On November 11, 2012, the Netherlands Union constituency voted to approve the ordination of women, and the conference executive committee made that decision effective on May 30, 2013 and announced the action publically on July 5, 2013. These actions were contrary to General Conference voted policy (1995 and 2000), in reality a path of insubordination also taken by the Columbia and Pacific Unions in the US and the Northern German Union in Europe.
On September 21, the Netherlands Union unilaterally acted on their earlier decision. Union president Wim Altink charged ordination candidates to faithful service after which hands were laid on them, one being Ms. Guisèle Berkel-Larmonie. The ordination ceremony was conducted in Christus Koning church in the Hague, Netherlands.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) is a world body. In the SDA church, ordination to the gospel ministry carries worldwide authority. The church of 17+ million members seeks out biblical consensus and makes key decisions collectively, including the decision of whether or not women are eligible for ordination. Since the beginning of the church it has never adopted the practice of ordaining women as ministers with global authority. A decision to change this can only be made in a General Conference session. Such meetings occur every five years, next in 2015. After prayerful study and deliberation, thousands of delegates representing every part of the Lord’s vineyard vote in a decision binding upon every part of the world church.
For union or conference officers to participate in such an ordination as happened in Netherlands is in contradiction to the practice of the world church. For a candidate to receive ordination illegally—or for other ordained ministers to offer it—is a repudiation of the call to be a faithful servant to Jesus through His body, the church.
In another action, related yet unilateral in a different way, the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SECC) is recommending to its constituents that they vote Ms. Sandra Roberts as their new conference president on October 27. The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not presently accept the ordination of women as clergy. If that conference should elect Ms. Roberts, they, as Netherlands Union, will by their actions be increasing the fragmentation and disunity of the church.
Ms. Roberts, since the NAD/GC does not recognise her as an ordained minister, cannot be recognized as a conference president. This is certainly known by all parties including the SECC nominating committee.
In fact, neither of the insubordinate actions described in this post are recognized as valid by the world church. Such actions should be seen for what they are—symbolic political statements endeavoring to increase pressure on the General Conference to approve Women’s Ordination.
The General Conference has already made clear its position. A study process is in progress (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) moving toward the General Conference session in San Antonio, TX USA in 2015. The leadership of the world church has asked units of the church, in the interest of unity, not to act unilaterally.
“The 1990(3) and 1995(4) General Conference Session decisions with respect to granting ministerial ordination to women represent the current voice of the Church in this matter. The actions of certain unions indicate their desire to establish an alternative source of authority for a matter that already carries the authority of the world Church” (“An Appeal for Unity in Respect to Ministerial Ordination Practices,” http://news.adventist.org/archive/articles/2012/06/29/on-ordination-questions-adventist-leadership-appeals-for-orderly-process).
“The essence of unity in Seventh-day Adventist organizational functioning is the mutual commitment of all organizations to collective decision-making in matters affecting the whole family—and the acceptance of those decisions as the authority of the Church. The action of any union in pursuing a different course of action represents a rejection of this key value in denominational life” (Ibid.).
In this document, our Seventh-day Adventist leaders made four specific appeals to erring units:
1. That your union continues to operate in harmony with the global decisions and global decision-making processes of the Church.
2. That until such time as the Church decides otherwise, your union refrains from taking any action to implement ministerial ordination practices that are contrary to the 1990 and 1995 General Conference Session actions.
3. That the union membership be informed concerning the implications for the entire Church in the event that one entity, for whatever reason, chooses a course of action in deliberate opposition to a decision of the whole Church.
4. That the union actively participates in the global discussion about the Church’s understanding and practice of ordination. The contributions of a union in this discussion can be forwarded to the Theology of Ordination Study Committee through the respective Ordination Study Committee set up by each division (Ibid.).
As seen in the Netherlands Union and potential SECC actions, these units are aggressively pursuing a course in contradiction to items 1, 2 and 3 above. The issue seems to have a power almost to charm individuals. Recently, Trans-European Divison president Bertil Wiklander, after an impassioned presentation in favor of Women’s Ordination, stated “I am converted completely to what I said tonight. I would die for it.” (“Ordination: The Ongoing Search for Understanding,” http://spectrummagazine.org/blog/2013/09/13/ordination-ongoing-search-understanding, accessed 2013-09-25).
We can be sure that God is still leading His church on a worldwide basis. The church has a process in motion to resolve the questions surrounding the practice of Women’s Ordination and the spirit which has so far attended it. Heartfelt appeals have been made and still stand. We may pray that these units will return to the family they seem bent on leaving. There is still time to return.