Southern Africa Union Ordination Report Disproves Monolithic-Africa Narrative

A report from the Southern Africa Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SAU) obtained by Spectrum dispels the dominant narrative concerning African Adventists on the topic of women’s ordination. The previously un-circulated document was created on July 17, 2014, and refutes assertions made by the South Africa Indian Ocean Division (SID), its parent organization.

On January 21, 2014, at the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee Meeting in Maryland, the SID Biblical Study Committee report was presented to TOSC members. The three-page report, whose contributors were not listed, but which was guided by SID president Paul Ratsara, contended that not only was there no biblical mandate for ordaining women as pastors, but also that the church erred in allowing women to be ordained as elders and deacons, and should walk back those allowances.

SID’s report aimed, in its own words, to “develop a position based on biblical foundations and the writings of Ellen White in dealing with women participation in ministry and women ordination.” It affirmed male headship and made the recommendation that, among other things, women should no longer serve as elders at all--a radical revocation of previously adopted church policy and ubiquitous practice in the Adventist denomination.

READ: Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division BRC Presentation

SID concluded that “The proposal to regionalize ordination should not be allowed because it will lead to further fragmentation which will threaten the unity of the world church.”

All of the Biblical Research Committee reports to TOSC from divisions in Africa expressed opposition to ordaining women (though some included willingness to accept the Church’s decision if the practice is allowed on a division-by-division basis). Of the four African divisions, SID produced the strongest denunciations of ordaining women.

Taken together, the reports from African divisions created the impression in many minds that Africa was more or less monolithic in its opposition to women’s ordination. But the South Africa Union report shatters that narrative and demonstrates that among leaders in Africa, diversity certainly exists.

The SAU report was produced by G. T. du Preez, A. Platts, P. Chobokoane, G. T. Allers, E. Scholtz, N. Fleming, R. N. Mavuso, L. E. Du Preez, M. C. Nhlapo, J. Mongwe, T. Danxa, and D. Williams, at the behest of the President’s Council Report, which issued the mandate to “receive, screen, study, formulate and submit a response on the ordination of women.” SAU president, Dr. Tankiso Letseli, was not named in the document, but oversaw the process.

The document begins with an acknowledgement of the diversity of views within its territory and in the Church at large. It provides line-by-line responses to the SID report, and using the Church Manual, the Minister’s Handbook, Scripture and Ellen White’s writings, makes a case for allowing diversity of views and practices within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination on women’s ordination.

Following a series of ten “whereas” clauses, the document states,

The findings of this committee are that there are currently no conclusive arguments that prohibit the ordination of women to pastoral ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The committee, therefore, concludes that ordination to pastoral ministry should not be determined by gender.”

One of the rebuttals made in the SAU report is that Scripture does not make allowance for women to be ordained.

SID, in the introduction to its report, wrote, “The absence of a clear biblical basis has been the reason for lack of support for the ordination of women.”

SAU responded, saying,

The committee acknowledges that issues pertaining to the Church and its functioning is best resolved by proclamations from Scripture. However, with regard to the question of women’s ordination, opinion within the SDA Church is divided as to the nature of the biblical witness. The very fact that Scripture does not seem to address the question explicitly has meant that conclusions on women’s ordination drawn from Scripture have largely been inferences.

[...]

The committee, while not wishing to negatively judge any SDA exegetes of Scripture, perceives that interpretations of Scripture with regard to the question of women’s ordination to pastoral ministry often appear to be guided by pre-established convictions.

[...]

The committee, therefore, maintains that the Bible has not spoken with sufficient clarity on this issue to provide the SDA Church at this point in its history and development with the definitive answer it seeks on women’s ordination.”

Finally, the SAU report includes several appendices and ends with “50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” an official statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted by the General Conference Administrative Committee, November 17, 1998, and released by the General Conference Office of Public Affairs.

How the release of this report will impact the question before General Conference delegates in 2015 concerning whether or not divisions should be allowed to decide women’s ordination regionally is anyone’s guess. But what is now conclusive is that a monolithic Africa opposed to women’s ordination was always a false narrative.

Below, the Southern Africa Union Theology of Ordination and Women Report in its entirety.

Southern Africa Union Theology of Ordination and Women Report by Jared Wright (Spectrum Magazine)

Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6660
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Well, another fact about the now famous “Ratsara Maneuver” at the TOSC.

