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At NAD Year-end Meetings: A Door for Women Opens

In the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, women as well as men may now serve as president of a conference.

Monday morning delegates endorsed a motion to “re-affirm” a policy that would permit both “ordained” and “commissioned” ministers to occupy the conference presidency. Yes votes numbered 162; there were 61 no votes. And because women may, under current policy, be “commissioned” but not “ordained,” the motion opens the door for women who are serving as commissioned ministers to step into a role heretofore denied to them.

Today’s action thus constitutes an advance in opportunity for women even though a discriminatory view of ministerial ordination continues to hold sway.

The NAD Executive Committee had first voted the new policy—the “E-60 policy,” as it was called—in 2009. But in anticipation of discussion about the ordination of women at the 2010 session of the General Conference, in Atlanta, then GC president Jan Paulsen requested that the Division rescind the action. That would count, helpfully, as sensitivity to world church feeling, and would be, as he himself felt, an impermanent setback. The NAD Executive Committee did then, in good faith, rescind the action, but with the understanding that it would come up again if nothing constructive came out of the Atlanta GC session. 

Nothing was done in Atlanta, so later in 2010 NAD leaders brought the E-60 action back to the Division’s Executive Committee. Again, it was affirmed. 

But because the General Conference model constitution for Divisions does not grant the eligibility of “commissioned” ministers for the conference presidency, NAD leaders came to the recent Annual Council of the General Conference requesting that a “variance” from the wording in the model constitution be allowed in North America that would enable alignment of the Division’s constitution and its E-60 policy.

The request met with strong opposition from current General Conference president, Ted Wilson, and the 2011 Annual Council defeated it by a vote of 167 to 117. That left the NAD Executive Committee, Division President Dan Jackson said, with three options.  It could simply “hear” what the Annual Council voted; it could discuss the E-60 policy and re-affirm it; or it could discuss the policy and rescind it again.

Jackson took effective steps to insure a civil conversation. He said he would not permit “strident” interactions. He said his Steering Committee had not created a plan to guarantee some preferred outcome. It was “this body’s job” to decide what to do. And instead of pretending that the road ahead would be trouble-free, he declared: “In moments of change, there is always pain.”

Then, before anyone came to a microphone, Dan Jackson led the a cappella singing of “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” Delegates also prayed with one another over what was about to happen.

Conversation began, and lasted for more than an hour. Not one speaker spoke against the idea of women in spiritual leadership. Many stood in support of the E-60 policy, and although a few had reservations about the impact on church unity, or thought resolution of theological differences should occur before enacting policy changes, the momentum seem clear from the beginning.

Finally David Weigley, President of the Columbia Union, offered a motion to “re-affirm” the E-60 policy, including a sentence authorizing NAD leaders to craft a “prologue” that would address the unity issue and appear in the official record. Soon delegates approved a motion to end discussion and proceeded with the vote. Secret ballots were distributed, and shortly after 11:30 a.m. Dan Jackson announced the result.

Division leaders immediately asked the delegates to consider a motion expressing the NAD’s desire to “join with our World Family” in a new study of the theology of ordination. The motion also authorized NAD leaders to oversee development of papers that would “contribute to the discussion of the issue of ordination at the 2015 General Conference in San Antonio, Texas.”

This motion, too, passed. The vote was by colored card, and appeared to be unanimous.

Resolution of theological disagreement about the place of women in ordained ministry remains keenly pertinent. The E-60 policy opens a door for women, but because “commissioned” ministers may not “ordain” individuals to pastoral ministry, or either “organize” or “disband” congregations, it appears that a women in the conference presidency would still operate without some of the powers men in the same position enjoy.

Image: Congregation members join hands during Wintley Phipps rendition of “We Shall Overcome” at the 2011 NAD Year-end Meeting Sabbath evening concert on October 29. Photo by Rich Herard/NAD.

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