Unions and the General Conference - What Happens Next?

NOTE: The author of the following article was asked by Spectrum to address only the legal and enforcement aspects of the San Antonio decision about ordination of women. For discussion of the historical, theological, ethical and moral implications, see previously published articles by Gary Patterson's "Does the General Conference Have Authority?" and Gerry Chudleigh's "Who Runs the Church?"

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/08/27/unions-and-general-conference-what-happens-next

Thank you for this well researched article to hire our Church should work. I pray that calm wisdom does indeed prevail!


So the only reason there has never been ordained women is that it just never happened? All the church documents say its fine but somehow some way it just has never happened in all these years?
That is quite a giant horse pill to swallow!
Also the bit on

is especially troubling since some knowledge of when the 10 commandments were written relative to when man was created would seem to be required before making such a poor conclusion. Shall everyone who died before Moses got the 10 commandments try using that poor excuse when they stand at the pearly gates? “Oh, that wasnt specifically disallowed so it was permissible.”? Is it any wonder the constitution and working documents are so much larger than the 10 commandments?
Even as a lawyer one would be familiar with the concept that law always comes after a problem not the other way around. Law is always a remedy to a situation.
Its the same with WO. No one votes until it becomes an issue. Then they do vote on it and the people that have been in the minority 4 times look for even newer and ever more novel arguments.
The problem with lawyers is that they are trained to only see grey to be able to champion their clients position or in this case their own persuasions of an issue.
The fact is that the author badly conflates the Unions decision on who they are allowed to ordain with the decision of what the qualifications are for ordination. The final authority he speaks of does indeed choose the people to ordain but that IS NOT the same thing as being able to decide what the criteria is for ordination itself.
It isnt the Union that determines what the qualifications are. It is the world church deciding in the GC business session as they have now done 4 times since 1990 and historically since the beginning.
When he starts talking about Folkenbergs ordination and GC housekeeping issues from the turn of the century we fully realize the weakness of the position.
Lastly a church Judiciary? Leave it to a lawyer to suggest instituting canon law and canon lawyers to the church.

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Thanks for the tour de force analysis.

I’m convinced the founder and finisher of our faith never envisioned that his people would be embroiled in such petty disputes. What a terrible waste of energy, funds and human resources to impose authoritarianism on the church.

As penitent Christians of old regularly chanted:

Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.


In a Sunday church I attend, and sing in the Choir.
We still repeat at least weekly –
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
BUT, on those occasions,
Christ HAS mercy
Lord [God] HAS mercy.
On Sunday!


Could the author please comment on whether Union bylaws allow the GC to veto bylaw revisions. If this does not exist, then the GC has effectively no control (other than moral claims) over Unions, as the power to rewrite bylaws and hence discard any existing articles such as conformance to GC dictates resides with the constituents. The GC would retain trademark control of “SDA” and its varients, and could preclude a Union from using that name, a not insignificant issue. This is why I asked Jared to provide links to Union and Conference bylaws, so the average members could actually read and understand the Church structure.


If only this view had been pursued further under the last administration. I’m sure there are quite a few administrators looking back and lamenting a missed opportunity.

Well, hindsight is 20/20 and if you wait for a time when the conditions are better to do what is right, that time might never come. Lesson learned. Those thinking the issue could be punted to the next administration who would preside over a more welcoming environment were quite wrong. Those thinking it can be punted now because another new administration would create better conditions are quite possibly wrong as well. There is no time like the present to do what is right.


Thanks for this clear and helpful analysis. A few comments:

If policy really means only what the GC says it means, then there is no real need to have a policy at all - the GC could just make ad hoc pronouncements willy nilly. I think even in the absence of a formal independent judiciary we can expect each level of church administration to follow some basic form of due process and rule of law.

I agree with the author’s identification of the three responses open to the GC if Unions show the courage to press their authority: 1) moral authority and persuasion; 2) call special meetings of a union constituency, and 3) dissolution and/or expulsion (nuclear option). But I think option 1 has many possible manifestations - more than just letter writing and jawboning at formal meetings. They could discourage support of institutions run by Unions or Conferences they consider to be in rebellion, they could attack them in GC publications, they could publicly denounce Union and Conference level officials, they could effectively cut-off promotion to office above the Union level to any official of “rebellious” Unions.

Unless Ted Wilson literally sees this as the shaking, and himself the implement, it is hard to imagine how even he would really justify the nuclear option. More likely I suspect is an intensive and broad wave use of option #1, attacking Union officials for being rebellious and disobedient publicly and in writing, imposing as many direct and indirect financial penalties as possible, followed if still necessary by calling a special Union constituency meeting to overturn the “rebellious” actions. It is crucial that the Unions understand this, and plan and initiate a careful and systematic education and communication process of their own within their constituencies, so they are prepared for what might come, and are able to stand up to it.


