Each year following the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee, the 13 world divisions of the church meet for their own year-end councils, where advancement of mission, financial trends, policy adjustments, and strategic planning occur. These items absorb the attention and time of each division’s Executive Committee for meetings that range for as few as three and as many as six days.
This year, some of the world divisions also considered their responses to the decisions made by the GC Executive Committee at its Battle Creek meeting. Below is summary article of those responses. ~ Editors
On Sunday, October 14, 2018, following more than five hours of presentations and discussion, delegates to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s annual meeting of its full Executive Committee approved a recommendation from the church’s Unity Oversight Committee (UOC) to create a new compliance process to assist with implementing church policies and voted actions.
In part, the document aims to address the lack of compliance of some church entities after the world church vote in 2015, in which the proposed authorization of individual world church divisions to ordain women within their territories was voted down.
Since the endorsement of the document entitled Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions (informally called “the compliance document”), world church regions, called “divisions,” have shared the document at their regional Executive Committee meetings. Church regions have reacted to the document in a variety of ways.
Some of the divisions endorsed the document and voted to accept it within their territories, while others asked the General Conference (GC) of the world church for further clarifications, or expressed disagreement with the letter and the spirit of the document voted. Other divisions did not release an official response to the compliance document, or at least did not communicate it on their respective news sites. Most of the divisions, however, did repost the news reports by Adventist Review, Adventist World, andAdventist News Network about the decisions made in Battle Creek and subsequent documents released by the leaders of the world church.
In a similar vein, after division year-end meetings, a few union conferences within divisions produced and voted official documents responding to the October 14 vote in Battle Creek.
As part of their historic mission to share impartial and helpful information with Seventh-day Adventists around the world, Adventist Review and Adventist World are providing brief reviews of the positions adopted by world church divisions, arranged in chronological order. Only divisions that made their position available through their official media outlets are included. Within some divisions, we also include a sample of the positions of some unions—those that made their views officially available.
Links to the relevant news stories on the website of each division that adopted a position are included below.
The following review should not be considered definitive or comprehensive; it is a general survey of the responses of church regions in 2018.
Trans-European Division (TED)
Just nine days after the Battle Creek vote, the TED news site shared a pastoral message from TED president Raafat Kamal. In it, Kamal wrote that “the recent discussion and vote in Battle Creek has created difficult and conflicting emotions for many of our members — children, youth, pastors, and leaders.” And he added, “While the process voted on Sunday, October 14 is focused around a concept of unity, the current feedback and discussions with pastors, laity and across social media appear to be pointing in another direction.”
In the next paragraph, Kamal summarized the majority position within the region he leads: “I want you to know that the Trans-European Division continues to recognize the call of both men and women to serve God, including to the Gospel Ministry, a position we believe to be in harmony with the teachings of Holy Scripture. We understand that all spiritual gifts are given for building up the church, without regard to gender. We come to this understanding, not for the luxury of being right or winning an argument, but because of our Mission to connect, inspire and change the people of Europe. We will not let the recent decisions distract us from this.”
A month later, TED year-end meetings took place in Bečići, Montenegro, November 21-25. On November 22, TED news reported a vote taken by members of the Executive Committee earlier that day, centered on a four-point document “aimed at supporting women who serve in roles of leadership and ministry.” Among the document’s recommendations, one requests that the General Conference vote “an official statement endorsing women in ministry and leadership.” Executive Committee members also voted to ask the GC Church Manual Committee to indicate in the Church Manual that the term elder “is inclusive of both male and female,” and also a plan to support the ministerial education of women within their territory.
North American Division (NAD)
Three weeks after the Battle Creek vote, on Sunday, November 4, 2018, at the NAD Executive Committee meetings in Columbia, Maryland, United States, the chair opened the floor to discuss the delegates’ response to the compliance document. Regarding an official response, NAD president Daniel Jackson said leaders would not present delegates with a ready-made document, but that any document developed would incorporate the ideas suggested by the majority of the delegates through a writing committee.
On November 6, the drafted response was read and discussed on the floor for several hours, with delegates speaking both in favor of and in opposition to the draft.
In its stated position, the NAD response says that the document voted in Battle Creek “is not consistent with the biblical model of the church,” and adds, “We simply cannot, in good conscience, support or participate in the implementation of the process outlined … as it is contrary to the spirit of respect and collaboration taught in the Bible.”