Still, make no mistake, the vote in SA will be NO. Which I also predict will have “grave consequences” at the Union level in some parts of the world.

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The history of male leadership should be evidence enough to invite woman leadership as soon as possible at the highest levels. Tom Zwemer

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A curiosity question: why the reference to “pastoral ministry”? Is a distinction made with reference to, say, “teaching ministry”? Is there any thought given to WO with reference to one but not the other?

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not so fast, george…if the southern africa union is any indication, more african unions will vote yes in san antonio as the “ratsara maneuver” backfires…i think this article intimates what will most likely prevail in san antonio: divisional implementation of wo…

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SID will likely prevail but that is a conjecture. No one really knows how the African vote will go.
In The Grip of Truth

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3 things!!

  • Mention of the regionalization of the ordination of women is really misleading.
    Adventists worldwide may decide in July 2015 to ordain women to church leadership as and where “it seems good to the Spirit and to us.”

If such a policy is adopted, Adventists will not thereby have invented a piecemeal and regional theology of leadership. We will, in fact have adopted a united refinement of ordination policy, to be utilized as “it seems good to the Spirit and to us.”

Those who would suggest that to allow the “ordination” of women in some regions but not in others is to adopt varying theologies of ordination are simply incorrect and perhaps even mischevious.

  • The Southern Africa Union is based on the rainbow Republic of South Africa. In many ways the Republic of South Africa stands in contrast to the rest of Africa as a society that has often in the past been regarded as part of the First World. My namesake, Lord Charles Somerset, son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort, was the first governor of the Cape Colony, as RSA was at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The British influence in that part of the world was no less than in Australia and New Zealand.

  • Graeme Sharock is correct. Any reference to “pastoral ministry” in the current ordination debate is really misleading. Ordination to ministry among Adventists should never prioritize “pastoral ministry” as a greater calling than the “teaching ministry” or “administrative ministry” or “specialized resourcing ministries.”

Ministry among Adventists is service to God’s people and his world. Some are called by God and the body of Christ to serve the needs of local congregations, others are called to serve in specialized resource roles and still others are called to “teaching ministry” or administrative roles.

This is why I still favour one style of ordination for those in Adventist leadership, whether elders, deacons, deaconesses, congregational pastoral caregivers/ evangelists, teachers, and administrators of any Adventist entity or institution.

Their credentials should then detail their particular job description and position responsibilities. As I understand it this is what the TED BRC Report recommends.

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Perhaps there will be some Martin Luthers, friends of Luther’s in the SDA church.
who will say This Is Not Right. We believe the Holy Spirit is leading, at least in our
area of the world and we will do the Right Thing for Us.
That will take some Intestinal Fortitude. Perhaps some Lions, some Fire. Maybe
a pit with mud up to the waist. Or, maybe being sawn in half might even feel better.
We can do all the praying we want to.
What it takes is Men who will do the right thing though the Heaven’s Fall.
God will NOT work miracles! Will NOT present the paper to sign in His handwriting.
Humans have to compose the paper, Humans have to sign. Humans have to take the licks
and stripes administered by their friends, by their Administrators.

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I am confused here. The question going to the session is whether there can be variance from region to region. One standard would only apply to the entire world church if there is a no vote. With a no vote there would presumably be no ordination of women anywhere(which the world church apparently can’t enforce legally, but that is another issue).

Carolyn,

The TOSC handed down a united Theology of Ordination Consensus Statement, which was adopted by that august body, all but unanimously.

The question going to the session is somewhat wrong headed in that it suggests that the priority is for variation in both theory and practice. The priority should be to do things “that seem good to the Holy Spirit and us” in terms of what would most advance the mission of the church.

What the vote is all about is not a variation in theology, but a variation in practice and policy. This is the essential issue.

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OK, I just misunderstood what you were saying. I understand now. Thanks.

In the not too distant past, Adventist ordination was being conferred on different types of employees such as conference & union treasurers, academy principals, etc. Then criticism grew that only males in those positions were being ordained—never their female counterparts. This led to a focus in regarding ordination more in terms of pastoral roles. It was good in that it stopped being a perk that went to some & not others without clear reason; why principals & not teachers? But, why not instead enlarge the practice to ordain for different ministries? In hindsight one may question whether the desire to exclude women was part of the motivation in that decision. Another may have been the perception that it’d “devalue” the cachet of ordination were it granted to every denominational employee.

current church law says the final say is up to the unions.

