The Status of Women's Ordination Ahead of Annual Council

(system) #1

Seventh-day Adventist leaders from around the world are on their way to Silver Spring, Maryland for the 2014 Annual Council. The meetings span six days, from October 9 to 15. Women's ordination, which current policy allows for deacons and elders, but not ministers, will come up on Tuesday, October 14. On that day, delegates will consider recommendations from the thirteen divisions' Biblical Research Committees and the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), and will in turn make their own recommendation for the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas.

The discussion at Annual Council may be a comma, not a period, in a debate that has already spanned four decades in earnest--much more by some counts. Kit Watts, a former assistant editor of the Adventist Review and founder of La Sierra University's Women's Resource Center put together a nearly exhaustive women's ordination timeline stretching back into the 19th Century and forward to 1995 when Adventist women were concurrently ordained as pastors on both coasts of the United States. However, women were officially serving as ministers as early as 1973, forty-one years ago, in Maryland, California and Germany.

Despite the Church's having studied ordination for many decades, Annual Council will not settle the topic. Neither will San Antonio, despite growing expectations that delegates there will vote on women's ordination. The reason is that now, as for the past four decades, there is no consensus and votes will not create it unless the church can compromise.

The thirteen divisions' reports reveal an ideological divide:

While summaries of the divisions' positions point to incompatibilities, the reports are nuanced; they raise questions.

First, and most obviously, though: the Trans-European Division and the Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division represent the points farthest apart on the left-right continuum. On the left, TED would remove all reference to gender in ministry; on the right SAIOD would repeal preveiously-voted official actions allowing women elders to be ordained, to say nothing of women pastors.

Between those poles, one finds many commonalities. Most divisions reported that Scripture either does not expressly forbid women from being ordained or is ambigous on ordination altogether. Many divisions cited "mission" as a key driving force, and found that women contribute at all levels to the Church's mission as well as men. All the divisions that favor ordaining women called for allowing each division to decide, rather than moving together in lock-step. Most all of the divisions that opposed ordaining women stated that they would abide by the church's decision, whatever it be. So could the thirteen divisions reach an accord?

The scenario that, at least on paper, seems most agreeable to nearly all parties would be allowing ordination to move forward on a division-by-division basis. Those calling for (or who have already moved ahead with) ordination could do so, and those uncomfortable would not be forced to. Such a vote could preserve unity without demanding uniformity, but TOSC adds another layer of complexity to the situation.


The General Conference-appointed Theology of Ordination Study Committee of 100 members plus three officers including President Ted WIlson, after hearing the reports from each of the divisions, worked on creating its own report that will go to Annual Council. The committee met in Silver Spring several times with three distinct positions emerging: On the right, proponents of male headship would revoke ordination for women elders and deny it to women ministers. Their position most closely resembles the Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division. Slightly left of center, proponents of ordination equality would allow for women to be ordained as deacons, elders and pastors where possible. Their position most closely resembles the North American Division. Somewhere between lies a third group that considers male leadership the biblical pattern, but contends that each church field should choose whether or not to ordain. This position resembles a marriage of the North American Division and the Inter-American Division.

The third TOSC group, in terms of policy (aside from ideology), sides with those in favor of allowing women's ordination, making the "allow divisions to decide" votes within TOSC a clear majority. However, TOSC may not directly reflect the attitudes of the thirteen divisions or the more than 2,500 delegates to the General Conference. Nevertheless, the TOSC report now goes to the 338 members of the Annual Council, who will decide whether or not to send the issue to the floor of the GC in 2015.


If Women's Ordination goes to San Antinio in 2015, it will likely receive an up-or-down vote from delegates. But will the vote resolve the issue? A vote to allow divisions to decide could bring an end to the decades-long, church-wide study of ordination. It would then fall to divisions to continue on regional levels, but the church would have a workable policy. A vote to disallow divisions to decide would not bring resolution because several unions and conferences have already moved forward with ordination, and many other church entities, from the division level down, have signaled their intent to move forward as well. A "no" vote would mean yet another round of study, debate and dischord.

With all eyes clearly on Silver Spring this week and San Antonio next summer, ordination partisans hope to win over the undecided, if any remain undecided. Proponents of male headship held a weekend-long symposium in Fresno, California to make their case for disallowing women to serve as elders or pastors (let alone be ordained as such). This would roll back current, voted policy that allows women to be ordained as elders and commissioned as pastors.

