It has been an interesting day here at the General Conference session in San Antonio. Emotions have ranged the entire spectrum from joy to frustration and perhaps even anger as the church met to discuss editorial changes to the Church Manual. What should have been a simple discussion and steady progress through the manual slowed to a near halt as many insisted on one opinion or another. Many of the issues have overtones that point towards women’s ordination.
Before lunch delegates were able to progress through only three points, and all were referred back to the Church Manual Standing Committee to process additional changes. In other words, none of the proposed changes were agreed upon.
The most contentious change was the statement in the manual regarding ministerial licenses. The updates were simple: to change the word ministers to pastors and the word men to individuals. In effect it would read, “Licensed Pastors—to give individuals an opportunity to demonstrate their call to the ministry…”
There was some discussion about the difference between the office of a minister and the spiritual gift of pastoring, but the language making licensed ministers more gender-inclusive largely overwhelmed the conversation. The chair admonished everyone to refrain from centering the discussion on women’s ordination, but the call was largely unheeded, and this portion was referred back to the Manual Committee with the gender-specific language intact, to be revisited after Wednesday’s vote.
If the room were not so edgy, many would have caught what one North American Division delegate brought up, that women have been serving as licensed ministers since 1985. This would mean that the language of the manual should be more gender-inclusive since the discussion was about licensed ministers and not ordained ministers. It’s possible that the left-leaning delegates missed an opportunity to keep the gender-neutral language as initially recommended.
After lunch the delegates reconvened to continue their work editing and revising the Church Manual. There was some discussion about removing those who resign themselves from church membership and reinstating previously removed members. The most aggravating moments, however, were regarding the electronic voting machines.
After counting 1,737 voting devices, delegates were given the instructions on how to proceed at the correct time, with clarity on which buttons to press. When the results came in, only 1,290 votes were registered. It was decided that electronic voting should not be used. Instead the delegates will return to the old system of holding up paper voting cards, with the option to go to a secret paper ballot for sensitive votes.
There was a clear sense of tension on the floor as delegates pleaded with the chairman to test where the transmission problem occurred by having each division vote separately. The motion was struck down. Then appealed. Then struck down. Then two more delegates pleaded to run the test before the chairman was finally able to move the discussion forward. Patience was running thin at this point.
Then there was a motion to use a secret ballot for voting, which was promptly and clearly struck down. Perhaps the delegates were worn down at this point. I appreciated one comment that every member of the United States Congress records his or her vote publicly because the elected official’s constituency has a right to know what his or her opinions are. On the other hand we want to vote in secret so no one will know where we stand. This comment was positively received, and the chairman had to remind everyone not to applaud.
Several times during the day the nominating committee interrupted the proceedings to give their reports. Everyone was eagerly anticipating the news on who would be the officers for the next term. The second time, the committee came in to give the names of the general vice presidents, and it was noted that the GVPs were fewer than the previous term. There were three incumbents on the list (out of nine currently serving), and only three new members were added. Some delegates unhappy with the news referred the names back to the nominating committee, but the process took too long, and the meeting was adjourned just before the nominating committee returned to give their report. We will have to wait until tomorrow for that news.
Those in favor of the ordination of women to the gospel ministry seemed to be a little more nervous after today’s proceedings. Most of the votes did not go their way, and most of the cantankerousness came from their camp. It’s possible that the North American Division is recognizing that their desire to ordain women may not be the majority view of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The only time we received a unified vote today was when the motion was called for the adjournment of the meeting. Everyone was ready for dinner. Apparently the only thing we can agree on is food.
(Photo by Daniel McGrath: Delegates hold up voting cards on the floor of the GC Session.)