I asked myself: Do I want to write something about the tragedy that took place this past Tuesday in the main auditorium of the headquarters building of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring? Has not enough been said already on the various social media? Perhaps everything that can be said has already been said. And yet, this is such a sad event, that distresses me so much, that I cannot remain totally silent. My naturally optimistic and hopeful self gave way to a sense of despair. Where is my church going? Where will it end? And how many will decide that enough is enough, and that they must find another spiritual home.
Some have said that the outcome could have been much worse. The system of non-compliance committees, that was pushed through last year’s Autumn Council, has so far remained a dead letter. The GC president complained that, unfortunately, many around the world have misrepresented the intention of these committees. On Tuesday he did his best to downplay the importance of these committees. They were supposed to be only advisory! But, the top leadership of the church (although it is not clear how many at the church’s headquarters actually agree with the president’s strategy) did not want to let the matter of non-compliance with regard to the ordination of women rest. Something had to be done to shame and discipline the leaders in the six unions in the USA and Europe, who were held responsible for the fact that their unions are supposedly non-compliant. And so, a majority of the members of the GC executive committee voted to issue an official warning to the presidents of the Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and North-German unions as well as to the presidents of the Pacific Union and the Columbia Union.
What does it mean that these men have received a warning? Not all that much. In fact, the General Conference leadership cannot do very much to make these men (yes, they are all men!) tow the line. Only their constituencies can remove them from their office. And that is not going to happen any time soon. They are all highly respected leaders in their areas of the world. They will bear the distinction of being warned as a badge of honor.
As I think about the events of last Tuesday, I have a number of questions:
1. Why did so very few GC leaders and division officers come to the microphones and protest against what was happening? I know from personal contacts with quite a few of them that there is a lot of “in-house” resentment against the persistent anti-women-ordination strategy. Why did they not have the courage to step forward. Do some perhaps fear for their job?
2. Why was the president of the union where I have long worked and where my membership is, not among the group that was warned? The Netherlands Union started on the path of implementing full gender equality, but then got cold feet. Is it not time to once again let principle rule over polity?
3. Could this be the time for some other unions in the USA, Europe, Australia and elsewhere to do what they have long wanted to do: do justice to their women pastors and treat them as Fundamental Belief no. 14 (about the full equality of all human beings) prescribes?
As I was watching the live stream of the proceedings of Tuesday afternoon, I regretted that I am retired and can no longer participate in the decision making process of the church and make myself heard in this committee. Looking back I wonder whether Jan Paulsen, our previous church president, could not have pushed a little harder to get the ordination of women accepted. And I also wonder whether I was courageous enough in those days, when I was a church administrator in the Trans-European Division and subsequently in the Netherlands Union, and could not have done more to advance the cause of gender equality in my part of the world. Well, it is too late to do anything about this. The only thing I can (and will) do is encourage those leaders who have been ‘warned’ and plead with others to be courageous and to accept the risk being ‘warned.’