The Columbia Union and the Pacific Union both plan special constituency meetings at which there will be a vote on whether to authorize the ordination of female pastors. The Columbia Union constituency meeting is set for July 29, and the Pacific Union constituency meeting is set for August 19. The presidents of these unions have abandoned any pretense of neutrality, and are strongly urging their constituents to endorse women's ordination. Dave Weigley, President of the Columbia Union Conference, and Ricardo Graham, President of the Pacific Union Conference, have written editorials in favor of female ordination, and beyond that, both have dedicated the July issue of their respective union news outlets to arguing for female ordination.
Part I: The Columbia Union Visitor
In the July issue of the Columbia Union's monthly paper, The Visitor, Elder Dave Weigley sets out his reasons for supporting female ordination:
“Since we announced plans to hold a special constituency meeting July 29, I’ve discovered that many members, pastors and leaders support our request to authorize ordination of women clergy. They realize that although we continue to debate the issue theologically, it’s largely cultural.”
But is it a merely cultural issue? Paul based his teaching of male headship in the church on the history of creation and the Fall. (2 Timothy 2:11-14) Because the doctrine of male headship is rooted in facts of history that do not change and are the same for every culture, this apostolic mandate is eternal and trans-cultural.
Elder Weigley continues:
In his new book titled Where Are We Going? Jan Paulsen, immediate past president of our world church, writes, “The church has never taken the view that biblical teachings exclude the possibility of women being ordained to ministry on an equal footing with men. But global leadership has felt that local readiness and perceptions—heavily influenced by culture—have thus far kept us from moving forward on this as a global community.” (p. 12)
The first sentence quoted from Elder Paulsen is true: the SDA Church has not put this issue on a doctrinal basis. Given the clarity of Scripture, it should have done so long ago, but it has not. It seems very unlikely, however, that all opposition to female ordination is merely cultural and not scripturally based.
Elder Weigley, in what has become typical of liberal argumentation, appeals to the Holy Spirit in justification of what is not in accordance with the Scriptures the Spirit inspired:
1. I can no longer dismiss the evidence of the Spirit’s moving in China and other parts of the world where women are advancing the mission of the church as promised in Joel 2.
China is transitioning from the extreme persecution of Christianity to a more tolerant attitude toward faith. After communists took power in 1949, foreign missionaries were expelled and all ties were cut between Chinese Christianity and Christianity in other countries. Even today, no foreign ties are tolerated, hence the church in China has no connection to the world-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church. The practice of having women in leadership roles developed by necessity during times of persecution, when male pastors were often imprisoned. Frequently, “old uncles” guided the churches from the background. It is wonderful that God has used women to skirt persecution in China. It does not follow from the Chinese situation, however, that Christians who are free to practice their religion according to the dictates of conscience should set aside clear scriptural guidelines.
And of course the reference to Joel 2:28-29 is not persuasive:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
No one disputes that the gift of prophecy can be given to both men and women. The Bible affords several examples of female prophets (Judges 14:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:8-9), and, obviously, a female prophet was crucial to the founding of this denomination. But the fact that women can be and have been given the gift of prophecy---a fact of which Paul was fully aware (1 Cor. 11:5)---does not set aside the apostolic mandate of male headship. To the contrary, in the very same passage in which Paul writes of women prophesying, he also notes that “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man . . .” (1 Cor. 11:3)
Elder Weigley continues:
2. In the early days, our church saw the value of encouraging both genders to serve according to their calling, and history tells of female pastors, missionaries, evangelists, conference presidents and General Conference treasurers (see pp. 16-17). In New York at the turn of the 19th century, for example, women won 60 percent of our converts.
Several of the examples are husband-wife evangelistic teams, not female senior pastors. Opponents of female ordination or female headship do not dispute that women have a vital and indispensable role to play in evangelism, soul-winning, bible work, social-welfare-charity outreach, etc. The issue is female headship in the church, which is not scripturally a woman's prerogative.
The rest of Elder Weigley's arguments are premised upon the assumption that opposition to female headship in the church is merely cultural, and that the issue is mere “policy,” rather than a scriptural or doctrinal principle:
- We already accommodate policy variances in some places for practical purposes, cultural sensitivities or to advance our mission, e.g., polygamy, labor unions, women’s ordination. In our cultural context, this issue has moral and ethical implications.
