On Ordination: Why Cultural Accommodation Was Never The Answer

If the Adventist Church had a policy that denied ordination to people of certain ethnicities would we allow that policy to stand? The simple and unequivocal answer is “no.” So why are we comfortable allowing discrimination against women? One might expect a critique of General Conference policy right now, but that’s not coming. I’m actually very disappointed in myself, and those of us who support women’s ordination, because the position we have taken would still allow for discrimination.

We knew that there was no real chance that the world church would vote in favor of women’s ordination. The tactical decision we made was to ask the church to allow for variances in ordination practice based on culture. We can call this the cultural accommodation argument. We reasoned that it is a cultural issue and in those parts of the world where it would be inappropriate, they wouldn’t have to ordain women. However, here in North America it is essential that we do ordain women based on our culture.

It’s time for a wakeup call. We must get rid of this argument altogether.

Why would we allow for the world church to enact gender discrimination in some parts of the world as long as we get our way here? Who will stand up for the women in Africa, South America, and Asia who are sensing God’s call in their life? We lost our way when we pushed for ordination equality in North America and parts of Europe and decided it was ok if our brothers around the world continued to discriminate as long as it didn’t affect us.

I now strongly urge all of us to stop the campaign for the General Conference to allow Unions or Divisions to decide ordination for themselves. Instead, I call on the entire World Church to stop discrimination against women immediately.

We have done a great job detailing why ordination equality has biblical support. As many have noted, discrimination stands clearly against Fundamental Belief #14. If we have strong biblical support for equality, and a fundamental belief compelling us to treat women and men equally, we cannot then also say it’s optional to practice what we believe. It’s time to stop using the cultural accommodation argument and embrace the strength of our position and hold firmly to upholding the beliefs and values of the Adventist Church.

We must state clearly the reasons why treating all people equally is of vital importance to the Gospel. Every time I hear people—whether in support of women’s ordination or against it—call this a “distraction” or say that “it’s not a salvation” issue I get more and more upset. I’m upset because we have failed them. We have not stated clearly enough that how we treat people is central to the Gospel and part of our salvation. I’m not going to call women’s ordination a “salvation issue,” but treating all people equally and respectfully is of primary importance for those in a saved relationship with Jesus.

By equivocating on the issue, I believe we have lost support of those who believe women should be ordained but aren’t “all-in” on the issue. We also have signaled to those who are opposed to women’s ordination that it’s not central to our beliefs and values because we are comfortable with discrimination as long as it doesn’t affect us. The anti-women’s ordination crowd has rejected the cultural accommodation argument and it is time we rejected it as well.

We have allowed this issue to devolve into a policy debate. We are digging into working policies and trying to find loopholes in the system. We are making historical arguments about the roles of unions to show that situations like this are the reason they were created in the first place. I find these arguments well-presented and compelling. However, I’m worried they detract from the larger issue: the Adventist Church discriminates solely on the basis on gender.

Ultimately, this is not a policy issue. It is a moral, ethical, and biblical issue and cultural accommodation was never the answer. Full equality immediately is the answer.

So, let us advocate fully for equality in ministry in every part of the world. Let us clearly state that we have a biblical, moral, and ethical mandate to treat all people equally. Because of this mandate, some unions have had to take the lead in equal ordination, and reject world policy that goes against Scripture and our fundamental beliefs. Let us not equivocate around the issue and get into legal or policy debates but make it known this is central to our faith. Let us passionately make the case that equality is central to the Gospel and discrimination must end today, not just in North America, but around the world.

Trevan Osborn is Associate Pastor at the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, California.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7842

I couldn’t agree more.


Well said writer but the equality model still fails based on the theological foundation upon which the pastoral ministry is built. The Adventist church over the years has used the charisma approach to pastoral ministry. We’ve firmly established that it’s a call. The position we’ve taken as a church on ordination has shifted this view to the episcopate model or ecclesiastic mandate. Our church is using the attributive and distributive justice approach. Women have their role as well as men. This is not discrimination or inequality after all nature has given us a clear biogenetics in the sexes. The drastic approach is to retreat the church back to the charisma model. On this women has the chance to be ordained as it is written, the Spirit “distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (2 Corinthians 12: 11). Who dares question the charisma of a female pastor? I’m afraid the equality model looks like a civil right campaign.


of course there should be a vetting, but gender should not be an element of consideration.For that matter neither should the 28 as a set package. Particular as limited by Ted Wilson. At least four are outside the realm of Christain doctrine. Totally cultic in nature. TZ


Preach! I really appreciate your viewpoint and I am glad you are part of our pastoral team at Azure Hills church! We have the best team ever!


