General Conference Session: Delegates Restrict Top Post to Ordained Clergy

July 5, 2005 St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

58th General Conference Session in St. Louis, USA (2005)

The world presidency of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will be held only by an “ordained minister of experience,” delegates to the movement’s 58th General Conference Session voted in a change to the church’s constitution and bylaws on July 5.

The vote comes barely more than 48 hours after delegates voted in Dr. Ella Louise Simmons, most recently a vice president and provost of La Sierra University, as the first woman to hold a general vice presidency of the world church.

“Why vote a policy that from the beginning excludes more than half our leadership; telling the church that even if God calls another Ellen White, she is excluded,” asked Simmons’ former colleague, La Sierra University president Larry Geraty. “Let us stand for inclusion, as has been advocated in our leadership session [today]. Let us not tie God’s hands.”

Another delegate, Harlin Abayon, who is also assistant majority leader of the Philippines House of Representatives, told the session he opposed the move: “We were performing well even without this provision. We will foreclose the powers of the nominating committee to decide among the best to be the president of the [world church].”

Others were supportive of the measure: Abraham Isaac Canteros Bascur from the Southern Asia church region noted that the writings of Ellen G. White “state clearly that God has a church and ministry designed by Him. All areas of the work of God belong in regards to supervision to the ministers, and when it talks about ministers, it speaks about ordained ministers.”

Among supporters, some said opponents of the restriction were attempting a backdoor entry for the ordination of women, a controversial issue in the Adventist world family.

“I do not think we should sacrifice the need for ordination to the top leadership position by arguing for inclusion or by arguing that such a provision excludes the women. That issue must be addressed by revisiting the issue of ordination, if necessary,” said John Fowler, associate education director of the world church.

Opposing the measure, Dr. Lisa Beardsley of Loma Linda University said that a world church president “must have a shepherd’s heart for the worldwide church, be a visionary, adept administrator, [and be a] compelling communicator.” She asserted that such experience can come from experiences other than ordained ministry, such as chaplaincy, education and medical ministry.

Despite such arguments — and support from young delegates — the definition change passed.

Mark A. Kellner/ANN