(RNS) The president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has voiced his "regret" that the church's Southeastern California Conference has decided to issue the same credentials to male and female pastors.

The executive committee of the conference made the move March 16. F. Lynn Mallery, president of the conference, said the decision reflected the need to treat "women ministers without discrimination."

Mallery said the committee respected the various views on the matter, but hoped "our fellow believers will also respect our moral conviction that men and women in this conference who are equally qualified and have had fruitful ministries should be treated in the same way."

Pastor Jan Paulsen, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said the decision by the Southeast California Conference makes a unified position more difficult on the matter of male and female clergy.

"The issue is not the rightness or otherwise, ethically, morally or biblically, of the position that there should be no difference between them," Paulsen said. "My regret is that the SECC could not, out of deference to the larger international family of Seventh-day Adventists, have held in check their exercise of `freedom,' knowing that the church makes her decisions sometimes frustratingly slowly, but in a very deliberate manner with an eye to many issues.

"Moving together until we have agreed to give room to differ on specific issues is the price we pay for unity."

The Adventist Church traditionally has a two-tier credentialing system for men and women, reported Adventist Press Service. The church recognizes males in gospel ministry as "ordained" and females as "commissioned." Commissioned ministers are prohibited from organizing churches, ordaining deacons and elders and serving as conference president.

Nearly 10 percent of pastors in the 60,000-member Southeastern California Conference are women. The conference serves five counties south and east of Los Angeles.

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