A Report on Africa Arise Conference & AU's Prayer Breakfast for African Heads of State (January 24-30, 2017). By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, PhD Just in case you miss the thrust of my report, this is what I want to say: “Success without a successor is failure. True leaders train others to succeed the...
|Dr. Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4--Something Has Changed||| Print ||
SOMETHING HAS CHANGED
Dr. Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4
I thought I should address the confusion that is currently being created about whether or not the No vote at the recent GC session means anything. I know several of you have emailed to say you’re anxiously waiting for the last installment of my 2015 GC Session Report, which I title “Read the Fine Print.” That final report should be ready in the next couple of days. In it I will offer some clarity on some significant changes in our Fundamental Beliefs, Church Manual & Church Policy.
I will also explain how, unbeknownst to many, the debate over women's ordination actually began days earlier with innocuous attempts to revise sections of the Church Manual. And even after the No vote on Wednesday, how delegates were almost fooled to not attend the very last business session on Friday.
For now, however, allow me to share some thoughts on the confusing claims by some that the GC Session vote on women's ordination has no bearing on the current practice in some quarters to ordain women. Because my discussion has grown longer than the brief message I initially intended, consider this "Something Has Changed" reflection as Part 4 of my GC Session Report. The final report, (“Read the Fine Print”) will then become Part 5. (Facebook links to Parts 1, 2, and 3, are provided at the end of the document.)
CONFUSION IN THE LAND
On Wednesday afternoon, July 8, 2015, at approximately 6:15 pm, delegates at the San Antonio GC Session exercised their sacred responsibility and solemnly voted to reject the ordination of women to the gospel ministry in Divisions that desire to do so.
One would have thought that the No vote on women’s ordination will put an end to this issue. After all, this is the fourth time the world Church had said No to ordaining women. In 1881 (in the days of our pioneers), they said No. Then in recent times (1990 and 1995) Adventists said No again. And now, in San Antonio, for the fourth time (2015), the world body of believers have said No again. Though the word No is very clear and even easy to pronounce, somehow, No is a foreign language that some of our pro-ordination leaders, scholars, and activists don't understand. In fact some of them even think that the meaning of No is Yes!
Stubbornly holding on to their Yes views, even after the world Church has spoken, they're doing their best to re-interpret the clear message conveyed by delegates in San Antonio. As a result of their post-GC session propaganda against the No vote, there seems to be a growing confusion regarding the meaning and implication of the action that was taken by the delegates at the world session.
The uncertainty has been created by pronouncements from leaders of the Church in regions that currently agitate for or actually ordain women (contrary to the official position of the Church). They claim that, despite the church’s rejection of women’s ordination—even in Divisions which desire to do so—the vote in San Antonio makes no difference from what the Church in their parts of the world had been doing in the past. Accordingly, they declare that they will continue operating with Working Policies of the past--even if those policies are not in harmony with the vote in San Antonio.
Others are also confused because of the terse statement of clarification that was issued by the GC President (Eld. Ted Wilson) regarding what the No vote actually said and did not say, and by his appeal to the Division Presidents to clarify the meaning of Wednesday’s vote to people in their territories.
So one may ask: What did the text of the No vote actually SAY, and what did the No vote really MEAN? And how does the No vote relate to previous Church Policies that were put in place without the approval of a General Conference in session? The response to these questions have some far-reaching implications.
THE VOTE & THE EXISTING CHURCH POLICIES
Here’s what delegates voted upon in San Antonio:
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.
Observe that the specific Yes or No question that was voted on (paragraph #3) is premised on two foundations: First the grounds upon which the decision is to be made (paragraph #1) and, second, the likely impact of the decision on the fulfillment of the Church’s mission (paragraph #2). Thus, a person’s vote is not simply a “Yes” or “No” matter, but more importantly the basis and consequence of that decision.
Therefore, when the worldwide Church voted No to Divisional ordinations, they were also declaring that, for theological reasons—namely, the lack of support in the Bible and EGW writings, and the adverse impact on the Church’s mission—the Seventh-day Adventist Church should reject the women’s ordination—even in Divisions that want to do so.
Stated differently, the collective understanding of the world Church was that: (a) the SDA Church must reject territorial ordinations because women’s ordination anywhere is not only unbiblical, but also that (b) the ordination of women to the gospel ministry will adversely affect the Church’s mission.
