Hearty thanks and warm regards to the thousands of people who have logged on to this little website during 2012. It seems appropriate to offer a few comments about the old year, as it becomes history.
Seventh-day Adventists, more than most Christian groups, identify with particular dates. There is 1844, a year of sublime expectation and bitter sorrow; the hope was so lofty and the disconfirmation so disastrous that ever since our religious community has spoken of the GreatDisappointment. The years 1860-63 were memorable in that, after a long struggle, we at last found a name for ourselves, developed state conferences and an over-arching General Conference structure. The year 1888 began an explosive debate about the central truth of Righteousness by Faith; it would take almost a century for rationality to supplant rhetoric. In 1901 we reorganised our denomination in a way that better accommodated the needs of a growing movement that was reaching out to a diverse world. The memorable conference of 1919 was almost totally lost to living memory for more than a half-century, until we realised that to ignore history made us liable to repeat its mistakes. The year 1970 marked a turning point as we were confronted by a powerful need to interpret our history from its primary sources rather than through the tinted glasses of our traditions. The years 1980 and 1982 witnessed something of a climax for this process as we faced the disturbing issue of how evidence shapes faith.
All these crucial dates (and many more) are rather familiar to readers of this website. So, the insistent question arises: How does 2012 look when compared with the years of acknowledged significance from the Adventist past?
The weekly Adventist Today newsletter that arrived on my computer (as expected) on the morning of December 29 carried its usual freight of interesting reports. Many of its narratives are unmentioned in the church’s official media, although (commendably) Adventist Review recently made a conscious decision to report the discussion about women’s ordination. Even so, it remains an arresting fact that, without independent news agencies such as the electronic and printed reports made available by entities such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, we would be ignorant of some of the crucial developments taking place within the church we value so highly.
The newsletter tells us:
“Adventist Today published more than 225 news stories this past year to provide an independent record of the Adventist community, unfettered by promotional goals and institutional interests. A number of these were controversial. Some resulted in a large number of comments and correspondence, as well as occasional internal debate among our journalists and the policy-makers at Adventist Today. There were even times when other publications made our reporting part of the news itself.
“Picking ten of these stories as the most important for 2012 is a difficult task. The most important events or trends are not always the most interesting or debatable. Feel free to nominate you own additions or replacements for these ten in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this article.”
Here is the first of the ten issues selected from 2012, cited in the precise words of the AT report:
“Six union conferences in North America and Europe took a stand to end gender discrimination in ordination to the gospel ministry. At least two of these unions have already seen the ordination of women clergy and it has come to light that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in China has been doing so since the 1980s.
“The year began on an inauspicious note related to this issue; the North American Division (NAD) officers notified the members of their governing body that they would not publish a policy repeatedly voted by significant majorities over the previous three years, due to a ruling by the General Conference (GC) legal office that the body lacked then-necessary authority. The policy E 60 had been revised to permit women with credentials as Commissioned Ministers to be elected conference presidents.
“In early March the Mid-America Union Conference executive committee voted to support the ordination of women but did not take steps to immediately implement that position. In April retired GC President Jan Paulsen told the GC executive committee that he wished the issue had been settled during the 11 years he served as the denomination’s global leader. ‘The Spirit is ready to lead us where we, for various reasons, are reluctant to go,’ he told the denomination’s top leaders.
“On April 22-23 during a regular constituency meeting, the delegates to the North German Union Conference voted by a two-thirds majority to approve the ordination of women pastors in its territory. July 29 delegates to a special constituency session of the Columbia Union Conference in the United States voted four out of five by secret ballot to immediately authorize ordinations without gender discrimination. On August 19 the delegates to a special constituency session in the Pacific Union Conference voted the same thing by the same overwhelming majority. On both occasions Pastor Ted Wilson, current GC president, made a personal appeal to the delegates to not adopt the new policy.
“Since that time the union conferences in the Netherlands and Norway have voted the same policies. As a result there are now three union conferences in North America and three in Europe clearly on record. It is likely that others will eventually join them, even if they do not go so far as to implement the policy along with the scores of women who have been ordained or issued the credentials of an ordained minister in view of their having previously had a ‘laying on of hands’ when they were commissioned.
“The GC officers issued a statement expressing their view that these actions were regrettable and not valid. Rumors flew about possible sanctions that the GC might put in place against these union conferences. Adventist Today published analysis by former GC officers and well-known Adventist theologians. There was extensive debate among many of our readers about ‘unity versus uniformity’ and the role of women in the church. At the annual meeting of the GC executive committee in October the three hours of discussion were respectful and no sanctions were applied or suggested in the draft distributed to the committee members. A month earlier, Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review had announced that the ‘general paper’ of the denomination would again open its pages to the topic of women’s ordination after decades of silence.”
However, is the suggestion that 2012 may rank in importance with 1844, 1888, 1901, 1919, 1980 (and such) sustainable? I think not. Yes, the ten examples that are named and described are indeed impressive but, should our Lord tarry for another decade, will 2012 still appear as a towering peak?
The quoted report is succinct and meets the journalistic standards that we have come to expect from the news team at Adventist Today. The progress made on the issue of female ordination is indeed significant. You may want to read the other nine reasons given why 2012 seems particularly significant, and then judge for yourself just how 2012 fits within Adventist history. While I recognize the importance of the ten issues that the AT news team elaborate, I will be waiting for a while before I elevate 2012 to the level of importance claimed for dates such as those listed above.
Arthur Patrick, 30 December 2012