I wrote in my previous blog about the last round in the meetings of the TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) and the confusion that has resulted from these deliberations. I also wrote that I have gradually concluded that it would be better not to put this item on the agenda of the Adventist world congress of next year, since I believe that both a decision ‘for’ as well as a decision ‘against’ might lead to very unfortunate situations. And my view that ordaining or not ordaining woman has much more to do with culture and tradition than with theology has been confirmed.
And why would we, in fact, need a vote of a world congress? The issue of ordination has a lot of aspects that have never been put to a vote during a world congress. For instance: How long must candidates for ordination wait until they will be ordained? World-wide practices differ sharply. In some areas new ministers are ordained as soon as they have successfully completed their internship. In other areas of the world they may have to wait up to ten years, and sometimes even longer. Which men are eligible for ordination? Only those pastors who are directly involved in pastoral and evangelistic work? Or can we also ordain theology teachers and church leaders with an administrative task, even if they may have had minimal theological training? There have been many differences in our practices. But we have never felt that we needed to regulate these things through a vote at a General Conference session.
I am a passionate supporter of the ordination of women. I wished we could all agree on this, rather today than tomorrow. (In my view any discrimination on the basis of gender is wrong, even sinful.) But even if next year’s world congress would open the possibility of ordaining female pastors, it will take many years before this would actually be a world-wide practice. One simply does not change this kind of tradition by making a large congress vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. These are complex processes that often require a lot of time.
In December 2012 I wrote an article in Ministry magazine, the journal for Adventist clergy. It focused on the question whether or not the next General Conference session should decide to sharpen the wording of the Fundamental Belief nr. 6 about Creation.  I argued strongly against this bureaucratic way of dealing with doctrinal issues. Much of what I said in that article would also apply to the issue of Women’s Ordination.
We can point to lots of things in our church life that developed over a considerable period of time and have (with our without a formal stamp of ecclesiastical approval) become part of what we do and believe. We may, for instance, think of how many of our views regarding sports, culture and recreation have changed. (See e.g. my blog of 21 February of this year about competitive sports.)
In the early days of Adventism there was little appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity. It would take dozens of years before the Adventist Church accepted the view that had long been standard doctrine in most Protestant churches. But there came a point when faith in the Trinity was so generally accepted in Adventism that it could become part of the Fundamental Beliefs. There was, however, no world congress where delegates from all over the world voted that henceforth we were all supposed to believe in the Trinity. This is simply not how it works!
What happens if next year we would not take a final vote on the ordination of women? As I said earlier, there will be church entities that will decide that in the future they will no longer allow for any gender difference in their ordination policies. And there will be union and divisions that will not (yet) go that route. But gradually the panels will shift. Undoubtedly, there will be persons (and groups) who will continue to protest, but the problems will, I believe, be far less serious than they would be after a ‘yes’, ‘no’, yes if’ or ‘no unless’ vote.
I realize that lots of things may yet happen before the delegates travel to St. Antonio. And in the mean time our attention will also be drawn to the reorganization of the church’s publishing work in North America–and possible to other matters.
And what about me? My wife and I are on our way back to the Netherlands—after a very pleasant and exciting three months in the US—with Hillary Clinton’s new book ‘Hard Choices’ in my hand luggage for reading on the plane, and looking forward to the ‘Orange’-enthusiasm of a country that hopes to be the soccer world champion. I know absolutely nothing about soccer, but I do understand that the Dutch team is already assured of a place among the last eight teams that will further compete in the quarter-finals, etc. The time for my first meeting on Dutch soil (Monday evening) has been changed because of the next game in which the Dutch will play. Temporarily, for most Dutch Adventists soccer is more important than any church business!