Elder Wilson correctly stated that the vote doesn’t affect existing Church policy which currently allows women to be ordained as local elders. The vote also does not affect another Church policy that relates to “commissioned ministers”—who can be male or female under the church’s policy. He concluded:
“So let us be clear on what was voted on Wednesday. We are now back to our original understanding, and I would strongly urge all to adhere by what has been voted. But do not place into the vote other things which were not listed in the vote. We need to be fair, we need to be open, and we all need to accept what is voted at a General Conference session.”
Indeed, the vote did not affect existing policies—which had been in place for about four decades when Church leaders at Annual Council meeting (NOT GC session) slipped “women elders” (1975 and 1984) and gender-neutral “commissioned pastors” (1989) into the church through the back door. For reasons I will explain in my final report, delegates at the just-ended GC session did not have the opportunity to rescind these biblically compromising policies that currently exist.
The task of changing the existing policy to bring it into harmony with the 2015 GC Session vote remains the task of the new GC Executive Committee or, if they fail to act that task will have to be taken up at the 2020 GC session. Given the fact the world Church has made it clear for the fourth time at GC sessions (in 1881, 1990, 1995, 2015) that ordaining women to the gospel ministry is incompatible with our collective understanding of Scripture and the writings of E.G. White, the task of clarifying the meaning of Wednesday’s vote should include whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist Church will continue to allow the biblically compromising Working Policies that now exist to trump established biblical understanding.
But it may be asked: If the vote in San Antonio did not affect the existing policy, does it mean that nothing really happened when delegates voted against women’s ordination? Whereas those who had been pushing women’s ordination argue that “nothing has changed,” I will argue otherwise.
THE “NOTHING HAS CHANGED” CHOIR
Those singing the “nothing has really changed” chorus resonate with the declarations expressed by pro-ordination leadership in the North American Division (NAD), the Trans European Division, and some pro-ordination groups within and without NAD.
North American Division. For example the following document was released to the Church via the North American Division on July 10, 2015 (see NADNewsPoints, July 10, 2015):
General Conference President Elder Ted Wilson has requested that each division president of the 13 world regions, clarify the meaning of the vote taken on Wednesday, July 8, 2015.
North American Division (NAD) President Daniel Jackson would like to make the following statement:
1. It did not disallow women from serving as commissioned church pastors.
2. It did not disallow women to serve as ordained elders in the local church
3. It did not disallow the ordination of deaconesses.
Since the motion did not disallow these things, we therefore continue to encourage those who have been serving in these capacities to continue to do so.
[Source: http://www.nadadventist.org/article/1073742996/news/current-newspoints/7-10-15-clarification-on-the-roles-ofwomen-in-ministry, accessed July 13, 2015]
It is important to note that the NAD understands that the GC Session vote “prohibited the 13 world divisions of the church or any of their entities from making their own decisions regarding the consideration and potential implementation of women’s ordination to the gospel ministry.” This means both the Unions and Conferences in North America cannot unilaterally ordain women to the gospel ministry—as in the past.
[NOTE: I understand the same statement has been issued a second time, but at the “secondly” paragraph, the sentence lacks the phrase “of the church or any of their entities.” Some have interpreted this to mean the NAD is back-pedaling from the expressed will of the General Conference. Regardless, the intent of the July 8 voted action matches the initial language that sees the GC Session vote as binding on all entities of Divisions—namely, Unions, Conferences, and Churches.]
Though the NAD pledges to abide by the decision of the GC Session, some questions remain unanswered by the NAD. I’ll list three:
It must also be pointed out that, lacking a theological/biblical foundation to continue ordaining women, the NAD needs another foundation to ground their declared intention to continue allowing women to serve as “commissioned church pastors” and ordaining “women elders in the local church.” They find this in the Working Policies of the Church. Thus, their issued Statement continues:
The following is a series of policies which are drawn from the Working Policy and that inform our direction:
Church Manual Policy BA 60 05 on Human Relations which states:
The Church rejects any system or philosophy which discriminates against anyone on the basis of race, color, or gender. The Church bases its position on principles clearly enunciated in the Bible, the writings of Ellen G White, and the official pronouncements of the General Conference.”
