San Antonio dawned cloudy July 5, giving delegates and guests welcome relief from the searing Texas sun as they walked to the Alamodome for the General Conference Business Session. As the morning wore on and clouds dissipated, temperatures rose—not just outside.
Church Manual Committee officers were presenting amendments to the church manual, which is the guide for daily church activity, while Chairman of the General Conference business session Geoffrey Mbwana presided.
Committee officers in attendance were Chair Armando Miranda and Secretary Harald Wollan, who introduced an amendment to the church manual that sparked controversy.
“The next item” Wollan said, “to bring the harmony of the church manual in the way we use the term ‘pastor.’ Some places we use the term ‘minister,’ sometimes ‘pastor,’ and we are actually suggesting throughout the manual, to use the word ‘pastor’ instead of ‘minister’ . . . I so move.”
The motion received a second from the delegates, and soon Mbwana opened the floor for discussion.
Before recognizing delegate speakers, based on a previous item’s quick referral back to the committee, Mbwana asked delegates to postpone immediately referring items to the committee.
“I would advise that you be sensitive to those who are on a microphone,” Mbwana said. “Delay your desire that the item be referred back just to give a little time to others . . .”
Delegate representative from the General Conference Mario Veloso, the first speaker on the floor, spoke against the committee’s motion.
“This change that we have here is much more than just changing the word ‘ministers’ to ‘pastors’,” Veloso said. “It actually changes the language too, and the language is becoming now a gender-inclusive reading, and eliminating entirely the phrase ‘to give men’ be changed for ‘to give individuals.’”
Veloso went on to describe two problems with the proposed changes to the church manual.
“It is a little bit too fast,” Veloso said. “We have the item to be discussed on Wednesday. We should wait until after Wednesday, if we will go into the inclusive language or not.”
The second problem with the motion, according to Veloso, was that replacing “pastors” for “ministers” confused "the clear difference between the office of minister and the gift of pastor” in the writings of Ellen White. Veloso warned against "creating some other offices.”
However, in harmony with Mbwana’s request to not refer the item back to committee immediately, Veloso postponed his motion.
"So I would not make a motion at this point, Brother Chairman,” he said, “but if you needed one anytime, I would be willing to do it.”
Afterwards, delegate and GC representative Clinton Wahlen spoke.
“I think the language that is present now in the church manual is far clearer based on the study of ordination that we have done over the last several years,” Wahlen said in agreement with Veloso. “. . . Our pioneers . . . including James White did not prefer the term ‘pastor.’ They understood that to refer to more the idea of a settled pastor who is exercising gifts of pastoring, and they preferred the term ‘minister’.”
Wahlen advised that if consistency is desired, we should make the manual consistent by retaining the word ‘minister’ when we refer to an office, and ‘pastor’ when we refer to the gift of pastoring. Wahlen then directed delegates to a book he had co-authored with his wife “Women’s Ordination: Does it Matter?” where they discussed this issue, as well as to the Council of Adventist Pastors’ website OrdinationTruth.com.
The next speaker, South Africa-Indian Division representative Qedumusa Mathonsi reiterated the concern noted by the first two delegates that the motion was “preemptive . . . in the light of the discussions on Wednesday.” So Mathonsi suggested, “let’s wait [to see] whether we want to be inclusive in language.”
General Conference representative Gerard Damsteegt added his concerns.
“Mr. Chairman, the TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) papers have been recommended to be studied by every delegate,” Damsteegt said. “In those TOSC papers we discovered that there are clear distinctions between ministers and pastors. If you study the book of Ephesians, you'll find that pastoring is a gift, teaching is a gift, apostleship is a gift, prophecy is a gift, but minister is an elected office, right from the very, very beginning. In fact, our people, our pioneers make a distinction between two types of elders. One is the local elder, the next one was the one who had oversight over a number of churches, basically called now ‘minister.’ So when Ellen White talks about the thing she doesn’t have in mind the office of pastor, but a function, a gift . . . At the same time if you eliminate this, if you accept this motion, there is nothing anymore in the church manual that refers to ministers as men. So this is a very, very important change that many, many understand, but if you keep it in mind in the light of the Bible, and the Bible only, you see that pastoring is a gift. Ministers need to have this gift, but at the same time they have the gift of overseeing, and so keep in mind that this is a very important point.”
A point of order was called by North American Division representative Israel Leito.
He requested Mbwana prevent “the group from non-official commercials,” which was followed by applause from some of the delegates.
Mbwana then advised “all the speakers not to indulge in any commercial promotions or items during the business of the session,” and reminded all present to abstain from applause.
