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?

  • Ron du Preez

    @CGLRAY: I fully concur with your points. I really wish that the “innocent” readers of this website would realize how they are being fed significant doses of misinformation, passed off as truth. In fact, if we take our 28 Fundamental Beliefs seriously, those responsible for such repeated lies are to be subject to removal from the Adventist Church. By the way, I have come across even more such brilliant, disingenuous omissions.

    Clearly, this is NOT the way for God’s people to operate. While I am 100% against the CUC and PUC votes (as they cause disunity, etc.), I am similarly 100% against the type of deception being repeatedly perpetrated on and through this website, which alleges loyalty to Adventism. I am not a “prophet” but feel that it is time for us as “watchmen on the walls of Zion” to alert God’s people to the dangers ahead — both regarding the CUC & PUC votes, as well as this spiritually dangerous website. My appeal: Please let’s STOP such politics! Why not rather spend our time praying for unity; searching the Word for Truth?

  • Elijah

    Can God call a women to be a pastor, to have authority in His church, while He clearly spoke in his word that : ” I do not permit a women to teach or to have authority over a man but to be in silence”. 1 Timothy 2:12 ???

  • Luciana

    Well said sister Yolanda, that is my question too!!! Why the urge to obtain credentials??? I believe these people have more to add to their agendas and they are only preparing the way so they can obtain their gain through it!

  • Luciana

    Sister Pearly nobody is forbidding those sisters to preach. I preach at my church and I don’t have any problems doing so because God uses men a women, but to aspire to become the head of the church is contrary of what the Bible teaches!! Because if a woman pastor is the head of the church, then who represents the church?? Isn’t women who represents the church a symbolic?? If we put both women together (the female pastor as the men and a woman as the church) does that look right?? Isn’t Jesus a male husband??? God mad male and female so both can work together, not women to women!!! That seems odd to me!!!

  • Luciana

    I agree with your comments Ron! I feel the same way! The breaches of the wall are being opened and soon our church is not going to be the same. Read the story of Nehemias! This is a good example of Israel in our days…

  • Luciana

    I also commented on this issue because it sounds to me as lesbian relationship. I think nobody has even thought about this! God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Why we want to change his ways??????

  • Ron Stone M.D.

    We’ve almost got that going out here in California. We’ve got gay “church administrators” already, paid by the Conference. “Gay members” “gay marriages” and gay choruses. What is next?

  • Dee

    I agree. However, what are we prepared to do? Most of us are all talk! Do we really understand what protestant means? Do we know what the reformation was all about? Please do your research! The reformers intention and accomplishment was to pull away from a Catholic structure of church government where the top tells those in the pew what to believe, how to worship and what to do. Where programs etc, are passed down and you must follow suit. Where pastors are hired, moved around and fired by the top! (Hello somebody!) How can we talk about the Catholic System when are are set up and operate the same way. Churches need to have autonomy over themselves. Ask any Lutheran minister and he will tell you that Martin Luther’s desire was that church life be that way and he got it from the Bible. How far do we want to reform? Is it only as far as it makes me comfortable?

  • Terri

    Testimonies for the Church Volume 6, p. 322.
    “It
    is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers,
    both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.”

    That is one telling. The Bible does not directly address women’s ordination because it does not directly address men’s ordination either. What we practice today actually has Catholic roots–not Biblical. It is important to know these backgrounds.

    Also, if ordination is not important, then it is not important for anyone. However, in reality, we have developed ordination as we practice it today because it is needed organizationally and because it is the church’s affirmation of God’s own call on someone’s life. So it does matter.

  • Terri

    If we take that entire thing literally, it proves too much. We don’t require women to be *silent* in church. We do allow women to teach men–in schools (all the way through male adulthood, they learn from female teachers), in Sabbath School classes, in prayers, in sermons, and in other of our religious venues and programs.

    If we as a church actually took 1 Timothy 2:12 at absolute face value, without paying any attention to the point the writer was *actually* trying to make, then our church has been in gross violation of the Bible since its very inception. Certainly we must start by throwing out Ellen White’s gift of prophecy, since she spoke authoritatively to both men and women, counseled privately, preached publicly, and carried on an active traveling ministry that included advising, guiding, and reproving male church leaders.

    So why don’t we take this verse literally? Because those who have thoughtfully and carefully studied this verse and its Biblical context know that it was never intended to literally silence women — not at the time it was written (the author of 1 Timothy 2:12 instructs women on the proper way to *publicly* pray and prophesy in other texts), and not today either.

    And if the verse is so clearly not meant to be literal and permanent, it cannot be applied here. I hardly need to point out that this verse says nothing whatever about ordination of women or of men; it is simply applied to it, and the ordination connection is brought into the verse from the outside by modern readers who have not properly studied and investigated the text.

    The word “see” means one thing in English and another (“si”) in Spanish. How foolish we would be to assume that a Spanish speaker who said “si” to us intended to say “to look with the eyes.” That is what people do to the Bible when they insist on changing its meaning from what the original authors actually wrote, and to change the words and concepts they actually used, to match the modern English language and assumptions.

  • Terri

    Important to note a couple of things. “Ever since the beginning of time, women all over the world have been
    rebelling against this promise of God. Especially in these last days.
    Women who simply don’t want to feel the pain of natural childbirth and
    labor are opting for cesarean sections and scheduling the births of
    their children.”

    1. Genesis 3:16 is not a promise. It is a curse. The Bible itself calls it a curse.
    2. Are you seriously suggesting that pain relief during labor is an act of rebellion against God??

    I’m just going to leave all the rest alone.

  • Peter Greller

    Your assertions are pure BS and actually an attack on God’s creation. Please stop before you take this another step. It is pure evil to insist that we demolish the blessings that God gives women.

  • Kid Nugent

    Terri, your short analysis is a simple way to defeat the evil theology of headship. Those who claim to be faithful to scripture are ironically seduced by reading into the Bible what culture has planted into their minds. I don’t believe in Satan, but if there were such a being he would be enjoying the irony of the traditional Adventist claims on this.