White Skin and the Open Earth

Posted on April 19, 2013

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Womens OrdinationAuthor: Marion Miller

Reflections on the Promotional Practices of Women’s Ordination Proponents within the Adventist Church

Abstract

The current promotional practices of those in favor of women’s ordination in the Adventist Church have caused many to pause and contemplate their stance on this issue.

Introduction

During the past 3 years I have become increasingly aware of the issue of allowing women to be ordained to the gospel ministry. During this time I have found myself in a state of bewilderment as to what position to take on this issue. Many hours have been spent in prayerful contemplation of the two opposing viewpoints and the result is this paper.

This paper is a position paper and is not a research paper. Where appropriate, I do cite or quote sources to substantiate my reflection on the issue. However, this paper is not an exhaustive treatment of this issue but simply a primer explaining my struggles and current position.

Even though my thesis has not been fully developed, I do want to assert it tentatively. However, it will not be stated at the beginning of this paper but rather at the conclusion. I have structured my paper this way in order to share my struggles and reflections first so that my thesis will be better appreciated.

Reflections on the History of Ordination within the Adventist Church

Part of my research for this reflection paper was to read the book Women in Ministry which was edited by Nancy Vyhmeister. The book is obviously shaped to convince the reader of the case for allowing women to be ordained to the Gospel ministry. I found the book to be helpful but not totally convincing.

Conversely, as a student and history enthusiast I did enjoy the chapter by George Knight which covered the history of ordination practices within the Adventist Church. While one has to admit that the early Adventist Church was not without error, the historical realities of church politic were very interesting and informative. Knight summarizes the history of the Adventist Church policy in regards to ordination nicely when he states:

“By 1863 the Seventh-day Adventist denomination had its ideas and practice of ordination firmly in place. Outside of traveling elders becoming settled pastors in the early twentieth century, not much has changed in the way ministers are selected and credentialed or appointed to fields of labor. In short, the ordinational system established in the late 1850s and 1860s appears to have worked satisfactorily for the mission of the church.”1

Knight’s honesty with this historical reality is refreshing and helps to provide some clarification to the contemporary issue. As I reflect on what he asserts, I understand that the issue of ordination was never a major issue in the early Adventist community of faith. The major issue was not in relation to the gender of those who were ordained but rather the role encompassed by the ordained. In other words, the role of ministers in regards to the mission of the church, which was a gender-specific calling, was the burden of Adventist leaders, not women’s ordination.

1881 General Conference Session Clarification

It has been asserted that the 1881 GC approved the ordination of women to the Gospel ministry.2 Conversely, after a closer look one realizes that the GC would often use the word “resolved” in relation to a request being allowed for consideration and not in connection to its approval. It would be much like a motion being given today. If the ordination of women had been passed at that time, the word “adopted” would have been included in the record. This was never the case. So one can conclude that the motion died for lack of support.3

To illustrate this example, I am embedding a section of the minutes from the 1881 GC Session:4

RESOLVED, That the chair be requested to appoint a committee of five brethren, whose duty it shall be to arrange a systematic course of reading for the ministers of our denomination. Adopted.

The following-named brethren were thereupon appointed as said committee: J. N. Loughborough, W. H. Littlejohn, D. M. Canright, S. H. Lane, and E. R. Jones.

RESOLVED, That all candidates for license and ordination should be examined with reference to their intellectual and spiritual fitness for the successful discharge of the duties which will devolve upon them as licentiates and ordained ministers.

This was spoken to by D. M. Canright, D. H. Lamson, W. H. Littlejohn, S. H. Lane, G. C. Tenney, E. R. Jones, W. C. White, A. S. Hutchins, and R. M. Kilgore, and adopted.

RESOLVED, That females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry. This was discussed by J. O. Corliss, A. C. Bourdeau, E. R. Jones, D. H. Lamson, W. H. Littlejohn, A. S. Hutchins, D. M. Canright, and J. N. Loughborough, and referred to the General Conference Committee.

One will note that the preceding two resolutions were adopted, whereas the resolution about women being ordained to the Christian ministry was discussed and referred to a General Conference Committee and was not adopted. Referral to a committee is common even by today’s standards, as a way of letting an issue die if it lacks constituent support.