Church Manual Committee Chair Miranda interjected, “In 2010, [the Church] accepted and voted the terms used in the church manual. And it is in the church manual, the difference used between the words ‘pastor’ and ‘minister.’ It’s already there. The only thing we are doing or bringing to you today . . . is to align this section of the church manual with the term we already voted in 2010. Perhaps the only thing we need to perhaps review, if the group is not comfortable with that, is on line 9, ’licensed pastor,’ the phrase ‘to give individuals.’”
General Conference representative Angel Rodriguez spoke next.
“The discussion of the ordination of women to the ministry, or not, should be left for Wednesday,” Rodriguez said. “The arguments presented by people on one side of the issue has also been answered on people on the other side of the question. So I would ask the chair to rule out any attempt to transform the discussion of this item into a discussion of the ordination of women to the ministry.”
North American Division President Dan Jackson spoke next.
“With all due respect,” Jackson said, “with love extended to my brethren I have two points. Item number one. This item is not referencing women’s ordination at all. This item is related as a general statement about the licensure that is extended to those who are being given the opportunity to expand the ministerial gift to grow. That’s item number one. Item number two, and I think we need to be very, very clear, that by being inclusive here, we are recognizing the policies of the General Conference, which allow for women to serve as pastors. There is no linkage in the discussion that will be undertaken on Wednesday between women’s ordination and female pastors. I think we need to understand that very clearly, and I know some would wish otherwise, but in a technical sense, that which will take place on Wednesday should not even be a discussion on women’s ordination, but rather that divisions be given the opportunity to review this matter then to either approve it, or disapprove it as is the need in their division. So with all due respect, I appreciate what has been said, but the reality is, that this discussion today really has nothing to do with anything other than licensure, as I see it.”
Representative of the Trans-European Division Samuel Davis took the floor.
“Many of us have female pastors who are working for us,” Davis said, “and regardless of the vote on Wednesday, they will continue to work for us after this session concludes.” He urged the need for gender inclusivity and stated his agreement with the proposed amendment.
NAD representative Elizabeth Talbot followed Dan Jackson at the microphone.
“Yeah, Mr. Chairman, regarding the same points as the last two comments, I want to remind the delegates that in 1985, 30 years ago, already we voted for the fact that there could be licensed women pastors,” Talbot said, “and that is not on the floor at this time. Neither will it be on Wednesday, so many of us who have been pastors, in my case for fifteen years, have been pastors within the General Conference approved position of licensed/commissioned pastors. So at this time, any discussion that takes us out of that, should not be taken by the chair, because it’s not the discussion on the floor. And actually for a movement that was to go forward, we cannot go backwards 30 years from this.”
Eight more individuals waited by microphones.
Before acknowledging any further speakers, Mbwana said, “If I see us begin to repeat ourselves, I may make a request that unless you have something different than has already been mentioned that we would like to proceed ….”
The chair soon acknowledged NAD delegate Mike Cauley at the microphone.
Cauley lamented that North America, Europe, and Australia have very little representation in the decisions that are made.
“In the case of female pastors please allow us to view it from our culture, as well as others’ cultures,” Cauley said.
Then a request from an Inter-American Division delegate asked for “a more vigorous explanation . . . with background information and rationale for those changes.”
Afterwards NAD delegate Shirley Chung moved to stop debate.
Louis Torres moved a point of order, noting Mbwana requested that delegates not make motions until everybody had opportunity to speak.
Torres further noted there were others who wanted to make motions before, so to stop discussion now would be out of order.
Mbwana said the motion did not allow for discussion, and the assembly would proceed to take the vote.
“Let me make an appeal to you, the person who made the motion,” Mbwana said to Chung. “In honor of a commitment I made previously, which I would like to honor and that is, Shirley, if you would allow me to entertain a motion I promised previously I would entertain, which would possibly have the same effect, if you don’t mind. Shirley Chung?”
Chung replied, that she did mind, but if that was, “what the chair want[ed] to do,” she would “back off of it.”
After thanking her for her understanding, Mbwana asked someone to make a motion to uphold what he had previously stated. So Torres said, “the chair had requested no motions until everyone had the opportunity to speak.”
Mbwana apologized for making a mistake.
General Conference representative Mario Veloso spoke next.
“When I spoke before,” Veloso said, “I said I would like to make a motion later on, after the discussion, would you allow that?”
Mbwana asked that the next person speak first and they would come back to Veloso.
The next person, Cecil Perry, then spoke.
“We may say it has nothing to do with what is coming on Wednesday,” Perry said, “but you will understand that perception is greater than reality, and whatever we may do, Wednesday is still in this room.”
There was laughter and applause.
