Injustice: The Struggle for Equality for Female Pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church

I would first like to begin this article by stating that this is not a theological presentation on the question “does the Bible affirm or substantiate the role of women pastors?” I understand that our Church is torn on this topic, and I do not seek to refute opposing theological ideas. Considering the fact that I am a female pastor, it is no secret where I stand on the matter.

I am writing this article to address the Church’s stance on women’s ordination, its treatment of female clergy, and the inconsistencies displayed in its policies. Though the Church is torn on the topic of female pastoral leadership, in September 1985 at the General Conference (GC) Session, it voted and allowed women to be pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Although there were women serving as pastors before the vote, as a result of the vote, more female pastors are being hired in the North American Division and in the global Seventh-day Adventist Church. There is also a large percentage of women attending the Seminary yearly. Currently, the largest church in the entire global Seventh-day Adventist Church is led by a female pastor. Additionally, one of the largest conferences in the North American Division in number and in tithe is led by a female pastor.

For the record, I commend the Church for allowing women to be a part of the gospel commission. I commend the church for recognizing that God’s spirit and gifts are also given to women. What I am denouncing, however, is the inconsistent, unjust, and immoral position that was taken at the 2015 GC Session. The GC’s decision to not allow Divisions to ordain female pastors is absolutely inconsistent, unjust, and immoral. It is inconsistent because the Church has allowed women to be ordained as elders, but won’t allow women to be ordained as pastors. Which in some ways is contradictory because theoretically an ordained female elder has more authority than a commissioned or licensed female pastor. It is immoral because it sends the message that although the General Conference allows women to pastor churches, women are not equal in function to their male counterparts.

Furthermore, it is unjust because there is no such thing as separate but equal. Women cannot receive separate credentials and still be considered equal. If the Church allows women to be pastors, the Church should also allow women to receive the same credentials as their male counterparts. Female pastors are receiving commissioning licenses simply because they have different anatomy than their male counterparts, and that is blatant discrimination. Female pastors are working the same hours as male pastors, female pastors are baptizing as many people as male pastors, female pastors are preaching with as much conviction as male pastors, and yet they are given different credentials. Moreover, female pastors receive the same Holy Spirit as male pastors. And, although we may receive the same pay as men, having separate credentials is still inequality. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “equality is not only a matter of mathematics and geometry, but it’s a matter of psychology. It’s not only a quantitative something but it’s a qualitative something; and it’s possible to have quantitative equality and qualitative inequality.”

Commissioning female pastors is a qualitative inequality; it is demeaning and disrespectful in nature. Commissioning female pastors not only affects the psyche of women pastors, but it also affects our upward mobility and how we are respected and viewed in our churches. Abstaining from ordaining female pastors technically-speaking does not give women the opportunity to assume leadership roles in certain higher governing bodies of our organization. This demonstrates the reality that within the Seventh-day Adventist organization, women can work for the denomination but they cannot serve as supervisors of the organization. In any other organization, this type of practice would be deemed as blatant injustice and discrimination.

Just a few months ago, Sandra Roberts who is the only female conference president in the entire global Seventh-day Adventist Church, recounted her experience. In a conversation about the non-compliance document voted at Annual Council, she shared her experience of having to be snuck into official meetings because, although she was voted president, she is not acknowledged by her superiors as a president. Unlike all male conference presidents, Sandra Roberts isn’t given a delegate badge at Annual Conference meetings, she isn’t allowed to speak at the mic, and she isn’t even listed in the official Adventist Yearbook as president.

Last year, a female colleague of mine shared her experience of how she was bombarded by a visitor. She stated that the visitor contacted her by phone and inquired if she was an ordained pastor. She replied that she was not. The visitor then went on to state that if she were ordained, she would not show up at her church because she shouldn’t be ordained. I have heard countless stories of discrimination from my female colleagues. There are some who had to call the police on parishioners for fear of safety, there are those who are consistently being stripped of their title and are being called by their first names. There are those who have been publicly disrespected, and the list goes on. It is my belief that commissioning perpetuates the discrimination of female pastors. It is my belief that the General Conference decision to not allow Divisions to ordain female pastors perpetuates the intolerance and disrespect that female pastors receive. This decision is not inconsequential; it has real time effects upon us female pastors. In all honesty, commissioning strips away the female pastor’s self-respect and sense of somebodiness.

