Could you clarify the role of divisions and unions in light of the unity document?

Questions & Answers October 15, 2016

Q: The 2015 General Conference Session vote in San Antonio was not to allow the power to decide ordination to go to a division level. As far as I’m aware, no division has taken such an action. So exactly which division is out of keeping with policy? I’m confused by the use of the term “division” and the seeming compliance of all divisions and then questions raised about unions. Surely they are different entities. — Tabitha, from the Netherlands

A: Tabitha, you raise a good question regarding the structure of our church. As I’m sure you are not the only one confused by these various terms, please allow me to clarify.

A “division” of the world church is not a separate “level” such as a union conference or local conference. Each of those levels represent constituents who have elected them to their positions. However, a “division” is actually a section of the General Conference — in other words, it represents the General Conference in its particular division of the world. The division officers are normally elected during a General Conference Session.

The question that was given to the delegates to vote on in San Antonio was:

“After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No?”

Please notice that the question refers to “division executive committees.” As divisions are a part of the General Conference, they are responsible to ensure that policies voted in a General Conference session are being followed within their territories. Voted General Conference Working Policy states that all church organizations everywhere are to follow church policies. Likewise, unions and conferences are to ensure that policy is being followed within their respective territories. So if a union is out of compliance, a part of that division is out of compliance. In other words, the action covered all subsidiary organizations within a division which includes unions, local fields, churches, and institutions.

The reason for this document, “Unity in Mission: Procedures in Church Reconciliation,” is to further clarify the process of how to reconcile non-compliant entities to the world church.