Dear President Ted Wilson and the General Conference Executive Committee:
Much has been said about the 1990 General Conference Session action regarding the ordination of women. What has been heretofore overlooked is the critical part of the action. When the delegates accepted the commission's report, they accepted this statement, ". . . the commission does not have a consensus as to whether or not the Scriptures and the writings of Ellen G. White explicitly advocate or deny the ordination of women to pastoral ministry . . ."1
By accepting this statement, the Session delegates officially recognized that Adventists within the Church have two doctrinally distinct views on the ordination of women. Some Adventists believe that Scripture advocates the role of women as pastors, while other Adventists believe that Scripture excludes women from the pastoral ministry. The imperative here is that the Session recognized that the Church has no official doctrinal position one way or the other.
Both sides are sincere and passionate in their beliefs, and each staunchly believes the other side is wrong. Sometime in the future, the Church might settle this matter by establishing a doctrinal position. Until that time comes, each side must recognize that those with an opposing view have the right to believe as they do, and the right to practice that belief, insofar as possible. That last line may have shocked some of you. Yes the opposing view has the right to practice their belief. This means that if a union conference refuses to ordain women to the pastoral ministry, they have that right, and no one can force them to ordain women. Likewise, if a union conference chooses to ordain women to the pastoral ministry, they have that right, and no one can force them to stop ordaining women. I say it is the union conference's decision because according to the General Conference Working Policy, ". . .decisions regarding the ordination of ministers are entrusted to the union conference/mission . . ."2
The agenda item for the 2015 General Conference Session
The question currently on the Session's agenda is, "Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?"3
Just as what took place at the 1995 General Conference Session, the current agenda item is a political question, not a doctrinal one. It is an attempt to allow the majority to violate the rights of the minority by imposing its view without settling the question. What you do not seem to realize is that the attempt cannot succeed, because, if the delegates do reject the motion, it in no way abrogates the unions' authority to decide whom they can ordain. Therefore, rejecting the motion does nothing to stop the unions from ordaining women.
The fair and right course of action is to replace the current Session agenda item with the following statement, submitted for the delegates' approval:
"At the present time, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has not made a final doctrinal determination as to whether the Church can ordain pastors without respect to gender. Until this is done, the church affirms that members can believe either 1) that both men and women are qualified to serve in the pastoral ministry, or 2) that only men are qualified to serve in the pastoral ministry. The church further affirms the right of church members to practice either of these beliefs, insofar as possible. The Church recognizes that this may result in different practices in different church territories. One territory may ordain pastors without respect to gender, while another territory may restrict ordination to men."
This Church wants unity. Sometimes unity means that the two sides agree to disagree until God provides more light, and the Church can settle the matter.
John B. Heczko
Cc. Daniel R. Jackson, President NAD
1Adventist Review, July 13, 1990, pg. 15.
2General Conference Working Policy 2007-2008 B O5 statement 6. [This is the most recent edition of the policy I could find online.]
John B. Heczko, MD is a retired physician living in the Los Angeles area. He is a third generation Adventist, a graduate of Pacific Union College, and Loma Linda University School of Medicine.