Viewpoint: Why Unions Should Assert Their Right to Decide Women's Ordination

(system) #1
Two unions in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, the Pacific Union Conference in the West and the Columbia Union Conference in the East, have recently taken action on the question set forth by the 2014 Annual Council to be presented to the 2015 General Conference Session. The two unions have essentially taken the same action--they have come out in favor of allowing divisions to decide whether to ordain women or not, and have stated that they believe in unity in diversity. In other words they have voted in favor of a "YES" vote to the question being sent to the General Conference Session. This is well and good, but does not deal with the real issue.

In favoring a "YES" vote, they are in effect accepting the validity of the question--that it is legitimate for the majority of the General Conference delegates to decide whether a division can proceed to ordain women when ready. I indicated in my previous article that because of the different views regarding the role of women in society in different parts of the world, this is not a matter that should be decided at the General Conference. It is a matter that should be decided in each division or union. The African divisions should not decide how the North American Division should treat its women any more than the North American Division should decide for the African divisions how they should treat their women.

Should the majority of the delegates vote "NO" on this question, it would mean that no division would be sanctioned by the General Conference to ordain women. The crucial element in this issue is that by accepting the legitimacy of this question, all divisions are in effect agreeing to the will of the majority of the delegates. But consider what this means. Each division, including the North American Division, is willing to allow the majority of the delegates to determine what it should do regarding the ordination of women. That is, that if the majority vote "NO," the North American Division agrees that ordained women in its jurisdiction will not be sanctioned by the General Conference. It would also mean, more to the point, that the NAD would be willing to risk further challenges to the presidency of Sandra Roberts in Southeastern California Conference.

Additionally, if entities in the NAD were to refuse to comply with the majority decision in the case of a "NO" vote, then they could rightly be charged with being divisive since they have, in effect, accepted the legitimacy of the question, implying that they have agreed to whatever the majority decides. If the majority votes "NO," they will have tough decisions to make about how to deal with ordination within their territories.

It follows that if the divisions and unions that have ordained women intend to continue to do so, whatever the vote may be, they need to indicate this before the action is taken. Instead of the kind of action they have taken to indicate they are in favor of allowing divisions to determine whether they wish to ordain women or not, they should, at this point, indicate that they do not believe that the question is legitimate and that this decision should be left to the unions and divisions to decide. If they do not, they will have a harder time making the case for continuing to ordain women and making claims about unity if General Conference delegates deliver a "NO" vote.

Again, to avoid conflicts and confusion I pray that if things continue as they are that the majority of the delegates will vote "YES" on this question, and thus give the Church more time to deal with the problem of where this kind of decisions should be made.

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.

Title Photo: NAD President Daniel Jackson speaks at the 2014 NAD Year-end Meetings in Silver Spring. Courtesy Daniel Weber / NAD.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Bryan Ness) #2

Deciding whether or not to do what is morally right should never be held captive to a majority vote. Since ordination of women is essentially an ecclesiastical issue, and not a theological issue, the equality that women deserve is a moral issue and should therefore be decided on moral grounds. Forcing the issue on some divisions that have entrenched cultural problems around ordination may be inappropriate, but it would also be inappropriate to hold back divisions that have come to recognize the moral imperative of treating women 100% equal to men.

(le vieux) #3

The decision on whether or not to ordain women as pastors should be done at the GC session. If any other course is adopted, we could very well see the church split into factions. What if some Unions want to allow same sex “marriage,” for example? Should they be allowed to do so?

No matter how one feels about these divisive issues, to allow different unions or conferences to go their own way would be lead to the demise of the SDA Church. Of course, based on the comments by some posters here, that may not bother them at all.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

Playing the “What if games” is just a fear tactic and has no validity in rational discussion. Tom Z


It feels like, despite the yards of comment on this issue, we don’t yet have agreement on the nature of the problem.

Dr Kubo frames the problem politically. His solution works in the special case Unions, where 80% electoral majorities are achievable. In many places such majorities would be hard to achieve, less still in a position for constitutional inscription. How does a Union ‘speak’? Through Administrators, Exec Committees, Majority of Constituent entities, Member Referendum or Constitutional Change? In general it would be strange to make ecclesiastical protocols a matter of constitution.

For others it is a moral - fairness / equity issue. In some cultures it is. In other settings, cultural role differentiation is normal, and for the equity doesn’t come into it.

For some the whole issue is substantially hermeneutic. The ‘six’ texts must be literal to the exclusion of the overall Biblical Panorama and its trajectory.

For Birder - it creates a precedent. Quite how the appointment of ecclesiastical office, over which the church has control conflicts with ‘who marries who’ a decision over which the church has no power is a quandary.

Pastoral Leadership is a form of office, which requires the willingness of followers to follow. The Bible has about 8 leadership styles, some of which were patriarchal in nature, others not. The main point being, that God calls multiple kinds of people for different needs at different times.

