A Message to the North Pacific Union as they Discuss Ordination Today

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One more brief comment to add to my previous comments on the issues for consideration at your meeting today.  In addition to the opportunity to comment on Women’s Ordination in the North Pacific Union Conference, I want to respond to the “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry” document sent from Elder Wilson, presumably to shut down any action by the NPUC on women’s ordination.  In spite of the claims made in this document, I encourage you to fully engage the Union in its role in deciding how to move ahead on equality in ministry.  Whether or not the NPUC decides to ordain women pastors at this time, the NPUC should make full use of its entire decision making authority, including its constituency, in discussing these matters that are so critical to the NPUC’s mission.

My own impression of the General Conference document, is that the General Conference is attempting to maximize its own authority; pushing the limits to the point of sacrificing the full role of Unions. The document rests its arguments on traditional practice, and the lack of a gender inclusive reference to ordination. That’s it. There is no reference to a policy specifically limiting ordination to men, or specifically excluding women. If there were such a policy, it would have been stated. In the absence of such policy, the GC is inserting its own preferences, along with a claim for “highest authority.” The NPUC can respond respectfully to this document by making its own independent evaluation of the issues and policies involved – that is the Union’s role. There is nothing rebellious or disrespectful by a proper exercise of authority.

Seventh-day Adventist organization is not a hierarchy, with authority flowing from “corporate" (the GC) to the “subsidiaries" (Unions). We are a system of overlapping constituencies, operating within agreements of goodwill, recognizing and honoring the participation of each.

I’m an attorney, but not a church law attorney. I’m a former union and conference executive committee member, but not a church policy expert. Mostly, I’m a very concerned layperson looking for the NPUC to exercise its full role, involve its constituency, and move ahead with the full equality of its women and men pastors. (And forgive a bit of humor and overstatement – in the words of Lincoln – “save the Union.”)


Blessings in your work at the meeting.

Brent Stanyer
Spokane, WA

 

Brent Stanyer is a member of the Adventist Forum Board, which publishes Spectrum Magazine.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7037
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The gender-exclusive wording in the GCWP would hold up in any legislative procedure, as would the three GC Sessions that voted No. Who doubts that? So let’s hope the NPUC is brighter than Brent’s spin.

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Arguments from silence are the worst form of debate or discussion. It gives the feel of desperation grasping at anything.

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Hey Brent!! You’re still my Bud; I hope you know that!! But sadly, your argument here won’t wash. As one respondent has already noted, the language of the current General Conference Working Policy offers a clear exception to the all-inclusive language concerning race, color, and gender, when in the case of the latter it writes in parentheses: “(except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry)” (2013-2014 edition, p. 113).

Even though this wording does not explicitly limit ordination to men, the sole clarification available as to this exception is found in the actions of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist body in General Conference assembled, beginning with 1990 and again in 1995 and 2015. The measure voted at the 1990 session is quite explicit in this regard, when it states, “We do not approve the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.” The subsequent decisions in 1995 and 2015 have twice forbidden this question to be delegated to the Divisions, the latter decision being made explicitly on the basis of Scripture, the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, and the reports of the study commissions.

Even without a specific reference in the Working Policy, it is clear the above actions are the basis of the exception clause the Policy lists regarding the non-limitation by gender relative to positions in denominational service.

What is equally important to note in both the GC and NAD Working Policies is how gender-specific the wording is with regard to ministerial ordination in other statements. References abound to “the setting apart of men” (GC Working Policy, 2013-2014 edition, p. 423), “the proofs of a man’s divine call” (Ibid, p. 424), “a man must indeed be called of God and give clear evidence of his call” (Ibid, p. 425). “the candidate should plan to have his wife present” (Ibid, p. 426). Lest some be inclined to assume such male references to be generic, it should be noted that when speaking of the discipline of ministers, the policy uses such language as “he/she” and “his/her” (Ibid, p. 434), since disciplinary guidelines cover the conduct of both ordained and commissioned ministers—the latter obviously including women. In fact, the disciplinary clause in the North American Division Working Policy not only uses such terms as “he/she” and “his/her,” but specifically speaks of the “ordained/commissioned ministry” as being covered by disciplinary guidelines (NAD Working Policy, 2011-2012 edition, p. L-39).

It is my hope and prayer that the North Pacific Union executive committee choose to adhere to the duly voted policies of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, whose basis—quite explicitly stated in the San Antonio motion—is the authority of Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy.

Love you, Bud!! My best to Helaina!!!

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It also rests (or falls) on the fact that nothing has been done or suggested be done about already ordained female pastors. They have not done anything to stop us before, so why is it any different now? They simply do not have the authority to decide what Unions do.

