A special constituency meeting called by the officers and executive committee of the Pacific Union Conference met for over four hours Sunday afternoon in Woodland Hills, California, to address the issue of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. A proposed change to the union's bylaws, which would have allowed the PUC to be out of compliance with GC and NAD working policies on any given issue, just failed to garner the required two-thirds vote, but the motion to ordain candidates without regard to gender passed overwhelmingly, 79% to 21%. (The constituents of the Columbia Union passed a similar motion, 80% to 20%, three weeks ago.) The session began with a hymn, and then small prayer groups were formed to pray for the meeting. A couple of tests votes were taken to familiarize the constituents with the electronic voting devices being used; a back up system of green and yellow cards was also available, but the electronic voting system was used throughout. Marianne Gilbert and Meredith Jobe were voted in as parliamentarians.
The formal speeches were begun by Elder Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division. Elder Jackson stated that he was influence by two competing values, 1) his strong desire for equal treatment for women, and 2) his desire to avoid damaging the church through precipitous action or disunion. “The church,” he stated, “is not ours to modify without regard to one another, just because we think it should be this way or that.” He seemed very torn and hence indecisive, but seemed to come down on the side of maintaining unity.
Elder Wilson spoke next, largely repeating the plea for unity that he made, unsuccessfully, at the Columbia Union meeting. He urged the constituents to wait for the study of ordination that will be completed in 2014 and submitted to the fall counsel that year. He stated that the issue is in the hands of the world church, and that the ordination study will involve all divisions of the church, as well as the BRI, and be more extensive and thorough than any other study on this topic. He did not discuss the issue of female ordination substantively, arguing, as he did at the CUC meeting, that this was not the place for such a discussion. “Do not vote something that will put you in opposition to the world church,” said Wilson.
Elder Lowell Cooper spoke to clarify that although the unions apply the process of ordination, they do not set criteria for ordination contrary to the express will of the world church. Cooper stated that the authority of ecclesiastical subdivisions such as unions comes from the world church in general conference session, and that unions are expected to work in harmony with the expressed will of that body; by implication, the notion that the General Conference acted without authority in 1990 and 1995 in voting against female ordination is false. Armando Miranda, a general vice president of the General Conference, spoke next, arguing that the shaking had begun, as many new people were joining the church, and many old members leaving the church. He urged the delegates not to become side-tracked by issues that would cause division and distraction. Elder Wilson returned to the platform to address specific questions of policy and to once again urge the delegates to “refrain from autonomous action in a matter that is before the world church. Give the process a chance.”
After this, all platform speakers were strongly pro-female ordination. Ernie Castillo spoke next, arguing in English and Spanish that the actions of the CUC and PUC were justified in light of the GC's refusal to allow the NAD to allow commissioned pastors (women) to serve as conference presidents. (But the NAD has long since agreed that it had no right to amend its “E-60” policy in a way that would be out of compliance with GC working policy.) Next, a female pastor spoke and gave her testimony about how she ended up in ministry despite not, at first, believing that she would.
Next, Randy Roberts, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, delivered a sermon, at the request of the PUC Executive Committee. Roberts argued that a “wooden literalism” would have women wearing a head covering and not speaking in church at all, and hence the spirit of Scripture pointed to radical equality between the sexes. The most important text, he argued, was Galatians 3:28, which states that “in Christ there is no longer Jew nor gentile, free nor slave, male nor female, but all are one in Christ,” implying that this text should be read as eliminating sex roles. He also argued that female ordination is consistent with the spirit of Fundamental Belief No. 14, which proclaims unity in Christ, and some of the church's policy statements that speak against discrimination. He ended by appealing to the opinions of young people, who take our larger culture's eradication of sex roles as a given, and with an appeal that female ordination was culturally appropriate to the Pacific Union, even though it would not be in many places in the world.
The discussion then turned to the bylaw changes, and several speakers addressed these at length. It was argued that the PUC was, as a matter of actual history and practice, out of compliance with GC working policy on several issues, and that the bylaw changes would bring the bylaws into conformity with actual practice. When the matter came up for debate and vote, the first floor speaker to the microphone moved to foreclose debate and vote on the bylaw change. This vote failed to garner two-thirds, so debate proceeded. Several speakers expressed dismay at changes that would give the PUC Executive Committee such broad authority to depart from GC and NAD working policies. Doug Batchelor noted that there is a big difference in, for example, wedding vows, between “you SHALL forsake ALL others” and “in general, you will forsake others.” When the vote was finally taken, the bylaw change just failed to received the required two-thirds votes; it received 65% of the vote when 66.6% were necessary.
Next came the motion to ordain without regard to gender. Many wanted to speak to this and, although most were in favor of female ordination, quite a few spoke against it. Interestingly, those evangelists who convince others, with biblical preaching, to come into the church, Doug Batchelor and Stephen Bohr, argued against female ordination on biblical grounds. The pastors of the long since-converted, and of the “cultural Adventists,” tended to be in favor of female ordination. One person made a point of order based upon the idea that the failure of the motion to amend the bylaws (which would have given permission to be out of compliance with GC and NAD working policy) precluded approval of a motion (ordination without regard to gender) that is out of compliance with GC and NAD working policy. This was referred to attorney John Daggett, who misunderstood the objection, thinking it had to do with adequate notice by publication of the motion. The point of order was brushed aside and the debate continued. Finally, after a meeting of about four hours, the vote was taken; the motion to ordain without regard to gender carried by 79% to 21%.
The failure of the bylaw amendment was a victory for church unity. The PUC Executive Committee failed in its bid for broad authorization to disregard GC and NAD working policy. This should preclude any attempts to ignore policy with regard to homosexual pastors, or NAD education policy with regard to origins, or whatever the next liberal enthusiasm may be.
It was made clear once again that appeals to church unity, delivered with great solemnity by GC President Ted Wilson, will not prevail on the issue of female ordination. The SDA Church has failed to articulate a biblical doctrine of sex roles. In the absence of such a doctrine, the SDA membership in the developed countries has conformed to the culture of those countries in regard to the radical hostility to any sort of differentiation of roles as between men and women. It seems unlikely, at this late date, that the SDA Church will ever find its way into conformity with Scripture on this issue.