Pastoral Letters: Faith in the Context of Equality and Respect for All People

The document voted by the General Conference Executive Committee on October 11, 2016 outlined a process intended to create conformity with the General Conference's oppositional stance on Women's Ordination. Part of the process outlined in that document is the writing of "pastoral letters":

"If after six months of discussion the matter has not been resolved, the executive officers of the next higher organization should write pastoral letters encouraging the executive officers and the governing body of the entity to lead their organization to be faithful to the biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs, voted actions, and working policies of the Church."

While the document calls for "pastoral letters" from church administrators, pastors at every level of the church should be included in the process. The church is the people. The following letter was written by a pastor in the Pacific Union Conference the day of the vote. -Ed

Every time the General Conference comes out with another statement, or takes another vote against equality, my soul is damaged. I love this church and am saddened by the direction it is taking. I, and many of my family members, for multiple generations, have given their lives to serving God through the church. These votes and documents do not remotely reflect the faith of myself, or my family, and I wholeheartedly object to the decision today and at the GC Session in 2015.

Each time these decisions are made I contemplate how much longer I can work for a denomination which blatantly practices discrimination. I know many of you are also wrestling with the decision of whether or not you can remain in the church. Let me share why I'm not leaving anytime soon but will remain a pastor and fight even harder for equality in the church.

I am staying because of all the women in ministry who are still serving despite these repeated attempts to deny their calling.

I am honored to have an amazing boss in Sandra Roberts who has exhibited grace (far more than I could) through this entire experience. She is a gifted leader and an amazing person who is clearly called by God. If she can stay (despite being the number one target of the GC) I surely can.

There have been several amazing female pastors I have had the pleasure of working with at Azure Hills including Patty Marruffo, Danielle Marie Foré, and Marlene Ferreras. Each of them have done incredible pastoral work and stayed committed to ministry despite these decisions that take their toll on their hearts. Our new Senior Pastor, Tara VinCross, is incredibly visionary and has big plans for Azure Hills that I know will come to fruition with her deep commitment to Christ and leadership skills. If they can stay, I surely can.

Most importantly, my mother, Norma Osborn, served for 25 years as pastor before retiring. She continued to be a pastor despite receiving death threats at a congregation ( a whole other story not related to women's ordination) and stayed focused on helping kids and families learn about God. If she stayed, I can.

My encouragement to all of us is to stay and model for the world how beautiful faith is when it is practiced in the context of equality and respect for all people. Instead of leaving, let's become even more focused and committed to teaching our kids that we are all created equal and no one is better than another. Let's serve our communities with even more passion, especially focusing on groups that society marginalizes because we know how damaging marginalization is to all of us. We won't change everyone's mind, but I believe there are many people in the middle who can easily be won over by seeing the fruit of our faith.

In the future, there may come a breaking point and all of this may change. I don't know. But this is my commitment for now: I will continue to be, and now even more publicly and vocally, a voice for the marginalized in our church. If you are a woman in ministry, a member of the LGBT community, someone who doubts more than they believe, struggling with mental health challenges, in an interfaith relationship, or whatever marginalized group you may be part of, I will fight to ensure you are treated with dignity and respect. I will provide you with pastoral care in the best way I know how and hopefully help you experience a more abundant life.

The delegates at Annual Council are no more "Adventist" than I am or you are. We are the church. Let's get to work and be the church. Our world needs us.

Trevan Osborn is Assocaite 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/7696
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Your mom and dad, Trevan, will recall a terrific young couple at Sligo Church in Takoma Park who withdrew their membership because they “no longer wanted to belong to a church with an official policy of discrimination.”

I was a new pastor there, and this was a morale-busting setback.

It happened 30 years ago.

I stuck around, and I’m encouraged that you plan to do so. But we need male leaders secure enough to give up the ego-pampering fiction of their own superiority. And we need them SOON.

Chuck

P. S. Thank-you for this letter!

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Yes Trevan, I’m staying and I’m so happy you are too! We will live out the gospel you’ve so beautifully articulated, even if it means practicing faithful disobedience. This is our church too. We respond to God’s calling and Jesus’ instructions to build up the kin-dom of God. No earthly document could ever possibly persuade us to do any different. The GC asks for “repentance” and before that can happen we must confess. Our confession is that we are all loved and called to serve God. Hoping the God who has sustained us and brought us this far will continue to journey with us.

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Trevan, thanks for sharing your perspective. I share many of the thoughts you have expressed here.

Something keeps nagging at me, though. It’s the charge that “persons who are aware of immorality or injustice of an organization and choose to remain members are complicit – they share responsibility for those immoral and unjust actions”.

I believe this to be a reasonable charge, but I suppose that there are (at least) two ways to react to the situation. One would be to sever ties to the organization, but in that circumstance, there is the “shared responsibility” for the immoral and unjust actions that is shirked. To leave the organization would be similar to fleeing the scene of the crime. The other way to react to the situation would be to remain at the scene of the crime and attempt to right the wrongs that are being done. If you truly were in the vehicle when the crimes were committed, then you are obligated to remain at the scene and offer restitution. This, to me, is our “cross to bear”.

