Viewpoint: I See Serious Problems With The Women's Ordination Question

(system) #1

At the 2014 Annual Council, delegates voted to send the following question to delegates at the 2015 General Conference Session:

‘After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and;

After your careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission,

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”

In my last article, “Where Are We Regarding Ordaining Women?” I now believe I was overly optimistic and a bit naïve in my assertion that the signs point to General Conference delegates allowing women’s ordination for divisions that are ready to proceed.

I based my judgment then on the fact that the majority of the divisions and the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) were in favor of ordaining women, or at least allowing those divisions ready to ordain to do so. However, I indicated one important consideration. That is that those divisions that were favorable to this position would be able to educate their delegates to vote likewise. As I think about it again I feel it was a bit naïve to think that the delegates not involved in the division committees would be educated sufficiently to vote as their division committees did or to have made a “prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White and the reports of the study commissions” as the motion suggests. It also seems that one can hardly expect lay persons to change their views when members of the ordination study committees seem to have only calcified their positions after discussing the topic.

I was also a bit optimistic because Elder Artur Stele indicated at Annual Council that they (I assume here that the “they” refers to the General Conference Committee) had determined that women’s ordination was not a theological issue. (I believe “theological” is inaccurate. I think the more specific term would be "biblical," at least I think what is meant is that ordination itself is not a biblical concept and therefore the Bible does not directly deal with this issue—i.e., that there are no specific texts that prohibit or command the ordination of women.) I now think that although the General Conference Committee indicated it is not a biblical issue, the majority of the delegates will continue to think it is.

As I examine this question to be presented to General Conference delegates, I see several major problems with it. But before considering the problems, let us look at what the question really says. The question does not ask whether delegates favor or disapprove of the ordination of women. One can vote “Yes” and still disapprove of the ordination of women in one’s division. One can disapprove of the ordination of women in one’s division but be generous and broad-minded enough to allow it where another division is ready for it.

The question also assumes that a majority of delegates can decide what other divisions should do. This in itself is not a problem since the General Conference in session can determine how the church in general should operate. However, the first major problem with the question appears here--not in the idea that the majority of the delegates can determine how the church in general should operate, but in the particular issue at hand. The issue is not biblical but socio-cultural. It deals with the question of the role of women in society and the church. In such a matter there is great disparity in views from one culture to another.

Some countries do not permit women to drive, require wearing of veils, forbid providing education to girls, and in our churches, forbid women to be ministers, to be in charge of our institutions, become college and hospital administrators, and seminary professors. Should we allow divisions that have such views on women's societal roles to determine how other divisions with more progressive views should function? No! And neither should we allow divisions that have a more progressive view to determine what the other divisions ought to do. Following cultural restrictions and norms can never provide a basis for establishing Church unity.

Adventists living in restrictive societies will unavoidably be affected by cultural patterns of thinking. Paul was affected by the way society viewed slavery in his day when he dealt with Onesimus. This is inevitable, but it is a matter we must consider when making motions and taking actions. It could well be that, while the question concerns granting permission to ordain women or not, without a clear education on the intent of the question, some delegates would treat it simply as a vote for or against women’s ordination and would vote negatively based on their societal norms.

On the particular issue of women’s roles in a Church that is situated within society, it seems completely inappropriate to have divisions with societies that differ on women’s roles to decide how other divisions should deal with women. I would argue that the motion put to delegates at Annual Council was out of order and that it is out of order to put the question before General Conference delegates to decide. As it is now, the General Conference Session will set the precedent for giving the church in general the right to determine how churches in certain areas should respond to social issues where there may be major cultural differences.

A second problem could arise in the implementation of the action if the General Conference Session votes “No” on the question. Some could take the action to mean that divisions that have begun ordaining women to the ministry should not only cease doing so, but should also revoke the ordinations of women who have been ordained. I suspect this could lead to further attempts to disenfranchise Dr. Sandra Roberts, the president of the Southeastern California Conference. I can say right now that no ordinations will be revoked, and Sandra Roberts will not be deposed. Some could argue that parties have agreed to accept the General Conference’s decision for the sake of unity, which, as I've noted, is an agreement that should not be made in this kind of a situation. I maintain that it is inappropriate and wrong for the General Conference in session to make binding decisions on cultural issues.

The Pacific Union Conference just voted a statement in favor of unity in diversity—allowing divisions to decide whether or not to move forward. I don't know how much effect the statement will have except perhaps to influence the union’s delegates to vote “Yes” to the question. What the union needed to do was to vote that it did not approve of this question because it dealt with a matter that properly belongs to unions and divisions, not the General Conference, and therefore, it cannot accept a “No” vote to be applied in that territory.

