Annual Council Diary VI: Orchestrating the Session

There were some ah ha moments in the Annual Council deliberation on how to handle women’s ordination on Tuesday. One ah ha came early, during the morning devotional by Dr. Peter Landless as he described Jesus encounter with the woman at the well. “The woman proved to be a more effective missionary than Jesus’ disciples,” Landless said, and an audible ahhh rose from the audience.

Other ah ha’s have come to me in the hours since the meeting as I have thought and talked with others about what was and was not presented during this tightly scripted day.

Delegates were told that all of Tuesday was to be devoted to the discussion of women’s ordination, and were advised to come early because a large crowd was expected. I arrived at 7:30, mid-way through the regular morning prayer session.

After the devotional, there was a report from the South Pacific Division on their Mission to the Cities evangelism program. As the names of the island cities were read by Division President Barry Oliver and his wife Julie, there were more ahhs for cities that had 1000 baptisms. Several did. “When we go out into the world we meet our God out there, because he goes before us to prepare the way,” Oliver said.

President Ted Wilson took 25 minutes to introduce the topic and provide historical background. He acknowledged that studies on the subject went back to the 1970s, but began his history with the 1990 General Conference session, where, upon a recommendation from Annual Council, the session voted not to go ahead with ordination in view of the possible risk of disunity, dissension and diversion from the mission of the church. At the 1995 GC session, the North American Division requested permission for divisions to decide the issue. It was defeated. At the 2010 GC session, a delegate raised from the floor a question about our lack of a theology of ordination. That led to the creation of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). “TOSC was formed with members who have convictions on both sides of the question,” Wilson said. “Most were not administrators. Many came from the North American Division. There were two representatives from each division. Biblical Research committees from each division who entered their thoughts into the process.” Wilson closed by foreshadowing what would be forthcoming: a recommendation from the General Conference and Division Officers (GCDO) for a question to be placed before the delegates at the GC session. Wilson pointedly said that the recommendation from GCDO was approved with no dissent. The rational for the GCDO action, he said, was that the church has discussed this issue for a long time without coming to consensus. “The GC session owns this question. We do not have the urim and thummim to ask the question of God directly, no cloud or pillar of fire, no living prophet. What we do have is what the Spirit of Prophecy indicates. When the General Conference is in session, it has authority, and in some places it is indicated higher authority.”

Artur Stele, the chair of the TOSC, described the committee with a somewhat different emphasis than Wilson. Citing the terms of reference for the committee, Stele made a point of the international nature of the membership with representatives from each division as well as international background for many of the delegates from the North American Division plus the work done by the Biblical Research committees in each Division that produced material to be submitted to TOSC. “It was really an international study process,” Stele said.

As he transitioned to an introduction of the Theology of Ordination Statement that eventually was approved by TOSC, he noted the significance of the differences on the committee, saying that he thought they would never come to consensus even on the general statement on ordination. “I will never forget it. One lady came to the mic and said, ‘I still believe that we are close to a consensus statement. Let us work this evening. And we will be able to come to consensus.’ Thank God for this lady. This is what we did. It was a miracle. About 92% agreed.”

The statement on the theology of ordination was then read and agreed upon by a similar percentage in the room. The vote was 275 yes, and 11 no.

Next, the TOSC reports on the ordination of women were summarized. Stele said the committee began with two contrasting groups that drafted papers and debated the topic. At the end of their sessions with the impossibility of consensus becoming a reality, a third group emerged. “Although all three groups agree and support all of our 28 fundamental beliefs, we couldn’t reach consensus. This tells us that we have a great assignment to find a way forward. I think we have found the right way forward. We can’t say that we need more time for study, for having an eternal TOSC. When Jesus comes we would still be looking for a final report.”

Biblical Research Institute Associate Director Clinton Wahlen gave the presentation on Position 1 supporting headship theology. “This is a theological issue and not just a practical matter,” he said. Can women be gospel ministers? No women were ever given a priestly role in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, no woman was an apostle overseeing the church, Wahlen said. Jesus ordained twelve apostles of the church and they were all men. The leadership in the early Christian Church was open to Gentiles, but never opened to women. If women can work in full time ministry, why not ordain them? He answered his question by saying, “It’s not ours to give as we see fit. God said it is to be a husband of one wife.”

