The Tragic Backstory of the Recent Women’s Ordination Uprising in the North American Division
Pr. Larry Kirkpatrick
This is the story of E-60. The sequence of events here outlined illuminates also how some favoring Women’s Ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church seek to attain their objective.
E-60 is a part of the Working Policy of the General Conference. Current E-60 policy says
“Inasmuch as the conference/mission/field president stands at the head of the gospel ministry in the conference/mission/field and is the chief elder or overseer of all the churches, a conference/mission/field president shall be an ordained minister” (General Conference Working Policy 2011-2012, p. 219).
This concept is echoed on page 32 in the current Church Manual. Policy E-60 forms an important part of the long-standing Seventh-day Adventist practice of male spiritual leadership and exercise of ecclesiastical authority. Historically, the conference president stands at the head—being a male spiritual leader—of all of the other elders (biblically, always male) in a conference field. This is an indisputable fact of Adventist church history.
This language, however, extends prior to the development of the Working Policy. We find it in our early Church Manuals (See “Required Church Manual and Bylaws President Text,” http://ordinationtruth.com/featured/required-church-manual-and-bylaws-president-text/, accessed 2013-10-28).
The purpose of the current article is not to argue the validity, utility, or Scriptural nature of the idea of distinctly male ecclesiastical spiritual leadership itself; but rather, to trace how this concept in E-60 has been at the special focus of developments in the Seventh-day Adventist Church from 2009 to the present.
(God appoints His prophets directly. Ecclesiastical (church) leaders, He appoints through His Church—His apostles and congregations. The topic of this paper is not spiritual leadership through His prophets but through His pastors.)
The idea of an “endgame” may be unfamiliar. A chess match is widely seen as having three phases. In the “opening” the first moves in the contest are made. Pieces are deployed and an ideal positioning of them sought. The “middle game” occurs after pieces have been moved into their developed position. Important jousting occurs during this period. Material (pieces) are lost. The middle game is preparation for the closing phase. That is the “endgame.” In the “endgame” the final outcome is decided.
In the Seventh-day Adventist Church endeavor to sort out the question of Women’s Ordination, we can think of the “opening” as coming in the 70s and 80s with the Finland request to ordain women and the decision at GC Annual Council in 1975, under certain very limited circumstances, to permit women to serve as elders.
We might parallel the “middle game” especially with the 1990 and 1995 General Conference session actions rejecting local self-determination in Women’s ordination. The world church refused to grant divisions authority to decide independently of the rest of the Church to ordain women. Even in the last half of the nineties the issue had not been resolved. Moves had been made immediately following the GC session losses which led to the production of the infamous Seminary book Women in Ministry (for my review of this book, see “Foundations of Women’s Ordination, pt. 7: Feminist Theology in Adventism,” http://ordinationtruth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/kirl-fwo-pt7.pdf accessed 2013-10-31). The NAD field also became radioactive with propaganda and administrative developments in support of a different future outcome (See “President’s Commission on Women in Ministry—Report,” http://ordinationtruth.com/?attachment_id=498, 1997, accessed 2013-10-29). While there were waymarks, events developed in only a low rumble through most of the 2000s. Then, there comes a change in pace.
The focus of this paper will be on developments especially from 2009 until now. We shall focus on this third phase of development, what appears at last to be the “endgame.” (The question of Women’s Ordination is not a game in the sense of a frivolous contest, but as an issue it does follow a systematic development toward a final resolution. “Opening,” “middle game,” “engdome” offer a useful pattern for organizing our understanding.) Readers of the present document in 2013 have lived through a generation-long debate in the Church in North America over what degree of authority is to be lent to cultural trends as compared to how much authority we shall uphold for inspired texts. The test case has been over gender roles.
