(This is article 8 in a 9 article series by Adrian Zahid)
General Conference Session Vote
We looked at the Pacific Union Constituency vote and at the perspectives and arguments raised about the constitutionality of the proceedings. We know the three positions that emerged from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). Barry Oliver had suggested the way forward would be to put a statement before the higher body to ask for the permission for divisions to choose whether it was appropriate for them to ordain women in their divisions.
Here we now look at the GC Session transcript record to see if the Unions made the case that their votes were constitutional and that the GC was ‘intruding’ on their jurisdiction.
Background Information: The proceedings started with prayer and a few announcements. Then the GC administration set forth the reasons for why the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) was created and the results of the study. Soon it was time to start taking comments from the floor. I’ve selected comments and points of order of special interest to us. The lines to speak at the microphones on the floor were long and not every one got the chance to speak. The Pacific Union Constituency however, was well represented as Pastor Brunt, Pastor Brad Newton, Secretary of Pacific Union, Dr. Ricardo Graham, President of Pacific Union got opportunities to speak.
I had the privilege of observing the discussion from the stands in the Dome. Among other voices, Dr. Cooper, the General Conference General Vice President, former and current Presidents of the General Conference, and a Danish delegate are included in the record below. Comments were edited for brevity. I provide some annotations in between some of the comments and analysis at the end.
Note: [Yes]/[No] indicates the delegate’s personal vote choice on the issue. Pastor Mike Ryan, GC Vice President was the chair for the business session. He was also keeping time and letting delegates know when they were coming close to their 2 minute time limit. The delegates comments don’t necessarily follow chronologically. The business session was split into two meetings with lunch in between. My annotations in the transcript record are marked as “annotations” and provide a short analysis of the statement made by the delegate on the record. You can follow my annotations as I construct the points of reference for analysis which is provided at the end.
JOHN BRUNT [Pacific Union/NAD Delegate](yes): Many years ago, I had a unique opportunity to have a short stint teaching pastors from several countries in the southern part of Africa. Nearby was a beautiful beach. And on hot days that beach was very inviting, but I never went to that beach, because I could not morally do it. It was a Whites-only beach at that time, and I could not go where my Black brothers and sisters could not go.
For the past 13 years, I’ve pastored a church where I’m blessed to have a number of associate pastors; and I have worked with 19 associates: 14 men, five women. I have seen them work together. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work through them in an equal way, although the five women have had more baptisms than the 14 men. I know that these women are ordained by God for ministry. They aren’t pushing for ordination. They just want to minister; they don’t care what they’re called. But I care, because my ministry being recognized, affirmed by the world church, in a way that theirs is not makes me feel the same kind of discomfort and uncleanness that I would have felt if I had gone to that beach.
In the early church, when they had a conflict of convictions—and this is a deep moral conviction for me— they achieved unity of mission by allowing for diversity of practice. I know that these women are ordained by God for ministry. They aren’t pushing for ordination. They just want to minister; they don’t care what they’re called. But I care, because my ministry being recognized, affirmed by the world church, in a way that theirs is not makes me feel the same kind of discomfort and uncleanness that I would have felt if I had gone to that beach. In the early church, when they had a conflict of convictions—and this is a deep moral conviction for me— they achieved unity of mission by allowing for diversity of practice. They no longer required, but did not forbid, circumcision. If we are biblical, we will do the same and vote yes for mission in unity.
Annotation: Brunt tries to tie the issue of historic racial equality to women’s ordination. He doesn’t raise the PUC constitutional issue.
MAXWELL MUVWIMI: Mr. Chairman, I have a problem with the motion. It doesn’t seem to me to be very clear. “Is it acceptable for division executive committees?” Now, under the divisions we have unions and conferences and missions. There is the possibility that someone at a lower level may say, “I am not a division, and so I can do what I feel is right for my conference,” and, hence, we may experience the same challenges that probably we may have experienced in the past. Because sessions have sat and they have made recommendations that were not honored in some parts of the world. So I would love, Mr. Chairman, to seek a clarity if the motion would be a little more narrowed down to even lower entities so that when the vote is taken, it’s taken from a mission, conference, union, up to the division level. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Annotation: This delegate raises an issue about “lower levels” of the church below the division raising conscientious objection to the vote.
