The Actual Significance of the San Antonio Ordination Vote

On Wednesday, General Conference Session delegates in San Antonio, Texas will vote on what has been the most talked about (and perhaps least understood) issue in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in this quinquennium--ordination. For all of the discussion of the issue, many misperceptions of its significance persists.

Currently, women in the Adventist Church not only can and do serve as ministers, but they are also recognized by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists with ministerial credentials, as reflected in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook, the official record of denominational employees, produced by the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research. The question of whether or not women may serve as ministers is not up for a vote.

The misunderstandings about what will happen on Wednesday are pervasive, and have shaped both media coverage and many Adventists' perceptions of the issue. So what will actually be decided? What will not?

Members of the 2014 Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee voted to ask delegates at the 2015 GC Session to vote on whether or not it is "acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to gospel ministry" (full text of the question here).

WHERE DOES AUTHORITY TO ORDAIN RESIDE? Pacific Union Conference Communication Director Gerry Chudleigh (who passed away on Saturday, July 5, after a long battle with cancer) has pointed out that at the 1901 General Conference Session, with input from Ellen White, autonomous unions were created,

“[transferring] authority from the General Conference leaders to local leaders, and departments were created that transferred authority over such ministries as Sabbath school, health, temperance, religious liberty, publishing, mission appointments and education from independent stockholders to church leaders, including members, at all levels. [...] The unions, on the other hand, were created to act as firewalls between the GC and the conferences, making “dictation” impossible because: Each union had its own constitution and bylaws and was to be governed by its own constituency. The officers of each union were to be elected by their own union constituency, and, therefore, could not be controlled, replaced or disciplined by the GC.

Chudleigh's careful analysis reveals that the authority to approve ordinations rests squarely on the shoulders of the church's unions (See: “Who Runs the Church?”). This point means that whatever happens Wednesday, the vote will have a more symbolic than functional significance.

IF DELEGATES VOTE YES If the General Conference delegates vote YES on the question, delegates will have signalled their agreement that divisions should, if appropriate in their territories, make provision for the ordination of women. Nothing more, nothing less.

IF DELEGATES VOTE NO If the General Conference delegates vote NO on the question, functionally speaking, nothing will change. Unions that currently ordain women would continue to do so, and many more unions will likely join the unions that currently ordain women. This vote has no bearing on those facts.

WHAT THE VOTE WILL NOT DETERMINE The vote will not determine whether or not women may serve as ministers. Nowhere in the question is any language to indicate that women may or may not serve as pastors, chaplains, or any other ministerial positions that may require denominationally-issued ministerial credentials. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has already decided in the affirmative, as noted above, that women may serve as credentialed ministers. Neither will the vote have any implications for ordained women elders or deacons within the Adventist denomination.

Because of the narrow parameters of the question posed to delegates, the vote cannot determine whether or not women may be ordained within the Seventh-day Adventist Church (this may be the biggest, most persistent misconception). There is no language in the question to suggest that women may be ordained or that they may not. A NO vote is not a repudiation or a prohibition of women’s ordination, and a YES vote does not require the ordaining of women.

Because of the narrow parameters of the question posed to delegates, the vote cannot determine whether or not women may be ordained within the Seventh-day Adventist Church (this may be the biggest, most persistent misconception). There is no language in the question to suggest that women may be ordained or that they may not. A NO vote is not a repudiation of women’s ordination, and a YES vote does not require the ordaining of women.

Over the opening days of this General Conference Session, it has become clear that there is a sharp division among delegates over the issue of ordination, and although the discussion of ordination has not yet come up for discussion, several delegates have referenced Wednesday's vote, with discussion at times becoming acrominious. It seems unlikely that the church will reach consensus on this issue, and the vote scheduled for Wednesday will make little practical difference, whatever the outcome.

