Viewpoint: The Implications of Calling Women's Ordination Ecclesiastical, Not Theological

(Spectrumbot) #1

Dr. Sakae Kubo has offered detailed analysis of the action taken by members of the 2014 Annual Council to send a question to 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas concerning whether divisions in the Seventh-day Adventist Church should be authorized to decide women's ordination within their territory. Dr. Kubo's previous articles on the subject can be viewed here. -Ed.

In a meeting of the approximately twenty young adults serving as members of the General Conference Executive Committee for the 2010-2015 Quinquennium, Artur Stele the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) chair and GC General Vice President, announced that the President's Executive Administrative Committee (PREXAD) meeting before the Autumn Council discussed the TOSC report and came to “a strong consensus” that “when the issue has no theological solution (and it was clear this issue had none) administrators must solve it ecclesiastically.” (See "Artur Stele: 'No Theological Solution on Women's Ordination.'")

When I read Stele's statement, it came as a surprise and at first it was difficult to determine whether it was good news or bad news. At first I thought it was good news, thinking that the decision was made because administrators came to accept the view that ordination is not biblical since it originated several centuries after the New Testament was completed according to Dr. Darius Jankiewicz of the Theological Seminary and independently by Dr. Bertil Wiklander, president of the Trans-European Division. Both of these scholars favor woman's ordination. Thinking along these lines, I felt Stele's acknowledgment would favor the position of women's ordination. I thought it also indicated that Paul's statements on the subordination of women would be discounted. However, as I read the explanation given by Dr. Stele (see below), I had to change my thinking.

I really don't know which way the General Conference vote on divisions' right to decide will go. My feeling is that most delegates will still view this as a theological issue even though the statement does not speak directly to women's ordination but to allowing divisions that feel ready to proceed with ordination to do so. Some may interpret interpret a "YES" vote as a vote in favor of woman's ordination, and vote "NO" for ideological reasons.

A closer look at Dr. Stele's explanation is warranted. What does “no theological solution” mean? In this case it means, according to Stele, that there was no overwhelming majority in favor of a particular view. However, if there were a majority view based on analysis of the committees tasked with studying ordination, it would seem to be willingness to allow divisions to ordain women as they are ready.

In a survey of GC TOSC members, 62 indicated their willingness to allow ordination to proceed, and 22 indicated they would oppose women's ordination in all cases. As far as the division Biblical Research Committees that reported to TOSC were concerned, five divisions were in favor of ordaining women in their divisions, and four divisions that opposed ordaining women in their territory indicated willingness to allow other divisions to move ahead. That made a total of 9 out of the 13 divisions open to allowing women's ordination.

Stele indicated that if ordination were decided theologically, the issue would carry the weight of a Fundamental Belief, which are widely agreed upon. What “widely agreed upon” means, he did not say. A Fundamental Belief I assent to must have wide agreement. I don't believe that it was ever thought that woman's ordination would become a Fundamental Belief. This practice can never carry the weight of a Fundamental Belief since it is one in which different parts of the world hold, and will continue to hold, diverse views for a long time--specifically, regarding the role of women. How can we expect the kind of agreement that a Fundamental Belief must have when geographic regions hold such diverging views from one another? Clearly, issues like this one cannoy be treated like a Fundamental Belief. That is why such an issue should not be determined on a General Conference level but on a union and division level. This situation will not change, even after the vote is taken. Even if the majority favors one view over the other, the issue will not have the weight of a Fundamental Belief, begging the question why it is being treated as an issue requiring majority acceptance.

Knowing the issue and the people involved on both sides of the issue, and that those who favored one position would not shift even after widespread discussion, it was a foregone conclusion that there would not be a “strong consensus” by either position. Why the church spent so much time and money on protracted study of the issue is hard to understand, especially since also the conclusions of the division TOSCs and the General Conference TOSC have no weight in the final decision, which is in the hands of the delegates.

