A contentious five-year battle over the ordination of women as Seventh-day Adventist ministers ended Wednesday with a 58 percent "no" vote at the group's quinquennial business session in San Antonio, Texas.
While many on both sides of the Adventist women's ordination question were affirming of the ministry roles women play in the 18 million-member denomination, that approbation stopped at allowing any of the group's 13 world regions to ordain women. For 152 years, Seventh-day Adventists have only ordained men as pastors, although several areas had within the past five years voted to ordain women.
The vote places Adventism alongside other Christian groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Orthodox Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in not ordaining women. Mainline Protestant churches, including the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Episcopal Church, ordain women to ministry, as does The Salvation Army, an evangelical movement.
Following a resolution proposed at the 2010 Adventist business session in Atlanta, the movement established a "Theology of Ordination Study Committee," which held several meetings over a two-year period. The group, drawn from a wide range of leaders, considered numerous study papers and came up with proposals that were condensed into the resolution that was voted on Wednesday.
According to the Adventist News Network, the resolution read, "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."
Ellen G. White, whose writings were cited in the resolution, was a pioneering co-founder of the Adventist movement that was formally organized as a church in 1863. White, believed by Adventists to have exercised the "spirit of prophecy" during her years of ministry, never claimed ordination, although various papers exist stating she held "ordained minister" credentials, according to the Ellen G. White Estate.
Some 2,363 ballots were cast on the resolution, with 977 voting "yes," or for women's ordination, and 1,381 voting "no," or against. Former Adventist church president Pastor Jan Paulsen made an impassioned floor speech in favor of the resolution, while current president Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson told delegates his "rather well-known" views against women's ordination "are biblically based."
According to Religion News Service, one young female Adventist leader spoke against the measure.
"I am a young woman, a young adult, an ethnic minority and a leader of one of the largest youth movements in Adventism," said Natasha Nebblett, president of Generation of Youth for Christ, to delegates. "God has already called me to work for him and that is all the calling that I need."
The Washington Post quoted Bonnie Dwyer, who edits an independent Adventist magazine called Spectrum, as saying the vote had less significance than some suggested. "I don’t know if it makes a huge difference to women in this part of the world — except in how you feel," Dwyer said. "But it shuts down the people in Africa rather significantly," where Dwyer claimed there was a move toward ordaining women.
Once the totals were announced, Pastor Wilson urged parties on both sides to "press together" in unity.
"How important it is for us to avoid controversy, since the mission of the church is at stake," said Wilson, who last week was re-elected to a second five-year term as president of the global church. "Let us unite under Christ's leadership."