A special July 29 constituency meeting called by the Columbia Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted a resolution: “That the Columbia Union Conference authorize ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.”
Using secret ballots, delegates from the eight conferences of the union’s mid-Atlantic United States territory voted 209 in favor and 51 opposed, with nine abstentions. The Columbia Union says it has 135,000 members in more than 700 congregations.
According to a statement issued by the Columbia Union Conference late Sunday, the union executive committee will no longer deny requests from conferences to ordain proven female ministers to the gospel ministry, but their calling will be fully recognized on par with their male counterparts.
“This is not an easy time for the church, but it is the time for the church,” said Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president, following the vote. “We are part of the worldwide church, and we are united in the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Dan Jackson, North American Division president, cautioned, “What we are doing here today not only will impact us personally and as a union but will also impact our world church. I want to say that our primary accountability is to God.”
In extended remarks, Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson appealed to delegates not to move forward with the motion but to wait for the results of a worldwide study of ordination approved last October by the church’s Executive Committee, and expected in 2014.
“I come to you today because I care about matters of conscience,” he said. “I come to you because I care about the unity of the church at large.”
Lowell Cooper, a general vice president of the world church, challenged the premise that union conferences are authorized to make the kind of change envisioned under current denominational polity. “The idea that the authority and responsibility of one type of organization in the world family can be exercised autonomously and unilaterally is a concept alien to the ethos and practices of the [Seventh-day Adventist] Church,” he told the delegates.
Bill Miller, president of the Potomac Conference and chair of the ad hoc committee tasked with studying this issue, started his presentation of the committee’s report by reiterating that he was a “loyal member of God’s remnant church.” He then recounted the church’s history of discussions and decisions on the issue of ordaining women to gospel ministry.
Shortly after noon, Weigley, who chaired the special session, opened the floor for constituent input. Delegates quickly formed three long lines at the microphones. Many voiced their belief that all whom the Holy Spirit has clearly called to ministry should be ordained without regard to gender, though several admitted to being conflicted.
Larry Boggess, president of the Mountain View Conference, whose executive committee released a statement opposing the motion, said, “Lest it be misunderstood, I love you, too, even though I disagree with you. If we say we are the body of Christ, then we would act in unity. What we do today will not generate thousands of new members.”
Following the vote, Rick Remmers, president of the Chesapeake Conference, commented, “I appreciated greatly the spiritual tone set today and sensed the love and loyalty for our church.”
“I am so proud to be part of a historic day in the Columbia Union,” said Deborah Hill, a member of the Allegheny West Conference. “We voted on the right side of history and will work very hard to unify not only our union but to work more closely with the General Conference.”
-- with reporting by Taashi Rowe