Church Manual Policy BA 60 10 which states:
The world Church supports nondiscrimination in employment practices and policies and upholds the principle that both men and women, without regard to race and color, shall be given full and equal opportunity within the Church to develop the knowledge and skills needed for the building up of the Church. Positions of service and responsibility (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry*) on all levels of church activity shall be open to all on the basis of the individual’s qualifications.”
*The exception clause, and any other statement above, shall not be used to reinterpret the action already taken by the world Church authorizing the ordination of women as local church elders in divisions where the division executive committees have given their approval.
Those who have, without regard to gender, been recognized as commissioned ministers or licensed ministers may perform essentially the ministerial functions of an ordained minister of the gospel in the churches to which they are assigned, subject to division authorization of this provision, if the following conditions apply:
North American Division Working Policy L 33 10 which states:
A commissioned minister in leadership position is authorized by the conference, union or division to perform substantially all the functions of the ordained minister within the territory of the organization he/she serves. The functions that are excluded are those listed in the Church Manual as follows: Organizing of a Church, Uniting churches, and Ordaining local elders or deacons.”
It is important to keep in mind that God calls all of his children to serve Him in ministry. He calls both men and women to serve His church and the NAD will continue to support the filling of these positions regardless of gender. The NAD will also continue to utilize all of its efforts to recognize the call of those who feel moved by the Holy Spirit into pastoral ministry.
[Prepared by the Communication Department of the North American Division]
The Netherlands Union of Churches. Besides the North American Division, another entity that is singing the “nothing has really changed” chorus is the Netherlands Union of Churches. It also issued the following statement on July 9, 2015:
The delegates of the Dutch churches voted at their Session in the autumn of 2012 to ordain women in an equal way to their male colleagues. The vote took effect in June 2013 and will remain in effect. The decision of the General Conference Session in San Antonio does not change this.
Female pastors will continue to be ordained in the Netherlands Union Conference. We thank God that he calls men and women to serve him. We want to enthusiastically confirm that call by the laying on of hands.
It should be pointed out that the Netherlands Union of Churches is under the Trans-European Division (TED). Significantly, the TED issued a Statement that essentially questions that of the Netherlands Union of Churches. According to OrdinationTruth.com, the TED Statement affirmed what it had voted in 1990 and 1995: that no Division or any of its subunits has the unilateral authority to ordain women to pastoral ministry (http://tinyurl.com/o9gzag4).
Pro-Ordination Groups Within and Without NAD. Besides the NAD and the Netherlands Union of Churches, there are some independent pro-ordination groups which are also arguing that “nothing has really changed.” Individuals in these groups view the "No" vote as having a mere symbolic, rather than functional, value.
Some of them argue that the vote at the GC Session was directed to “Division Executive committees,” hence the "No" vote has no bearing on what any Union does. According to them Unions that currently (i.e. unilaterally) ordain women would continue to do so, with many more unions will likely joining them.
Still, others are claiming that, because there’s no language anywhere in the motion that was voted to indicate that women may or may not serve as pastors/elders in the SDA Church, the Church can continue to do so.
As a result of all these declarations and social media discussions about the 2015 GC Session vote, there seems to be some confusion regarding the meaning and implication of the action taken by the delegates at the world session. There’s a desperate campaign to convince uninformed members of the Church that the "No" vote in San Antonio has changed nothing in the church.
In response, I’ll argue that with the GC session vote on July 8, 2015, something has changed in the Church.
SOMETHING HAS CHANGED
In my next report, I’ll go into some details. But because of the confusion being created in certain quarters, allow me in this brief statement to state clearly and unambiguously that something did change on that Wednesday when the world Church voted against women’s ordination—even in Divisions desiring to do so.
Think about it: If nothing really changed after that Wednesday, and if the vote meant absolutely nothing—as some are trying to suggest,
If nothing really happened on that Wednesday that would begin a whole new chapter in the church’s recent history, and if the No decision was inconsequential, why was there a deliberate attempt to stop delegates from attending the last business session on Friday afternoon?
(Could it be that some powerful forces who clearly understood that, with a No vote, something had happened didn’t want the world church to make very EXPLICIT the full scope or implications of the No vote—hence they disingenuously tried to prevent the delegates of the world church from attending the very last business session on Friday afternoon? Could it be that the deceptive effort was calculated to stage another parliamentary coup d’etat—as was staged at the 2000 GC Session in Toronto, when a group in the Church of the West successfully rescinded a unanimous vote against unbiblical divorce and remarriage, and re-voted into the into the Church Manual “abandonment” as grounds for divorce and remarriage? (see http://tinyurl.com/q84kuav.)
