In a helpful document that gathers the recent motions and actions of conferences and unions across the North American Division (NAD) as well as General Conference actions, the NAD Communication Department has published the first official report on the current women’s ordination discussion. While individual union and conferences have posted and published reports of their local actions, the NAD report is the first one to bring together all of the actions. It breaks the silence from Silver Spring where the local actions have been ignored by the official church press.
It also echoes the struggle over the issue that has taken place. The very first union vote by Mid-America on March 8 is not listed as a separate item; instead, the president’s explanation of the vote that came out on March 21 is the report from that union.
And there will be more to come over the summer after the Columbia Union and the Pacific Union hold constituency meetings to discuss the issue.
The report follows:
At the 2010 General Conference Session in Atlanta, Ga., a request was made from the floor to study the theology of ordination. A timeline was voted in reference to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s research and discussion on this issue with the Church’s Biblical Research Institution serving as the facilitator.
Listed below is the theology of ordination study process timeline:
October 2011—At the Annual Council, the process is presented and each division is asked to request their division biblical research committee to make a study of the theology of ordination and its implications for church practices. Divisions that have not yet established a division biblical research committee are kindly requested to do so. The Biblical Research Institute will provide the necessary materials, which will be of help in establishing the biblical research committees.
November 2013—Each division committee at their 2013 year-end meetings reviews the study made by their division biblical research committee and recommends it to the Biblical Research Institute director for consideration by a theology of ordination study committee.
November 2013—The General Conference Administrative Committee appoints a Theology of Ordination Study Committee with appropriate division representation.
December 2013-June 2014—The Theology of Ordination Study Committee analyzes the materials received from the divisions and prepares a combined report.
June 2014—Report is reviewed by General Conference executive officers.
June 2014—Report is reviewed with the President’s Executive Administrative Council (PREXAD) and the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM).
October 2014—General Conference administration process the report to the 2014 Annual Council
October 2014—Annual Council will review the report and, if needed, take any appropriate action. If voted material needs to be placed on the 2015 General Conference Session agenda, it will be processed accordingly.
At the 2011 North American Division Year-end Meeting, executive committee members voted to allow Division leadership to elect a committee to provide direction to the development of a series of papers, which will contribute to the discussion of the biblical theology of ordination and its implications prior to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Tex.
Listed below chronologically are the complete statements from the various organizations in reference to their discussions on how to recognize the role of women in ministry:
Pacific Union on Women’s Ordination
Thursday, March 15, 2012
After nearly two hours of discussion and prayer, the Pacific Union Conference executive committee today reaffirmed their strong commitment to the ordination of women. The committee agreed that the next steps will require careful planning, so they decided to put specific actions in place at their next meeting on May 9. In the interim, union administrators will work with local conference administrators to develop proposals for specific actions.
Columbia Union to Study How to Affirm Women in Ministry
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
At its spring meeting Sunday, the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee voted two items that will propel the subject of women in ministry to the top of its agenda this year, as follows:
“Whereas the North American Division (NAD) Leadership has encouraged each union to be intentional in affirming women in ministry,
we vote to establish an ad hoc Committee to study the issue of women in ministry and recommend to the Columbia Union Executive Committee how we can be intentional in affirming women in ministry. In addition,
we vote to affirm our previous action requesting the NAD to grant us permission to ordain women in ministry.”
To ensure that these topics remain a priority on its agenda, the committee also requested that the ad hoc committee present its report at the next union Executive Committee meeting.
Between now and then, the ad hoc committee, which will have representation from each of the union’s eight conferences, will work through five terms of reference:
1. Review past history of Columbia Union practice.
2. Review biblical and Spirit of Prophecy mandates regarding the role of women in ministry.
3. Review Columbia Union Conference Bylaws and General Conference/NAD policies.
4. Study and review cultural implications regarding women in ministry.
5. Recommend to Columbia Union Executive Committee appropriate initiatives for supporting women in ministry.
More information will be released following the ad hoc committee’s report to the Executive Committee on May 17.
Mid-America Union Votes on Women’s Ordination—A statement from Thomas L. Lemon, president [see original statement regarding vote on March 8 here.]
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
On Thursday, March 8, our Union Executive Committee voted “to support the ordination of women in the Mid-America Union.” We have, with that simple vote, unleashed at least as much misunderstanding as understanding. In making that short statement we intended to be clear, but obviously we were not. And some of my statements since, along with the statements of many others have further muddied the waters. It is unfortunately true that words cannot totally encompass all the nuances of our discussion or understanding as we voted our consciences 11 days ago. It is also impossible to convey via the printed page the experience that pervaded our committee room. It was a wonderful, heartfelt and honest discussion and a firm resounding vote.