I don't know of any division that has committed itself to the vote of the General Conference session if the majority vote is a no with the understanding that those divisions that have ordained women will no longer ordain women and revoke the ordination of those who have already been ordained. I don't see how they can do that.

It seems that it would be impossible for the General Conference to implement a negative vote. We certainly cannot turn back time. It is like saying that we should re-institute slavery where slavery has been abolished. If the General Conference session votes against this motion, confrontation between the General Conference and several divisions will likely ensue, and will most likely result in divisions continuing to move forward in spite of the action. I cannot foresee these divisions moving back from what they have done. If the General Conference tries to usurp the authority of the divisions, it will not succeed. The result can only be a weakened General Conference.

A third problem that could arise if the General Conference session votes against this motion is confusion over the implications of this action. Since the action deals narrowly with the particular and limited area women serving as ministers, a no vote might raise some questions. Will this mean that women may continue to function in important and even executive positions where ordination is not a requirement? To be more specific, can women hold executive positions in our hospitals, our educational institutions, our publishing work, and especially in our seminaries? Will they continue to be allowed to teach in the seminary? Will they be allowed to serve as chaplains in our hospitals? If so the question will be why? What is the logic and the consistency for limiting the role of women only in this area? Why is this area singled out? Why does a no vote not affect all these areas, if it does not, but yes vote does? The very specific nature of the action raises questions of logic and consistency.

At this late date, there is no hope of changes being made to keep the matter from being brought before the General Conference Session. Let us hope and pray that for the sake of avoiding these problems, the majority of the delegates at the General Conference will be led by the Spirit to vote “yes” on this question. That would not solve the deeper problems of cultural inequities, but would temporarily avoid confrontations. Hopefully in the future we will be more careful not to create such problems.

Sakae Kubo, 88, 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.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

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

The question as posed does instruct the delegates to choose on the basis of WO being a biblical issue.

This is it. A “no” vote will weaken only the General Conference. The GC leaders have a lot of education to do so that the vote will not deteriorate its own authority. I do wonder if Wilson II comprehends this, or is single minded in having a WO defeated.

Btw, it isn’t the authority of divisions in question as they are only extensions of the GC. The union conferences hold authority over ordinations & this vote cannot change that. This vote along w/ previous ones that took the WO decision to the GC are out of policy.

(jeremy) #3

this is such an interesting discussion, but it tends to suggest that lay people cannot be expected to be as knowledgeable as the specialists…in this particular instance, all of the fall-out suggested in this article has been analyzed to death for months on the various online sites…delegates would have to be living under a very determined rock on mars to not be aware of the consequences of their vote…i will be completely shocked if the gc returns a no vote on the question of wo…

(Kevin Paulson) #4

None will be surprised, I suspect, to learn that I respectfully but most strongly differ with Dr. Kubo in his assertion that the ordination question is not a Biblical one. (As “hopeful” has correctly noted, the current motion to be placed before the session next year specifically identifies the issue as Biblical.) But as this article is primarily about the ecclesiastical implications of the question to be decided next year in San Antonio, some thoughts are in order regarding the ecclesiastical side of this debate.

First, it is important to keep in mind that no world Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has officially decided to proceed with women’s ordination. The only bodies within the church that have voted to proceed in this direction are three Unions—two in the North American Division (Columbia and Pacific), and one in the Trans-European Division (the Netherlands Union, which voted to henceforth consider all commissioned ministers as ordained). One other Union, the North German Union in the Inter-European Division, did vote at one point to proceed with women’s ordination, but subsequently pulled back and said it would not do so until and unless the General Conference gave permission.

So it is quite incorrect for Dr. Kubo to state that certain world Divisions have already agreed to ordain women, and that these Divisions are presumably unwilling to reverse this course. It is only the aforementioned three Unions, thus far, that have voted to officially move in this direction.

Secondly, to speak of “revoking” the ordination of women where it has thus far occurred, in those Unions that have defied current General Conference policy on this question, is to misspeak. The General Conference Executive Committee at the Annual Council of 2012 voted specifically to not recognize these ordinations. This is why the names of these women are not listed in the denominational Yearbook with the ordained ministers, and why the illegally elected president of the Southeastern California Conference is not listed in the Yearbook either.