Right. This is key. Beyond a careful education and communication process with their internal stakeholders, they may need professional consultants and attorneys to assist them around the landmines in this process.

Unions decide who to approve for ordination: This seems totally clear. Straightforward. Simple. In a free society, the Unions approve candidates for ordination. Period.


if the history of the supreme court in either america or canada is any indication, a non-elected independent judiciary doesn’t necessarily lead to definitive resolutions of issues that promote universal assent, or that last…nor do they deescalate the corrosive action of politics on the body as a whole…and should the conflict between vested interests of the general conference and unions be resolved when the interplay of those competing interests is what prevents one or the other from exercising kingly power…

as i see it, no-voters in san antonio need to accept the fact that it was divisional prerogative with respect to women’s ordination - that wasn’t theirs to begin with - that wasn’t expanded…that’s it…their tendency to infer from this anything with respect to women’s ordination itself, or union prerogative, is wholly unwarranted…i think this article effectively diffuses any notion that a union which proceeds with women’s ordination is in apostasy or rebellion…and as for any possibility of a nuclear option being initiated by the general conference, when the first step to such an action is a division committee determination, oh please…is anyone envisioning dan jackson pronouncing any of our unions in apostasy should they continue to ordain women…


Brother Tyner,

You say:

But, importantly, the last three words constitute a most important qualifier to what goes before: the conference is bound only by those policies approved at a General Conference session—the Church Manual and Working Policy.

But, the Working Policy is voted at the Annual Council of the GC, not the GC Sessions. It seems to me that, constitutionally, the Unions are only bound to policies approved at the GC Session, not those approved at Annual Council or Spring Council. Would you agree?

Tom de Bruin


A few observations:

It needs to be acknowledged, that we are first and foremost a voluntary association of people, rather than being of statutory composition. As such, we all want mutual collegial consent. Talk of nuclear legal remedies are not that helpful either way around. The presumption about powers of coercion does violence to our being.

This and other conflicts highlight the need for a separate judicial strand since endowing political appointees with such powers is fraught with danger.

While many entities follow the model constitution to include hierarchical deference, some have not. Thus generalisations on legal interpretation must be taken with caution.

Many national associations have public legal status independent of any canonical association. The GC might struggle to overturn the status of a legally formed Charity where they themselves have little standing. Playing the trademark game - well?

At the end: We still depend on the voluntary consent of people to recognise the leaders they choose, and leaders are equally dependent on the good will of those who choose to follow them.

We can play hard ball with each other on the WO issue, but no amount of legislation will invoke cooperation on a swathe of other responsive initiatives. You can’t force canaries to sing.


So the authoritative governing document for the Unions is the General Conference and Division Working Policy? How does this relate to Unions which may have older Constitutions and Bylaws that do not in every aspect conform to the current Model Union Conference Constitution and Bylaws and therefore may have the authority to decide the question of who should be ordained? Also if the Working Policy should be followed by all, how is it that its circulation is highly restricted and not available to members and most employees?


Someone I’ve known and respected for a long time shared from their experience an insider’s view of the current “climate and mood at the GC”. I found it fascinating and unreal.

The view from someone on the inside at the General Conference headquarters is that on the administrative end, things are “calm, cool and collected”. Pretty much “business as usual” with a few new faces, and persons trying to do their work the same, as before San Antonio. No substantive changes since the WO vote took place. This person is a full time employee who was speaking in generalities about the overall mood at the GC.

No one “is having any OPEN disputes at the GC regarding women in ministry, unions, authority or power”. There are no crisis meetings or strategy sessions taking place. The illusion that at the GC our leadership is on their knees praying for God’s guidance on how to better work with the Unions is one we should not have. This is a political issue now with authority versus power in play. Ted Wilson is fully in charge. There are no negotiations or dialogue planned to resolve the fallout from the issue of women’s ordination. For the newly elected officers at the GC the WO issue is an irritant, a memory of an unpleasant episode. The emphasis is on “unity”, evangelism, and making sure this “rebellion” and dissent is squashed.

No one is worried about their job as long as they are in unity, uniformity and solidarity with present administration. There is a sense that Brother Wilson has now consolidated his power base and those who may have any doubts or alternative views, about who is in charge, should be working on their cv and considering employment somewhere else.

This disconnects with the reality, in some places, of a church wounded, divided and in need of healing. There is the idea that “if you ignore the barking dog, it will just go away”. If you love political power and reverence administrative authority the GC is the place to be these days:

"It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence” (The Great Controversy, p. 555).


