Latin America Narrowly Supports Women’s Ordination

A recent survey was conducted in Spanish to Latin American Seventh-day Adventist Church members (English translation used for the benefit of this publication). Of the 542 participants, 52% are in favor of women’s ordination and 48% are not in favor. Furthermore, out of those who don’t favor women’s ordination, 20% are willing to allow other territories to do so which increases the overall favoritism. This voluntary survey clearly shows a different result than the GC 2015 vote of the Latin American leaders.

While the world church has been debating this issue for years and we mostly know only what the administration has voted, this survey was conducted to try to see if the view of the laymen, and perhaps some local pastors, could reflect the same sentiment or not. The result is in and I was personally surprised to see this unexpected result. I was prepared to explain a negative result but I guess I now have to change my analysis.

I recognize there are limitations in the validity and value of this survey, and I would welcome the General Conference in conducting a formal and scientific one for Latin America so that we can have one for the record. But in the meantime, let’s analyze several areas of research that I aimed to address that could have some influence on the final result.

First, I addressed the issues of women’s and men’s roles in the home. People were asked to organize from one to six in order of importance each listed role. We found that 79% think that taking care of children is either the woman’s number one or two most important role compared to only 48% for men. A big surprise was that only 7% think that domestic chores are most important for women compared to 4% for men, and they rated this the least important for both of them. Only 16% think that it is important for a woman to study, while only 11% think it important for men. 13% think that working outside of the home is important for a woman compared to 41% for men. A whopping 76% think that women should be a spiritual guide at home, compared to 87% who think that men should be the spiritual guide.

Results of this set of questions show a known pattern in Latin American culture: Women have the primary responsibility when it comes to taking care of children, and men ought to work outside of the home and be the spiritual guide. This is contrary to European and North American culture where these roles are treated more equally and commonly shared. “Equal opportunities for women and men is a contractual principle and therefore a condition for membership of the European Union.”[1]

The next question deals with women’s rights in general. The results are positively surprising. When asked about some basic rights the answers came out like this: Right to vote 100%, right to study 100%, right to equal level of employment 96%, right to equal pay 98%, and right to govern 89%. These results put Latin America at par with developed countries. Apparently, the patriarchal mentality is being left behind, at least when it comes to these basic rights. However, when it comes to women in the church the support is not as overwhelming as some would expect. We will see if some of the other issues dealt with in the rest of the questions have anything to do with it.

The following set of questions deal with the understanding of the General Conference’s authority. When asked if the General Conference has authority over local church membership, 65% responded incorrectly that they have either full or partial authority and only 34% of respondents are correct to answer that they have no authority.[2] Regarding church doctrine, 94% were right to answer that the GC has either full or partial authority. About 75% also think that the GC has full or partial authority over organizing churches, and only 24% were right to say that they don’t.

Regarding the Church Manual, 96% answered correctly that the GC has either full or partial authority. However, in regards to ministerial ordination 96% think that the GC has either full of partial authority though this is not true according to the 1901 church re-organization and governance.[3] Perhaps lack of understanding of who has authority in our system of governance is the main contributing factor to confusion and the power struggle in our church.

A slight majority of Latin Americans (54%) understand the concept of the representative model of our organization when they answered correctly to say the authority of the church is distributed at the different levels with barriers of total authority. However, almost one-third (31%) think that total authority resides with the General Conference while 15% don’t understand the system or are confused about it. That means 46% don’t understand the structure well. We could deduct based on the last two sets of authority and organization questions that due to the confusion of how the church authority is distributed, a culturally familiar vertical authoritative mode of government is being put in practice. Thus, church business is conducted under the most familiar and culturally accepted model rather than how the system is supposed to work according to these answers.

The following question deals with a key element in ordination. We asked, “who makes the call to the ministry?” 65% responded correctly that it is God who calls individuals to ministry, while 30% responded that God makes the call and the church confirms it. This leads to the question, if 95% (65% + 30%) think that God makes the call, why do only 52% approve of women’s ordination? Is it God or men (the Church) who makes the call? If we are really that convinced that God is the one who makes the call to ministry, why do we question it? Does the church have the authority over God in this regard? Is it one’s culture that blinds them to the possibility that God is calling women just like he does men? These are inescapable and politically suicidal questions, but I feel the responsibility to ask them based on the answers given in the survey.

