Timeline: The Road to Ordination
Timeline: The Road to Ordination
Adventists have studied women’s ordination for more than 130 years. To understand the issue more fully, follow the journey from our pioneer days to today.
1880s: A number of women served as pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Between 1872 and 1945, at least 31 women carried ministerial licenses.
1881: At the GC Session on December 5, a motion was made to ordain women to gospel ministry. "Resolved, That females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry." It was reported in Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1881, but the item was referred to the GC Committee.
1890: Fifteen percent of church administrative positions in North American are held by women.
1895: In a July 9 Review and Herald article, Ellen White wrote that some women should be set apart for service in the church by “prayer and laying on of hands.”
1950: On May 3, GC officers discussed ordination. “A. V. Olson explained statement from the pen of Sister White, as found in the Review and Herald of July 9, 1895, has been understood by some to provide for the ordination of certain sisters in church service. After some discussion, it was ‘Agreed, To recommend to the General Conference Committee following the session that a small committee be appointed to study and report on this question’” (Minutes, GC Officers Meeting, May 3, 1950).
1968: In April General Conference Officers vote to include the subject of women’s ordination on the agenda for 1968 Autumn Council and to appoint a study committee. By September General Conference officers appointed a study committee on “the theology of ordination of women.”
1970: On June 5, GC officers discussed role of women and agreed to appoint “an adequate committee to consider this large topic … and to submit a report for consideration at the 1970 Autumn Council” (Minutes, GC Officers Meeting, June 5, 1970).
1972: The first woman was ordained as a local church elder. General Conference officers refer the issue of ordaining women to ministry to the Biblical Research Committee.
1973: Requests from two overseas divisions for further study, the rediscovery of Ellen White’s 1895 quotes on ordaining women, and the employment of several women as pastors at Adventist churches led the church to establish two study committees. In July the GC Committee established an ad hoc committee to study the role of women in the church and ordination.
In September the Council on the Role of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church met. Known as the “Mohaven Committee” because they convened at Ohio Conference’s Camp Mohaven in Danville, the group consisted of 13 men and 14 women who published 29 “Mohaven Papers” and recommended that women be ordained as local church elders and that those with theological training be employed as associates in pastoral care. The group also proposed that a pilot program be developed to lead to ordination by 1975.
1973: In October the Annual Council voted to accept the Mohaven Committee’s report, that “continued study be given to the theological soundness of the election of women to local church offices which require ordination” and “that in areas receptive to such action, there be continued recognition of the appropriateness of appointing women to pastoral evangelistic work.”
1974: At Annual Council attendees voted to continue studying the theological issues, saying, “The time is not ripe nor opportune” to ordain women to gospel ministry.
1975: At the March Spring Meeting, leaders recommended that the church stop granting women ministerial licenses (after 100 years) and instead grant missionary licenses. They also encouraged women to become Bible workers and assistant pastors and voted to permit ordination of deaconesses (reaffirmed in 1985 and 2010) and women elders (reaffirmed in 1984) with discretion.
1977: General Conference president Robert H. Pierson alerted Spring Meeting attendees that the role of women was under continuing study and a report would be given at the 1977 Annual Council. However, after a poll of the world field yielded negative response, it was deleted from the agenda.
1979: Annual Council voted 10 ministerial internships for women pastors and Bible instructors in North America.
1980s: First woman pastor ordained in China. See June 2012 article about China in the Visitor magazine.
1980: As the fifth priority in his keynote address at GC Session, new GC president Neal C. Wilson stated that “The church must find ways to organize and utilize the vast potential represented by our talented, consecrated women. I am not only urging that women be represented in the administrative structure of the church, but also that we harness the energies and talents of all the women so as to better accomplish the task of finishing the work assigned by our Lord.”
1984: Early in the year, three Potomac Conference women pastors, ordained as elders, held baptisms with the approval of the Columbia Union Conference. This swiftly brought ordination to the forefront again, and GC officers urged conference and union leaders to table further plans until they could convene a worldwide Biblical Research Institute study commission with representation from each division.
Although a 1979 action allowed non-ordained men to baptize, the 1984 Annual Council defeated the Potomac and Columbia Union request to allow women to baptize candidates in their own local churches with conference authorization. They did, however, reaffirm a 1975 decision to approve women elders to be ordained. In action 272-84GN (also noted in the GC Working Policy as BA 60 10) they voted “to advise each division that it is free to make provision as it may deem necessary for the election and ordination of women as local church elders.”*
1985: After weighing a proposal to ordain women pastors to the gospel ministry, GC delegates in New Orleans voted instead to study it further, reform ordination practices for men and provide “affirmative action” by placing qualified women in leadership roles that do not require ordination.
1985: September, GC Annual Council votes that women may work as ministers but should not expect to be ordained.
1985: Southeastern California Conference votes to end gender discrimination in pay and employment practices in their conference.
1987: Samuele Bacchiocchi, college teacher at Andrews University, self-publishes Women in the Church, a book that argues that Bible texts regarding male headship and male priesthood prohibit women from serving as elders or pastors today. Adventists Affirm, an independently published magazine, is created to promote headship theology and prevent the ordination of women.