But we did not vote to ordain a woman. When the time comes, after considerable prayerful study and discussion, we will be in a better position to discern how best to move forward.
What we do know is that we want the world church to understand that as a committee we are closely aligned in our support of this cause. We intend to work in harmony with the North American Division (NAD) of the General Conference and at such time as the NAD provides authorization, we look forward to seeing parity achieved across our union for all individuals as we, together with the world church, pursue the mission of making disciples given to us by Jesus.
We want that message of support to extend to those women who have experienced and are pursuing the call to ministry in their own lives. We further want our conferences to feel free to discuss the matter in an environment of safety and openness, and among those six entities we prayerfully desire to achieve a working consensus at our two levels of governance. And thirdly, we are also with this action encouraging the world church to respect the various mores and values expressed in the 13 world divisions. That is a major reason why the divisions were established in the first place more than a century ago.
Please keep us in your prayers as we sail in uncharted waters at this point. And, under the direction of the Scripture, may the Holy Spirit continue to reveal to us the pathway He wants us to walk in.
Southeastern California Conference Makes Decision Regarding Credentials
Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Executive Committee of the Southeastern California Conference voted today “to remove the term ‘Ordained-Commissioned’ and replace it with the term ‘Ordained’ on all ministerial credentials, regardless of the gender of the credential holder.” This is effective immediately.
Since 2000 the conference had issued “Ordained-Commissioned” ministerial credentials to men and women.
The committee believes this step will enable all pastors to better fulfill the conference’s mission statement, which is the expansion of God’s kingdom through preaching, teaching, publishing and living of the everlasting gospel throughout the cross-cultural communities of its territory.
The Southern Union Executive Committee Action Surrounding Women in Ministry
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Due to the current and considerable dialogue regarding women in ministry in the North American Division, the Southern Union Conference Executive Committee voted the following statement:
Whereas the Southern Union Conference and its member conferences and organizations have a long history of actively supporting, encouraging, and empowering women in all areas of ministry including pastoral, evangelistic, conference and union leadership, and all levels and areas of education, and
Whereas the Southern Union Conference recognizes itself as an integral part of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, it is therefore resolved:
The Southern Union Conference, following the scriptural mandate of the priesthood of all believers, intentionally chooses to continue its long-held commitment of supporting, encouraging, empowering, and celebrating the involvement of women in ministry. However, we will do so only in harmony with the Seventh-day Adventist World Church as expressed by actions taken during the General Conference in business session.
[Pacific] Union Committee Calls Special Constituency Session to Authorize Ordinations Without Regard to Gender
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
At their March meeting, the Pacific Union executive committee voted to table until May 9 a motion that would immediately approve the ordination of ministers without regard to gender. They also set up an Ordination Study Committee to outline the steps necessary to make gender-neutral ordinations a reality as soon as possible.
Today at the La Sierra University Alumni Center, that committee delivered their report to the full executive committee. The committee replaced the original motion with a new one and voted overwhelmingly to call a special constituency meeting, tentatively scheduled for August 19.
The committee voted separately on the main motion, including the preamble. The preamble and main motion were approved by a vote of 42-2. The process, which includes calling a special constituency session, was approved unanimously.
- Whereas Scripture is clear that the end-time Church is blessed precisely because men and women preach God’s message (Joel 2:28-29 and Fundamental Belief 17);
- Whereas we are commanded to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8);
- Whereas “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28);
- Whereas “differences between male and female must not be divisive among us” and “we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation” (Fundamental Belief 14);
- Whereas the Seventh-day Adventist Church is co-founded by a woman, Ellen G. White, who remains an authoritative and guiding voice;
- Whereas the Pacific Union is enriched by Spirit-filled women who are responding to God’s call in our schools, churches and conferences;
- Whereas the Seventh-day Adventist Church assigns Unions the final decision-making authority and responsibility with respect to ordination (NAD Working Policy L45 05 3, Spring Council 2012 116-12G Report);
- Whereas the Pacific Union Conference voted its full commitment to Women’s Ordination, August 30, 1995 (reaffirmed May 12, 2010 and March 15, 2012);
Therefore, [main action]
- The Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee will approve or disapprove candidates for ordination without regard to gender, effective when the Union Bylaws are amended.
Voted, approval for the following process:
- Because the Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee is committed to following denominational procedures and processes, and to facilitate the involvement of the entire Union constituency, a special constituency session will be called to consider amendments to the Pacific Union Conference Bylaws to clearly authorize the ordination of ministers without regard to gender.
- The Pacific Union Conference Bylaws Committee will examine the Union bylaws and suggest amendments to clearly authorize the ordination of ministers without regard to gender.