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There is no reason to think that the NPUC does not support the refusal of allowing Divisions to establish ordination policy. That is absurd.

Trust BEing!

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We are in sad times in our church where the norm is becoming top down authority, and we are accumulating a canon of church law that must be legalistically adhered to.

I see our church becoming far from a movement of Jesus to one of laws and traditions.

God help us!

We don’t as a church believe in verbal,inspiration, although in practice I’ve heard so many sermons and sabbath school,lessons focus on debating on the specific meanings of individual,words. Now we are acting like the church manual,etc are verbally inspired and debating over precise meanings of words. We’ll soon be running to lawyers to settle our differences in church law. Oh dear, that is exactly what has started to take place. No room for conscience, just argue if something is legal or not.

very very sad times.

This is becoming an organisation I don’t want to belong to.

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For the past 75 years the GC has steadily constructed a fortress of centralized authority with multi-layered policies, precedents, and EGW quotations. It may have been intentional, but it would have happened anyway, because concerns about structure usually dominate older organizations. Today, the Unions and the Conferences to an even less degree, are branches of a multinational organization in every way except one–they are allowed to elect their own leaders by their respective constituencies. This is the only crack through which change can take place from the lower to higher levels of church governance. The GC is aware of this point of weakness and thus exerts tremendous pressure and inducements for presidents to conform to policy. This centralized structure will not be dismantled by one or two renegade Union presidents. Perhaps a coalition of presidents could start the process. It would be nice if the Union Executive Committees would rethink their relationship to the Division (GC) and at least say that they have the right to question and not blindly accept a GC policy. Would this be messy? Yes! But then most of living in this world is messy, especially ministry.

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Your claim of some desperate “argument from silence” is inappropriately used here. It is a valid point to note the non-exclusion of women in the policy. The policy, when written, did not specifically include African-Americans or Asians, or anyone else, and yet our pastoral ministry, despite its very white beginnings, has expanded and become thankfully inclusive regardless of race or ethnicity. There is no reason we can not also, in the absence of specific exclusion, claim the same church acknowledgement of women called by God to ministry. That is Brent’s point, I believe.

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Yes! God Save The Union(S) from the GC and the Division Micromanagement.
The General Conference and the Divisions are SUPPORT GROUPS, NOT Control Groups.
If my understanding of this from since childhood is wrong, please instruct me.

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This is the great paradox of the SDA church in this age. I grew up on an SDA mission where letters sent from the GC would take weeks to arrive. GC presidents were not the globetrotters that current presidents are. The local constituency was responsible for running things to the best of their ability and they did.

Now emails zip around te world and presidents get on airplanes for meetings around the globe. Presidents fill soccer stadiums with believers and appear on television right in their homes. The presence of the GC is larger and more immediate. It seems ironic to me that in an age of greater respect for conscience and choice and diversity, that the world church is bent on reducing the role of conscious and choice and diversity in the constituencies that know their own members best.

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Right after the GC Session was over I predicted here at Spectrum that the GC’s next steps will be,

  1. Distorting what the infamous NO vote was about,
  2. Starting a complex maneuver to rob the Unions from their currently established powers regarding ordination,
  3. Witch hunting season would start soon.

“Stay tuned,” tomorrow is Thursday!!!

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So, what happened at North Pacific Union today?

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Ted Wilson behaves as if the presidency is a birth right. His academic credentials alone might get him a post as an academy principal and he behaves at that level at best. His re-election demonstrates that the church is in the hands of politicans not Biblical Scholars. what a contrast between him and the one who preceded. The tragic reality is that since Glacier View the voices of reason are muted and peripheral to the Gospel. The church operates as if there wasn’t a letter to the Churches of Galacia or a letter to the Hebrews in Rome. The church takes its nourishment from apocalyptics rather than from Paul… The best voice now silent was the voice and pen of John R. W. Stott.

It sets the right tone in highlighting the steps Christ took to us. the Initiative is God’s not ours. Adventism would have it other. Ted Wiilson is making sure we don’t forget it. Tom Z

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Brent,

You are correct!

Headship theology and hierarchy fit together like a hand in a glove. You cannot have one without the other in the ecclesiastical sense. Unfortunately, some in GC leadership feel drawn to such hierarchical thinking because it cements their own sense of good order. Harold Hill, a retired New Zealand Salvation Army Officer, in commenting on ordination issues within his own movement wrote that “the process of institutionalization and clericalization in the church can be seen as the successful reconquest of the new community by the old structures of domination and power.”

The Adventist ordained class, are not Scripturally mandated to be clergy. Scripturally, they do not enjoy a distinct status apart from the whole people of God. Adventists do not

  1. Use the term Reverend.
  2. Provide clerical vestments.
  3. Provide clerical rings to signify that the clergy are married to the church because they are in some sense mini bridegrooms to the bride of Christ.

