Julie Mesa, a nurse, and a mother, who called mothering “the best job of my life…a hard job but a wonderful, rewarding job,” said that she came to her understanding of women’s ordination through her study “God’s word and the Spirit of Prophecy.” Mesa was the third presenter in the Bakersfield, California “Crisis Ahead” women’s ordination symposium organized by Pastor Stephen Bohr’s Secrets Unsealed Ministry.
“I’m not a theologian, I’m just a layperson like many of you,” Mesa said, but offered her conclusions on the topic in hopes that they might be a blessing.
Mesa looked at the roles of every woman listed in Scripture, and the roles of the women in the early Seventh-day Adventist Church and what the church believed about women in ministry. She says she was very impressed by the “high and powerful position that God has called women to in ministry.”
Mesa pointed out that she has family and friends on the other side of the issue from her position, and stressed the value of kindness and respect when discussing the issue with those of differing viewpoints. She quoted President John F. Kennedy: “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the persecution and oppression of others.”
Secular roles women held in Scripture included queens, landowners, business owners, rulers of states (either of countries that were not of God’s people, or, in the case of Athalia, who was a ruler of God’s people, were very wicked), maids, midwives, nannies and judges. Some were noted for valiant acts of killing (like Jael), others for valiant acts of saving (like Jehosheba, who saved Jehoash from Athalia). Some were condemned for being witches and prostitutes.
Concerning the ministry roles women played in Scripture, the two top roles were those of wife and of mother, respectively, Mesa said. She noted that the role of wife is the one mentioned most (over 50% of the time) in the Bible. How is that a ministry role? she asked. “Because, ladies, we influence our husbands for good or for ill.”
She quoted Bill Gates, who cited his mother and his wife as catalysts for his philanthropic work.
Mesa provided examples of biblical women who influenced their husbands in positive and negative ways. Speaking directly to the women in the audience, Mesa said, “Ladies, we have an influence that is powerful. It can make or break a man.”
The second most oft-mentioned ministry role in the Bible that can only be filled by a woman, Mesa said, is that of a mother. According to research, children with mother’s love are less susceptible to stress and do better, Mesa said. More, a mother’s training can set a child’s life course. Mesa pointed to Moses as a biblical example. Doing the work of mothering is service for God, she said.
Women played the role of follower or believer, but none of the women were elders or pastors.
Another form of ministry in the Bible is financial, Mesa said. Susanna, Joanna were followers who “ministered to Jesus of their substance,” meaning financial support of Jesus’ work.
Some women, most famously Dorcas (or Tabitha), ministered to the poor.
Women were prophets, Mesa said, which gave her pause. “I had to stop there when I looked at the role of a prophet, because there are some that say ‘Deborah really served in a spiritual-leadership role, so she was kind of like a pastor or elder.’” She said that she studied the issue more thoroughly by reading Ellen White’s book, “Daughters of God.” On page 37, Ellen White says of Deborah, “She was known as a prophetess, and in the absence of the usual magistrates, the people had sought to her for counsel and for justice.”
“Clearly, this was an exception to the rule and should not be used as a guide for how we behave,” Mesa said.
Concerning the idea that a woman might be apostles, Mesa said, “Junia might be a man, might be a woman. She might be an apostle, might not be an apostle…it was just very unclear.” Mesa rejected basing a theological idea on an apparently unclear text.
Addressing Paul’s injunction in 1 Timothy that women should keep silent and not teach or “usurp authority over the man,” Mesa said, “We know that women can speak if they’re praying or prophesying, and we know that women are told to teach because Priscilla teached (sic) Apollos.” Mesa determined that women can teach and speak so long as they are not “usurping authority over man.”
Talking about the roles women held in the early Adventist Church, she noted that women were ordained as deaconesses and were licensed preachers. Women served in every capacity, she said, except that of an ordained minister or elder.
Closing, Mesa reiterated, “The only roles, ladies that [God] has withheld from us are that of an ordained minister and elder.”
Watch Julie Mesa’s presentation, “A Woman’s Full Participation in Ministry,” here.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.