Ordaining Women: Why “The Survey” Won’t Help Elder Wilson's Efforts to End It

No matter how well “The Survey” is done, I anticipate that General Conference President Elder Ted N.C. Wilson will eventually conclude that it did not help him in his campaign to stop the ordination of women.

On the one hand, if it establishes that many members and leaders around the world disapprove of how some regions have continued this practice contrary to General Conference mandates, it will have told us nothing which we did not already know. If it reveals decreasing support for how he is handling the issue, he will have hurt his efforts rather than helped it. The survey's contribution to his cause will be either negligible or negative.

Many wonder why Elder Wilson repeatedly does things which frustrate what he is trying to accomplish. My suggestion is that he honestly misunderstands the problem.

One cannot solve a problem unless one understands it. In at least three respects, Elder Wilson does not understand this one:

1. He honestly believes that he can end the practice of ordaining women if he finds the right technique. He can't. As he said at the end of the 2017 Annual Council, he has very few “levers” he can pull to change the direction of things. There is what he called the “nuclear option” of disbanding the Unions which are out of order; however, at that same meeting he himself seemed to rule this out. As a good administrator, he knows that the costs of doing this would greatly exceed the benefits.

2. He honestly thinks that this is an administrative issue about noncompliance. It isn’t. It is an ethical issue about equity. Unfortunately, it is one about which we SDAs disagree deeply, honestly, and irreconcilably. People on all sides of this discussion have given it their best study and most intense prayer and they have come to conclusions from which they cannot deviate in good conscience. It is disrespectful for those on either side of this issue to ask those on the other side to act contrary to their ethical convictions. It won’t work and it shouldn’t.

3. He honestly believes that his proper role is to be a partisan, in the best sense of the word, for some of us. It isn’t. He is to be the president for all of us. The word “president” brings to mind a “presider” who helps the organization to fulfill its purposes despite innumerable internal and external difficulties. In this case, Elder Wilson's role and responsibility is to help us worship God and serve others despite our differences on this matter. There are some things which only the President of the General Conference can do. This is by far the most important of them.

What might we now do about this issue? Nothing. It would be good to put it aside for the rest of Elder Wilson’s current term and leave it to him or to his successor to address it in the next one. Meanwhile, we can concentrate on other things which are also important.

We can do something else, too. This is to apply Gamaliel’s speech about the early Christian movement (Acts 5) to this issue. If the practice of ordaining women is not of God, nothing we do will make it succeed. If it is, nothing we do will make it fail.

David Larson has specialized in ethics and theology in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University Health for forty-four years; however, his views do not express the convictions of all of its 20,000 or so administrators, faculty, clinicians, and staff.

Image Credit: James Bokovoy/NAD

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8626

Insightful article. I have seen TNCW’s “partisan” leadership from the moment he took office. He should be the president and “presider” of the whole, not just a part of the whole.
Which has created a massive problem for him and all of us, in that solutions which allow for compromise and the ability to move forward as a church while disagreeing on matters where there is no theological agreement, have been dismissed or maneuvered by him out of the way.


Surely God understands the human problem of sin and yet He won’t be able to solve it for the vast majority.

It will be likewise for Ted Wilson because most SDA are still Jer 17:9, Rom 8:7 carnal churchians.

That does not invalidate it.
Most Christians don’t even understand what the verse means.
It is the beginning of gender conflict.

Generally speaking Adventists are not interested in bringing people to Christ …or their local church for that matter.

The institution usually promotes making Adventists, NOT Christians.

Think: what do you usually hear on Mission Spotlight presentations?


Thanks, David, for bringing up the Gamaliel perspective, with its premise of humility. This story from Acts suggests that our questions about leadership are not about judgment alone, but also about character.



I was a teenager when this issues was tabled to be studied; and now I’m a grandmother of three and really tired even hearing about this. It may be one man’s obsession but it effects so much for so long, making the church irrelevant if it can’t come to grips with something as basic as equality.


Herein lies the crux of the matter. I would wager $1.00 that our reputable and highly esteemed GC president believes he was installed president by God instead of being elected by creatures of God.


Yes Sirje,
The waiting has become interminable with no end in sight.

So at age 82, and tired of this nonsense, I finally packed my bags and joined the UNITED METHODIST CHURCH , who have been ordaining their women pastors since 1956 !

Hopefully years after my demise, Adventism will finally see equality and fairness?


Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? Amos 3:3

If this issue is irreconcilable, then it is best to split off and start a pro-WO Adventist denomination. Since the GC in session has voted down WO three times, if pro-WO Adventists feel their understanding of equality is non-negotiable and Biblically true, if they truly believe in the righteousness of their cause, then they should leave the SDA Church which has thrice rejected the Holy Spirit.