This means, effectively, that if the General Conference votes No on the pending motion, there would be no need to officially revoke these ordinations, because they have never been recognized by the General Conference in the first place. In other words, so far as the General Conference is presently concerned, these female ministerial ordinations do not exist. Which means they need not be revoked. It is important to keep in mind, as has been noted many times in these conversations, that the current General Conference Working Policy specifically says positions in the church shall not “be limited by gender (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry)” (General Conference Working Policy, 2013-2014 edition, p. 113).

At the same time, if the rebellious Unions in question should continue their rebellious actions in the wake of a No vote by the General Conference next year, and continue to consider these women legitimately ordained, this will invariably necessitate corrective measures by the world church, as our General Conference president warned when addressing the special sessions of the Columbia and Pacific Unions two years ago.

Third, Dr. Kubo’s questions regarding hospital and educational administrators will likely need to be answered by church leaders either at the coming session or thereafter. Not every aspect of implementation will likely be settled on the floor next year. Some will probably need to be worked out in the course of events. But so far as teachers and chaplains are concerned, these are not headship roles, but rather, roles of an instructive and/or ministerial nature which do not involve headship. It is like the difference between the word used in Acts 18:26 with regard to Aquila and Priscilla teaching Apollos, and the word used in First Timothy 2:12 where women are forbidden to teach and hold authority over men.

In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, such roles as hospital and educational administration lie under the jurisdiction of bodies chaired by ordained ministers, who are men. So long as this pattern is preserved, the Biblical principle of spiritual male headship continues.

Finally, it is foolish for anyone to allege that once certain bodies within the church take action and move in a particular direction, such choices cannot be reversed. This comes across more as a propaganda statement with the intended effect of stampeding the vote in a particular direction, than a statement of actual fact. But on one point I fully agree with Dr. Kubo, and that is on the fact that the likelihood of a Yes vote next year remains exceedingly remote, and that any notion to the contrary is both overly optimistic and quite naive.

(Marianne Faust) #5

The result can only be a weakened General Conference.
Quite right. But I’m not sure if this would be a bad result. Of course the union conferences will not go back to this treatment of women, …on what basis? The headship theory? Can’t be…this has been rejected by our leading theologians. The legs of this anti-wo.-position have been removed. Why do we ask the delegates about something that has no basis?

(Jared Wright) #7

Another way of looking at it might be that lay delegates at the General Conference will not have had the same opportunity or time to devote to studying as many of the members of the GC Executive Committee who meet annually have had. I think this is a reasonable assumption.

Another consideration is how well division leaders will have briefed delegates in their territories for the discussion before the 2015 GC Session. I think it would be fair to assume that it will vary widely from one place to another with the result that a lay delegate from Cameroon may have a very different understanding from a lay delegate from Malaysia (to pick two locales at random).

While in North America, there is no shortage of analyses of the issue and no shortage of books, articles and position statements, again, I think it’s safe to assume that the same cannot be said for every region of the world from which General Conference delegates will come to San Antonio.

(Andreas Bochmann) #8

The weakening of the General Conference has been going on for a while by now - on many fronts. The dilemma of WO is just one of them. We have missed the opportunity to loosen the hierarchical “catholic” structure (in favour of a slightly more regional, independent model) in a peaceful and dignified way. Now it is likely to happen in a far more confrontational and destructive way.

(Tihomir Odorcic) #9

Kevin, are you serious? Do you think that the wheel of history can rotate backwards? If the vote in San Antonio will be No, there will be no turning back for any union or division, conference or local church. Everyone will know where to stand - on the side of justice, equality and grace. No repressive “grave consequences” can be exercised by a faithful and loving Christian. Some may think that this opinion is to naive to be true, but no one can exclude a division between divisions. It is an option which no one does wish to happen. Therefore, Kevin and others, don’t be so swift with your “corrective measures”, because they can definitely destroy the so desired unity. So we all can agree with dr. Kubo: “Let us hope and pray that for the sake of avoiding these problems, the majority of the delegates at the General Conference will be led by the Spirit to vote “yes” on this question.”

(Kevin Paulson) #10

I am quite serious, my friend. I do not believe in the dialectic view of history, which is too often tied to the theory of evolution. We most assuredly can turn the clock back to obedience to God’s Word if we so choose. It is Satan who whispers in the ears of wavering or compromising Christians that there is “no turning back” once a course of worldly conformity is chosen.