- The Pacific Union Conference will provide an informational packet for the delegates, pertinent to the issues to be discussed in the special constituency session.
Both the study committee and the executive committee made it clear that they are committed to following established church processes and procedures. Their recommendations and actions were guided in large part by a summary of church structure prepared earlier this year by the General Conference and distributed at GC spring meetings. The full name of the document is The General Conference and Its Divisions — a Description of Roles and Relationships in Light of Organizational Structure Development, Current Governance Documents, and Practices. That documents makes clear that:
Authority and responsibility in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not centralized in a hierarchical structure. Instead authority and responsibility is distributed throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church structure ….
The distribution of authority and responsibility in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is illustrated by the following examples of how and where final decision-making authority and responsibility are located….
The document goes on the explain that the “final authority and responsibility” for deciding who will be a church member is located at the local church; the “final authority and responsibility” for the employment/assigning of pastors and other workers resides at the local conference; and the “final authority and responsibility” for deciding who will be ordained is officially located at the unions.
The committee also considered that the same paragraphs that declare ordination decision are to be made by the unions, not by the divisions or the General Conference, include this counsel:
It is to be understood that the exercise of authority and responsibility is done within the context of the belief, values, and policies of the entire church. No entity is authorized to exercise its authority and responsibility in a manner that is contrary to the interests of the whole church and its activities in fulfilling its mission.
Obviously the distribution of authority found in the Seventh-day Adventist Church can result in tension between world-wide policy and the “final authority and responsibility” which has been assigned to the congregations, conferences and unions. The GC document has much to say about balancing those centers of authority, especially in the final Conclusions and Recommendations:
The following paragraphs and sentences are chosen from the Conclusion to the GC Spring Document.
The distribution of authority and responsibility in the Church along with the recognition that “authority rests in membership” presents significant challenges in finding a balance between centralized authority (actions of the global church) and the more localized authority (actions of the constituency) in churches, conferences and unions.
At the same time the church has worked to preserve unity, the effect of church growth has enlarged the understanding of diversity and its rightful place in a worldwide community. To expect that every entity in the world church will look and function exactly like every other entity of its type may in itself become an impediment to mission. The development of structural designs in the history of the church indicates that unity must be built on a stronger foundation than uniformity.
There must be room to recognize the need for a legitimacy of local adaptation of policies and procedures that facilitate mission while not diminishing the worldwide identity, harmony and unity of the Church.
The relationship among the entities of the church is more than a matter of law and policy. Therefore attempts to codify that relationship will always be inadequate. The primary strength of the Church comes not from its structure but from its collective desire to live out a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Such a commitment embraces a call to community.
Pacific Union executive committee members made it clear during discussions this week that they are committed to taking seriously the “final” authority and responsibility that the Seventh-day Adventist church has assigned to unions. And they made it clear that their call for a special constituency session is not to be interpreted as a way to delay the ordination of all whom God has called to ministry. It is rather, the result of a commitment to follow church procedures and to make sure the final action, whatever it is, is backed by the full authority that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has assigned to the Pacific Union Conference.
Atlantic Union Conference Statement on Women in Ministry
May 15, 2012
At its regularly scheduled quarterly meeting on May 10, 2012, the Atlantic Union Conference Executive Committee voted the following statement regarding women in ministry.
Recognizing the current discussions and the value of women in ministry within the North American Division, the Atlantic Union Conference Executive Committee voted the following statement:
WHEREAS the Atlantic Union Conference and its member conferences and organizations have benefitted from the faithful service and commitment of women in ministry, including evangelistic, pastoral, educational and other roles at all levels of the church and school system, and
WHEREAS the Atlantic Union Conference recognizes itself as a part of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and will act in harmony with its decisions taken during the General Conference in business session, it is therefore
RESOLVED, that the Atlantic Union Conference, in harmony with the scriptural mandates of the priesthood of all believers, is committed to supporting, empowering and celebrating women in ministry.
Columbia Union Executive Committee Calls Special Constituency Meeting toAuthorize Ordinations Without Regard to Gender
Thursday, May 17, 2012
At its May 17 meeting, the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee received a report from an ad hoc committee assigned to study how to affirm women in ministry.
After discussing the report (included below), the committee voted:
- To recognize its responsibility to act morally and ethically by expressing unyielding commitment to ordain qualified persons to the gospel ministry without regard to gender, and
- To call a special constituency meeting for the purpose of authorizing ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender, and
- To set the meeting date for July 29, 2012, at 10 a.m., at a location to be determined in Maryland.
The committee approved the motion by a vote of 34-6, with one abstention.