What does an ecclesiastical solution mean here? It means that since the theologians cannot solve the problem to PREXAD's satisfaction, that PREXAD should solve the problem. But Stele said that the administrators should not dictate the outcome. So then what? Since the theologians could not come to an overwhelming decision on one side of the issue, and administrators felt they should not decide the issue, they decide let the delegates at the General Conference decide the issue. The majority of the delegates, most of whom have not been involved in the lengthy ordination study process, and whose understanding of the issue may be limited compared with the TOSC members or the General Conference administrators, will be the ones to make the final decision. This stands the issue on its head. The least equipped individuals in the saga are asked to make the supremely complicated decision of tremendous importance to the church.

This recognition that the ordination of women issue is not a theological but an ecclesiastical issue was not widely discussed at Annual Council, or in the months since. It should have raised all kinds of questions. Exactly at what point does a theological issue become an ecclesiastical one? What kind of issues can move from being theological to becoming ecclesiastical? Why should such theological issues be placed in the hand of administrators? Why should such an important and somewhat complicated issue be ultimately decided by mostly lay delegates?

The two questions raised at the meeting when Elder Stele announced this indicate the uneasiness with this procedure. Both affirming what is stated above. The first question was when theologians had so much time to study the issue, will the delegates with not as much time be able to adequately deal with the issue. The second which is related was whether the delegates will be educated on the issues before the vote takes place.

On this very important issue with so much at stake, we wait upon the mostly lay delegates at the 2015 General Conference to cast their votes.

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

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

I Always have appreciated Dr Kubo’s reasoning. But I think the issue goes to SA just exactly as President Wilson wishes… but he than takes a huge chance with his own Presidency, Five years at great expense and effort, even with a clear position of the president, no resolution. The question must reside in many minds, is he up to the job? what can he point with pride? (Grave consequences?)! Tom Z

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #3

Whatever Stele said, the decisions delegates are being asked to make are unarguably theological. Each vote involves two such decisions—one on the theology of ordination & the other on the theology of divisions having varied praxis:
“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.”’s-ordination-question-to-gc-session

We haven’t seen any effort to educate delegates on the issues. So far, it looks like it will entail no more than the usual info packet. How can this turn out well?

(Carolyn Parsons) #4

There seems to be a growing interest in the developing world in the presidency of the church. They tend to identify with his traditional message. I know from personal experience that many greatly admire his leadership in Angola, for example, His visits to the continent have a sense of grandeur, pomp and circumstance, for large gatherings in stadium his visits he has had a huge response from the membership. This is part of his legacy whether I agree with his message or not.

(David Read) #5

The issue is not ordination but whether there is or is not a biblical doctrine of male headship (or leadership) in the church. It certainly is a biblical/doctrinal/“theological” issue, but for tactical reasons, those in favor of female headship in the church don’t want this issue framed, discussed, or voted on as a biblical issue (in part because it would highlight their heterodox “principle-based historical-cultural” hermeneutic). They want to just continue to make female headship in the church a fact on the ground. I discuss this issue here:

The bottom line is that it is very much to the advantage of the pro-female headship faction that the issue not be treated as a biblical issue. So rather than agonize about whether this is “theological” or not (it is), you guys should just relax and be thankful that you won this round.

(Carolyn Parsons) #6

Come on, this is not the principle. It is equality of opportunity and calling. It is not a headship issue.

(Kade Wilkinson) #7

Very true, but it goes beyond that. There is also an incentive to protect female headship in the family, which is already an overwhelming fact in the church. Look at all the churches that promoted or even screened Fireproof. While many “conservatives” stand opposed to female headship in the church, most are on board with and strong defenders of female headship in the family, even going to far as to endorse messages such as those found in Fireproof and the marriage seminars given by the likes of Joel and Kathy Davisson that women should use the threat of divorce and separation from his children to ensure their husbands remain obedient to their headship.