Your understanding of “justice,” “equality,” “grace,” and “love” is obviously not driven by Scripture. These concepts can only be defined by the written counsel of God, not by culture or postmodern notions of “inclusiveness.” The church is not about being inclusive; it is about being strictly faithful to divine instruction as found in His written Word. You also seem to think “corrective measures” and the “grave consequences” Elder Wilson spoke of are incompatible with being a “faithful and loving Christian.” That too betrays a straying on your part from the Biblical worldview, as both the Old and New Testaments speak often of church discipline and the removal of persons from the faith community who persist in choosing the world and popular culture over God’s will.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

I have followed Dr. Sabo’s career with Great interest. I have found him to be a man of great wisdom and candor. The issue is cultural not a Biblical. however the Church still lived in an early 19th century mind set. I have a preference for a male voice in the pulpit. but I prefer most of all the ringing endorsement of the gospel plus nothing. I have found that most males stand in the pulpit in fear of the “man”! I don’t detect that same awe among the women. Now if only John and Paul become central to the Adventist theology rather than Ellen White, and a distortion of Daniel and revelation. I am sorry Kevin and Jeremy but you are backing the wrong horse . Tom Z

(Carolyn Parsons) #12

I sorry you feel this way Kevin. I believe that this completely dismisses the contributions of many throughout history who have contributed to the betterment of society without relying on the written counsel of God. It makes me sad that you feel the need to demean people like this.

(Kai Kronberg) #13

Because a dialectic view of history is often used with the theory of evolution, it does not mean that they are synonymous or inextricably linked. The notions of thesis, antithesis- conflict, and the emergence of truth, is a logical way to look at how theories are formed- including ideas of evolution. Because they are referred together does not make then the same concept.

Yes notions of justice, equality, grade and love are driven by the scripture and yes they come from God but the application of of them is very much contextual. How God demonstrated grace to Abraham was very different from Peter. tThe concepts don’t change, but their application do. Many a times our application of these terms reflect the culture that we exist in.

(Elaine Nelson) #14

Only of the problems as previously mentioned is that the expectation that all delegates will have thoroughly studied this. In the divisions where it is common for women to be unequal in many ways, it is unrealistic to expect them to readily accept the Western concept of equality as of those in first world countries who have long ago have seen that women are equal in every way to men in the qualities that count for pastoral, executive and administration duties. They have, and are proving this every day in all kinds of work…

If WO is struck down, expect the disparaging publicity will not be what the church has wanted; especially when more churches each day are ordaining clergy and there have been no problems in congregational acceptance.

(Rheticus) #15

Where have you been? The divisions ARE DIVISIONS OF THE GENERAL CONFERENCE. They have to obey the rules and guidance of the General Conference.

What Ted Wilson and the other pro-top-down-rule people are trying to get the UNION CONFERENCES to agree is that they will obey directions from the Divisions. That is the trap being laid here, and the PUC is sniffing at the bait.

The correct move here is for the Union Conferences to form one or more Ordination Accreditation Agency, and agree to recognize any credentials of any UC that specific OAA’s certify - rather like schools and recognizing courses when students transfer.

(Bill Garber) #16


First, I want to be on record here as accepting your belief with regard to Male Headship as pure and undefiled. And let me also recognize that it takes no small amount of courage to take positions that will in all likelihood forever preempt your being hired as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church by any conference that shares the English language with you. Not that your position is unappreciated, but your scorched earth approach to making your points.

That said, it is appropriate to address your four points which you respectfully and most strongly attempt to make here. It is opinion that these points are pure propaganda for a hope that cannot be realized no matter whether the item before the General Conference results in a unanimous tally for either a No or a Yes. It is, though more than opinion, it seems.

Now to your proposals.

In your preamble your state that ordination is a biblical issue without regard to Dr. Kubo’s statement. Now, you are not so much right or wrong, but thoroughly out voted; it is abundantly clear that the General Conference and Divisional Leaders and the voters of the Annual Council just concluded last month, overwhelming differ with your assertion in this regard.

On to your four additional points

Firstly you are wrong. The North American Division did, indeed, vote to support Women’s ordination, but recanted in the face of legal arguments by General Conference lawyers who determined that Divisions have no independent authority as they have no constituency. The result is unassailable if inadvertent support by the General Conference of Union’s having the authority to approve the ordination of women put forward by local conferences for ordination as an action by the Union based on their constituency’s explicit approval.

Secondly you are wrong (or as you so often have used the term, ‘once again’). ‘Revoking’ is not to ‘misspeak.’ Your clarification is based on mistakenly assuming the General Conference has authority which only exists in the band of congregations that are the constituency of the Local Conferences and their associated Union Conferences.

