The General Conference released an important document in August 2015. At the General Conference session, world church delegates decided not to grant authority to division executive committees to make provision for the ordination of women in their division territory. One month following the San Antonio General Conference session, the General Conference Secretariat released the document titled “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry.” This document reiterates where authority resides and what authorities are delegated to unions and other Adventist denominational entities.
Since the time when this document was issued by the General Conference, various conferences, unions, and unions of churches have acted in opposition to the decision against permitting divisions ordain women and in opposition to the facts stated in the document “Unions and Ordination to the Gospel Ministry.” For example, at its August 2016 Constituency session, the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists did not rescind its 2012 action illegitimately approving the ordination of women. Another 2016 example of rebellion toward the world church is seen in the June “ordinations” of Sara-May Colon and Patty Marruffo: http://www.pacificunionrecorder.com/issue/130/6/2502
The Council of Adventist Pastors points members across the world church to this important information provided by the General Conference.
A constituency meeting of the Pacific Union is happening right now (Sunday and Monday, August 28, 29, 2016). Rebellion toward the world church has been flowing out of the Union for many years, especially involving the practice of women’s ordination and the support of LGBTQ themes. The current meeting is attempting to make changes that would loosen the authority of the General conference over this rogue region of the church. Let us explain.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a worldwide body, with churches in over 200 countries. Every five years delegates are elected and meet together to advance the mission of the church in a General Conference session.
The most recent such session, held in 2015 in San Antonio, Texas, USA, refused to permit Divisions to ordain women. Because it adheres to Bible-based, spiritually qualified male leadership, the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not call women to serve as conference presidents. Nevertheless, Southeastern California Conference (SECC) in 2013 elected a woman president. After the 2015 General Conference session decision voted by delegates not to permit the ordination of women, SECC has proceeded in defiance, ordaining multiple women to the gospel ministry.
Because the Pacific Union is a subsidiary part of the General Conference, it is bound by certain required wording in its Constitution and Bylaws documents. For example, it is required that in the event of the union being dissolved, all assets revert to the next higher organizational unit (in the case of the Pacific Union, the North American Division). However, delegates will vote on whether to replace that required wording with wording that says that in the event of dissolution, all assets revert “to the individual conferences comprising the pacific Union at the time of its dissolution.” Another proposed change is to delete the required wording that limits changes to the Constitution and bylaws to wording which must be in harmony with the General Conference required wording. Removal of this clause would appear to loosen requirements that the Union remain in harmony with the world church.
However, even if these insubordinate initiatives are voted and pass, the Union constituency has no authority to make them. All such changes contrary to the required wording are, in our understanding, null and void so long as the General Conference requires the Union to comply. Indeed, changes such as the leaders of the Pacific Union seek to vote into being today only clarify that the rebellion in that section of the church is in an advanced stage and will serve to make corrective action by the General Conference less difficult. These rebel actions will solidify world church support for decisive action by the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Pacific Union is a Seventh-day Adventist organizational grouping of several conferences located in the states of Hawaii, California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Each conference is a grouping of Seventh-day Adventist churches. The North American Division (NAD) is made up of nine such unions including the Pacific Union. The NAD is one of 13 top-level organizational units of the world church.
UPDATE: The the most troubling changes debated were not implemented. However, the key development of the session was when a motion was offered by Sacramento Central church pastor Chris Buttery. The motion sought to have the 2012 Union decision to approve the ordination of women rescinded. Delegates, however, voted 74 percent to 26 percent to maintain the 2012 decision. Thus, the Pacific Union, by the vote of its delegates now AFTER the 2015 General conference session, continues to operate in opposition to the world church.
The consecration of practicing homosexual Gene Robinson to the office of bishop proved the final straw leading to the realignment of the Anglican Church. Now, the Western Jurisdiction (composed of Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho, Yellowstone, California-Nevada, California-Pacific, Desert Southwest, and Rocky Mountain conferences) of the United Methodist Church, has appointed ordained woman pastor Karen Oliveto, a practicing lesbian, to bishop. The office of bishop is the top leadership position that may be held in the United Methodist Church.
Oliveto, a woman, is “married” to Robin Ridenour, a woman. She was voted to be bishop on July 15, 2016 by delegates of the Western Jurisdiction. Her consecration service may be viewed here:
[The charge to Oliveto to be faithful begins about timestamp 13:15, laying on of hands and consecration 25:00, and at 28:10 her introduction as bishop.]
Oliveto wrote a song called “Pope Crush” she posted on the internet, in which she claims to be very taken by the Pope, among other things.
Response to this extraordinary development was not long in coming. Pastor Rob Renfroe responded with a stern warning and appeal, speaking of schism less than one minute into his eight minute presentation. Renfroe is a leading voice for Methodists still seeking to hold Scripture authoritative.