G.T. NG: Can I make a word of clarification?
MICHAEL RYAN: Yes. There is a word of clarification that we can provide you. Yes. Dr. Ng.
G.T. NG: Mr. Chairman, we are one church, even though, as a division, you may have some unions that think or decide otherwise. But as a church, we have only one policy. We move in the same direction. So, if unions were to be divisive in their approach by not acting and thinking along with the division, then we have a problem. The problem is one of unity. So, we are appealing to the world church to move in concert with each other and not act independently and unilaterally. Thank you.
Annotation: Dr. G.T. Ng, made the case that levels below divisions should respect the GC Session vote, “So if unions were to be divisive in their approach by not acting and thinking along with the division, then we have a problem… So we are appealing to the world church to move in concert with each other and not act independently and unilaterally.” If there ever was a time for a point of order, this was it! The Unions which had moved unilaterally before the Vote or those considering to move after the Vote, on the issue of Women’s ordination, should have stepped forward and with a point of order made the jurisdiction argument: “Mr. Chairman, this Session is out of order with respect to the fact that the jurisdiction of whom to ordain rests with the Unions as provided in the GC Working Policy Sections B, L, etc.”
Here is Bradford Newton from the PUC-NAD’s statement after the lunch break. [Reading from a prepared statement]
BRADFORD NEWTON (yes): Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Chair, here is what is already the truth in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today: Women as pastors are here to stay and are a blessing to the church wherever they serve. Second, our theology of ordination does not specify gender. Third, the GC TOSC concludes that there is no light from the Bible regarding women’s ordination that our church agrees upon. Therefore, to maintain the unity of the church, Mr. Chair, I would ask our delegates to please consider these three letters. And since I try to be a preacher, though I act as a memory aid, Y-E-S. Y is for youth. Our children and grandchildren are listening for us to embrace our mothers, sisters, and daughters as equal partners in the work of servant leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church mission.“Yes” is for our youth. E is for evangelism. Seven billion men and women on this planet call out for us to utilize every spiritual gift and every ministerial calling for mission. The Holy Spirit does not distinguish between women and men in the giving of the gifts and the call to ministry. Therefore, we cannot be a faithful church unless we are obedient to the Spirit’s work in our midst.
“Yes” is for evangelism. And S is for submission to one another in love. This is the time for us to reach out across the aisles of this General Conference and ask the question “What will assist my brothers and sisters?” “Yes” is the path forward, the key to unity, the way to a finished work.
Annotation: He gave no constitutional argument except to say that our theology doesn’t specify gender for ordination.
LOWELL COOPER (yes): Thank you, Brother Chair. I wish to speak in support of a yes response to the question before us, and I submit the following reasons. 1. A yes response best aligns with our theology of ordination. A no response places our practice in conflict with our theology. 2. A yes response best aligns with Bible teaching regarding spiritual gifts. A no response says to God that we will not permit certain people to fully use the spiritual gifts that He, in His sovereignty, gives to His children without regard to age, race, nationality, culture, position, or gender. 3. A yes response is an expression of permission for the church to act in response to differing circumstances around the world. A no response is an imposition of authority that blocks opportunity to respect and respond to differing circumstances. 4. A yes response indicates that we will trust our brothers and sisters in division committees to be faithful to God in the circumstances where they live. A no response says that we cannot trust our brothers and sisters in division committees to be faithful to God unless that faithfulness is expressed through behaviors that are acceptable to me. 5. A yes response is entirely consistent with an earlier decision of the church to permit but not to require the ordination of women to the role of local church elder. This decision has not resulted in the fracturing of the church. A no response is inconsistent with previous decisions regarding the role of women in leadership.
