Reflections on San Antonio by a Woman Pastor Two Months Later

I sat in my black pencil skirt, pink lace blouse, blue-black suit jacket, and let the tears run down my face unchecked. I could hear behind me the cheers and “amens” and “hallelujahs” from the nice Caribbean family we had met earlier that day and with whom we had swapped stories and slices of pizza just a couple hours before. I had considered trying to hold onto my composure or maintain some type of professional façade when the music started playing and the voting lines started forming and the obvious result hung as-yet-unnamed but potent in the air. But I couldn’t. I had long ago learned that my eyes tend to leak despite my best efforts when they had a mind to. And besides, I was tired. It had been a long day of impassioned speeches, a day filled with perspectives and testimonies about female pastors (although none, from my recollection, from any female pastors), and I had lost the desire to pretend that it didn’t matter.

It's a dangerous thing to care about this result if you are female working for the church. It can be evidence of your rebellious spirit, your pride, your desire for man’s affirmation instead of God’s. This shouldn’t matter, you are told, if you really believe your calling comes from God alone. You need to just keep your chin up, keep on doing what you’ve always done. But I was tired. And I couldn’t quite understand, if ordination is fundamentally the human recognition of who the Holy Spirit has already called and equipped, how a world of people who had never met me could say without a shadow of a doubt that my gender makes my calling impossible. And so as the results were read out and the people around me cheered I sat a little taller, tilted my tear-stained face a little higher. You might not have heard my story before, I thought, but please, even as you celebrate, see me now.

It’s been two months since the assembled delegates of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted against divisions having the authority to decide whether or not to ordain women to the gospel ministry. In some ways, it’s been a time of confusion. Some have taken this to mean that currently serving female pastors should step down, or even that female elders should be asked to resign. Unions and divisions worldwide have had to write clarifying statements to their constituents explaining that this vote merely affirms current policy, and that no policies were actually changed. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked by church members “what does this mean? Can you explain this to me? So what happens now?”

In other ways, however, these months have been a time of clarity. For all the talk of the “sweet spirit” permeating the General Conference meetings, for me and many others who were there or followed the proceedings from afar, this Session served to highlight the deep issues that divide us in the Adventist Church. We are divided on the issue of women’s ordination, yes, but we are also divided on our hermeneutics, evangelism, eschatology, and even our mission. Is the Adventist church primarily called to be a holy example of obedience? Are we primarily called to be ushers for Christ’s return through our evangelistic efforts? Or are we primarily called to be faithful witnesses to the coming Kingdom of God through lives of grace and commitment to justice and opposition to the forces of Babylon?

In the aftermath of San Antonio, these differences seem to culminate in perhaps the most pressing divide in the Adventist church at the moment: our differing understanding of where power lies. As has been mentioned before in numerous articles, the Adventist church has had a unique organizational structure for over a hundred years now, set in place to help mitigate against “kingly power” being amassed by those at the top. In our current structure, there is a natural gap and potential tension between the division and union level, with the unions fundamentally accountable to their constituents (in terms of money and votes), and the division accountable to the GC (in terms of money and appointments), which is in turn accountable to the assembled delegates of the world church. What was evident at the General Conference is that the Global South, which has predominantly (although not universally) adopted a form of Adventism that is anti-intellectual and fundamentalist, has now risen to power. It is deeply ironic that for many of us third– or fourth-generation Adventists in the global north, the Adventism that we find so suffocating now is the indigenized version of the very Adventism our ancestors exported decades ago.

With this shift in demographics, many of the areas in Adventism that used to have power now find themselves without it, and thus the question is asked: what should those who find themselves on the progressive side of an increasingly conservative and fundamentalist denomination do? Should we allow the will of the majority to dictate on matters of conscience? Why should we stay connected to a church we no longer feel represents us? I have heard these questions and others like them from numerous young adult friends and church members over the past few months. In the last two weeks alone, I have had two separate conversations with individuals who shared with me that while they still felt committed to their local churches, they want nothing to do with the global structure post San Antonio. In conversations in homes, offices, hallways, I hear murmurings that the only way forward is a split. That we must continue on our path, and let the divide widen as it will.