In his presentation on Position 2, Walla Walla University Professor of Biblical Studies Carl Cosaert told the audience that over the years his views have changed, but not from backing away from Scripture. He maintained that a plain reading of Scripture supports women’s ordination and is consistent with the Spirit of Prophecy. “Created before does not mean domination over,” he said. “To argue that what was created first is superior would be to argue that birds and animals were superior to humans because they were created first.” Paul forbids the women from speaking in 1 Timothy, not because they are women, but they were part of false teachings. Reading the whole chapter shows how the women were spreading false teachings. Cosaert noted that the “husband of one wife” text is no prohibitive of women than it is of singles.

Andrews University Professor of Church History Nicholas Miller gave the presentation of Position 3, which is based on making a distinction between universal moral commands and divine ideals. He said God can work with a plan B. Miller’s “Moderate Proposal” suggests that the Session should vote to: re-affirm a male ministerial leadership model, but allow exceptions where Divisions, Unions, and Conferences, in consultation, agree that mission will significantly be impacted, and have a conscience clause for territories that believe differently.

A vote was taken to receive the report from TOSC, but there was no discussion of the options that were presented.

Finally, it was time to present the three page statement and question that had been alluded to for several days coming out of the General Conference and Division Officers meetings as they considered how to take the issue of women’s ordination to the General Conference session. Secretary GT Ng read the document aloud.

After a three page framing of the history of women’s ordination, the document concludes by saying, “Therefore the General Conference Executive Committee requests delegates in their sacred responsibility to God at the 2015 General Conference Session to respond to the following question: After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; After your careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission, 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? Yes or No.”

Read the full text of the document.

Session Chair Ryan paused the action to make a point. “Some feel we have come today to discuss the question of women’s ordination. The business of what we have come to today, is what is the question going to be to put forward to the General Conference? We are not trying to answer the question. We have already agreed that the answer belongs to the GC session. We will ask for a vote on this question that will be placed before the body. When we vote yes, it does not mean that we are taking a position from the past. This is the question that we take. 1. That is not secret. 2. That is transparent.”

It was 3:25 pm when the floor was finally open to discussion. Pacific Union Conference President Ricardo Graham had the first question. “Is the one option to discuss today the question to put before the General Conference session?” The answer was yes.

Columbia Union Conference President Dave Weigley rose to amend the motion and turn it into a statement rather than a question. He said the Annual Council should show leadership to the GC Session by taking a specific position. Ryan called the amendment hostile to the motion and disallowed it, and was supported by the parliamentarian.

General Conference Archivist David Trim also tried to amend the motion by inserting language reflected in Option 3. His amendment was defeated.

Ryan said he had a small suggestion that division presidents or officers speak. “It would be good for those voices to be heard.

Former General Conference President Jan Paulsen said that one of the regrets that he has is that he was not able to take this issue to the GC session before. “Fix this one,” he pleaded. “We cannot come back from San Antonio as we are today. The younger half of our family can’t understand why this is a problem for the church. For them, it is also an ethical and moral issue. We lose too many of them if we don’t fix this. Please we don’t have time beyond San Antonio. Fix this.”

Applause honored his statement, but received gentle chiding from the chair.

Inter-American Division President Israel Leito stood to support the motion, but also suggested that the issue should be dealt with at a level closer to where it is useful. “The GC doesn’t decide on the most important thing—membership—it is dealt with at the local church. The GC has said that each division can put a supplement into the church manual. We will stand together. I am not afraid of letting a lower body make this decision.”

General Conference Vice President Lowell Cooper spoke in support of the motion, but said he was personally disappointed that in the historical section there was no mention of a decision of Annual Council to allow for women pastoral associates. “It is a bit problematic,” he said. “Perhaps that can be addressed at the session.” As he spoke, another ah ha moment occurred. Yes, why hadn’t information about women pastors been included?

Ryan noted that there were 16 people at the microphones and time was becoming a factor. I would hope that we would not have more come to the microphones.”

Henry Fordham stood in opposition to the motion, because of his support of women in the seminary. They trust that there will be a time when they are not treated as second class citizens. Some of the best minds in the church are in this room, but we don’t have the courage to make a decision. With these great minds here, why do we continue to kick the can down the road?

At 5: 38 the delegates voted 243 yes to 44 no with 3 abstaining.

Wilson expressed his thanks for the gracious spirit in the room, repeated a quote from Testimonies volume 2 about the church being the most precious thing in God’s eye. The final prayer for the day was said.

