General Conference Says Unions Exercise "Delegated Authority" on Ordination

Wednesday, August 19, the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee will meet to discuss women’s ordination within its territory. The meeting follows two previous actions, as noted in the Gleaner, the official publication of the North Pacific Union Conference:

North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) members have expressed varying concerns regarding the NPUC stance on the ordination of women following the action taken at the recent General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas. Here are several facts that impact the current NPUC position and any future plan of action. The most recent vote by the NPUC executive committee on this topic was on Nov. 12, 2014, with a decision to “schedule a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination to convene within 120 days after the fall 2015 North American Division Year-end meetings.”

(An NPUC Constituency Session on Nov. 14 included the passage of a motion to inform and educate Northwest members of the rationale toward biblical church leadership without regard to gender, engage and encourage constituents in structured conversation and discussion on women in ministry, and call a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination without regard to gender. -Ed)

-The Nov. 12 action was an amendment to an earlier executive committee vote in February 2013, which listed an earlier deadline for a constituency session. The amended action on Nov. 12 reflected a desire of the committee to allow the world church and North American Division (NAD) to process the topic first through work by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee and any subsequent General Conference session action.

-The General Conference voted on July 8 to reject the option of world divisions independently making provision for the ordination of women within their own territories. This action leaves the current process of approving credentials for both men and women pastors unchanged.

-NPUC leaders will seek to work in harmony with the world church and the NAD guidelines regarding women in ministry.

-The NPUC executive committee will review its position regarding ordination at the next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

-If the committee votes to affirm its Nov. 12 action, a special constituency session would be held separately from and in addition to the next regularly scheduled NPUC constituency session on Sept. 25, 2016.

NPUC administrators recognize the calling of God upon women in ministry. They also understand there are intense opinions on varying sides of the ordination discussion. They invite your prayerful input in preparation for the important executive committee action on Aug. 19. Comments sent to talk@gleanernow.com by noon on Aug. 18 will be forwarded unedited to NPUC executive committee members.

Following the Aug. 19 meeting, the Gleaner will issue a statement summarizing the committee’s action regarding the issue of ordination.

Tuesday, in advance of the meeting, NPUC President Elder Max Torkelsen received an email from General Conference President Elder Ted Wilson, via the North American Division president’s office. The email included a lengthy document prepared by the General Conference Secretariat, which has supervisory responsibility for the General Conference Working Policy (GC WP), entitled “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Brief Summary and Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation.”

The "Unions and Ordination" document argued forcefully unions' authority on ordination is meaningless, except as delegated from the General Conference:

The General Conference Secretariat document entitled “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation” is provided for clarification regarding the General Conference Working Policy (GC WP) B 05, no. 6 that “decisions regarding the ordination of ministers are entrusted to the union conference/mission.” Some have understood it to grant absolute authority to ordain to the gospel ministry whomever a union wishes. This is a misunderstanding both of the actual wording of the General Conference Working Policy and its specific intent.

GC WP B 05, no. 6 is not a specific policy on ordination but rather is given as an example of church structure. The authority it references is not absolute or inherent to each union but is delegated by the General Conference itself. This means that each union’s actions regarding ordination must be in accordance with those of the General Conference since it is the source of the authority.

The document went further, saying that unions' authority is not only delegated, but also limited. Unions, the document contends, do not have the ability to establish criteria for ordination. The arguments strike back against the assertions most thoroughly articulated by Gerry Chudleigh in his 2013 book, "Who Runs The Church?" Chudleigh's primary thesis is that

unions were created to act as firewalls between the GC and the conferences, making 'dictation' impossible because: 1. Each union had its own constitution and bylaws and was to be governed by its own constituency, and 2. The officers of each union were to be elected by their own union constituency, and therefore, could not be controlled, replaced or disciplined by the GC.

For Chudleigh, jurisdiction, autonomy, and constituencies are ideas bound up in one another. Unions' authority derives not from the General Conference, but from constituents. Power, Chudleigh argued, flows up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, not down.

What these opposing views on jurisdiction and authority seem to indicate is that when in San Antonio, the General Conference in Session voted not to assign responsibility for ordination to divisions (which function as administrative units of the General Conference), it left open the question of who runs the church, at least where ordination is concerned. The General Conference is making a vigorous case that it is the lone power broker in the Adventist Church. However, not all agree.

Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image credit: James Bokovoy / North American Division

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7036
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Wow, this is big! The GC has called the bluff. Gerry Chudleigh vs GC… No contest.

