Adventist Survey Reveals Broad Support for Ordination of Female Pastors

The ordination of female pastors in the Adventist church is one of the most controversial and divisive issues of our day. Vigorous and sometimes fierce debate has dominated agendas and consumed the time and energy of church administrators, pastors, educators, and church members. Over time, the “official debate” has resulted in official decisions and further meetings to manage the conflict surrounding the debate. Efforts to deal effectively with the issue have gone on for decades and spanned two generations. At the same time, there is widespread concern about how recent official actions and the prolonged controversy will affect the unity of the church and its witness in the earth’s final days.

Just after the U. S. national election we asked Spectrum and Adventist Today readers to participate in a short survey with questions about the national election, as well as several questions about several controversial social issues including the ordination of female pastors.[1] In this article we share the findings from the survey questions on the ordination of female pastors. Our hope is to add voices from the church’s general membership to the conversation as our church grapples with one of the most important, controversial, and divisive issues of our day.

More than 1,500 people responded to the survey and 450 took the opportunity to express additional viewpoints with open-ended comments. As indicated in Table 1, our sample reveals a surprisingly balanced range of self-described religious orientation. Nearly half (46%) considered themselves moderate in their religious orientation. One in five (20%) considered themselves to be religious conservatives, while about one in four (26%) were liberal in their religious orientation. Slightly more than three percent identified as fundamentalist. While we had expected Spectrum and Adventist Today readership to be more heavily liberal in its viewpoints, this more balanced response range allows us to have much greater confidence that the findings more closely represent the views of church members in North America. As expected, respondents’ political orientations mirrored their religious orientations, which is in line with findings of previous studies. [2]

Table 2 shows that most respondents were born in the U.S. (81%), more than half (57%) were male, and three in four (75%) were married. Sixteen percent were single or never married and fewer than one in ten (7%) were separated or divorced. The age distribution of our sample was relatively evenly distributed, with about one-fourth (24%) aged 18 to 35 years, approximately one-fifth (19%) 36 to 50 years, over one-fourth (28%) each aged 51 to 65 years and (30%) over 65 years. More than one-third (36%) had annual household incomes of more than $100,000 a year, around 15% between $75,000 and $100,000, nearly 20% between $50,000 and $75,000, and around 20% $50,000 or less. Finally, our sample’s ethnic background was three-fourths (75%) White, with all others - Latino, Black, Asian, Multi-Racial - each at 8% or less. Eighty-five percent of our sample had four years of college or more. So, although our respondents were quite balanced in terms of gender, age, and religious orientation, they were significantly more likely to be white, married, college educated, and higher income.

Findings

The survey included three response categories relative to the issue of ordination. In response to the question, “Do you favor or oppose having women as pastors in the Adventist Church?” (Figure 1), 87%% indicated that they favored/agreed with the question. An equal number, 7%, either opposed/disagreed or had no opinion. One respondent indicated, “We have a female pastor in our church and just love her.”

Figure 1

Responses to the statement, “Women in the Adventist church should be ordained” (Figure 2) show that 86% either agreed or strongly agreed. Nine percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 6% were unsure.

Figure 2

Finally, respondents were asked to respond to the statement “I would support having a female pastor in my own church.” (Figure 3) Nearly all (88%) agreed or strongly agreed, while 8% said they disagreed or strongly disagreed. Only 4% were unsure. The responses to these last two questions show nearly identical responses.

Figure 3

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings was the extent to which those with conservative religious orientations supported women in positions of ministry and favored women’s ordination. While no one would be surprised that a strong majority of self-described religious moderates and liberals supported women as pastors and the ordination of women, the degree to which conservative SDAs supported these positions was more revealing. For example, of those who identified as fundamentalist, over one-third (36.5%) favored having women as pastors in the Adventist church (no table provided for this section). For conservatives, almost two-thirds (65.2%) favored having women as pastors. Not surprisingly, 91.9% of moderates and 99.2% of liberals felt the same way.