In January 24, 1895 the Signs of the Times published an answer in their question corner that endeavored to answer the question, “Who Should Be Church Officers?” The answer given is fascinating and while Ellen White never officially endorsed this position, she did not disagree with it. One can probably safely assume that if she disagreed with this viewpoint she would have likely made corrective statements. This would have been consistent with her custom of addressing presenting dilemmas or positions held by those in error.5

In answer to the question about who should be church officers, the Signs of the Times states:

“Should women be elected to offices in the church when there are enough brethren? If by this is meant the office of elder, we should say at once, No. But there are offices in the church which women can fill acceptably, and oftentimes there are found sisters in the church who are better qualified for this than brethren, such offices, for instance as church clerk, treasurer, librarian of the tract society, etc., as well as the office of deaconess, assisting the deacons in looking after the poor, and in doing such other duties as would naturally fall to their lot. The qualifications for church elder are set forth in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and in Titus 1:7-9.

We do not believe that it is in God’s plan to give to women the ordained offices of the church. By this we do not mean to depreciate their labors, service, or devotion. The sphere of woman is equal to that of man. She was made a help meet, or fit, for man, but that does not mean that her sphere is identical to that of man’s. The interests of the church and the world generally would be better served if the distinctions given in God’s word were regarded.”6

This statement, along with George Knight’s historical sketch, show that the Adventist Church did not consider women being ordained to the Gospel ministry as something that the church needed to support.

I am aware that book Women in Ministry mentions several women who were seen as evangelists and church planters in early Adventism. However, I am not convinced that they were seen in the same role as ministers. It seems to me that the motion that was brought to the 1881 GC Session must have been made by an individual without adequate constituent support. This is asserted by the Adventist Affirm article mentioned above.7

The remainder of the paper will be a potpourri of points that I would like to reflect and comment on from my perspective as a young district pastor for 6 ½ years and now as a seminary student for the past 2 years. The ordering might not flow as well as a research paper but it fits well with my goal to state my position.

Questions We Should Consider

Several questions have come to my mind on this issue which I hope to eventually find adequate answers to:

1. The timing of the materialization of this issue causes questions to surface:

a. Is this issue surfacing as a legitimate movement by God?

b. Is this issue surfacing due to societal and cultural shifts in the United States?

c. Has the church compromised with other Christian denominations, and thus feels pressured to ordain women as other denominations have?

2. What are the motives behind this issue coming to the forefront now?

a. Are the motives pure?

b. Are proponents of women’s ordination trying to make a name for themselves?

3. If the church splinters because of this issue will the ends justify the means?

Promotional Practices of the Pro-Women’s Ordination Movement

At the outset I have felt concerned about the tactics being used by those who are proposing the ordination of women to the ministry. One of these tactics has to do with the selective use of policy.

In 1995 the NAD and several Unions of the Division recognized the authority of the GC in session. This fact is solidified due to the fact that the NAD made a request to have the issue of women’s ordination taken to the GC in session. However, as one can see by the official minutes, the vote did not turn out as anticipated.8

Subsequently, on October 31, 2011 the NAD shifted strategies by trying to change their E-60 policy unilaterally as response to the General Conference Annual Council of 2011’s rejection of the NAD request for variance which would allow for the word “commissioned.” This variance would have allowed women who hold a commissioned license to become a Conference/Mission President. Conversely, NAD President Dan Jackson later apologized for the preemptive action and denied that NADCOM had “rebelled.”9

After this embarrassing setback one then saw a sleuth of Union constituency sessions which tried to assert that the Unions now had the authority to change policy in regards to ordination.10 This shift in respect to following policy can rightly be stated as contradictory to say the least and at worst hypocritical.

To give you an example of this hypocritical shift in adherence to policy let me share my own experience. As a young pastor I find that if I do not follow policy I can be fired by my employing Conference because I am under a signed contract to follow their policies. This includes not only Conference policy but Union and GC policies as well. Yet in the case of women’s ordination, Union and Division Presidents can change their views on policy and interpret policy in a way that accommodates their current understanding but avoid ramifications to their employment status.