I can see the power and potential in this direction. In many ways (aside from the potential logistical nightmare), it would be easier for our health and sanity to be with like-minded people, people with whom you can build synergy and momentum and a sustainable alternative vision of Adventism without energy being diverted into infighting and impassable divides. In many ways it makes sense that our focus should be on our local contexts, for that is where the deepest forms of community can be built.

Yet I am resistant to this solution as well. I love being part of a global church, and have deep roots in the global south. I believe that a largely overlooked dynamic at play in San Antonio was not just the current cultural differences between the global north and south, but the post-colonial push-back from a part of the world tired of being patronized, now flexing its muscles. In some ways, the motion on the table was an attempt to sidestep this power struggle by asking for the freedom to decide this issue regionally. But the patronizing relationship between north and south could still be seen in comments on the floor, where well-intentioned individuals would remind the global south that we once allowed them to have polygamy, when we first brought Adventism to them, and appeal for them to return the favor of allowing for cultural variances (leaving unsaid that they should learn from our example); and in post-decision analysis that painted entire continents as backwards, uneducated, and easily manipulated.

This dynamic is not unique to the Adventist church. I have a friend whose job takes her in and out of UN meetings and discussions, and she sees a similar pattern in their debates on issues like gender equality and individual rights and freedom of conscience. The global north passionately crusades for these issues – the global south resists the implied sense of superiority. In the resulting impasse it can feel pointless to try and continue the conversation.

So what should a progressive Adventist, passionate about living in light of the coming Kingdom do? If we care deeply about issues of justice, equality, liberation, transformation, and building Kingdom-oriented communities, where should we go from here?

On the one hand, I believe that the stance that many conferences and unions are taking is the right one. They are saying that while they love being part of a global church, and while they take the church’s collective decisions seriously, on matters of conscience they must follow where they see the Holy Spirit leading. Power that is not used is lost, and in these matters the unions are using the power given to them by their constituents. On the other hand, however, I fear that within our unions and conferences are many liberals and progressives who want to write off our connection to a world church as unnecessary at best and contaminating at worst. But I believe doing so would be a mistake, and that we would be turning our backs on an incredible opportunity. If we as progressives claim to care about the world as it is, and to work towards the transformation of communities as an example of the world as it could be (and will be in the Kingdom to come), then isolating ourselves in like-minded groups will be a betrayal of that mission.

The world is facing global challenges. Challenges of unsustainable lifestyles and environmental degradation and growing inequality and cultural polarization. We see the implications of isolating ourselves in affinity groups in the gerrymandered political landscape of United States. Liberal areas get more liberal, conservative areas more conservative, and never the twain shall meet. But the issues facing us are too great for just one group to tackle. We will not solve them if we do not find ways to work across barriers of culture and geography and ideology and even history, colonial or otherwise.

Adventists are uniquely poised to be a witness to what a diverse group of people focusing on mission could look like. Of the 238 countries and areas of the world recognized by the United Nations, Adventism has a presence in 216. We have built systems of education and healthcare that have met real, this-world needs (and although I am aware of the way education has been a colonizing tool, it has also been a vehicle for liberation – see the story of the Stahls in Peru). Despite the deep divides between us, we are intimately connected. We share a common, recent history. We share practices that uniquely identify us. We share a commitment to the Sabbath that helps define our past, present, and future. In an age where information is everything, we share contact details – I have countless stories of traveling overseas, needing help, and finding the phone number and address of a local Adventist church that opened its doors and arms wide.

Yes, there is a lot that divides the Adventist Church. But there is also a lot that could potentially hold us together. Our increasingly polarized and divided world is facing challenges that increasingly necessitate that we work together. Belonging to a global Adventism despite its challenges can force us to have the kind of open, authentic, reciprocal, bridge-building conversations that the world so desperately needs.

This article was written by a female pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church who asked that her name be withheld.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7078
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I appreciate your insights. Keep the faith, pastor. Jesus will return soon and sort it all out.

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Quite true, Jennifer. The great divide among us, which is as real as the anonymous author of this essay maintains, is about faithfulness or the lack thereof to the written counsel of God. Colonial history and diverse cultures are not the driving dynamic.

