A Line in the Sand: Why Recent GC Document is Dangerous for Church Future
A line was drawn in the sand in July 2015, when the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) voted down a motion that would have allowed divisions of the church to decide for themselves whether or not women could be ordained into gospel ministry. With many church officials and members here in the North American Division (NAD) favoring equal rights of ordination for the sexes, the Pacific and Columbia Union Conferences, among others, that have been ordaining women in spite of the GC decision. These acts crossed that line in the sand, but were done with a spirit of justice and equality, not rebellion.
A document entitled “A Study of Church Governance and Unity” was released last week from the GC containing their research, a diagnosis of these unilateral choices of some conferences to continue ordaining women and the demonization of church officials responsible for such actions. This demonization comes from pairing statements of unity with quotes from Ellen White that say unilateralism sometimes stems from “the influence of evil forces.” The aim of the document becomes clearly pointed with frequent references to the Pacific Union Conference, the region within the NAD where this issue has been the most publicly fought over. Another quote from Mrs. White claims that those not acting in unison with the church body are “doing the work of Satan.” While the document’s stated purpose is for guidance, it quickly reveals itself as highly accusatory.
This document has not yet been voted on yet by the GC Executive Committee. That will take place next week. If it is approved, and these not-so-thinly veiled charges of satanic influence are passed, I fear the consequences will be far more dire than anyone who drafted this piece might have anticipated. On one hand there is the theological argument as to whether or not the ordination of women is anti-biblical. This alone is causing many to doubt the future of this church, wondering if it will forever be a venue in which equality of the sexes is non-existent within ministry and archaic standards of chauvinism thrive. On the other hand is the troubling idea that church leaders are willing to insinuate that ideas differing from their own are not legitimate and worthy of being discussed or studied in a scholarly fashion; rather, they have asserted that such ideas are the product of demonic influence. That is not ministry, nor is it unity. That is bigotry.
In the first few pages of “A Study of Church Governance and Unity,” the 14th SDA Fundamental Belief is quoted. This passage prescribes that “differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us.” This statement is recognised, then subsequently ignored as walls of division are built over the next 48 pages. The decision made on this document could take this line drawn in the sand and enlarge it into the continental divide. I fear that the leaders who drafted these statements are unaware that for many of their young millennial believers, women’s issues could be a dealbreaker for their commitment to the church.
I do not think the gravity of this situation can be overstated. I would encourage church leaders, as they look at this document, to be careful not to end up on the wrong side of history, and to remember that no human walking this earth is an authority on the salvation of another.