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October Annual Council Next Step for TOSC Findings


After three years of intensive meetings, the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) Chair Artur Stele presented the committee’s report to the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) on June 18, where it was simply received. ADCOM took no further action regarding the three possible ways forward in the TOSC recommendations, according to attendees, but will simply forward the report to Annual Council. There was no drafting of a specific statement for consideration at Annual Council in October, where all items for the 2015 General Conference Session must be vetted. 

When asked to predict what will happen next, some members of TOSC have suggested that it could depend on how the issue is presented. That the report is being passed along without interpretation leaves the door wide open and raises questions about how the issue will be handled at Annual Council. Will there be a drafting committee named at that time to come up with a single recommendation for General Conference? Will there be a motion from the floor on how to proceed?

In the papers coming out of TOSC’s last session June 2-4, 2014, there appeared to be a crumbling of support for the way the anti-ordination position was articulated, prompting the presentation of a third way forward proposed by Nicholas Miller and David Trim. In earlier sessions of TOSC, their papers on the history of ordination within and without Adventism read as staunchly anti-ordination. In this last paper, not only would they allow for ordination of women under certain circumstances, they said that to adopt the way forward proposed by the anti-ordination group which included repealing the vote to allow women elders, would harm the church.

What led to the crumbling of support for the anti-ordination position? In the edited version of the paper by Miller and Trim sent out to committee members on June 13, the authors added a section on the theological background to the paper to clarify issues that had cropped up significantly in January. For instance, on the nature of the trinity they write:

“We believe that Christ is co-existent and co-equal with the Father and the Spirit from eternity. Thus, we do not believe in the eternal subordination of the Son, as some presenters opposed to women’s ordination have proposed.”

Disparaging arguments from the anti-ordination group for trajectory within the Bible, and other comments about the acceptability of Biblical slavery prompted Trim and Miller to say, “We believe that positions based on trajectory arguments can be biblically valid. For example, while Scripture regulates slavery to restrain its evils, no Scripture asserts that slavery is part of a divinely created order or integral to the nature of humanity.”

The call by the anti-ordination group to roll back the 1984 vote allowing women to be ordained as local elders also alarmed Trim and Miller. “A rollback on this point would be extremely destructive to the Church and its unity, and is inconsistent with . . . a conservative reading of the New Testament.”

But to be clear, they also continued to have hermeneutical concerns with the pro-ordination group. “We believe that the hermeneutical methods that some who support women’s ordination use to exegete the New Testament gender texts could create problems in dealing with passages regarding sexual standards,” they wrote.

As their proposal for a way forward, they proposed, “the World Church acknowledge the general ideal of male leadership in the office of ordained minister, but it also allow for women to be ordained, where local circumstances may make that ideal difficult or impractical to implement, to further the unity and mission of the Church.”

Saying that we should grant tolerance and forbearance to each other, they also suggest, “no organizational unit or employee should be required either to support or to promote ordained female pastoral leadership should they conscientiously object to it.”

With the Biblical study complete, the majority of the TOSC recommends allowing ordination of women in areas where it is deemed appropriate. No one has suggested that ordination of women be done everywhere. How and what the issue will be when presented to the delegates of the 2015 General Conference session remains the final question.

Will the vote be an up or down vote about the ordination of women? Or, will the vote be about where the decision is to be made on the ordaining of women? Will the current situation of unions proceeding on their own to decide if ordaining women would advance the cause in their territory be recognized as legitimate? Will  divisions be given the right to make the decision for their territories as was done in the case of local elders? Will the GC delegates honor their peers in other parts of the world and simply see the wisdom to let it be?

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.

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