At a meeting with General Conference leadership on January 19, presidents of the nine union conferences within the North American Division issued the following joint statement:
Dear Elder Wilson and General Conference Leadership,
As Union presidents we have spent much time in individual and collective prayer over the future of our church relative to implications of governance revolving around women’s ordination. We bring the following assurances of our strong personal and collective unity with the Seventh-day Adventist Church:
- We are fully committed to all of our 28 Fundamental Beliefs
- The mission of bringing our Remnant Message to a dying world is our top priority
- Our North American Division partnership with our sister world divisions is important for both the global mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for the spiritual health of our Division
- We strongly affirm and support the recent General Conference TOSC “Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination” as voted by the 2014 Annual Council
- We affirm the necessity in finding the best spiritual/missional resolutions to the challenges of unity we face in order to remove threats to the mission of our Division
We are also unified in our convictions regarding the following governance issues of the church related to the role of women in leadership and ministry:
- We believe the Holy Spirit calls both men and women into ministry and we see no clear biblical mandate against ordaining women.
- A vast majority of qualified, conservative Adventist theologians favor ordaining women.
- After the lengthy study of the General Conference TOSC1, two thirds of that committee affirmed a way forward for ordaining women.
- We see no consensus within the church regarding women’s ordination.
- After 40 years of study and deliberation, we have no strong agreement on this issue.
- The 2015 GC floor vote over division options to ordain, while a small majority, revealed a very divided world church on this issue.
- Prior to the 2015 GC Session, nine of the 13 divisions’ TOSC outcomes stated at least some openness to the option of divisions ordaining women.
- The North American Division’s support for women’s ordination:
- Quantified votes in some unions and conferences and our personal observations of the membership within our unions reveal a significant grassroots support for women’s ordination. This support ranges from strong in some unions, to modest majorities in others, and potential majority opposition in a few conferences.
- An inclusive NAD survey taken in 2014 of conference, union and division leadership revealed a 90-plus percent approval of women’s ordination.
- The North American TOSC report was presented at the 2014 Year End Meeting and was overwhelmingly approved with a vote of 178 “yes,” 6 “no,” and 8 abstaining.
- While we acknowledge there are members who oppose ordaining women, we reject the validity of surveys taken by independent ministries that claim a majority opposition exists in North America.
- Within the context of our Adventist Religious Liberty DNA we acknowledge the conscientious convictions of both sides of this issue and the need to find a way forward.
- We reject the notion that women’s ordination is a simple liberal vs. conservative issue because of our knowledge of many deeply conservative and loyal Adventists who are convicted that women should have full parity with men in ministry.
- Distraction from mission: Since the rejection of the E-602 variance request we have spent too much time on this issue and need to move forward with a greater focus on mission.
- We believe the GC is moving toward a significant overreach of existing governance practice and authority and is potentially endangering the future unity and mission of the church (see SOP counsels below).
- Circulated documents and processes leading up to and during the 2016 Annual Council revealed an intent or openness to deal with some unions with an extreme punitive approach.
- Responding to violations of policy or voted actions with similar consequences to a doctrinal violation creates a dangerous precedent that is inconsistent with Adventist/Protestant beliefs and practice.
- Non-doctrinal issues for which we have no consensus are not a basis for splitting the church.
- We further believe that pursuing severe punitive actions against unions will stimulate additional laity and leadership toward the embracing of the ordination of women and antipathy and antagonism toward the structure and authority of the church.
- The North American Division is the entity that should work with any NAD unions considered out of compliance with policy and/or voted actions, to frame a way forward that could include some variance approach.
- The development of the Unity governance document at Annual Council appeared to be a rushed process inconsistent with normal policy development and needs much more study and theological review.
Principles of caution from Ellen White
“We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light. The church may pass resolution upon resolution to put down all disagreement of opinions, but we cannot force the mind and will, and thus root out disagreement. These resolutions may conceal the discord, but they cannot quench it and establish perfect agreement. Nothing can perfect unity in the church but the spirit of Christlike forbearance. Satan can sow discord; Christ alone can harmonize the disagreeing elements. Then let every soul sit down in Christ’s school and learn of Christ, who declares Himself to be meek and lowly of heart. Christ says that if we learn of Him, worries will cease and we shall find rest to our souls” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 11, p. 266).
“The unity of belief in the church is not forced by the church coming together and the majority defining the creed to be believed. The church cannot define doctrine, nor make laws for itself or anybody else. The church of Christ is made up of all who obey the Lord’s commands, not a body to issue commands. The Head directs, the body obeys. God speaks; each one must listen to His voice, for faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and no one can give faith to another. ‘It is the gift of God’” (PTUK July 29, 1897, p.466).
1 All TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) documents are available at adventistarchives.org/gc-tosc.
2 General Conference Working Policy, E 60 Conference/Mission/Field President:
Inasmuch as the conference/mission/field president stands at the head of the gospel ministry in the conference/mission/field and is the chief elder or overseer of all the churches, a conference/mission/field president shall be an ordained minister.