The women's ordination debate has managed to completely fracture the SDA Church within 10 years’ time - we have been warned in advance. In October 2011, a time bomb was laid under the foundations of our church and now, going into the Annual Council in October 2017, that thing is about to go off. Watching as a lay member from the sidelines, I see very disturbing developments.
The unity is now openly being threatened by statements made by often retired, "inviolable" former church leaders who unite in lobbying bulwarks of influence. The reactions seem to be desperate and frantic — and their actions seem to be not well thought through before taken.
Many have bent over this issue for years; there have been many prayer sessions, studies, meetings, papers written, urgent calls made, conflicts of conscience expressed by both sides, but nevertheless rebellion is reaching its climax.
This discussion is none other than a power clash at the top levels of the Church – and with this I specifically mean the conference and union presidents's level – not the people at the headquarters in Silver Spring. Some, a minority in the second administrative level are fighting against the decisions of the World Church in session. The lay people are sadly caught in the vortex. After all, it is the conference and union leaders who (may) choose their desired delegates, without consultation of the members, and take them to the AC or GC meetings to decide on Church policy. There seems to be little or no consideration at all for the people in the pews.
The fact is that this entire discussion has been conducted for years from a wrong point of view and therefore there are only losers. Because we have apparently forgotten in this whole controversy that we have taught our members and argued with good arguments that the Bible is and must always be the basis for faith and conscience.
In that Bible, principles come forth that, I think, are very obvious. There are literal references to the specified positions of men and women in the church setting. In addition, there are clear evidences of "calling without distinction by gender or even age" - prophets and proclaimers (and even a military leader).
Stepping over the established boundaries was strictly condemned by God. A prophet is not a priest or elder or deacon; a king has another distinctive task. The only female queen had a usurped position, which was clearly rejected.
With that basis for conscience, we are all members of a Church, in which some actually want to tell us that we have always read and understood the Word wrongly and that it does not state what it says. The fact is that the majority of the world Church does not accept that new (critical) reading.
The fact is that the roles in the Church are reversed. For more than 150 years, the Western part set the standards to the world church; the Western part no longer has this position, simply because their voice is toned down in the joint decision-making process. The only thing Western part has to put in is money, and some people use it as an inappropriate weapon in this discussion.
An increasing majority of the world Church has a great conscience problem when they hear it said that we can no longer trust "it is written." And this is an understanding and a consideration missed by the advocates of women's ordination - they present their minority stance as a norm.
What are we talking about? Women can do everything, as everyone can in God's vineyard, but "everything is not useful or does not edify" and it is the Lord Himself who assigns the positions, as He has always done. Our Church has nothing against women in certain leadership positions - to say that, is purely untrue - but we must realize that the fact that I can do something, or even better, does not give me any rights to force that position.
There are many who do a job for which they are not qualified; There are many who do not work in areas which they are extremely qualified, looking from a human point of view. That anomaly applies to gender, age or ethnic origin.
In fact, we also see in the Bible that God makes many other judgments about qualifications and calling. Who denies Him that right? In the world, many of us would have something to say about the leadership in the company we work in, but fact is that we are not "the boss", even though we think we could do better. Perhaps the parallel does not fit completely (comparisons often don’t), but the relevant questions are and remain the same:
1) If the old reading of the Bible texts is no longer correct, who determines what the new reading is?
2) Who judges the conscience of the "old-fashioned" readers?
3) Are women in the Church unnecessary unless they are ordained?
4) Based on what criterion does the conscience function, according to the Bible or our western cultural standards? In either case, you can get into conscience conflicts, but in a biblical setting it can be made objective.
5) On what basis should we judge the conscience of ourselves (anyone can only judge his / her own conscience) in this matter, as Seventh-day Adventists?
6) What is the alternative - do we have a better alternative decision-making process, what does that mean, and is that better?
7) Do we want to be like the evangelical churches, where the pastor and the most direct group who agrees with him / her are the norm? Congregationalism?
8) Can we together define a new definition for "unity" that is in harmony with the heartbreaking prayer of Jesus in John 17?
Everybody, lay and leader, ought to think about these eight questions, and not only the implications for today, but also in the future (if we still have one …). With the correct answer and keeping in line with the way we agreed to be a Church, this dispute would soon be resolved. I hope ...
A Four Step Plan I don't pretend to have all the answers, but maybe the following can contribute to a healing of our illness.
If we can decide that we want to be another Church, fragmented, and decide on the basis of the influence and power of a minority group, then we must establish that new structure first. After all, "you do not throw away an old shoe before you get new." Such a far-reaching change of structure cannot be an Annual Council decision, and not even a GC decision alone, because it affects the conscience of many more people than those of the group that wants the change.
Step 1: There must be a well-founded and up-to-date members survey, with centrally formulated questions, and information packages, only to be translated by the respective unions and conferences. Make a short and brief summary of TOSC, readable to the large public audience (let the TOSC committee do it within 6 months of October 2017, and also compile the survey and create additional information package).
Step 2: Let each Division coordinate the correct translation of the material and the survey through specially appointed (independent) translation committees of the various Unions. And that the unions put out the short survey and the collected forms to the Divisions (in some areas, an on-line survey with login code can work well and efficiently).
Step 3: Let the proponents stop from framing their brothers with incorrect information, suspicions and defaming of the leadership set above them. Let them, as former or employed shepherds and administrators, demonstrate their exemplary function and behave accordingly. Because the spirit we have seen over the past 10 years is a disgrace.
Step 4: Let the outcome of this international survey be the basis for a final advisory report at AC 2019 and a final decision at GC 2020.
But then . . . I doubt if a further prolongation will benefit the Church.
If we should come to the conclusion now, that all is said that could be said, (between 1973 and 2016 there were twenty official decisions on this issue, and not counting Division resolutions); if we should conclude that all studies are done that could be done, If we decide that we don't want to be another Church, don't want to be governed by the inclinations of a few,
Lets get it over with
Let's be brave and vote on removing from position and disfellowshipping those who damage the Church as we did with Desmond Ford.
The World Church in session, the Executive Committee in session, has this authority. With that, we don't condemn people to hell, we simply remove their influence from the Church, that we may go forward.
In order to preserve "the children God has given us to protect" (Jer.13:20), we must - so that we can get back to work with the task that God has given us "you shining in your little corner and me in mine." Heaven is ordained to be our ultimate reward.
If we fail to be decisive, the chaos will be complete after October 2017. I do not think it would be to the honor of the Lord of the Church, nor could He confirm inaction as a holy calling. If we fail to act, we may pray what we want, but heaven will be of copper (Deut. 28:15-23).
Ingrid A. Wijngaarde is a biologist and a member of Groningen SDA Church in The Netherlands.