Our Catholic friends theologically and administratively assign different levels of “spiritual authority” to their priests. The higher the level, the higher the power and spiritual height. The ladder stops at the Pope who is “God’s representative” on earth and the highest authority on earth and the church.[4] We Adventists don’t believe in levels of power and we surely don’t believe in levels of spirituality![5] Or do we? According to survey responses, 49% (19% totally agree and 30% partially agree) of Latin Americans believe that ordination “elevates” the person to a privileged spiritual level. This is alarming, but perhaps the answer is found in the high influence of a Catholic culture that permeates Latin America in general.[6] It is refreshing, on the other hand, to know that 51% don’t believe that way. These percentages reflect the most parallel results to the question of women’s ordination to the ministry (52% in favor, 48% against). Could we say then, when it comes to church matters, we are perhaps influenced by a culture of Catholic theology ordination understanding?

The next question, seemingly concurs with the assumptions on the previous question, with high support (80%) of women’s ordination as a theological issue. The question is, what kind of theology? On the other hand, years of studies done by the church, including the latest one done by the special commission on Theology of Ordination (TOSC)[7] haven’t produced a consensus on whether or not this is a theological issue.

What really makes it puzzling is the answer to the next question where 64% (27% totally agree + 37% partially agree) responded that women’s ordination is just a governance issue. Now, how do we explain the fact that 80% on the question above said that this is a theological issue and now 64% say that this is just a governance issue? Are there some mixed feelings about how to handle the current situation in our church? Or do some people want to vote twice with two different options that don’t relate? I don’t know what to make of this mixed reaction.

Finally, as a way to inform those who are against women’s ordination, the majority of Latin Americans (80%) don’t believe that women’s ordination is related to the LBGTQ issue. This is another surprising response since several figures have used this argument in their efforts to gain more ground. This survey wanted to address this point and the results are very clear: this argument is ineffective, at least with Latin Americans.

Survey responses were gathered from March 3, 2017 to April 3, 2017. Questions were distributed via several Adventist Latin American Facebook groups and church pages. The groups reflect a general representation of church members with no predominant views on the issue. There was a special effort made to utilize larger groups and church pages rather than small ones in order to have the most unbiased approach. There was also a request to share the survey with friends voluntarily. The survey was directed to Latin Americans who live in Latin America, as compared to Latin Americans who live in the U.S. Percentages provided in this analysis filtered out anyone who currently resides in the U.S. in order to obtain a more accurate result.

The highest countries that participated are as follows: Mexico 25%, Argentina 21%, Peru 21%, Chile 6%, Colombia 5%, Paraguay 3%, Bolivia 2%, Brazil 2%, El Salvador 2%. The rest of the countries combined totaled 13%. Additionally, 98% of respondents are baptized church members. Those who are not (2%) were courteously thanked for their interest in the survey, but were not allowed to answer the questions.

56% of respondents were men and 44% were women. Of those who participated, 57% were married, 37% single, and 6% were either divorced, separated, or widowed. 17% of respondents had a high school education while 82% were professionals (AS, BA, graduate, or doctoral). 49% had been a baptized member of the Adventist church for 21 years or more. 62% were born in an Adventist home and 24% were from catholic background. 72% don’t work formally for the church while 28% do as either pastors or in a church administration role.

This survey was originally conducted as partial fulfillment of the class: “Contemporary Issues of Theology” by John Webster, PhD Professor, at La Sierra University, HMS Richards Divinity School, to support a paper entitled: Cultural Influence in Church Policy: The Role of Culture and Its Influence in Church Leadership and Politics in Latin America.”

Hugo F. Chinchay Sr, MBA,currently works as Manager of Admin Operations at the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. Previously he was Departmental Director at Potomac Conference, Controller at La Sierra University, Assistant Business Administrator and Loma Linda Academy and Auditor at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He has also been a member of the NAD Spanish Advisory Committee, NAD Stewardship Committee, Columbia Union Delegate, Executive Committee at South Eastern California Conference, Pacific Union Delegate, co-founder of the Loma Linda Spanish SDA Church. Music conductor and worship lecturer around the world. Hugo is currently completing his Master of Divinity at La Sierra University.