I get your point here, but one of the pro arguments is that it is a matter of conscience not to deny the call a woman has from God to the pastoral ministry. On the anti side, it’s a matter of conscience not to step outside the natural order set by God himself. So the pros have told the antis that we won’t force your conscience if you don’t force ours. How does one get around the conscience clause if it is decided not to allow any exceptions?


There was a time not that long ago when in the United States, where I’m from, people on both sides of a hugely contentious issue appealed to the Bible and to their moral codes to reach their opposite conclusions. The issue was slavery. Imagine if those who insisted that the United States’ founding documents and Scripture together spoke in favor of abolishing slavery had been content with a live and let live attitude! We won’t force your conscience if you don’t force ours.

On top of the moral/ethical imperative, both in the case of abolishing slavery in the United States and abolishing gender discrimination in the Adventist Church, there is a need for internal consistency and moral, ethical coherence. The Adventist Church cannot say, as it has done in its Fundamental Beliefs and even in policy positions, that Scripture makes women and men equal before God, and then turn around and treat them as anything but equals in practice. That is inconsistent and incoherent.

Equality between men and women is a fundamentally biblical thing and its a fundamentally Adventist thing if both sets of documents–Scripture and Adventist Fundamental Beliefs–are to be taken seriously.

What Trevan Osborn has done here so helpfully is to point out that those leading the Adventist Church forward on the issue of gender equality have been inconsistent when they’ve said that equality in some places is fine while inequality in others is also to be tolerated (This, like it or not, was the essence of former GC President Jan Paulsen’s appeal during the 2015 GC ordination discussion.) That inconsistency, Trevan says, cannot continue.


Thanks Trevan for helping us to look at the ordination issue with new eyes!

I, for one have long seen deficiencies in the ‘cultural accommodation argument’ as you term it. If Adventists ever proceed down this road there will be millions of Adventists who will believe with all their heart that we are doing an ungodly thing. This is exactly the reason why a matter of conscience (whatever position you adopt) should never be subject to a vote by a representative body of Adventists, unless and until a vast majority can see light in proceeding in a particular direction.

Matters of conscience and voting procedures are never easy bedfellows. The end result of doing such a thing is to suggest that the conscientious belief of the one winning side is superior to the conscientious belief of the opposing side.

For the cultural accommodation argument to have won the day in 2015 by a voted wafer thin percentage would never have solved much at all. And for the same or similar argument to win the day in 2020, 2025 or whenever, by say a 70%/30% margin would not solve any more problems. In those scenarios the percentage of people (however much it be) who lost the vote would still be very much opposed and not afraid to stir the pot.

The current ordination issues are a great example of how the Lord waits till his people in the global Adventist communion grow and to share in the extended process of being a global network of leaders and people who are involved in an educational process.

What Adventists desperately need is a global network of sharing of a new non-sacramental paradigm of global Adventist leadership. Such an understanding of global Adventist leadership would involve the following:
i. mandate several core values for the appointment, authorizing and affirmation of leaders
ii.allowing a great deal of latitude for people of differing cultures to design and implement culturally appropriate rites of appointment to leadership.
iii. such rites would have global currency,
iv.an individual’s credentials would require local endorsement before becoming current.

At the beginning of 2014 the East Central African Division called for a scheme of a similar nature to be implemented. They had many questions. Unfortunately, people on every side of the issue did not stop to listen and engage.They even warned us what would happen if we didn’t stop to listen and engage. It all has come true!!

The reasons for adopting a wholly spiritual gift centred model of ministry and leadership (as opposed to a sacramental model) must be emphasized and continual education on this issue given globally.

We will fail as long as we allow this issue to involve a man’s right to be head of the church or a woman’s right to lead. We must always emphasize God’s right to lead His church with leaders of his choosing. From such a perspective, arguments of gender equality, however well meaning are really beside the point.

