After the RMC Women's Ordination Vote: Where Do We Go from Here?
By: Keith Perris
Starting as far back as the 1960s, portions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including the North American Division (NAD), have been promoting what they say are much-needed reforms within the church: to allow women to be ordained: initially as Elders, and later as Pastors. The General Conference (GC) in Worldwide Session has addressed and decided against the ordination of women as Pastors — first in 1881, then in 1990, 1995, and 2015.
Despite this, the Mid-America Union Constituency, of which the Rocky Mountain Conference (RMC) is a part, voted to approve the ordination of women as Pastors on September 12, 2021.
After a motion to authorize ordination of women within the Rocky Mountain Conference passed by a margin of 59% to 41% on August 21, 2022, feelings on the part of faithful church members here who believe the ordination of women is not Biblical have run deep. There is a feeling of shame — that we now live within a Conference whose Constituency has officially voted to do what some see as entering into a state of rebellion against the Worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Accompanying the shame may be a sense of guilt, since we are members within this Conference, and we pay tithes and offerings which enable the work of the Conference to continue, and our contribution of these funds may be seen as contributing to or enabling this rebellion to continue. There is also a sense of foreboding, since we feel God cannot approve of this action and there are bound to be negative consequences in our future, be it pressure next to normalize people who are practicing members of the LGBTQ movement as church members and Church Officers and Pastors, or possible disciplinary action by the World Church, or trials that may be sent by God to get us as a Conference or Union or Division to turn around and repent from a wrong course.
In other denominations, we've sometimes seen massive breakups and division into separate organizations with similar denominational names. (This is not new; the American Baptist Convention broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during Civil War times because the SBC at that time supported slavery. And it has happened to the SDA Church as well. During World War I, some leaders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Europe taught that it was acceptable for Adventists to take part in war, whereas the traditional Adventist position was that Adventists were non-combatants, and might serve their country as medics rather than bearing arms (the story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss from World War II is a good example). Those who objected to this broke off to form the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement. The General Conference tried to reconcile with this group after the war, but were unsuccessful.)
In the Congregationalist model common to many Sunday-keeping churches, sometimes local churches have chosen to disaffiliate with what they see as an unfaithful denomination and instead affiliate with a now-separated portion of their former denomination, sometimes even in Africa, which in their view remains faithful. But in the divinely-inspired organizational model under which the SDA Church is formed, this is not an option. A local church cannot vote to become a member of a Conference within a Union within a Division in a distant geographical area such as Africa or South America. Leaving the SDA Church to become a member of another denomination is not an option. We are told by Inspiration in Selected Messages, Book 2, page 380 that at a time in the future when the Church faces even greater problems than we face today: "The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out — the chaff separated from the precious wheat" and "The remnant that purify their souls by obeying the truth gather strength from the trying process, exhibiting the beauty of holiness amid the surrounding apostasy."
In the time of Elijah, Elijah thought he was the only faithful one left. God told him there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Those 7,000 were not guilty of, nor implicit in, nor responsible for the idolatry of the nation as a whole just because they were members of the kingdom of Israel. They were faithful amid the surrounding apostasy.
We know that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church represents God's Remnant Church in these last days. So, leaving the Seventh-Day Adventist Church is not an option we should consider. We should remain and obey the truth and exhibit the beauty of holiness and do so despite what happens around us.
Tithing and Financial Support
Some feel uncomfortable paying tithe to a part of the SDA organization that they believe is in rebellion against the will of God as expressed by the vote of representatives assembled from around the world in a GC Session. But the sinless Jesus, when working as a carpenter, undoubtedly paid His tithe to an organization that at the time was corrupt, and so deep in apostasy that it would one day plot His death.
Some have suggested that we somehow turn off the financial tap and not fiscally support the rebellious Conference, and provide punishment, or at least negative feedback, in that manner. But it is not our position as members of local churches to punish or retaliate against what we see as inappropriate Conference actions. Romans 12:19 says "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord."
In the past, I have sometimes read of various suggestions for strategies to send tithe instead to what people may see as a faithful part of the SDA Church organization. The problems here include:
Some might choose to physically move to a geographical location where they feel the Union and Conference are faithful. But for most people, their physical location is paired with their job, or family, or other factors, and they are not free to simply move across the country or around the world.
I haven't heard anyone suggesting actually withholding their tithe. That would be disobedient to God and thus be disastrous. Ellen White writes in Pastoral Ministry, page 260: “If the Conference business is not managed according to the order of the Lord, that is the sin of the erring ones. The Lord will not hold you responsible for it, if you do what you can to correct the evil. But do not commit sin yourselves by withholding from God His own property.”
I believe that we have done what we can to correct the evil. At the RMC Constituency Meeting, delegates heard the truth:
I believe this is exactly what we have meekly demanded, and the varying opinions, divided 3 ways, that came out of the Theology of Ordination Committee demonstrate that there exists no "plain 'Thus saith the Lord'" in support of the proposed reform of women's ordination.
Although the results at the RMC Constituency Meeting did not turn out to be what we had hoped and prayed for, I do feel that we did faithfully fulfill the purpose God had for us, to serve as a faithful witness to truth and right.
