Woman Delegates, Geography, and the 14th Division at the General Conference Session

For the Seventh-day Adventist Church quinquennial session in July when 100 plus General Conference officials will be elected, a voting body of 2,566 delegates is created to handle the election and other church business.

In a recent story about how the delegates are picked, the Adventist News Network reported that 83% of the delegates are male and 17% female.

“A question that is certain to be asked when reading statistics on gender representation is why is the percentage of female delegates so small when it is perceived that women are in the majority as pertains to Church membership?” the article says.

Then it answers its own question, “While efforts are continually made to ensure that the entire delegation shall be comprised of both genders, currently the positions from which these delegates are named and that generate the majority of delegates for the Session are held by males. This will change over time as more women are elected to leadership positions and Conference or Union executive committee membership.”

Yes, this will change over time—if women are allowed to be ordained and thus can be eligible for positions that require an ordained individual to be chosen for the offices such as conference and union presidents. Examination of the delegate numbers, and the three ways delegate quotas are established demonstrates why this is so important. Delegates with administrative positions are the majority of the delegates. According to the Constitution of the General Conference delegates are selected: Based on units of organizational structure such as unions and conferences Based on division membership as a percentage of total world membership Based on the General Conference and its institutions

Division officers and union presidents are delegates by constitutional requirement. Invariably, other union officers and conference presidents, a group of about 800 more people, generally make the list of delegates, too. So, without ordination, women essentially do not qualify for hundreds of delegate positions.

There is a formula for the inclusion of pastors and the laity which is supposed to be half of the delegates after the administrative delegates are selected. Technically, only 400 delegates are allocated based on membership. The other delegates—over 2,000—are apportioned according to structural units.

Another way to look at the spread of delegates is geographically. This, too, shows great disparity in the representation according to membership.

Delegates by Division, membership by division, and the ratio of delegates per member:

The number of delegates per member is not the same for every division. The SID has one delegate for every 15,836 members while the TED has one delegate per every 767 members. The South Pacific Division has more delegates but less members than Northern Asia Pacific Division. Having more unions, conferences, and institutions affects the number of delegates in a division. Also, notice that the unit with the third largest number of delegates is the General Conference itself. It functions like a 14th division in spite of the fact that it has no membership base other than the approximately 4,000 members who live in the fields that were recently attached to it in the Middle East and Israel.

Who is included in that General Conference delegation? Members of the General Conference Executive Committee, associate department directors, representatives of GC institutions, twenty GC staff members, plus a list of about 70 former leaders and selected individuals traditionally nominated by the president and approved by the Administrative Committee.

If one were to compare the Adventist system to the U.S. House and Senate where the section of governance that has the greatest numbers comes from the House where representatives are apportioned based on population, the Adventist system is reversed. The largest number of delegates is based on church structural units rather than membership.

There is nothing inherently wrong with preference being given to administrators, since they are the people who are responsible for running the Church organization. But some might argue that a system based more equally on membership would be more fair.What is also problematic is barring women, who are half of the church membership, from holding hundreds of top administrative offices, such as conference and union presidencies. There are approximately 750 of these positions in the church, and they all require ordination. Almost all of those people become delegates to the General Conference, effectively locking women out of those delegate slots.

In the recent discussion of Women’s Ordination, the tie of administrative offices to ordained positions has not been a major factor in the conversation. It was not discussed in the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC), for instance. The ascension of one woman to the presidency of the Southeastern California Conference helped nudge the Women’s Ordination conversation along, but that was all.

Whatever the outcome of the vote on Women’s Ordination, these delegate issues of disparity in representation of membership geographically and by gender need to be faced and fixed.

Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6849
2 Likes

Delegates are mostly pastors and directors of conferences and unions. Since the occupancy of women are scanty, the reflection we are seeing is the reality of our churches bureacracy. I have no problem with this as long as delegates are pure and independent in their conscience. Let the church roll on to victory!!!

1 Like

Will Pastor Sandy Roberts be a delegate based on her position as president of the SECC?

