Pastor Stephan G. Brass, pastor in a three-church district in the Southern German Union, has asked for commissioned credentials, in solidarity with Adventist women pastors. He talked to Spectrum about why he made the decision, and the reaction of colleagues, churchmembers and administrators.
Question: In October, you turned in your ordination certificate and ministerial credentials to the Southern German Union during a meeting of the conference committee, asking for commissioned credentials instead. This was because the Southern German Union (unlike the Northern German Union) has not voted to ordain women as pastors. What was the response of the conference committee and your colleagues when you did this?
Answer: They accepted my move with respect and they assured me that nothing in my work commission and position will change. When we talked about the decision of San Antonio I made a speech before the conference committee, of which I am a member, and to make it clear I walked up to the conference president and handed him my ordination certificate along with my pastoral ID card.
There was a moment of silence (probably showing astonishment) and some women expressed their esteem for this move. There was no response from the executive officers. They have merely taken note of it.
What response have you received since that day, from administration, other pastors and church members?
The majority of responses I received were from women in the church — both women pastors and lay members. They were all positive and supportive. Male colleagues made comments like: “I don’t want to mess up my career” and “Why all the fuss? The women can do everything that we male pastors can do, except become a president.” One other male colleague told me he was considering handing in his ordination credentials for the same reason.
On Sunday, during a pastors’ family retreat, our conference president asked all pastors not to follow my example and hand in their ordination certificates. He explained that our goal is not to give up our ordination but to support the ordination of women. I understand that some administrators urged our conference president to cut my salary.
Do you believe the Southern German Union in time will change its stance? Why do you believe it has acted differently than the Northern German Union?
I really can’t tell if there will be a change. I do hope so. There is a shift generally in Germany’s culture when you go from north to south. The south is generally considered more conservative. I am not sure what will happen. The union president was just last week called to the family ministry department of the division, so next week’s union constituency meeting is more concerned with finding a successor than handling the women’s ordination question.
Do you have colleague pastors who are women?
Yes, I do. Interestingly enough the conference in which I serve (the Bavarian conference) has employed the most women as pastors in all of Germany (4,550 members, 70 churches, 29 male pastors, and three female pastors).
You clearly have strongly-held views about ordaining women. Why do you feel they should hold the same ministerial credentials as men?
I have read all of the TOSC material. I have listened to all of the debates at General Conference sessions (I have attended all sessions since 1975 in Vienna, where I decided to enter the ministry). I was translating the debate in Indianapolis in 1990 and also in Utrecht in 1995. I heard the plea of Gerard Damsteegt against women’s ordination and the response of Raoul Dederen in Utrecht. None of those incidents convinced me of a biblical argument against women’s ordination.
In contrast, I find equality when it comes to spiritual matters for both male and female. And since the New Testament endorses a kingly priesthood of all believers, the distinction we experience is a merely cultural one. I will respect those cultural practices and their underlying understanding.
However, I do live in an environment that supports equality of male and female, and which is also rooted in its constitution. So I do believe that God empowers male and female likewise with his spirit and makes no distinction. When it comes to leadership roles the Bible also makes no distinction between male and female. And finally, I have worked with women in pastoral and administrative leadership that far outreach their male counterparts. So why not have men and women fill positions according to their abilities and gifts rather than according to their sex?
Were you surprised by the outcome of the discussion on ordination at the GC session in San Antonio?
No, I was not. Knowing the cultural setup of the delegates I expected that outcome. I don’t believe that we will solve this question by democratic procedures. So in my opinion the questions we are asked to vote on need to be asked differently.
What do you believe the Southern German Union should do about this issue, and why? What about the world church? What would you suggest as a way forward post-San Antonio?
With my move I wanted to keep the discussion alive. I also want equality in pastoral ministry. We should seek a solution within the Adventist setup that enables equality and does not discriminate against woman pastors.
Unity is not at stake in this question, I believe, but the authority of the GC and its president have suffered a lot since San Antonio.
Do you think it's possible, with various cultural differences to overcome, that the church in Europe and North America can continue to co-exist with the church in Africa and South America?
Yes, I do. Unity in diversity is a healthy challenge and not a threat. It is obvious that it must be intended by God.
How long have you served as a pastor? Where did you study, and where have you served? What kind of church do you pastor now?
I began serving in September 1981 after I felt called to the ministry by E.E. Cleveland’s appeal at the ministerial conference prior to the GC session in Vienna, 1975. I started my studies at Marienhoehe Theological Seminary in Darmstadt, Germany. I then continued at Newbold College in England (Jan Paulsen was principal at that time) with a break of one year, in which I served as language teacher in my home town in Germany. In 1980-81 I caught up with my studies at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland, and finished in the summer of 1981 with a B.A. in theology and a minor in radio and TV communications.
I have served in differnt conferences within the North and South German Unions. I have also worked for the Adventist publishing house, as well as with ADRA as public relations officer.
For the last eight years I have pastored a three-church-district in the Bavarian conference northeast of Munich. The churches are very different. The biggest one has 150 members with about 60% of German-Russian background, quite a group of Romanian citizens and the rest native Bavarian people. In addition to being a pastor for those three churches I am the leader of one of the seven pastoral districts in Bavaria (called a convent).
I have also been asked to be the press spokesperson and public relations officer for the conference, and look after the internet presence of the conference. Every five years I conduct “footprints of the pioneers” trips to the US and the GC session on behalf of the two German unions.
What do you love the most about the Adventist church? What keeps you as an Adventist pastor?
I do believe that the Adventist church has a peculiar message for an end time generation. I also believe in the ministry of EG White and that this movement has prophetic importance.
I have the impression, however, that more and more this church establishes a presidential and kingly power within its administrative structure that is neither healthy nor helpful. There should be much more freedom for the different cultural aspects of our church.
I stay in this church because my calling is not from humans but from God. I still believe in the divine nature of the calling into the existence of the Adventist church.
What advice would you have for your fellow pastors, in Germany and beyond, both women and men, as the Adventist church continues to evolve into the 21st century?
Let’s serve our Lord in whatever capacity and let’s do our best to get rid of injustices that may be obstacles for others to find the Lord.
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