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No, This is the bluff. … the GC will try to coerce the UC’s into ceding it their powers. But the UC president’s don’t have the authority to cede power to the GC!

Follow the money, follow the constitutions, follow who can do what.

A person is an SdA if a local SdA congregation accepts them on their books. This is a business meeting decision, not a board decision. All members get to vote. They can not be forced to do any specific test. However a lot of congregations have ceded power to their Local Conference by giving the LC ownership of their buildings, and giving the LC their tithes so the LC can employee a pastor for them. The later is easily remedied. The former is to stop some group grabbing control of the local congregation’s assets. Ted Wilson and the GC have zero power over this, but the local conference does because it owns the building.

A local congregation is a SdA congregation if the local SdA Conference says they are - which is a decision reached by the delegates its constituent congregations send to its business meeting. Ted Wilson and the GC have zero power over this. The Union Conference has a little power over this - by offering more prestigious jobs to the Local Conference president and treasurer if they act appropriately - but it is a miniscular amount of power. The UC simply has almost no positions to offer.

That’s it. The UC subcontracts the GC to do things for it. In return the ONLY thing the GC offers a USA or European or Australian or New Zealand Union Conference is prestige. And, with the current behavior of the GC, being blessed by it is rapidly loosing its appeal.

The GC is bluffing. Its working policy documents control the GC’s behavior, not the UC’s behavior.

It is time the UC’s told the GC exactly where to go.

Please be sure that your remarks show respect for people and ideas, whether you agree with them or not. -Moderator

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Misdirected Vision - When churches lose their first love for God, they become overly obsessed with behavioral purity and institutional preservation–which is why the Jewish leaders eventually killed Jesus! When a church becomes "leadership-centric,"as opposed to “Christ-centric,” it places more emphasis on matters of self-governance and policy than on the original vision of its founders. When there is a loss of vision and mission, matters of ecclesiastical authority and conformity become the primary talking points.

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from what i can see, this unavoidable confrontation between the general conference and unions over women’s ordination is where there may be real danger for a split in our church if things aren’t handled wisely…this opening salvo between npuc and gc is likely merely the beginning…there are strong, widespread reservations against the no-vote in san antonio that haven’t healed, or resolved…i truly hope ted wilson understands that there is such a thing as believing in something so strongly that legitimate, opposing views are not properly understood or calculated correctly…the reality is that all our biblical authorities have indicated that male headship is not clear biblical doctrine…in my view, it would be foolish to push things to a breaking point under these circumstances…

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It is a very sad day when the President and the Vice-Presidents and other officers of the General Conference have Voted among themselves to cause a fight in the Church. To Declare and Go to war with the Unions. A State of Siege in the Church.
And this after the GC SA2015 when there was a call to be United in the giving of the Gospel to the world.

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This development is consistent with everything that has come before, and it does not represent any change. President Wilson has long held that Unions do not have the authority to ordain women when the GC has specifically not allowed it. The Unions that went ahead with ordaining women anyway did so knowing that this was President Wilson’s position (President Wilson made his case very passionately and directly at the Pacific Union meetings). The document titled: “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry: Brief Summary and Comprehensive Working Policy Explanation" is simply re-stating President Wilson’s position. Nothing new here.

Someone above commented that the “Working Policy Explanation” is the GC calling a supposed bluff by the Unions, but I think this has it the wrong way around. It is the GC, not the Union Conferences, which has made representations that may or may not be a bluff (essentially, there it will attempt to punish Unions that authorize ordination without regard to gender). It will be up to Union Conferences, not the GC, to test this claim, and see if it is a bluff. When Adventist leaders of conscience and courage authorize the ordination of women in the shadow of San Antonio, we will see if President Wilson really intends on taking punitive action, and if so, what kind.

When President Wilson preached at PUC last month he did reference the image of “The Shaking”, and there are lots of very conservative Adventists who are actively hoping that this conflict will begin the process of identifying the “True Believers” - perhaps that showdown is where we are headed. I hope and pray that President Wilson has been bluffing, and that this need not result in any profound organizational schism, and cooler and wiser heads find a way for us to communion together even when we disagree on important matters.

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Wasn’t the conciseness and clarity regarding official ordination policies within the GCWP a no-brainer, despite Chudleigh’s valiant but misguided contortions? Well, today the General Conference just made plain what was for many an obvious outcome from Day One. And San Antonio simply sealed the deal. Now, may Elder Wilson’s tribe be gracious throughout!

