Second Draft: Feb. 29, 1984 Presented to students in the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich., in GSEM 534 “The Writings of Ellen G. White,” on March 6, 1984
Third Draft: Maranatha, 9, 1984 For NAD study committee
N.B. Drafts in 1983 and 1984 inadvertently contained a technical error. On pages 4 and 5 agenda proposals were inadvertently taken to be actual committee actions and were presented as formal actions. This draft corrects that inaccuracy, which is deeply regretted. R.W.C.
Fourth Draft: Feb. 13, 1985 For GSEM 534 class discussion
Fifth Draft: Nov. 29, 1987 For GSEM 534 class discussion
Sixth Draft: Dec. 10, 1987 Minor editorial changes
A newly written statement on jewelry spurred lively debate among delegates to the North American Division year-end meeting. Discussion lasted so long that NAD officers had to schedule an extra session. The document. “Jewelry: A Clarification and Appeal.” reaffirms and clarifies a 1972 Annual Council action that counseled against the use of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and rings. That same action encouraged the selection of watches, brooches, cuff links, and tie clasps, with simplicity, modesty, and economy.
The North American Division document also cites a 1972 General Conference officers’ statement that counseled ministers not to perform ring wedding ceremonies—and urged evangelists and pastors to encourage baptismal candidates to examine their motives in deciding whether to wear a wedding band.
Although the GC officers’ statement spoke strongly against the use of jewelry, it drew a distinction between ornaments and the simple wedding band, providing for the baptism of converts who conscientiously felt they should wear a simple ring.
The current NAD document also appeals to members for a commitment to simplicity in lifestyle and holds the wearing of jewelry as unacceptable.
However, one clause in the NAD statement differed from the actions in 1972—and that difference sparked over two dozen speeches. remarks, and declarations.
The clause states: “Some churches members feel that the use of a simple marriage band is a symbol of faithfulness to the marriage vow, and such persons should be fully accepted in the fellowship and service of the church.”
NAD delegates approved the document by a substantial majority after a three-hour debate.
Several delegates, like Leonard Newton, Northeastern Conference president, believed that the clause will lead to a greater use of jewelry among Adventists. “We didn’t have the problem of jewelry before the change in 1972,” Newton said.
Other delegates, like Herman Bauman, Montana Conference president, expressed satisfaction because the document unifies the church position around the world.
NAD president Charles Bradford insisted that their is no change in the church’s stand on jewelry. He argued that the difference in attitudes over the wedding band between native and foreign born citizens has actually weakened the church’s case against jewelry.
“The increasing number of over seas church employees [who conscientiously wear wedding bands] coming to the United States to work in various church settings has caused conflicts with North American members [who traditionally have not worn wedding bands],” Bradford explained. “The 1972 statements [which tolerated the use of wedding bands] were never read carefully enough. They were never widely circulated.”
“We gave attention to this issue because of the repeated appeals from church leaders for clarification,” he said.
“We’re saying that there is a distinction. We can draw the line here and say, ‘Take off the earrings. Take off the class rings. Take off all the ostentatious brooches and the clasps.’”
“The wedding band has never been an issue outside of North American. People were wearing it all around the world even back in 1892 when Ellen G. White wrote on it,” Bradford explained. “It was never an issue in England, France, Italy, and Australia. The members outside outside North America have been always persuaded that the wedding hand was a symbol of their marriage commitment.”
—Adventist Review, Dec. 4, 1986, pp. 9, 10.
Action voted at the North American Division 1986 annual meeting.—Editors
At the 1972 Annual Council the General Conference officers gave counsel regarding the wedding band in North America. An examination of this statement reveals the following salient points:
1. Ministers were counseled not to perform ring ceremonies since the wearing of the wedding band still “is not regarded as obligatory” or an “imperative” custom in North America.
2. Pastors, evangelists, and Bible instructors were urged to present to candidates for baptism the biblical principles regarding display and ornaments, encouraging careful self-examination concerning the motives involved in deciding whether to wear the wedding band.
3. Baptism was not to be denied to converts who conscientiously felt they should wear the wedding band.
4. Church officers, ministers and their wives, teachers, and other SDA workers were urged to give strong support to the standards and principles that have distinguished the remnant church.
The Annual Council of the same year also, stated very clearly its position to personal adornment as follows.
“That in the area of personal adornment, necklaces, earrings. bracelets, and rings (including engagement rings) should not be worn. Articles such as watches, brooches, cuff links, tie clasps, etc., should be chosen in harmony with the Christian principles of simplicity, modesty, and economy.”
It seems, therefore, that in 1971 the church had a strong desire to maintain a high standard in the matter of personal adornment. Yet it also recognized the simple wedding band as being in a category distinct from that of jewelry worn for ornamental purposes.
The Church Manual likewise states the principles involved in the matter of personal adornment (see pp. 145,146—“Dress”). Included in this particular section is the following statement:
“In some countries the custom of wearing the marriage ring is considered imperative, having become, in the minds of the people, a criterion of virtue and hence is not regarded as an ornament. Under such circumstances we have no disposition to condemn the practice” (Church Manual, p. 146).