Orientation to Accompanying Chart
Readers may find the accompanying chart prepared for this article (http://ordinationtruth.com/?attachment_id=1315) a useful aid to help understand developments and key meetings along this pathway. The chart shows a progression of events. The left half of the chart has four columns. The leftmost column indicates the year; the next three deal with General Conference meetings. In left-to-right order, these are, the Spring Meeting (every April), the General Conference Session (midyear every fifth year), and the Annual Council (every October). These are meetings of the General Conference in session or of its administrative committee.
The right half of the chart is devoted to the North American Division (NAD), a subsection of the General Conference especially administering that geographical territory. The key administrative meeting for this Division is its Year-end Meeting (YEM), occurring in late Autumn about three weeks after GC Annual Council. All references in this column occur following the various General Conference meetings in the left half of the chart, that is, from 2009 through NAD president Dan Jackson’s January 31, 2012 letter. Events in this column occurring after that date are presented vertically stacked in chronological order.
2009: The E-60 Pathway for Change
2009 GC Annual Council
We pick up the flow of events beginning with the 2009 Annual Council. The end of Jan Paulsen’s term as GC president is nearing. The 2010 GC session is fast approaching. Details need to be set in order. Among these has arisen the question of whether the language found in E-60 will state that a conference president “should” or “shall” be an ordained minister of experience.
In years past, the intent of “should” had been understood in the more definite sense of “shall.” But ideas and cultures move, and word meanings tend to change. Nor was the tenure of GC president Jan Paulsen marked as a period of precision compliance. Rather, a sense of relaxed boundaries prevailed, wherein various sections of the Church sometimes acted out their own dictates with few repercussions following. The result being that the word “should” had became a license word rather than an imperative. This had not gone unnoticed, and the idea had arisen to update the expression to “shall”—renewing and clarifying its intended imperative sense.
Some favored “should,” as in the “should be, but does not have to be” sense. “Shall” in the “imperative” sense was seen as being too confining. Jan Paulsen and Don Schneider (then NAD president) prevailed upon the committee to retain “should.” Evidence in an Adventist Review report suggests that the central question with “should/shall” had to do with the interestingly foreseen possibility of a woman serving as conference president (See Mark A Kellner, “Church Manual Revisions Move Forward,” Adventist Review, October 15, 2009, http://www.adventistreview.org/article/2908/archives/issue-2009-1529/29cn-adventist-church-manual-revisions-move-forward, accessed 2013-10-30). In the end, the result voted was the looser “should” rather than the more definite “shall.” The attitude of permission was by this time so intoxicating that pro-WO elements of NADCOM (North American Division Executive Committee) began to think that they saw an important opportunity. They determined that at 2009 Year-end Meeting they would act.
2009 NAD Year-end Meeting
NAD now sought to introduce an additional word into the Working Policy—quite particularly, to E-60. Where E-60 said that the president was to be an “ordained” minister, NAD voted to make the statement read “ordained/commissioned.”
Jackson states that the reason for adding these words was twofold. “To allow access to leadership by all of those, both men and women, who were not currently on an ‘ordination track,’” and “To avoid the discussion of the ordination of women” (Dan Jackson, Letter, December 8, 2011). However, motivations good or ill do not change effective authority. With this change the NAD, in effect, was sidestepping the Working Policy.
The NAD unilaterally changed the requirement of an element of the Working Policy which it was not within their purview to change. In the Adventist Church, ordination carries worldwide authority. Determination of the qualifications required for ordination is accomplished at the General Conference level, ultimately, determined by the world church in session.
After GC Annual Council and before Year-end Meeting, GC president Paulsen had departed for meetings in Europe. While Paulsen was away, the NAD YEM voted to introduce the revised wording. Upon learning that this had been done, Paulsen asked Schneider to seek that NADCOM rescind those changes. Paulsen pled that the action was provocative and would damage the potential that the 2010 GC session could address the Women’s Ordination question. He also promised that if the issue was not addressed in the GC session, NAD could bring the issue back to the floor in the 2010 YEM.