Thanks for the insightful comment, Sam. You didn’t say the words “Ivory Tower” but I read it between the lines :wink:


What can one expect from an institution built upon man solving God’s problem? Tom Z


Fact of the matter is, based on my own experience, one’s status as an IDE (Inter-Division Employee) changes to or begins on arrival in the place of employment and ends on the date of your departure.

Regarding China’s ordained female pastors, the Chinese Union Mission cannot revoke what it did not authorize in the first place.

With respect to the meaning of the WO vote in SA, IMHO, transparency requires it be subjected to the ordinary-layperson-in-pews test, rather than the interpretation of canonical legal experts.


The “authoritative voice of the Church in matters relating to the administration of the work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in all parts of the world” includes the Working Policy which, “is to be adhered to by all denominational organizations. (See General Conference Working Policy B 10.)” (General Conference Working Policy Introduction).

“The appointment of individuals to serve as Bible instructors or chaplains, or in departmental or pastoral responsibilities, shall not be limited by race or color. Neither shall these positions be limited by gender (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry*)” (GCWP 107).

L 35 Qualifications for Ordination to the Ministry mentions one gender—male. This is without exception and question, equivocation and political doublespeak notwithstanding.

Unions are free to operate within these boundaries.

The motion to allow NAD variance to depart from Working Policy in this issue—denied.


Sam I suspect that you are correct in the atmosphere around the halls in Silver Springs. There is a confidence that the energy and convictions of those who attended SA with the hope of seeing the Church move forward on such issues as WO has been beaten back for another five years.

And, it is probably a true assessment of those in leadership. Giving those who believe that it goes against Scripture to ordain women the bennifit of the doubt, it still leaves many other items still on the table. The fear however is that these other issues will become mute. How can we discuss these other items if differences in opinion is not only not welcomed but those who would present such differences are kept from the table in the name of unity.

There is a real danger when we either as a society or as a subculture make certain that unity can only happen when alternate views are suppressed. Many of us have found it difficult to to perceive such a structure within a Christian environment. Yet here it is right in front of our eyes and we continue to hope. Will we go our separate ways? Will we become disjointed and function as self supporting churches? Only time will tell but the direction is not good. The very source of continuance is drying up. Maybe this is how it has to be but it sure looks like the message is being left behind.

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I don’t find the author’s arguments to be compelling. Note: I support WO. However I find that in general people who support WO cite evidence that bolsters their viewpoint, while those who don’t cite different supporting and evidence and neither side is willing to concede that this is not about evidence, it’s about opinion.

The author cited the following: “B 50 05 Lines of Responsibility.
2. Union Conferences/Missions – Union Conferences/missions are responsible to the respective division section of which they are a part, and are administered in harmony with the operating policies of the General Conference and of the division.”

He also cited: “B 15 05 Authoritative Administrative Voice of the Church…It is, therefore, the authoritative voice of the church in all matters pertaining to the mission and to the administration of the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in all parts of the world”

He then cited other passages to note that Unions have the authority to ordain and from that draws the conclusion that the GC is exercising undue authority over the Unions in the manner of women’s ordination.

Mr. Tyner suggests that the GC argues that it’s policy does not mean what it says. That is Mr. Tyner’s opinion. The GC would argue that statements like “Unions must operate in harmony with the GC” and “that it is the Authoritative Body” mean that based on the San Antonio vote, they are correct in that Unions do not have the authority to ordain women (the GC is not arguing that Unions have the authority to ordain. Just not ordain women).

However, the first two passages I copied notes that the Unions are to be in harmony with the GC and that the GC is the authoritative voice. And, the GC in San Antonio voted that the Unions do not have the authority to ordain women.‘’

Since Mr. Tyner is an attorney, I would respectfully suggest that if this was a matter of a court of law, that the court would find that the GC acted within it’s authority to restrict the Union’s blanket authority in the matter of ordination of women.

However, I also think it’s possible that a similar court of law would find that the since the GC allows commission of women pastors (and ordaining of women elders) and that the duties between commissioned and ordained pastors are functionally similar except the following (commissioned pastors cannot: 1. Preside over business meetings involving member discipline. 2. Commissioned pastors cannot ordain elders, deacons or deaconesses and they can’t organize churches 3. Cannot serve as Conference Presidents - because it requires ordination to be a President), that therefore a court of law would find that women are being unfairly discriminated against without merit since the items they are not allowed to do are within the scope of women’s abilities. Meaning that the GC will allow women to serve as pastors but not as ordained pastors when there is functionally no difference between the two positions, and that is a matter of discrimination against women. A court may be reluctant to step into a religious dispute, but that doesn’t mean the GC is in the right.

This issue will not go away.