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org and a member of the General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6932
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Very good note on this. This is exactly what I’ve been saying for over a year. The fundamentalists usually ignore it because they don’t have a good rebuttal, distort it to appear as a fundamental theology vote, or make audacious claims that unions that disobey the divisional policy will be severely punished. The last point is interesting. There is nothing the GC can feasibly do without splitting the church on membership, assets, or funding. I’ve played “war games” with some denominational experts on this. It is denomination suicide to intervene significantly. This does mean that once again GC leadership has created disharmony, anger, fear, and conflict when none if it is warranted or valuable. This is the greatest tragedy of Ted’s re-election. He is the primary cause of this conflict or at least has squandered the opportunity to lead at most opportunities. He is not the leader that can be trusted for followed to deal with the harsh realities.

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whatever the technicalities wednesday’s vote boils down to, i see three reasons why a yes vote is important:

1…it will repudiate male headship as a necessary operating principle in the seventh-day adventist church, and affirm, as nothing else can, that christ is our true and only head, as portrayed in the scriptures of both the bible and egw…

2…it will affirm for women their place in our church…it will say to them that they matter as much in decision-making capacity as men do, and it will no doubt encourage young girls to discover and use their talents in church capacity as contributing adults…within a single generation, i expect a yes vote to significantly increase, if not double, the talent pool our church has to draw from, which can only mean forward momentum in the development of new, as yet unheard of paradigms for effective evangelism and membership retention in important divisions like nad…

3…it will affirm the leadership and historical importance of nad in our world church…it will simultaneously connect us to our roots, while stressing confidence that an intelligent, forward-looking vision is god’s plan for our future…a yes vote really will be a meaningful symbolic reaching out by the world church for the kind of spiritual growth and new understandings that formed the clear ethos of our pioneer church, which i believe we need to recapture to finish our commission…

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Excellent clarification. While the logistical and practical impact of this vote will be negligible (at least where I live), the symbolic weight of a “no” vote (which seems highly likely given the delegates and what we’ve seen so far) will be a very heavy weight.

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Our dear friend Gerry was not NAD com director. He belonged to the Pacific Union, tho he could and did help the church throughout the NAD.

Glad to have met you Jared. :smiley:

Thank you for the clarification, which of course having been a friend of Gerry’s I knew, but miswrote. Appreciate your pointing it out, and great to have met you as well. -Jared Wright

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Jared, could you perhaps explain what the powers of the GC in session are when it comes to going beyond this motion? Can other motions on the ordination of women be made and voted from the floor? Or is the action of this body restricted to voting this particular motion up or down? What further actionbeyond a “no” vote could the anti-WO camp seek to take?

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According to this article the GC has not any authority. Then, why the liberals are still discussing and debating the same issue WO for the last 20 years or more?. It is, they might say “If God does not elect us we will willingly remain in our state of rebellion forever” like Korah, Dathan and Abiram.

Jared: The best anti-depressant I have had in the last 30 years thinking about this issue!!

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I want to have a few more conversations before replying in full (I am a novice where parliamentary procedure is concerned), but my preliminary understanding is that delegates could try to amend the motion to add more provisions (unlikely to succeed), but beyond that, I don’t believe there are too many options.

Delegates may make amendments, speak in favor of or against motions, call question on motions (meaning move to end discussion) raise points of order from the floor. They can make suggestions to committee as did the delegate who requested the study of ordination, but that will not factor in until the next quinquennium.

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Jared, I’m sorry to say, but with a no vote policy will be adapted to make sure that there are no loopholes. Everything else is wishful thinking.

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Do you think the new policy will forbid Wishful Thinking?

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As far as I can tell, this article says:

“Indeed, you can have your cake and eat it too!”

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True. Let’s hope that, given the symbolic significance of tomorrow’s vote, that a No vote is not also denominational suicide – or better yet, that the vote is Yes.

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So sorry to hear about Gerry Chudleigh. I knew him when I was a boy.

I’m not sure I agree with Jared. The text of the vote is:

“Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”

If no, then it is not acceptable for unions to make provisions for the ordination of women. If a Union such as the NAD continues to do so, it will mean that they are acting in defiance of the GC vote. Those who voted no will insist that GC take steps to bring the NAD and any other unions into compliance.

Many will consider this vote as restricted to the sentence quoted.

Many will take a much more dynamic view.

The document to be voted appears carefully ambiguous.

Of special import will be how General Conference leadership will respond to the vote results.