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I stand by my prophecy Jeremy.
The GC knows exactly how it’s going to roll in SA, it’s been very well orchestrated.
Though…, miracles may sometimes debunk even good prophecies… :slight_smile:
Will see, it’s coming soon!

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Of interest here is the fact that Pr Paul Ratsara became a widower one or two years ago. In the last 3 or 4 months he has been remarried to a New Zealander who was for many years very active in church work, especially in the media ministry of the church. This marriage was celebrated jointly by South Pacific Division President, Dr Barry Oliver and my good friend and former New Zealand Pacific Union President, Pr Jerry Matthews.

It may be that the new Mrs Paul Ratsara will mellow Pr Ratsara’s stance on the ordination issue for it is impossible for me to imagine that the new Mrs Ratsara would agree with his stance on WO.

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Peter, your comment that a yes vote will create one “policy” for the whole world is brilliant–and true. A yes vote will say that women’s ordination is approved in every part of the world where it advances the gospel. So in all parts of the world ordaining women as pastors will be in harmony with GC approved practices, and not ordaining women as pastors will be in harmony with GC approved practices. (It won’t be a “policy” until a policy is drafted, presented and voted).

A no vote, on the other hand, may produce confusion and chaos. Here is why: when a nominating committee proposes the name of one person to be elected as president, if the delegates vote no, that does not mean no one will be president for the next few years. It means the committee will go back to work and come up with another suggestion. The same is true with this vote. The GC president, with support of Annual Council, has put one solution to this issue before the delegates. If the delegates vote no to this one solution, we don’t get to invent alternate meanings for the no vote. A no vote to this solution means someone needs to make a new suggestion that can be discussed and voted on. A no vote will mean we are where we were before GC session.

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So now we are eagerly waiting to see if the “Mrs Ratsara Maneuver” neutralizes the “Ratsara Maneuver.”

WOW! This is getting exciting!!!

@elmer_cupino

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Yes, and that’s exactly where we will continue to be. Until there is a change on the top and a new GC Prez is elected, provided it’s someone with leadership skills and a progressive instead of regressive mind.

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This could be PR’s “Waterloo.” Some of his “people-SAU” have fired a “warning shot” across his bow and the new “Mrs. Ratsara” hopefully should be a woman confident and assured of her status and role. The “Aspirin Test” should not be necessary in this case.

Come to think about it, the SDA church is flushed with money so she could perpetually retain the TOSC fully funded and operational. Better to fund the TOSC than those “financially compromised” boarding academies. The trend seems to be “home schooling” anyway. Ask @blc

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Gary,
Can you please tell them that in San Antonio! I will not be there to do so!!

I really appeciate having this Union Report in hand. Yet, more than one year ago I offered the first salvo that sought to disprove the supposed monolithic African narrative with regard to WO. The East Central Africa Division Report to the TOSC called for Adventists everywhere to reinvent our ordination paradigm so that we all could move creatively with God’s agenda. They explicitly acknowledged the need for cultural sensitivity in achieving this. This is why they were very cautious about accepting the currently offered gender free ordination!

It is also true that Adventists in leadership ministries should not be divided into “pastoral ministry” which is an ordainable task and “teaching ministry” which isn’t necessarily. Years ago a long time Theology lecturer was prevented from being ordained because of his theology. He taught for more than 12 years before being ordained. If he had been in pastoral ministry for that long without being ordained he would have been expelled.

Years ago, another person serving for a time in pastoral ministry was adjudged “more suited to tertiary teaching and other academic pursuits than to pastoral ministry.” Yet that person was not assisted to move in this direction, and his ability to function again in denominational employ was effectively at an end. That person removed himself from any further abuse of process.

I repeat again that there should be no hierarchy in Adventist leadership ministries. The best way to do this is to have a common rite of ordination for all, and to include a position description within his credentials.

Such a process would have forestalled such a gross violation of due process, as happened to the two individuals above, had such a model of ordination been practiced.

The Salvation Army used to just commission their officers. Since 1980 they both commission and ordain officers. I have seen it happen on You-tube. They just proclaim that the officers before the waiting congregation are ordained. And it is so. There is no laying on of hands. Just the pronouncement. Around the same time each of the new officers receive their posting and job description.

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