- A yes response enables the world church to move forward, to get past the question that has been a diversionary agenda for more than 50 years. I urge the delegates for an overwhelming yes.
Annotation: Elder Cooper had warned the PUC delegates that such unilateral moves were contrary to the authority of the Session. He himself argues in favor of women’s ordination but establishes that divisions set the policy after the GC Session not the Unions.
KEVIN NWAIGWE(no): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to continue from the observation that the hall is unusually full today. And a question could be: Is this matter of so much interest that everybody wanted to be present? Is it of so much interest that if not properly handled, it could affect every part of the world church? And that is a question I want to keep in perspective. Mr. Chairman, the question before us is: Do we allow divisions to make decisions as it concerns women’s ordination? I recall at the 2010 General Conference session a study committee was set up to find the position of the church. And the report we have from that committee today indicates that there are three positions. In other words, the church has not seen their way clear on the position as it relates to women’s ordination. If we go back to the current experience, it means that the church is still open to further studies. If we make a decision today either way and we go in a new direction in the future, how shall we defend ourselves? I foresee a situation
in which I’m asked by a brother of mine, “Does your church support women’s ordination?” I say, “Yes, because I’m from division A.” And he says no, because he’s from division B. Are we still in one mission? I foresee a situation in which, as I travel around the world—I move my membership from division A to division B, and I need to learn anew the fundamental beliefs of the church. Thank you very much.
Annotation: This delegate raises the issue of mission and whether different positions held on ordination by different divisions might cause a disruption in its accomplishment of the mission.
JAY GALLIMORE(no): I ask the delegates to vote no, not because our sisters are inferior. God loves His daughters as much as He loves His sons. We believe and need our sisters involved in ministry. We love to see them exercising their gifts in all kinds of gospel work. But vote no because God created a divine order of function at Creation with special roles for both. Sin did not change the fact of childbirth, agriculture, or Adam’s headship role. Sin injected pain into all three. It is to that divine order that the apostle Paul appealed when he reserved the office of the elder for a man. He was directing the church into the same order established at Creation, the sanctuary, and Jesus’ 12 apostles. The gifts of the Spirit, of which pastoring is one, are given to everyone, including children. Children may have the gift of the spiritual nurture, as well as men and women, but the office of overseeing the church and the family was reserved for men. Voting no will be the best route to restore and preserve the unity of the church. As a church, we are not held together by diversity, as much as we enjoy it, nor culture, as much as we like it. We are held together by the Bible. Allowing everyone to do their own thing on something as crucial as the ordaining of our ministers is to court division and pluralism. Yes, some may leave, sadly, but let it not be because we compromised the teachings of God’s Word. Some will say this is not a biblical issue, but it is. Some will say it’s not part of the 28 fundamental beliefs. Neither is the mark of the beast. I plead with the world church to stand firm on this issue. Vote no.
A large portion of North America will bless you.
MARVIN WRAY(yes): ….This issue before us is a very volatile topic. It’s been related to women’s ordination, and while it is more directly about allowing divisions the opportunity to
apply methods, not theology, that will enhance the furthering of the gospel within their territories. Interestingly and wonderfully, North America has now become a minority in membership while still a majority financial supporter. And I would plead for minority understanding and compassion. As you—the global south, perhaps—were being formed and growing, we strove to give you the tools and understanding that you needed within your culture. We at times made concessions to delicate cultural issues that were not in harmony with our beliefs. Would you please allow us the same privilege with issues that are not acceptable within your culture? We ordain women as elders, granting them all of the privileges of male elders. Even the TOSC committee could not come to consensus, except to say that divisions should be allowed to choose for their own territory. I would with other divisions recognize the differences in culture that do not diminish our unity and vote yes on this question. I would further plead with the General Conference, if this should not pass, to recognize the need for variance.
Annotation: This delegate appeals to the Global South to consider the needs of the minority saying that in the past the Global North gave them concessions to their cultural issues. He also asks the GC Session to grant a variance.
Elder Wilson had requested the business session Chair for time be set aside for him and Pastor Jan Paulsen to make statements. Time was now given to Pr. Paulson, past President of the GC.