The problem will not be solved politically, theologically or morally, but by the humility of those who are sufficiently open, to accepting the spiritual gifts as they abound in those who make themselves available.

(Rheticus) #6

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

Is it acceptable for division executive commitees [sic], as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No

My understanding is that neither the GC nor any Division of the GC currently ordains pastors of either gender. Ordination is done by the UC or lower.

That being the case, the motion being put to the delegates gives the Division the right to ordain women, but not men, if they want to.

I am not sure this is the intention of the framers of the motion, or the intention of the UC’s who have told their delegates to vote Yes.

It will, however, allow the African Division to ordain African women even if the African UC’s wont. That might be a step forward.

(Allen Shepherd) #7

This issue, in the past, was decided at the GC level every time it came up. That conferences are doing it now without general agreement on allowing it, shows they are willing to risk division for a peripheral issue.

Mr. Kubo has elucidated the pickle that the divisions ordaining women have gotten themselves into. If they had waited, there would be no problem, and Roberts legitimacy would not be in question. But to have gone ahead regardless just rankles those opposed. And to what end? Is it necessary to rub others noses in your “morality”? If it was unity in diversity that was wanted, rather than stubborn attachment to an opinion, then waiting would not have been inappropriate.

However, the non-NAD unions will vote to allow it, out of shear weariness. It will be allowed, dispute the “rebellion”.

(Allen Shepherd) #8
  1. If this IS a moral issue, then all the divisions should be forced to do it.
  2. Women and men are very different. Of the same worth, but different, and not equal in every regard. I can’t have babies, I’m not equal to a woman etc…
  3. There is no way you can prove this is a moral issue.

(James Wilson) #9

Paul acknowledges in Romans 14 that Christians will differ on what they believe God wants them to do. However, they are not allowed to criticize and condemn each other for those differences. If someone believes differently from us, we make them sin if we force them to behave as we believe (Romans 14:14). Furthermore, if we do not follow our own convictions we are sinning (Romans 14:23). The same concept is also found in James 4:17 “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it”. It should be clear to all that a “No” vote will force segments of the church to choose between what they believe God is calling them to do and the decision of the GC. I can’t imagine delegates deliberately forcing others to make that choice.

(Allen Shepherd) #10

Wasn’t that choice forced on them already years ago? This is not the first time this has come up, and it was voted down before, so the choice was already forced. If you believe this is a moral issue, then there is no compromise. If you compromise, you are being immoral. And thinking that it is moral for you but not for someone else changes the definition of morality. I think the easier route is to see that it is not a moral issue, and vote yes.


If forced to a yes no: My answer would be no, since this is a matter outside the magister of Division Executive Committees. But, yes insofar as it serves to confirm legitimacy / permission for people to anoint in leadership those they deem fit to lead, and for that constituency to follow.

Our Union could, and probably would authorise the ordination of persons female. Yet, it would be pyrrhic when we know full well that such persons will be discounted by a significant proportion of the constituency, on account of their gender alone. It is the consent of local people that really matters.

The SECC have demonstrated through voluntary electoral means their appreciation for a leader who happens to be female. Quite how this divides the world is far from clear. The leadership of and in Conferences elsewhere has almost no impact on those of us at distance. My ignorance is sufficiently profound, that I cannot name more than 3 Conference presidents in NAD or any other Division for that matter. (Sorry Chaps)

(Brad(Luna)) #12

Factions are natural in any non dictatorial system. The idea that every single person will believe the same thing on a doctrinal issue simply will not occur. Paul says to allow liberty in the smaller things so allow liberty rather than mandates especially when it is the individual churches which decide on certain practices.

The issue is not so much factions but rather how the factions interact with each other.

(Bill Garber) #13

Whether intentional or not, the vote on the statement to be presented to the delegates appears to have no legal standing with regard to Union conferences ordaining women as pastors.

The General Conference lawyers have already convinced the North American Division that on the basis of it having no constituency, the Division has no power to authorize or to not authorize anything for the church. Upon this finding, the NAD withdrew its statement authorizing the ordination of pastors without regard to gender.

Neither, apparently, does the General Conference have any authority to overrule the Unions when it comes to ordaining women to the ministry. If there were any legal right for the General Conference to prevent Union Conferences from ordaining women, there remains no observable doubt that the current General Conference officers would have exercises that right more than once already.

There is nothing in the statement the Annual Council voted to put before the General Conference delegates next summer that empowers the Divisions by crafting a constituency for them. Thus, unless the delegates craft constituencies for each Division, the Divisions will appear to leave San Antonia with no more inherent power than they had when they arrived, no matter how the delegates vote what in effect is there collective, non-binding opinion.

It will certainly be pointless of the General Conference to argue that a No vote prevents the Divisions from authorizing ordination without regard to gender. No Division has that power today.

It is equally pointless for the General Conference going forward to attempt to exert a right it has proven more than once it does not have already.