A note from the author: “I dedicate this research to my niece Kaylee Chinchay who has responded to God’s call to the ministry and completed her first year of Theology at Walla Walla University, and to all women who respond to this sacred call around the world.”

Image Credit: FreeImages.com / dlritter

Notes & References:

[2] Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, Review & Herald, Revised 2015, Updated 2016. “A board has no authority to vote letters of transfer or to receive members by letter. The board’s authority is limited to making recommendations to the church. Action on all transfers of membership, favorable or otherwise, must be taken by the church. (See pp. 51, 52.) The clerk has no authority to remove names from or add names to the membership record except by vote of the church, unless a member requests in writing to be removed from church membership, in which case the church board must act on the request.” P. 54

[5] TOSC “Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of ordination” (Statement voted at the General Conference in Session, San Antonio, TX., July 8, 2015) Also found under “Statements”: Adventist Archives, General Conference Website: https://www.adventistarchives.org/gc-tosc

[6] Is known that Latin America was conquered by Spain with Christopher Colombo and they imposed Catholicism over death penalty via inquisition to those who will refuse or speak against it.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8103

Educate, educate, educate!

Not only about ordination but about the church and authority; and not only in Latin America, but also in the South Pacific Division! The SPD leadership are among the most vocal Adventist leaders in calling for a further satisfying resolution of these issues, yet their behaviour toward Pr Gary Kent, former Speaker/ Director of It is Written Oceania is perceived by an important segment of the membership here as being authoritarian and based on a model of control and coersion, [similar to that of the GC leadership].

The South Pacific Division have had a de-facto regulation in place prohibiting anything but the briefest discussion of ordination in their media. I have the feeling that if a survey were made of church members in the South Pacific concerning ordination and church authority, the results would be surprising like those of Latin America!

It is truly amazing that Adventist leaders through-out the world sit on their hands in this regard! It was the East-Central Africa Division BRC who in late 2013 called on TOSC and/ or Adventists in other world regions to continue as dialogue partners with them concerning ordination. They wished for this educational process to reach the “grassroots.” Further, they predicted chaos if this didn’t happen! And it has happened just as predicted!

I authored an open letter to the GC administrators on this website appealing for open discussion on ordination to continue beyond the end of TOSC and before San Antonio. All I received was a very muted acknowledgement of my epistle.

I regard such lack of education for church membership at large on these topics as a huge breach of trust and direlection of duty. If Adventists do not educate their members with regard to things such as ordination and ecclesiology it should not be at all surprising if secular culture does!!

Thankfully, the London Unity Conference and George Knight’s latest sermon on ordination is filling this need to a limited extent. Also, I saw a sermon by Pr David Asherrick at the 2017 Lightbearers Camp Meeting along very similar lines. This is available on YouTube.

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How much money was spent on this? Was it really worth any of the spent?

So what, and the study was of small group anyway 500 +

It is frustrating to see that this issue was voted, but continues to be a problem.

I have noted that those if favor of WO make this a moral issue above almost all other issues. I have seen them call those disagreeing un-Christian and wicked. Epithets they would not call those who break some of the 10 commandments!

What that means is that the group favoring WO are deriving their morals from somewhere else besides scripture. If a person not supporting WO thought is worse than a rank commandment breaker, then there is something dreadfully wrong with the WO supporter’s moral compass.

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Too little, almost too late, is being done to remedy gender inequality in all aspects of our church work in Latin America. The members of the Adventist church in Latin America must change antiquated church policies to remove barriers to equal opportunities in education and church governance. Policies and practices in the church such as those mandating equal pay for equal work are not enough in themselves; we have to ensure that those commitments are backed by real action that goes beyond ordaining women to the ministry. Another essential imperative is overhauling the way church education curriculums look at gender. Our good Christian teachers, for example, are key figures in boys’ and girls’ socialization and should be trained to give a comprehensive and open-minded view of gender issues.
The richness of Latin American culture is the product of many influences in Latin American culture as well as religion and other practices. Latin America also has many races.
We need to improve gender equality and women and girls’ human rights in Latin America by setting an example as a world church. Quietly and against the odds, women are stepping up the political ladder in Latin America, moving ahead of the United States when it comes to political empowerment and closely matching much of Western Europe. As a world church we need to embrace gender equality.