Mbwana then asked that the body entertain a motion.
Neil Nedley was next to speak.
“If we are getting rid of the term ‘ministers’ in the church manual, which was stated this change would do, and there is no more reference to ‘ministers,’ then if we adopt this change, we can cancel Wednesday altogether,” Nedley said, “because that is talking about ordaining ministers—which we [will] no longer have in the church manual.”
Church Manual Committee Chair Miranda spoke in defense of the proposed manual revision.
“Most areas in the world church use ‘pastor’ to identify a member of the clergy,” he said, “so the term is used in these pages, rather than the ‘minister’. Regardless of the responsibilities, use of the term here is not intended to mandate the usage where the custom is to use ‘minister’ . . .”
South Pacific Division delegate Ray Roennfeldt pointed out that this change could cause difficulty with the licensing language.
“I’m happy with the change as the church manual is amended,” Roennfeldt said, “but I just wanted to point out that the licenses and credentials that we give are called ministerial licenses and ministerial credentials, and so I’m wondering whether . . . they would be called pastoral licenses and pastoral credentials?”
Manual Committee Secretary Wollan spoke to Roennfeldt’s concerns, saying the committee only deals with the manual and not with the working policy, so he couldn’t speak to that.
General Conference delegate Doug Batchelor followed, speaking against the committee’s motion.
“Friends, in light of what’s coming Wednesday, and listening to the other comments, I do believe that this is directly connected with the subject of ordination that will be addressed,” Batchelor said, “because I notice on line nine in the recommended change it says, ‘to give men,’ and the word ‘men’ is struck out, and it then supplies ‘pastors’ with ‘ministers.’”
Batchelor said he agreed with what Damsteegt said.
“...There is a big biblical difference,” Batchelor said. “It’s not a cultural issue. There is a big biblical difference between the gifts of the spirit and ordained offices, or chosen offices. So I would recommend against these changes and I would support the motion that we question the initial motion and vote on it.”
Batchelor recommended sending the proposed amendment back to the committee, at least until after Wednesday’s vote, because the amendment would strike the “men” language from the manual and change “ministers” to “pastors.”
Mbwana had previously asked to entertain a motion and now asked Batchelor if he wanted to move his recommendation. Batchelor said, “yes, that was intended to be a motion.”
The motion to refer the proposed amendment back to the committee was seconded. A vote was called, and the motion carried.
With the motion carried, Secretary Wollan began to introduce the next item, one of credentialed speakers, but was interrupted by Elizabeth Talbot’s point of order.
“Yes, I believe there is a violation of parliamentary procedure going on already three times this morning,” Talbot said to Mbwana. “You said you would entertain the call to question before, and you have decided which motion you take, even though there were two previous motions and there was a call to question, so I believe there is a procedural problem going on right here.”
“I’m sorry for that,” Mbwana said, “and probably I missed that, and I apologize --”
“Aside from apologizing,” Talbot interrupted, “it’s time that we go to the previous question that had been called, so aside from your sorriness, we should do something about it.”
“We had passed that and were on a new item I suppose,” Mbwana said.
“No,” Talbot said, “it was a call to question that you requested to delay for more comments.”
“Which I did” Mbwana said, “until I found that there is a repetition and I requested that the speakers that were standing on the microphone to bear with me so that I could take the motion which was previously moved.”
“Correct, and then you must take the motion before,” Talbot said. “How can you choose?”
“The motion that I chose came prior to the motion you are referring to --”
“No, it did not!” Talbot interrupted again.
Mbwana thanked Talbot.
“I think that’s my understanding,” Mbwana said. “That’s how I viewed it, and that’s why I proceeded the way I did.”
NAD representative Jay Gallimore called a point of order and was recognized.
“Brother Chairman,” Gallimore said, “it’s complicated. I think you’ve been working your way through it very carefully, and I want to commend you for doing it, thank you.”
Mbwana attempted to keep the assembly from applauding.
Trans-European Division representative Megen Mole moved a point of order and appealed a previous decision made by Mbwana. When asked which decision she was appealing, Mole retracted, saying, “Never mind, sorry sir.”
The first speaker Mario Veloso, who initially planned to make the same motion as Batchelor, returned to the microphone.
“When I spoke” Veloso said to Mbwana, “I reserved the possibility of making a motion. . . but since you accepted a later motion, I want to support your ruling on that . . .I would to request the privilege of having the motion to remain since it is already an accepted one, I want to support this one, and the chair, which is to me, doing a good job.”
Several other points of order were lined up, and another delegate expressed sorrow at the chairman being attacked.
The motion stood, and the proposed revision to the church manual was returned to the committee for review.