INDIANAPOLIS -- The ordination of women to the gospel ministry was turned down by the Seventh-day Adventist world conference here this week by a vote of 1,173 to 377.
A large number of the votes in favor of ordaining women came from North American delegates attending the meeting in the Hoosier Dome. Some wore pink buttons bearing the word "Equality."
Most Seventh-day Adventists from the rest of the world are opposed to women ministers, some vehemently so. The church's division presidents, who have done a comprehensive study of the matter, reported that women's ordination is so unpopular -- particularly in Africa and South America -- that allowing it could cause a schism in the church.
Disunity would harm the Seventh-day Adventist focus on evangelizing the world before 2000, the presidents' report said.
Before the vote, immediate past president Neal C. Wilson told the 2,020 delegates that 50 Bible scholars had prepared papers on the ordination question.
Using the same Bible verses as texts, "they have come up with diametrically opposing conclusions" about whether women pastors are prohibited by scripture, Wilson said.
There being no clear-cut statement one way or the other, he said, the church should continue its male-only pastorate.
In some local churches, primarily in North America, women are ordained as deacons and elders, but they are not allowed to perform baptisms and marriages, according to Adventist spokeswoman Shirley Burton.
Even so, some women are being trained for the ordained ministry in Seventh-day Adventist schools. Leon Trusty, a delegate from New Jersey, expressed outrage that the schools are providing ministerial education for women while preventing their ordination.
"What in effect we are saying is, 'We will take your money and educate you but not allow you to serve in the ministry,' " he said.
The ordination vote had been postponed from the previous afternoon because more than 40 people were still lined up to speak for and against the issue at dinnertime after two hours of debate.
Robert Johnston, a professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., held up a $50 bill and said he would give it to anyone who could find a Bible verse that specifically said women should not be ordained.
An inference would not be enough to convince him, Johnston said. "I want a 'Thus saith the Lord.' "
In his remarks before the vote, Wilson said he had listened carefully to the debate the previous afternoon.
"There was not one new thought or idea that hasn't been discussed and analyzed many times" by the church commissions that have deliberated on the women's ordination question over the past 10 years, he said.
Some speakers suggested that each division of the church should decide for itself whether to ordain women, but Wilson said that wasn't a very good idea because it would lead to pluralism.
"This is one of the few universal churches on Earth," Wilson said. "Anyone who initiates pluralism in the church is going the wrong direction."