- Only recently has there been an attempt to have us walk lockstep in policy. Our pioneers would have been hampered by such uniformity.
- Mission should drive policy, not vice versa. As policies become outdated or problematic for the advancement of the gospel, we revise or abolish them, and/or create new ones.
In addition to Dave Weigley's editorial, several other articles in The Visitor advocate for female headship in the church, including: “Why We're Advocating for Women's Ordination,” “Understanding Ordination,” “11 Pioneering Women Ministers,” and “Time Line: The Road to Ordination.”
In “Why We're Advocating for Women's Ordination,” the authors address the concern that women's ordination will lead to acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage as follows: “That's an unfounded leap because these topics are in no way related. The church's stance on marriage is doctrinal (See, Fundamental Belief # 23) and we, therefore, affirm it.” Later, in responding to the charge that the Columbia Union is rebelling against the world-wide SDA Church, they say, “If this were theological or even doctrinal, we would continue to deny the requests we receive for female ordination from our conferences. But this is an ecclesiastical practice that . . . holds no Biblical mandate.” And again, later in the article, “But this is a matter of practice, not doctrinal belief. We are united with the world church in doctrine, mission and Spirit.”
Clearly, the failure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to have articulated, long before now, a scriptural doctrine of male headship has made it difficult to maintain discipline among the church's various administrative units on this issue. Had such a doctrine been articulated, the Columbia Union would, by its own admission, be compelled to abide by that doctrine. But because the issue has not been framed as doctrinal, the liberal unions call it a question of mere “policy,” and feel at liberty to ignore the repeated verdict of the world church in General Conference Session. It is crucial that the Church at the General Conference level articulate that male headship in the Christian Church is not mere “policy,” but Bible doctrine.
The Visitor also relies on the fact that the General Conference has already fatally compromised the principle of male headship by allowing the ordination of female elders in those divisions that want to do so:
“We are already united in our practice of ordaining both men and women to ministry at every level except one – pastoral. . . . To be commissioned as a pastor, she must be ordained as an elder first.”
Since the ordination of female elders violates the principle of male headship in the church, the Church, if it ever recognizes such a principle as Bible doctrine, will need to “walk back” the policy of ordaining female elders. Needless to say, such a reversal will be very difficult to accomplish. The advocates of female headship (but sadly not their opponents) were looking to the future when they achieved this compromise.
Part II: The Pacific Union Recorder
The Pacific Union Recorder also has devoted most of its July issue to lobbying for female ordination. The articles are “Our Praise Shall Ascend” (an editorial by Ricardo Graham), “The Campbellite and Mrs. White,” “What Haskell Said,” “A Pastor's Perspective,” and “Following the Heart of Jesus” (a condensed sermon by Ricardo Graham). In addition, a notice of the Special Constituency Session is posted, and the name of every delegate is listed (subjecting them to lobbying and importuning for a period of about six weeks, until August 19). The articles are all translated into Spanish, Elder Graham probably correctly anticipating that opposition to female headship will be stronger in the Spanish-language community than among English-speakers.
In the article “Following the Heart of Jesus,” Elder Graham argues that the trajectory of Jesus' teaching leads to radical equality between men and women:
“What is the bull’s eye? Equality and unity in the church. There can be no unity without equality and inclusion. The church must seek to follow the natural progression of Jesus’ trajectory, all the way to the mark.”
But the trajectory of Christ's teachings is best seen in His own actions, and Christ ordained twelve male disciples (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16; DA 290-297) but not a single woman among His sizable cohort of female followers (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:27-30). Ellen White makes clear that the calling of the 12 male disciples included ordination:
“When Jesus had ended His instructions to the disciples, He gathered the little band close about Him, and kneeling in the midst of them, and laying His hands upon their heads, He offered a prayer dedicating them to His sacred work. Thus the Lord's disciples were ordained to the gospel ministry.” Desire of Ages, p. 296.
Elder Graham is essentially arguing that Christ would do things differently if He came to earth today, instead of two millennia ago, but we can use this uncabined rationale any time we find it inconvenient to follow Christ's example, and need a handy excuse not to do so.