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I was hoping that this issue would not reach this point, but I was not very hopeful. Well, here it is. The GC is saying in no uncertain terms that women MAY NOT be ordained to the gospel ministry, period. This is such a bad decision that I can hardly bring myself to think about it. If the shaking is here, as Ted Wilson seems to keep saying that it is, then who is being shaken out in the process?

What remains to be seen is what the practical result of pushing this policy will have on the church. Does the GC actually have a planned response in the case of Unions that persist in ordaining women to the ministry? If they do, and it involves serious consequences of some sort, such as removal of a Union from church structure, and reorganizing a new one, then I see no way that this will not seriously damage the SDA church. Those who will be shaken will be those that remain, as those with consciences’ that will not allow them to remain connected with an organization that would practice hiring policy in such a sexist manner may well decide to leave the organization. This will likely include a large number of intellectuals and young people who have strong convictions about this issue.

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There are many reasons why I find the GC’s legal argument to be weak and unpersuasive:

  1. The GC’s legal argument is not substantially different or stronger than what the GC offered for consideration to Pacific Union Conference and Columbia Union Conference.
  2. There have been two adjudications in the NAD regarding the right of unions to ordain women, and in both adjudications the Pacific Union Conference and Columbia Union Conference considered and rejected as unpersuasive the GC’s legal argument.
  3. The GC’s legal argument is steeped in an empty formalism that is not sufficiently mindful of Stare Decisis; the reality that women have been ordained in NAD unions, in China, and in various unions in Europe is not addressed. More important, the reality that those ordinations of women have not been rescinded or disturbed in any way is not addressed. All of those ordinations of women, which have stood the test of time, are compelling precedents that stand in opposition to the GC’s legal argument.
  4. The GC does not discuss the draconian consequences that necessarily result if unions do not have the right to ordain women. Women would be stripped of their ordinations, pastorates, and offices if the GC’s legal argument were to prevail as Seventh-day Adventist Church law. Because such draconian consequences are unthinkable, as evidenced by the GC’s refusal to offer one word of contemplation about them, the argument urged by the GC is impractical, injurious, and divisive.
  5. The GC’s legal argument misconstrues and misrepresents the 1990 and 2015 GC session votes regarding women’s ordination. Those votes were not policy votes that prohibit unions from ordaining women.
  6. The GC’s legal argument does not sufficiently engage Gerry Chudleigh’s excellent work that chronicles the importance of unions in the ecclesiastical structure of the Church.
  7. The GC’s legal argument is theologically incoherent. It is well-settled Church law that women can be ordained as elders. Because ordination of an elder is theologically indistinguishable from ordination of a minister, acceptance of the GC’s legal argument would result in theological incoherence and inconsistency. The Church should be spared such embarrassment. It is important also to note that male headship theory, upon which opposition to women’s ordination is based, was soundly repudiated in the revisions to the fundamental beliefs.

Ironically, the GC has an institutional imperative to argue for the most expansive understanding possible of its authority. I do not fault the GC for going through the motions of presenting a legal argument. But the unions also have an institutional imperative to similarly argue for the most expansive understanding possible of their authority. In a Separation of Powers context, adjudications of disagreement are political, not judicial. A consensus eventually develops regarding where authority lies. I make no recommendation whether or not North Pacific Union Conference should vote to implement women’s ordination. But I strongly urge that North Pacific Union Conference assert its ecclesiastical authority to make that decision on the merits. In my opinion, failure to do so would contribute to a weakening of unions and cause significant injury to the Church’s ecclesiastical governance structure.

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This is so good!! Thanks GC!! The vote was taken and the unions need to just abide by it!! Like it was mentioned earlier Ted Wilson pleaded with PU to wait, but they insisted on going ahead. It is their fault they are in this mess. What are they going to do about their women “pastors”?.

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The apocalyptic vision generally accepted as the end-time scenario by the Seventh-day Adventist church, includes the building of an “image to the beast,” with the beast being the papacy. In that scenario, Adventists have regarded the forcing of conscience as an identifying mark of “the beast.”

What I find most startling is that, from the highest levels of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there seems to be a concerted effort to build a symbolic “image to the beast,” both in structure and the exercise of authority to force compliance of conscience.