1988: At a May meeting, NAD leaders called for an end to discriminatory policies affecting Adventist women in ministry. During the meeting in Loma Linda, Calif., they voted unanimously their objection to the current discrepancies in how the church treats men and women who have the same training and qualifications. Soon after, the Potomac Conference voted to cease discriminating against women in ministry and permit them, along with unordained males, to baptize and perform marriages in the local church.
1989: GC Annual Council delegates vote 187-97 in favor of accepting a two-pronged recommendation from a Cohutta Springs, Calif., Commission on the Role of Women in the Church—rejecting women’s ordination, but permitting qualified women to baptize and perform marriages.
1990: At GC Session in Indianapolis, delegates vote 1,173 to 377 to accept the 1989 commission and Annual Council’s recommendations that women not be ordained at this time. At Annual Council that October, they voted to authorize women to serve as pastors and authorized them to perform baptisms and marriages in some divisions.*
1995: Delegates to the GC Session in Utrecht, voted 1,481 to 673 to deny an NAD request to allow divisions to individually decide whether women should be ordained to the gospel ministry.
2000: Southeastern California Conference issues identical “ordained-commissioned” credentials to female and male ministers.
2005: GC Session votes policy restricting the position of conference presidents to ordained ministers, blocking women from being elected.
2009: October, at Year End meeting NAD votes to change E 60 in NAD policy to state that local conference presidents should be ordained or commissioned, opening door for women to be elected as conference presidents.
2010: On Feb. 6, Doug Batchelor, pastor in Sacramento, preaches sermon against women serving as pastors or in any position where they would lead or teach men.
2010: At the GC Session in Atlanta, delegates reaffirmed their 1985 decision to allow ordination of deaconesses. They also voted to ask world leaders to study a theology of ordination scheduled to be completed by the 2014 Annual Council.
2010: In July, at GC Session in Atlanta, Ray Hartwell, Pennsylvania Conference president, suggests that the church ask the Biblical Research Committee to work with the Adventist Theological Seminary to study the theology of ordination. Newly elected president, Ted Wilson, promises to address the theology of ordination before GC Session 2015. No mention is made of women’s ordination.
2010: October, at Year End meeting NAD affirms 2009 vote to change NAD policy E 60 to state that local conference presidents should be ordained or commissioned, opening door for women to be elected as conference presidents.
2011: September, GC Annual Council votes to establish the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) that will “involve all world divisions,” to meet January 2013 through June 2014 to study theology of ordination. No mention is made of women’s ordination.
2011: September, GC Annual Council votes to deny the NAD request to change the E 60 policy.
2011: October 31, at Year End meeting, NAD votes to affirm their previous action, changing E 60 in NAD policy to state that local conference presidents should be ordained or commissioned, opening door for women to be elected as conference presidents.
2011: November/December, GC leaders tell NAD leaders that the NAD cannot change E 60 without permission of GC because NAD does not have a separate constituency. Divisions are part of GC.
2012: January 3, in response to questions from NAD, GC legal counsel informs NAD leaders that divisions do not have authority to differ from GC policy because divisions are part of the GC and do not have separate constituencies. Therefore NAD must return to GC’s E 60 policy.
2012: January 31, NAD president issues letter of apology, stating that the NAD was in error in believing they could change E 60. In the same letter Dan Jackson states, on behalf of NAD leadership, that “the NAD and its Unions and Conferences (as local circumstances permit) must become more intentional in the development of pathways to ministry for female pastors. We must also develop intentional methods of mentoring women who can take on executive leadership positions within our conferences.”
2012: In January, NAD leaders ask unions to find ways to affirm women in ministry.
2012: March 8, Mid-America Union Executive Committee votes to ordain pastors without regard to gender. But the president then clarifies during the next few days they didn’t mean they were actually going to do it. Mid-America takes no action.
2012: March 15, Pacific Union Executive Committee establishes ad hoc ordination study committee and calls meeting of bylaws committee. Both committees are commissioned to explore how the Pacific Union can begin ordaining without regard to gender, without later having to reverse their action, as others had done.
QUESTIONS committees considered:
How much authority do the unions have? (A lot)
Is there a GC policy limiting ordinations to men? (No)
Can the executive committee approve ordinations of women withoutcalling a special constituency session to change the bylaws? (No)
What new words in the union bylaws would provide enough latitude from GC policy to ordain women without creating the impression that all GC policy would be ignored? (“generally” follow GC policy)
2012: March 18, Columbia Union Executive Committee establishes an ad hoc committee to study ways to affirm women in ministry and affirms “previous action requesting the NAD to grant ... permission to ordain women in ministry.”
2012: March 22, Southeastern California Conference executive committee votes to remove “Ordained-Commissioned” from all ministerial credentials and immediately issue “Ordained” credentials to all credentialed ministers, whether male or female.
2012: April 7, GC Annual Council “receives” and publishes document asserting that divisions cannot have policies different from GC policy because divisions don’t have bylaws or a constituency. In the same document, the GC reminds leaders around the world that unions do have bylaws and constituencies and that the “final authority and responsibility” for deciding who will be ordained in local conferences has been entrusted to the unions.