Any honest heart would see this manipulation of policy as hypocritical. Young people, like myself, are looking for consistency and not hypocrisy. This point should not be easily dismissed by anyone who honors honesty and believes that their word is their bond. God shows no partiality and as His followers we should be fair and honest in our dealings.11

Additionally, recently the Pastor’s DVD was changed into an electronic magazine and named Called. In the first issue of this magazine, an article appeared which seems to sum up the spirit of the pro-women’s ordination lobby.12

On page six G. Alexander Bryant shares the NAD’s six building blocks, or goals, for the next five years. Building block number 6 is listed as “Women in Ministry.” The synopsis of this goal is to “increase the number of employed female pastors by 100% over the next five years or by 2016.”13 The “concrete activities” which make up the strategy to realize this goal are:

1. “Programs for the orientation and education of church members” (This seems to imply that members are ignorant of the issues.)

2. “Incentivizing the hiring of greater numbers of women clergy and administrators” (One wonders what the incentive will be.)

3. “Development of church administrator support structures for women clergy”

In regards to women in ministry, Bryant believes that pastoral positions vacated by the mass retirements in the North American Division within the next 10 years will necessitate the hiring of more women to the ministry.14 He asserts that women are lined-up and ready for service and that we should let them in.15 I find it interesting that he says nothing of the seminary students who are of male gender and are being passed by for employment because they are too young or because of the color of their skin.

The author sums up the article and the most obtuse segments of the women’s ordination movement by stating, “Therefore, we will exercise a stubborn determination and commitment to find solutions to the many issues, which could negatively impact our ability to mobilize this mostly unused pool of resources for God to effectively carry His mission forward throughout the North American territory.”16

Seminary Atmosphere

During my last 2 years at the seminary I have found the topic of “women’s ordination” brought up again and again. Strangely, I have only heard one side of the argument and those with a contrary view are often ridiculed in class by other students. I have heard the jeers and ridicule with my own ears and find it un-Christian and disheartening.

As the issue is repeated over and over again without presenting the other side of the debate, people like myself who are in the middle ground feel like this evidences a lack of balance. In one class the instructor equated those who are against women’s ordination as “power hungry” asserting that they want to retain control of the church. I believe that this is a generalization and borders on defamatious labeling.

Another important point is that those who want to uphold GC policy have even been demonized as being similar to those who were pro-slavery during the time of the abolitionist movement. Demonization is a propaganda tactic and should be avoided at all costs by either side of this argument.

I also find that the pro-women’s ordination viewpoint seems to be the popular view at the seminary, while those who disagree, or who, like myself, are still searching for answers, are seen as “ignorant.” I find this mentality bordering on group-think and dangerous to intellectual growth and dialogue. I have not felt this level of bullying since my days as a non-Christian. I would expect this from those who do not claim to follow Christ but I am disheartened when I see bullying practices and mentalities being practiced at the seminary.

Fruits of the Spirit

As I think of how the pro-women’s ordination group has been promoting and at many times pushing their agenda, I find myself being repulsed. Even pastor friends of mine who believe that women should be allowed ordination credentials have been appalled by the attitude and actions of the NAD and Union Presidents as well as their supporters. This tells me that the way this issue is being promoted should be called into question if people who agree that women should be ordained are being repelled by the forced and impatient nature of this movement.

One important periscope of Scripture to keep in mind is Galatians 5 which states:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (NIV)

One must always ask oneself if they are evidencing the fruit of the Spirit in their interactions with their fellow brethren. I believe that many on both sides of this issue are not being patient and kind to one another. When in dialogue about this issue those in the Unions and NAD who are promoting women’s ordination should work with patience and brotherly love in conjunction with the brethren at the GC. The Study Committee and report to the GC Executive Committee in 2014 should be patiently and lovingly given a chance to work. Preemptive actions that undermine the world church family should not be seen as constructive but as counter-productive to the unity of the church. We are a worldwide family which should not support dysfunction but rather unity and brotherly kindness.