Our church governance was purposely designed to be very different from the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, our forefathers were so afraid of the abuses that come with such a structure that they, at first, wanted to avoid structure altogether. When it became obvious that some kind of governance was necessary, they designed a structure in which authority rested in a Spirit-led membership, the idea being that, when members are led by the Spirit, the mind of the Spirit is met by the vote of the membership.

Of necessity, some of this authority of the membership was delegated to elected leadership of churches and conferences. However, it became apparent that the elected leaders at the GC level had an alarming tendency to exercise “kingly power” (Ellen White’s words). Perhaps they saw their authority derived from the GC in session, which Ellen White several times declared to be like the voice of God on earth?

At any rate, Ellen White saw this tendency to “kingly power” as a problem. Thus she strongly encouraged the formation of local unions with a constituency that would elect its own leaders - leaders more familiar with the local situation than the world-wide leadership. The unions would derive their authority from their local constituency, and this would prevent the GC executive from exercising undue authority over them.

I believe that Gerry Chudleigh was “right on” when he wrote that “unions were created to act as firewalls between the GC and the conferences, making ‘dictation’ impossible because: 1. Each union had its own constitution and bylaws and was to be governed by its own constituency, and 2. The officers of each union were to be elected by their own union constituency, and therefore, could not be controlled, replaced or disciplined by the GC.”

We need that kind of firewall if we are not to become something very much like an “image to the beast” which would have made our pioneers blanch in apprehension.

But this two-pronged attack by our current GC President and his Secretariat seems to me to be unprecedented in its boldness to exercise authority and force the conscience of members of the unions. I believe that if we are to maintain our current system of governance as well as liberty of conscience, it is imperative that our unions stand firm to defend the authority of their constituency to make decisions in harmony with their collective conscience.

May God grant the leadership of the NPUC both courage and wisdom to stand firm in this crisis.

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It could be, the GC is going for an incremental approach. They could institute the working policy without necessarily enforcing it on those currently ordained. And use the pressure to prevent new women being ordained.

Now, the rub. As you rightly point out, a precedent has been set. The unions may muster some courage and call the GC’s bluff and carry on ordaining based on this precedent. But then the GC would be forced into action.

In my opinion, it would take the unity of like minded unions to work together , to repell the power grab of the GC. By doing this, they could use their combined financial strength to force the GC to reconsider.

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The GC document about Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry sounds for all the world like our friend Kevin Paulson!! Of course, I can’t know this for certain!! @kevindpaulson

I am convinced that the best forum for “civil disobedience” does not lie in Union Executive Committees whereever they be, and in Union Constituency meetings but in the Annual Council itself. The GC Executive Committee in full session is populated by many church leaders who should be relied on to speak truth to power. Many GC VP’s remain in favour of WO. Jan Paulsen does. Many Division leaders do and a host of Union Presidents do as well. It seems likely that Pardon Mwansa got rolled as a VP because of his stance on WO and on other matters, whereas Delbert Baker’s ambition may have defeated him.

The Annual Council as the only body that really creates and adjusts GC working policy should read the riot act to the highest level of GC leadership. They should bluntly let it be known that the present position in regard to women and ordination is untenable and unsustainable as it seeks to bind the conscience .

The WO issue will probably never return to a GC Session. The option of having Divisions decide the matter for their own fields will more than likely never be floated again in any forum. This idea has been rejected for various reason. Many votes were cast against this option because of theological objections. Some may have had absolute theological convictions that ran counter to this option. Yet I am convinced that many cast a ‘NO’ vote because they genuinely believed that the maintenance of a ‘global clergy class’ would be impossible with each Division deciding the issue. (And thus to modify such a model of ordination and for all practical purposes hand the decision making to the Unions would likely be even more sternly resisted).

The mechanics of how the vision of a ‘global clergy class’ could be maintained was not spelled out in a convincing manner on the Session Floor. Neither were such explanations called for.

Taking into account the above facts, I believe that the most helpful way to progress the gender inclusive vision of seeking God’s blessing and consecration on leaders of both genders may well involve the following steps:

  1. In the manner of the Apostle Paul who withstood Peter to his face, many of the leaders at the Annual Council need to spontaneously rise up and emphasis that our present circumstances are untenable and unsustaiunable.
  2. If diverse practices for the creation of a “global Clergy class” are not acceptable across the world field, then an alternative scheme for the creation of church leaderships and the rites pertained thereto needs to be developed.