SEVEN MAJOR THINGS THAT HAPPENED
Let no one fool, nor confuse, anyone. Something did happen on that July Wednesday when the world Church decided—for the fourth time in its 150-year history—to reject women’s ordination (See Part 3 of my report: http://tinyurl.com/pa77cem). As I hope to explain in my final report of the 2015 GC Session, I see at least seven major things that happened with the church voting No on the issue:
1. It means that the seemingly innocuous Yes or No motion that was vigorously debated and voted by delegates at the 2015 GC session was the culmination of a long history and the action taken on that day is pregnant with meaning and some significant implications.
2. In the short term, the vote against women’s ordination stopped the leaking tap of compromises in the Church. In San Antonio, delegates took seriously their sacred responsibility by turning off that leaking tap, and as a consequence, logically initiated a process of how to mop up the floor that had already been flooded.
3. More significantly, the careful wording of the motion that was settled at the San Antonio GC Session (prefacing the motion by grounding our decision on the Word of God—as informed by the writings of EGW) defined whether the Seventh-day Adventist Church wants to remain a Protestant Church—a Church that still believes in the “Bible and the Bible” only as the rule of authority for belief and practice—and a prophetic movement.
(With prophecy fast fulfilling in our day, discerning Adventists will not fail to see the significance of the "No" vote that took place in San Antonio—some two months before September, when a Catholic Pope addresses the United Nations AND a joint Congress of the USA (a historically Protestant nation). What better way for the Church to emphasize its Protestant and prophetic heritage than by insisting on the Bible as the foundation of its teachings and practices.)
4. The theological foundation of the "No" vote on women’s ordination takes us back to the biblical position of our pioneers when, at the 1881 GC Session in Battle Creek, they also rejected women’s ordination as unbiblical. Stated differently, the 2015 GC Session vote resets the button in the Church. It provides a platform upon which to build, and it lays the foundation for us to correct past and future compromises or deviations from this biblical foundation.
5. By grounding the 2015 GC Session vote on biblical authority means that from now on, those within the worldwide Adventist Church who insist on ordaining women as pastors/elders (the Bible makes no distinction between the elder or pastor) cannot legitimately do so on theological/biblical grounds. They may only do so on the basis of some other foundation—whether their own feelings, reason, culture, or some biblically- compromising Working Policies which were voted by some church leaders—but never voted by the world church at a General Conference in session.
6. The "No" vote at the GC Session, prefaced by delegates' “prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions” and their “careful consideration of what is best for the Church and the fulfillment of its mission” suggests that this theological consideration overrides any Working Policy that anyone would try to use to promote women’s ordination.
In this regard, it is instructive to know that the Working Policy that the NAD and others are trying to use to justify their declared intention to continue ordaining women elders/pastors was not voted by the World Church at a full session of a General Conference. As I’ll show in my final report, “women elders” and “commissioned pastors” came into the church through a back door, when Church leaders at an Annual Council or GC Executive Committee decided to do so and voted it into a law (or policy). Unlike a GC Session where delegates from the world church are present, it was the GC Annual Councils (1975,1984, and 1989) that slipped “women elders” and “commissioned pastors” into the church, This body is subject to the higher authority of a GC Session, and its decisions, where it conflicts with that of a full GC Session is secondary. Conflicts can therefore only be resolved in favor of the higher authority.
It’s very ironic that those who are trying to go against the theologically- or biblically-grounded basis against women’s ordination are now pushing policies over the Bible. Stated differently, they are replacing the Word of God with the doctrine of men in the form of policies.
In short, the authorization of “women elders” was done at Annual Councils (1975, 1984, 1989), not at any GC in Session—the latter being the highest authority in the Church. In spite of this, during the last 40 years (1975-2015), the compromising agenda has been pushed upon the world Church for ratification. Between 1995 (when a GC session effort was made in Utrecht to ordain women) and 2015 (when the issue was brought again to San Antonio), providentially, the attempt was rejected.
The No vote at the 2015 San Antonio GC session, and especially the preface which establishes the theological foundation, means that proponents cannot legitimately claim that their interpretation of the Bible and EGW writings is embraced by the world church. More importantly, the vote of the world church at the GC session overrides all previous policy decisions that were taken by a few people at an Annual Council or GC Executive Committee meeting. Something did happen in San Antonio.
