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Anglicans and Adventists Consider Women in Leadership


Although the Church of England ordains women as priests (approved in 1992), it has not allowed women to become bishops. In a vote Tuesday, 36% of the laity defeated a motion to grant women that right. The motion required a two-thirds majority in all three of the church’s voting houses—bishops, clergy and laity. (Read TIME’s report here. (The Anglican Churches of North America, South Africa, and New Zealand already have women bishops.)

Meanwhile in North America, discussion of the Anglican’s process for accepting women priests was one highlight at the annual meeting (Nov. 15-17) of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies where ordination was the theme for scholarly papers. Early church history, Adventist history, Anglican process, Catholic practice, Biblical exegesis of both Old and New Testaments, Biblical reconciliation, and ethical analysis, all by turn were considered.

Society members were joined in Chicago by the North American Division committee of the Biblical Research Institute who are tasked with providing a report for the Division on ordination to the World Church in 2013.

In his paper on “Flying Bishops, Women Clergy and the Process of Change in the Anglican Communion” Gilbert M. Valentine reviewed the journey to ordination that Anglican women trod with a view to understanding how the Anglican process might inform the one by Seventh-day Adventists.

“A specially appointed task force was asked to undertake a ‘what-if scenario.’ The task force canvassed a range of five possible outcomes from the most favorable to the least favorable, which in effect, enabled church leaders to stare into the abyss,” he reported.

Anglicans came to accept several key concepts. First, they recognized the accomplishment of the gospel commission in different cultural contexts requires the acceptance of diversity.  “Allowing each province of the church to consider its own cultural context and mission needs and to proceed to the ordination of women to the priesthood with due caution and consultation but at its own pace was a major step in keeping the church together,” he said.

Advocacy groups were recognized as important to the process of education, and input from these groups was invited and welcomed he said. Transparency was highly valued. “Church newspapers with differing points of view provided informative synopses. This was an intentional strategy to keep clergy and laity informed and to allow a consensus to develop about the best way to resolve the issue.”

While living with differences, the Anglican Communion sought to develop a theological way of understanding the unsettling changes that were washing over the church, because dissent persisted. “Change was not universally accepted. In response, church leadership (has) attempted to develop a theology of change to provide theological framework to enable the church, with integrity, to live with differences and to make place for people who with integrity hold different viewpoints,” Valentine said.

Noting that Adventists already have the beginnings of a theology of change within the concept of “present truth” and Ellen White’s counsel that we have “many” things yet to learn and “many many” things to unlearn, he suggested that “these ideas could well be embraced within a broader more sophisticated theology of change that relates the processes to discernment and reception.”

Bruce Boyd took an optimistic approach to the women’s ordination conflict in his paper examining reconciliation teachings in the context of the current church conflict over ordination. Using Speed Leas’ five “Levels of Conflict in the Church,” he estimated “that denominationally the conflict on women’s ordination is at a fairly high Level III with some tilt toward Level IV.”

In his description of the levels, he said that “At Level IV the objective is to punish, wound or expel opponents. Factions solidify and hope fades that opponents will change. . . . Level IV conflict can result in the ejection of leaders, the exodus or expulsion of factions and then ending of major ministries. Outside intervention is desirable.”

But while noting “that most Christians associate conflict entirely with sin, pain and loss.” Boyd said that was unfortunate, “because differences in purpose and opinion that frustrate goals and desires frequently open doorways to advancement and breakthroughs in learning, planning, creativity and healthy relationships. When God is allowed to guide the conflict resolution and reconciliation process, conflicts can lead to extraordinary blessing and spiritual growth.”

Boyd turned to the apostle Paul for a strategy that might prove useful.  He suggested Paul’s way of dealing with the conflict over food offered to idols and circumcision could inform our conflict over women’s ordination. “To Paul,” he said, “the wisest applications are flexible, determined by various current factors. In the area of circumcision he is frequently dealing with Christians who consider the practice necessary for salvation. This belief goes contrary to a universal Christian principle and here Paul is unequivocal, taking an unbending stand. . . Paul does not forbid circumcision which is an application issue when it is not considered a means to salvation. However, in the area of food offered to idols, “Paul advocates a split application practice. “

Returning to the ordination issue, Boyd asked, “Is this conflict directly over principle and not application? If principle, which principle or principles? Are some principles subordinate to other principles? Or, is this conflict over the application of principle? If this is an application issue, what approach do the times call for?

Boyd had several suggestions. “We could allow God’s Holy Spirit to remind us that we are family and that those ties are of exceptional importance to Him and to us. . . . We could climb down from the soap boxes we love and learn better to listen carefully and caringly to each other. . . . We could accept God’s miraculous gift of forgiveness and let Him teach us to forgive others as we wish Him to forgive us. We could be optimistic and expectant during all conflicts, including this one, because while conflicts are often painful, they are opportunities for our Father to teach us things of importance and to grow us in delightful ways to be the people He has designed us to be.”

Given the significance of the church’s current discussion of ordination, ASRS President John Reeves announced that the Society plans to publish as a book the papers that were presented at this year’s conference plus a few others that were proposed for presentation but for which there was no time.

Other papers that were read in Chicago were:

  • “A Short History of Ordination” by Darius Janklewicz
  • “From Subordination of the Woman to Salvation by the Woman: An Exegesis of Genesis 3:16 in the light of Genesis 4:7 and Genesis 3:15 by Jacques Doukhan
  • “Images of Power, the Image of God, and a Kingdom of Priests” by Jean Sheldon
  • “The Case for Women’s Ordination: the Trajectory of an Egalitarian Ethic in the Pauline Letters” by Leo Ranzolin, Jr.
  • “Does the NT Contain a Clear Practice of Ordination for Ministry?” by John Brunt
  • “Your Daughters Shall Prophesy” by Bev Beem and Ginger Harwood
  • “Principles of Ordination in the Early SDA Church, 1844-1900 by Theodore Levterov
  • “Divided Anthropolgy: An Ontological Look at the Vatican’s Rejection of Women’s Ordination” by Kessia Reyne Bennett
  • “Ordination and Priesthood: Mediating Forgiveness in the Early Church” by John Reeves (the presidential address)
  • “Women’s Ordination as a Threat to Church Unity: An Ethical Analysis” by Mark Carr

—Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum

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