Given that the wording for the General Conference session is in the form of a question, there are those who see it as a positive way to move forward, and those who don’t. It is similar to the request that went to the session from the North American Division in 1995, only now it is the GCDO that is posing the question. Will that make a difference? While important points were made in the short three minute speeches of delegates, there was no way for any of their ideas to go anywhere, because in the day that was supposedly devoted to discussion of women’s ordination, there really was only discussion of what the General Conference and Division Officers had done. To propose any other way forward would have required voting down the GCOD proposal at the end of a very long day. Somehow the way forward seems like a return to the place from whence we’ve come.

Photo courtesy Viviene Martinelli / Adventist News Network

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Nice summary, Bonnie. And I agree with your analysis that it basically ends where we began 25 years ago, with the same question asked in the 1990 session. Since that time, the church has only grown bigger in the more conservative parts of the world. It is hard to see how the question will come out any differently, absent some remarkable events. (Which, as a believer in miracles, I accept can happen.) I think the disappointing aspect is that it is almost as though TOSC, with all its time, effort, and money, never really happened. The reality is, though, that we have a new context, with an already existing split, and a biblically conservative justification in group 3 for choosing to live with the differences. That was the real mandate of TOSC, which has been largely overlooked, that a super majority agree that a conservative biblical reading of gender roles still allows for the variance that group 2 is calling for. Hopefully the GC delegates will be fully educated on the three positions before they come to San Antonio next summer, and can see these things clearly.


Great job Bonnie. Thanks for your dedication and effort.


What mystifies me is all of the time and resources our denomination puts into training theologians, only to kick the majority of them to the curb. It’s not that we couldn’t reach a theological consensus. A vast majority of our theologians see this very clearly. It’s that a minority of dissenting scholars and vocal others were brought in and given equal weight, making consensus impossible.


The majority of scholars were well aware from the beginning that this was not, in any sense, a theological issue but a cultural one. It is now called an “ecclesiastical issue” because leadership has decided it must be decided ecclesiastically. Unwilling to say forthrightly from the outset to the world church that ordination, as we practice it, is not a concern in the New Testament, and that each division should do what it believes will further the work of the gospel, we have reaped a whirlwind of avoidable contentiousness and division.

How could there have been a “rebellion” against that? Easy: church leadership has never been willing to tackle the fact that most Adventists baptized in the West as well as in emerging areas are not given the tools to read the Bible with any insight into its cultural and historical context. We have not helped our members understand that without such insight we cannot helpfully resolve any cultural or ethical differences in our community. My comments are based on numerous conversations with General Conference leaders over the decades, not on my impression of what has happened.


In fact Ellen White DOUBTED that the General Conference could speak for God, remarking in 1899 that it “has been some years since I have considered the General Conference as the voice of God.” It is true that earlier she had said that the General Conference is God’s “highest authority” on earth. But her comments (as I first learned from Bert Haloviak) range from this latter, which was written in 1875 and appears in Testimonies to the Church, vol. 3, page 492, to the thought that regarding the General Conference as “the voice of God” is “almost blasphemy,” in MS 37, 1901, April 1, 1901. (The comment against the General Conference as “the voice of God” appears in the 1899 GC Bulletin, 74.)

Why do Elder Wilson’s advisors, including the scholars at BRI, permit him to disseminate misleading information about Ellen White and General Conference authority?

The GC does not “own” the issue at stake here, any more than the Roman Catholic Magisterium may own it. WE own it–the whole body of Christ—and the conversation must go on. That is why, at this point in our history, a vote in favor of divisional responsibility would be helpful. It would be a way of incarnating, today, the Gamaliel point of view: let’s see how this works out. That would be a nice, if rare, nod toward the New Testament as a resource for understanding organization authority.

A no vote—meant to shut down the controversy—would be disastrous, not just for attempting (no doubt futilely) to close off conversation, but also for seeming to accept a misleading view of General Conference authority. (Under our system of governance, the General Conference DOES, I hasten to add, have authority, but it’s an authority that can easily be abused.)

We must get past what appears to be willful obliviousness on these matters.



Moral leadership means doing what is right, regardless if it is messy or not. It does seem that real leadership would have been to promote an idea that is consistent with ideals of fairness, dignity of all humans regardless of gender and the worth of each person. Just imagine the soaring heights we can reach if we empower people to follow their gifts. This is not a theological or ecclesiastical issue, it is a human dignity issue.