Schneider communicated this to NADCOM and it voted to rescind. Hence, the word “commissioned” was both added and then deleted from the NAD Working Policy in 2009 YEM.
2010: New GC Leadership and NAD Response
2010 GC Spring Meeting
Paulsen polled the world divisions about the possibility of revisiting the Women’s Ordination issue, but only three of the 13 world divisions were interested in this. According to the Adventist Review,
“Paulsen said, ‘But I have to tell you, [from] eight of these 11 divisions, the message came back; they described how women are engaged in the leadership of the division. . . They came back and said they would not ordain women, and the people in their part of the world would be negatively affected. . . . [It would] seriously undermine the unity [of the church].
“As a result, Paulsen said, he concluded there was ‘no basis whatsoever to bring to the session any measure. . . . We felt we could not begin to address that question. Given the sentiments, the responses we got back, we have to leave it there” (Mark A Kellner, “Women’s Ordination Not on Atlanta GC Agenda, Paulsen says, April 6, 2010, Adventist Review, http://www.adventistreview.org/article/3249/archives/issue-2010-1510/10cn-women-s-ordination-not-on-atlanta-gc-session-agenda, accessed 2013-10-30).
And so, the decision was made not to include the matter in the 2010 session. Again, a subgroup within NAD were frustrated.
2010 General Conference Session
At the General Conference session, Jan Paulsen was not reelected. The world church voted Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson the new GC president. Don Schneider was also replaced, with Dan Jackson elected serve as NAD president.
President Wilson was understood to hold an anti-Women’s Ordination position. A certain group of church members were stirred with discontent. At one point, a request was made from the floor that the church commence yet again with a study of the Women’s Ordination question. This was agreed, resulting in the Theology of Ordination Study Process now underway.
2010 NAD Year-end Meeting
Before the 2010 NAD Year-end meeting, NAD leadership sought the counsel of GC president Wilson regarding the NAD E-60 policy. NAD president Jackson does not describe this counsel in his letter but indicates that it was solicited from Wilson, “noted,” and communicated in a serious manner to NADCOM. Subsequent developments suggest that the president of the GC asked that the NAD not further pursue the matter.
NADCOM members had other plans. Plans that, to them, were imperative.
In his December 8, 2011 letter, Jackson argues that it would have been inauspicious to start the new NAD administration by violating the promise made by and to previous administrations. However, no outgoing administration can speak authoritatively for the incoming administration. No basis existed for Paulsen to have made such a promise.
Jackson argues that the main issue was one of integrity and transparency. Integrity was exactly what NAD did not demonstrate. The NAD proceeded to vote back into the policy that wording which it had added the previous year but then withdrawn. On November 7, the 2010 NAD YEM inserted “should” and added “/commissioned” to “ordained” again. This now became part of the NAD Working Policy. NADCOM also voted that it would request a variance from model constitution required wording from the 2011 GC Annual Council.
The action of the 2010 NAD YEM changing E-60 was unilaterally taken. Two years later, it would be determined that the NAD had exceeded its authority.
2011: GC Annual Council Says ‘No,’ NAD Says ‘Yes’
2011 GC Annual Council
We move forward here almost a year, to the 2011 GC Annual Council. As planned, NAD secretary G. Alexander Bryant put forward a motion asking that in light of what NAD claimed were “unique circumstances” and needs in its territory, the General Conference grant the NAD a variance. That is, it was asked that the General Conference formally permit the NAD to remain out of policy with the rest of the world church on the question of qualifications for ordination.
Had this meeting, occurring between General Conference sessions, granted such an exception, it would have served as an end-run bypassing decisions made in 1990 and 1995 General Conference sessions. It would have broken faith with voted actions previously enacted by the most authoritative body of the Church.
