World leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, in a special Executive Council meeting June 23, voted to advance several statements on hot-button issues including the church's belief in the biblical account of creation, and its commitment to religious liberty. The leaders also approved two dozen proposed changes to the "Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual," due to come to a vote at the church's 59th General Conference Session, opening here tomorrow.
Chaired by Jan Paulsen, president of the Adventist Church, the three-hour session covered 11 different topics, including six public statements, the roster of delegates, invitees to the Session's steering committee, and revisions to the Church Manual.
Of the topics, it was the Church Manual revisions, mostly editorial changes and amendments, which elicited some of the most heated discussion. Particular attention was directed to a paragraph mentioning the ordination of deaconesses, a practice followed in some, but not all, church divisions.
Following comments by those opposing the practice, Ella Smith Simmons, a general vice president of the world church, said "in every case, in every instance, we must recognize the value of women in this Church," comments which drew scattered applause from the members. Israel Leito, president of the church's Inter-American region, said "we have to look at the ministry of the church" in considering women's roles, noting that different Inter-American regions have ordained, or not ordained, deaconesses for years without problems.
The revision passed, as did all changes proposed to the manual. Some language may be changed before the measures reach the Session floor, and each proposed change will come to a vote.
Equally galvanizing was the fourth of six statements to be issued by the Executive Committee. Titled "Creation: The Bible's Worldview," the statement reaffirmed Adventists' belief in "the biblical view of origins in contrast to an evolutionary explanation," according to the draft text.
The statement said Adventists "believe that the biblical events recorded in Genesis [chapters] 1-11, including the special creation of human beings, are historical and recent, that the seven days of creation were literal[,] 24-hour days forming a literal week, and that the Flood was global in nature."
Several committee members urged strengthening various aspects of the statement's wording. Wording for the statement may be slightly revised before it is publicly released.
Other statements voted June 23 affirmed the role of the Holy Bible and, separately, the Spirit of Prophecy in the life and witness of the Adventist Church. The Executive Committee also voted statements for public release that urged special attention to the nurture and protection of children; a commitment to social and governmental initiatives to end violence against women and girls; and a pledge to support both United Nations and non-governmental organizations' campaigns to reduce poverty.
The sensitive and related issues of freedom of expression and defamation of religion were addressed in a statement entitled, "Adventists on Freedom of Speech and Defamation of Religion," that the Executive Council also voted before its midday adjournment.