The Basic Fault of the Unity Document

Jared Wright has pointed out certain statements in the unity document that should be omitted because they imply that the action taken by some unions are satanically inspired. And probably we can continue to find other statements of that sort. However, it seems to me that the statement otherwise would otherwise be valid in enforcing unity if it pertained to a legitimate principle regarding worldwide unity. If the issue the document addresses were a legitimate matter that effectively disrupts the unity of the church, the church would need to act in the proscribed manner. However, what the document does not address is what kind of issue demands worldwide compliance. The major fault of the document is that it does not understand the real problem, that is, the question of where we should or should not try to enforce unity. The question in this case is whether the matter of women's ordination is an issue on which we should seek worldwide unity.

It is legitimate to seek unity regarding church organization (divisions, unions, conferences, local churches), qualifications for church membership, qualifications necessary for full-time ministerial service, etc. However, it is illegitimate to require worldwide unity on matters pertaining to areas where there are significant differences such as clothing, education, worship styles and the role of women in various areas of church services.

In these areas we know that there is great disparity in the church. In many areas of the church, women would not be allowed to wear pants, especially if they were doing some church work such as teaching. There are regional differences as well governing wage differences and positions women may take in church organizations such as hospital, colleges, seminaries, etc. And I'm sure the church would have great difficulty in enforcing everywhere the principle that men and women ought to receive the same pay if they are doing the same work, such as teaching.

If the churches in which women are treated more equitably should dictate to the rest of the church how they should treat women--for example that they should ordain them to serve as ministers--there would be a great howl by those who do not want women to be ordained, greater than what is heard today by those churches that are ready to ordain women. And this is readily understood. When we consider their situation, it is only proper that they would complain. However, this is exactly the logic being employed, except that places where women are treated equally have been ordered not to do so by those divisions that do not treat women equally. Divisions where women are treated equally to men have been ordered by divisions that do not treat women as equals to treat women unequally, that is, that they cannot be ordained.

In these matters, that is, in matters that deal with social practices (as opposed to doctrinal issues) and where there are great geographical differences, it should be evident that there should not be any worldwide policy. There should not be voted any worldwide policy regarding such matters and this is clearly so with regard to the role of women in society, including women in ministry.

Because this policy deals with such an issue, no matter what the consequences it will be impossible and should be impossible to bring about unity regarding this, unless unity is simply taken to mean "mandated uniformity of practice." Unions that ordain women will not and cannot back down on this issue because it will mean not only simply a breaking of a policy but a change in the fundamental principle that women are equal to men. (This is a statement of belief clearly articulated in the church manual, though the church contradicts it by its policy regarding ordination.) I foresee that the enforcement of this policy of not ordaining women will have serious consequences for the unity of the church. Those unions that have been ordaining women cannot back down even for the sake of ostensible unity because it would reveal a lack of integrity regarding the principle of the equality of men and women.

This issue is not simply a matter of majoritarian conformity; it is an issue of moral conviction.

Sakae Kubo has had a long career in the Adventist Church, primarily in university and college administration. He taught at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, served as Dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University, as President of Newbold College, and as Vice-President and Academic Dean at Atlantic Union College.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7663
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Excellent and salient observations, Sakae.

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One can always count on Sakae to analyse matters the proper way. Thank you, my friend.

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I agree that the question about what aspects of unity we should focus on is key.

Everything about this particular conflict in the church shouts out that it is an issue where uniformity will become very difficult to attain without some sort of force or violence. We’ve seen how successive General Conference sessions have not succeeded in bringing consensus. The well resourced study process(es) have resulted in a diversity of opinions. The fact that it has resulted in pain, controversy, and schism in other denominations is another tell-tale sign that we’re on dangerous ground.

The document goes to great lengths to establish the basis for asserting power and coercion in favour of one side of the debate.

Wisdom says to me that this is in fact one of those areas where we should follow Paul’s advice to be long-suffering, to not enter into contention, to recognise in the expressions of dissent a voice of an “other” who we may not fully understand, but who still wants to do right by God.

By refraining from exercising kingly power and control, the church has a far bigger opportunity to live up to the kind of countercultural unity that Jesus prays about, a Trinitarian unity that allows us to remain one, while we are different. Romans 13:8-13.

I pray that the Annual Council leaders will choose this alternative option to affirm and reinforce the unity of our church.