Proponents of ordaining women published a book of questions and answers on ordination through Pacific Press for distribution on Kindle and in ABC stores. It calls the Church to move beyond current policy toward full equality between men and women.

Among the delegates heading to Annual Council is Southeastern California Conference president Sandra Roberts, the first ordained woman president of a conference in the denomination. Roberts will be attending Annual Council for the first time since becoming president. Perhaps more than anything else, her presence in Silver Spring attests to the true status of women's ordination in advance of the 2014 Annual Council.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Given the passage of time since the approval of WO by the Pacific and Columbia Unions, also North Germany, and the appointment of a female President to the SECC, it would be interesting to hear of local successes, challenges and consequence of these decisions.

Given the dire doomsday warnings, these things have not dented my perception of peace and unity. (yet)

Indeed I have eaten breakfast every day since!

Rather, the prospect of divisive debates in San Antonio depreciates the potential of a wholesome assembly. They take the gusto out of ‘the hope that we have’.

Were I suffering the fate of a Kurdish Villager, or Ebola struck family, I would struggle to understand these obsessive conversations.

(Elmer Cupino) #3

At times it behooves to look past the candidates and see who their sponsors are. If in Fresno vs Pacific Press and ABC is any indication, well, there you have it.

After all, no one can predict the future but guideposts certainly could tell you the directions.

(Interested Friend) #4

" A vote to disallow divisions to decide would not bring resolution because several unions and conferences have already moved forward with ordination, and many other church entities, from the division level down, have signaled their intent to move forward as well. A “no” vote would mean yet another round of study, debate and dischord."

Not so since the alleged ordinations are not legitimate. If the GC votes down WO that is what must be the practice of all SDA churches. If some organizational entities desist from following such a decision by the GC in Official Session why could they not be disbanded and officers installed who are not in rebellion?

Possibly any decision will result in a split as has happened, I’ve read, in some Protestant churches.
In The Grip of Truth

(Elmer Cupino) #5

Pouring gasoline on a burning fire?

(Steve Mga) #6

I believe that the ONLY mind-set that Any of the Delegates can REALLY have is This:
Our Locale HAS to be allowed to develop in the WAY that we believe works the BEST for US and our Culture. If Women are a hindrance, then recognize that Cultural Problem.
If Women can be an asset to furthering the Gospel in our Culture, then by all means, let us do everything we can to assist them in furthering the Gospel Call in our Culture.

No matter WHAT is voted at GC2015, it is still at the Local Level where people will have to decide what is Best For Them, and do it, with, or without, permission of some Office in some Building in the United States.

When the Church cast off the Pitcairn to the high seas, the church no longer belonged to the United States. THE CHURCH now belonged to the World.
I think that TOO MUCH the church headquarters still has the mind-set of those who had their offices in Battle Creek in the 19th Century.

(Interested Friend) #7

Culture should not be a controlling factor when a Biblical principle is in play. From the record in the history of Biblical spiritual leadership an example has been set as well as specific Scriptural injunctions that male spiritual leadership is enjoined.

Could it be that some of the males who have joined the movement promoting WO are trying to avoid their responsibility as spiritual leaders and sloughing it off on women?
In The Grip of Truth

(Sirje) #8

By far the best resolution would be to abolish all ordination altogether, upholding the priesthood of all believers; and leaving pastoral employment up to each division. This way everybody can live with what’s comfortable socially and culturally, without invoking God’s special blessing, or the lack there of.

Why must educated western societies endure the cultural taboos of emerging nations… If these questions were to come in a place like Saudi Arabia, no one would expect women to toss their burkas and step into the pulpit; neither should we expect women, who have degrees in theology and spent numerous years preparing, to abandon everything and put on SDA virtual burkas that keep them out of the pulpit.

Let the Spirit lead in each instance, instead of a church manual, compiled under political duress.

(Steve Mga) #9

Before the Christian Church at Rome did away with the Gnostic Christian Church, the Gnostic Christian Church believed in the Priesthood of ALL Believers.
This was demonstrated in every local church at every convening of members for Worship.
Worship jobs were, among others, presiding Bishop, preacher, scripture reader, and several others
All the members EACH time would “draw straws” to see Who would have what job at that particular Worship time. BOTH men and Women were included. Who was Bishop today might be Gospel reader next time. and the Gospel reader might be the Bishop or Preacher next time.
It was the Church at Rome that began and ENFORCED all of OUR [yes, SDA] western Christian traditions about how to conduct church. And it has been this way ever since, as Protestant groups continued many Mother Church Traditions.


lol wow, “educated western societies” hey?