1 Like

Is this question addressed to me in respect to my submission? If yes, then I didn’t make any declaration that all delegates are conference directors. I said:

No, I intended it to be a comment on the article, sorry for the confusion.

2 Likes

And how can we assure this is ever so?

4 Likes

one egw text bandied about quite frequently in the conversation on church management is:

“It is not always men who are best adapted to the successful management of a church. If faithful women have more deep piety and true devotion than men, they could indeed by their prayers and their labors do more than men who are unconsecrated in heart and in life.” Manuscript Releases 19:56.

presumably egw is saying here that the best managers should be managing the church…if that management requires ordination, i don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that the best managers should be allowed to be ordained…

i actually had no idea until spectrum started pointing it out that there really is a severe gender disparity in the body of delegates making large decisions at our general conferences…i wonder how anyone can imagine a delegate vote on a gender issue can be valid when one gender, the opposite from the one being considered, is so over-represented…

7 Likes

Being that it is the General Conference in session and that the GC does not recognize her, it would be safe to assume that she will not be a recognized delegate.

1 Like

Bonnie,

My late mother was a non-denominationally employed delegate from the South Pacific Division to the 1985 GC Session in New Orleans. She was one of the first two women delegates from the SPD Caucus ever to sit on the GC Nominating Committee. She had a surperb education for this role, having attended the regular bi-weekly or monthly meetings of the SPD Executive Committee. (The only non-denominationally employed person to do so. The other Committee members on the Executive attended only 2 times per year). My mother was honoured by many for being silent until she had something to say, and for speaking truth to power.

Delegates at a GC Session must be a little conversant with church policy and be interested in all their detail. They must have some facility concerning our fundamental beliefs and some experience in local church leadership so as to understand the church manual.

There is a balance to be struck between our church organization leaders, local pastoral leaders, institution leaders and Adventist people at large.

1 Like

Jeremy,

Dont quote that. You know it gives “some people” nightmares :wink:

Totally agree :+1:

5 Likes

lol…that’s exactly why i quoted it…

3 Likes

i’m not so sure…isn’t it divisions who determine their delegates…if there are any women delegates at all, and i think there are, who would be a more natural pick than a conference president…

1 Like

I am not sure, but my reading of the materials we have available suggests that unions conferences and missions have a certain number of delegates based on office such as conference president. It may be that these entities just choose delegates and non are ex-officio, I am not sure.

How can they not? Is there some bylaw that permits such a thing? If so, then that means the GC in effect chooses all the delegates, which seems like a considerable conflict of interest.

7 Likes

She is not recognized as the president of the SECC. They even left her name out of the official yearbook. There is just a blank after the entry for president of the SECC.

1 Like

Yes I heard that. But, does anyone know if they have any “legal” grounds to do such a thing?

2 Likes

She isn’t recognized by the GC; however, nothing is stopping her from being elected as a delegate on other grounds. I hope her constituency and fellow leadership make sure this happens. Her simply being there will be a tremendous statement—especially if she is not “recognized.” Her Union voted her into her position and, previously, ordained her—she more or less has to be there, however her Union gets that done. Silly.

6 Likes

A conscientious committee, then, should make sure that the delegation is, nonetheless, adequately represented by women—if the 50% of the delegation are are all men because of their positions, then, maybe, the entire remaining group should be women by previous determination. Otherwise, as Ms. Dwyer pointed out, we again/still have a relatively small group of men administrating a larger group of women. Too late this time, to make the kind of public statement that needs to be made—but not too late to get things done. Sometimes people can be embarrassed into right behaviour.

5 Likes

Regular delegates to the GC Session are appointed by their Union, which are the constituent parts of the World Church. The numbers are based on membership, plus a place for each Conference/Mission. There is no rule that gives Conference Presidents an ex officio seat, though Unions will usually include Conference Presidents in practice.

4 Likes

Thanks @winonaww and @Victor. I appreciate the information. This helps clear up some questions I had.

1 Like