By Taylor Pittenger
During the July 2015 General Conference in San Antonio, a vote was cast to decide whether whether or not to ordain women. The vote was 1,381-977—with five abstentions—against the vote. Our division, the North American Division (NAD), has ordained a number of women both before and after the vote.
On Sept. 25, the General Conference Secretariat released a document in response to unions that are not following the General Conference’s decision regarding women’s ordination. Division officers and General Conference officers conducted a fifty page document, “A Study of Church Governance and Unity,” that discussed how we as a church must stay united. A seventeen page summary, “Summary of a Study of Church Governance and Unity,” of the previous document was released Oct. 4.
According to the summary, the document is intended to “contribute to the discussion about unity in light of the vote at the 2015 General Conference (GC) Session not to allow divisions to decide on the matter of women’s ordination in their territories. It is expected this ongoing discussion will help to clarify what the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy have to say about unity.” The document highlights how the Bible and Ellen White request and urge our church to remain united. It states, “The biblical writers and Ellen White affirm, in a number of passages, that unity and diversity can coexist, but these point to the overarching importance of unity. Indeed, implicit in these statements is that diversity can cause confusion and conflict (see Study, pp 2-6). An appropriate decision-making process is needed—one that allows an acceptable degree of diversity while preserving unity.” It explains that although we are diverse, unity is of the utmost importance in order for our mission to thrive. The document says that we are called, “to work collaboratively and unitedly, rather than unilaterally. Only when we are united will we succeed in making disciples and building up the Church.”
It goes on to explain that diversity is regulated through authority. The document shares that through Jesus, GC Sessions and Annual Councils are of the highest authority within our church, and it models itself after “Jerusalem Council and Ellen G White’s explicit counsel.” It continues: “Decisions are made at the local and regional levels as much as possible, but major issues or questions with wider implications are decided at the highest level by representative bodies.” In other words, important decisions within the church, such as ordination, are decided through a voting process within these higher authorities.
There are times when certain issues have not be brought up in GC Sessions, in which case those issues are dealt with at a local level. However, the documents stresses that “once representatives from around the world, meeting and discussing together in good faith, have jointly made a decision, that decision must be respected.” It expresses how it is dangerous to work without council. The document cautioned unions and conferences: “Unilateral decision-making was a particular concern of Ellen G White; she consistently warned against it over many years. Her repeated testimonies indicate that overly independent, unilateral action is a particular danger to the Remnant Church in its end-time mission”
In regards to the issue of women’s ordination, the document expressed how the ordination of women is an invalid form of ordination because it is not approved by the world wide church based on the decision made in 2015’s GC Session. Since this is so, the document urges us to respect this decision regardless of our point of view.
On Oct. 11, the Annual Counsel voted and approved of this document for our church. The document was extensively discussed at the Annual Counsel, and there were many who voiced their concerns.
There are mixed reactions to this recent document and vote for the document’s approval. North American Division President Daniel R. Jackson issued a statement after the vote was approved. He encouraged his sisters-in-Christ to have courage and not give up on their call to ministry. Jackson explained, “We do not know, at this point, what the impact of this will be on the NAD. I invite you pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the church during this period.” He continued, “I want to give you the assurance that the vote yesterday did not affect your status as a pastor…The North American Division remains committed to empower and establish our women in pastoral ministry. We will not give up on this ideal and goal.”
On Oct. 22, Pastor Mark Witas addressed this issue to the PUC Church congregation. In reference to unity, Witas said, “God gifts all kinds of people to do all kinds of things in order for us to reach unity in the faith and bring the knowledge of Jesus to the sick and dying world. Biblical Unity is much more about end goals than it is about process. And God seems to use any means to achieve that goal, even means that sometimes fall outside of the will and expectations of voted and appointed leadership.” He concluded his sermon with: “Jesus is calling. He’s calling men and women, boys and girls to do His work. Let’s recognize that and do His bidding. Let’s be as inclusive in this work as God is. And let’s not get distracted by arguing about process. That’s our calling. Let’s not take our eye off the ball.”
During the North American Division Executive Committee at its 2016 Year-End Meeting on Oct. 30, a statement was voted in response to the unity document. The statement was conducted by Loma Linda University Church senior pastor, Randy Roberts. It describes how the NAD disagrees with the unity document, but they, “do not wish to respond impulsively,” but rather they wish to “appoint a
subcommittee to craft a thoughtful path forward.” The NAD has two unions that ordain women, and with that in mind, they “wish to once again publicly affirm our unwavering support and steadfast intent to realize the full equality of women in ministry, in fulfillment of biblical principles, in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In light of these realities, we do not want the Unity in Mission document to be a deterrent to the ongoing, proactive progress toward the full equality of women in ministry in our Division.”
Our SA president, Taleah Tyrell, attended the Year-End Meeting. She participated with student association presidents representing the Adventist Intercollegiate Association (AIA) in the voting process. Tyrell expressed her appreciation of the process and her hope for the future. She said, “It was well thought out and not done in the heat of the moment and I'm glad we are committing to pray for a year. I also hope that the GC also prays for a year. If we are committed to seeking answers I believe God will send us but we must all be open to receiving that answer.”
On Nov. 22, our conference, the Pacific Union Conference, released a statement sharing their thoughts on the matter. The Pacific Union Conference supports what the NAD has stated, and believes in equality in ministry. Their statement says, “We affirm that equality in ministry is not a distraction from mission—it is a fulfillment of mission. It is deeply rooted in our faith. We are committed to consciously reaching out to connect with those who may not understand why this conversation is of critical importance to our mission effectiveness. We pray that we will better understand God’s gracious leading every day.”
The conversation regarding women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church is still ongoing.
All sides of the conversation are requested to remain prayerful and open to the work of the Holy Spirit.