As the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) executive committee prepared to review its position on August 19 regarding whether to have a special constituency meeting on women’s ordination, the committee received input from constituents. Here are two open letters written to the executive committee by constituents. (The first was originally submitted as a comment on the Gleaner site, and the second was posted on an online forum.) UPDATE 8-19-15: The executive committee decided not to hold a special meeting this fall. That decision should allow for a better-educated and more-thoughtful consideration of women’s ordination by the NPUC constituency next year.
Dear Executive Committee:
Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed by the pastoring of wonderful women and men ministers. It is a privilege to join in the mission of their congregations and to enjoy their God given leadership, support, and ministry. Throughout my years living in the Washington and Upper Columbia Conferences, and elsewhere, I have seen the fruits of God’s blessings – in the joy of the children they baptize, the couples they marry, the individuals they counsel, the lives they touch, and the families they support in tragedy and death. There is no doubt in my mind and soul that these women and men are equally called by God, and blessed by the Spirit. Each one of them is a tremendous resource to our congregations and communities.
For these reasons, along with my understanding of Scripture and Adventist teaching, I strongly urge the NPUC Executive Committee and constituency to fully support the equal ministry of its women and men pastors and approve the ordination of women and men pastoring in the NPUC.
As far as I know, there is nothing in Adventist belief or theology that teaches the unequal ministry of women and men pastors. There is no Fundamental Belief that supports such a conclusion. I don’t recall any conclusion from the church’s own TOSC, or any prior study committees or commissions, that have determined that the Adventist church finds a theological objection to the full and equal ministry and ordination of women and men. The lack of ordination is based on practice, not belief.
Yes, there are some independent groups, operating outside of the denomination, that are introducing a strange headship theology, and would deny equal ministry to women. Some of these independent organizations would even deny any pastoral role to women, would roll back GC decisions on the ordination and practice of women elders, and the ordination of deaconesses.
In contrast, nothing in Adventist belief, teachings, or policy, support the efforts of those independent groups. The SDA Seminary has rejected these arguments. The Theology of Ordination Study Committee did not accept these ideas. Decisions of the church, from the GC to the NPUC and conferences in our region, do not support these strange claims.
Throughout the church, women and men are trained in college theology programs, and the GC’s own SDA Theological Seminary. They are called and hired by conferences as pastors. Throughout their training and ministry, we recognize their calling by the Holy Spirit. But, when it is time to give full organizational recognition to the pastoral calling of women and men, the organization withholds full recognition from women, while men pastors celebrate their ordinations with their conferences, churches, and families. With this practice, we fall short on carrying through with the our recognition of God’s calling to their ministry.
The recent vote at the GC not to give to the Divisions’ executive committees the ability to make their own ordination decisions, does not prevent the NPUC and its constituency from fully investing in equality of ministry and ordination. Giving the decision its full respect, the decision was nothing more or less than a decision about the role of divisions. The vote was not a referendum on the ministry of women, nor was it a referendum on ordination of women. Nothing in the language of the question voted at the GC Session can be credibly used to make those arguments. To do so, is to distort the vote and an attempt to diminish the roles of conferences and unions in church policy and authority. In the words of GC leadership, including Elder Wilson, nothing changed in church policy as a result of the vote.
So, I urge the NPUC Executive Committee to proceed with its prior decision to promptly call and special constituency session so that the NPUC can respectfully exercise the role given by church policy to make decisions about the ordination of women and men pastors. And, I urge the constituency to emphatically approve the full equality and ordination of the women and men who are dedicating their lives in service to the people of their congregations.
We have a mission to communities. To help fulfill that mission, the NPUC and its conferences have wisely and appropriately recognized that God calls women and men as pastors. However, our union and conferences have not completed the full and equal recognition of women and men pastors. We should not short change that recognition, for we are all one in the ministry and service of Jesus.
Dear Elder Torkelsen,
Thank you for your leadership in the North Pacific Union Conference, and previously in the Upper Columbia Conference. I appreciate the wisdom of your approach—personal integrity balanced by a commitment to freedom for others. This is the kind of leadership the church needs at all levels.
In that context, a call for unity would make sense because unity would not require uniformity. Unity is singing the same song, not necessarily the same notes. Unity can include unison, but doesn’t require it—valuing instead the various kinds of harmony that the diversity of real life incorporates.
Ellen White wrote about unity: “The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ” (1SM 259). She also said:
“We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light. The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance” (11MR 265).
Applying these concepts to the issue of women’s ordination, it makes sense that unity in our mission and doctrines does not require worldwide uniformity of method and practice. Already the church in various places has welcomed the ministry of women, as both ordained elders and commissioned pastors as previously approved by the GC. This has not “split the church,” as some have direly predicted if women were ordained. The difference between commissioning and ordination is semantic and, for the most part, not real—though the insistence on the distinction is damaging to the church. Why should women not be ordained?
