On October 11, 2016, the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee voted to approve a procedure by which the non-compliance of certain denominational entities with world church policy is to be addressed.
This procedure will involve a year-long, two-step process in which efforts at reconciliation will be conducted by those strata within the church organization which bear responsibility for those entities—such as Unions and local Conferences—who have lately veered in their practices from the voted decisions of the worldwide Adventist body (1). The process will conclude by the time of next year’s Annual Council (2017), at which time additional steps will be taken by the world body in the event reconciliation has not been achieved (2).
The document approved yesterday pledges that the General Conference will be involved in any process of this nature in which either the Biblical Fundamental Beliefs of the church or policies voted by the world church are in focus. In the document’s own words:
For the biblical principles as expressed in the Fundamental Beliefs or voted actions and policies of a worldwide nature, the General Conference will become involved (3).
Discussion and Decision
Following an introduction of the document by Elder Wilson and other church leaders, a two-hour discussion followed. Nearly all who opposed the document were Council members and guests from Western countries, while a mixture of Council members and guests from both Western and Third World countries supported the document. (For a more in-depth recounting of key moments during the debate, see the following article on www.OrdinationTruth.com (4).
At the end of the discussion, shortly after 6 in the evening, a vote by secret ballot was taken. By a tally of 169 to 122—a 58 percent majority, identical to the vote last year in San Antonio against allowing Divisions to decide their own ordination policies with regard to gender—the proposal was approved (5).
Reflections and Analysis
For the present writer, a number of key points stood out in yesterday’s discussion and decision by the Annual Council:
1. Adherence to Biblical and General Conference authority still controls the worldwide Adventist body. Even though a majority of speakers in yesterday’s debate spoke against the General Conference proposal, they ended up very much in the minority when the votes were counted. The present writer’s impression, frankly, was that a number of Third World representatives may not have fully understood the significance of the document, judging from some of the comments made. Subtle differences in meaning can be confusing when language barriers are an issue, and some in the conversation appeared to have not fully recognized the gravity of what was being discussed. (Elder Billy Biaggi, one of the General Vice-Presidents of the General Conference, noted this fact during the discussion.) Had more been able to see the gravity of the issue, it is possible the margin in favor of the motion would have been significantly higher.
2. Though many in the discussion tried to depict the controversy as primarily about policy rather than Biblical authority, this perception was clearly shown to be false. The church owes to Elder Jay Gallimore, president of the Michigan Conference, the needful clarity brought to this point as the discussion drew to a close. In his words:
I’m disappointed to hear so many references made that the issue that faced the General Conference in San Antonio is some kind of minor policy. That motion required a vote based on the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy (6).
The wording of the motion as addressed to the delegates in San Antonio confirms Elder Gallimore’s statement. Here is how the motion read:
After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and, after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No” (7).
So while the issue of gender roles in ministry may not be an official doctrine of the church as included in its Fundamental Beliefs, it was explicitly decided in San Antonio—indeed, for the first time in the history of General Conference adjudication of the issue—on the basis, first and foremost, of inspired counsel.
It was imperative for this point to be made before the Annual Council rendered its judgment on the proposal being considered. And we can thank God that the point was made.
3. Loud and prominent voices don’t always speak for the majority. One remembers the 1960 Democratic National Convention, at which a loud and long demonstration for former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson took place during the nominating process. The strength and volume of the demonstration made Joseph Kennedy, John Kennedy’s father, quite nervous. But John assured his father, “Don’t worry, Dad. Stevenson has everything but delegates” (8). And when the delegates voted, John Kennedy was proved right.
Many Adventists who live in Western countries, watching yesterday’s debate, might well remember Jack Kennedy’s above statement. Noise doesn’t always equal numbers. And in the women’s ordination controversy in modern Adventism, this has been especially evident. Yesterday’s discussion at the Annual Council underscored this point yet again. Those in the pro-women’s ordination camp may at times seem to have the loudest voices in their corner, but the majority of the global Adventist community still stands on the opposite side.
4. Never before have those who refuse compliance with the church’s ordination policy been given a time-sensitive ultimatum by the worldwide body. Any pastor—or other administrator, for that matter—understands the difference between a private administrative admonition and a public ultimatum by the governing organization to whom both the administrator and those he leads are accountable.
The vote taken at yesterday’s Annual Council is not a case of déjà vu. Never before, in the history of the Adventist ordination controversy, has a public process with a deadline been voted by the General Conference Executive Committee seeking reconciliation and compliance with church policy on the part of those resisting the church’s ordination standards. And again, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the church does have a gender-specific standard for ordination to the gospel ministry, as defined by the General Conference Working Policy:
The appointment of individuals to serve as Bible instructors or chaplains, or in departmental or pastoral responsibilities, shall not be limited by race or color. Neither shall these positions be limited by gender (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry) (9).