While these same individuals were less likely to support women’s ordination than religious moderates or liberals, there was a sizable percentage of conservatives who expressed support for women’s ordination. Of those who self-identified as fundamentalists, almost a third (29.8%) either strongly agreed or agreed that women should be ordained. For conservatives, the percentage was even higher – 60.6% supported women’s ordination. Again, not surprisingly, religious moderates and liberals strongly agreed or agreed with women’s ordination at 92% and 99.7%, respectively.

Finally, religious fundamentalists and conservatives supported having a female pastor in their own church at rates that were higher than might be expected. For fundamentalists, over a third (36.6%) agreed or strongly agreed that they would support a female pastor in their own church. For conservatives, over two-thirds (68.5%) agreed or strongly agreed with this arrangement. Again, not surprisingly, 91% of moderates and 99.5% of liberals felt the same way. While these findings could be discussed in much greater detail, this brief article does not allow us to fully explore all of our findings across religious orientation, a more detailed upcoming article will soon explore how these demographic groups approached women’s ordination and women in ministry.

We also began an analysis of the 450 comments that were made by participants. Several representative comments in support of ordination included statements such as, “Women being ordained should not be an issue. We should have the right to be ordained if that is what we feel God calling us to. Ellen White, who basically was the founder of Adventism as we know it, was female!” Others saw the ordination as a matter of fairness and justice saying, “Unbelievable that a church founded by a woman and who fights for equality, does not endorse women’s ordination. I thought Christians were supposed to be like Christ.” Another said, “I don't feel the GC should mandate anything about women's ordination as there is no clear biblical stance on it one way or the other.”

Some comments seemed to support the status quo on the issue and a viewpoint more aligned with the church’s official position, “I didn't feel your options [in the survey] on the women's ordination questions captured my beliefs. Based on the Bible qualifications for elder I don't feel women should serve as elders, district pastors or senior pastors in multi-pastor churches. I have no problem with a woman serving on the pastoral staff of a multi-pastor church to serve woman and families. I have no problem with women being ordained in an office they are Biblically qualified to hold. If I were the senior pastor of a multi-pastor church I would not have a problem with having a woman on the staff with a focus on woman and families.”

Others were truthfully unsure, revealing ambivalence about the issue and fears about the consequences of continued controversy. One respondent commented, “Regarding women's ordination: not sure what I think, but I feel like both sides are dug in too deep. Cultures are changing and…will come to pass soon enough. Why risk deep division or even separation? That goes for both sides.”

Some comments revealed the frustration and searing pain that comes with the subordinate status of females in ministry. Pain and frustration often leads to fears of a church that becomes divided by beliefs around ordination. A number of comments suggested changes in leadership and made dire predictions about the unity of the church in its present course of direction. As one respondent put it, “the current political climate in the SDA church will not help finish the work…let’s pray that [this] does not continue to split the church.”

Further analysis of the more than 450 comments may reveal even greater levels of pain, frustration, concern and ambivalence. Beyond that, an exploration of the relationships between opinions about women in ministry and respondents’ religious orientation, gender, age, income levels, and education will show the nuance and contours of beliefs. These will be explored in greater detail and reported in a future article.

Conclusions

We found that most of the Spectrum and Adventist Today readers who responded to the survey were comfortable with the idea of having female pastors in the church, having them ordained, and having them minister in their own local church. Our sample, while not demographically diverse in areas of ethnicity, marital status, education, and income, is relatively balanced in the areas of age and gender. Most importantly, it represents the full range of religious orientation: fundamentalist, conservative, moderate and liberal. While there will be debate about how accurately this sample represents Adventist general membership in North America, this study found strong support for women in ministry and women’s ordination. This support was even found in the responses of conservatives and fundamentalists, with 60% of conservatives supporting ordination and 69% supporting women serving as pastors in their churches. This was the most surprising and perhaps most important finding.

We haven’t, so far, understood the perspectives of the general “lay” membership of the church on many issues, including women’s ordination. These findings give us only a glimpse; yet they reveal more diversity of positions and opinions than was known or expected. For this reason a broader conversation involving the general Adventist membership is needed. As one respondent commented, “I wish the Adventist church would do a survey of its members including how we feel about church administration, women's ordination, whether or not we support the denomination through tithe vs some other ministry, whether we agree with the current administration’s stand on a variety of issues, etc...”