are we really so sure TW has been on a campaign to stop WO…if so, his campaign has been remarkably concealed and subterranean…it is true that he eviscerated TOSC, personally invited doug batchelor to san antonio, and came with his african guns fully loaded to the vote…but a real campaign would have featured nonstop statements of his presumably headship views, either by himself, or chosen surrogates, or both…i think it’s also reasonable to expect that the entire GC, including the sabbath school quarterly, would have been in collusion to sound the virtues of headship…

there is also the matter of TW expressly promising to uphold whichever way the GC delegates at san antonio would have voted…this is either true, or a lie…if true, the survey cannot be another salvo in a headship campaign that doesn’t exist…if a lie, then clearly TW has had issues that extend well beyond WO, and whether he’s been on a campaign against it is a moot point…

i think the survey could be an attempt to kick the can down the road until indianapolis 2020, at which point TW has the opportunity to exit the presidency to widespread admiration and acclaim for preserving an intact church, while deftly handing the responsibility to resolve the dilemma of san antonio to his successor, having laid the groundwork for doing everything that can be done short of either the nuclear option or the perhaps equally unpalatable declaration than san antonio, for biblical reasons, and in retrospect, must be considered null and void…

of course kicking the can down the road is an admission of the lack of a credible plan, even if the real intent is a parachute exit that sidesteps the consequences of the disastrous decision to put WO up for a delegate vote in the first place…but it does achieve the gamalial objective of letting developments on the ground indicate the proper course of action…and whatever the survey ends up indicating, it does have potential to make the GC appear responsive to the lay church, which i think must be agreed is a desirable goal…


Nice article, Dr. Larson.

Very well stated. I (as a pro-WO advocate) see the anti-WO side being highly judgmental and dismissive, yet a good friend of mine (an anti-WO advocate) insists it is the pro-WO side that is highly judgmental and dismissive. Regardless of our personal position, we should strive for the higher ground by treating “the other side” with respect. Whether right or wrong, we are all entitled to our ethical convictions. I sorely wish TW would acknowledge this; as Larson implores, doing so would help him out of his self-created dilemma.

Wrong. Solution.


The Gospel. Has no gender. Bias.


I remain among the apparently few Pro WO people who believe that it would be helpful for the GC to impose some penalty on regions of the church which continue to act contrary to GC mandates on this matter, albeit for understandable ethical reasons, and for them to accept this in quiet integrity and dignity.

In the noble tradition of civil disobedience, this simultaneously accomplishes two things. It fosters commitment to the principle of orderly communal life and for the presumption of compliance. It also honors the conscientiousness of those who are out of compliance while benefiting from their positive contributions in other respects.

It is important that the organization do something which neither penalizes those who are not out compliance nor needlessly wounds its strongest supporters. This is what requiring everyone to sign a frequent loyalty oath would do This idea is so administratively self-destructive that,it is a wonder that even occurred to someone.

Although it might initially sound strange, I suggest that the denominational leaders who are addressing this issue give careful consideration to just-war theories about whether to wage war and how to conduct it if one does. They contain criteria that are generally useful and ethical. Doing ones very best not to harm noncombatants is one of the most helpful.

We have been told that Providence has a thousand good solutions when we can see only one or two unacceptable ones. A little less action and a little more reflection might make it possible for us to discern at least six of them.

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I agree…as you say, it is important to promote orderly communal living and the concept that a GC vote means something…after-all, even secular corporations pay fines for environmental or health infractions - they likely factor these fines in their annual budgets - and by doing so maintain and promote the concept of the rule of law…

perhaps, and in retrospect, TW’s idea of stripping non-compliant union presidents of a vote and voice at annual councils leading up to the next GC session isn’t such a bad idea, and GC lawyers should be working to find a way to legalize it via an amendment to our constitution…this particular penalty has the advantage of being related to what already exists with respect to omission from the yearbook, which in sandra roberts’ case has made a point without diminishing and possibly enhancing her profile…or perhaps a fine of a double tithe on noncompliant unions should be imposed, which a union like PUC can afford with a small amount of pain, but that regions in africa can definitely benefit from…

the alternative really is a meaningless GC, and a meaningless world association…

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If this had not become an overly serous exchange, I would propose in jest that non-compliant regions be denied the privilege of financially supporting the worldwide church!

At this point, I favor the right of suspending, or them volunteering, the right of non-compliant Unions to vote at all G.C. meetings. I would not apply this to Divisions because not all of their unions are out of compliance. Options less than this strike me as trivial. Options more severe appear to me to be administratively self-destructive.

For the denomination to forfeit the benefit of hearing from its strongest and most supportive regions serves no one well.

Any measure which depends upon only these votes for passage doesn’t have enough global support in the first place. Yet, as you say, existing policies might not allow this. If so, perhaps these regions should voluntarily forego this privilege until the policies and their consciences converge.


Separation is a good solution when the differences are irreconcilable. Look at Abraham and Lot, Paul and Silas. A house divided cannot stand. It is better for both sides to go their separate ways and let each congregation and individual decide which denomination they want to align with.

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It is a waste of time and good will repeatedly to propose things which will never happen. Therefore, if you have another idea, this would be a fine opportunity to share ir.


How about having some churches where ordained women can serve and others where they cannot. We allow churches for different language groups, sometimes at different times in the same facility. Unity in diversity is already in place!


But how should these regions of the church penalized because they act according to their conscience and contrary to GC mandates ever explain to their (tithe-paying) members this penalization?
Being the Remnant? Being penalized by the Remnant organization for doing what God’s Remnant is supposed to do - follow God’s Word as they understand it, not giving in to the threats of whatever religious or political powers?
And I do not see how a protestant religious organization who penalizes people because they follow their conscience could expect any financial support from the penalized members.


And if the anti-WO present constituency changes its vote in ten years, are the “heretics” welcomed back and receive an apology?


A Male- Only Priesthood [when God did not specify it. He said Gifts to the Human Race.] and
a Male-Only operated Denomination is VERY CATHOLIC – whether Western Catholic or
Eastern Catholic.