I favour a scheme whereby Adventist leaders are blessed, consecrated and publicly affirmed in every new location and for every new role they undertake. We need not necessarily call this ordination. In such a scheme one’s credientials would not be immediately and globally transferable. However, this would not prevent immediate respect being accorded such individuals wherever and whenever they travelled.

NPUC Executive should think very carefully before committing themselves to going down the dead end street that the PUC and the CUC have already gone down.

Adventists globally can yet create a more biblical and a more satisfying theology of leadership and of appointment to leadership. Yet it seems that many people are settling for a mere modification of an ancient and outdated paradigm of ordination. In doing this, we are selling ourselves short.

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a man who removes the salt shakers is not one to fool with. Five more years of micro management will lead to a micro institution. Tom Z

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Not sure if my comment is off the topic of discussion and if it goes against the new commenting policy. If it does, please pardon me. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a global church but it seems NAD gets all the attention (the good, the bad and the ugly alike). Maybe it’s because the GC is stationed in the United States so they consider the actions of conferences and unions within the NAD territories as a direct affront to their authority when they are against the world church policy.

Most of the conferences have blatantly refused to ordain deaconesses in my part of the world and I don’t know if that does not fall under “the-so-called rebellion”. However, our elders and pastors are always first in pointing fingers at unions who against the world church policy go ahead to ordain women pastors in other parts of the world.

Personally, I hope all unions abide by the GC Session vote. But I have reservations with the silence of the GC when our unions and conferences’s practices are at variance with the world church policy. My biggest concern though is when our leaders here, speak of this “rebellion” as wrong. Hmm! Someone please remind me of what the definition of hypocrisy is again. I’m at a complete loss.

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The bluff being called is the GC on their “kingly power” mindset that Unions were created to dispell. Church structuring and how it inter relates is going to be the BIG issue the next five years. Indeed, not done wisely by the leadership a schism becomes more likely. Tread carefully and on the knees all administrations from GC and Unions.

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Peter, I didn’t write the General Conference Working Policy. I don’t know how many times in these discussions I have cited the evidence from the Working Policy regarding the General Conference having ultimate authority regarding ordination, just as the General Conference-authorized Church Manual has ultimate authority regarding the acceptance and discipline of local members. Perhaps now, with this clarification from the church’s highest leaders, certain folks will start to pay attention.

Actually, Dr. Ng made this point clear in San Antonio during the ordination debate, when he was asked by a delegate regarding the authority of the Unions relative to the General Conference on this question. Dr. Ng was clear, in replying to what was asked, that the Unions are obligated to adhere to what is voted at a General Conference session.

Just as the local congregation is the body authorized to deal with issues regarding local membership, so the Unions are the bodies authorized to deal with ordination. But just as the Church Manual forbids local congregations to craft their own rules regarding membership, but in fact admonishes them to adhere to what the GC votes in session (see Church Manual, 2010 edition, p. 63), so the General Conference Working Policy is clear that ordination to the gospel ministry is gender-specific (2013-2014 edition, p. 113).

I urge all to consult the article I prepared on this subject sometime ago, which was published on OrdinationTruth in 2013. The link to this article is below:

http://ordinationtruth.com/featured/church-policy-church-unity-and-womens-ordination/

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The attempted concentration of power to the GC to give all authority to them is immoral, unethical, and unBiblical.

If previously ordained women were wreaking havoc, running members out, not baptizing or growing the church by the millions around the world, perhaps the GC would have evidence on their side.

To the contrary, geographic unions have aligned with the Biblical philosophy that where there is need, the Holy Spirit provides and blesses whom He will to move ahead the Gospel of Jesus. Jew or Gentile. Male or Female.

For the GC to attempt to STOP/END/CANCEL both the rights of the people in unions to decide and the blessings upon women to serve is definitely a sign that the Church is more interested in power than in moving forward the Gospel to every nation, creature, and individual under heaven. A “mission-focused” church would empower every voice to expand the Gospel to every territory and continent.

Why not facilitate every eligible qualified voice, affirmed and authorized to preach? To be stuck on gender is backwards, Medieval, flies in the face of the Priesthood of ALL Believers.

GC legal experts are hired to prop up those in office. What else would we expect in an encyclical from Headquarters?

God will have the last word. Let those who are ordained continue to preach the powerful Word of God, unencumbered and may their ranks increase as the day approaches like no other, when God shall call all to account for their actions.

Praying that Unions continue to follow their consciences, the Holy Spirit, and the voices of the people in their areas.

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