We believe that Adventists care deeply about the issue of women’s ordination and that this kind of research is necessary for an informed conversation and eventual resolution.

Greater understanding of the larger cultural perspectives and the Adventist social persona is key to a more meaningful, and relevant witness.

[1] In our article The Adventist Vote: Findings from the 2016 National Election Survey (Spectrum, November 23, 2016) we reported on respondents’ religious and political leanings and voting behavior.

[2] For Example: Roger L. Dudley and Edwin I. Hernandez. “Where Church and State Meet: Spectrum Surveys the Adventist Vote.” Spectrum, Fall 2004, 32(4), 38-63.

John T. Gavin is the Chair of the Social Work Department at Washington Adventist University and Director of the Center for Metropolitan Ministry. William W. Ellis is a senior social scientist, public policy analyst and Professor of Political Science at Washington Adventist University. Curtis J. VanderWaal is Professor of Social Work and Chair of the Department of Social Work at Andrews University.

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Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7937
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the Gospel does not spring from the gonads but from the heart instructed by a mind steeped in the life, death, ressurection, ****

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75% of the respondents to this survey were “White Euro-Americans” and 81% were born in the USA. Most of us are already very much aware of the long-standing broad support for women’s ordination among these demographics. Was the purpose of this survey to confirm a situation that we already know exists? Less than 10% of the world church membership is represented by North America and Western Europe. What we need is a similar survey in Africa and South America to confirm whether or not the San Antonio vote was an accurate indication of the will of the broad church membership in those areas. We are a global church that governs ourselves through the votes of a world-wide conference. What is the value of a geographically limited survey for an issue that is voted globally?

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Unfortunately, your survey was a volunteer sample. That is the most biased form of statistical sampling. You cannot draw any conclusion from your results other than that there is broad support for women’s ordination among on Spectrum readers who bothered to complete the survey. It is completely invalid to even attempt to extrapolate your results to Adventists in general.

If you want better results, try a simple random sample or, better yet, a stratified random sample.

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Now we know what highly educated wealthy white people have to say on the matter.

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The real headline should be “Readers of Progressive Adventist Publications Support Women’s Ordination.”

This is about as shocking as if the NRA found that its members were largely in support of gun ownership, or if the World Wildlife Foundation discovered that its members were generally against eating Pandas.

I’d love to see a randomized survey that represented a proper sample of Adventists in North America, or (even better) world wide. But this isn’t it.

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A very unscientific poll, but it serves the purpose of the NAD’s rebellious agenda.

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Truly unscientific, I’m afraid, since the vast majority had post graduate education! Let’s try this again.

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Brethren, It is good to find out how the church feels about certain issue, BUT THE S.D. A. Church does not run by surveys . The findings make no difference , since the larger body of the church in 2015, spoke on this issue . We must respect that decision . Failing to do so will cause problems and confusion .Note , many people have no problem with women being pastors , but it is the ordination issue that the church , in 2015 , voted down. Let’s get on with preaching the word of God. In the bible , God is an equal opportunity employer. There is even a woman named Noah , in Numbers 27 :1 , 36: 11 .Please read. Social issues are important , but they should not distract us from our duty, TO PREACH THE GOPEL TO ALL THE WORLD .

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I am greatly encouraged by these finding, at least in the NAD I believe that in Europe and Australia the findings might be even more positive.
I believe, given the present GC administration, the Church is headed for schism. The intractable attitude of the President cannot lead to unity, only division.

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Welcome back, fido! I am reminded of the junkyard dog who, upon his release from impound in chains on the back of a flatbed calls the rest of the dogs losers.

Reiterating what is said in the article makes a lot of sense.

May it be blessed.

Its a Spectrum audience…were we expecting a different result?

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…A Yes indeed!

It is those with the post graduate education who are the high earners in our denomination by virtue of their hard work and schooling.