As a female pastor, I believe it is my duty to break the barrier of silence and paralysis on the topic. My ultimate aim is not to defeat or to humiliate the General Conference and the Church, but to win an understanding of the unjust policy and practice against female pastors. As a Black woman, and as an immigrant, I am constantly fighting against injustices not only for myself, but for the people in my community who are experiencing the effects of an unjust system. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience sit idly by and wait for the injustice against women pastors to one day come to an end. History informs us that freedom is never voluntarily given to the oppressed, it is won with agitation and resistance. The GC should either ordain women pastors or not hire them at all, however, the latter will still exemplify injustice and discrimination.

Danielle Pilgrim, MDiv, is a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is currently serving as the associate pastor of the Atlanta Berean SDA Church.

Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9398
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Danielle,

Thanks for telling it exactly as it is–the ridiculous “differences” between commissioning and ordination. And for showing that the argument of “different roles” is ridiculous discrimination in the name of a false doctrine called “headship.”

Thank you for serving as associate pastor. Blessings!

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Excellent rebuttal, Have you consider the law? What combination that would be.

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Danielle,
It is time that the Southern Union, including the 2 “black” conferences to follow
Columbia Union and several others for “Pastoral Equality” as it has been the
Holy Spirit who has called to EMPLOYMENT of Both Men and Woman to preach
the Gospel – Christ Lived, Christ Died, Christ Arose, Christ is Ascended up on High
and sits at the right hand of God.

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Pastor Pilgrim, thank you for this honest evaluation of what is really going on in the Adventist church. It is criminal the way women have been treated. It hurts my heart to see spineless leaders not directly dealing with the discrimination. My prayers are with you and the hundreds of Spirit filled woman preachers.

Pastor J

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Pastor Pilgrim I wanted to voice my support for your having acted on the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry in spite of opposition and hardship that exists today. The enemy of souls has worked hard in our church to convince many that women are not called by the Holy Spirit and to actively work against those who accept His calling. It is ironic that the messenger of the Lord that God called to assist in the formation of our church was a women but now, in todays climate, would face even more opposition than she did 160 years ago. Go boldly about the Lords work and remember that He that chose you will guide and bless you, always.

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Pastor Pilgrim, it seems that if this issue could have been solved by argument alone, we would have ordained women a long time ago. I agree with your sentiments 100%, but I am left wondering if something more is needed–some action that is more drastic or more dramatic, perhaps, in order to catalyze change. Institutions are self-preserving and do not change until forced to do so. So what would it take to force the institution of the church to change? Years ago in the British Union, West Indian members sequestered their tithe in order to force a change in prejudicial policies. In the political realm, citizens voice their protest in walk-outs, marches and boycotts. If the current situation is immoral and an injustice, as you rightly say, why do so many members sit idly by? Where is the march on Silver Spring? Where are the public calls and petitions for a change in GC leadership in 2020? Why are male pastors not burning their ordination credentials and posting the ashes online? What concrete actions are sending the message: “enough is enough”? What does a stand for morality and justice look like in this case? Are we going to leave Jackson out there all alone in calling “hooey”? Or is it time that individual members and pastors band together and call leadership to account, as well?

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Great article and I am glad to see that you are standing up for what you believe. The church leaders occupying the offices in GC have the power to end this discrimination. Weak leadership is the issue in most of our church organizations. Pastor Pilgrim, Iet Freedom Ring. We are with you and all the women pastors. This too shall pass.

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This is what happens when the Bretheren stop following the instructions that are written in the word of “GOD”. Where-in it is written: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of “GOD”. Romans 12:2
It is so Amazing, how those that are for Women’s Ordination, failed to realize that there is no such thing as “Civil Rights” in the Kingdom of Heaven. …and yet at the same time! There is no one; that can name the Female that “GOD” raised up to “HIM” to be a Priest, either before the flood, or after the flood!
How does a Woman created for the MAN and named by the MAN that she was created for; become his overseer, and the overseer of the Bride of “JESUS CHRIST” (His Church)?
I would also like to know, how many people did Ellen G White Baptized, and how many Sanctuary Ordinances, did she oversee?

Three Times, Three Times, Women’s Ordination was voted down by The General Conference Sessions, 1990, 1995, and 2015!
But this Fake Lamb Like Spirit that have come in Disguise, continues to refuse to allow the Seventh-Day Adventist to Unite, and Comply with the decissions out of each Session, with the Delgates of Men and Women that have come Form all over the world, praying together under the auspices and the direction of the Holy Spirit, only to be Rejected by a Few because they can’t get their way!

But it is written Gentlmen, and somehow we have failed to take heed, to what is written: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of “GOD”: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
…and what the Adventist Church is expericing is the Evidence of the Holy Spirit Slowly being withdrawn from the earth Readying for the Second Coming of “JESUS CHRIST”

   Failing to realized; That You Can't Serve "GOD" Anyway You Want Too; and Expect To Survive The Second Coming Of "JESUS CHRIST"
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Careful with statements like this. They usually indicate a tendency for abusive behavior, making women a mere object “for the MAN.” There is a lot of domestic violence caused by this attitude.