One obvious similarity between the bible and the SDA’s version of SOP (EGW’s books and compilations) is that both can be used as it is deemed to pursue one’s agenda. Eventually, it resorts back to our character. Certainly, if TW and his cohorts are misleading the church by being less than honest when using the SOP, he/they should be held responsible and should be impeached from their offices.

Does the SDA church have provisions to impeach officers? If not, those officers should voluntarily resign. How do they sleep at night?


I think I like Jan. Here’s on the right track:

  • I’m not that young and I can’t understand why this is even being discussed anymore.
  • My dad is really not that young and he left the church over this sort of “nonsense” (he uses a different word.)
  • My kids, in high school, are frustrated and confused at the mention of this topic, and they wonder out loud if there is something wrong with our church. They see better examples at their friends’ churches.
  • Some church bureaucrat blocked our female pastor, who gave my daughter her baptismal lessons, from baptizing her. And at the last minute. HUGE disappointment. She is still sad about it, four years later.
  • My cousin left our church because she wanted to be in the ministry. Now she’s an Anglican priest. That’s right, the Anglicans are more progressive than we are.
  • That this seems to be one of the big issues the church can’t get through suggests they’re not really dealing with actual big issues.

Looking at the minutes of the 1990 GC Session (here:, WO on pp 1039-40 ) one notices a stark similarity of the underlying reasonings of that motion then, and this one now. Both times the introduction to the motion points out that there is no consensus over whether the Bible permits or prohibits the ordination of women pastors. Basically, TOSC has confirmed what we already knew 24 years ago: there is no consensus for a Biblical mandate either way. (The 2014 motion actually quotes from the 1990 motion in it’s introduction.) But now at least everybody had a chance to be heard.
The main reason in 1990 not to ordain was to recognise “widespread lack of support” for women’s ordination, and to preserve the unity. However, the lack has dramatically decreased, but unity is still at risk.
Since there is no global consensus on whether the Bible allows or forbids women pastors to be ordained, the solution must be found elsewhere: we can no longer maintain a global ordination concept. The fear that church unity is tied to such a concept should have been addressed already, and definitely needs to be addressed before next year’s GC Session. Otherwise, the fog of futile Bible text battles will hide the real issue from those who will vote on this next year.
At least while the Division Officers 25 years ago voted to recommend denying women ordination, now they have advanced to merely presenting a question.


I have experienced uncomfortable ah ha moments listening and reading the absurdities urged by Clinton Wahlen. One would think that during his speech in which he argues that the male gender of the 12 disciples possesses relevance, a germ of a realization might have fluttered in his mind that Christ calls everyone, male and female, to be His disciples. Matt. 28:16-20. And Dr. Wahlen apparently has never understood that the typological fulfillment of the exclusively-male OT priesthood is not an exclusively-male pastorate but Christ ministering in the heavenly sanctuary.

I recognize that not everyone has a mind for theology. And having a mind for theology is not quite the same thing as having a mind for hermeneutics. But the Associate Director of Biblical Research Institute should have some understanding of what sanctuary typology is. Because sanctuary types are abolished at the Cross, they do not possess post-Cross evidentiary or precedential value. It is not permissible to adulterate, denude, and dilute the linkage between types and antitypes by arguing that types function in other myriad ways. If Dr. Wahlen is correct that the OT priesthood argues in favor of an exclusively male pastorate, then the hermeneutic of sanctuary typology is broken and there is no doctrine of the sanctuary, no 1844, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a joke.

Dr. Wahlen is reportedly the one who wrote the BRI smear of The Record Keeper, evidencing that interpretation of a film series is beyond his capabilities. And he is one of the male headship theorists, the writings of whom I discuss in my recent essay, who is not even competent enough to interpret a simple Ellen White quotation. You will recall that he along with the other male headship theorists I reference argue that the quotation teaches that women are assigned a sphere between the sphere of men and the sphere of animals. He along with the other male headship theorists extrapolate from the story of Adam and Eve that the characteristics God has endowed in women are so inferior to the characteristics placed in men that women cannot differentiate between right and wrong without the leadership and protection of men. Accordingly, because ordination functions as a gatekeeping mechanism designed to protect the church from false teachings, women cannot be ordained. I have a hard time believing that such weird analysis urged by Dr. Wahlen and his like-minded colleagues could obtain a passing grade in a school of divinity.