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The real fault started when the church opened the seminary doors to women and encouraged them to become pastors. When the ladies took them at their word and members saw that they were doing just as good a job as their male counterparts quite a large number, in the West especially, expected those ladies to be ordained as well. It’s not rocket science. Either you are a pastor or you are not. Either you fulfill the criteria and requirements of pastoral ministry, or you don’t. You cannot be a pastor and NOT be a pastor all at once. The church opened a can of worms and the way GC is now trying to wiggle out of it is to open a bigger can of worms, so it appears. However if it lets those avant-garde unions get away with WO then power would have shifted from GC to Unions. The GC would then have to change its role and contradict some of the EGW statements regarding its authority. Between the devil and the deep blue sea is not a nice place to be. Lord help us all!

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To force unions to go against their consciences can have only one of the two results. The creation of unions without integrity or the brake away of those and more unions. I wonder if someone in that session has thought about the obvious…

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Even though English is actually my second language, I know the difference between UNITY and UNIFORMITY. What these guys are trying to create is uniformity. Unity comes voluntarily, from a meeting of minds; while uniformity can be forced through rules and sanctions and goes as deep as minds that create them - to gain and keep control. Uniformity guarantees no rogue activity. In this case church members can safely go into any SDA church without the fear of having a “female” at the podium - forbid. The only function of uniformity is to erase individuality. Way to go guys!

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Thank you Dr. Kubo (my former principal at Newbold) for your ability, and courage, to go to the core of so many contemporary issues relevant for (SDA) religious belief in a world that has become (in the strong sense) both post-religious and post-secular. Your analysis and wisdom always hit the nail on its head.

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With all due respect to Dr Kubo and kudos for his once again clear presentation and logic, I am not sure I would go as far as suggesting there might be legitimate reasons for the church to act in a most papal manner. While indeed the “ordination” as local practice would not have been a threat to unity, the secretarial document suggests the church by majority vote is to trump (pun intended) personal conscience and conviction. It is no longer: “submit to one another”, but rather submit to the General Conference (not even “in session” any longer).

In other words - even IF it were a “legitimate matter” the church could and should find other ways to deal with them, than threats, fear mongering, coercion or brute force.

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I can believe that men and women are equal and still be opposed to WO, because I could believe that each sex has a specified role: they are different but equal. There is no contradiction in this statement, and it is what most of the third world believes and what the west believed until several decades ago.

If you make WO a matter of equality, which liberal westerners do, then there can be no backing down by them, as Kubo says: it is a moral issue (even though the Bible never says we must ordain women, and Paul and Jesus never did it by word or example) The west has made this a morality of their own devising, and look askance at any who would differer, accusing them of enslavement and suppression.

The question before the church is whether it will accept as a standard the western way of viewing this issue, as a moral one, even though there is no explicit Biblical command.

The most liberal conferences have decided to act as if that is so. The Bible says nothing about WO. Nothing. I don’t have an objection to it because I don’t think it is a moral, but a cultural issue (how can an issue be a moral one if the Bible says nothing about it. God usually signals pretty clearly when issues are important). But supporters of WO are intransigent. And they feel they are morally correct. It is very diffident to work with someone who thinks an issue is moral, for compromise means sacrificing conscience, as Kubo says.

I would have voted yes to avoid this sort of conundrum, but the third world is fed up with western high mindedness and condescension. So here we sit with no resolution in site. May God help us.

You are spot on, Allen. And we can take this further and say that we really are near the end, because the Western world has begun to call black white and white black. When the majority of the population says God is wrong (you could say it in Biblical terms - all their thoughts were evil continually), God acts. In Sodom and Gomorrah there were less than 10 righteous people, and God was willing to withhold his destruction for only 10. When the whole Western world, Christianity included, believes that an abomination such as homosexuality becomes a moral issue of equality, when the whole Western world believes that there is no distinction between men and women, and that they can swap genders at their pleasure, identify as the opposite gender, use the other gender’s toilets and change rooms and this becomes a moral issue of equality, the West has lost it completely and the end is very close. It is then that God’s judgments will begin to be poured out, especially on the cities, as Ellen White dreamt and these documents were recently released. Will there be 10 righteous left, or what is God’s trigger number in a large modern city?

However, Women’s ordination is a moral issue because God set in place gender distinction and He gives different people different roles. Lose the distinction and you make a mess of God’s order. The church needs to delineate Biblically what ordination is, and who is entitled to it, and then vote again.