Thirdly you are wrong still. The constituency precedence fully applies to hospital and educational institutions, thus fully making them independent of the wishes of and requests from General Conference officers.

Finally, you are wrong in full in making the assertion that by implication the General Conference can somehow reverse ordinations already endorsed. It is clear that an overwhelming No vote will formally leave ordination in the hands of the Union Conferences. A Yes vote, of course, will be misinterpreted as putting into the hands of Division leaders what the General Conference lawyers have already determined to be authority reserved exclusively to the constituencies of each Union Conference.

In a very real way, Yes or No and in either case nothing changes, it seems.

(Kevin Paulson) #17

Bill, I really don’t know what you’re talking about when you say I am “outvoted” on the Biblical nature of this issue. The resolution to go before the world church next year specifically predicates one’s decision—either way—on what the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy teach. This language has never before been included in a General Conference resolution on this subject.

And obviously Dr. Kubo agrees with me on this point, as he counters what Dr. Artur Stele said about this issue supposedly not being Biblical. Kubo counters this on the same basis I have done—on the basis of the language used in the resolution to go to San Antonio.

You truly appear to be in the grip of wishful thinking if you presume that the General Conference has no final authority over the actions of local entities. If rebellion persists in certain territories, you will learn just how meaningful the voice of the world body truly is. It seems only events will persuade you. We are not a congregational church, and the authority for belief and practice is universal, not local. The Church Manual is a good example of this, as its requirements for the discipline of members are decided, not at a local level, but at the world church level.

I believe you will find that the “every man for himself” approach to church administration and doctrinal cohesion is about to come to an end.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #18

Oh, dear. How wrong you are. Ordained ministers are themselves under the authority of church boards & conference/union executive committees which include women. The chairs of such groups do not hold power, the group does.

And, no matter how oft repeated your claims about different kinds of teaching they still remain poor & idiosyncratic interpretation.

(Carrol Grady`) #19

KP, while that may be true at present, there are also several unions and conferences that are just waiting until after the GC session to go forward. The same is true in Europe.

It is the Union’s prerogative to decide whom to ordain within its territory, and the refusal to recognize this is leading toward disunity in the church. Elder Wilson’s desire for unity in the church is being sabotaged by his very insistence on everyone thinking as he does. Certainly, in NAD, which is strongly pro-WO, there will be no going back.

How do you think such corrective measures would be taken, and what do you think the response would be from NAD? Especially now that they are moving out of the GC building?Your picture of the church as an autocratic institution sounds a bit like Hitler’s Germany!

(Kevin Paulson) #20

Carroll, it is no more a Union’s option to ordain someone to ministry outside of General Conference policy than it is an option for a local church to defy the Church Manual with regard to the discipline of members. Yes, it is the Unions who ordain, just as it is the local churches who discipline members. But in both cases it is imperative that the entity in question abide by world church decisions. If not, disciplinary consequences are in order and fully within the rights of higher church bodies to enforce.

Whether any Union will dare to defy a voted action of the General Conference that is based on Biblical authority, remains to be seen. Much will have changed after San Antonio, in more ways than one.

Regarding the corrective measures available in case of rebellion or apostasy, read your Working Policies, both GC and NAD. They are clear what options are available to administrators.

So far as the NAD moving out of the GC building is concerned, please understand that the General Conference has only given the NAD the right to explore this possibility. No final decision on the part of the GC has been made. And no such move can happen unless the General Conference approves, as the NAD—like all world Divisions—is part of the General Conference. Again, San Antonio is coming, and things may not look the same after the proceedings there.

And even if the NAD did move out of the GC building, please understand they will still be subject to the General Conference, of which they would remain a part. The officers of every Division are chosen by the General Conference nominating committee, subject to approval by the world field on the session floor. No Division is autonomous. All are obliged to honor world church actions.


Although Kevin Paulson insists on using terms like “rebellion” and “supreme authority” in this discussion, the truth is:

  1. Ordained women pastors in the church will continue to serve as authorized ordained pastors, despite Paulson’s protestations of “rebellion.”
  2. Despite the vote at GC in San Antonio, women will continue to be ordained in various parts of the world.
  3. Despite Paulson’s protestations about the “power” and “supreme authority” of the hierarchial General Conference officers, it’s the constituencies that have the vote, as illustrated in the last few years at constituency meetings where the G.C. president flew in to attempt to influence the constituency vote.
  4. Unions will continue to drive this issue because of the existing legal policies in place authorizing them to act, recommend and ordain whom they deem qualified. This will not change whatever the vote turns out to be at G.C.