MICHAEL RYAN: We know him well, we love Elder Paulsen, please, make your statement now, please.
JAN PAULSEN (yes): Mr. Chairman, I stand here at the mike to appeal to my brothers and sisters to vote yes on the motion before us. A no vote will cause rupture and serious damage to our global church. Let me say this: I have served our church in ministry for 55 years. Most of these years have been in senior leadership roles. I’ve lived and served the church from Africa, in Europe, and the global church for our world headquarters here in North America. And just for the record, let me say that the Spirit that guided me during the years I provided leadership for the church did not leave me when I left office. I believe that I know this church, this global church, well. I know what it is that holds us together. I know also many of the tension points when cultures meet that cause difficulties for us. But we as a church can overcome these things.
I’ll be clear about it. It has been stressed by several speakers what we are really voting on today. It is not the question of who has won the argument for ordination or not ordination. This is a question of trust. We have leadership established around the world in every one of the 13 divisions. They work in counsel together. They work also in close counsel with the General Conference leadership. They pray, they search Scripture, they seek the Spirit’s guidance, and the Spirit is guiding them. Do we trust them enough, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to know what is good for the church in their particular part of the world?
Let me say to you, my brothers and sisters from Africa: I love Africa: Africa is part of me. Let me ask you, my brothers and sisters: Do you trust your leaders, elected leaders, from Africa to give the best leadership for the life and mission of the church in Africa? If you do, vote yes. I say to you, my brothers and sisters from South America: Do you trust your elected leaders to provide reliable, good, Spirit-driven, Spirit-inspired leadership to the life and witness of our church in South America? Then vote yes. The same applies to North America and to Europe. We need to trust each other to get together and to vote yes on this motion. Voting no will do damage to our church. I am fearful of what will happen if we do not allow the church to go forward on this. So I
say to you, please, with compassion in your hearts, please do not let delegates from major segments of our church return to their fields bruised and bleeding and confused and disenfranchised be cause they are being driven by this community to live a life somehow judged by this community not to be worthy of the responsibility that they have. It is important, I think, that we empower our delegates, allow them to go back home and to know that they have the right and the empowerment of this body to respond under the Spirit’s guidance to God as to how they can best lead the church.
We are struggling in some parts of the world. We are struggling badly to try to hold the church together, to engage young and old, men and women, in the mission and ministry of the church. We need everyone’s involvement. We are bleeding in many ways. We’ve got to stop this. We are losing so many of our youth and young professionals. They have problems with the moral integrity of the church, and they say, “Why is the church having problems with this matter? The public does not. It’s not a problem to the public. Why should it be to the church?” And as we say, there is no biblical injunction that stops us. We have to fix this one. Please, brothers and sisters, I believe that it is the will of God that we should enable the church in every part of the world to make the decisions that are best applicable in the part where they live without being a violation of the will of God. Thank you.
MICHAEL RYAN: All right. Thank you for that comment, Elder Paulsen.
TONYE EREKOSIMA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A small clarification. I have a problem with the motion on the floor here. My question is: Has there been any time the GC made reference to divisions to take actions on any policy issues or what have you? Have there been any time some decisions have been deferred to the various divisions? I’m afraid we are trying to set a precedent in the light of some contemporary issues that will let divisions begin to make decisions by themselves. So we need to be very careful so that we don’t polarize on these issues, because we may begin to have issues that we may not be able to have control over. Divisions will now come up to make decisions, contentious decisions, without regard to the GC.
MICHAEL RYAN: OK. Thank you for that comment. I know you’re making a point of inquiry, and there probably would be people better qualified to respond to that than I am. But I do know that even with the constitution and bylaws, we provide a model constitution and bylaws, and divisions have the flexibility to adopt them. It is true that there are certain points in that constitution that divisions are required to reflect, but there’s quite a bit of leeway in it.
