By Ricardo Graham, president, Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
The Pacific Union Conference executive committee voted on May 9 to hold a special constituency session Aug. 19. Delegates will consider amending our bylaws to clearly authorize the union executive committee to approve ordinations of ministers without regard to gender — when requested by the local conferences.
I don’t know whether you agree or disagree with that action, but I would like to share with you something about the process. In future issues of the Recorder we will look at Bible and church governance questions.
First, this was a task we came to prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with great seriousness. It is always our practice to seek God’s leading in our work, and we approached this topic with a firm commitment to putting “mission first.”
Second, I sit on a lot of committees. In fact, sometimes it seems that this is the beginning and end of my job description. Some committees are routine; other committees are tense, with people strongly arguing opposing positions.
I can honestly say I have never served on a committee where members demonstrated a deeper sense of unity or a deeper commitment to allowing the Holy Spirit to lead in the decisions made. Members listened to each other carefully and respectfully, modified their views according to what they heard, then offered their own suggestions with Christian gentleness. If you had been there, you would have been proud of your church.
I have received a few letters from members asking if the committee is fostering some kind of rebellion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not once during these meetings did I hear a word of criticism about anyone in world leadership or anyone with a different opinion — not in the meetings, not in the hallways, not in the parking lot. Not by a word or a facial expression. These are people who love Jesus and love His church. And they are people who voted to strictly follow church procedures, even if it could mean the processes don’t result in what they believe is best for the church in this union.
To be sure, there was very little disagreement. The Pacific Union executive committee that was elected in 2006 voted unanimously to support ordination without regard to gender, and this new committee voted the same, 42-2. Several committee members expressed a conviction that God is fulfilling his promise to bless the remnant church in the last days by pouring out his Spirit on both men and women (Joel 2:23-28).
A member of the executive committee, a pastor who conducts frequent seminars on the spirit of prophecy, pointed out that in all her writings Ellen White never talked about a theology of ordination or dealt with Bible-based arguments for or against both men and women serving as pastors and evangelists, or being ordained. Instead, her comments were always practical. To her, the important issue was that every believer — without exception — is commanded to “go and make disciples,” and that it is when every believer obeys that the work of God will be finished and Jesus will return. I long for that day.
In the earliest years of our church, our pioneers — James White, Uriah Smith, Joseph Bates and others — referred to Joel 2:23-32 almost every time they defended the preaching ministry of Ellen White. “In the last days … I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”
Our pioneers argued that the presence of Spirit-filled Seventh-day Adventist women preachers was a sign that these were the last days and that the Advent message was God’s message:
“And inasmuch as both males and females are mentioned in the prophecy, we understand that all the different operations of the Spirit there mentioned are to be exercised by them indiscriminately” (Uriah Smith, Review and Herald, June 12, 1866).
Ten years later, our earliest female preacher, Ellen White, commented:
“Women can be the instruments of righteousness, rendering holy service. It was Mary that first preached a risen Jesus” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 2, 1879).
And a few sentences later: “If there were twenty women where now there is one, who would make this holy mission their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. The refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth.”
When I read the whole article, I notice that Ellen White is urging every form of ministry — giving Bible studies, selling religious books, assisting husbands who were pastors, telling Bible stories to children, or serving as preachers and evangelists — whatever each woman’s family responsibilities permit.
We will have many important discussions in the weeks ahead. Please pray with me that the Spirit of Jesus will be noticeable in all our conversations. And pray that we will all keep our eyes on the goal, “many more converted to the truth,” so Jesus can return, bringing life, healing and harmony to this world.