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Anonymous said: "We are divided on the issue of women’s ordination, yes, but we are also divided on our hermeneutics, evangelism, eschatology, and even our mission. Is the Adventist church primarily called to be a holy example of obedience? Are we primarily called to be ushers for Christ’s return through our evangelistic efforts? Or are we primarily called to be faithful witnesses to the coming Kingdom of God through lives of grace and commitment to justice and opposition to the forces of Babylon?"
Anonymous, we are called to all of the things you cite. But I would argue that none of them mean a thing if you get the hermeneutics wrong. And that primarily is the problem with WO. The only way to sell it to Bible believing Adventists was to change the hermeneutics. What the Bible actually, plainly says is not that difficult to understand. Unless, of course, we don’t want to understand. Then we change the hermeneutics .

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As the author of this most balanced and perceptive essay says, it is impossible to carry on a conversation with any one who says that God wrote every “counsel” found in the Bible. If that is the case, and the language available to the authors of the Bible (which is nothing but a cultural tool) placed no limitations on the way they could express themselves, then why is it that such ones do not follow every counsel found in “the written word of God”?

Herold Weiss

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North America is completely divided on this topic. It’s time we acknowledged that and sought the answer here, not in other parts of the world. Our leader, who is ‘born and bred’ here in the “global North” holds a position in this matter is remarkably the same as the “global South.” I use quotation marks because there is no such thing as a coherent North or South. This is far too much of a generalization.

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I can sense the hurt felt by this anonymous author. She has my sympathies although I differ from her position. I fully support the good sense in her conclusion. Hopefully, time will bring the healing needed at this time to all feeling this hurt.
We are one movement. It serves no one’s interest to dismember it, only to become a vestigial remnant of the wider group.
Anonymous, the women’s ordination movement have won more than they have lost. They have established more than a beach head in the system. They are entrenched and will rise again and again until victory is achieved. Those who won in San Antonio, won a battle, not the war. It will not be very long before a majority find a way to re-interpret bible passages to give sanction to women’s ordination, and in time, the fight to achieve this may well be forgotten in the normality of such ordinations.
I already see straws in the wind on how to do this. Hanz Gutierrez’s, our Peruvian Theologian recently posted an article in spectrum entitled “A Sabbath for Homosexuals. An Oxymoron or a Blessing”. In this article he quoted Isa. 56:4 -5 to read “For this is what the LORD says: "To the “homosexuals” (eunuchs) who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant, to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” Isaiah 56: 4-5.
If “homosexual” can be considered a synonym for “eunuch”, as it is here by this noted theologian, then it must a simple matter for “male” to be considered a suitable synonym for “female” and “man” for “woman.” Truly do we need a new hermeneutic that will allow us to stretch past rigid interpretations so that they can fit our enlightened current understandings? Some may well say that we do.
Anonymous, trust me, Women’s Ordination is in safe hands.

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A good demonstration of the attitude of way too many members in our church who actually think this attitude has anything to do with Christian behaviour and understanding. I don’t see the possibility to have any kind of unity with a group which claims that they are the only faithful christians on earth. It is part of their faith, that everyone else is unfaithful. How could unity be possible then?

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Two months after this great dividing point in Adventism (I compare it to times like 1888), the lack of empathy and seeming inability to feel the pain of those who “lost” on the part of Ted Wilson is of great concern to me. I see this as a terrible, tragic failure. There are people who demonstrate a lack of empathy (I won’t use the term for this, George and others will know what I’m saying), and my perception is that Ted Wilson is such a person.

Kevin P, I urge you to quit accusing and putting people down. I think that also demonstrates a lack of empathy. Does it make you feel stronger to relate that way?

Yet Jesus Christ demonstrated empathy at every turn, for those who conformed, for those who did not conform, for those considered to be sinners. However, he showed far less empathy for those whose highest goal was strict obedience to the law.

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Adam was the progenitor of sin, not Eve. That is why God confronted Adam by name.

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Thank you anonymous for sharing. Many of us at home had leaky eyes also! I find it very hopeful that even after being invalidated, you can encourage not running away and to continue trying to work together.

There are so many comments made all over social media that lack empathy and most of them are made by men. I hope that in 10 years we can look back at this fundamental phase and shake our heads and wonder what we were thinking!

