It was revealed today that the Pacific Union executive committee voted September 9, 2015 to reaffirm its 2012 decision to ordain women to positions of pastoral leadership in spite of the July 9 decision of the 2015 General Conference session. That decision voted by the majority of delegates of the world church strongly denied independent action to ordain women to positions of ordained pastoral ministry by Divisions, Unions, and Conferences.
According to the Pacific Union Recorder,
“The committee pledged its support for its female pastors and said it would continue to abide by the union constituency’s 2012 mandate to ‘approve ordinations to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.’ The committee also asked the union officers in collaboration with the union communication department, to craft a strong statement in support of women clergy and to create a comprehensive strategy for educating local church members about the practical implications of the 2012 Pacific Union and 2015 General Conference votes, as well as church structure and authority” (“Pacific Union Executive Committee Pledges Support for Women Pastors,” Pacific Union Recorder, October 2015, p. 34).
The 2012 action was in contradiction to world church policy then. Our world church president pled earnestly with those assembled at that constituency meeting to avoid acting in opposition to the world church, and humbly stated that the Union’s contemplated unilateral action could lead to grave consequences.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church requires the Constitution and Bylaws of Unions and Conferences to conform to model documents included in General Conference working policy. These documents do not permit unions or conferences to ordain women to positions of ordained minister, a role biblically and via denominational policy, reserved to spiritually qualified males. Nevertheless, the “Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee and Officers”
“views full participation and recognition of women in pastoral ministry as vitally important for Spirit-filled ministry within our territory, and we will continue to abide by the 2012 mandate of our constituency to ‘approve ordinations to the gospel ministry without regard to gender’” (“A Pledge of Support for Women in Ministry,” Pacific Union Recorder, October 2015, p. 36, http://pacificunionrecorder.adventistfaith.org/issue/117/16/2294).
“The Holy Spirit gifts people of every age, gender, and ethnic background according to His purposes, and we encourage women of all ages and backgrounds who feel called to ministry to answer, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3:10). We are committed to supporting women in every aspect of ministry and church leadership, whether they are licensed, commissioned, or ordained” (Ibid.).
But the Pacific Union 2012 constituency decision exceeded the authority granted by the Seventh-day Adventist world church to that Union. Just as unions have no authority to create independent belief statements or unilaterally craft local standards for baptism, neither has the world church at any time granted unions authority to set their own qualifications for ordination to pastoral ministry. In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, ministerial ordination carries worldwide authority. But the Pacific Union says it will embark upon a campaign to “educate” its members about what the executive committee wants the July 9 world church decision to mean.
Pacific Union leaders “rejoice in the opportunity to share in this great work, and we reassert our support for women in ministry in the strongest possible terms” (Pacific Union Recorder, October 2015, p. 36). But again, the Pacific Union executive committee is conflating the phrase “women in ministry” with the idea of “women’s ordination.” Women can and are serving the Lord Jesus in ministry in numerous ways all across the church, and without trespassing into roles which Scripture and thousands of years of practice have clearly reserved to spiritually qualified males.
Reaction from the Pacific Union is starting to come in. Stephen Bohr, Fresno Seventh-day Adventist Church, Central California Conference, writes
“It was with deep sadness that I saw that the PUC Executive Committee voted on September 9 to openly and defiantly rebel against God’s will as expressed by the world church in San Antonio. The fact that the PUC vote comes immediately before the October 7-14 Annual Council makes one wonder whether the PUC Executive Committee is daring the GC Executive Committee to do something about their rebellious decision. A mere verbal rebuke by the Annual Council will accomplish nothing. The question is: Will the Pacific Union’s money prevail, as it has done in the past, or will the GC Executive Committee apply the painful discipline? Let’s pray that our leaders will have the courage to apply the necessary discipline no matter the cost.”
We concur with Pr. Bohr. In San Antonio the church spoke. But these September 2015 actions of the Pacific Union are congregationalism writ large.
Is the Pacific Union its own independent church?
The current North American Division president, Dan Jackson, has not succeeded in bringing the Pacific or Columbia Unions into alignment with the world church. Leadership is needed in the top officers of the North American Division and in the Pacific Union and its executive committee that will operate in harmony with the world church.
Other Unions and units, including Columbia Union, Norwegian Union, Swedish Union, Netherlands Union, Northern California Conference, and Southeastern California Conference presently stand in opposition to the Working Policy of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, some on questions of ordination, others at the question of homosexual practice. The Council of Adventist Pastors encourages church members to much prayer for the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at this time. We encourage those called to leadership to engage in decided action at this 2015 Annual Council session to fully meet the crisis created by not only the Pacific Union’s voted action of overt rebellion, but the voted actions of these other bodies.
Leadership must meet this challenge at this time. Pastors and workers who have supported the General Conference vote are on the point of being marginalized and could face removal from employ. Members who have supported the General conference decision now face a choice between local rebellion or fidelity to the mission of the world church. The crisis is come. Nevertheless, the promise is “The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out—the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place” (Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 380).