The world is richly diverse, and so too is the world church. That is why a set of guidelines, applicable to the whole world, were created. We call these guidelines the Working Policy. In 2014 about 30% of the book was deleted, which brings the last edition to 792 pages. It is a thick book with a sizeable amount of regulations and guidelines. The General Conference expects all church organisations to fulfil their mission in harmony with this Policy. Each church organisation, as an autonomous entity, is committed to giving the Policy the right place in the execution of its duties. At the moment it is a hot topic that the Dutch Adventist church, together with five other unions, are going against the Policy by ordaining female pastors or not ordaining pastors at all. The Netherlands Adventist church is convinced that it is acting within the guidelines of the Policy.
There are three parts of the Working Policy relevant to this discussion. These three parts are also mentioned in the letter that the secretariat of the General Conference sent to all presidents worldwide. Let us briefly examine these three parts.
B 05 Organizational and Operational Principles of Seventh-day Adventist Church Structure
In this section the relationship between the different levels of the Adventist church are explained. It says the following: ‘Different elements of organizational authority and responsibility are distributed among the various levels of denominational organization.’ Citing various examples this is explained. The local church decides about membership to church, the conference decides who is employed, the union decides who may be ordained, and the General Conference decides the Fundamental Beliefs. These examples were chosen because they are the most obvious examples of the authority of the different levels.
The Dutch Adventist church, as a Union, therefore has the authority and the responsibility to decide who may be ordained.
A little further on is an explanation as to how the different levels work together. ‘Thus each level of organization exercises a realm of final authority and responsibility that may have implications for other levels of organization. In a similar manner, each organization is dependent to some extent on the realm of authority exercised by other levels of organization.’ In this way a collaboration is defined involving the various levels of authority, and how the authority of these levels affect each other. The idea that one level imposes something on another, does not fit in this description.
BA 60 Human Relations
This section explains how the church executes and manifests the fundamental belief regarding the equality of people. The section begins with: ‘The world Church supports non-discrimination in employment practices and policies and upholds the principle that both men and women, without regard to race and color, shall be given full and equal opportunity within the Church to develop the knowledge and skills needed for the building up of the Church.’ The church is clearly against discrimination.
The following sentence reads: ‘Positions of service and responsibility (except those requiring ordination to the gospel ministry) on all levels of church activity shall be open to all on the basis of the individual’s qualifications.’ According to many people, this sentence contradicts the previous one. The clause between brackets brings one to the conclusion that: ‘the church does not discriminate (except in this instance)’. There is thus a certain contradiction in the Working Policy regarding the positions of service for women. They must be treated equally and given full and equal opportunity, except when it comes to ordination.
L 35 Qualifications for Ordination to the Ministry
Almost everyone assumes that somewhere in this chapter one of the qualifications is based on the sex of the applicant. The church keeps reiterating that women cannot be ordained as pastors. However, in the eight pages that the Working Policy spends on the qualifications for ordination, the gender of the candidate is never mentioned. That is odd, especially as it would be easy for the General Conference to add gender to the list. Every autumn the Working Policy gets reviewed and a vote by the majority of the Executive Committee members of the General Conference could make the male gender compulsory for ordained pastors. Yet for some reason that has never happened.
Simply put, the Working Policy does not stipulate that women cannot be ordained as pastors.
The only indication that only men may be ordained is the fact that the entire chapter L of the Working Policy avoids gender inclusive language. However, the majority of chapter L is about pastoral functions that are open to both men and women. Ministerial Internship is open to both men and women, however ’him’ and ‘his’ is consistently used. The same for the Licenced Minister. Relying on non-inclusive language is a very weak argument, considering that it is normal (especially in traditional parlance) to use to masculine pronouns to refer to both men and women.
All in all there is therefore no explicit prohibition in the Working Policy against ordaining women. The way in which a power struggle has developed within the church, where the possibility of finding solutions in close consultation have disappeared, goes against the principles of the Working Policy. More importantly, the non-ordination of women goes against the policy concerning discrimination. In actual fact it goes against the Fundamental Beliefs, number 14 to be precise which deals with equality. These are some arguments that argue that the Dutch Adventist church is in fact in harmony with the Working Policy.