Last time–which was two months ago-we talked about the General Conference’s position relative to the election of Dr. Sandra Roberts as the President of the Southeastern California Conference–the first elected female President of our conference in the history of our church (Mrs. Phyllis Lee Ware–then, Ms. Phyllis Lee –served as the Interim President of Central States approximately 20 years ago. Mrs. Ware current serves as the Treasurer for the Office of Regional Ministries and now resides in our conference).
We used the words of the author, Steven Covey, last time: In order to be understood, seek to understand. We said that while one might not always agree with a particular decision, it would seem good to at least to try to understand it.
We began by looking at the position of the General Conference President, Dr. Ted Wilson. His position was that the General Conference would not recognize Southeastern California’s election of Dr. Roberts, because the world church does not recognize the ordination of women. By policy, conference presidents must be ordained.
We said that, whatever one may think of Dr. Wilson’s non-recognition of Southeastern California election of Dr. Roberts, his position was understandable; yea, it is the only position that he could take. The world church does not recognize the ordination of women as pastors. By policy, all conference presidents have to be ordained pastors. Therefore, it would be the position of the General Conference that Dr. Roberts-or, any other unordained person–male or female–could not be a conference president.
We said last time that Dr. Wilson’s position is perfectly understandable. Dr. Wilson is the President of the General Conference. He has to uphold the policies of the General Conference, as long as those policies do not violate “Thus saith the Lord”.
When one is the leader of an organization one does not really have the option of ignoring rules that he or she does not like. We said last time that any organization has to have rules. If the rules are bad, or they no longer serve a sensible purpose, then, the rules need to be changed. But, there are rules that govern how you change your rules.
Periodically, someone will say, ”Let’s just suspend the rules. But there are rules that govern how you can suspend the rules. We said last time that rules/policies are not the same as a “Thus saith the Lord”, and they should not be looked upon in that way. But policies/rules are our agreement on how we shall work together. And in the absence of the kind of perfect unity that exists between the Trinity, there have to be rules that govern how sinful human beings relate.
When people decide to simply ignore the rules that we previously agreed would govern how we relate to each other, just because one does not agree with them, then we are headed towards a situation that the Bible described where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” There are days when I wonder if we are not headed towards those days now.
As odd as it may sound, while Dr. Wilson’s position is understandable–so is Southeastern California’s. While the policies of the General Conference do not allow the ordination of women, the policies of the Pacific Union do allow the ordination of women. While all of the other unions in the church (except for the Columbia Union) have chosen to defer to the General Conference on the issue of whether or not women pastors can be ordained, one could make the argument that, by policy, ordination is the responsibility of unions. I suspect that is the argument that the Pacific and Columbia Unions would make.
When we ordain pastors in the South Central Conference, it is because those pastors have been approved by vote of the Southern Union; the General Conference is not involved in the approval process.
The Pacific and the Columbia Unions, by overwhelming vote of their constituencies, have taken the position that they will ordain anyone who has demonstrated a call to ministry (which, I submit, is the point of ordination–the church recognizing the call of God on a particular person’s life to the gospel ministry)–regardless of gender. So, according to their policy (and, in the Adventist church, the union is the entity that approves pastors for ordination), Dr. Roberts is ordained, and, eligible to be elected president.
Moreover, Dr. Roberts had been serving as Executive Secretary (some conferences use the term that is more understandable to non-Adventists, “Vice President”) of Southeastern California for a number of years. Having recommended a conference executive secretary, I can tell you that one of the first things (except for things that related to spirituality) that a conference president asks himself (or, in the case of President Roberts-herself) in choosing a conference executive secretary is “Is this person capable of serving as conference president?”
The Executive Secretary is the number two person in the conference. It is not uncommon for the Secretary to wind up as President; the last three presidents in South Central all were conference secretaries. Five of the eight conference presidents in the Southern Union were conference secretaries. The President of the Southern Union was the Union Secretary and the person who is Union Secretary was a Conference President who was first a Conference Secretary.
So it is understandable that when the Presidency of Southeastern Conference became open, that the people of Southeastern California would do what many conferences (including ours) have done, and what they had themselves had done twelve years earlier–elect the Conference Executive Secretary to become the Conference President.
One does not have to agree with what the constituents of Southeastern California did to understand why they did it. They elected a former pastor, who was serving as the Conference Executive Secretary, as their Conference President. They did what organizations have done thousands of times: they voted the person who was in the second highest elected position, to serve in the highest elected position.
It is done all the time. It was perfectly understandable. Had Dr. Roberts been a man, I suspect that most people outside the State of California would not have even noticed.
But she is a woman. And people all over North American noticed. And after we notice, we must ultimately ask ourselves the question: do we say that someone who has every other qualification, e.g., the experience, the education, etc., that we would look for in a Conference President, cannot be Conference President, solely because she is a woman?
I’ll close with my answer to that question next week.