A Brief History of Women's Ordination within the Adventist Church

We’ve provided the following timeline of key events regarding the women’s ordination movement in the Seventh-day Adventist Church to provide history and context to current events. This material is adapted from the controversial book Women in Ministry by Randal R. Wisbey. (The inclusion of this material does not constitute an endorsement of the views presented in that book.)

1968

  • The church in Finland request that women be ordained.
  • The General Conference appoints a committee to study ordination.

1972

  • The Potomac Conference ordains Josephine Benton as the first woman elder.
  • The General Conference Biblical Research Institute begins studying the role of women.

1973

  • Twenty-seven noted Bible teachers and church leaders meet at Camp Mohaven.  The ad hoc committee recommends that women be ordained as local church elders and with theological training be hired as “associates in pastoral care.”  They also recommend a pilot program leading to women’s ordination.
  • Annual Council votes to receive the report, but concluded that “continued study be given to the theological soundness of the election of women to local church offices which require ordination.  … In areas receptive to such action, there be continued recognition of the appropriateness of appointing women to pastoral evangelistic work.”

1975

  • General Conference Spring Meeting vote to authorize women’s ordination as deaconesses and local church elders, provided “the greatest discretion and caution be exercised,” and also encourage women to serve as Bible workers and assistant Pastors.

1979

  • Annual Council permits unordained male pastors to baptize in their local church.
  • The Potomac Conference assigns Josephine Benton to server as sole pastor of the Rockville Adventist Church.

1982

  • Association of Adventist Women organizes to encourage Adventist women “to achieve their full potential.”
  • Women elders serving as pastors in the Potomac Conference are authorized to baptize.
  • The Potomac Conference Executive Committee summoned to meet with General Conference leaders agreed to have women stop baptizing until the world church reached a consensus.

1984

  • Annual Council reaffirms General Conference Committee Action that women might be ordained as local elders.

1985

  • The Commission on the Role of Women in the Church meets for the first time.
  • The General Conference Session in New Orleans accepts the work of the commission, voting for “affirmative action” by asking leaders to use their influence to open to women all aspects of church ministry not requiring ordination.
  • Annual Council rejects North American Division request that women pastors with seminary training be allowed to baptize and solemnize marriages provided they were ordained as local elders.

1986

  • Contrary to the Annual Council vote of the previous year, Southeastern California votes to treat unordained men and women equally and Margaret Hempe baptizes two candidates at the Loma Linda University Church.

1987

  • Twenty-two seminary professors take a formal stand in favor of women elders at Pioneer Memorial Church.

1988

  • Adventist Women’s Institute organizes in California “to pursue full and equal participation for women in the church.”
  • Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry (TEAM) is founded in Maryland with the goal of “working toward the ordination of candidates to the gospel ministry regardless of race, social class, or gender.”

1989

  • On July 12, the Pacific Union Conference urges the General Conference “to eliminate gender as a consideration for ordination to the gospel ministry.”
  • North American Division Union presidents vote to send an endorsement of women’s ordination to the Commission on the Role of Women in the Church.
  • The third Commission on the Role of Women votes “No” to ordination of women.

1990

  • The General Conference Session meeting in Indianapolis votes, “We do not approve ordination of women to the gospel ministry.”
  • The following September, the North American Division establishes the Office of Women’s Ministry.
  • In October the General Conference establishes the Office of Women’s Ministries.

1994

  • The Adventist Review publishes a series of articles in which editors take a pro-ordination stand.

1995

  • The General Conference Session held in Utrecht votes “No” to the request from North America that would make it possible for divisions to ordain women.
  • In September the Sligo Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, ordains three women to full-time ministry in the local congregation.  Similar services were conducted at the La Sierra University Church, Loma Linda University Church, and a few others.
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  • Carolyn Meeks

    No matter how may step out side of the order that God set in the Bible It does not make it right, We are a Bible believing church, we don’t let people set the foundation GOD only

    • Dee

      Yes, and when we have denominationalism the way it now exists in our church that is how we get this way and it will only get worse until we change the structure. Please study out the history and intent of denominations as intended by the reformers. Here is a quote from an article:

      “Those who remained faithful to Roman Catholicism believed that the
      central regulation of doctrine by church leaders was necessary to
      prevent confusion and division within the church and corruption of its
      beliefs. On the contrary, those who broke away from the church believed
      this central control was what led to the corruption of the true faith”

      http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/a/denominations_3.htm

      .

      • Dee

        Have you kept in tune with the SDA Ministry Magazine and the gender neutral magazine covers. The leadership will stop at nothing to promote its agenda.

  • Juan Jeanniton

    I vote absolutely positively definitely NO on this so-called “Women’s Ordination” (i.e. ordaining women to the “clergy” – viz. pastors, elders, bishops, other duly appointed authoritative Officials of the Church)!

    For none of these could be valid but by Divine Positive Institution. Unlike moral laws, this species of Divine Law could not have any validity but by a positive divine enactment. The mere letter of the law is the only rule constituting a positive divine institute. The positive divine institutes clearly state the qualifications to be eligible to be a “clergyman”, and all of them state in Timothy and Titus that clergymen are to be HUSBANDS of ONE WIFE (in the original Greek – the MALE of one woman) – it states that clergymen must be male in order to be eligible to hold the office. In addition, at least one of the reasons adduced in common by 1 Corinthians 11:7 – 10, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2: 11 – 15 is sufficient to render all women INELIGIBLE to hold these authoritative offices! But since I am short on time, I will explain the rest of the matter for you some other time, perhaps tomorrow.

  • Juan Jeanniton

    The prevailing ultrafundamentalist interpretation assumes that, assuming that the precept found in 1 Corinthians 14:34 imposes absolute silence on all women in church, and still is in full force today – it only applies to formal worship services. Now these people clearly deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    But if they accept this distinction, they must unconditionally
    accept uncomplainingly ALL of its burdens, liabilities, duties, and
    obligations, however austere, burdensome, wearisome, tyrannical, despotical,
    politically incorrect, or unpleasant, they may be.

    So before we go any further into this argument about the role of women in church: I would ask all of you: Do you know your rules for proper behavior and reverence in formal worship services? Do you think it shows reverence for the Lord that someone not duly scheduled in advance to speak was just rise up and speak extemporaneously in the formal worship service, on pretence that he has something worthwhile he would like to “share” with the rest of the congregation? Or does it show his irreverence for God?