Well, here we are again. Fifteen months after San Antonio, one-fourth of the way to the next General Conference Session, and the unresolved conflict of 2015 continues. That’s the problem with unresolved conflicts–they don’t just vanish on their own. Recognizing that, the Autumn Council issued a document on “Unity,” which has already demonstrated that it will not resolve the conflict either. Like most of these situations, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

On one extreme, members who hold “equality” as a prime directive are talking about the church leaving them, and about “kingly power” in the GC. On the other extreme, members mutter darkly about “rebellion” and “disobedience.” Which side is wrong, or if both are, matters little, and certainly cannot be settled by this writer.  Scholars and others meeting for several years could not resolve the issue of women’s ordination; neither did more than 2000 delegates in San Antonio. Yes, there was a vote. But the vote settled only one very narrow question.

That very narrow question was the motion itself. The motion failed, so that particular action was rejected. Many people inferred from that failure, that the GC had voted to disapprove women’s ordination. Procedurally, that is simply not so.

Let’s suppose, at your church business meeting, someone proposes to fund a new ministry, say a church website.  The church has a website, hosted by the conference, but it is being maintained by volunteers. There is no cost to the church. The funding would be for professional web design and maintenance, to enhance church outreach. Others suggest that the funding would be better spent on printing an mailing a newsletter, something the church does not now have.   So during the meeting, someone makes a motion to fund the website.

Some members think that the internet is the tool of the devil, and that the church should not be on it, and should spend money on “tried and true” approaches, such as handbills, direct mail, and a newsletter. For them it is a matter of conscience. They make that argument forcefully, and plead to defeat the motion. Supporters say that it is a proven way to reach people; they also contend it is a matter of conscience. After long and passionate debate, the motion is defeated; the church will not fund the website.

Those who prevailed find, much to their dismay, that, after a month or two, the church still has a website. “We voted to forbid that!” they say. Perhaps that’s what they intended, but what they voted was simply not to expend church funds for the purpose. There was not vote to prohibit or remove the website.

So that’s the first error. The motion in San Antonio was to locate authority for ordination in the divisions. That failed. No motion was offered to prohibit ordination of women at any level. That may be what voters intended, it is not what they voted. As to where the authority for ordination lies, that has been very thoroughly laid out by my friends George Knight and Gary Patterson.

But that is only one of the problems. I will not attempt to address all of them in this blog. What I will say is something quite different.

This topic has been debated for 40 years. The notion in the Unity document, and in several counter-proposals, is that we go at it again. And again. And keep going at it until we resolve it.

I suggest this is futile. As I have said for a number of years, I believe Women’s Ordination is a distraction. I did not say it is unimportant; quite the contrary. It is because it is important that it makes such an effective distraction.  How to fold the table cloth from the communion table may be important to some, but I doubt it would occupy the world church for decades!

Truth to tell, if we resolved Women’s Ordination today, another divisive issue would take center stage tomorrow! All that’s required to verify this is to read various Adventist websites and publications.  Or even attend many church board meetings.

Does anyone really believe that whether women or men speak from the pulpit is a salvation issue? I doubt it. In an earlier blog, I wrote about cruise ships versus battleships. Battleships have an identity, a purpose, and a mission. They don’t argue about non-essential matters, they attend to battle. We have lost our sense of common identity, and with it unity of purpose and mission.

Don’t believe it? Listen to the disputes within congregations. Often, people sitting next to each other in the pews effectively belong to different churches.  Discuss with others whether it is more important for the church to be compassionate or to be pure. Or whether it is more important to be inclusive or distinct.  Such debates are going on continually within the church today.

There are plenty of Adventist websites and Facebook pages arguing all sides of these questions. They cannot be resolved because they are not central questions, not questions that deal with identity, purpose, and mission; they do not deal with basic existential questions. So addressing Women’s Ordination, or any of the other divisive issues, will not resolve anything. We are being told we should do the same thing over and over, and expect a different result.

We need to address other questions. Why does this church exist? Some will say, “To uplift Jesus,” and that’s true. But Lutherans, and Methodists, Baptists, and Evangelicals of all stripes would say that, too. So why us? Increasingly, many of our young adults, even many ministers, have no particular answer to that question.

Until we, as a movement, resolve that question, we will not resolve any of these lesser issues. I do not propose that the answer is simple or easy. Only that it is essential.