Keep preaching The Word.

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Does anyone remember the words to the Song–
You are The Church. I AM The Church. WE Are The Church.
If WE [You AND I] stay and Model Equality, then THAT is The Church
Modeling Equality.
If I leave, WHO will do MY Modeling of Equality?
It is NOT EASY in a Male Sexist Dominated congregation [I am in one],
but there are times when one can speak up, one does have to become
attentive to those events when one CAN do so.

EDIT – Kevin wrote a great piece about the Vote was not a close one.
Which is true.
HOWEVER, he failed to note that the numbers were almost the same as SA2015. 2. That it is aVote of North[ern Hemisphere. The European-American-Canadian group] against the South[ern Hemisphere. The Latin America, African, SE Asia group].
It appears More Cultural than anything else as to WHY the Number fall THIS way. And NOT some other.
We certainly DO NOT want an UN-Civil War in the Church.

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Yes I agree, but then I still doubt.
What about my children and my friends outside of our church. How can I invite them into a denomination, that was largely founded by a women and that now turns around and claims that God would never call a women into any kind of leading role. How can we even try to invite others into this mess? How could we even dream of reaching reasonable people when we let people make this kind of decision for our church, who do not even understand the difference between a fundamental belief and a working policy?
Whoever witnessed this council and that what was called a “discussion” will probably never join our church. If we want to reach reasonable people we have to clean up this mess. Our administration needs a complete reformation. But how could this ever happen if the president is pushing in the exact opposite direction?

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Thank you Trevan. Your letter and the thousands like it give the “lie” to those, including Elder Wilson, who characterize the sentiments in North America and Europe, primarily, as impelling their administrative bodies to “rebellion.” Pain, moral outrage, biblical interpretations that have no support from SDA biblical scholars, heartache, and disappointment are not rebellion. Rebellion is administrations that ignore the “facts” cited above in an effort to make their rebels eat their passions and go away. It never has worked and never will because it negates the ministry of Jesus.

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Count me in, Trevan.

I will never allow Pastor TW and his band of cohorts to speak as God and muzzle my spiritual journey, no matter how much they try, even if their exclusive-minded policies were to force me to divert all my financial contributions to my local church. I may even develop my own outreach program to influence other open minded church members to do the same.

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You have touched on a question I have - what can dedicated and committed lay persons do to support our women pastors short of leaving the church? Does it mean diverting financial contributions to the local church until the president (I’m sorry but I can’t call him pastor because he does not embody what I see in a pastor) comes to recognize the impact?

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"Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers in her sins."

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You who are staying by the church are modeling behavior your children and youth in the church observe. Are they proud of your stand? Is this what you want them to see and know–that even though the church has been discriminating for an entire generation since the topic originated, nevertheless, it is still the Remnant, the church prophetic? Do you hope and pray they will follow your example and stick with the church, regardless? Why, if you cannot agree with the church’s position?

Did not Christ rebuke the Pharisees who emphasized perfect obedience to their man-made laws? Is not discrimination a totally man-made law? Can it be justified or rationalized by any of the administrators as designed by God? There are only two possible answers: Either it is of God or man. If man, why are those who profess to be followers of Christ, elevating man’s laws that differ from God’s? Are you God’s servant or man’s? You are servants and slaves to the ones you obey.

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I am not so certain of those elderly, faithful Adventists on their deathbeds are not absolutely sure of their salvation issue… None of my parents had issues with assurance of salvation. Now facing my 8th decade, i have no doubts of assurance of salvation.

All the talk of WO, which started in the 70’s with the feminists waving their fists and shouting at that GC meeting. Whose Spirit was controlling that issue at that time. I have followed this issue though the years via the Review and Herald or the Review and each time voting by the entire church delegates confirmed that WO is not approved. What I found discomforting is the same spirit that controlled that very initial feminists is still being manifesting itself by a variety of end runs of the GC by local conferences like the NCC and the PUC. Especially the very questionable effort of those in charge of the voting process on live streaming.

How can we teach our grandchildren & children respect for authority and elders when we openly do end runs around the GC decisions voted by thousands of delegates?

I am more concerned how those who promote this WO some how don’t realize what are the consequences of their actions. Some how, they haven’t seen how other main stream Protestant denominations fared with WO. Many have regretted their decisions and are now plagued with same sex issues that now only rearing it head with the examples of communications from the Biblical Research Institute, Andrews University, & Lake Union.

I am thankful that wiser individuals were guided by the Spirit instead of the spirit of expediency.

So, I know in Whom I believe in and have no regrets of my decision to place my trust fully in Him knowing fully well that there is NOTHING that I can do to earn Salvation, but it is HE who will providing everything for my Salvation.

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Hi Ernie. First let me say our church’s feeing of homeless people today…was a great success. The volunteers were joyful and the 2500 pancakes were abundant. Great job to you and Maddy for pulling it off.

In terms of the whole women’s ordination issue…I can’t take the time to discuss all the factors. This issue divides congregations, conferences, Unions, Divisions and our world church structures.