“I believe this action represents our committee’s desire to move the mission forward, and we are calling this special session to facilitate a wider conversation,” said Dave Weigley, union president, explaining the need for input from the larger constituency.
To help members understand the committee’s perspective, leaders will publish a special July issue of the union paper, the Visitor. It will provide a review of biblical, historical and Spirit of Prophecy guidelines concerning the role of women in ministry.
Report of the Columbia Union Ad Hoc Committee Affirming Women in Ministry
Women in Seventh-day Adventist ministry are being affirmed through appreciation, recognition and representation at many levels in the church. This needs to be continued and increased. The most significant confirmation, however, requires the action of the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee.
The affirmation of women in ministry in the Adventist church has both a moral and ethical imperative based on Scripture, church history and our diversity in unity.
SCRIPTURE: As a global church that values the authority of Scripture, we acknowledge that:
A. Scripture is clear that the end-time church is blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers (Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:17-18), with the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, both women and men preach God’s message (Fundamental Beliefs 14 and 17).
B. We are commanded to practice justice in our actions and relationships (Micah 6:8).
C. Everything contained in the Bible relates to the concepts represented in three words: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. This continuum provides the natural outline to the biblical story. In Eden, God created male and female as equals, both spiritually and relationally, and both are necessary to fully reflect the image of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
D. Multiple times throughout Scripture God chose women to lead His people (Deborah, Esther, Hulda, Anna, four daughters of Philip, Phoebe, Junia etc.).
HISTORY: As a global church that values God’s leading in its history we acknowledge the following significant hallmarks:
A. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was co-founded by a woman, Ellen G. White, who remains an authoritative and guiding voice.
B. At the General Conference Session on December 5, 1881, a motion was made: “RESOLVED, That females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry.” Reported in Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1881. It appears there was no record of any action taken.
C. Ellen White wrote in the July 9, 1895, Review & Herald, of a ministry that women, who gave themselves to it, should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands.
D. Willie White ordained deaconesses on January 6, 1900, in Australia. In 1975 an action was taken to ordain deaconesses at GC Session. In 1985 the action was reaffirmed and in 2010 it was recorded in the Church Manual. Ordination of women elders was approved in 1975 and reaffirmed at Annual Council in 1984.
E. The General Conference voted to authorize women to serve as pastors (1990).
F. Sixteen female pastors have already been ordained in China. These women are playing a significant role in the rapid church growth in their country and the Northern Asia Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists recognizes their ordinations.
DIVERSITY IN UNITY: As a global church that values diversity in unity:
A. We affirm that diversity in unity is part of the divine order for creation, redemption, restoration and for the church (Ephesians 4, John 17, 1 Corinthians 12:12).
B. We affirm God’s leading in utilizing the talents of women for the mission of the church. ”When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined” (Evangelism, p. 469).
C. We understand that “there must be room to recognize the need for a legitimacy of local adaptation of policies and procedures that facilitate mission while not diminishing the worldwide identity, harmony and unity of the Church” (GC Spring Council 2012 116-12G Report).
D. We celebrate our diversity of culture, gender and ethnicity.
E. We recognize that “The distribution of authority and responsibility in the church, along with the recognition that ‘authority rests in membership,’ presents significant challenges in finding a balance between centralized authority (actions of the global church) and the more localized authority (actions of the constituency) in churches, conferences and unions.
“At the same time, the church has worked to preserve unity, the effect of church growth has enlarged the understanding of diversity and its rightful place in a worldwide community. To expect that every entity in the world church will look and function exactly like every other entity of its type may in itself become an impediment to mission. The development of structural designs in the history of the church indicates that unity must be built on a stronger foundation than uniformity” (GC Spring Council 2012 116-12G Report).
F. We acknowledge that “different elements of organizational authority are distributed among the various levels of denominational organization … decisions regarding the ordination of ministers are entrusted to the union conference/mission …” (NAD Working Policy B 05, 6).
G. We recognize that ordination is for the world church (NAD Working Policy L 40 and L 45 05). We further recognize that ordained ministers may not function outside the territory of the organization issuing their credential, unless invited to do so. Note: All scriptural references are from the New King James Version (NKJV).
North Pacific Union Conference Looks Toward Gender-Inclusive Policies
Recommendations will be brought to November meeting
Thursday, May 17, 2012
The North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) Executive Committee, during its May 16, 2012, meeting in College Place, Wash., authorized the NPUC administration to appoint an ad hoc committee to create specific recommendations on how to fully integrate committed and called Adventist women into all levels of church leadership within the NPUC territory. The recommendations of this ad hoc committee will be presented to the NPUC Executive Committee at the regularly scheduled November 14, 2012 meeting.