The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a female founder, Ellen White.
It trains, employs, and commissions women as ministers. They just can’t be ordained. Yet.
A vote this week could change that.
The 60th General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is in session this week. It’s held only every five years and draws nearly 70,000 Adventists from 192 nations. Like every denominational summer meeting, they will have music and sermons and votes on matters from minute to major.
This one set for Wednesday is major. It’s also intricately bound up in the way the church is structured.
The pending vote on women’s ordination isn’t a decision to ordain women in the worldwide church. Rather, the question that is being voted on is on whether or not the church will allow Divisions to take a pro-women’s ordination stance.
This is tricky, as there are already three Divisions in the Seventh-day Adventist church already ordaining women — one in the United States and two in Europe. These Unions are currently in open rebellion with the doctrine of the worldwide church.
The likelihood of a “yes” vote, allowing Divisions to vote on it themselves, is slim. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is compromised of 18 million members worldwide. Almost 80% of my church – I say my church as a lifelong Adventist — is located in Africa, South America and South Asia.
Delegates from the Global South point to their culture heritages as a reason to uphold the current patriarchal structure.
Yet, a “no” vote would not necessarily change anything.
Technically, a ‘no’ vote would only be a symbolic victory for the opposition and will change nothing for the Divisions who have gone ahead with ordaining women. They will just remain defiant and go against the General Conference.
So far, the session has been off to a bumpy start. There are rumors of delegates voting in unison with their conference president (their boss) and not voting their conscience. There also seems to be a conscience effort to keep women and young voices out of church leadership. Many are protesting the lack of diversity in the nominating committee and delegations, (which isn’t representative of the worldwide church).
All of the dramatic church politics are getting in the way of doing the right thing: ordaining women.
“It’s embarrassing that we have allowed ourselves to get the way we are over women in ministry,” Martin Hanna,” Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Andrews University Seminary told me.
“(Whether you agree with [women’s ordination] or not, (Ellen White) has more teaching authority in the Adventist church than all the other men in the church who have ever lived put together. That’s accepted. So, how do you now go to scripture to find that the Bible teaches that the women cannot have teaching authority? (That) is one of the arguments against women being ordained as preachers …They can preach but not with authority? That doesn’t add up.”
It’s also not the gospel.
There are plenty of examples in scripture women have been spiritual leaders. Men do not have a monopoly on Christ. They do not have some special connection to God that women cannot obtain.
To vote against women’s ordination would be to vote against having the full image of God reflected in the church. It’s offensive to deny women ordination as it questions their connection with Christ. It’s offensive to the women who humbly serve the church and offensive to Christ. Women are gifted with spiritual gifts and have been called to bless the church with them.
It would be “an ultra-conservative radical fundamentalist attitude” to reverse all the progress on women in ministry the church has made, Hanna told me. We must not allow for proponents of this attitude to deny the church of the gift of ordained ministers.
If not this week, the ordination of women still will come to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. If it doesn’t happen this session it’ll happen the next or the one after that.
We can only deny the full body of Christ for so long.
Update: an earlier version of this post said the vote was on allowing Unions to ordain women. The vote is on the divisions in which the Unions are under.