Should an administrator who three months after General Conference session led his conference executive committee to vote a policy contrary to the world church be made president of the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC)?
On August 17, 2016 the NPUC nominating committee submitted the name of Washington Conference president John Freedman as candidate to become union president. But on October 20, 2015, Freedman led the Washington Conference executive committee to implement a commissioned minister policy which is out of harmony with the Church Manual, the Working Policy of the General Conference, and the Working Policy of the North American Division (NAD). Should one who led his conference into opposition to the world church be made leader of a union?
NAD WANTS FREEDMAN
This year NPUC president Max Torkelson made known he would retire at the conclusion of his current term. The nominating committee met to determine who to recommend to serve as union president. The meeting was chaired by NAD president Dan Jackson, with NAD executive secretary G. Alexander Bryant also present. Bryant had previously announced that the push for women pastors would “move forward independent of the findings and conclusion of the ordination issue” (http://www.nadministerial.org/article/370/for-nad-pastors/pastor-life/women-clergy/why-the-nad-needs-women-pastors/wanted-more-female-pastors-essential-for-the-harvest). Division leadership has relentlessly pursued its goal to add hundreds of women pastors to lead congregations.
At San Antonio the world church voted to refuse to permit division executive committees to make provision for women’s ordination. But only three months after the GC vote, Freedman’s Washington Conference executive committee created a commissioned minister policy directly contradicting the world church. The new policy was published in the NPUC Gleaner (“New Mission-Focused Leadership Policy Adopted,” Gleaner, December 2015, p. 25). The article Washington leadership had published in the Gleaner was misleading throughout (See http://ordinationtruth.com/2016/09/05/cm4-wa-conference-misrepresents-new-policy/).
After Washington, Oregon Conference followed with an almost identical policy. Upper Columbia Conference was next, although it rescinded after several churches called for a special constituency session.
Since San Antonio, the Southeastern California Conference has conducted several “ordinations” of women pastors. Just days ago, while Jackson was present at a meeting of the Pacific Union Conference, delegates refused to consider rescinding their 2012 action approving the ordination of women. Jackson, a world church division president, should have led constituents to come into harmony with their world church on this point. He did not speak to the question. Who is surprised that a committee chaired by Jackson would wish to elevate Freedman, an ardent supporter of women’s ordination, to the presidency of the NPUC?
FREEDMAN LED WASHINGTON CONFERENCE TO INSUBORDINATION
Consider the wording of the actual published Washington Conference policy:
The recent Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) consensus statement recognized that “Through the saving work of Christ” church members constitute “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) who are “given the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-20), called, and enabled through the power of the Spirit and the gifts He bestows on them to carry out the Gospel Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
In addition to recognizing that it is God who calls and chooses who He will to complete His work on this earth, the TOSC committee also agreed that over the years ordination “has acquired meaning beyond what was originally implied” in the Bible. On the basis of these findings committee members overwhelmingly supported two options that would allow for the ordination of women. In spite of this action, the GC session voted to not allow divisions self-determination regarding ordination.
The Washington conference document is quoting from an unofficial “straw vote” that occurred at the final meeting of TOSC. At that time some two-thirds of Committee members supported either allowing Divisions to ordain women, or, the so-called “third option,” which acknowledged biblical support for spiritual male headship yet advocated letting each Division decide independently of others. Its rationale? Sometimes “divine ideals” are permitted by God to give way to immediate circumstances and the wishes of God’s people. An example cited by them was Israel’s demand for a king.
It could be argued on the same grounds, however, that a majority of the Committee acknowledged the Biblical case for spiritual male headship, since two of the three groups also supported male spiritual leadership.
The “straw vote” was not a legislative action, as TOSC was not a legislative body. TOSC was a study committee; its assignment was only advisory. The composition of the Committee was not proportionate to world Division membership. It was simply a committee intended to include all points of view. For Washington Conference to cite an unofficial vote, a straw poll from an advisory committee populated non-representationally, shows how far facts must be bent to find even theoretical authority for Washington Conference’s voted action.