Elder Graham acknowledges that Paul wrote, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12), but counters this text as follows:
“We must remember that God spoke to and through a patriarchal, male-dominated society. The men in biblical times were, to put it bluntly, sexists. We should not, however, assume that because the society was sexist that God is sexist or that the modern church needs to be.”
Putting to one side the repeated use of the loaded term “sexist,” God did, in fact, create a patriarchal world. Adam was created first, and Eve was created out of Adam's rib, a suitable helper or “helpmate” for Adam. (Gen. 2:18-25) Adam was not created after Eve, to be a helpmate for Eve. Matrilineal societies are very rare, and true matriarchies probably non-existent (which gives some indication of the radical nature of the Western cultural elite's push toward a post-patriarchal society).
God also created a patriarchal religion. The pagan religions of the ancient world had multiple gods and goddesses. (See, e.g., Acts 19:27-28) Frequently, the same god had both a male and a female form, across several different cultures, and it was not rare for pagan religions to have female priestesses. But the God of Judaism and Christianity is always referred to by the male pronoun, and was never served by female priestesses. It is often remarked that Judaism was the first great monotheistic religion, but it is just as remarkable, though not as often remarked, that it was the first mono-gendered religion. When God was incarnated in human form, He came in the form of a man. And although Christ had followers of both sexes, as noted above He ordained only men. God is not “sexist,” but God did create sex differences and a sexual order, and He did specify differing gender roles in the home and in religious worship.
Part III: The Change to the Pacific Union's Bylaws is Not Limited to Ordination
It is important to examine the changes to its bylaws that the Pacific Union wishes its constituents to approve. The terms that are struck through are to be deleted, and the terms in brackets and in [bold] are to be added:
All[In general], the policies, purposes and procedures of this Union shall[will] be in harmony with the working policies and procedures of the North American Division and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists."
As presently worded, the bylaws state that ALL Pacific Union policies, purposes and procedures SHALL be in harmony with NAD and GC working polices and procedures. There are NO exceptions. With this change, the Pacific Union would give itself permission to be out of compliance with General Conference and NAD working policies and procedures not just on female ordination, but on any issue it suits them to be out of compliance, as long as they “generally” or usually comply.
Obviously, the implications of this change go far beyond the issue of female ordination. Elder Graham acknowledges this in his article, “Our Praise Shall Ascend,” when he states, “It is important that we make the small changes in the bylaws, not just for the immediate discussion surrounding the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, but to provide room for the Spirit's leading in all that we do.” (emphasis added) The constituents may believe that they are voting on female ordination, but they are actually voting on whether to give the Pacific Union permission to ignore GC and NAD working policy whenever it wants to. By this change to its bylaws, the Pacific Union is making an astonishing move toward secession from the world church.
It is possible that this change could have a bearing on the origins pedagogy controversy at La Sierra. The Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA) exists to ensure that the Adventist philosophy of education is implemented at Adventist schools like La Sierra. And where is the Adventist philosophy of education articulated? In General Conference Working Policy:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes that God, the Creator and Sustainer of the earth, and the entire universe, is the source of knowledge and wisdom. In His image, God created man perfect. Because of sin, man lost his original estate. Christian education, by perfecting faith in Christ, restores in man the image of his Maker, nurtures in man an intelligent dedication to the work of God on earth and develops in man a practical preparation for conscientious service to his fellow men.”
This creation-centric philosophy of education, articulated in GC working policies that the Pacific Union would like to give itself permission to ignore, is not being implemented at La Sierra, which teaches that the human race descended from an apelike hominoid. If the constituents pass the requested change to the bylaws, La Sierra can respond to AAA by noting that, as a Pacific Union institution, La Sierra does not have to abide by General Conference working policy in every particular, only “in general.” This might seem a stretch, but it should be noted that, pursuant to the incestuous system of interlocking boards by which the SDA Church is governed, Randal Wisbey is on the Pacific Union Executive Committee that wants these changes to its bylaws, and Wisbey is always two or three tactical steps ahead of the creationists who would like to return La Sierra to the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education. The requested bylaw change plays into Wisbey's hands.