Also, I would love you to produce the proof that WO was voted down in 2015. Have you read the question that was presented and voted down? It seems that you have NOT; but here you are, lecturing us with a completely fake statement. Please do your homework before coming to our faces with false information!

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It appears as if C.J. Hobbs believes that each time the GC vetoes something, God has spoken. Not always though. Those who are part of the GC in session are human beings with biases too. They are able to manipulate the voting process way before the session. For example, they can create more Union conferences from areas where they know they will get the desired vote. Sad but true. So calm down and stop calling people who differ with you names. It is against the letter and spirit of the law of Christ whom you claim to represent!

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The problem lies with an assumption that such is a generic injustice for all of the churches we have, and as such it should be the plight of all of the conversations independent of the local dynamics and ideology they hold.

I talk to women in our church, and to my surprise, none of the ones I talked to want a female pastor… even the ones I thought were as more progressive in their views. Some didn’t care if we had a female pastor, but it isn’t one of their burning desires to rectify that “injustice” in our church. It simply is a non-issue in a conservative or moderate church setting in which women embrace traditional responsibility split.

What would be your thoughts for churches such as ours, which seems to be a vast array of churches that have a majority view of the traditional gender roles in church? Are they wrong for preferring and perpetuating the “injustice” of not demanding women as pastors in their congregation?

Not sure if agitation and resistance is a way to go, especially if what you are after is status that somehow would spell out justice.

The reason why WO is a non-issue in our church, because we have a ton of more pressing problems to focus on, and that isn’t one of them. Not even in top 10.

I believe that it’s everyone’s right to choose what they want. If they prefer a male pastor, I don’;t see a problem with them attending a church where there is one. Likewise, those who are OK with a woman pastor have the right to do the same.

By the way I haven’t seen congregations “demanding women as pastors.” Those female pastors that I know were just chosen among several candidates interviewed based on their qualities not gender.

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I am not sure I am getting your idea on this. Care to explain?

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Prove It George! Show it to me!

I don’t have to “prove” anything to you! Why would I do that?

Can you read and understand English? If so, just read yourself what the vote was about and see it with your own eyes? Google it and you will find it easily. Start with something like, “Women ordination vote SDA San Antonio 2015.”

Or, https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/07/06/actual-significance-san-antonio-ordination-vote

Getting the real facts will help to stop parroting false information on the issue.

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I was there, George; and I heard the call. Did we
not come together in the spirit of belief that the
delegates had earnestly, been in prayer and was
under the “Auspices” of the “Holy Spirit” when they
came to the floor and voted for the third time, and in
agreement; did “vote” on the same Referendum
Against Women Ordination, and Female Pastors,
not to function in such a capacity, in any of the
Seventh-Day Adventist churches? Knowing full well
that such an office, for a “Female” is unfounded in
the scriptures of the word of “GOD”?
Was it not made clear that the vote taken was
by a margin of 1,381 to 977, with five abstentions,
Delegates by secret ballot ended a five-year process
characterized by vigorous and sometimes
“Acrimoniously” debate? George The General Conference Working POLICY is still in tact, as it were when the World Church" voted down “Women Ordination” in 1990! …and this is what it still says today:

  1. The authority referred to in GC WP B 05,
    no. 6 is a delegated authority, rather than an absolute one it was specifically granted to unions by the General Conference (GC) itself. This means that each union’s actions regarding ordination must be in accordance with those of the GC, since it is the source of the authority that a union has in this area. 2) This authority is not only delegated, but also limited. Unions have the power to select, from among candidates proposed by conferences who meet the criteria set by the World Church itself, those to be ordained.A3) Finally, the church’s policies and practice do not Permit Women To Be Ordained since the GC WP section called “Qualifications for Ordination to the Ministry” (L 35) only allows for Males To Be Ordained.
    However, when a Man decides to Go his own way, everything is as he sees it, and he becomes hard to reckon with! However, it is written in the word of “GOD” about Men who think and go their own way, leaning unto their own understanding! And it is written: There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverb 16:25
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You may be surprised to meet God when you get to Heaven, C.J., and She opens the gates. :sunglasses:

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We continue to see this play out constantly, as if a woman, whose body held the Son of God and taught Him his first words, has no business opening her mouth to teach the Gospel to anyone else. May God forgive our poor church that insists on shooting itself in the foot (and mouth).

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