Day Seven, (Wednesday, July 8), of the General Conference Session saw the vote on women’s ordination. There were a total of 2,363 ballots cast with 977 “Yes” votes (41%), 1,381 “No” (58%) votes, and five delegates who abstained (1%).
Because only 6% of the delegates are under 30, and only 10% are ages 30-39, the millennial generation finds itself under-represented in a church where it comprises 62% of membership.
As a way of hearing Millennials, Spectrum is featuring young Adventist voices throughout this General Conference Session. We are posing a series of questions to these Millennials who will share their perspectives on the various issues happening at #GCSA15. The first two segments in Millennial Voices can be found here and here.
In this third installment, we have asked the following questions:
What were you hoping the vote would be? What are your thoughts on how the vote turned out? How does it make you feel that the vote was so close? Only 6% of the delegates were Millennials – how do you think the vote would have been affected were more Millennials chosen as delegates?
Macy McVay, age 23, Walla Walla University Alumna, Minister at East Salem Church in the Conference
I spent most of the day watching and following the events of #GCSA15. The outcome of the #WO vote was not unexpected. Encouraged by the 977 votes in favor (41%!), I thought I was ready for it.
What was unexpected was the difficult wave of disappointment and sadness that swept over me as my beloved church cheered this decision. I found myself crying behind a door I am grateful to open daily; a door labeled "Pastor Macy McVay."
My phone began buzzing & I started crying for a very different reason. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, compassion, affirmation, and love from friends and colleagues.
While I am disappointed, I trust that God can bring good out of hard things and I am encouraged that I get to share my church and my ministry with people who care. Thank you for your words and support.
Julia Ruybalid, Graduate Student at La Sierra University, Pursuing an MA in English
Watching the online stream of the voting yesterday, of course I was hoping that the vote would be “Yes.” Sadly, when someone asked me what my predictions were, I responded that I didn’t think it would pass. I don’t know why this was my gut feeling. I was skeptical about the manual ballots and that the electronic voting system just stopped working. (Perhaps that is just my inner conspiracy theorist talking.) The whole thing just seemed off to me—maybe the need to have this vote in the first place?
I do take hope in the fact that the vote was pretty close—we only need to convince 404 more delegates (409 if you count those that abstained) that women can be powerful spiritual leaders. The vote most definitely would’ve have been in favor of women’s ordination if more millennials were voters. I am also curious as to how many women voted in comparison to men. Again, while watching the live stream, I mentioned that the voting pool shouldn’t be made up of mostly old guys—that makes it too easy.
I take heart knowing that the leaders we have now will not be there forever and millennials will take their places. It’s so strange to me. A woman preacher founded this church. Why is there such a huge disconnect? The men that voted against women’s ordination on Wednesday will be the men quoting a woman in their sermons on Sabbath.
Throughout my high school years, I had the privilege of having Chris Oberg as the senior pastor at my church in Calimesa. She transformed our church into a place that embraced now and focused on loving our immediate community—not telling them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Without that foundation, I honestly think I would’ve said goodbye to Adventism a long time ago. To put it simply, a woman pastor is why I still feel okay identifying with Adventism.
Theron Calkins, age 25, Math Teacher at Korean Advanced Preparatory Academy
I was disappointed to learn that the delegates at the General Conference voted against allowing individual divisions "as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry." I understand that this vote was largely symbolic, as many unions already ordain women, and the results of this vote will not change that fact, but I still believe that even symbolic actions have incredible power. I wish that the results of this vote could have been more affirming for those women who already have given their lives in service to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. I wish that it would have recognized their impact and efforts, and encouraged even more talented females to step forward and bear the three angels' message into the world. And I wish that this vote had displayed more faith in our denomination's ability to create unity in diversity both of culture and belief as unions continue to follow their conscience on this and other issues.