“After a great deal of discussion,” says Jackson, “the request for a variance was denied.” This should have been the end of the matter. Three weeks later at its Year-end Meeting, NAD should have simply corrected its bylaws by removing the added wording that a conference president could be a “commissioned” minister. Unfortunately for the world church, this is not what happened. The GC Annual Council had said “No”; but at Year-end Meeting NAD would proceed independently.
2011 NAD Year-end Meeting
In his December 8, 2011 letter, Jackson makes the half admission that
“It may have been expedient for the NAD Administration to give a report of the [2011 GC] Annual Council action to the [NAD] Year End Meeting and then to drop the matter. However, the Chair made a decision to open the discussion of the E-60 Policy once again.”
Understand, the General Conference in two world sessions had disallowed more or less the same request. World division leaders had been polled in February 2010 and only three out of 13 had consented to reconsider the question. Now the 2011 GC Annual Council—yet again—had turned back the NAD request. It is difficult to know how much clearer or more consistent the world church could have been. The world church was in effect telling NAD, “What is it about the word ‘No’ that you don’t understand?”
Jackson claimed that NAD had made its request for a variance to the GC in good faith. But GC had voted “No,” 167-117. NAD had been refused their variance.
Three weeks later, they granted themselves one.
At the YEM, Jackson placed three options before the NAD committee. They could reaffirm their previous actions, or remove the wording they had added, or come up with a third plan. Columbia Union president David Weigley moved that they reaffirm the action voted in 2009 and 2010 and add a prologue. In the end, the following wording constituted the finished, voted product:
“Whereas, the North American Division is an integral part of the World Church and respects and values the position of the General Conference as it relates to the Conference/Mission President being an ordained minister, and
“Whereas, the North American Division desires compatibility in all policies of the World Church including the ones that deal with women in leadership positions,
“In the spirit of equality and being sensitive to the unique needs of our field and not acting in any way contrary to the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy,
“We hereby vote to affirm the North American Working Policy E 60 as is currently written in the 2010 – 2011 Working Policy book, which reads as follows:
“E 60 Conference/Mission President
“Inasmuch as the conference/mission president stands at the head of the ministry in the conference/mission and is the chief elder, or overseer of all the churches, a conference/mission president should be an ordained/commissioned minister.”
Spectrum Magazine reported that in reference to the decision voted during the meeting, President Dan Jackson stated that it “Puts us [NAD] in a bit of tension with the GC,” and that the move opened up the last male bastion of church office to women (http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3527, accessed 2013-10-23). And yet, Jackson later claimed that in voting the above into policy,
“The 2011 NAD Administrative Committee discussions did not reject or rebel against the authority of the General Conference though it is being portrayed this way in various places throughout North America and the world” (Jackson, Letter, December 8, 2011).
Words are not magic, and simply stating that the NAD had not rebelled—although its most authoritative committee three years running had intentionally voted in contradiction to the world church—cannot make that claim of innocence true. The opposite is what happened: The 2011 YEM rejected the authority of the General Conference; the 2011 YEM undermined the jurisdiction of the world body; and the action of the 2011 YEM can only be seen as the open rebellion of the North American Division against General Conference policy. The North American Division and its leadership had led the way. NAD—not the majority of its members, but the majority of its governing officers—had gone rogue.
2012: NAD Exceeded its Authority; Unions and Conferences Next
NAD January 2012 Findings and Resolution
We fast-forward a year. During this time, NAD is told by General Conference officers that NAD has acted out of its purview. A careful examination of matters is undertaken. The results are returned on January 3, 2012 and a meeting held on January 12. From Adventist Church Connect:
“After careful study and consultation with the General Conference Office of General Counsel the North American Division Executive Committee (NADCOM), on Thursday, January 19, voted to ask the Division President to write a letter to the full Committee advising them that the Division did not have the authority to change the wording of the E-60 Policy and that the word ‘commissioned’ would be omitted in the 2011-2012 edition of the NAD Working Policy. This action was based upon the opinion/finding that Divisions do not have the independent right to develop policies, which are out of harmony with the General Conference Model Constitution or voted General Conference Working Policy. While all Divisions have the authority to develop and implement policies related to their field they may not act independently when it comes to voted General Conference policies” (“North American Division Administration Releases Update on E60 Policy,” February 7, 2012), http://www.adventistchurchconnect.com/churchnewstext.php?id=3913, accessed 2013-10-23).