The Lord is waiting for us to grow to the point of embracing the following:
A. A robust, flexible and healthy concept of ordination. WO, as it is currently conceived doesn’t measure up.
B. A flexible rite that can be designed and implemented according to cultural and gender circumstances.
C. A forth-right, global education process.

Adventists presently have a one size fits all ordination paradigm. This is a broken and brittle model of ordination that is not responsive to the needs of our global communion. I believe it will change.


Absolutely on the mark. Discrimination be it social, gender, racial, class or orientation is neither Christian, ethical nor moral. Equally bad, whether in tribal Africa, macho South America, or blue collar USA.

Christ himself, surrounded Himself with women, Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and others whom the Pharisees found undesirable and whom they openly denigrated and discriminated. Christ called the Pharisees “whited sepulchers”.

Regrettably, misogyny is tribal, third world, primitive, medieval, blue collar, and those that hold these views, label themselves with these epithets.

The anti-women’s ordination crowd place themselves among groups of people on this planet,who are not progressive, cultured, educated, nor egalitarian.

Do they truly realize how they stigmatize themselves so unfavorably, by holding these attitudes?


Fresh view. Thank you. I concur.


Since neither race, nor culture, nor sex, nor . . .
is the basis of Christian equality, or inequality . . .
What is ?

Being ‘born again’, period.

According to whose character-image ?

Christ’s. . . if we choose to be ‘Christian’.
. . . if we even like Him.

So true ‘Christianity’ is in fact a ‘cult-ural’ state.
‘By beholding’ Christ – with the Holy Spirit teaching us what we’re ‘seeing’, and how to understand it – our inmost character may be ‘cult-ivated’ to reflect His own.
Thus, in Christ, the ‘new birth’ has no connection to DNA-programming, to ‘flesh’,
but only to the programming of the nervous system.

If SDAs have a ‘cult-ural’ problem, then who have we been watching ?
Too many ministers, and not enough scientists in the pulpit, for one thing.

Our ‘religion’ was set up by God to be unique. Creation scientists and ministers
were supposed to work closely together to study and teach ALL about God’s Word.
If this close union had not been destroyed, we wouldn’t have ‘cultural’ differences of character within church leadership, or the pews.


Very insightful piece, but I am left somewhat befuddled. As our own American history has shown, citing a “principle” of equality in our founding documents is always limited by our understanding of what that means concretely. In the North it meant freedom for slaves while in other parts of the nation, it meant something else. It meant “male landowners” should vote and govern, and so on.

Our FB contain a statement of “principle” which is not yet policy. To demand that the principle become concrete policy for the entire church community long before large portions of that community acknowledge what that principle means in practice is to “shoot that principle in the foot”, so to speak. I’ll take WO wherever and whenever I can get it, union by union, church by church, division by division while I pray that ongoing history opens the eyes of those who disagree. I am not sure I agree that

By equivocating on the issue, I believe we have lost support of those who believe women should be ordained but aren’t “all-in” on the issue. We also have signaled to those who are opposed to women’s ordination that it’s not central to our beliefs and values because we are comfortable with discrimination as long as it doesn’t affect us. The anti-women’s ordination crowd has rejected the cultural accommodation argument and it is time we rejected it as well.

How can anyone doubt that for those supporting WO it is “central to our beliefs?” What is at stake here is not “endangering the larger issue that we discriminate solely on the basis of gender,” but the freedom (very available in the first century) to live out our principles in each area of the world where we preach the gospel. Are we to assume that if we suddenly make a significant evangelistic breakthrough in a Muslim country that we would, from day one, demand that our members accept WO if they wish to be Adventists? Or would we give them time and space to grow in understanding the full implications of the gospel?


Trevor, I appreciate your point of view, but it sounds as if you are arriving late to the table without a full understanding of what has transpired during the past several decades. Equality has always been the only argument and it always will be. Those of us who are in favor of equality will always promote full world acceptance of equality. We have done so in General Conference Session after General Conference Session.