But to me, the most disappointing aspect of this result is the way it will negatively affect the church's mission efforts, especially towards Millennials. Besides the direct effects of limiting the work and contributions of half the church body, I am also concerned about how this vote reflects on the church's character and beliefs. Many people, and most Millennials, expect their church to be a powerful voice on issues of social justice. They want to be part of a faith that strives to improve people's lives: a church that combats economic inequality, confronts racial injustice, nurtures sexual minorities, encourages environmental awareness, and embodies gender equality. In short, this generation is looking for a church that empowers people to live the Kingdom of God right now in this imperfect world. This vote got national news coverage and will be one of the ways people evaluate the Adventist church, just as the King James Version says, "wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt 7:20). How will we spread the seeds of our faith when our fruit only tastes 41% like equality?
Esther Battle, age 20, Sociology major at Andrews University
There were countries represented in the vote today where rape is used as a weapon of war and girls aren't allowed to go to school, and we're surprised they voted against female leadership in the church? We are part of a global church, and the fight for women's equal rights is an ongoing global battle, one that, as far as I know, the Adventist church has not played a large part in. Perhaps we should focus our efforts on the larger underlying issue of sexism and harmful attitudes towards women if we want women to be viewed as equals in our global church.
Grace Elliott, age 24, Operations Manager and Freelance Writer
I have had the privilege of getting to know many religions in my 24 years, some through personal experience, others through my own study. I have known several amazing women who have all been fully ordained leaders or pastors in their respective churches, and I never felt as though the word of God was less understood, that their calling was less genuine, or that they had less right to be in the position which they held. A woman grows and experiences life through a different lens than a man, and it can only behoove a religion to offer that diversity in message. It grieves me greatly that so many major religions can wholeheartedly believe in the ability of women to deliver the word of God as eloquently as men (Buddhism and Wicca, even major Christian religions such as Episcopalians, Unitarian Universalism, Methodism and Christian Science), yet some still hold to verses from a time that has long passed. So much of the argument to keep women from becoming fully ordained, not only in the Adventist faith, but many others, is based from single instances within the text that are not conducive to the underlying theme of Christianity as a whole. Personally, I have never been able to understand why it is more important to focus on the restrictions the Bible puts on our lives, especially when those restrictions were put in place to influence a 2,000 year old society as opposed to our modern day, and forget the message of love and inclusion which resonates through the word of Jesus.
In regards to the millennial influence on the vote, I find that such a staggering misrepresentation of the millennial voice in the General Conference is a blatant turn of the cold shoulder to a generation that comprises over half of the Adventist membership. Clearly the vote was close, and the opinion is fairly split. However, I feel that if a more accurate delegation had been chosen, one with significantly more millennials, and (dare I say it) more women present, the vote would have turned out differently. A fair and equal representation of all views within the church was not achieved, and until that occurs, decisions will not be made with the best interest of the whole membership.
Eliel Cruz, age 24, Andrews University Alumnus, Faith Organizer
I reject the notion that the church voted on women's ordination when the church was not represented in the nominating committee or the delegation. Women and young voices are being left out of the church leadership yet the church leadership bemoans the loss of youth.
Admittedly, the vote was much closer than I thought it would be. Still, our church is in turmoil because of the vote to reject portions of the body of Christ.
It was clear by the Twitter stream that millennials are shocked at the sexism displayed in yesterday's debates. The condescending and patronizing speeches from male delegates were nothing short of embarrassing. How do we honor the legacy of Ellen White while denying her daughters the opportunity for ordained ministry?
We have sent a message that women do not have the ability to connect with Christ like men do. That is nothing short of heretical. Our church must repent for the anti-gospel patriarchal standards we upheld yesterday. Our church suffers for it.
Brooklynn Larson, age 21, History major at Walla Walla University
Henceforth, anyone who voted against Women's Ordination cannot complain about youth leaving the church. Millennials are a giant, un-ignorable, and complex generation. They lead some of the biggest movements for equality, justice, and change around the world. While the church refuses to embrace those values, youth will continue to leave. Plain and simple.