Another incident that served as a point of discouragement was the Pacific Union Conference’s Constituency Session in August of 2012. One can watch the whole session online. I was appalled as the General Conference President was arrogantly interrupted in a show of defiance by a constituent. In my home culture I found this action to be inexcusable. If I did anything like this to a pastor my Mother would have snatched me bald headed! The overall attitude in that meeting seemed to evidence a lack of patience by those who were promoting women’s ordination. This left me wondering which spirit was leading. If we truly want our views to be heard both sides must contemplate how they are communicating their message.

Warning Principles in Two Old Testament Incidents

Besides my personal position on this issue I also want to introduce a Biblical perspective that came from my personal study of the Bible. The cases of Miriam’s Rebellion, as well as the insurrection of Korah and his followers, contain principles and warnings which we would be wise to study and remember:

1. Miriam, Aaron, Korah, and their followers questioned whether God’s appointed leadership was legitimate. (Numbers 12:2; 16:3)

2. The rebellions took place behind the appointed leader’s back prior to approaching the said leader. Only until the rebellion reached a climax was the leader aware of the actions of his brethren. (Numbers 12:1; 16:1, 2)

3. The attitude of the rebellious did not exhibit love, kindness, or patience. They wanted change to happen immediately!

4. Korah’s rebellion had to do with who God was calling to the priesthood and a rejection of God’s leadership structure in regards to who could minister in the sanctuary. (Numbers 16:8-10)

5. Dathan and Abiram would not even meet in order reason together and dialogue with Moses but rather attacked Moses’ character. (Numbers 16:12-14)

6. In both cases God intervened to show His people the true reality of the situation. (Numbers 12:4-12; 16:28-35)

7. The 250 chief men who supported Korah were consumed with fire. (Hebrews 12:29 alludes to this incident in the context of the Shaking.)

8. God’s displeasure is shown by judgments. Miriam receives white skin and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are swallowed up by the opened earth.

9. In the case of both rebellions the murmuring doesn’t stop. (Numbers 16:41)

10. Despite God’s judgments the people still believe that Korah and his associates were “the Lord’s people.” (Ibid)

11. The record of the Korah incident chronicles a plague that breaks out. In this plague an additional 14,700 people die besides those who had died because of Korah. (Numbers 16:49)

12. God performs the miracle of Aaron’s rod that budded in an effort to stop the “constant grumbling.” (Numbers 17:5) However, the grumbling continues and the older generation dies in the wilderness.

One might say, “How do these principles apply to the issue of women’s ordination?” I would simply say that some of the same fruits exhibited in these OT records of rebellion are happening in contemporary Adventism. When we question the leadership structure of our church we must ask ourselves if we are conducting ourselves in a constructive manner or are we tearing down the Lord’s anointed? When we murmur and complain, no matter what side of the issue we are on, we are grouped together in the same rebellious camp.

Another encouraging point to remember in this record is that God is in control. As I wonder how things will work out, I believe that God will intervene in the matter under consideration. He will show very clearly what the truth in the matter is by remarkable evidences of His providence in the body of His church. Sadly, like in the cases of the white skin and open earth, God will allow a confrontation to occur before He intervenes. I believe He will allow this so that the fruition of both sides can be accomplished before He acts by way of judgments.

Practical Suggestions for Resolving the Issue

1. Meet together! Not only should the GC Study Committee, but fellow believers should meet together before an issue becomes a proverbial hot potato. Reactionary ministry is stressful and could be prevented by forming friendships prior to conflict. We should encourage fellowship and friendship among our leaders and members.

2. Pray together! In our prayer time we should suspend our will and allow God to lead us to consensus. Prayer needs to occur daily in our own personal devotional life.

3. Allow questions! Both sides need to be heard. (Especially at the seminary.) To give less treatment to one side shows dishonesty and a fear of being wrong. We need to have open dialogue where all sides of this issue are looked at in a loving way without demonizing the other side.

4. Respect the process and subsequent GC vote. No matter the outcome pride must be laid aside and the vote of the GC respected.

5. Respect people’s freedom of choice. This is especially true for those proposing that women be ordained. If the world church votes not to ordain women in 2015 the choice should be respected and not circumvented.