I also know that when you look from division to division, there’s flexibility in certain financial policies and, as a matter of fact, different offering plans. And these are division decisions. So it’s not something that’s unusual to have divisions make this decision.
Annotation: A question on policy flexibility provided to the Divisions and precedence of such decisions in the past was raised.
JIM HOWARD: Furthermore, the question before us, allowing each division to decide whether or not to ordain women in their region, assumes that there are differences between divisions but that there is unity within our divisions. It assumes North America believes one thing, West Africa something else, etc. But this is simply not the case. In the North American Division
there is a sharp divide over this issue, and voting yes would be disastrous to our division. Rather than allowing us to focus on mission, it would—MICHAEL RYAN: 20 seconds. JIM HOWARD: simply pass the battle to divisions, unions, conferences, and local churches. In North America there is a large portion, if not a majority, of church members who are not in favor
of ordaining women, even where conference leadership is in favor of doing so. I believe that every church in the North American Division—MICHAEL RYAN: Your time is finished. JIM HOWARD:—will be put in an awkward situation if this is passed.
Annotation: Delegate Howard raised the question of how divisions would solve this issue or would they simply ask Unions and conferences to decide. He felt that such a decision would be disastrous for the NAD.
FREDERICK NYAGA(no): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.This issue of women’s ordination has not come today. It has always been there. And in all the other past General Conference sessions, it was not approved, not because anyone was against women’s ordination, but because the church wanted to maintain unity. And I stand here to ask: Does it mean now that we don’t need unity? I believe that if there was ever a time the church needed unity, it is today. If we want to vote that every division does as it wishes, it will be just a question of time and the unions and local conferences will also start saying, “Can we be allowed to do the things that we want?” Eventually there will be the local churches. And I ask myself, Where will the unity of the church be? We are not against women being ordained. We are not against women doing the work of the church. We are only saying, if we are going to say no, let us say no as a church. Let us have one stand. There are many things that we do not do, not because they are wrong in themselves, but because of the impact they are going to have either to the individual or to the church. And I believe this is one of them. If we are going to say yes, what impact are we going to have?
This issue is not a question of life and death. And therefore I would we rather say no to maintain that unity that we have been having. The church has continued to today without women’s ordination, and it will continue growing.
Annotation: This delegate wants a united decision for the entire Church.
BERIT ELKJAER: I have a really important point of order. If it’s going to be a no today, it will be necessary for us, as Danes, to go home and break Danish law if we so follow the General Conference.
Annotation: This ‘point of order’ highlights some of the HR issues that some delegates feared they would have to deal with in European regions.
RICARDO GRAHAM(yes) [Also reading from a written statement]: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to support a yes on the motion, because this motion allows for accommodation on a local basis, which has a long history in the denomination. Examples include but are not limited to the following: 1. Regional conferences were originally created because the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States of America yielded to the prevailing racial code of segregation and would not accept black Americans as full equals in the mission of the church. They have proved a great blessing in every level of the organization. 2. There has been accommodation to polygamy in membership within the church, as spelled out in the Working Policy,C70, which reads, “Wives of a polygamist who have entered into the marriage in their heathen state and who, upon accepting Christianity, are still not permitted to leave their husbands because of tribal custom, may, upon approval of the local and union committees, become baptized members of the church.” This has been a blessing to the growth of the church. There has been an accommodation in doctrines. It was voted in 2005 at St. Louis, Missouri. General Conference delegates arrived with 27 fundamental beliefs. We left with 28. A new belief, number 11, Growing in Christ, was added in response to the requests of Adventists in
developing nations for a statement of spiritual warfare, yielding the current 28. This was an accommodation to the needs of members who believed this would enhance their mission and ministry. There are many parts of the world that believe in acknowledging the giftedness of God upon all people, and recognizing that officially would be a boon to their mission and their ministry in the local area where they serve and function.Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I urge a yes vote.
Annotation: The President of the Pacific Union made no mention of the jurisdiction of Unions and the “firewall” theory advanced by Gerry Chudleigh. He didn’t even mention his own Union’s vote on this matter.