Jackson sends the letter on January 31, 2012. Included therein are the following key points:
“6. In discussions held following the 2011 North American Division Year-end Meeting it was brought to the NAD Administration’s attention that Divisions do not have Constituencies, in that they are all (that is, the Divisions) parts of the same General Conference ‘whole’ therefore they must act in harmony with the policies of the world church. In other words, Divisions do not have the independent right to develop policies which are out of harmony with the General Conference Model Constitution or voted General Conference Working Policy. While all Divisions have the authority to develop and implement policies related to their field, they may not act independently when it comes to voted General Conference policies.
“7. The NAD Administration took this matter very seriously and requested legal counsel to undertake a review of the General Conference Constitution, General Conference Working Policy and the Church Manual in order to verify the governance role of the NAD in terms of its relationship to the General Conference. The results of this review were provided to us on January 3, 2012, and clearly support the opinion that the North American Division Executive Committee does not have the right to establish policies which are out of harmony with the General Conference Model Constitution or General Conference Working Policy.
“The conclusions that NADCOM has come to are the following:
“a) From 2009 through 2011 the North American Division Committee did not have the authority to vote a policy (E-60 – with the inclusion of the word ‘commissioned’) that was out of harmony with the General Conference E-60 Policy.
“b) The editors will be directed to omit the word ‘commissioned’ from the E-60
Policy contained in the 2011-2012 edition of the NAD Working Policy”
The North American Division had exceeded its authority. Its actions were, we might say, “denominationally illegal.” Had all ended there, that day for the Church could have been the conclusion of an extended expenditure of much energy. The General Conference had exercised great patience with the NAD president and with the NAD itself.
But it was not the end. Rather than let the matter rest, the NAD president now moved matters dramatically farther “forward” than before. In the same January 31, 2012 letter, he effectively called on NAD unions and conferences to carry forward a work in opposition to the General Conference.
Jackson proceeded in his January 31 letter to state that
“. . .the clear commitment of the members of the NADCOM to strengthen the role of women in ministry within the North American Division has not changed.”
He called for further enhancement of “the understanding and unity of our membership regarding the role of women in the church.” Would there be any relief from this relentless promotion of Women’s Ordination for the Church? No. Jackson stated that the matter would continue to move forward with “new approaches.” New indeed! Stated Jackson,
“As we continue to wait on God, He will lead in ways that we haven’t anticipated to achieve a greater end than we had imagined. We must not allow our trust in His leading to be eroded, nor should we allow the convictions that were laid upon us as a collective group to dissipate.”
Far from stepping back from support for Women’s Ordination, the NAD president now called for
“. . .the development of a theology that demonstrates the basic biblical and Spirit of Prophecy
foundations that emphasize not only the necessity of women in ministerial and leadership roles but also the theological mandate that they be active in specific roles.”
And this was but prelude to his third instruction:
“While we, as a Division family, have philosophically supported women in leadership at three successive Year-end Meetings, the time has now come for us to become practical in our application of philosophy and belief. . . . The North American Division and its Unions and Conferences (as local circumstances permit) must become more intentional in the development of pathways to ministry for female pastors. We must also develop intentional methods of mentoring women who can take on executive leadership positions within our conferences. . . . We must continue to move this matter forward throughout the North American Division in the belief that God will continue to guide His Church to the ultimate achievement of His mission on Earth.”
