Beliefs Culture

Seventh-day Adventists facing pressure on allowing female clergy

RNS photo courtesy Pacific Union Recorder/Jim Paliungus

(RNS) Two U.S. regional groups of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have recently approved the ordination of women pastors, moving faster than the worldwide church’s study of the issue.

The Pacific Union Conference, which includes California and four other Western states, voted 79 percent to 21 percent at a special session on Aug. 19 to “approve ordinations to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.”

The Pacific Union Conference, which includes California and four other Western states, voted 79 percent to 21 percent at a special session on Aug. 19 to “approve ordinations to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.”

The Pacific Union Conference, which includes California and four other Western states, voted 79 percent to 21 percent at a special session on Aug. 19 to “approve ordinations to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.” Weeks earlier, the Maryland-based Columbia Union Conference, which includes eight Mid-Atlantic states, adopted a similar change in its policy, with 80 percent in favor.

World leaders of the church – who appealed for unity before the votes were cast – said they were disappointed with the conferences’ actions. They said the Columbia Union’s July 29 action was “not in harmony” with the general policy of the church, and said the Pacific Union would “preempt the collective decisions of the world church regarding ordination.’’

After two hours of presentations from multiple levels of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as 90 minutes of discussion, delegates to the Columbia Union Conference Special Constituency Meeting today voted an historic motion??That the Columbia Union Conference authorize ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.?

After two hours of presentations from multiple levels of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as 90 minutes of discussion, delegates to the Columbia Union Conference Special Constituency Meeting today voted an historic motion??That the Columbia Union Conference authorize ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.?

Leaders of the Maryland-based Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is best known for observing the Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday, are in the midst of studying the “theology of ordination” for possible consideration at their 2015 General Conference Session.

There are about 320 women pastors in the worldwide Adventist Church. Within North America, there are about 120 women pastors and about 4,100 male pastors. Many Seventh-day Adventist women pastors hold a “commissioned” credential, which does not permit ordination, while most male pastors hold a “ministerial” credential, which does.

In 1990, the General Conference Session, the highest authority of the global church, approved a recommendation that prevented authorization of ordination of women to the gospel ministry. Five years later, it rejected a request from its North American Division that its regional groups be permitted to authorize ordination regardless of gender.

In an official response to the Pacific Union, Seventh-day Adventist Church President Ted N.C. Wilson (pictured here) and other officers cited those previous decisions and said world church leaders “will carefully review the situation and determine how to respond,” possibly at an October meeting.

In an official response to the Pacific Union, Seventh-day Adventist Church President Ted N.C. Wilson (pictured here) and other officers cited those previous decisions and said world church leaders “will carefully review the situation and determine how to respond,” possibly at an October meeting.

In an official response to the Pacific Union, Seventh-day Adventist Church President Ted N.C. Wilson and other officers cited those previous decisions and said world church leaders “will carefully review the situation and determine how to respond,” possibly at an October meeting.

Adventists are not the first group to face disparate action on women's ordination. In 1974, 11 women were “irregularly” ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church, two years before the national church voted to allow female priests and bishops.

Pastor Andrea Trusty King, pastor of an Adventist congregation in Moreno Valley, Calif., was elated by the Pacific Union Conference decision.

“I see it as a move of God,” said King, 34. “The church is recognizing what he has been doing for a long time.”

But King said everyone is not rejoicing, and she thinks the divide is more generational than geographical. 

“You have older people who absolutely don’t believe in this and young people who are saying, `What’ s the big deal?’” she said.

Pastor Courtney Ray, who serves as an associate pastor at a church in Compton, Calif., called the Pacific Union decision “long overdue.” She chose not to be “commissioned” and now looks forward to an ordination ceremony if an executive committee approves her for ordination.

Pastor Courtney Ray, who serves as an associate pastor at a church in Compton, Calif., called the Pacific Union decision “long overdue.” She chose not to be “commissioned” and now looks forward to an ordination ceremony if an executive committee approves her for ordination.