Givan Hinds, age 21, Andrews University Alumna, Loma Linda University Graduate Student
I was shocked. Having been unaware of the history of the SDA stance concerning Women's Ordination, I was absolutely sure that the sheer amount of testimonies, Bible study, research, and (dare I say) lobbying I had witnessed over the years was surely enough to elicit a resounding "Yes" from the couple thousand delegates in San Antonio. When the "No" came after sitting through politically-charged debate, reading countless tweets under the hashtag #GSCA15, and perusing various articles released by SDA magazines on the subject, I decided to re-read the motion being voted upon. The decision seemed cut and dry…perhaps there was something I had missed.
Again, I was shocked. I realized that the decision made last night had nothing to do with the theology behind WO, and everything to do with the permission of conferences to make their own decisions regarding specific issues. Of course, not everyone's intentions are pristine, and a definite amount of sexism (among various other -isms) exists just as much in the church as outside. Yet, I did not see this decision as the pivotal point for millennials to turn in their SDA membership cards. I saw the motion as an administrative "side-step" to avoid a culturally-charged decision and one which will continue to be avoided. Undoubtedly, such a process must impact how SDA millennials feel about their church. While we write our passionate, socially conscious Facebook statuses, the church's decision has been made for the next five years.
I have confidence that this issue will come up again at #GC2020. Maybe then, we will be able to say "I am the 41%."
Jonathan Stephan, age 22, Theology major at Walla Walla University
I was personally hoping that my church would approve women's ordination. The only potential argument that can be made biblically on the issue is against women in leadership; there is no biblical evidence whatsoever against ordaining women, because there is absolutely no biblical precedent for ordination. It is a [necessary] human construction. Much of the Adventist church (North America and Asia both come to mind) allow women to occupy leadership and pastoral roles. Therefore, the question of ordination is in these places is purely a matter of equity, and not at all about women. It is worth noting that the Bible speaks very forcefully about equity. Our church must choose one side or the other; to hold to a logically inconsistent middle position is cowardly and unproductive. I have far less respect for my chosen faith group than before.
Lauren Lewis, age 22, History major at Walla Walla University, Editor in Chief of the WWU Collegian
I was hoping that there would be no vote at all. In my mind, women’s ordination should be a non-issue. The idea of women not having the same rights, jobs, or opportunities as a man is outdated, read in history books, and no longer relevant in our church or society. I had hoped that this subject would have been approached from a view of equality, not cultural sensitivity, or scriptural minutia. Instead, as you can see on all types of social networking sights, it has become a polarizing argument. Sadly, I see this vote leaving the church and its church members divided and weakened in a culture that does not need more discord or hostility. Has this vote added positive change to our church community? Unfortunately, I think not. Frankly, I am not surprised that the vote was so close. I am surprised that the vote favored against women’s ordination. Change and evolution in the church is inevitable and is obviously reflected in the ballots. I have heard many say, “Well, the vote will change at the next GC” or “Just wait until next time.” It is unfortunate that until the next General Conference, we have to live with the consequences of a vote against women’s ordination.
Daria Chelbegean, age 23, Loma Linda University Alumna, Nurse
Women are people too. And we refuse to be told any longer, that we are inferior. Not by our religion, not by our jobs, not by any other patriarchal dogmas. Women are worthwhile. And in all honesty, I don't believe that Jesus would have voted "No" on women's ordination.
This belief that women are "lesser" has made excusable many abuses against women in the church and in general. I refuse to be part of this process. There is no excuse. Women are not lesser.
Danielle Fore, age 22, student at La Sierra University, Student Pastor at Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church
I remember the feeling I had when I realized God was calling me to become a pastor. I thought "Really, God? Me? I'm so inadequate, and I'm… a woman." I thought of other ways I could do ministry without becoming a pastor since women were at the center of debate, but God continued to reaffirm, and still reaffirms, the call I have accepted. Naturally, I was disappointed by the outcome of yesterday's vote, but I can't say I expected anything different. I was encouraged by the 977 who said “God can use women, and we should recognize that God has called them, too.” I believe that if more millennial voices were present in the voting process the number of "Yes" votes would have been much greater. All my peers are 100% supportive of my choice to take up my calling. Even with the outcome of Wednesday's voting, I still have hope for the church I love and am committed to serve in.
Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org, a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas, and a Millennial.
Photo Credit: James Bokovoy / NAD