After describing several voted statements of non-compliance, Renfroe says, “This is now on a systemic level. This is mass rebellion within the church, and no one seems willing or able to hold them accountable.” He is probably right when he says, “This cannot be glossed over with happy words.” Pastor Renfroe urges faithful Methodists to become members of a new organization called the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
The United Methodist Church seems headed for separation. Many Methodist leaders are acting in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and appear unable to muster the clarity and decision necessary to save their church from schism.
As Adventists we share much with the Methodists, and so remain alert to developments there. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church see the nature of the present crisis in our Church, and act with decision? Organizational disintegration is now occurring in our own ranks. Many Adventist conferences, unions, and unions of churches are acting out voted decisions of insubordination. The decision of the General Conference in San Antonio to refuse to make way for women’s ordination is being set aside for local preference. Will the leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church take needful action this year? Or will our own leaders fail in this moment of crisis?
Let us pray earnestly for the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as Annual Council approaches in less than two months.
The Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, comprised of churches from Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, released the following statement today, which we reproduce here without comment (the original material is located at the following link: http://uccsda.org/News/news20160722):
A Statement On Mission
by Paul Hoover
SPOKANE, Wash., July 22, 2016 – Our Seventh-day Adventist mission is to go to every nation, language and people group with the good news of Jesus Christ and His imminent return. And, our desire within the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) is to encourage each of our members to use their spiritual gifts toward the fulfillment of this mission.
With this goal in mind, our Upper Columbia Conference Executive Committee voted a revised Commissioned Minister Policy in March 2016 that underscored the equal calling of men and women pastors. This vote was taken after significant dialogue with our conference pastors and Executive Committee members who represent our conference members.
Unfortunately, the new policy created significant concern among some of our members who felt that it placed our conference beyond the parameters of the Church Manual and the North American Division policy for commissioned ministers. Our conference leadership received notification from seven churches that revealed intentions to request a special constituency session, permitted in our constitution under certain conditions, if the policy were not reversed. When it became evident to us that rising contention among some of our membership had begun to overshadow our focus on mission, we determined to revisit the policy.
Therefore, following a lengthy dialogue during our Executive Committee meeting on July 19, 2016, the committee voted to rescind the recently voted UCC Commissioned Minister Policy. We will continue to use the Church Manual and North American Division policy (referenced below) for our commissioned pastors, in the hope that we can focus more intently on mission.
We understand the diverse reactions this latest decision will invoke throughout our conference and beyond, but we remain committed to affirming the spiritual gifts of each of our pastors—men and women. We will foster an intentional dialogue with our pastors and churches to correct any misunderstandings and strengthen unity of purpose within our common mission.
The Upper Columbia Conference will use the North American Division and Church Manual:
NAD Working Policy 2015-2016 L 32 Commissioned Ministers in Pastoral Positions—Role and Status L 32 10 Authorized Ministerial Functions
1. A commissioned minister is authorized by the conference to perform substantially all the religious functions within the scope of the tenets and practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for the members in the church or churches to which the minister is assigned and elected as a church elder. A commissioned minister who serves as an institutional chaplain, and has been ordained as a church elder, may also perform these functions for persons served by the institution. The functions that are excluded are those listed in the Church Manual as follows: Organizing of a church Uniting churches Ordaining local elders and deacons
2. A commissioned minister may perform wedding or baptismal ceremonies outside of his/her pastoral district if authorized to do so by the conference president. If the ceremony is to be conducted in the territory of another conference, it will require the approval of both conference presidents.
The laypeople of the Upper Columbia Conference (North Pacific Union, North American Division) are responding church by church to a mistaken policy voted by several members of the conference executive committee on the conference executive committee. At the end of March, the UCC executive committee voted into being a “Commissioned Minister Policy” which disagrees with the Church Manual, the NAD Working Policy, and, many feel, with the spirit of the decision made at the 2015 San Antonio General Conference Session. The policy grants commissioned ministers authorities which the world church on no level has granted them, making them in many respect virtually equal to the ordained minister.
OrdinationTruth.com has become aware that a brief, yet most interesting article, has been published at Fulcrum7.com website. The story in question lists, church by church and in chronological order, the wording of the voted calls by which constituent churches are petitioning conference leadership to hold a special constituency session to reverse said policy.
We have become aware of two very interesting articles written by Seventh-day Adventist laypeople. These articles outline their concerns with the Upper Columbia Conference’s Commissioned Minister policy. These are offsite links:
At the end of March, 2016, the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee voted a “Commissioned Minister Policy” which exceeded its authority and placed it out of harmony with the world church. That action sets an example of insubordination toward the world church.