Yes indeed, it is those American, Australian, Canadian, and European highly paid professionals who pay the BULK of the tithe and mission offerings which go to convert the "heathen " tribal, patriarchal Africans and the macho, chauvinistic South Americans…

Yes indeed it is POLITICALLY INCORRECT to call Africa TRIBAL.
Tribal,conflicts are endemic in Africa-- the Rwandan genocide, the civil war in South Sudan, conflicts in. Nigeria, the Congo and across the face of the continent.

When gang rape of women and even young girls is the modus operandi, a weapon of war, in many of these conflicts, women are clearly not highly valued.

And Ted Wilson uses these cultures to implement his weapon of war on Adventist women – the heinous, heretical ".headship " dogma!

These mysoginist groups, because of their cultural heritage, are anti women and will, until they themselves earn "post graduate " degrees, vote against equality for women.

It would be interesting for Spectrum to obtain statistics about the giving patterns in the different world divisions.

I would wager that even though the Divisions in Africa and South America have huge numbers of Adventists compared to the “western” Divisions, that their giving patterns would be considerably lower than those of the west.

This would reflect a much more poorly educated “blue collar” laboring class, whose egalitarian instincts would be suspect based on their societal status.

Yes indeed, it is politically incorrect to state the obvious.

IN REPLY TO JOSHUA 24
Joshua, you ask me : Is your part of the world free of crime, rapes and murders?
Yes, having just attended my annual town meeting, ( WAILEA, HAWAII )
the city manager reported extremely LOW crime in my city.
Rapes and murders are exceedingly rare.
I never lock my door, morning noon nor night, even when I am absent from the house.
My adult daughter who lives near me, does not lock her door even when she leaves on vacation!
Friends who live in Africa, live in compounds with high walls, barbed wire on top,
and lock not only their front door, but every intervening door-- should an intruder get in,
they hope the multiple locked doors will prevent them from being murdered in their beds!

IN REPLY TO OLIVIA:
I have practiced medicine for fifty years, and in that time frame
I have been affiliated with five hospitals in Africa and been on the medical staff
of six US hospitals – including Harvard Medical School"s flagship hospital
– the Massachusset’s General, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
– the nation’s oldest Medical School and also Ivy League.
So I think I have insights into conditions in both Africa and USA,

You used the term BRUTISH, not I.

In one African hospital I worked in we had wards full of paraplegic patients
– due to gangs in that town who deliberately knifed their victims ( usually strangers )
in the back, with the intent of severing their spinal cords.
Some would call that BRUTISH – your word, not mine.

African soldiers entering villages they wish to conquer,
use no weapons.–they merely gang rape the women in front of their husbands,
the little girls in front of their fathers.
The villagers are so numbed, dispirited, terrorized,
they abandon the village, no shots having been fired.
Some would call that BRUTISH – again, your word, not mine!

Multiple thousands of African women have recto-vaginal fistulae
–passages allowing feces, to flow into their vaginas, as a result of traumatic
brutal gang rape. These women are so foul smelling and odious, their
husbands abandon them, since sex is impossible.
Recto-vaginal fistulae are extremely rare in USA
Would you call this BRUTISH? your word, not mine!

The country with the highest incidence of rape on the planet
is in Africa. It also has the highest incidence of AIDS.
So a young girl who is raped is not only psycholgically traumatized,
she may be left with a life threatening disease. BRUTISH?

The United Nations has just reported SIXTEEN MILLION victims of FAMINE
in South Somalia, as a result of civil war between two war lords. BRUTISH??
– your word, not mine!

IN REPLY TO ALLEN SHEPHERD:
I have spent twenty five years in Africa.
Have you ever even visited that continent??

The Trans European Division of Adventism comprises twenty two
countries. The majority of these countries have had a female prime minister
or president, some of them several times over.

There are FIFTY FOUR countries on the African continent—
you do not even need
the fingers in one hand to count the African women heads of state!

This would imply that Europeans are comfortable with women authoritarian figures,
but NOT Africans.