After suggestions of minor modifications and edits, Executive Committee members approved the final response document by a vote of 176-48.
In the following weeks, some union conferences and conferences within the territory also voted response documents to the GC action, most of them carefully expressing disagreement with the compliance document voted at Battle Creek or stating what they consider a different way forward. Among them was the Mid-America Union Conference, which reported that on November 16, delegates to the year-end meetings passed a motion to include in its 2021 Constituency Session agenda an item “stating the desire to provide ordination opportunities for all pastors in Mid-America, both male and female.”
In the December 2018 issue of the Pacific Union Conference Recorder, union church leaders shared a statement released a month earlier that expresses support for the NAD response regarding the compliance document, and states, “We are resolved in our commitment to ordain women and men equally.”
On November 21, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada reported on a November 18 vote by its Board of Directors. In it, the board affirms the votes by the world church that support the ministry of women, “which is being expressed and will be evidenced in the varied and expanding gifts according to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.” The vote also reaffirms that “every Bible-believing man, woman, and child of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada is part of the priesthood of believers and is commissioned by Jesus to focus on the soul-winning mission of the church,” and asks every church organization to prayerfully find a way to unity.
Inter-European Division (EUD)
EUD Executive Committee meetings took place concurrently with the NAD meetings on November 1-6. Adventist Church president Ted N. C. Wilson attended the regional business meetings in Rome, Italy.
The regional communication department did not report the voting of any specific response document. Two weeks after the meetings, however, the department shared that at some point during the business sessions, the Battle Creek document was discussed on the floor.
According to EUD communication director Corrado Cozzi, several delegates who approached the microphones agreed that the compliance question is complex and should not be oversimplified. Delegates also said that many local churches have been experiencing polarization between extremes lately, and that “the creation of this document had brought additional turmoil” even to local churches.
Some delegates also suggested that if the church is a body, attention should be given to every member, including those who are in the minority camp (those who do not support the position of the compliance document).
Wilson, who was present during the discussion, took time to reply to some of the questions and observations made. He assured delegates that the world church administration would continue an open dialogue with the world field.
Inter-American Division (IAD)
With President Wilson in attendance, the IAD Executive Committee meetings took place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the weekend of November 11-12. According to published reports on the proceedings, Wilson took time to elaborate on the need for the church to be united, specifically in the aftermath of the Battle Creek vote. “One of the beauties in the Seventh-day Adventist Church … is that policies are the framework on how we are to go together,” he said. He also thanked the IAD body “for the strong support in promoting the unity of the church.”
According to the IAD reports, IAD president Elie Henry told executive committee members that “the church in Inter-America will continue to move forward in unity” as it increases its evangelistic efforts in the region.
South American Division (SAD)
The SAD news agency reported on November 13 that a day earlier, during the regional year-end meetings in Brasilia, Brazil, Executive Committee members voted to endorse the compliance document voted in Battle Creek in October.
According to the report, SAD president Erton Köhler said that unity is essential, not only theologically but also in complying with world church decisions. Otherwise, he said, “we would become congregationalist or independent.”
No discussion on the motion was reported.
South Pacific Division (SPD)
SPD Executive Committee meetings took place November 14-15 in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia. In the context of the compliance document and the role of women in ministry, the Adventist Record reported on November 16 that the South Pacific region “[remained] committed to women’s ordination and [would] ask the GC to put the issue back on the agenda.”
The Record also reported a formal response to the voted compliance document. Part of it states that the SPD “has been and remains willing to work within the will and policy of the world church.” It resolves, however, “to continue to encourage and support the empowerment of women in fulfilling the gospel commission and being employed in ministry and leadership positions.” It also pledged “to continue to influence the church … to recognize and utilize women who have been called … and who are gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit as evidenced by their fruitfulness in ministry.”
On November 19, the Record further reported that as an extension of the General Conference in this region, the SPD must deliver GC decisions to the administrative units in its territory. This was done, the Record report said, “although with some concern expressed in the voted actions, highlighting the implications [that] policy and word changes would have.” According to the same source, “delegates passed a resolution to ask the GC for exemptions” that would take into account the reality of the region and “the increased risk of liability and litigation at all levels … if key constitutional structure policy is changed.”
In the coming months, as more information becomes available, Adventist Review will continue reporting on further developments related to the Annual Council vote across these and other church regions.