Divorce/Remarriage Resolution Passes
The General Council made history Wednesday by voting to permit men and women who were divorced before conversion to pursue ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God.
But there was a sharp divide over whether the historic vote was a good or bad move for the Fellowship.
"Is this a response to correct an error in our theology, or a response to our culture?" one pastor from Minnesota asked during Wednesday afternoon’s debate. "Our culture should be shaped by our theology, not our theology being shaped by our culture. This is a road that we can’t afford to go down because it’s going to cost us way too much."
Resolution 15—approved by a 998-834 margin on a secret ballot—changes sections of the General Council Bylaws that set the standards that candidates for ministerial credentials must meet. Under the new guidelines, the AG will consider applicants who were divorced before conversion—and can present evidence to prove that it truly was a pre-conversion divorce.
"Let’s give our brothers who already make these decisions on annulments the same latitude on pre-conversion divorces," said John McLaughlin, the California pastor who authored Resolution 15. "We’ve either overlooked or ignored this principle."
Supporters based many of their arguments on the principle that when the sin of divorce occurs before conversion, a person is not aware of the consequences of that sin. Salvation then, in essence, gives a person a second chance.
"Our fractured relationship with God has been restored," said Glen Cole, superintendent of the Northern California-Nevada District. "The record of our sin has been totally washed away. The potential of our new life in Christ is therefore limitless."
But opponents took issue with the scriptural interpretations that would allow a divorced and remarried person to hold AG credentials, even if the divorce happened when the person was not a follower of Christ.
Assistant General Superintendent Charles Crabtree spoke against the resolution because of the increased burden it would place on the Executive Presbytery, which is the final authority on ecclesiastical annulments.
Opponents also reminded the General Council that similar measures were rejected in 1983, 1991 and 1997.
"I believe as AG people, we have something to bring to a culture that is rampant in divorce," Paul E. Grabill, assistant superintendent of the Penn.-Del. District, said earlier in the day during debate over a related resolution that would have allowed the credentialing of a minister whose spouse was divorced prior to marriage.
"We have held the line with credential holders on this issue, and I believe we should do that. I believe that the Holy Spirit has spoken to us again and again, and I believe that we ought to let this issue rest, and let God use us."
A pastor from Florida echoed that sentiment.
"Our church’s credentialing requirements have served us well, and now we have somehow been told that we were out of will of God that whole time," he said during the Resolution 15 debate.
But some say those requirements haven’t served the Fellowship well, especially for men and women from inner cities who have been miraculously saved. Those converts frequently carry the baggage of divorce and remarriage but cannot fulfill callings to become ministers if they remain in the A/G.
"We must not keep these blood-bought, born-again children of God from this noble task (pastoral ministry)," McLaughlin said. "The scriptures do not, and we must not."
The use of a secret ballot may have been a factor in the passage of Resolution 15. Earlier in the day, the General Council by an 879-1,049 vote defeated Resolution 14, the measure that would have allowed the credentialing of a minister whose spouse was divorced prior to marriage. But that vote wasn’t conducted by secret ballot; delegates and ministers stood to display where they stood on the issue.
As with Resolution 15, strong opinions were expressed on both sides of the debate over Resolution 14.
"If we believe that marriage is a ministry team, then both the spouse and credential holder should be held to the same standard," said a pastor from the Potomac District. "If we were to separate that, then we would encourage our future young ministers with the thought that their spouse is not held to the same standard, and that would be a mistake. If we hold the spouse to different standard, we will be making a big mistake."
Supporters argued that scriptures placing the marriage standard on a minister were not relevant to the spouse.
"The Holy Spirit, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, did not put any of these requirements on the spouse of the bishop or the deacon," one pastor said. "We’re applying a standard that the scripture never applied."
The General Council elected five new members to the Executive Presbytery on Wednesday; six incumbents were re-elected.
The new members are Warren D. Bullock from the Northwest Area, J. Don George from the South Central Area, Charles E. Crank from the Great Lakes Area, L. Alton Garrison from the Gulf Area, and H. Robert Rhoden from the Northeast Area.
The re-elected incumbents are Richard L. Dresselhaus from the Southwest Area, David W. Argue from the North Central Area, C. Dan Betzer from the Southeast Area, Jesse Miranda from the Language Area-Spanish category, Nam Soo Kim from the Language Area-Other category and Spencer Jones from the Ethnic Fellowships.
Toward the end of the afternoon business session, the General Council quickly passed several resolutions with minimal discussion and few questions:
• Resolution 8, revising General Council Bylaws covering the fiscal affairs management for the AG Foundation, the AG Loan Fund and Ministers Benefit Association
• Resolution 9, formally establishing the AG Financial Services Group
• Resolution 16, amending the bylaws to disapprove of a minister’s counseling a sick believer to avoid medical advice and/or treatment when seeking prayer for physical healing
• Resolution 17, affirming support for the sanctity of all human life
• Resolution 18, revising the names of chaplaincy programs and modifying the composition of the Commission on Chaplaincy
• Resolution 19, modifying the memberships of the Commission on Evangelism and the Commission on Discipleship
• Resolution 20, adding a new category for disciplinary action against a minister. A one-year rehabilitation period will be recommended for ministers who have minor misconduct involving pornography, but a more severe penalty can be issued against a minister with serious involvement in pornography.
Also on Wednesday, the General Council:
• Approved the financial report presented by General Treasurer James K. Bridges
• Heard a report that the Tuesday night World Missions Banquet raised $830,000 for the Senders Fund, designed to help first-time missionaries get to the field sooner
• Learned that about 16,700 people were official registered for this 49th General Council. That figure included 2,738 ordained ministers and 456 delegates, for a total voting constituency of 3,194. Here are the figures for other categories: 489 licensed or certified ministers; 439 in Kid’s Council; 1,261 in Youth Congress; 375 AIMers; 5,477 in Fine Arts; and 5,467 other registered individuals. The grand total: 16,702.
• Passed a revision—spawned from the Resolution 14 debate—to two sections of the General Council Bylaws. References to a minister or spouse’s "former companion" were changed to say "former spouse" because the word "companion" no longer implies a marital relationship in today’s culture.