TED N. C. WILSON: Brother Chair, if you could put up two minutes, I’d appreciate it. With all humility and with respect, I speak to my brothers and sisters. Most of you know already where I stand on this issue, and I humbly submit that my views are rather well known and, I believe, very biblically based, plainly said. But I will not refer to them after this. don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I have heard the angst and the emotional deep feeling by so many. I think we all hold these views rather strongly. But let me give you a very strong pastoral appeal. I believe we need to stay together as a church in making a united decision, not separately. We have had a fair and open process. Our real challenge for the future, Brother Chair, is to maintain a sweet spirit. After the vote is when we really will be tested, whichever way it goes. I want us to focus upon the mission and upon evangelism and not continue agitation on either side for this issue. The mission of the church is so precious to all of us. We have been entrusted with the proclamation of the three angels’ messages, and today we read in Revelation 18 the fourth angel. My dear Brother Chair and the rest, I will be praying that we stay together
THE VOTE ANNOUNCEMENT MIKE RYAN: The ballots. There were a total of 2,363 ballots cast. 2,363. And that includes those that abstained. There were 5 votes that abstained. Those that voted “yes” on the question, there were 977 delegates. Those that voted “no” on the question were 1,381.
The Unions that came to the General Conference Session having already voted for ordination policies without regard to gender, never stepped up to question the General Conference administration and the Session itself for ‘intruding’ on their jurisdiction. In the transcripts, the Union President and Secretary of the Pacific Union both displayed their understanding of the superiority of the Session in their stated requests for variance on policy. Clearly the GC Secretary Dr. NG brought up the unilateral issue and stated the Administration’s position on the issue according to the transcript record shown above in this article.
If the General Conference administration was out of line, or the policy unclear, why didn’t they raise the issue at the Session? After all, the General Conference Administration came to their constituency meeting and made their position clear to the delegates and appealed for them to stay with the process that the Church had decided on when TOSC was formed.
I suspect there are probably two reasons why none of the Union presidents or conference presidents within these regions that acted unilaterally stepped up to the microphone. If you recall, during the initial organization drive by James White to organize the Church, there were pastors that Mrs. White said were “afraid of the people” and refused to speak in favor on the “organization question.” Every Pastor and Administrator who goes through training takes the Working Policy class. They learn the ins and outs of church policy, how it operates, and how to conduct meetings etc. Could it be, that they know something that ordinary members do not when it comes to the actual working policy of the Church? Could it be that they too are ‘afraid of the people’ and are moving forward unilaterally because the members are exerting pressure? Or is this entirely a unilateral drive by the executive staff of these Unions and Conferences? Had they raised the issue at the General Conference Session, with all the GC lawyers and administration, the World Church body delegates present, could we not have solved this constitutional issue once and for all regarding the role of Unions?
The role of unions, as Dr. George Knight said, is the real issue. However according to the GC Transcripts above, it seemed like the Union leaders from these ‘variant/unilateralist’ Unions and Conferences seemed to accept Dr. Cooper’s argument made at PUC Constituency Session Vote and that the General Conference in Session indeed is its own authority and is the highest authority on earth for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Pacific Union is welcome to raise the constitutional issues at any time, as is any other Union, and it is the prerogative of the General Conference Executive Committee to call a Special Session to solve the issue. However, from the transcripts of both the Union Constituency and the GC Session it is clear that when it came to practice, despite their unilateralist stance and vote, the Unions recognized that the General Conference in Session has authority.
The Point of Order No One Raised:
There were four people who spoke from the North American Division, all four were based in the Pacific Union Conference and either were senior members of the Union or had served in senior levels within the union. None of them or the entire North American Division for that matter raised the one point of order that would have brought this issue to a head at the Session:
“Point of Order. Mr. Chairman, the final authority on whom to ordain resides with the unions not the General Conference.”
Thus, we can conclude from the GC transcript record evidence that the Pacific Union leaders moves on ordination were out of order with respect to the GC Session’s prior decisions on the issue.