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On Ordination: Why Cultural Accommodation Was Never the Answer


If the Adventist Church had a policy that denied ordination to people of certain ethnicities, would we allow that policy to stand? The simple and unequivocal answer is “no.” So why are we comfortable allowing discrimination against women? One might expect a critique of General Conference policy right now, but that is not coming. I am actually very disappointed in myself and in those of us who support women’s ordination because the position we have taken would still allow for discrimination.

We knew that there was no real chance that the world church would vote in favor of women’s ordination. The tactical decision we made was to ask the church to allow for variances in ordination practice based on culture. We can call this the cultural accommodation argument. We reasoned that it is a cultural issue and that in those parts of the world where it would be inappropriate administators would not have to ordain women. However, here in North America, it is essential that we do ordain women based on our culture.

It is time for a wakeup call. We must get rid of this argument altogether.

Why would we allow for the world church to enact gender discrimination in some parts of the world as long as we get our way here? Who will stand up for the women in Africa, South America, and Asia who are sensing God’s call in their lives? We lost our way when we pushed for ordination equality in North America and parts of Europe and decided it was acceptable for our brothers around the world to continue to discriminate as long as it did not affect us.

I now strongly urge all of us to stop the campaign for the General Conference to allow Unions or Divisions to decide ordination for themselves. Instead, I call on the entire World Church to stop discrimination against women immediately.

We have done a great job detailing why ordination equality has biblical support. As many have noted, discrimination stands clearly against Fundamental Belief #14. If we have strong biblical support for equality and a fundamental belief compelling us to treat women and men equally, we cannot then also say it is optional to practice what we believe. It is time to stop using the cultural accommodation argument and embrace the strength of our position and hold firmly to upholding the beliefs and values of the Adventist Church.

We must state clearly the reasons why treating all people equally is of vital importance to the Gospel. Every time I hear people—whether in support of women’s ordination or against it—call this a “distraction” or say that “it is not a salvation” issue, I get more and more upset. I am upset because we have failed them. We have not stated clearly enough that how we treat people is central to the Gospel and part of our salvation. I am not going to call women’s ordination a “salvation issue,” but treating all people equally and respectfully is of primary importance for those in a saved relationship with Jesus.

By equivocating on the issue, I believe we have lost support of those who believe women should be ordained but are not “all-in” on the issue. We also have signaled to those who are opposed to women’s ordination that it is not central to our beliefs and values because we are comfortable with discrimination as long as it does not affect us. The anti-women’s ordination crowd has rejected the cultural accommodation argument, and it is time we rejected it as well.

We have allowed this issue to devolve into a policy debate. We are digging into working policies and trying to find loopholes in the system. We are making historical arguments about the roles of unions to show that situations like this are the reason they were created in the first place. I find these arguments well-presented and compelling. However, I am worried they detract from the larger issue: the Adventist Church discriminates solely on the basis on gender.

Ultimately, this is not a policy issue. It is a moral, ethical, and biblical issue and cultural accommodation was never the answer. Full equality immediately is the answer.

So, let us advocate fully for equality in ministry in every part of the world. Let us clearly state that we have a biblical, moral, and ethical mandate to treat all people equally. Because of this mandate, some unions have had to take the lead in equal ordination  and reject world policy that goes against Scripture and our fundamental beliefs. Let us not equivocate around the issue and get into legal or policy debates but make it known this is central to our faith. Let us passionately make the case that equality is central to the Gospel, and discrimination must end today, not just in North America but around the world.


Trevan Osborn is Associate Pastor at the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, California.


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