6. Love one another and press together by working together. Spend time spreading the Gospel together and I believe that a lot of the hard feelings would be resolved. Too many of our theologians and church leaders are removed from Gospel proclamation and this tends to lessen the need for unity. Leaders, teachers, theologians, and pastors should spend time each year together in Gospel proclamation.

7. Call for and expect unity. This is Christ’s prayer for us in John 17 and the only way that we are going to have a tangible witness in this world. The bond of interdependence is the strength of the Adventist Church and should be preserved at all costs as a witness to Christ’s resurrection power.

Conclusion

I believe in the early Adventist position cited previously in the Signs of the Times. I have seen personally, that if one simply spends their time doing what God has called them to do, that the rest will take care of itself. Nothing is stopping people, men or women, from being involved in ministry. Sadly, I do not see us pressing together on this issue. Instead, we are divided and in a very vulnerable state as a church.

Additionally, we must make sure that we are not going in the way of rebellion, for “The facts relative to Korah and his company, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and against Jehovah, are recorded for a warning to God’s people, especially those who live upon the earth near the close of time. Satan has led persons to imitate the example of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, in raising insurrection among the people of God.” –Spiritual Gifts, 4a 36 (emphasis supplied)

During the 2015 GC in Session I know that God will work out His will and I will respect the decision that is made. Nevertheless, I am concerned that others, regardless of what is decided, will not respect the decision and continue to murmur and complain. In this state of addictive complaining God will have to intervene. He might not intervene with whitened skin and the open earth but He will intervene and show us the true reality. May we be ever tender to His leading in this perplexing time of earth’s history, Jesus is soon to come!

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1 Vyhmeister, Nancy. “Women in Ministry: Biblical & Historical Perspectives”, Andrews University Press, 1998. (111-112)

2 http://www.atoday.org/article/1326/blogs/sahlin-monte/2012/what-did-happen-in-1881

3 Koranteng-Pipim, Samuel. “Early Adventist History and the Ministry of Women: A Closer Look at Recent Reinterpretations of Adventist History, Part 1.” http://www.adventistsaffirm.org/article/146/women-s-ordination-faqs/8-early-adventist-history-and-the-ministry-of-women

4 197 –GCS 63-88, highlights supplied.

5 See Testimonies to the Church Vol. 1-9, as well as the Index to the Writings of Ellen G. White

6 Signs of the Times, January 24, 1895, Vol. 21. No. 4, Pg. 3

7 Pipim, Ibid.

8 “Voted, To refer to the 1995 General Conference Session the North American Division request that the General Conference in Session adopt provisions on ordination as outlined below:

“The General Conference vests in each division the right to authorize the ordination of individuals within its territory in harmony with established policies. In addition, where circumstances do not render it inadvisable, a division may authorize the ordination of qualified individuals without regard to gender. In divisions where the division executive committees take specific actions approving the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, women may be ordained to serve in those divisions.”

Delegates were then instructed to turn in their secret ballot cards to their division representatives. A count of the secret ballots was made with the following results: In favor of the recommendation: 673 In opposition to the recommendation: 1,481 Total number of votes: 2,154 By this vote, the request of the North American Division was denied. Adjourned. Source: General Conference Bulletin, July 11, 1995, pg. 30, Online at http://www.adventistarchives.org/gc-session-actions#.UXB76b3D-M8

9 http://news.adventist.org/images/uploads/documents/NAD%20update%20letter%20from%20Dan%20Jackson.pdf

10 For more information Google “Mid-American Union Women’s Ordination” “Columbia Union Women’s Ordination” etc.

11 Gen.18:25; Judges 11:27; Deut.32:26a, 35a; Ex.5:21; I Sam.24:12, 15; Rom.14:12-13a; Psalm 50:6; 94:2; Rom.2:16

12 Bryant, G. Alexander. “Wanted! More Female Pastors- Essential for the Harvest.” Called-A Digital Magazine for Adventist Clergy_1Q13.pdf http://www.nadministerial.org/article/606/for-nad-pastors/called-a-digital-magazine-for-adventist-clergy/how-to-subscribe-to-called/called-on-your-computer-via-pdf-download-beta-available-now

13 Ibid, p.8.

14 Ibid, p. 7

15 Ibid, p. 8

16 Ibid