The widely sought Yes vote may also be interpreted by top church leaders as the delegates having empowered and authorized them to prevent further spread of women’s ordination by their close collaboration with Divisions resulting in Divisions declining to ‘make provision for’ ordination and in so doing preventing the spread of women’s ordination. This could be read by the top church leaders as an opportunity to establish a basis for preventing women’s ordination.

However, the major benefit of a Yes vote it seems is implied agreement among the delegates to the whereas statements. And that alone will make the Yes vote the best foundation on which to expand women’s ordination, even if it may slow the process in the meantime.

The widely sought No vote may also be seen by top church leaders as an opportunity see the vote as also a rejection of the wherases in this document being voted, and thereby empower top church leaders to declare it to be the will of God by reason of the delegates vote to go back to the bible to continue to try to resolve whether to ordain women anywhere in the world, rather than leaving it to the Unions to make this decision.

That said, it may well be that a No vote will accelerate women’s ordination by keeping Divisions out of the way with regard to women’s ordination. Remember it was ‘legally’ clarified by GC attorneys at the time the NAD executive committee voted three years ago to enable Unions to ordain women to the ministry, that Divisions lack a constituency and therefore any authorization status with regard to Union Conferences. The way the vote is stated may well be designed as an attempt to empower Divisions in light of their having been declared three years ago to be neutered.

A No vote may also, again by inference, see General Conference power further clarified as remaining advocacy only, seemingly as intended when Union Conferences were created more than a century ago.

Finally, a No vote will very likely expand the sense that it is every Union for themselves everywhere the rubber meets the road. This degree of local responsibility could well be a positive outcome of a No vote on this matter. And the more the most local church structure is engaged, the more dynamic the potential for the work of the Holy Spirit, it seems.

As noted, how General Conference leadership will respond to the vote will be most telling. There is a sense that they may well feel they have crafted a vote in which their leadership is strengthened with regard to women’s ordination, no matter the vote.

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my understanding is that the purpose for the creation of unions was to protect local conferences from dictation by the general conference…but if unions themselves are susceptible to dictation by the general conference, how can they protect local conferences from that dictation…as i see it, if this protective function of unions has any meaning, it is that the general conference doesn’t have the right to tell a local conference what to do without union approval…given this arrangement, i don’t see how a conference or union can be in rebellion against the general conference in the event of a disagreement…

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In talking with astute observers the more interesting vote is No. Yes, may not have the impact. No, will be an empty vote that we’ll see has no teeth.

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Time will tell. They may get some dental implants added once WO by division is voted down. Watch for amendments!

Ain’t gonna happen. Let the San Antonio fireworks begin!

unless i’m missing something, i don’t think this can be the case…given the fact that it is unions, not divisions, that currently control ordination decisions, a question that potentially empowers divisions to ordain women doesn’t strike at the heart of whether women should be ordained…a no vote simply means unions remain the sole center of ordination control…but a yes vote, particularly in the event of strife between unions and their division, could complicate matters because divisions could claim a power they lacked before the vote that would now need to be weighed against the power unions already have…

as i see it, the ambiguity in the question confronting delegates tomorrow lies in precisely what is being voted on…the inclusion of the preamble of bible-egw study and prayer appears to suggest that it is women’s ordination that is being voted on…yet the question itself makes it clear that it’s divisional power that’s up for grabs, as union power of ordination control is not up for discussion…unless this attempt to insert divisional power into the ordination equation is really only a stepping stone to eventually insert general conference power into ordination decisions, i’m not sure what opportunities for influence top church leaders can realistically see…even if we weigh the fact that union prerogative cannot contravene general conference prerogative, until union power of ordination control is directly confronted, their historical “firewall” status can only mean that in the event of a yes vote and a showdown between unions and their division, or a no vote and a showdown between unions and the general conference, it’s unions that hold all the trump cards…

i think our system of church governance ultimately nurtures the two mutually incompatible goals of world uniformity on the one hand, and protection from dictation on the other…compounding this tension is the fact that there is a distinction between uniformity of belief and uniformity of practice…certainly the wisdom of solomon is needed to keep these mutually incompatible goals in a healthy balance…

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