I was studying for a biology test when my wife Mavis asked me if I had heard the news. Her voice was mixed with sadness and anger. She sent me a link to an article by Spectrum magazine, entitled “General Conference Leadership Considers Takeover of Unions That Ordain Women.” When I was done reading the article, I thought that perhaps I hadn’t read it clearly, that perhaps there was a misunderstanding. No, the article stated the following: the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was voting on whether or not they should punish unions that had voted to ordain women as ministers of God. They would do this by taking over those unions and “[operating] them as missions attached to the General Conference.” According to the article, this would then give the GC power to “remove union leaders and replace the leadership with their own appointees.” As I began to ponder the implications, a previously important test fell momentarily to the wayside.
You see, the day after this news was released, Mavis—a doctoral student in the seminary and pastor of two churches previously—couldn’t eat or sleep. The institution for whom she so desperately wanted to serve had, in a real and visceral way, rejected her and was now seeking to ensure that no further attempts of support would be made by those with the power and desire to help. My heart was broken, not only for her, but for the countless women around the globe that seek to serve Jesus through pastoral ministry.
In his book Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas describes two conditions of being: “Totalizers” who value system and order and “Infinitizers” who value creativity and growth. Totalizers prefer to enforce order as a means of control, while Infinitizers seek to move past the barrier of the self in order to nurture the Other. While there is little doubt that system is important to support a unified society, it can easily exit the role of support and enter the role of control, a status for which it is not well-equipped. When this happens, the Other is often overpowered and ceases to be a present part of society, becoming instead sub-present. Bright minds and hard workers are pushed to the margins while great personal and intellectual losses are sustained, all in the name of a greater good.
By passing this upcoming vote, the General Conference (GC) would be selecting Totality by the criterion of absolute power. In choosing to exercise this kind of absolute power, the GC would cross the line from dignity to destruction and cause irreparable damage to the church at large. In the name of unity, they could create a division so great that it would hinder the work of salvation and loosen the relationships that stay many of its members. Consider the immortal words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” Remember, we are all “the least of these,” for we are all part of the same fallen race: man and woman equal. If we reject our family, we are rejecting Jesus himself. Thus, with prayer and consideration, I empower every person to instead collectively reject this vote and stand together for true unity.
Statement from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University:
“We the faculty of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, affirm the biblical truth of church unity grounded in our worship of God, our common faith, our shared community, and our sense of mission. We have serious concerns about the recent document “A Study of Church Governance and Unity” released by the General Conference and its portrayal of the nature and authority of the church. Further discussion by the church at large on this important ecclesiological issue is needed before such a document is adopted.”