My comment may seem overly emotional, because it probably is, but please understand this: I am shell-shocked by what I have observed.


WO is both an ecclesiastical and cultural issue. Ecclesiastical because Biblical hermeneutics require that ordination in question be limited to males, cultural since it has been the incessant cry of the pros that there must be equality. This latter assertion is right out of the feminist playbook to which so many have given assent and the concept has no rational relationship to WO. It appears that absent from the reasoning of many is the fact that equality and function are diverse concepts which the feminist cabal does not accept.

It will certainly be interesting to see the politicking that will follow this Annual Council. The jockeying for position will be very significant I have no doubt. In my view the so called third position was a contradiction in terms. Unanswered is the burning question: Whatever the decision will it split the church?

Followed you at Twitter during AC14. Welcome to Spectrum.


Let me preface this post by indicating that I don’t care if all male pastors and conference officials are replaced by women.

This post is focused on the “ah ha” reactions.

From the beginning of the article…

“There were some ah ha moments in the Annual Council deliberation on how to handle women’s ordination on Tuesday. One ah ha came early, during the morning devotional by Dr. Peter Landless as he described Jesus encounter with the woman at the well. “The woman proved to be a more effective missionary than Jesus’ disciples,” Landless said, and an audible ahhh rose from the audience.”

  1. I wonder if Dr Landless mentioned if this sentence was a quote from EG White, Desire of Ages p 195. Did he quote any further sentences?
  2. The woman was witnessing to her own people. Would she be as willing to share Jesus’ words to the disciples/Jews?
  3. Do women have to have had at least 5 husbands to be this successful? Do they have to be a social outcast?
  4. This was an isolated one time event. Was she always more effective than all of the disciples?
  5. Is WO about women missionaries, evangelists and/or pastors?
  6. She seemed to be more effective without any formal or seminary training. Shall the SDA education system be reformed?
  7. She brought people to Jesus. Isn’t that different than women bringing to and keeping people in a contentious SDA church organization?

Superficial and simplistic reactions and conclusions come from those who are not like the Bereans and are used to hearing cut and paste proofs to satisfy and feed their confirmation bias.

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This writer does not know SDA history. Long before (70 years?) “feminism” ever became an issue, women serving in ministry and many of the men who served with them, recommended to the General Conference that they be “ordained.” This linking WO with feminism is a cheap shot that tries to make it sound “radical,” “arrogant,” “unreasonable.” It is none of these, and much of feminism is not that way either. Lastly, Biblical hermeneutics in no way requires that ordination be limited to males, unless one’s hermeneutics is simply “reading a text or two” and not bothering to “dig” below the surface.


WO, Evolution, LGBT are the issues for those of the world.

The institutional weaknesses that generates and promotes these hot potato issues are poor teaching approaches/old wine skin methods of SS teachers and pastors.

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It was a cultural issue in OT times, in Jesus’ day, and it is in our world today. Either the church leader has ignored this or convinced himself otherwise.


I don’t think it will split the church because those who believe there is a “feminist cabal” behind the idea of equal dignity of women and their work will quickly fade away into obsolescence.


The obvious result would be that those who are disappointed once again after many years that WO is still uncertain will not stick around hoping things will get better and finally reason that there is no benefit from being part of such an outdated church and walk away; much easier than getting older waiting for equality with a church that is reluctant to believe in the equality of all God’s children. Thankfully,the SdA church neither owns nor speaks for God.

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On Tuesday proceedings has anyone noticed anything SUSPICIOUS about the OUT COME?

Did ANYONE notice that Only ONE Question was allowed to send to SA2015. That Question was regarding allowing Divisions to determine the Use of Women in their territories.

Did ANYONE Notice?? That President Wilson’s Administration DID NOT ALLOW a Second Question to be sent to SA2015. Allowing the World Body to Vote for WO across the board at the World General Conference Level instead of stopping at just the Division Level. A YES on this Question would open the doors to having a Woman General Conference President. President Wilson’s Cabinet is obstructing this Question to be presented to the World Body at this time.
As in A Man For All Seasons, like Henry VIII, President Wilson is behind the curtain. If he cant kill WO, he will certainly attempt to keep it in prison in solitary confinement for at least 5 more years.