(Carolyn Parsons) #8

This is patently false. You and David are building a huge straw man. The ordination of women is not about the headship of women. I can safely say that proponents of ordination of women are against any kind of headship.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #9

I took Fireproof differently. The husband decides to change his marriage-destroying behaviors, e.g., explosive anger, pornography, buying a boat instead of medical equipment for the wife’s mother. These changes are all consistent w/ Scripture for any Christian life. I believe much of the approval for this film comes from proponents of male headship, who regard the portrayed husband’s changes as aligned w/ the self-sacrifice of Christ that the Bible enjoins for husbands.

(Bill Garber) #10


(Kade Wilkinson) #11

What is the alternative? Anarchy?

(efcee) #12
  1. Because trained theologians and administrators can convene on the issue for many days, share many study papers, debate and campaign in favor of their personal views, and be no better able to draw a conclusion than they were when they began.

  2. Because lay delegates have already voted on the issue at the union and local conference levels with good results.

  3. Because it is the laity who will disengage if they perceive administration to be making decisions that don’t accurately reflect their point of view.

The burden of church administration is to make sure that all lay delegates are exposed to all facets of the issue; not to play “keep-away” with the decision.

(efcee) #13

I would say that most proponents of ordination of women are for the headship of Christ alone.

(Kade Wilkinson) #14

Meanwhile, his wife openly engages in an illicit affair, and pursues a frivolous and biblically forbidden divorce. Yet the conclusion is she forgives him, and her sins are never mentioned.

And as to the boat vs. the medical equipment:

Her objection to him saving for the boat is that she has other plans for the money. Her mother had a stroke a year prior, and Catherine has gone to a medical supply store and picked out a sort of stroke bridal registry of things she wants to give her mother. She specifically mentions a new wheelchair and a “hospital bed”. By pure coincidence, this totals to the exact twenty four thousand dollars the husband has set aside to buy a boat. Interestingly the movie authors clearly expect us to see this as a “need”, but we never hear this from a medical professional. Her mother has already moved back home, and is sitting up fine in a normal chair when we see her. There is never a discussion about why top of the line equipment is the only way to help her parents, or how any of this will help her mother be able to speak again. The flimsy nature of this is important, because it sets the tone for the movie. Even if the wife’s demands are suspect, the right choice for the husband is to give her whatever she demands.

I don’t see how any woman could watch Fireproof and not come away with the subconscious impression that threatening divorce is a good way to make her husband do what she wants.

Quote from:

(Thomas J Zwemer) #15

I am sure you are correct, but it is that grandeur, pomp, and circumstance that is his problem in the North American division that is his greatest weakness. Even the Entire Western world. Of course,I would like to see the church move into a more ecumenical stance. I sense that is the dominate posture of Spectrum. Tom Z

(Carolyn Parsons) #16

Absolutely true. It is a noticeable contrast to more humble predecessors, especially the last president.

(Steve Mga) #17

Let me ask this question since, even though I have been at several GC’s, I’m not familiar with what is and what isnt allowed. – IS it allowed for a booth to lobby the delegates and to provide for discussion by advocates for certain votes by Delegates and providing “educational” materials on the topic of interest that they will be voting on?

At Episcopalian General Conferences there is allowed booths for “educating” delegates on voting topics. These are manned by volunteers promoting what ever vote is desired.

(Jesse Andrews) #18

No such thing as “female headship.” Equality. Yes. Getting rid of gender discrimination. Yes. Those are the issues.

(Jesse Andrews) #19

Amen. The headship of Christ, that’s the “only” headship that can ever be acceptable in the Adventist Church.

(Jesse Andrews) #20

Sadly, fear of Christ’s headship and acceptance of gender discrimination as Christ-like is losing young Adventist professionals and students.

Because I’m limited (according to a pop-up box) to only 3 responses to this thread) here is my response to ajshep #6.

Number 6. Since when have men fled from medicine and law, two professions where women were not welcomed until the last few decades? You say “they will drive out the men.” This is a false either-or and a fallacy.

How long before I can post again on this thread?