Pastor Courtney Ray, who serves as an associate pastor at a church in Compton, Calif., called the Pacific Union decision “long overdue.”  She chose not to be “commissioned” and now looks forward to an ordination ceremony if an executive committee approves her for ordination.

Ray said there was a tension between wanting to be sensitive to church leaders’ desire for everyone to “move together on this issue” and the sense of others who felt it was a “bad witness” for there to be different designations for male and female clergy.

“But the bottom line is that if something is right, then there’s never a time to wait to do the right thing,” said Ray, 31.

Pastor Stephen Bohr, an opponent of women’s ordination who leads an Adventist church in Fresno, Calif., said the Bible calls for women to have different roles from men. By his reading, women can be prophets – such as church co-founder Ellen White –  and deaconesses, but only men can be pastors.

“I just am disappointed that the Pacific Union would launch out on its own and not wait for the world church to make a determination,” said Bohr, 62. “I think they jumped the gun.”

Garrett Caldwell, a spokesman for the world church, said there is “excitement’’ in many corners of the Seventh-day Adventist Church about the possibility of full recognition of women’s ministry roles.

“There’s an anticipation of that recognition, but I think the greatest concern is that as this body grows and matures and adapts that it is able to stay a united body,” he said.

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About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

8 Comments

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  • (33b)As in all the congregations of the holy ones, (34) let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. (35) If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation
    1 Corinthians 14:33-35

  • (33b)As in all the congregations of the holy ones, (34) let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. (35) If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation
    1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

  • How sad that this pro-women’s ordination group is bent on putting their opinions & agendas before the rest of the world. The fact that they have been pushing their own agenda for so long, and for so long, in spite of what the General body has voted, tells me that they are unwilling to truly serve God’s people. This will end up fracturing the church and promoting congregationalism.

  • I have been thinking of what to say on this matter of women ordination. I perceive that we (women) have failed to perform our duties, that is why the Church have reached this stage of wasting time talking about this issue in stead of proclaiming the three angels’ message. We have failed to teach our male children that a man is the head, and female children that they are always there to help and should be submissive. But they are so special and they have an equal right to be saved as a men. Galatians 3:28
    Through out the Bible God has been using women but no one was ordained why now? Why only 30 years ago? Why bring the world to the Church of God of Israel? Why seek women rights like the world? Has God not given women the rights in His word?His word says a husband should love the wife. So a woman is protected. The household family set up is the same as God’s family (Church). God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head a man, and man is the head of a woman. 1Corinthians 11:3. God will never change this set-up.
    Was Mary ordained to be the first person to air out the resurrection of our LORD? was a Samaritan woman ordained to be able to bring the whole town to Jesus? how about Miriam and also E G White? We as women have a big roll to play for God’s business let us think and perform out duty given to us and the LORD who loves us the same as men will reward us not even long from now because Jesus is coming sooner than we think. Praise GOD. .
    I also perceive that this is a snare of the enemy to hold and divide us as a family of the Living God. WATCH!! This is very sad! women ordination is not biblical let us remember Deuteronomy 29::29. – Evangelist Mrs ITULE.

  • I’ts not according to the bible, but the Adventist Church is corrupt. A large group of us just left the SDA church . we have no plans of returning to a church that doesn’t go along with the bible.

  • What a mess the sda’s are so wrapped up in eg white and the world . that it is impossible for them to serve or have a relationship with GOD.

  • I thank God, that only the wise can discern and understand; for our God does not change. We as a people will fulfil prophecy whether to live within THE LIGHT OF GOD’S WORD or disobey and carried into babylon but THE WISE SHALL STAND THOUGH THE HEAVENS FALL – “If any one” is the message to warn our people now- Do your part and live consequence with God.
    Remnant Observer. Roland, PNG

  • For the record it is important to be aware that the reason this issue is not addressed in the Bible is because it did not exist at that time. The role of pastor as we currently know it did not exist in the early church and neither did ordination as we now practice it. If both are modern inventions then we cannot use biblical history as proof that women should not fill these positions. To quote Herman Cain, “its apples and oranges.” lol

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