watershed in Adventist History.” The Adventist Women. Publication of the Association of Adventist Women, Vol. 12, Sept/Oct 1993. Page 4.
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