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It is becoming more and more obvious to me that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is no longer following scripture and scripture alone. I am about this close to rescinding my membership entirely. God is no longer blessing this church.

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Just as in the marriage equality debate in Australia, a small survey does not show that the majority support something. 542 people out of how many million? Not a representative sample.

This is beautiful! All women who are responding to God’s voice and call to the ministry deserve their church’s full support.

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This survey spent $0 since it was done on social media and It was very educational to find participants anonymous opinions. It was not sponsored by any church institution or interest group. It was just a class project. This survey doesn’t claim to be scientific but just a general opinion survey. Furthermore, when presented to a group of “professional researchers” it was received with much respect.

It is not the intention of this survey to make it a moral or insulting to those opposing WO. The opinion of whether this issue should be a theological matter or not continues to be debatable just as this survey shows as well. We hope to respect each other about their opinions.

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I would love to know what is that magic “representative” sample please. A group of professional researchers had a different opinion after looking at the application and participation of respondents.

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As a proud “rioplatense,” I am delighted to see that the educated Latin American membership of the church does not agree with the actions of the ecclesiastical leadership that owes its positions and promotions to those higher up.

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Thats the thing… delegates are one thing, the whole church is something else. Since those decisions are taken by old school mentality, men who should’ve retire a long time, but are still in power for more than a decade, all of this will continue.
Sometimes a generation needs to die (step aside), to enter the promise land.

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Fascinating. I noted that Brazil was little represented in the study. The article said that the survey was in Spanish. Perhaps had it been also in Portuguese there would have been more participation from Brazil. Brazil is the country with the highest number of SdAs, more than the USA. Due to the large Hispanic population in the USA, Unitedstatesians often equate Latin America with Spanish-speaking America, ignoring the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians.

Indeed the greatest problem with the study would be the sampling strategy (social scientists would call this a sample of convenience). However, not only is this the only starting point we have at times (and the limitations are declared), but even a sample of convenience can be quite representative. The distribution of the demographic data would give some clue. Is a particular group overrepresented (e.g. males vs. females, or participants from certain countries, etc.) OR is the distribution close to what would be expected. It seems to me quite likely that a comparison of the distribution in the sample (n) to the actual distribution in the population (N) could be strengthening the study (underlining the assumption that there is sufficient randomization) - even though there may be a slight over representation of males and higher educated people.

it also makes one wonder if a similar disparity would be discovered in other parts of the world whose delegates voted overwhelmingly no at san antonio…and this in turn raises the question of whether a vote by delegates - primarily clergy and administrators supported by the church, and reflecting in terms of gender exactly what yes voters were seeking to correct - is a vote by the church…if there is any chance that the vote in san antonio was not indicative of how rank and file church members feel, what a tragedy if the church ends up splitting over it…the fact that most delegates were male, while most members were and are female, is suggestive, to say the least…

of course on the flip side one wonders whether the leadership of PUC is representing its constituents…would most members of PUC favor a split instead of backing down on WO, or would most favor backing down instead of a split…it’s a real question whether leaders are really able to assess how their members actually feel…what if everyone in leadership is out of sync with rank and file members…what if being in leadership causes insensitivity to rank and file sensibilities…what if leaders consciously or subconsciously come to view their feelings as being more important than everyone else’s…

do leaders really canvas the views of their constituents…do they even have tested methods for doing so…or are they simply guided by the loudest and most aggressive messages they receive, or worse yet, by those making the biggest donations…

I Quadruple dare the GC to implement a $0 social media survey to determine what % of SDA—

  1. Have read their bible all the way through ONCE
  2. Have read the New Testament all the way through ONCE
  3. Usually read their SS lesson before class.
  4. Have ever heard the definition of the “GOSPEL” from the pulpit ONCE
  5. Feels comfortable explaining to anyone what a person must do to be saved.

BTW: Does anyone know why America was founded as a republic and not a pure democracy?

Do SDA spend more time with news, sports, weather, reality TV, social media gossip than devotional time?

Try this: http://factmyth.com/why-did-the-founding-fathers-choose-a-republic/