NPUC Updates Its Ordination Plan
How did the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) executive committee address the issue of ordination during its meeting on February 20, 2013?
The committee engaged in a spirited but thoughtful discussion and voted to approve the following action: “Moved that the NPUC executive committee schedule a special session of the NPUC constituency to address ministerial ordination to convene within 120 days after the General Conference (GC) theology of ordination study committee completes its work.”
But the GC theology of ordination study committee is not scheduled to complete its work until it gives a report to the October 2014 Annual Council—and a final action on that wouldn’t take place until the 2015 General Conference session. That puts any further NPUC action potentially two years in the future. Why wait so long?
It comes down to one main reason: A desire to give our world church the opportunity to complete a process already in progress—as long as it is done in a timely manner by the projected dates. The unity of our church is important to NPUC leadership. We have carefully reflected on the call for unity issued by the General Conference on whether or not the practice of ordination is applied appropriately to women. We wish to signal our intent to avoid taking any action at this moment that could be broadly interpreted as one of disrespect toward the polity of our world church.
Will NPUC leadership do whatever the world church decides?
Well, a lot can happen in two years, but this is our hope: That the world church will resolve this clearly by issuing a strong recommendation at the 2014 Annual Council that will ultimately be approved at the next General Conference session scheduled for the summer of 2015. If the matter is clearly determined then, there may be no need for us to move ahead with plans for a special NPUC constituency session. If past history is repeated, and the issue is delayed or “punted” to succeeding GC committees or future world church sessions, the NPUC has resolved to then move ahead on its own, as per the February 20 action.
So what is the current position of NPUC leadership on the issue of women’s ordination?
The members of the NPUC executive committee have a consensual conviction that choosing candidates for leadership roles and the way those leaders are affirmed should both be conducted without reference to gender. This conclusion is based on deep reflection upon Scripture and on the story of our church. We understand this conviction is not shared by every member within our union or in the world church as a whole. We believe this is an area where honest-hearted people who take a high view of Scripture may disagree. And we believe the best course ahead for our church is to honor this range of convictions rather than suppress it. If the world church does not find its way clear at the 2014 Annual Council or 2015 General Conference session to affirm areas within our movement who are open and ready to accept women into the full range of leadership, the NPUC is prepared to respectfully move ahead to bring the issue to a vote in the Northwest.
Are all members of the NPUC executive committee in agreement with this stance?
The 40 members of our committee represent the diversity among our membership, including administrators, pastors, teachers and lay people from all sectors of the Northwest. So, of course there are different opinions—often strong opinions—among our group. If everyone thought exactly alike, discussion of this topic would be quite brief. But in spite of the complexity, decisions voted on this issue within our committee have passed with an overwhelming majority in favor.
So you’re essentially saying, if the world church doesn’t agree with our view, we’ll do what we want anyway?
We have expressed our desire to move in harmony with our world church. But we believe our church mission and Bible-based doctrines must drive our policies, not the other way around. And we believe it is past time to bring every person called to minister to the front lines. In Joel 2 and Acts 2, we see God promising to pour out His Spirit on “sons and daughters” who will prophesy in His name. We don’t want our policies to become a human barrier to what God is doing.
How does this NPUC position reflect its views on church unity?
We believe there is a big difference between unity and uniformity. It seems inconsistent with our scriptural mandate to grant women pastoral roles and responsibilities and yet deny them the full authority freely granted to male pastors. According to current working policy, male ministers who are ordained and female ministers who are commissioned must also have been previously ordained as local elders. There is unity on ordaining both men and women to ministry at every level except one—pastoral ministry. This promotes a mixed message on our view of women in leadership and contradicts our core value of equality supported in Scripture. Our own North American Division has clearly stated its intention to equip and engage more women in positions of administrative and pastoral leadership on this continent. We plan to work in unity with that mandate, and hope that the world church will see wisdom in allowing some variance in practice if necessary to preserve our overall unity in mission.
How does that measure up with the view of the General Conference?
After the recent actions of two North American union conferences to approve ordinations without regard to gender, the General Conference issued a sternly worded statement intended to discourage any further similar actions apart from world church approval. But an excerpt here from a report presented at the General Conference Spring Council in April, 2012, brings some important perspective to consider: “At the same time as the Church has worked to preserve unity, the effect of church growth has enlarged the understanding of diversity and its rightful place in a worldwide community. To expect that every entity of the world will look and function exactly like every other entity of its type may in itself become an impediment to mission. The development of structural designs in the history of the Church indicates that unity must be built on a stronger foundation than uniformity. There must be room to recognize the need for a legitimacy of local adaptation of policies and procedures that facilitate the mission while not diminishing the worldwide identity, harmony and unity of the Church.”
The NPUC motion states a potential constituency session would be scheduled within 120 days following the 2014 Annual Council. Wouldn’t this have to technically wait until after the 2015 GC session?
Our NPUC executive committee meeting scheduled for November 2014 will likely revisit this once the Annual Council recommendations are public. We want to give our General Conference the benefit of the doubt on resolving this issue in a timely manner, and yes, the definitive voice of our world church is the General Conference in session.
What if the GC theology of ordination study committee finds that our current practice of ordination is not biblical and that we should follow a different process in designating pastors and church leaders? Is the whole idea of women’s ordination then a moot point?
We and our world church will cross that bridge if it comes. There are certainly different schools of thought on that topic. One thing is certain: We believe that both men and women are called to be shepherds and leaders of God’s flock and should be provided equal respect and support by our church. We will advocate for that and move into full compliance in our practice as soon as possible.
If the NPUC does move ahead to approve the ordination of women within its territory, what will happen to groups or churches that may not feel comfortable with that practice?
We believe that each local conference will continue to be sensitive to the unique characteristics of their individual churches. A policy may permit without mandating.
Between now and 2014–15, how should NPUC members engage in a constructive discussion?
The NPUC, through the GLEANER and other online options, will educate members on the rationale that supports the recent executive committee actions. The NPUC ad hoc committee on women in leadership has been asked to develop additional counsel on a communicative process and timeline to follow as we look toward further actions from the world church. All members are encouraged to read documents and add their own comments or send comments as letters to the editor.