Women's Ordination, La Sierra University Church: A Confrontation or a Matter of Conscience?

Speaker: Categories: Jul 13, 1996


[1hr, 12min, 43sec / 44min, 9sec]


The General Conference Session of Seventh-day Adventists convened last summer at Utrecht. At that session an overwhelming majority voted against the proposal which would have permitted various divisions of this world church to ordain or not ordain women as such divisions saw best. On December 2, 1995, just five months later, the La Sierra University Church ordained two women to the gospel ministry: one, an associate pastor at La Sierra University Church, Halcyon Westphal Wilson, and the other, Madelynn Jones-Haldeman, an associate professor of New Testament studies at La Sierra University. On this same date the Victoria church ordained its pastor, Sheryll McMillan.

Were these acts of defiance, a challenge to the world church, an invitation to confrontation, or actions based on a thorough and in-depth study of the Bible -- considering carefully the cultural and issue context of the original biblical sources and the current context of the prevailing culture of Southern California?

What does such an action by a large church of 2300 members, a church closely affiliated with an Adventist institution of higher education, say by example, if not by word, to future leaders of the church who may be pursuing academic preparation for their chosen professions at this institution? What would lack of such action have communicated to these same young people who have grown up in an environment in which discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and/or gender is an historical artifact -- not a current practice?

Does the concept of a Seventh-day Adventist world church take on a different meaning when the North American Division and the General Conference no longer appear to be one and the same entity? What authority does the General Conference in session actually have? Are the actions taken at La Sierra, at Victoria, and earlier at Sligo indicative of a sinister and satanic drifting toward -- pardon the term – congregationalism? What actions have been or should have been taken to get these rebel churches back in line?

Dan Smith has chosen to analyze and recount the La Sierra experience by looking first at how he came to be so fortunate as to pastor this large congregation now challenged by a moral dilemma. What process/procedures were followed to gain insights into the biblical tensions created by texts referring to subordinate roles for women versus other texts which unequivocally mandate equality? How was the question of biblical hermeneutics addressed? A time-line will help to gain insight into the process, both the visible activities as well as some of the behind-the-scene events and activities.

Further attention will be given to the reactions to the December 2 event which, by the way, was professionally video taped so that a broader audience, far in excess of the standing-room-only attendance on that Sabbath afternoon, might also witness Adventist history in the making!

Dr. Fritz Guy, certainly not a newcomer to the San Diego Adventist Forum, will summarize some of the theological discussions associated with women's ordination which have been rumored and reported over the past twenty years. He, as many will recall, was the keynote speaker at the recent AAF Conference.

In addition we'll be privileged to get a first-hand, I-was-there, (I-was-it) reporting from Hallie Wilson who will share some of her personal views, her own experience prior to, at the point of, and since ordination. She'll note the impact of such ordination on her ministry, on her self-esteem, perhaps even on her relationship with colleagues and family members.


Born at Paradise Valley Hospital, Dan Smith could really be considered a native of San Diego. He attended Far Eastern Academy in Singapore where his parents were missionaries, received his BA in theology from Pacific Union College, his M.Div. and his D.Min. from Andrews. He has pastored in Oregon, at Newbury Park Academy Church, served as senior pastor at Hinsdale (Illinois), and from 1994 to the present at La Sierra Collegiate.

Fritz Guy has served the SDA church as pastor, evangelist, editor, college president, and university professor. He has been a member of the Southeastern California Conference Gender Inclusiveness Commission and has had a major role in helping to formulate a basis for a theology of ordination.

Halcyon Westphal Wilson, a fourth generation Adventist and daughter of missionary parents in South America, received her BA in religion from Loma Linda University and her MA in family life education from the same institution. She is a certified pastoral counselor. Since 1980 she has been a pastor at La Sierra University Church. She serves as a member of the Southeastern California Conference Executive Committee and has been an active participant on the Gender Inclusiveness Commission.

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