Cultural accommodation, on the other hand, is a “compromise of last resort” rather than an argument. It is a desperate measure designed to accommodate those who insist that, to be faithful to scripture, they must only consider men as candidates for ordination. These persons view themselves as defenders of the dictates of their consciences by voting down measures that, in their mind, dissolve scriptural distinctions between male and female.

Those on either side of any issue are typically disappointed by any sort of compromise. That is the very nature of compromise. Those promoting the compromise are devoted to a state of unity during the pursuit of equality. It is a soiled, smelly, threadbare bandage rather than a cure.

In addition, I believe it is a mistake to promote this as simply a cultural accommodation when there are so many white North American Adventists (both male and female) who are opposed to ordination for women. I can’t recall the source, but I understand that the North American accommodation/compromise proposal extends to conferences within the North American division who, as a majority, continue to view the ordination of women as being contrary to scripture.

So in my mind, “cultural accommodation” (or perhaps the more inclusive term, “accommodations for conscience”), while not the ultimate answer, has been developed as a stepping stone on the temporal path toward the answer.

My personal point of view is that we must first have a healthy concept of ordination before we address any cultural or gender issues which might come to bear upon that practice. At this point in time I don’t believe that we have a healthy definition of ordination. In light of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 20: 25-28, the placing of one man in a position of authority over another man is perhaps just as unchristian as the placing of one gender in a position of authority over another. As long as we insist on ordination being the placement of persons at the head of the table rather than at the foot of a path of service and sacrifice, we are not in a position to move ahead with any of the related issues.


When honest, sincere people study the Bible seeking to know God, and come to different and incompatible beliefs, how can we know truth from error? To me this ordination debate has highlighted the central issue of Christian epistemology, how do we come to secure knowledge of God and his will for people? What happens when sincere people disagree? I often hear people say that the Holy Spirit will lead people to the truth, but of course the entire history of Christianity is composed of increasing schisms over different doctrines, not a slow unification as truth is revealed. I expect nothing different in this case with the SDA church.


I am afraid that cultural accommodation has always had a role to play on all religious practices. Those who pretend that the authors of the Bible escaped their cultural moment in time are proven wrong by the Bible itself.


Agree completely. The advance of human rights has always been an incremental process. The article is pie in the sky.

Perhaps the American Revolution should have been rejected because it was really just a coup by white male landowners.



I have always regarded WO as the first step. But of course the goal is equality for all women everywhere. I was disappointed of the outcome of TOSC. They presented the result of their work as if 3 opinions could stand equally side by side. But it should have been made very very clear by the President, the BRI and the GC that the opponents of WO can only hold their position by violating Adventist belief. Inventing a whole new “Headship-theology” isn’t equal to the Pro-side, which did not have to alter Adventist belief. Headship ideology is unadventist and unbiblical, this should have been shouted from the rooftops! False teachers should be treated as such.


The women ordination issue is going overboard and i am afraid that it is being exaggerated for political reason instead of spiritual significance. The church draws its structure from the old testament priesthood structure or the levites. I am sure we SDAs accepted that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If Jesus is the same, this means that the Bible remains infallible and as such it should the final arbiter of truth. The Levites had daughters but they were never priests. Female priests were found in nations different from the Israel and belong to religion that didnot glorify Jehovah. Israel was always warned from trying to follow the culture of other /surrounding countries. SDA church is becoming grossly dissatisfied with the Bible so, some leaders in the church are moving away to embrace the popular culture of women’s suffrage agenda. no one has mentioned how the non-ordination of women is impacting the church’s growth. Women are not being discriminated against. We must find explicitly, a support scripturally, anything short of this will instead lead to heresy. Good intention has never replaced divine instruction, for example, when the ark of God was being redeemed from the philistines; the ark was on its way to the camp of Israel, the ark was shaking on the cart it was placed. an israelite soldier seeing that the ark was about to tumble and fall, he rush to help save it from falling but he was struck with death. Good intention is not God’s way of handling deeply spiritual issue. We cannot help God but we can read his word to get understanding. WO has no scriptural foundation, therefore the debate should be shelved and lets focus our efforts in taking the gospel to the rest of the world. SDA church’s foundation is biblically based, we say sola scriptural. Lets use the bible and the Bible alone to defend WO.

Loud and Clear, Cincerity!