By minting its own policy, Washington Conference made a gesture of insubordination, and thus joined forces with the rebellion demonstrated since San Antonio by Pacific Union and some European unions.
MORE AUTHORITY LOCAL OR WORLD?
The third paragraph in the Conference policy shows how far the Washington Conference has strayed from the world church under Freedman’s leadership:
While we desire to respect this vote, we also desire to live in harmony with Scripture and the Seventh-day Adventist belief that it is the responsibility of the Church to recognize those individuals whom the Lord has called and equipped for ministry in a local setting. We further desire to reconcile and live by the voted theology of ordination which is based in scripture but which our church policies do not allow. Thus we, the Washington Conference Executive Committee, have adopted the following policy for Mission-Focused Leadership. VOTED: October 20, 2015 (http://www.washingtonconference.org/site/1/docs/wacpolicy_missionfocusedleadership.pdf, accessed 2016-08-24).
The Washington Conference executive committee says it desires to respect the vote of the world church. But it claims that the world church’s actions are out of “harmony with Scripture.” Washington has two conflicting desires. The policy voted shows which has prevailed.
The new policy gives blanket approval for all commissioned ministers to conduct baptisms and weddings within the conference territory. The world church permits the conference president to give such authority on an individual-by-individual, instance-by-instance basis. The world church gave an inch for unusual local cases; the Washington Conference took a mile.
Washington’s new policy treats the commissioned minister identically to the ordained minister with reference to organizing and uniting churches. This is an authority the world church has reserved for the ordained minister.
Again, the world church has restricted the responsibility of conference president to the ordained minister of experience, a consecrated male worker. But Washington Conference voted policy now grants “That both commissioned and ordained ministers be allowed to serve in any position of the Washington Conference including conference president.” The executive committee has exceeded its authority.
Seeing their own position as biblical, and the position of the world church voted by the delegates to the General Conference in session to be unbiblical, the Washington Conference, led by Freedman, voted for itself a policy exceeding the authorities granted it by the world church. The voted policy actually scolds the world church, Washington says, for holding to policy over Scripture. This is a false representation, since the world church position agrees with Scripture in limiting the ordained ministry to spiritually qualified males as designed in God’s creation order (1 Timothy 2:12, 13; 3:2; Titus 1:5, 6).
WHO SHOULD BE NPUC PRESIDENT?
Delegates to the NPUC constituency session should weigh certain questions. If, as president of Washington Conference, Freedman was willing to place his personal opinion about women in positions Scripturally reserved for male leadership above the voted position of the General Conference in session, what would he do as president of the North Pacific Union Conference?
Another question is whether the constituents of the NPUC are ready to reward Freedman for opposing the world church. Is his example one we wish to see replicated in the NPUC? Those placed in leadership positions inevitably set example. Is Freedman’s example best for the Union at this time?
And a final concern remains. The NPUC is a diverse body. While administrators in Washington and Oregon Conferences favor women’s ordination, many church members across the union strongly oppose these unilateral acts of insubordination. (That is, they oppose the commissioned minister policies initiated by Washington, Oregon, and Upper Columbia Conferences.)
This is seen most recently in the votes of several churches in the Upper Columbia Conference to call for a special session of that conference constituency to turn back the insubordinate policy. The determination of these congregations to remain faithful to the world church led to the reversal of the Commissioned Minister policy. Several churches have called for possible replacement of the top administrative officers in that conference. In this setting of contention—created entirely by the refusal of conference administrations within the NPUC to adhere to the decisions and policies of the world church—how would a Freedman presidency turn out for the Union? Would a different candidate be more suitable for the union presidency at this time?
The Council of Adventist Pastors recommends that delegates vote for a union president who will lead the NPUC in harmony with the world church of which it is part. Members wish to remain united to the world church and do not want to see friction introduced between northwest congregations and the world church.