After Debate, Annual Council Votes Statement on Church Polity
Following three hours of respectful study and discussion, world leaders of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted to approve a “Statement on Church Polity, Procedures, and Resolution of Disagreements in the Light of Recent Union Actions on Ministerial Ordination” on October 16, 2012, during the Annual Council of world church leaders held in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
OFFICIAL READING: General Conference vice president Lowell Cooper reads the statement.The vote was 264 in favor and 25 opposed.
The move comes after three local union conferences—the North German Union in the Inter-European Division, and the Columbia Union andPacific Union in the North American Division—separately voted this year to permit ordination “without respect to gender,” something the Adventist Church as a whole has twice rejected in votes at the movement’s quinquennial General Conference sessions.
The voted statement expresses disapproval of the independent actions of the union conferences, appeals for all church units “to consider thoughtfully the impact and implications of decisions” made independently of the world community, and affirms the role of women in the church’s life and ministry. The document also points toward continuing studies on the theology of ordination, the results of which are expected to be ready in 2014, ahead of the following year’s sixtieth General Conference session. No sanctions are applied, or suggested, in the document.
“This statement deals with church structure and procedures. It does not address the question of ministerial ordination practices per se,” the statement said. “The central issue is one of church polity—how the church defines its organization, governance, and operations.”
“Decisions to pursue a course of action not in harmony with the 1990 and 1995 General Conference session decisions (with respect to ministerial ordination) represent not only an expression of dissent but also a demonstration of self-determination in a matter previously decided by the collective church,” the statement said. “The General Conference Executive Committee regards these actions as serious mistakes.”
The statement text continues: “The world church cannot legitimize practices that clearly contradict the intent of General Conference session actions. . . . Accordingly, the world church does not recognize actions authorizing or implementing ministerial ordination without regard to gender.”
But the statement is also clear in stating the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s position on women: “The General Conference Executive Committee specifically affirms the important roles that women fill in the life of the church. Their giftedness and commitment is a blessing to the whole church and a necessary part of its work in mission.”
READING STATEMENT: Annual Council delegates read the statement read the statement on church polity, procedures, and resolution of disagreements.The measure passed on a secret, paper ballot after the day’s discussion, which began with comments from Ted N. C. Wilson, General Conference president. Wilson expressed the hope that the world church’s units would continue “focusing on the mission of the church, uniting in Christ, even though we will face some differences and disagreements.”
During an extended comment period, Daniel Jackson, North American Division president, sought to reassure world church leaders that the division supported the church’s mission, despite the polity question discussed in the statement.
“We want to make it abundantly clear that the NAD without any hesitation expresses our unity with the world church,” Jackson said. “We are not just an adjunct to the world church; we are brothers and sisters with every person in this room.”
Speaking with Adventist World the day after the vote, Barry Oliver, South Pacific Divisionpresident, said “many people” in that region “are hoping and praying that our church will one day soon find a way to fully recognize the special gifts God gives to all of His people. In a global church, however, we need to work together and find a way to meet all of our perspectives.”
Audrey Andersson, executive secretary of the Trans-European Division, also speaking after the vote, said her division has “a process in place, and at the division we are committed to support the process.”
—reported by Mark A. Kellner, news editor, with Edwin Manuel Garcia, Adventist News Network