On April 13, Kendra Haloviak Valentine, PhD, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies & Chair of the Department of Biblical Studies at the La Sierra University HMS Richards Divinity School and Special Assistant to the President of the Southeastern California Conference for Women in Ministry, presented a lecture entitled “Ordination: Disentangling the Gordian Knot.”  The meeting was well attended and the audience included a number of pastors and a Union Conference official.  The following Q & A/Meet the Speaker session was filled to capacity and extended more than an hour over its scheduled time. 

Dr. Haloviak began by retelling the myth of the Gordian knot in ancient Phrygia, and explaining how it has become a “metaphor for something impossible to resolve” over the centuries.

She presented a concise history of the ordination of women in the Seventh-day Adventist church, noting several key events in that history, including the following: 

·         An 1881 General Conference resolution “that females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry” has never been adopted even though women already had been holding SDA ministerial licenses for a decade.

·         In 1895 Ellen White wrote in the Review and Herald that “women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poorThey should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands.”  This cultural or patriarchal-based knot did not need to become a Gordian knot!

·         Under pressure from the IRS regarding the definition of licensed ministers, in 1976 the North American Division voted a definition that was different than anywhere else in the church.  The following year they added a new term: “associates in pastoral care” for women pastors “who are employed on pastoral staffs but who are not in line for ordination.”  This fixed the Gordian knot!

·         The 1968 rediscovery of Ellen White’s 1895 statement and the 1973 appointment of the “Council on the Role of Women in the Church” appeared to set the foundation for unraveling the knot but the 1975 Spring Meeting of the GC Council changed policy so that women ministers could no longer receive ministerial licenses, only “missionary credentials” that removed them from the track toward ordination.

·         The 1990 General Conference in Indianapolis adopted the 1989 Annual Council action that stated unordained female pastors would be allowed to perform the same functions (i.e. baptisms, marriages, etc.) as their male counterparts.  At the 1995 Utrecht General Conference, the North American Division request to allow each division to decide the matter was denied.  The knot is tightening again.

·         In September 1995 the Sligo SDA Church prayerfully decided it was time and ordained three women to gospel ministry (Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn & Penny Shell) but they were not officially affirmed by the Potomac Conference or the Columbia Union.  Later that year Madelyn Haldeman, Hallie Wilson & Sheryl Prinz-McMillan were ordained in Southern California and soon the Southeastern California Conference began issuing the same credentials for all pastors regardless of gender and this became official policy in 2012.  However, some who participated in the early ordination services were reprimanded and pressured in various ways.

·         The GC-appointed international Theology of Ordination Study Committee met for the first time in January 2013.  Each division has its own task force and will share papers with the international committee that will present a consensus statement to Annual Council in 2014, and then perhaps to the General Conference in 2015.  Is the knot tightening or unraveling?

Dr. Haloviak also reflected on her own experience at Sligo, and as a woman in ministry during the past nearly twenty-five years, asserting there was frequently “a price to pay” and concluded with musings about the possibilities of change resulting from the continued activity of the recent study commissions. 

As always, a recording of the meeting is available for immediate downloading here on the website or a CD may be ordered here or by mail.

by Mary Proctor-Dehn & Gordon M. Rick

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