During the intervening years large numbers of members who have come from areas in the world where wearing a wedding band is an accepted and necessary symbol of marriage have joined the church in North America. A growing number of employees from such areas have also come to serve the church at all levels. In North America there are many loyal, clear thinking members who believe that conditions have changed greatly since 1892 when Ellen White’s counsel was given and that her statement “in countries where the custom is imperative, we have no burden to condemn, those who have their marriage ring, let them wear it they can do so conscientiously” is now applicable in North America.
Across the division the position concerning the wedding band has not been uniform, and possibly it never will be. However, there has developed an ambivalence on the part of many, and the lack of consistency has caused embarrassment and even hardship and misunderstanding. It has also obscured the Church’s position on the wearing of jewelry.
In the light of these and other factors it is VOTED
1. To reafirm the principles regarding personal adjournment as outlined in the Church Manual, the 1972 Annual Council action, and the General Conference officers’ statement October 2, 1972.
2. To affirm that the wearing of jewelry is unacceptable and is a denial of principles enunciated in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy concerning personal adornment.
3. To recognize that in harmony with the position stated in the Church Manual (pp 145, 146), some church members in the North American Division, as in other parts of the world, feel that wearing a simple marriage band is a symbol of faithfulness to the marriage vow and to declare that such persons should be fully accepted in the fellowship and service of the church.
4. To make an immediate appeal to our people for a commitment to simplicity in lifestyle and by pen, voice, and example to halt the rising tide of worldly attitudes and practices that have made their subtle appearance within the church in recent years
The first edition of the SDA Church Manual was published in 1932. Subsequent editions were issued in: 1934, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1967, 1981, and 1986. The SDA Encyclopedia notes that minor revisions were made in the editions of 1934 and 1940, and a major revision occurred in the edition of preceding the publication of the article on “Church Manual” in the 1976 Revised Edition.
In 1946 the General Conference Session voted that all further revisions of the Church Manual must be approved in advance by the GC in world session. At the next quadrennial session (1950) major changes were approved, and published in the edition of 1951. Since the GC Session of 1958 it has become standard practice to publish an updated edition of the Church Manual in the year following each session (quadrennial through 1970, quinquennial since).
Through the years there have been only two statement relating to the wedding band which have appeared in various editions of the Church Manual, if my research is correct and complete:
1. Ring Ceremony: From the first edition of 1932 through the edition of 1942 there was no section in the Church Manual on “Church Standards” (as there has been since 1951), but Section X dealt with “Marriage.” This statement (which included a section on divorce) covered parts of seven pages in the editions of 1932, 1934, 1938, 1940, and 1942. The last portion of the first section on marriage cited an “Autumn [now Annual] Council” action from 1925, which was worded:
“Resolved, That in the marriage ceremony simplicity be observed, and that some simple formula as that in the ‘Manual for Ministers’ be used; also that we look with disfavor upon the ring ceremony, and upon our ministers officiating at the marriage of believers with unbelievers or with those not of our faith.”—Autumn Council Actions, 1925, pp. 12, 13
[This statement appears on p. 175 of the editions of 1932, 1934, 1938, and 1940, and on p. 187 of the 1942 edition, with no change of text between 1932 and 1942. (The next edition was published in 1952.)]
2. Marriage Ring: With the major revision of the Church Manual in 1951, the compilers devoted an entire chapter to “Standards of Christian Living,” one section of which dealt with “Dress.” It consisted of a statement of seven paragraphs, the fifth of which reads:
“In some countries the custom of wearing the marriage ring is considered imperative, having become, in the minds of the people, a criterion of virtue, and hence is not regarded as an ornament. Under such circumstances, we have no disposition to condemn the practice.”
[This statement appears on p. 202 of the editions of 1951, 1959, and 1963; on p. 212 of the editions of 1967 and 1971; on p. 225 of the edition of 1976; on p. 222 of the edition of 1981, and on p. 146 of the edition of 1986, with no change of text between 1951 and 1986.]
To summarize, then: only two statements have ever appeared in the Church Manual from the 1st edition of 1932 through the latest edition of 1986: (a) from 1932 to 1951 the church said, simply, “we look with disfavor upon the ring ceremony;” and (b) from 1951 to 1987 it declares “we have no disposition to condemn” the wearing of a wedding band by SDA church members in such countries where the custom is “considered imperative.” (The determination of which country is which is wisely left to the individual church member by the church.)
Therefore, when arch conservative opponents of the wearing of the wedding band by SDA Christians today affirm “The Church Manual has been changed,” they are right…and wrong. A change was indeed made 36 years ago, from a statement which discouraged the performing of ring ceremonies at SDA weddings, to a recognition that cultural differences must be recognized by the world church in determining the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a member’s wearing a wedding band. But it is important to note that this change (a) is not one of recency, as some critics allege, nor (b) was it a reversal of an alleged earlier proscription against SDA’s wearing wedding bands, as these critics also alleged.
If the various editions of the Church Manual contain other references to the wedding band than those cited above, their respective Tables of Contents fail to indicate the page upon which the statement is to be located, nor were they detected in a rather exhaustive search of each edition which the statement examined individually.
I have yet to find any statement in any edition of the Church Manual which prohibits or even discourages the wearing of a wedding band by an SDA Christian in any country, although it seems reasonable to infer an unspoken discouragement from the statement on ring ceremonies and the statement that approves of the wearing of a wedding band in cultures, where it is deemed necessary.
Roger W. Coon
Ellen G. White Estate
November 29, 1987