July 1, 2010

Church Manual Revision Clarifies Women as Deacons

Church Manual Revision Clarifies Women as Deacons, Written Notification of Sexual Misconduct
Discussion continues on 95 proposed changes

By Elizabeth Lechleitner, Adventist News NetworkSeventh-day Adventist Church delegates continued to wrestle over 95 proposed changes to the Church Manual during business meetings this week in the Georgia Dome.

As of midday June 29, delegates voted to allow the ordination of deaconesses, as well as strongly worded additions to make church and church-related activities safer for children.

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PHOTO: Austin R. Ho/Adventist Review

June 27 discussions were marked by the revision of the Manual to accommodate the unions of churches structure, in which a group of local Adventist congregations reports directly to their respective union, eliminating the conferences structure in that region. Delegates voted the motion to grant church structure more flexibility, recognizing that not all regions fit one mold.

At a church business meeting in 2008, members of the General Conference Executive Committee first voted to appoint a study group to review the Church Manual, last revised in 2005, for “style and cohesiveness,” the session agenda states.

Some delegates were more reluctant to accept regional differences the following morning, when they tackled a motion to include ordination of deaconesses in the Manual, subject to the approval of each region’s top leadership. Previously, mention of deaconesses’ ordination was absent.

Other regional delegations supported the proposed change as a necessary step forward in affirming women—especially young women—in ministry.

“If we vote down something as innocuous as this, I tell you, it would discourage our young people,” said John Brunt, a North American delegate. “They aren’t only the future of the church; they’re the present.”

Notably, many delegates from the church’s Southern African-Indian Ocean region objected to the motion, arguing that it was superfluous and speculating that it invited the ordination of women as pastors.

“It’s my view that the Church Manual Committee has overstepped its limits,” said Stain Liyanda of the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. Liyanda called the motion an “ambush” of the Manual meant to give women’s ordination an unprecedented foothold.

In response, newly elected world church undersecretary Homer Trecartin reminded delegates that they’d each had a copy of the proposed changes since May and thus “ample time” for review.

Jeroen Tuinstra, a ?delegate from the Trans-?European Division, suggested that the entire proposed sentence be omitted and that the term “deacon” be deemed gender-neutral, with both men and women serving in the capacity ordained in the same fashion.

Delegates voted to accept the amendment, but it was apparent that many were not pleased with the outcome. Some came to delegate microphones well after the vote, attempting to reignite the debate.

But delegates hit the brakes when an item arose blocking former sexual offenders from transferring to a new congregation without written notification of their past.

Some delegates, among them a lawyer, worried that the language was too strong and might lead to lawsuits if a person was wrongly framed for abuse. The world church’s general counsel, Karnik Doukmetzian, disagreed.

“I’d much rather defend a defamation of character action against the church than risk a child being abused,” he said.

Outgoing world church associate director for family ministries, Karen Flowers, backed him. She said forgiveness does not eliminate consequences, and in the case of child abuse, such consequences are “grave and far-reaching.” After lengthy debate, delegates moved to accept the change.

In a similar item, officials moderating the discussion informed delegates that the world church’s Executive Committee had altered language on an item seeking to protect children by blocking sexual predators from positions granting them unsupervised contact with minors. The new wording allowed for former, presumably repentant predators to attend church services and church-related events.