The Danish Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a constituency session yesterday (May 12) voted to end gender as a consideration in the appointment of pastors. In what was evidently an attempt to avoid direct confrontation with the General Conference administration while maintaining the principle of equality, the delegates also voted to suspend all ordinations until after the 2015 GC Session, at which it is the intention of the denomination's leadership to reconcile the ongoing tensions on this topic.
Five other union conferences have previously voted to change the policy against the ordination of women employed by the denomination as pastors. The North German Union Conference, the Columbia Union Conference and the Pacific Union Conference in the United States, the Netherlands Union Conference and the Norwegian Union Conference have all taken similar stands. In the U.S. many women pastors have already been ordained or issued ministerial credentials, while Adventist Today has received no reports of this happening in Europe to date.
The statement voted at the constituency session in Denmark includes a clear and simple statement of a theology of ordination rooted in a creationist doctrine of humanity and the Adventist understanding of the sanctuary. "According to the Seventh-day Adventist Church´s belief in creation ... God has created mankind–man and woman–in His image and therefore equal," the statement begins. "Because of sin, God instituted a special priesthood reserved for men [which] with its sacrifices ... found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is no longer any special priesthood. Jesus Christ is our only true priest ... in the true temple in heaven."
The statement continues, "All of Christ's followers–both men and women–were lifted up to be a 'chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, to declare His praises' (1 Peter 2:9). This royal priesthood has a common purpose, namely to proclaim the gospel. This ministry is based on the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit gives equally to men and women (1 Corinthians 12). Paul mentions some specific grace-based ministries in the Church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:7-16)."
Based on this theology of ordination, the delegates adopted a policy that "the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Denmark will not distinguish between genders when appointing pastors, and wishes to see equality between genders in all areas of responsibility." And, it "will suspend the ordaining of any new pastors until the General Conference session in 2015."
The simplicity and fundamental Bible teachings about ordination in this statement "really bring into question the need for the study that the GC has underway," a retired church administrator told Adventist Today. "This document clearly shows what the biblical, Adventist theology must be on this subject."
Addendum on May 15
An Adventist Today reporter talked with Pastor Thomas Muller, president of the Danish Union Conference. Muller said that this topic has been discussed there for a long time. In the fall of 2012 the youth advisory council of the union conference presented a document to the union executive committee asking that a decision be made about ordination. At about the same time at least one of the pastors wrote a letter making the same request.
The union executive committee appointed a theological study committee which met four or five times and brought back a draft of the document which was eventually voted by the constituency delegates. The union executive committee was nearly unanimous in recommending the document to the constituency session. Only one or two members voted against it or turned in a blank paper ballot.
The vote at the constituency session was 104 in favor of extending ordination to women and 31 against. Most of the 31 who voted against the ordination of women pastors are against women serving in any leadership role in the church despite the fact that women have been serving as local elders, pastors and in other leadership roles in the Adventist Church in Denmark for some time.
The final paragraph suspending ordinations until after the 2015 GC Session was not part of the draft document recommended to the delegates. It was added from the floor during the discussion.
There are four or five young pastors who would normally be ordained in the next two years, and two of them went to the microphone during the discussion and volunteered to wait until their colleagues who are women can also be ordained. There are three women employed by the Danish Union Conference as ministers. Two of these lead local churches and one serves as director of famly ministries. All three are seminary graduates.
Of the 2,500 members of the Adventist Church in Denmark, Muller estimated that maybe 50 to 70, at most 100 are against women's ordination. "Especially among young people, its such an ethical issue," said Muller. "This is about equality. Women are doing the work of pastors, and this is about recognizing and supporting their work. Denmark has a culture of gender equality. The Lutheran Church in Denmark first ordained a woman for ministry in 1948."
"We come from a culture where equality is very highly respected," Muller reflected. "We're struggling as a church to defend our position among Danes." Some Adventists in Denmark don't want to wait for the GC to approve ordination for women, Muller told Adventist Today. "They want to move ahead with ordination now."
But, "we are not moving to action with this document. We are just defining our position. ... It is our intent to send a signal to the rest of the world church. ... We would be satisified if ordination for women would be opened up either on a union or divison basis. We respect that in some cultures it is not fitting for women to be pastors."
It was also important to take this step for the younger generation of Danish Adventists. "They need to know were the Church in Denmark is headed, even though the world Church may be heading in another direction. We can't afford to wait another two years [because] there are young women thinking about studying theology. We need more female pastors."
No one from the GC was present at the constituency session. The president and treasure of the Trans-European Division were at the meeting. The official news service of the GC, the Adventist News Network (ANN) reported the position paper voted by the delegates.
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