(Peter Marks) #11

Thanks Jared for a very helpful summary of where we are to date!

To my mind decisions of both the Annual Council and the 2015 General Conference in Session can with a good conscience outline and affirm the following:

  1. That Adventiststs in general and the TOSC in particular have reached consensus on the theological meaning of ordination.

Once having a common but very minimalist biblical foundations concerning the theology of Adventist leadership, and being extremely clear about such consensus,

  1. we can then acknowledge that cultural variations and varying missiological imperatives point to the value of having a varity of administrative policies as to how we consecration and affirm Adventist leaders, both local and global for their specific roles and functions.

(J David Newman) #12

I believe Sandy Roberts is attending as a visitor. She is not listed in the yearbook as president of Southeastern

(Sirje) #13

Yes, university educated women who have spent money and time getting and education. That is not the NORM in cultures that have honor killings of women who dare to date outside their villages - a common occurrence in some cultures listed by this article as being opposed to WO.


Hmm…fair enough. You do make a telling point though, regardless if you noticed it, which I agree with. Society seems to play a role in the way some, most, possibly? Christians interpret the bible.

(Sirje) #15

Of course.

I don’t think I was suggesting “one size fits all”. This is why, each division needs to be able to deal with issues like WO according to what’s acceptable and possible, given that, whatever committee has already decided that there is actually no prohibition in the Bible to ordain women. This means it is a cultural issue; not theological.

(Elaine Nelson) #16

Is it normal to not have as representative the president of one of the largest local conferences in the NAD? How are reps or delegates chosen?

(J David Newman) #17

The General Conference considers Sandy Roberts election to be illegal therefore she cannot be the president of the Southeastern Calif Conf. If you go to the online 2014 Yearbook you will find a blank beside the title President.

Regarding the suggestion of disciplining unions who do not obey the rules the only action possible is for a General Conference Session to vote that union out of the sisterhood of unions. However, all the property and money still belongs to that union because it has a separate legal entity from the General Conference. This will not happen especially as the Pacific Union is the richest union in the world.


You know, that will be the same argument Sunday keepers will use, in due time, against us. And I dont agree that its a only cultural issue, theres theology in it too. Anyway, I pray our Church will make the right decision.

(Jared Wright) #19

We received a note of clarification from the GC Office of Archives and Statistics indicating that Sandra Roberts will be at Annual Council as an invitee. “Conference/mission presidents in the division where an AC is held are invitees but not delegates.” The article has been changed to reflect that.

-Jared Wright

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #20

By my count the current stage of the debate is past the halfway mark into its fifth decade.

1968, April 8: Officers discuss Northern European Division request for counsel on ordaining women. "The Northern European Division has requested counsel regarding ordination of women. The question has arisen in Finland. Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have not ordained women. Yet it is believed that the subject should be listed for the 1968 Council agenda. It was "Agreed, to list on the agenda for the 1968 Autumn Council the subject of ordination of women."—Minutes of GC Officers Meeting, April 8, 1968. 1968, September 30: GC officers appoint committee to study ordination. "The Home and Overseas Officers briefly discussed the desirability of a study on the theology of ordination of women." Committee appointed: H. W. Lowe, Raoul Dederen, M. K. Eckenroth. 1970, June 5: GC officers discuss role of women. GC officers agreed to appoint "an adequate committee to consider this large topic . . . and to submit a report for consideration at the 1970 Autumn Council."—Minutes, GC Officers Meeting, June 5, 1970.

Almost 20 years earlier was this action:

1950, May 3: General Conference Officers discuss ordination. "A. V. Olson explained. . . A statement from the pen of Sister White, as found in the Review and Herald of July 9, 1895, has been understood by some to provide for the ordination of certain sisters in church service. After some discussion, it was "Agreed, To recommend to the General Conference Committee following the session that a small committee be appointed to study and report on this question."—Minutes, GC Officers Meeting, May 3, 1950.

The truth is that we’ve been kicking this can down the road since 1881.

1881, December 5: General Conference Session motion to ordain women. At the 1881 General Conference (GC) session a motion is made to ordain women to gospel ministry. "Resolved, That females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry." Reported in Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1881. Item referred to the General Conference Committee.