2012: April, The North German Union approves ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
2012: May 9, the Pacific Union Conference votes to call special constituency session to consider changing bylaws to say Pacific Union will “generally” follow GC policy. Before the special session, the executive committee adds separate vote for approval of ordinations without regard to gender.
2012: May 17, the Columbia Union Executive Committee votes to call a special constituency session.
June 2012: Columbia Union Visitor sparks global discussion about women’s ordination by publishing a special issue themed, “Weighing the Issues: Why We’re Advocating for Women’s Ordination.”
2012: July 29, at Columbia Union’s special constituency session, delegates approve ordination without regard to gender by a vote of 209 in favor, 51 opposed and 9 abstained, a ratio of 4 to 1. GC issues statement of condemnation.
2012: August 19, at the Pacific Union Conference special constituency session, the motion to change the bylaws, which requires a 2/3 majority vote, fails by 1 percent, but constituents vote (79 percent to 21 percent) to approve ordinations without regard to gender.
2012: Fall, Eighteen women are ordained as pastors in the Pacific and Columbia unions.
October 2012: General Conference Annual Council votes not to recognize ordinations of women pastors and calls for participation in worldwide TOSC study.
2012: In November Netherlands votes for women’s ordination. The action in part reads: “As quickly as possible and no later than six months following the 2015 General Conference Session equality between men and women will be implemented at all organizational levels of the church in the Netherlands.” (http://www.ted-adventist.org/news/adventist-church-session-in-denmark)
2013: In May the Danish Union votes to suspend all ordinations—of men and women—until after the General Conference session votes on the issue in 2015. (Read http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2013-05-14/danish-union-suspends-all-ministerial-ordination-until-2015/)
2013: Each of the 13 divisions of the worldwide church conducts a study of the theology of ordination and its practice in regard to women pastors and issues a recommendation; the NAD TOSC votes in favor by a vote of 182 in favor, 31 opposed, 3 abstained.
2013: In September the Netherlands Union Conference became the first in Europe to ordain a woman, Guisèle Berkel-Larmonie. (See http://www.adventist.nl/2013/07/06/netherlands-union-conference-votes-to-ordain-female-pastors/)
2013: Oct. 27, by a vote of 72 percent to 28 percent the Southeastern California Conference elects Sandra Roberts as (first female) conference president in the world. GC administration announces she will not be recognized by GC.
2014: January General Conference publishes 2014 Yearbook with blank line where name of president of SECC should be.
2014: June, Final TOSC report indicates that the committee failed to reach a consensus on what the Bible teaches on the ordination of women to ministry. Conclusions of members fall into three groups: Group One, those who believe that “headship” theology forbids women in any positions of leadership over men; Group Two, (the largest group) who believe the Bible supports ordaining women and that the women should be ordained wherever divisions, unions and conferences find this beneficial to the mission of the church; and a last-minute Group Three that accepts some ideas of headship theology but believes ordination of women is endorsed by the Bible, anyway. The two groups of TOSC members who find nothing biblically wrong with ordination of women are about 2/3 of the committee.
2014: In July the South African Union TOSC, concluded, “Ultimately, we believe that the church will fulfill its mission only when women are empowered to achieve their full potential.”
August 2014: The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary releases a statement affirming that Jesus Christ was and remains the only head of the church sparking increased debate on the role of men and women in the church; it is challenged and later reaffirmed.
2014: October at GC Annual Council, GC reports that TOSC did not produce consensus, but that the study process made it apparent that:
• the Bible can be used to support ordaining or not ordaining women to ministry,
• that people on both sides of the issue fully accept the Bible as the inspired word of God and as our only rule of faith and practice, and
• that people on both sides of the issue are in full support of the Seventh-day Adventist 28 Fundamental Beliefs.
GC and division officers declared unanimously that the issue cannot be decided theologically but will be decided through a process of church discussion and voting (ecclesiology). Delegates voted to place before GC Session the question: “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”
2014: At Annual Council, church leaders voted to adopt a consensus statement where they agree on the overall meaning of ordination. (https://www.adventistarchives.org/consensus-statement-on-a-seventh-day-adventist-theology-of-ordination.pdf)
2014: On November 2, the North American Division Committee votes a statement calling for education at all levels of the church and a resolution that we “govern our communication according to the highest standards of Christian conduct”
2015: In February Pranitha Fielder becomes the first Indian American woman to be ordained in the Potomac Conference.
Unknown Dates: The church in China, which has for decades employed and ordained women in compliance with government regulation, reports positive growth. There are at least 16 ordained women ministers in that country.
*These actions are examples of times when the world church authorized each division to decide whether or not to ordain women elders, and whether or not to allow women to baptize or perform marriages in their field.
Sources: “Ordaining Women to the Gospel Ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” compiled by North American Division Communication; “An Outline of the History of Seventh-day Adventists and the Ordination of Women” by Kit Watts (updated April 1995); “A Brief Outline of Early Seventh-day Adventist Church and Women in Ministry;” and “Women in Recent Adventist History” by Bert Haloviak, Adventist Review, May 1995, pp. 21-23.
Updated May 2015