I, for one, admire the zeal of Dan Jackson. I admire the zeal of associates that sit on the NAD Committee. I have no reason to think other than that these are godly men who love Jesus, who want to be obedient to all of God’s commandments, and to win hearts and souls for the kingdom. I also believe, however, that the history of their actions in the E-60 matter and the insubordination unleashed following Jackson’s NAD-approved letter, shows them to have been dramatically misguided.
2012 – 2013 NAD Unions and Conference Rebel
We will not recount in detail all that followed the encouragement from NAD leadership to its unions and conferences to become “more intentional.” But consider at least the short version of what transpired next.
Thirty-six days after the Jackson’s dated letter, the Mid-America Union Executive Committee voted to ordain women, although it soon began to backtrack from this action (See “Ordination of Women in the Mid-America Union, (Statements 1-4), March 9, 2012, Outlook, http://outlookmag.org/ordination-of-women-as-pastors-in-the-mid-america-union/, accessed 2013-10-30).
Attempt was made in Spring to bring the North Pacific Union into the fray so that it would schedule a special constituency meeting to move the matter forward. The Executive Committee of that Union chose instead, however, to create an ad hoc committee to study women in leadership to report back six months later.
While this was developing in the Northwest, the opposite side of the Division saw the Columbia Union mobilized to hold a special constituency meeting on July 29, 2012 to approve “ordination without regard to gender.” GC president Wilson and GC vice-president Lowell Cooper attended that meeting and made heartfelt appeal to the assembled delegates not to take the step (watch the appeal: http://ordinationtruth.com/2013/02/17/elder-ted-wilsons-appeal-to-the-columbia-union-conference/, accessed 2013-10-31). The Columbia Union acted anyway, voting to ordain “without regard to gender” (See “Official Statement, September 26, 2012. Inclusive Ministerial Ordination: An Appeal for Understanding,” http://www.columbiaunion.org/article/1035/services/administration/office-of-the-president/2012-special-constituency, accessed 2013-10-30).
Flip back now to the west coast. On August 19, 2012 the same history is repeated. Again Pastor Wilson is present with GC officers to address the delegates assembled for that special constituency meeting. The delegates’ respectful response? The president of the Church is cut-off while addressing them (watch the appeal: http://session.adventistfaith.org/gc-presentation, accessed 2013-10-31). And so that Union also proceeded to vote to ordain “without regard to gender” (See “Pacific Union Votes to Ordain Without Regard to Gender,” August 20, 2012, http://www.adventistchurchconnect.com/churchnewstext.php?id=4208, accessed 2013-10-30).
Other NAD unions scrambled to decide what to do. Some refused to proceed in opposition to the General Conference. But not all. With the approach of winter, the North Pacific Union announced it would embark on a process of educating members in its constituency about ordination without regard to gender and then hold a similar special constituency meeting to address the same topic (“NPUC Joins Ordination Discussion,” Gleaner, January 2013, p. 5). Articles now began to appear in its union magazine to carry forward this educative process.
Matters in the North American Division were unwinding in a dramatic and dangerous manner.
In 2013 in the NPUC some respite came after a group of ministers urged the Union Executive Committee to change direction (Letter to Max Torkelsen III, January 30, 2013, http://ordinationtruth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/NPUC-SP2013-01-30Introductiona.pdf, accessed 2013-10-30). But insubordination continued to spread. Nor does this paper detail provocative out-of-policy actions in 2012 by units in Germany, Italy, and Netherlands.
But we come to this. NAD leadership had been keen for women to “take on executive positions in our conferences.” And so, sadly and predictably, on October 27, 2013, the constituency of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists elected a woman, Sandra E. Roberts, to the presidency of that conference (“NEWS RELEASE: Sandra Roberts Elected President of Southeastern California Conference,” October 27, 2013, http://secc.adventistfaith.org/news_entries/7151, accessed 2013-10-30).
In the North American Division, in the Pacific Union Conference, in the Southeastern California Conference, E-60 had been set aside.