7. The No Vote decided whether or not we shall remain a UNITED body in fulfilling our mission of proclaiming the everlasting gospel to the whole world. Believing that the practice women’s ordination has no biblical foundation, the GC session declared that the Seventh-day Adventist Church cannot (or can no longer) allow one region of the Church to pursue a path that is believed to be against the Bible. The question is: Shall we be a Church of “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people,” or shall we fracture into national churches, each region of the church doing what pleases them? Shall we be united around the Bible and its teachings, or shall we be carried along by another kind of union which is based on convenience instead of obedience to God’s Word?
Again, let me reiterate: Contrary to the confusing voices that “nothing has really changed,” something did happen at the 2015 GC Session. After decades of well-choreographed strategy to domesticate women’s ordination (see chapter 9 of COURAGE), the world Church has spoken once again to uphold the Bible-based position of the SDA pioneers, to reject the practice (see chapter 3 of COURAGE):
WEDNESDAY WAS EVERYWHERE
It must be pointed out again that, though the No vote took place on the Wednesday of the 2015 GC Session, I mentioned in an earlier report, Wednesday was already present from the very first day of the session. And as I will attempt to explain in Part 4 of my GC Session report, Wednesday was also present even in the innocuous Church Manual and Church Policy revisions that took place during the other business sessions. Wednesday was also present on the last Friday, the very last day of business meeting. And, Yes, Wednesday was very much present even on that same Friday afternoon when an attempt was made to deceive delegates that the afternoon’s session had been cancelled.
A lot was at stake at this recent GC session—in every action that was taken, including the election of leaders, the reports from the various Divisions, and the revision of Church Manual and Working Policies. More people will fully understand the significance of San Antonio when they read the fine print of documents of the Church brought to the floor at the GC session.
Because of the propaganda that has begun in earnest in certain quarters, and because of the confusion that is being generated, I’m tempted to share these thoughts before I flesh them out in my final report. If the 2015 GC Session vote didn't change anything, why should it even have become a topic of the world Church’s business meeting?
Let’s stop fooling ourselves and others. As stated in chapters 9 and 11 of COURAGE,
“Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.”
“Truth enlightens those who are willing to receive it and brings out the true nature of those opposed to it!”
As I see it, pride and stubbornness are the greatest obstacles to our growth, unity, and prosperity—both as individuals and as a Church. When we’re too wise to recognize where we have been foolish, when we’re too big to admit where we have been wrong, and when we’re too stubborn to turn back from our wrong ways, sometimes a gracious Lord has no option than to knock us off our high horses and expose the bankruptcy of our ways through seemingly ordinary people….. The thought nugget I shared this week sums up my reflection on the GC session:
SOMEBODIES & NOBODIES
Sometimes God uses the Nobodies to humble the SOMEBODIES. A West African saying warns about the dangers of stubbornness and pride: “I serve a God that can crack a palm kernel with an egg just to disgrace the stone. A God that fetches water with a basket to disgrace the bucket. A God that uses a stick to bring forth iron from the sea to disgrace the magnet.” Writes apostle Paul: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise… that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Are you proud or stubborn in your ways? “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; cf. Proverbs 3:34; 16:18; 29:23). Stay humble, lest you stumble—and crumble.—Samuel Koranteng-Pipim
(For previous thought nuggets, visit: http://eaglesonline.org/weekly-nuggets/nuggets-archives/)
“I WILL NOT BE SILENT”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 5
1. “At the GC Session:Why?”—Dr.Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 1
2. “Reflection On The FirstWeek—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 2:
3. “Wednesday Was Already Present”—Dr. Pipim's GC Session Report—Part 3
4. “Something Has Changed”—Dr.Pipim’s GC Session Report—Part 4
[NOTE: My latest book COURAGE is intended to help Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventists explain clearly why their Church encourages women in ministry, but cannot legitimately ordain them as pastors/elders. This engaging, easy-to-read book distinguishes facts from fiction, truth from error, and logic from emotions to present a compelling case for Biblical integrity, godliness, and service. COURAGE is available as a:
1. Free download
2. Ebook & Softcover Book (http://store.eaglesonline.org/index.php/books/courage.html)]