Through the years of my experience in Seventh-day Adventist higher education administration, I have had more than one opportunity to be the pioneer. I consider it a privilege to be part of the making of Adventist history. And Adventist history continues to be made, as delegates of various union conferences have taken unprecedented actions in recent weeks focused on the topic of ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.
As a member of the executive committee of the Pacific Union Conference, I have enjoyed something of a front seat through these events. I know that much study has been given to just this matter. Not only we at the Pacific Union Conference, but other union executive committees, and other church entities—from local congregations to General Conference-appointed study committees—have prayerfully and conscientiously examined the biblical, historical, theological, and other implications of this very delicate issue. Our church has been doing this for many months, years, and decades. In my case, as a woman who has been blessed by God to have the opportunity to serve in educational leadership roles, I know firsthand that God Himself has called, equipped, and empowered me with spiritual gifts to help in the building up of His remnant church in multiple areas of ministry. I believe that the same is true for many other women now involved in the work of educational, pastoral, administrative, and other ministry within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
At the same time, as the leader of an educational institution owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I have had real reservations about participating in any action that could be perceived as undermining our church’s unity. In the days and weeks that have followed the Pacific Union Conference’s special constituency meeting I continue to believe that my loyalty to God and to the Seventh-day Adventist Church will allow us to achieve a real balance in regard to this important denominational issue. This is no isolated conviction of mine; it is shared by all those with whom I am privileged to work, vote, pray, and believe, at the Pacific Union Conference.
I know that within my church, in local congregations, local conferences, union conferences, and divisions of the General Conference around the world, there continue to be strong personal beliefs and strongly differing convictions on this matter. I know too that we must, for Jesus’ sake, go forward together. Our progress together will surely require very specific commitments on the part of everyone concerned. Given the recent actions of the Pacific Union Conference and others, we are all left with the question: where do we go from here as a dynamic global church, entrusted with a precious and powerful message for this historical moment in earth’s history?
While I would not presume to have the answer to a situation as complex as this one, I would like to offer a few principles that may help us all as we move through any current or future stage of our united journey to heaven. First of all, in an era characterized by intense polarization in society at large as well as sometimes in the church, it is important to have voices of civility, clarity, and charity that are consensus builders, and that are adept at helping us all to find common ground even in the face of difficult issues. Furthermore, we must remember that across the globe we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Like any good family—indeed, more so than any other family—the family of God must stay together and work together to achieve the church’s critical mission even when we may hold differing views for a time. After all, we are all seeking to do God’s will. Only in doing so will we be able to inherit His kingdom together—a kingdom of hope, love, joy, and mutual respect.
Heather J. Knight is the first Black female to lead an Adventist college or university in North America. She is President of Pacific Union College in Angwin, California. This article was published September 13, 2012.