It is not "condescending " to state this blatant, brutal fact:

TED WILSON HAS NO NEED TO COAX, CAJOLE, COERCE AFRICAN ADVENTISTS
TO SUBSCRIBE TO HIS HEINOUS HERETICAL "HEADSHIP " DOGMA
– they already voluntarily agree to it by virtue of their cultural heritage!

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Yes, it is money that keeps the Dogs Of War at bay…but not forever.

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And alittle bit to the side… Adventist believers continue to praise the Lord with thanksgiving… He who said “And the gates of hell shall not prevail” has given us reason to be happy. Praise God who uses good persons who will not stand by and do nothing. And that’s on all battle fronts. Fundamental 1: The authority of the Bible supreme.

Irrespective of what a survey tells us, it the bible and the bible alone by which we measure everything. Is 8:20.

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Tribal conflict is not endemic in Africa. Have u tried to read history of europe and get yourself better knowledgeable about events relative to conflict? come on, it is the way the gospel was presented to Africa, South America and Asia that has caused lower returns of tithes. You are also confirming the and reinforcing the segregated but equal doctrine the the SDA adopted in north America when blacks were subjugated to the evil of racism. As a result, we are having many ethnic conference/union or missions. Let the Bible speak and not surveys. We challenge others to disprove the sabbath using the Bible, why can’t we use the holy Bible to defend Women ordination? your distasteful description of Africa demonstrates a deep seated hatred for the continent. you talk about crime, is your part of the world free of crime, whether rape of women/girls, murder? you deserve to approach the throne of grace to seek forgiveness for this ungodly outburst.

Admentist survey reveals broad support for ordination of female pastors

I think this is fake news.

I was expecting to see a survey of a more diverse population, but instead, it is just Adventist Today and Spectrum readers, a very small percentage of SDA’s and a very different one from the general Adventist population.

The reason it is fake is that:

  1. The title is misleading.
  2. The survey is focused on a single type of SDA
  3. It is a volunteer survey, the most skewed kind.
  4. Printing would seem to indicate it was something news-worthy. it was not.

But I think this is what fake news is, a skewed article or essay put forth as something that shows a trend or information worthy of note.

One more thing:

Robin, you are just the kind of thinker that would prompt a third world member to vote against WO. Your posts drip with condescension. Until you can at least understand a little of how they think, rather than considering them stupid prejudice oafs, your cause is lost. Do you really think your tactless rant will convince them?

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Regardless of the obvious biases in the survey, which the authors properly identified, the big surprise from the survey was the extent to which self-identified conservatives supported women’s ordination. That was the primary point of the article.

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This post reveals more about your own prejudices and misconceptions than anything else. For your sake, at the very least, I advise taking a step back and considering how unhelpful your statements regarding Africa and South America have been.

There has been a lot of talk about political correctness being a tool to temper one’s true feelings and thoughts. But there is good reason for using “politically correct” language when engaging in conversation about weighty issues. What you describe as “the obvious” is your own perspective and opinion filtered through your own experience and world view. Therefore, it is not “the obvious”. There is a need for you to use unbiased language to make your points rather than using inflammatory statements riddled with stereotypes (i.e. ‘"heathen " tribal, patriarchal Africans and the macho, chauvinistic South Americans’).

All that aside, a sentiment of yours seems to be that places such as Africa are perhaps more brutish (“Tribal,conflicts are endemic in Africa-- the Rwandan genocide, the civil war in South Sudan, conflicts in. Nigeria, the Congo and across the face of the continent”), contribute less to the church financially( "that their giving patterns would be considerably lower than those of the west"), and have a cultural heritage of violence and misogyny (“These mysoginist groups, because of their cultural heritage, are anti women”, and "gang rape of women and even young girls is the modus operandi, a weapon of war"). These sentiments suggest that you are lacking vital historical context regarding culture and conflict in these countries as well as the impact Europe/Western powers have had on culture through the manipulation of political, economic and social forces. Further, your statements seem to project a level of cultural inferiority on these groups, potentially rooted in racism and ethnocentrism. It is beyond the scope of this post to deliver a lecture on these issues, but I would encourage you to further your research and reconsider the value of using more unbiased, objective language.

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