So how do we cope with our feelings after the vote?
I believe that it is wrong for us personally to feel that we are in some way guilty for the action of the Constituency and Conference leadership, or similar actions at the Mid-America Union or North American Division levels. As we read, "that is the sin of the erring ones. The Lord will not hold you responsible for it."
What do we do going forward?
We should continue to do what we can to correct the evil. We can continue to speak out against the error, and to educate members about what the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy say.
In cases where we have a choice, we can choose to be members of a local church that does not have a woman Pastor, and which chooses not to ordain women as Elders. When the time comes for the replacement of a Pastor of your local church in the Rocky Mountain Conference, there is typically a Church Business Meeting held, during which the Conference asks for input from the local church as to their needs and desires in a Pastor. As a member, at such a Business Meeting, you can express your Biblical beliefs and your desire not to have a woman Pastor assigned by the Conference to your church, and that you also do not wish to have a Pastor who believes in the ordination of women as either Elders or Pastors. If the Conference does assign a woman as Pastor for your church, or a pastor who supports women as Elders or Pastors (as it is fully within their authority to do), you may be able to transfer your membership to a different local church. Or you may be called to remain and to lovingly witness to the truth within the same local church. This may be your only option if there is only one local SDA church within a wide geographical area.
It is important to be sensitive to and then to do whatever God specifically calls you to do, and to play the role He wants you to play. Prayerfully consider and determine exactly what God wants you to do, and then do that thing lovingly, cheerfully, and faithfully.
We need to pray fervently for the leaders who have just been elected to serve in our Conference. The Administration and Executive Committee (and other committees) will be facing difficult challenges and questions over the course of this 5-year quinquennial period, and they desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the decisions they will be required to make on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Conference.
Another action we can take is to pray for, in loving pity and compassion, and work for the salvation of, the women who will be deceived into accepting an illegitimate rite and credentials and role and function, and not even realize that this is the case. We want them to be saved in the Kingdom and not go down in rebellion against God's chosen order.
How and when will this be resolved?
We must be patient — as patient as God is with us.
It is God's church. He is leading it, and He can take care of it.
We should not be discouraged, as we are told in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, page 49: "Although there are evils existing in the church, and will be until the end of the world, the church in these last days is to be the light of the world that is polluted and demoralized by sin. The church, enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard."
We read in Testimonies to Ministers, page 523: "Trust to God’s guardianship. His church is to be taught. Enfeebled and defective though it is, it is the object of His supreme regard."
Because "His church is to be taught," we have a responsibility to teach, to strengthen the church. But in presenting truth, we should determine to keep our eyes on Jesus and point to His Word. We read in the book Evangelism, page 361: "Keep a firm hold upon the Lord Jesus, and never let go. Have firm convictions as to what you believe. Let the truths of God’s Word lead you to devote heart, mind, soul, and strength to the doing of His will. Lay hold resolutely upon a plain “Thus saith the Lord.” Let your only argument be, “It is written.”" We cannot be effective if we present the truth in a manner that is abrasive or confrontational or unloving, as Ephesians 4:15 tells us we can only fulfill God's will when we are "speaking the truth in love."
We know it is God's will for His church to be united. Jesus prayed for this unity for His Church in John 17. We read in Counsels to the Church, page 240: "God has a church upon the earth who are His chosen people, who keep His commandments. He is leading, not stray offshoots, not one here and one there, but a people. The truth is a sanctifying power; but the church militant is not the church triumphant. There are tares among the wheat."
We read in Testimonies to Ministers, page 46: "The church of Christ on earth will be imperfect, but God does not destroy His church because of its imperfection. There have been and will be those who are filled with zeal not according to knowledge, who would purify the church, and uproot the tares from the midst of the wheat. But Christ has given special light as to how to deal with those who are erring, and with those who are unconverted in the church. There is to be no spasmodic, zealous, hasty action taken by church members in cutting off those they may think defective in character. Tares will appear among the wheat; but it would do more harm to weed out the tares, unless in God’s appointed way, than to leave them alone. While the Lord brings into the church those who are truly converted, Satan at the same time brings persons who are not converted into its fellowship. While Christ is sowing the good seed, Satan is sowing the tares. There are two opposing influences continually exerted on the members of the church. One influence is working for the purification of the church, and the other for the corrupting of the people of God."
And in Selected Messages, Book 2, page 396 we read: "I am instructed to say to Seventh-day Adventists the world over, God has called us a people to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. He has appointed that His church on earth shall stand perfectly united in the Spirit and counsel of the Lord of hosts to the end of time."
Finally, we read in Review and Herald, Sept. 20, 1892: "God is at the head of the work, and He will set everything in order. If matters need adjusting at the head of the work, God will attend to that, and work to right every wrong."
The Creator of the Universe has assured us that He can and will take care of the problem. We should avoid reckless action and continue to work prayerfully and lovingly to present the truth on this issue to any who may have been deceived in some way and might be persuaded over time. God is much more patient that we sometimes are with his erring ones, and this may take some time to correct. We must remain faithful in the interim. We must also not allow this to distract us from our most-important work of spreading the 3 Angels' Messages.