The action of the committee has led to heart searching and concern. Some UCC churches are petitioning their conference to hold a special constituency session to turn back the “Commissioned Minister Policy.” This article explores some of the reasons why the action of the committee is faulty and why the laypeople are on the move. We encourage readers to consider the dilemma that the action by the executive committee has created.
Church members across the North American Division want to support their world church, but action being taken by some conferences is impacting confidence in local leadership. Is there a clear basis for members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to hold their local leaders accountable? Do local conferences have authority to create “Commissioned Minister Policies” that contradict the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Do local conferences have authority to unilaterally add to the authorities given to the commissioned minister?
In the second in CAP’s series of articles on the Commissioned Minister policy wrongly voted by the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) executive committee on March 29, 2016, we chart differences between the policy of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, as indicated in the current edition of the Church Manual and NAD and GC Working Policy, and the UCC. When placed side-by-side, it becomes very clear that the UCC executive committee has exceeded its authority and placed itself in opposition to the practice of the world church. This helps explain why some UCC churches are now calling for a special session of the Upper Columbia Conference constituency to meet to reverse the policy.
Three conferences (Oregon, Washington, and Upper Columbia conferences in the North Pacific Union in the North American Division) have currently implemented the incorrect policy in some form. Seventh-day Adventists who respect the decisions of their world church and long to work in unity with brother and sister members around the world, are asking questions about the strange transference of duties and responsibilities of the ordained minister to the commissioned minister. The new policies even permit the ordination of local church elders by commissioned ministers.
The Council of Adventist Pastors has been led to provide documentation and analysis of these developments so that church members are able to make informed decisions regarding right and wrong practice, and to help maintain transparency and accountability for church leaders. We invite Seventh-day Adventists to read and widely circulate these materials.
Since the July 8, 2015 General Conference vote in which delegates gathered from around the world and rejected the proposal to let division executive committees determine for themselves whether or not to ordain women to the gospel ministry, some entities have shown open disregard toward the world church. For example, Washington, Oregon, and Upper Columbia Conference executive committees have voted unilaterally to expand the commissioned minister credential in those conferences granting to bearers authorities nearly identical to the ordained minister credential.
The Council of Adventist Pastors (CAP) has prepared a series of articles outlining how these voted actions place these conferences in conflict with their world church. We will show how actions taken by conference executive committees in some cases exactly contradict the Church Manual and the Working Policies of the Church. We will share responses by church members to the incorrect actions of conference executive committees. Most of the articles will focus on the Upper Columbia Conference as providing a concrete case, but much will be applicable in Oregon, Washington, and other conferences where similar policies and practices are surfacing.
The first article clarifies what a commissioned minister is. Some have been seeking to fill the term with new meaning. This brief article shares actual General conference Working Policy material clearly explaining the role of the commissioned minister. This with the series of following articles is imperative reading for you if you hold your membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a conference or union where local leadership is working in contradiction of the spirit of the decisions made in the 2015 San Antonio General conference Session.
On May 18, delegates to the United Methodist Church (UMC) 2016 General Conference Session meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA, voted to create a special commission which could call a Special GC session and make epochal changes to Methodist faith and practice.
The UMC has experienced heated conflict over LGBT questions. Protests have occurred at several GC sessions. The present session has seen several protest spectacles, including LGBT persons covering their own mouths shut with rainbow tape, and even tying themselves up and positioning themselves to lay bound on the session floor.
Even before the session, Methodists had been calling for an amicable separation, and influential Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton revealed at a 7:00 a.m. meeting on May 17 that the leaders of the denomination had been quietly meeting for several days to consider possible changes. According to Hamilton,
So, the conversation began to be, what if a special commission was appointed by this general conference, that the bishops recommended this, and the general conference appointed a special commission, whose job would be to take the next two years and develop a plan for (and this will be my language and not everybody else’s language), a plan for reordering the life of people called Methodists and the United Methodist Church? That plan for reordering would create, out of one United Methodist Church, potentially three new United Methodist Churches. And one would be the conservative United Methodist Church; one would be a church for those who are progressive who only want to be in a church with people who are progressive and will allow nothing less than full inclusion on everything, for everybody, in other words, that every pastor needs to be doing same-gender weddings, every pastor, every church needs to host same-gender weddings, so, if that’s where you are and you say, that’s a justice issue and we really can’t be with other people who are not like us on this; and then a church for what I perceive to be the vast majority of United Methodists which are somewhere in the middle. . . (Time stamp 22:24-23:39).
According to Hamilton,
In two years we would have a special called general conference for probably three days, in which the plan or plans would be laid out and the general conference would vote and its entirely possible that they could vote to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it and the next day reopen under new management, or maybe not new management, but something new, three different something-news (Time Stamp 25:43-26:07).