God Bless you anonymous for speaking up!

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ANN
We are in crisis in God’s government. The devil has made the perfect storm. Joel 2 predicted what would happen.
Was that ended when Ellen White died?

Thousands watched on Periscope, television, and followed on Twitter, Facebook, and via blog postings.

Thousands felt the sting, heard the unChristlike attacks of women (verbal abuse, really), and longed for a church organization that would vote to be inclusive, non discriminating, and embracing of the Biblical concepts of the Holy Spirit’s prime role now to empower and gift His servants with gifts to serve.

We are still smarting, wondering, baffled, un-resigned, undeterred, and entrenching to empower every Christian individual whom God calls. It is that simple. And that Biblical.

We are with you by the thousands. Holding you up in prayer and praying for the reformation and renewal of an organization that veered far off the path July 8.

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Given how the vote went, either 100% of the North voted for WO, or an awful lot of the South voted for WO as well. Do the math.

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Not quite, Richard. ( @ludders ) The “progenitor of sin” was Lucifer (Satan). “Adam” only made the choice to put their faith in the “progenitor of sin” rather than in their own “progenitor”… their Creator.

And I use the plural pronouns deliberately since when God spoke to them after they had disobeyed his explicit command, God was using “Man” to mean mankind… as in Genesis 1:

Only after God differentiated between Man and Woman in Genesis 2 did He address them as separate individuals.

“The only way to sell it to Bible believing Adventists was to change the hermeneutics.”

That is not true. When I began to study through this issue–and I originally began with the assumption that WO was not biblical–I used the principles of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic that I had learned as an Adventist and that I continue to use to support the Sabbath, non-immortality of the soul, etc.

I did not need to change my hermeneutics. I just needed to change my mind when I discovered from the Bible, and the Bible alone, that I was wrong.

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there is no institutional church that has a perfect Creed or set of Fundanental Beliefs. Salvation is individually dispensed upon the unreserved trust in the finished work of Christ. ordained and paid but an institution does not change the Commission of Jesus to go and teach all things I have taught you. Forget S.A. Preach the centrality of the Cross. Find your sermons in John and Paul. leave Daniel and Revelation to the scholars and the televangelists. Preach love not fear or pride. there is no salvation or assurance in votes. Your ordination is to the gosoel period. The Lord bless your calling. Shed tears that the Holy Spirit was absent from that vote. Those that carried the vote were the real losers. Tom Z

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I can understand why the author of this article wanted to remain anonymous. But, I cannot understand why Spectrum decided to publish the article and continues to use sources and material labeled as “anonymous”.
I sympathize with the journalistic view that the right to remain anonymous is important in public debate. But at some point, some one should know who is responsible for what is being said. If not, there is the possibility of manipulation. Is there a place for anonymous articles or comments in this vulnerable information age? Several magazines have refused to use anonymous sources or publish anonymous material unless persons use their real names.
The Huffington Post, which has one of the most active online communities with over 630 million comments on their platform, announced last week it will no longer allow anonymous comments. The Huffington Post is the most recent media outlet to join the list of newspapers to ban anonominity online, including the Miami Herald, USA Today, etc.
The key lies in how media organisations hold both themselves and their communities accountable.

I want to suggest an idea for Spectrum to consider before using anonymous material. Make the user justify commenting anonymously. The person making the expression has a responsibility to justify anonymity. A user might say ‘I want to make a complaint about abuse but because of my circumstances I don’t want my name to be known.’” Having this type of justification could help prevent against false allegations, while giving marginalized and vulnerable people the right to speak out without putting themselves further at risk.

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This is the key to the whole problem: the “progressive” philosophy, a philosophy (or theology, if you wish) which rejects creation in favor of some form of theistic evolution, rejects the sanctuary doctrine, rejects the prophetic ministry of Ellen White, embraces pagan music, and seeks to normalize homosexuality. While not all “progressives” buy into all of these errors, most seem to, from what I’ve seen. The mods may think this is excessive, but to embrace these errors is to sever (at least theologically) oneself from traditional SDA doctrine and practice.

I realize that not all proponents of WO have bought into the above errors, but among those who have bought into those errors, most seem to also favor of WO. Very curious.

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