The issue confronting those refusing compliance with the above policy is now extremely serious. They now have one year to adjust their local policies and actions so as to conform to the voted policy of the world church. This is a new thing in the Adventist ordination crisis. Those out of harmony with the voted decision of the world body will be expected to change their practices, or face the grave consequences of which our General Conference president has spoken in the past.
5. The General Conference cannot be written off as a “toothless tiger,” as critics on both sides of the present controversy have at times alleged. If the General Conference were either helpless from an administrative standpoint, or simply unwilling, to correct the rebellion of certain territories against the church’s ordination policy, the procedure voted by the Annual Council at yesterday’s meeting would not have evoked the strenuous, full-throated opposition of the pro-women’s ordination forces. If the action taken by the General Conference Executive Committee was just another blizzard of powerless words, there would have been no need for the numerous officials and prominent voices from the church’s Western territories to risk their reputations and standing in the church by publicly opposing—in full view of watching constituents and others—the measure set before them by the General Conference officers.
6. While opponents of the General Conference proposal insisted yet again that the church risks the loss of its young people by blocking gender-inclusive ordination to the gospel ministry, the only young person at the Annual Council who spoke during yesterday’s deliberations spoke in favor of the General Conference proposal. Natasha Dysinger (nee Neblett), former president of Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), distinguished herself at the General Conference session in San Antonio as the only young person who spoke during the debate on the ordination issue (10). Her statement strongly opposed the request that each world Division decide for itself whether or not to ordain women to ministry. And once again, at yesterday’s Annual Council meeting, in the face of numerous claims by pro-women’s ordination supporters that the church risks losing its rising generation if women’s ordination is not approved, the sole young person—the same one who spoke in San Antonio—to speak during the discussion voiced opposition to women’s ordination on the basis of her Bible-based convictions (11). The fact that Natasha is both female and a young adult makes her position on the issue even more significant.
When you stop and think about this, it is truly remarkable. Those in favor of women’s ordination and similar causes in the church have insisted for years that the young people of the church are on their side. Prior to the General Conference session last year, the student leaders of the North American Division voted a statement which included, among other things, support for women’s ordination (12). At the North American Division year-end meetings of 2015 (following the 2015 GC session), student leaders again expressed their views of the church, some of them very critical of the GC decision on ordination (13) Yet for some reason, not one of these student leaders—if indeed any were delegates to the GC session (and considering their stance, one truly wonders why not)—was willing to stand before the world church and warn of the loss of their generation if men and women are not granted identical gender roles in Seventh-day Adventist ministry. Nor did any of these pro-women’s ordination young people, if indeed any were present as guests at the Annual Council, speak in favor of this practice and in opposition to the GC recommendation.
Those under the illusion that liberal theological causes like women’s ordination reflect the spiritual thinking of most contemporary Adventist youth would do well to note the continuing numerical strength of the annual GYC convocations, where thousands more young people are to be found than at any other young adult gatherings in Western Adventism. More than likely, the outspokenness of the former GYC president in behalf of the church’s Bible-based ordination policy speaks for many more of the church’s rising generation than the so-called “progressives” in our ranks care to acknowledge.
7. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is profoundly blessed to have our current General Conference president as its world leader. Anyone who read or listened to the opening and closing statements by Elder Ted Wilson as the Annual Council debate on the issue in question began and ended, cannot help but be moved by the measured, dignified, courageous, and compassionate tone taken by the one presently entrusted with the guardianship and guidance of the great Advent movement (14).
Rough waters lie ahead for God’s church. Storm-swept seas lie before us. But yesterday’s vote should offer profound encouragement to the striving faithful. God is still guiding His church. And one day soon she will fulfill the prophecy found in the following inspired statement:
The church, being endowed with the righteousness of Christ, is His depository, in which the wealth of His mercy, His love, His grace, is to appear in full and final display. . . . The gift of His Holy Spirit, rich, full, and abundant, is to be to His church as an encompassing wall of fire, which the powers of hell shall not prevail against. In their untainted purity and spotless perfection, Christ looks upon His people as the reward of all His suffering, His humiliation, and His love, and the supplement of His glory (15).
1. “Recommendation on Non-Compliance to Go to Annual Council” Adventist Review, Oct. 6, 2016
7. “Delegates Vote ‘No’ on Issue of Women’s Ordination,” Adventist Review, July 8, 2016
8. Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2003), p. 266.
9. General Conference Working Policy (2015-2016 edition), p. 118.
13. Jared Wright, “Student Leaders Discuss the Direction of the Church in North America,” Spectrum, Nov. 14, 2015
15. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 18-19.