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Andreas,
To take an extreme example to make a point. Suppose a union decides it will henceforth keep Sunday for its Sabbath instead of Saturday, how should the GC respond.

Sakae Kubo

Allen,
There are some issues that may be cultural, equality of men and women, is one of these. At certain times, it would seem that slavery was one of these. At the same time, people have become enlightened through time and begin to see the evil in slavery. And that has also happened in western societies regarding the unequal treatment of women. When such views seem to align themselves with what the Bible teaches in its highest principles regarding men and women (Genesis 1, Gal 3:27, Christ’s treatment of women) and recognize that human societies through the ages have too often fallen below God’s true teaching but through Christ’s teaching permeating society and come to recognize the evil of slavery and mistreatment of women, we cannot continue to view these where such is the case as simply social practices. It becomes to me a moral issue. The same as the slavery issue. We come to recognize that the world has advanced in its understanding of human relations. That was the case with slavery. We don’t regard slavery now as simply a amoral issue but a moral one. This is true with regard to the equality of women.

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Your example has in fact happened out near the dateline. The GC for some reason, has wisely refrained from interfering, since its quite obvious that God never ordained the dateline location. Which should also make it obvious that declaring which day is “Sabbath” anywhere other than perhaps near Palestine is not possible.

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Dr. Kubo’s point as I understand is as follows:

  1. The issue is not unity, it is the desire of various Unions to ordain women.
  2. The issue of WO is not a biblical conflict but a geographical and cultural one - different areas and cultures have different beliefs and the SDA church grants latitude to different geographies for cultural differences.
  3. Therefore the GC is not correct to force unity on a point that is cultural only, since those in support of WO aren’t requiring that all women in ministry be ordained, just that areas who wish to do so, be allowed to do so.

While I personally agree, the problem with that approach is that for those who are opposed to women’s ordination, they believe that their position is the biblical one. They have numerous texts to support their position and consider any different opinion as an attempt by Satan to kill the church by allowing dangerous fallacies to distort the church. For them, this is a fight for the very soul of the church, which is why there are references to satanic influences as it relates to the actions of the various Unions.

Dr. Kubo notes that for the Unions who have taken the position in support of women’s ordination, that this is a stand of moral conviction, not dissimilar to that of slavery from early 1800’s. or perhaps more accurately to the Jim Crow laws in the early 1900’s, an era when officially slavery was outlawed but flagrant discrimination still existed. I agree that for the Unions this is a moral conviction and as such can’t be abandoned. However, for those against women’s ordination this is a doctrinal and biblical position and as such also cannot be abandoned.

I see no way around this. Well, I take that back, I do see a way around it, but that would require the GC to make decisions different than they are doing. I say that not to suggest their position is superior, but their actions are assertive, i.e. to bring wayward Unions in line no matter what the cost. They might find that cost higher than they expect.

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Allen, If the Bible says nothing about WO, how can you be so certain that a man’s gender role includes ordination to the ministry, but a woman’s role does not? Don

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The Bible says NOTHING about Ordination. This is a post-Apostolic activity that came through Romanizing [using it in a political sense] of the Christian church.
We should get rid of Ordination all together.

HOWEVER, the New Testament especially does employ the picture of “Laying On Of Hands” with a prayer of dedication of the person to a life of service.
And THIS can be done for anyone who is taking up a specific Service.
SDA Pastors are NOT following a pedigree of Ordination all the way back to St Peter as the Catholic and some other churches have done. So the SDA Church DOES NOT need Ordination in the Catholic Tradition.
Let us Dispense with Ordination, with Commissioning. Let us be Truly Apostolic and set apart Men AND Women to Service by the “Laying On Of Hands” and a prayer of dedication as the Original Apostles did.

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What “specified” roles do men and women have that are not biologically determined? Both are equally important for future life: the man as father, the woman as mother, equal and complimentary. In God’s eyes, which one is more important? In the home or the church?

In math aren’t equals interchangeable? If men are equal to women why aren’t they both considered equal in the church just as all of western society? If it is not a moral issue for you, is it your conscience or culture that prevents you from taking a stand for equality?

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Hmmm. I thought that posts answering posts by the author were allowed. is that not the policy anymore?

Responding to a comment directed at you by the author is not an invitation to also respond to several other commenters at the same time. However, you are welcome to respond to the author’s response if it is directed to you.

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