AT the G.C. in 2015…the vote was NO to allow Divions to make up their own minds about WO. With a NO vote…the decisions remains with the Unions…by gc delegated policy. That is the way many Unions in the western world view the policy.

It is very inconsistent to allow the developing world church to not ordain women elders…when that is policy…but then try to forbid the Unions of the developed world to not ordain women pastors.

So glad we have women elders in our congregation…and perhaps some day a woman pastor in our local congregation.

For my part I refuse to reserve one little area if my world where a women is “less” than a man. Where my opinions…that I then transfer to God…state that a woman can’t train, learn, be called and then have hands laid on her and give her a certificate that the church recognizes her gift. To do less is discrimination. If we discriminate against gender…then certainly we could also…with God’s blessing return to discrimination over race too. NO!!! Unthinkable.

Many blessings to you and your family.

Sincerely your friend and pastor.

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Adventist women of today are not marching around, waving their fists. This is not a feminist movement. Women are being called to the ministry in a church that has some updating to do. While I am only in my sixth decade, blessed as a fourth generation Adventist with 20 years of SDA education, I am glad that I have moved on and grown in my own spiritual life and understanding far beyond where I was in the 1970’s and the less mature picture of God gained in my youth. It IS important to teach our young people to respect authority and their elders, but it is also important to teach them appropriate ways to recognize when things are not in harmony with biblical truth and to take a stand and speak out for what is not right. “Dare to be a Daniel.” We can respect our leadership, but we cannot yield to them our personally responsibility to seek God’s counsel through prayer and Bible study, even if at times we arrive at different places in our understanding. God’s grace fills the gaps for us. Personally, I will continue to support WO for biblical and other reasons and hope our unions will remain steadfast in representing the rightful place for women ordained as pastors in our churches. You may not agree with me, and that’s fine, but we can still be a unified part of a greater movement. It’s time for GC leadership to get off of this distraction, use better, less coercive methods and support us in our actual mission as messengers of the Gospel, the truth about God’s character. (COL 415)

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This is an extremely important point. While I remained an SDA, I felt that rightly or wrongly, I would be seen as endorsing the church’s official stance on a number of issues, including opposition to women’s ordination. I chose to leave the church around 5 years ago.

Quite recently a good friend of mine also decided to leave the church. He has two young daughters, and key among his reasons for leaving the church is that he didn’t want to have to one day explain to his daughters why he continued to support an organisation that he knew would deny them the ability to fulfill God’s calling, should He call them to pastoral ministry.

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At the GC, the vote was NO to allow divisions to make up their own minds about WO. With a NO vote, the decision did not remain with the Unions, because unions are supposed to ordain in line with GC working policy.

How about WP L 35 “Qualifications for Ordination to the Gospel Ministry”, which specifically uses the word “man”, and WP BA 60 10 6 which says “Employment opportunities, membership on committees and boards, and nomination to office shall not be limited by race or color? Neither shall these opportunities be limited by gender (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry).” Thus, the Unions never had the right to decide whether to ordain women.

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Can you possibly see that some others might not view “equality” as you do? It really takes the ability to step outside ones own thinking to see the other side. I think that is the issue here. In fact, the WO side cannot see the other’s views as legitimate. A certain blindness is evident.

Well, they reflect the faith of the majority of the church. After all, it was not really close. And it has not been close each time it has come up. Can you admit that there are others that are righteous that see this differently than you? Or is your view the only righteous one. To believe that seems to make ones own view the standard. Is that reasonable?

WO has been rejected three times. Seems that view is pretty Adventist, at least considered such by a majority of the world church. You may disagree, but making your difference with the body the most important part of your identity will only in he end lead you to sever ties with it.

A better response to your calling would be to place this issue on the back burner, and do as God has called you to: spread the gospel. EGW gave similar advice to A.T. Jones when he was struggling with the Kellogg issue. This would keep you from shipwreck of faith.

May God bless you as you continue to be his faithful servant.

Where is the discriminatin in the church? should the feminist movement from the secular world order found its way into the church? has women being stopped from serving as pastors? If the ordination is biblically founded, then let the church proceed with. The situation concerning WO has to do with the scriptures(Holy Bible), none of us wrote the Bible the , therefore, we cannot alter it neither can we read into what is not there.Women have always played their roles in the Bible very positively and clearly. I am yet to find any historical account of women in the Aaronic priesthood from where we got the term pastors, I am yet to find that there were female priests serving the synagogue; female priest were found in pagan temples in nations around israel. If the SDA church which always say" sola scriptura" wants to deviate and be “like others”, then fine but let the propagators of this idea undestandr that the church is only the church if it sticks to the scriptures.The politically correct doctrine has its limitation and operates in its truest secular sense. Let the women continue to evangelize as their predecessors, Dorcas, salomie, Lydia, Deborah and other great female luminaries in the Bible Ellen White once wrote" unless if forget how God has led the church that we will be fearful of the future".

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We wish!

I fear that the required letter will be used as one more input into the GC profiler. We’re following a a road map to totalitarianism.

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