Adventists have only one head and one bridegroom and that is Christ.

The Theology of Ordination document produced by TOSC explicitly disavows such theology.

Unfortunately, over a period of several centuries at the beginning of the Christian era, the Christian Church developed a sacramental/ institutional model of ecclesiology. And nowhere is the character of such a model better illustrated than in the development of the theology and practice of clerical ordination.

Protestant Reformers undid some of the accretions of power and lordly spiritual authority that had accured to the priestly/ clerical class. Adventist pioneers, in their turn, faced the need to build their polity and gospel order from the foundations, Their accomplishments in this arena were undertaken in pragmatic fashion and have served Adventists well.

However, the almost inevitable drift toward institutionalization and clericalization may well have created with the Adventist communion subtle, even sinful changes in attitude and modes of operation which are best addressed by a studied renewal and reformation.

I am really not interested in the rights and wrongs of the debate concerning the responsibilities of both unions and the GC in approving the ordination of women. My sense is that there are elements of truth on both sides of the argument.

However that be, there is a much more fundamental issue. And this is to provide an answer to the following question - If we do away with the process of institutionalization and clericalization [hierarchy] and its bedfellow, headship theology and seek to adopt a new theology of Adventist leadership and its theology of appointment to leadership, what then would our system of appointing leaders to their particular roles and functions look like?

I am convinced that just tweaking our system of ordination so that it becomes gender inclusive is just to entrench hierarchy and some measure of headship theology within Adventist thinking.

Our schemes of ordination need radical reform not just tweaking.

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The only legal option left for Unions is to discontinue ordination and only offer commissions to the gospel ministry, which are available to both male and female. That way there is no discrimination and all ministers are treated equally within the GC Working Policy. All current ordained ministers should turn in their ordination certificates and accept commissions. Some pastors in the Chesapeake Conference have already or are planning to do this.

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There were several documents “produced” for the three positions, one such document explicitly supported “such theology,” which you presumably already knew.

Unfortunately for the other two positions, as was just voted, the delegates at San Antonio recently closed the door on the possibility for any “new theology.” Moreover, and I’m sure you’d agree, the church in session also just finished solidifying its “old theology,” which keeps “headship theology” in place for the foreseeable future–your desire for further tweaking notwithstanding.

EDIT: NPUC voted 26-4 to not move ahead with their agenda:

“We do not believe that convening a special constituency meeting about the ordination of women as pastors would be productive at this time for the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC). Therefore, we rescind our earlier action, (agenda item #43-14).”

In the English common law which influences American law, silence indicates permission as a rule of construction and a principle of law. The legal maxim is “That which is not forbidden is allowed;” i.e., if the law does not expressly prohibit something, then one is permitted to do it." This principle is a bulwark of American federalism as found in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which says that the federal government only has those powers delegated to it by the Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states and the people.

An attorney is commonly asked whether there is something in the law, or organizational bylaws, policy, or contract that forbids a particular activity. If, upon review, the attorney finds no prohibiting provision, the attorney tells the client, “There is nothing that stops you from the (desired) activity.” This principle promotes liberty of conscience and action.

A contrary Totalitarian Principle holds that “Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory,” i.e., the governing authority can do anything it sees fit to do unless there is some express limitation on its powers. This principle facilitates the authority’s imposition of uniformity of thought, opinion, behavior and association.

Attorney Stanyer is making a respectful, principled appeal for the NPUC’s thoughtful review of the appropriate roles of the General Conference and the NPUC. What is said or not said in policy is relevant to that review…

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What is the "silence’ being referred to. There is no silence. The General Conference in session in 1990 voted not to ordain women to the ministry. They again voted in 1995 not to allow Divisions to do so. They similarly voted in 2015. Those decisions are very loud in my book. We may agree or disagree with the decisions, but the General Conference Executive has no option but to follow, implement and maintain them until such decisions are changed or amended by a subsequent GC in Session. Any part of the SDA organization which chooses to act contrary to these decisions, stands on a slippery slope, the consequences and unintended consequences of which could do considerable harm to the church. I hope that wise counselors and much good common sense will prevail.

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I belong now to a Seventh-day Adventist church / congregation, but I no longer see myself as under any affiliation with or authority from the General Conference. Not just because of women’s ordination, but because I now see the GC / Ted Wilson as seeking, pushing, and abusing power - the “Kingly Power” that Ellen White spoke against. I see Ted Wilson now leading something that looks too much like papal hierarchy. So I’m an Adventist in (x city) and see our church as affiliated with other Adventist congregations. Nothing more. And, no, I’m not leaving. Redefining a relationship and setting one’s boundaries does not necessarily leave you are leaving that relationship.

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