Yet even this was not the climax. The ultimate result comes four days later, at 2013 NAD YEM. Would the North American Division actually permit Sandra Roberts to participate as a voting member in that meeting? Would it go that far? Would it thus join itself fully to the actions of SECC and PUC?
Many readers already know the answer. Yes, it would. It did. Fully. Roberts was welcomed at Year-end Meeting with lengthy applause. E-60 is thus set aside, not only on the local conference level, nor just the union, but at the Division.
What is the Essence of 2012 – 2013 Developments?
Actions are not random. The key developments of the recent half-decade are focused like a laser on one point: destroying the long-standing Seventh-day Adventist concept and practice of male ecclesiastical spiritual leadership in the Church. Attempts to change E-60 were not successful while abiding by the agreed rules. The world church, trusting NAD to also obey them, continued to prevent the change.
New methods would now be employed. What these are has become painfully obvious. Strategy has shifted. What the world church is seeing now is delegates voting changes at union and conference levels—changes that openly contradict the decisions of the world church united. What would be the goal of such action?
Is the aim to accomplish fait accompli—a thing already done—on this question? Is the intent to make the cost of correcting the “denominationally illegal” changes so high, that the General Conference dare not pursue that option? The goal then would be to introduce change by whatever means possible in the area of male ecclesiastical spiritual leadership so that the world church is compelled by force of circumstance to grant the North American Division and others their urgent desire—to permit each division to decide what the qualifications for ordination will be independently of each other.
One might read Jackson’s January 31, 2012 letter closely and say, “Wait a moment. The NAD president did not tell them that the new methods were to vote out-of-policy actions. He asked them to mentor women pastors better.” But here is where the totality of the letter—and approach—of the NAD must be taken into account.
Earlier in the same letter, Jackson had explained that the reason that NAD was not able to make the changes was because the NAD did not have a separate constituency. Every union and conference officer receiving this letter would immediately understand how there could be more “intentional” change: by having unions and conferences (where there are constituencies) vote such changes. The example was set by NAD’s own attempt to bring change by voting in contradiction to the required bylaws statements.
If the message in the letter was a mixture of the implicit and explicit, the outcome was not. The evidence is that NAD unions and conferences understood quite clearly what was being suggested. How do we know? Look at their actions in 2012 and 2013. They acted out what they understood the counsel to be. “New methods” were embraced.
In essence, at the end of the day Women’s Ordination is simply congregationalism writ large. The difference is only scale. The loss of unity will not only be at the division level, but at union, conference, and even local church levels. One unit will go this way while another will go that; each of these divisions or unions or conferences (in terms of congregationalism, each of these “congregations”) can decide for itself! (For a thoughtful exploration of this point, see “Congregationalism—How Will it All End?” http://ordinationtruth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/kabw-congregationalism.pdf, accessed 2013-10-31). If this outcome is the goal of the NAD, its achievement will be at the cost of the global witness of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They will gain by disobedience what they could not gain by obedience.
The price will be a wrecked Church.
The stakes could not be higher.
But a few days have passed since the illegitimate election of Ms. Roberts. Predictably, numerous comments being offered online on certain websites are blaming the General conference president for promoting disunity and divisiveness, of catering to the far-right, and of behaving papally. There is a bubble in operation. A subset of Adventists are excited and speak of enforcing justice and equality against a bullying Church and its GC leadership.
The sequence of issues and events noted in this document demonstrate the opposite reality. The General Conference leadership team have labored with great gentleness, mercy, and restraint to maintain the unity of the Church. The world church has clearly said “No” to NAD again and again. Nothing about that has changed.
The actions flowing forth from the North American Division are an unprecedented revelation to the world field of how far the NAD has been co-opted by the very culture its mission it was to transform. The present NAD gives evidence of having been unduly transformed by that culture. A segment within it has acted-out its reshaped ideology manifesting insubordination in voted constituency actions against the world church it claims to respect.