The presentation in which Hamilton’s made these statements can be viewed here:
The plan described by Hamilton was nearly identical to the recommendation made by UMC bishops the next day, first defeated then in almost identical form approved, but only by 23 votes. That proposal passed by the GC reads as follows:
We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.
We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and that will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two to three day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)
We will continue to explore options to help the church to live in grace with one another — including ways to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm while we uphold the Discipline. We will continue our conversation on this matter and report our progress to you and to the whole church.
Today, as a way of beginning to find our way forward, we suggest that in place of the allotted legislative time we spend 1–2 hours of plenary time in prayer, confession, and then exploration of a creative way forward. The bishops are prepared to provide questions to guide your conversations. Your conversations will be the first step to a way forward.
The “creative way forward,” seems to refer to what Hamilton presented in the video above linked. In fact, it was the same pastor, Hamilton, who the previous day called for the bishops to introduce some kind of plan! The denomination could be reorganized into as many as three distinct bodies.
It is important to understand that the GC session had been going well for conservative Methodists. A strong push to adopt “Rule 44” which potentially would have been used to process plenary agenda item votes and given place for the expression of stories and feelings in small groups, was defeated only after long hours of debate on different days. In smaller committees, items were being passed to keep the LGBT agenda from advancing. One ingenious plan (CUP) was also advancing through committees which would have suspended ministers who officiated at same-sex “weddings” for a year but which would also permit pro-LGBT churches to leave the denomination with their property. May 18 was scheduled to be the day when the most contentious issues involving homosexuality were to be voted on. All of that was preempted by the recommendation of church leadership of the special commission proposal.
Pastor Rob Renfroe describes the CUP plan in the video below:
The combination of the delegate’s steadfast rejection of attempts by LGBT activists to push their agenda, combined with the many initiatives which would have strengthened Methodist resolve, created an even deeper feeling of crisis. Notice what pro-LGBT Methodists say about the course of the session and the sudden introduction of the bishop’s plan:
From Love Prevails UMC:
Certainly our pressure before and during GC has prevented worse legislation for LGBTQ United Methodists and their allies from coming before the General Conference for a vote. Votes we would have lost. The collective resistance of our entire movement brought us to this moment (https://loveprevailsumc.com/2016/05/19/getting-played-for-the-okey-doke/, accessed 2016-05-20).
And from Reconciling Ministries network:
Wow. What just happened? We’re sure some of you are asking that regarding yesterday’s decisions. . . . This is a win because it prohibits any legislative action that would further harm LGBTQ people and threaten the cause of justice. . . . As the commission is doing its work, the Bishops have promised to look for ways to avoid church trials and because this comes from the FULL council of bishops, that is an unprecedented commitment. In the past, only a few bishops committed to avoiding church trials. Some people feel like this is nothing, that nothing was accomplished yesterday, that this is nothing but a delay tactic. We realize that many of our constituents are upset and angry. But the alternatives that were quickly shaping up on the floor of GC would have led to a disastrous ending. . . . It’s important to recognize that the work of LGBTQ people and their allies created this opportunity and this moment (http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/no-matter-what-lies-ahead-we-remain-committed/, accessed 2016-05-20).
Pastor Rob Renfroe, a leader of the Methodists who oppose LGBT, offered this fascinating insight in a video that was released Friday morning (2016-05-20):
Many of the people who came to Portland convinced that they would change our position regarding marriage and sexuality, were the very people who promoted that we should create the commission and not vote on any issues related to sexuality. Now why would they do that? Because very early on, in this year’s General Conference, they learned that they did not have the votes to change the discipline. They learned in the committees that they were outvoted over and over again, and were certain that if these issues were brought to the plenary sessions they would loose, and embarrassingly so (https://youtu.be/rkoUnibdcC4, Time Stamp 1:11-1:47).
The point being, that after decades of strife and division over LGBT issues, conservative Methodists are finding voice to resist.
The 2016 Methodist General Conference session closes Friday, May 20. The key developments for the session have taken place. Seventh-day Adventists and Methodists share a great deal of history and organization in common and developments in the Methodist Church, can “preview” for us possible futures, good or bad, in our own church.
The Methodist Church voted to ordain women pastors 60 years ago. Today the denomination is in deep crisis over LGBT issues, and it remains to be seen whether the denomination can remain together until it holds a special GC session in 2018.
CAP has spent a few weeks sharing items that can help us understand developments in other denominations. Now we will return to address dangerous developments in our own Seventh-day Adventist Church. We will be publishing a series of items addressing our own Commissioned Minister Crisis. May God be with all as we ponder needful action to keep Seventh-day Adventist churches faithful to Scripture and focused on mission.