So far, Church Manual revisions include women as deacons, written notification of sexual misconduct

So far, Church Manual revisions include women as deacons, written notification of sexual misconduct

Business Meetings | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

Discussion continues on 95 proposed changes

Gerry Karst, a world church vice president, chairs a business meeting Monday, when the Church Manual term
Gerry Karst, a world church vice president, chairs a business meeting Monday, when the Church Manual term

Seventh-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 Tuesday at mid-day, delegates had voted to allow the ordination of deaconesses, as well as strongly worded additions to make church and church-related activities safer for children.

At a church business meeting in 2008, members of the world church's Executive Committee first voted to appoint a study group to review the Church Manual, last revised in 2005, for "style and cohesiveness," Session agenda states.

June 27 discussions were marked by the revising 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.

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. 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, representing North America. "They aren't only the future of the church; they're the present."

Notably, many delegates from the church's Southern African-Indian Ocean 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 region. 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 -- "ample time" for review.

Jeroen Tuinstra, representing Trans-Europe, 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.

Delegates who trickled into the Dome for the June 28 afternoon business session got a quick review of the "point of order" provision, which propels delegates to the front of the mic queue to question whether rules of order are being followed.

Hinting that delegates might be using the provision to cut in line to simply comment or request clarification, Gerry Karst, a world church general vice president and one of the moderating officers of the discussion, joked with delegates in a rare moment of levity.

"If you call a 'point of order,' I'm going to suggest for your amusement that you give a $20 bill to the mic attendent. If your comment actually is a 'point of order,' you get it back. If not, we keep it," Karst said.

Several minor revisions were moved with little to no discussion during the afternoon business session. However, an hour into the meeting, with about two-thirds of the proposed changes still outstanding, many delegates seemingly grew impatient and sought to accelerate the voting process by waving their yellow voting cards before motions were called.

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 and church-related events.

Several delegates said it was unfair to expect a vote on an item they had not seen a copy of, since their copies of the Session Agenda did not include the update. Delegates from the church's Trans-European region were particularly vocal, one insisting that that the issue be held until a copy was projected on the many television monitors in the Georgia Dome.

Later, after a copy was displayed on the screens, some delegates questioned the wisdom of potentially allowing a perpetrator in the proximity of his or her victim(s). One's call for the added phrase to be referred to the Church Manual Committee for further review was moved, but delegates also moved to accept the original motion provisionally.

This morning, delegates revisited Church Manual revisions, making it to Chapter 10 of the 14-chapter Manual. They voted to include in several chapters a statement requiring background checks and certifications for all church employees and volunteers who work closely with minors.

Delegates are expected to conclude their approval of proposed changes to the Church Manual during an afternoon business session today. If necessary, the process will continue throughout the week.

CORRECTION: When publishing this story yesterday, ANN incorrectly said delegates moved to allow women deacons to be ordained in regions that favor it. Delegates, however, also approved an amendment to the original motion that removed the line that would have left ordination of women deacons to the discretion of each region. We have updated the story to reflect the amendment, and regret the error.