After all, what is ordination? According to James White, one of the founders of our church: 1. Those who are called by God and gifted by Him for the blessing of His people and the furthering of His cause, are acknowledged by the church as such, and dedicated to the mission they have accepted. 2. This support from the church would help and encourage the worker, especially when they come into a rough patch in ministry. 3. Ordination also indicates who does and who does not represent and speak for the church.
James White made those points regarding ordination in our early history. Some have recommended that ordination be discarded for everyone unless it can be offered to all.… But Elder White’s practical wisdom indicates why ordination still serves a purpose. His explanation also separates our Protestant view of ordination from that of the Catholic Church, with its concept of apostolic succession and magical powers of forgiveness, transubstantiation, and infallibility. We don’t believe those things, and our practice of ordination should echo our doctrines.
The TOSC has shown that no biblical reason exists to deny the ordination of women to the gospel ministry. Other scholarly papers also have delineated not only the details of the specific words used in the original languages of the biblical text, but also the relationships of various verses in the context of the rest of Scripture—all the while preserving the voice of the authors, and not forcing them into presupposed meanings from elsewhere. These papers are thorough and well-reasoned, providing a valuable perspective. There are also collections of statements from Ellen White that, seen together, promote the ordination of women. If only all our people could read them!
If only the TOSC reports had been properly addressed and applied! Are we “people of the Book,” or is all that study brushed aside in a sweep of church politics?!
Instead, voices against ordaining women have introduced into the discussion the twin heresies of male supremacy and female subordination, which is strange, considering our Adventist roots. We would not exist as a church, were it not for co-founder Ellen White. Both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy indicate the equality of man and woman in the original creation, and equality in the ideal toward which even now we should be striving. But some men are determined to be lords, not only in their own homes, but to usurp the Headship of Christ over His Bride, the Church. It seems blasphemous. Jesus said, “It shall not be so among you.”
Which brings me next to the concern of Ellen White at the turn of the last century, regarding the “kingly power” of the General Conference. She might have written it for today. The current General Conference appears to be overreaching its proper jurisdiction. In the 1901 reorganization of the church, the Unions were created for the purpose of reducing the power of the General Conference, and ordination was given into the purview of the Unions. It seems a tragedy that the question of ordaining women was ever placed before the General Conference, because now they feel they own it; or has the very asking of the question given up the authority of the Unions? I understand that if the Unions had gone ahead 60 years ago and ordained women, they would have violated no policy. What has changed since then?
As for “obeying” the fated vote of July 8, which only voted down the transfer of authority to the Divisions’ executive committees to decide whether to provide for the ordination of women in their territories, it seems important to note two points: While Ellen White early in her ministry stated that the General Conference in session was the voice of God to the church, not two decades later she said it had been a long time since she had considered the General Conference to be the voice of God. There are quite a few statements on the subject, a comparison of which, with their dates, is quite enlightening. (And, in any event, the vote did not establish any policy or theology against ordination of women; nor did it decree that the Unions cannot choose to do so.)
Her discussion of the attitudes of the delegates to the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, which led to her decrying their ability to hear God’s voice, came to mind during the fiasco of our own recent General Conference … with the boycott of the electronic voting system, the gloating and bragging of the delegates from other areas of the world who now can outnumber the “global North,” and the disrespect shown to an elder statesman and retired GC President. Can we honor those votes as the voice of God?
Ellen White did say not long before she died that the General Conference “shall have authority;” she didn’t elaborate on that authority. As was noted recently, the General Conference has no authority over the speed limits on the highways or the prices in the grocery stores, so obviously its authority is restricted to its own jurisdiction. Does that include ordination? But wasn’t that issue given to the Unions (or did the General Conference somehow retain rights over the policies governing ordination, and only let go the routine authorization of individuals)? But how can gender equality now be an important issue everywhere else in the church’s policies, and be applied selectively in ordination—especially when women are already commissioned by God and the Church? Surely our church can do better than that.
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m also not trying to tell you what to do. But as a constituent of your jurisdiction, I want to encourage you not to allow yourself and your Executive Committee to be pressured to relinquish the authority with which you have been entrusted.
I hope you go forward with plans for the Union Constituency Meeting and reassess the issue of ordaining women in our North Pacific Union Conference.
Please know that I am praying for you particularly, because you are our president, and for all the leadership of our church—especially at the Union levels. May God bless you with wisdom, grace, and skill.
If you are a constituent of the NPUC, the executive committee welcomes your input, too. The deadline is noon on August 18, 2015. The contact information is on the the Gleaner‘s web site.