This weekend I watched an extended presentation by Bert Haloviak and Dr. Kendra Haloviak Valentine on the Adventist community’s first 150 years with female pastors. It’s part of a series of talks from 2014, and so occurred before the 2015 General Conference vote in San Antonio.
Bert Haloviak is a former staff member of the denomination’s archives, and has written several papers exploring the 19th Century church. Kendra Haloviak Valentine specializes in both Revelation and women’s role in the 1st Century house church.
Facts they share:
- At least 50 Adventist female ministers received ministerial licenses from the 1870s to the 1970s.
- Early Adventist language for what we now call “ordination” included the phrases “laying on of hands” and “setting apart.” Ordination practices in the denomination’s first several years involved prayer and a piece of paper, and recognized a person’s authority to preach and baptize as early as the 1850s.
- In the 1960s and 1970s, the IRS began asking questions about how the Adventist denomination determined which ministers merited tax-shielded benefits.
- Rather than treat all ministers equally, GC officials chained future decisions to global consensus, stripped female ministers of their credentials, and granted them “missionary” licenses instead. Missionary-licensed ministers and “associates in pastoral care” were no longer eligible for “ordination.”
- In the 1970s, three congregations, including a university church, recognized female ministers serving locally and ordained them. These ordinations in Maryland and California were not nationally or internationally recognized.
- The first Adventist recognized as a local church minister rather than an itinerant was a woman, Bert Haloviak says.
An interesting point surfaces during the post-presentation questions: Kendra Haloviak notes that her younger students tend to assume that because they have seen female ministers at work in churches, there is no policy obstacle. And this makes them less exercised about removing those barriers: if people are doing the work, how can there be a problem?
The North American Division has indeed hosted a different kind of conversation about ordination in the 2010s than it did in the 1970s, but the wider denominational stalemate persists and institutional limits are still in place. While male pastors encourage their female colleagues, these structural limits mean that Adventist congregations are not by default welcoming environments for ministers who aren’t male, and congregations and conferences that do welcome them remain unusual.
But once we acknowledge our history a full century before mainstream society woke up to women’s equality, the question shouldn’t be “should we ordain women?” It should be “Did we ever have sound reasons to stop ordaining them?” When the motivation for redefining “minister” as exclusive of women was money and pressure from the IRS, my answer has to be no.
You can read a text version of this presentation; the video is not captioned.