Unity: a step forward

Last week the Adventist Review—the more or less official journal of the Adventist world—published a remarkable article about the questions that continue to stir the emotions in the Adventist Church. How do we proceed with the issue of the ordination of female pastors? And, an even more pressing question: Should the church take disciplinary measure against unions and conferences that, against the will of the General Conference, have decided to ordain women to the gospel ministry?

During the Autumn Council of 2017 the executive committee of the GC (of which all union president are members) a plan that had been devised by the top leadership of the church to punish the leaders of those organizations that do not abide by the church’s policies, was rejected after a lot of commotion. The majority of the 250- member committee was dissatisfied with the process that led to the proposal and considered the proposal itself as not carefully thought-through or even totally unacceptable.

The article in the denominational journal explained the process that must now lead to a new proposal that may go on the agenda of the Autumn Council in October of this year. It is hopeful that the church’s journal was quick to publish this article, giving all the details, and also that the committee that is dealing with this matter wants to guarantee absolute openness and transparency. The previous chairman of the Unity Oversight Committee, Tom Lemon, left this position. It remains unclear whether or not he did so under pressure from ‘on high’. He has now been replaced by Michael Ryan, a veteran church administrator, whom I know reasonable well and whom I would want to characterize as a no-nonsense pragmatist (which is not the same as saying that he is not spiritual or a politician!). In the process of preparing a new proposal, in order to break the current impasse, a broad inventory will be made of how leaders at all denominational levels think that the ‘non-compliant’ unions must be dealt with. A list with six questions had already been sent to all union president. They are asked to indicate what, in their view, should happen with those ‘non-compliant’ unions.

It is too early to predict whether this new approach will bring us forward. Personally, I would have preferred if the church at the General Conference level had opted for a more relaxed attitude. Would it not be possible to allow the passage of time to do its work? In the past there have often been significant developments, without endless meetings, congresses, study committees and GC-session votes. The matter of military service is a good example. There was a time when the SDA position was clear: Adventists are willing to respect the authorities, but carrying weapons and the possibility of having to use these for killing people, was considered as contrary to our understanding of the sixth commandment: ‘You shall not kill’. In some areas in the world this is still the Adventist position, but in other places Adventists more and more consider it an honor to defend their country, also in a combat role. I regret that development, but it shows that there may be a development in a certain area that leads to a diversity of practice, which can be absorbed by the church without too much tension.

Would it not be possible to allow unions, if they so desire, the freedom to operate with a one-credential-system, in which men and women have fully equal status and rights? And could we not allow other ‘fields’ in the world that disagree with such a development to continue with the traditional ordination practices? Can we not simply decide to see how matters will develop and re-evaluate the situation in a decade or so?

Some may object and say: Must we take so much time? I realize it is in the Adventist DNA to want to do things quickly. However, church history teaches us that ecclesial processes may take a long time. In the Eastern Orthodox world that question of the correct Easter date has always been a dilemma. One committee that was set up to discuss this question held annual sessions for over fity years! I admit: that maybe too long to our taste. But it seems a good thing to me to give ourselves—and first and foremost the Spirit—a bit more time than we are accustomed to do.