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If I Could Have a Conversation with Elder Ted Wilson…


Elder Wilson, since your proposal for creating discipline regarding policy violations has been referred back, having been rejected in its current form, I want to share my thoughts about your role for the future in this long-running saga. Actually, I think these developments give you an opportunity to take on a statesman role rather than acting as the authoritarian and chief enforcer.

Changing the Subject

So far, it appears you have made this whole issue about policy. The first thing I hope you consider is that most of us do not view policy the way the General Conference does. We do not elevate it to near-theology status. Policy is just—policy. Policy is stuff people make up because they think it will help with the business of the organization, but policy has to have fluidity to recognize changing circumstances. Policy is not sacred. So I would humbly suggest that you change your emphasis. I hope you consider digging a hole in a different place instead of digging deeper in the current hole. What is really needed is a guiding hand, not to discipline, but to find a way to achieve accommodation among different regions of the world and different cultures. Church members have different views. You cannot cram us all into one bucket. So I have hope you might change the subject and seek resolution instead of retribution.

Split Votes

Split votes, particularly within the parameters of 40/60 or 60/40, are nearly always going to be problematic in volunteer or spiritual organizations. It is just the nature of the beast. These votes reflect varying convictions. The vote in San Antonio to allow Divisions to make the decisions regarding the ordination of women was just such a vote. As a matter of fact, just about every vote on the subject, in any venue, has been a similar split. Like it or not, the issue was never going to be resolved by split votes. The issue will have to be resolved in some way that recognizes the variance in, and legitimacy of, the views of church members. Attempts to resolve the problem through the exercise of authority will only exacerbate the problem. Volunteers (church members) and spiritual beings will not be dictated to with regard to their convictions. I beseech you to recognize this as reality and take the lead in working to find accommodation for the different perspectives that led to these split votes.


Unfortunately, I cannot recall a single moment when you have played the statesman in the events that have led us to this place. Not for a moment does it appear that you used your influence—at least publicly—to calm the waters, to bring about accommodation among viewpoints, to find a middle road. You seem to value your own perspectives and achieving your own objectives more than you value using your considerable influence to bring about harmony. I implore you to act the statesman as we go forward from this week's events. I also implore you to consider, especially after all the prayers asking for the Spirit’s leading, that this vote was prompted by the Holy Spirit and seek to discover why that may have been true.

Churchman versus Churchman

You seem to have made this a contest among churchmen. It has gotten to the point where it feels like a squabble between the pope and the College of Cardinals. A conversation just among the leading clergy does not get even close to reflecting reality. This is a situation where church members—people in the pews who are the real church and who pay the bills—have strong views. You could never have hoped to achieve your objectives by punishing union conference leaders for positions taken in good faith by the constituents of those unions. Doing so would only deepen differences, pitting union leaders against their members. You are actually fortunate that the GC Executive Committee did not vote to accept your document. The Church may have dodged a bullet by not antagonizing large numbers of constituents. I hope you will pay attention to all of us out here. The Church superstructure and its various levels of leaders are not the Church. The members are the Church. We have historically been a bottom-up church, and you seem to have been fighting against that history.


You have not been very forthcoming as to your personal theological views about the ordination of women, but the available evidence strongly suggests that you support male headship. That raises the question of whether you may actually support Headship Theology, a theological construct that is foreign to our belief system. Actually, the closest thing we have to a settled belief on the subject is gender equality, which we broadly publish for the world to see. I plead with you not to theologically get ahead of, or attempt to maneuver, our fellowship by taking policy positions based on your own doctrinal positions, positions that may not be supported by our published, settled beliefs.


I am deeply concerned that you seem to display authoritarian tendencies. It seems that we have come to a moment when 35 years of gradual attempts toward accretion of authority at the General Conference have come to a head. Maintaining a balance of power has been a struggle for our denomination most of its life. The balance is delicate and easily threatened. I trace the current trends back to when your father and Robert Pierson gave depositions in the Merikay Silver case to the effect that we are indeed a hierarchal church. Since then, we have seen model bylaws and various votes seeking to assure compliance with GC policy. The whole tenor of things feels like there is a long-term move to aggregate power and influence at the GC. This feels especially marked under your leadership. Many of us out here are diametrically opposed to this tendency. I urge you to exercise extreme caution in feeding the beast of power seeking. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” 

Personal Feelings

At Constituency Meetings of the Columbia and Pacific Unions, you made a personal plea to the constituents to not vote for the ordination of women in their territory. You also warned ominously of consequences if they did. They voted to ordain women in the face of your urgings. It would be quite human if you were still smarting from being so publicly rebuffed. If you are, I certainly understand that. I urge you, however, to examine whether your personal feelings could be a factor that colors your leadership and your decisions.

Damage to the Church

It may be myth, but it has been said that you are willing to see significant losses to the Church if it will somehow cleanse the Church and accelerate the second coming of Jesus. If this is true, your efforts to date have struck me as a strange way to “purify” the Church, by going after those who have a strong disagreement with a policy they believe stifles mission. These people you would shake out are putting mission effectiveness and the calling of women by the Holy Spirit above policy. Does the Church really want to dampen that reality? Is policy really more important than mission and the work of the Holy Spirit? Further, why would you be immune from the injunction of Jesus to his disciples against pulling up the tares? I pray you will examine any attitude that would cause damage to the Church in order to purge it under your own terms. Great mistakes could be made. I urge you to use your influence to pull people along, not push them away.

So Where To?

I urge you to look for solutions that lie outside of seeking uniformity and compliance. I hope you look in a different place than where you have been looking. The reality is that there are just too many of us among the laity, clergy, and Church leadership who have already decided what we think is right on the subject of women in ministry. It is here to stay. It will only grow. So I urge you to seek solutions that recognize this reality. Otherwise, conflict will only deepen as authoritarian solutions are sought. Remember, we are volunteer members out here. We are not under your control and, maybe, not even very much under your influence. We take that priesthood of all believers stuff seriously.

I want you to be my GC President, too, but I feel that members with my views are outside the circle you have drawn.

May God bless you, lead you, and give you uncommon wisdom as you contemplate next steps.


Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Image Credit: Mylon Medley/ANN

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