It may well be that a motion from the floor to table the matter is the best solution going forward.

With the matter tabled, it is clear that Unions will continue to move as the Holy Spirit moves within them with regard to many matters, not just the ordination of women.

Indeed, this is as it was envisioned when Union Conferences were integrated into the authorizing structure of the church. Perhaps for such a time as this, Union Conferences were envisioned.

The institution of Union Conferences was with the full endorsement of Ellen White, who by that time had declared that the General Conference officers were surely not speaking for God, nor had she considered them doing so for some time, though she surely was not criticizing the officers individually, as Union Conferences were instituted behind the leadership of those very officers.

Ellen White was never a power player. Indeed, she consistently rejected power as largely pointless when it comes to seeking unity of spirit and purpose.

In the meantime, it is to be expected and when missing Ellen White believed it is the responsibility of leaders to listen to God to see new ways of experiencing life as Christians and thus as Seventh-day Adventists. “For years the voice of God has been saying to us, ‘Agitate, agitate, agitate,’” Ellen White notes in 1892. It is a wonderful testimony of the guarantor of God’s presence among the community of faith decades after it became the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, that at age 65, Ellen White was advocating fresh, new, and illuminating ways of seeing God at work in the world. Forever youthful it seems. Forever young. Forever faithful to the spirit of God’s presence. This is Ellen White and this is the Seventh-day Adventist church she envisioned. ff.

(Allen Shepherd) #14

The Dutch Conf. has said that they are a safe place for gay people, implying that membership is allowed, and from what I have read, it is. Since membership is determined by the local church, not even the union conference, then churches may allow gays to be members, and sister churches would have to accept transfers from them as legitimate. And this goes of any other issue that might come up where one church might allow, and others not. It gets complicated. But of course we can become congregational and thus remove all these prickly issues.

But if this is just a meaningless vote, then why is it being done? The NAD has asked for a yes vote. Why not just go alone?

(Bryan Ness) #15

We have never forced moral issues on cultures who are unready for that degree of change, Allen. You are using very concrete thinking. There are many morally right things that we should be doing, and there is no excuse for us to neglect doing them when we realize we should. It doesn’t hurt to also encourage cultures that are not yet ready for such a moral stand either, without forcing them, and our example would go far, I believe.

As for men and women being different, duh. I am not arguing they are not different. What I would argue is that it is those very differences that make it all that more valuable to women to be enabled to serve equally in ministry. I have seen female pastors accomplish things with parishioners that a male pastor may never have accomplished. We need more ordained women pastors so that their unique gifts may be used to full potential. As long as we keep them in a second class position in church leadership, we are not reaping the benefits God can bestow through them.

As for proving it is a moral issue, I feel no need to prove it. Paul himself makes an adequate case, and God’s original plan for humankind seems abundantly clear as well. Would you argue with God?

(Allen Shepherd) #16

I don’t argue that women can serve well, I don’t even argue with WO. I just don’t believe it is a moral issue. And if it is, we should be making all do it: we do, after all, tell others that Sabbath keeping cannot be ignored as it is a moral issue no matter what the culture.

Paul never says a word about ordaining women. And Jesus didn’t do it either when he was here. (and we are not living under God’s original plan.)

I am asked by some why I keep the Sabbath, and so I show them. I asked you to show that WO was a moral issue, but you demurred. I assume you can’t do it.

You see, Bryan I don’t have a problem ordaining women. But it is not a moral issue. You make others immoral by believing it is, and i don’t see how you can justify that.

(Elaine Nelson) #17

How does it possibly affect you or your Christianity if the Dutch conference ordains those you would not sit with in the pew or agree to membership? If there are some you are unable to worship with, will you not be uncomfortable in heaven when there are all sorts of former sinners there? If you admit to being a sinner, how is your life more moral than other sinners? How can you reject who God or the church in a foreign area, accepts?

(Bill Garber) #18

Very insightful, Allen

Your questions are to the core here. We are left to speculate as to why the Division and General Conference officers are seeking this vote.

(Allen Shepherd) #19

Have you read I Cor 5? Paul says, “Cast out the evil brother!” or some such words, and says we are not even to eat with the sexually immoral, or greedy, or idolaters, if they claim to be Christian bothers or sisters. So, I sense doing such would affect my Christianity, or Paul would have been silent. I admit I am a sinner, and have problems, but I think Paul is speaking of unrepentant sinners who claim to be Christians.

(Bryan Ness) #20

It is a moral issue because if, as God makes clear, women are equal to men before Him, then to honor men above women, by ordaining men and not women, we are violating that moral imperative. When we say that it is okay to ordain men and not women, we are saying that men deserve a higher status than women. How can that be morally acceptable in light of God’s pronouncement that men and women are of equal status?

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like- minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil. 2:1-4

For the male leadership to continue to insist on their own importance while ignoring the equal importance of female leaders is morally wrong. Ultimately, it is about pride and a false sense of superiority.