Dr. Jon Paulien (theologian and Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Religion) explains why it is important to vote "Yes" at the General Conference Session, to allow divisions to decide for themselves whether to recognize ordination of women ministers:
“The action in San Antonio is grounded in the church’s conclusion that the Bible neither forbids nor requires women’s ordination. Therefore, the question becomes can we allow the church at more localized levels to make a broader decision. Not to simply say, ‘Well, this is biblical. Everybody’s got to do it’ or ‘this is not biblical, nobody can do it.’ This issue seems to be more complex than that.
Therefore, the church is inviting people that as the time come, to allow local variation on this question. I think the action that is most helpful is to allow those decisions to be made at the most local level as possible, where people can carefully assess what’s the dynamic here, is this going to help our conference or our union, or even our division or is it going to be hurtful here.
“You see, where there’s this much division, we’re not going to come to a single vote that will settle it for everybody. Probably the safest place. I do find it interesting that Ellen White in her comments on structure later on in her life was very, very concerned that local levels be allowed to make the decisions that affect local levels the most.
“I think one has to ask, ‘Well, if we want to ordain women in this particular union, is that going to somehow damage a union somewhere else in the world?’ I don’t see how because I’ll tell you what. Right next to the General Conference office, there are churches that ordain women as elders and churches that don’t. You can visit those churches and you may not be able to tell which is which unless you’ve been there for a while. Nothing about that decision has fundamentally ruptured the relationships between those churches or within the conference itself.
“Allowing local variation is not, I think, going to disrupt the unity of the church in any significant way. Our experience with women’s elders suggests that that hasn’t undermined areas of the world that don’t want to do that and nor has it harmed those areas that do want to do that. That the fact that some churches don’t is not harmful. Will ordaining women destroy the distinctives of Adventist Church? It hasn’t so far. I think with our experience with women elders, I don’t see that in fact it will.
“The reality is that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was to a large degree led by a woman, founded by a woman. That was God’s act, not ours. That’s something God called her to, and it was a struggle but the church eventually recognized that yes, God is working through this woman. That was at a time when the culture was very much the other way.
“There were far more women in ministry in the 19th century than in the 50 years after Ellen White died. I think that also tells us something about how God looks on this thing. He loves to meet people where they are and meeting people where they are generally doesn’t fit with the one size fits all kind of a thing. I don’t think that honoring the way God works is going to hurt our distinctives, whatsoever.
“Our distinctive message was proclaimed by women in the 19th century. It is being proclaimed by women in the 21st century. There are churches even that don’t ordain women and you see women having significant leadership roles.
“I would say that no, the Adventist distinctives are not at threat here. I would encourage delegates to vote Yes and the reason to vote Yes is to empower local churches to be sensitive to the next generation for which this is not likely to be an issue in most parts of the world. We will be judged by them as to whether we were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit at this time and place.
“I think that’s the only way to preserve unity. I think a No vote will lead to a lot more name calling and a lot more demonizing as people wrestle with what to do with that. I would encourage delegates to vote Yes as the option most likely to preserve unity–the only one that really makes sense in light of the preamble if you read it.
“If ordination simply means this person works for us, we trust them; and if the Bible neither forbids nor compels such as ordination, then the decision of whether a particular person should be ordained or not is wisely made at the most local level possible. There’s only one answer in this particular initiative that honors all of that, and that is the Yes.” —Jon Paulien, Ph.D.
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