The North American Division (NAD) is unquestionably the most vocal proponent of Women’s Ordination (WO) of all 13 Divisions in global Adventism. At its year-end meeting on November 1-6, 2018, the Division signaled a strong opposition to the General Conference (GC) Compliance document that was approved at its 2018 Annual Council. This is good, but the NAD, like the GC, is not where the action is, or should be.
In the church’s ongoing difficulties surrounding Ordination, it is important to remember that the organizational bodies empowered to deal with such matters are the Unions. The NAD comprises nine such Unions. In 2012, the NAD “acquired” the Guam-Micronesia Mission. Here is a list of all nine Unions and their territories:
Atlantic Union Conference (AUC): Bermuda, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont; comprising the Bermuda, Greater New York, New York, Northeastern, Northern New England, and Southern New England Conferences.
Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada: Canada and French possessions of St. Pierre and Miquelon; comprising the Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba-Saskatchewan, Maritime, Ontario and Quebec Conferences and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Columbia Union Conference (CUC): Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; comprising the Allegheny East, Allegheny West, Chesapeake, Mountain View, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Potomac Conferences
Lake Union Conference (LUC): Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota; comprising the Illinois, Indiana, Lake Region, Michigan, and Wisconsin Conferences
Mid-America Union Conference (MUC): Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and San Juan County in New Mexico; comprising the Dakota, Iowa-Missouri, Kansas-Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rocky Mountain Conferences.
North Pacific Union Conference (NUC): Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington; comprising the Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Upper Columbia, and Washington Conferences.
Pacific Union Conference (PUC): Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Johnston Island, Midway Islands, and all other islands of the Pacific not attached to the other divisions and bounded by the date line on the west, by the equator on the south, and by longitude 120 on the east; comprising the Arizona, Central California, Hawaii, Nevada-Utah, Northern California, Southeastern California, and Southern California Conferences.
Southern Union Conference (SUC): Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee; comprising the Carolina, Florida, Georgia-Cumberland, Gulf States, Kentucky-Tennessee, South Atlantic, South Central, and Southeastern Conferences.
Southwestern Union Conference (SwUC): Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico (except San Juan County), Oklahoma, and Texas; comprising the Arkansas-Louisiana, Oklahoma, Southwest Region, Texas, and Texico Conferences.
Prior to San Antonio, when the WO debate was in earnest, the CUC and PUC presented the issue of WO to their constituents. This was done despite warnings of “dire” and “grave consequences” from the GC president. In both instances, the two Unions voted overwhelmingly (about 80% in each case) to affirm ordaining women to gospel ministry. The church is doctrinally silent on Ordination thus allowing the two Unions to take the issue to their constituencies. The basic argument is that even though previously only men have been ordained as pastors in the Adventist Church, this was based on tradition and not informed by the Bible or church beliefs.
The NAD has projected a united front when voting on WO issues. This is exemplified by the recent 176/48 (79%-21%) vote by delegates to the NAD year-end meeting calling on the GC to rescind approval of the 2018 Annual Council (AC) Compliance document. But if there is such a strong agreement about WO across the Division, why is it that the CUC and PUC are the only Unions that have asked their constituents to weigh in on this all-important issue? What are the positions of the other seven Unions regarding the ordination question?
It could be that the constituents in the seven Unions who have not declared their positions on WO are not in favor. But how could we know until the opportunity to vote is given, as was done by CUC and PUC? If the constituents in some of these seven Unions favor the proposition, wouldn’t that by itself strengthen the NAD’s hand?
Imagine that instead of two Unions there were six in the NAD whose constituents had voted to approve WO. In that situation the GC might well be more circumspect in its consideration to take over Unions or shame their leaders. As it is, aren’t the GC leaders emboldened because they can isolate and vilify the few that have stuck their proverbial necks on the line?
If there is broad support for WO in the NAD, as their delegates’ votes consistently indicate, then all Union leaders should bring the matter to a vote in their constituencies. By allowing only two Unions to be the face of the ordination controversy, the remaining seven NAD Unions have inadvertently contributed to the GC president’s characterization that the CUC and PUC are rebellious, and their leaders must be shamed into abandoning their conscientious position on ordination.
This is one of those once-in-a-generation situations when leaders are called upon to be unequivocal in their stances. It is not enough for these Unions’ leaders to express support for WO when voting in concert with the NAD but be missing in action when their individual Unions must act on it. The least these leaders could do is present the matter to their constituencies for a vote. To do otherwise is to harm the cause they profess to support.
Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9202