The 2015 General Conference session will be unlike any other in history. This will be the first time such disdain by NAD officers for their sister divisions will have been so openly manifest before the session. The 2015 gathering will arrive after Seventh-day Adventists round the world have come to know something of the distance the train of insubordination has carried a subset of Adventists in NAD. How far have these gone? To where they can applaud the setting aside of General Conference session actions and pleas for unity and restraint from the church’s top officers. For a woman president to participate illegally in the NAD Year-end Meeting in violation of E-60 while the world church is engaged in a careful and extensive process of the Theology of Ordination Study, will not, we think, be received well elsewhere in the world. Today’s rejoicing by the pro-WO lobby may well be turned to shame in 2015.
The long-standing practice of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been to consider the human spiritual leader of a conference to be one who stands “at the head of” the gospel work in that unit and who exercises spiritual authority. For many years this has been the case. These statements are in our current Church Manual and our most current editions of the North American Division and General Conference Working Policy. The world church supports this position. The goal of opponents is to overturn this teaching so that women would be placed in positions where they exercise spiritual authority over men. God’s creation order would be replaced by an order designed to fit the secular ideology of the 21st century.
The current phase of the crisis is the result of many years of a festering ideological infection in the North American Division. It was, after all, North American Division leadership which moved unilaterally to add “commissioned” to E-60 in the NAD Working Policy. It was the highest North American Division leadership that insisted on reopening issues which the General Conference—on behalf of the world church—had clearly shown were closed. The same North America leadership, after exceeding its authority in trying to force change on E-60, explicitly called upon its own unions and conferences to act to bring change.
Did these units hesitate? No. In 2012 and 2013 Mid-America, Columbia, and Pacific Unions followed the example of their parent unit—they exceeded their authority, and voted to “ordain without regard to gender.” The Southernmost California conference went farther and elected a woman president. None of this can be laid at the gate of the GC president or the Seventh-day Adventist Church itself; all of it, in this final phase of the drive for Women’s Ordination, is traceable to the actions of present officers leading the North American Division. The crisis the Church now faces—the disunity and divisiveness, and—(we prefer not to use the word, but what else can it be seen as?)—the rebellion now surging through the ranks, is fed from there.
Nor shall the problem magically disappear, for it is driven by a way of looking out at the world. It is my belief that some are deceived and committed to their deception. One church officer even recently stated he would die for the beliefs he now holds about Women’s Ordination.
It would be well were this document, or others like it, to circulate widely in the Seventh-day Adventist Church round the world, so that the 17 million non-NAD Adventists (of the total 18 million) would become more fully aware of the history and spirit behind the pro-Women’s Ordination movement as it has developed in NAD. Those Adventists in North America who are striving to be faithful need the help of brother and sister believers in the world church.
In the Great Controversy War between good and evil, God is laboring with the greatest patience to bring that conflict to a final and permanent conclusion. I believe that in a similar desire to bring to resolution the Women’s Ordination question and the much deeper question of gender specific male and female roles, Heaven has led the present General Conference leadership team to guide the Church in a patient engagement of the pertinent questions that shall culminate with a final and permanent conclusion in 2015. Seventh-day Adventists round the world, while they may find actions in NAD inappropriate, can especially pray that Heaven will keep God’s leaders in the General Conference spiritually strong. Now is not the time to criticize them but to support them.
It is my own belief that the time is near, perhaps even present, to disband independently acting NAD unions and conferences, even reorganize the NAD itself, restructuring it in terms of union missions. The everlasting gospel needs to be taken anew to regions now sunken in insubordination. Hearts can be changed and we can be brought again to the feet of Jesus. Now that the rebellion is full grown, let us reinvest our energies in the challenging and yet thrilling task of re-evangelizing the North American Division field for Jesus.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick has served churches in Nevada, Utah, California, and presently ministers in the forest fastness of Northern Idaho. Larry and wife Pamela live with their children Seamus (age 7) and Mikayla (age 6).