Today has been designated International Women’s Day, so it’s a good time to look again at women pastors in the Adventist Church. Adventist theologian and administrator Sakae Kubo believes that we have learned some important lessons about the church’s attitude to women as a result of the recent studies by the Theology of Ordination Study Committee and the various Biblical Research Committees.
1. A major change – I consider paradigmatic – regards reasons for opposing women’s ordination. One of the major points against women’s ordination was the subordination of women texts, especially in Paul. John Brunt pointed out the greatest inconsistency in this argument: that is, allowing women to serve as ministers while arguing for women’s subordination to men and against women’s ordination. Other cases of inconsistency are allowing women to serve as presidents, academic deans, chairs of departments – even teaching where men are involved in colleges and universities. Another great inconsistency is allowing women professors at the theological seminary to teach men who are or who will become ministers. Even such offices as local elders, superintendents of Sabbath Schools, even Sabbath School teachers in mixed classes should not be allowed if the argument for women’s submission still holds today.
I have indicated elsewhere why the command for women to be submissive to men no longer holds. As Jesus indicated in Matthew 19 there are some accommodations that have been made because sin came in (the hardness of your hearts) but it was not so at the beginning. In other words, there is the ideal ethics and the ethics accommodated to sin. But we must always aspire to the ideal where possible. As Paul in his high moments wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal 3:28).
Also, this argument of the submission of women seems to have been subordinated to the larger issue of the theology of ordination. The research findings indicate that ordination came in after biblical times and from non-Christian sources and, therefore, the Bible does not forbid the ordination of women.
2. Another very interesting point that has developed is that women’s ordination is not a divisive issue for the worldwide church. Five divisions have voted in favor of ordination of women within their divisions, without requiring other divisions to do so. The Trans-European Division approves a revised policy in which unions whose constituency meetings in session have voted approval be allowed to maintain an inclusive pastoral ministry that removes gender distinctions within the work of the church in that union territory. Four divisions – though not in favor of ordaining women within their divisions – are willing to accept the decision of the church. In other words, they do not see this as a cause for disunity. They would be willing to accept the proposal of the Trans-European Division.
That means a good majority, 9 out of 13 divisions, would accept a proposal that would allow divisions that are ready to proceed with the ordination of women. One division states it is not yet ready, one would discourage the ordination of women, and one states women should not be ordained. One division only states women’s ordination should not be allowed since it would lead to fragmentation and disunity. Actually it has already been shown that allowing one part of the church to proceed does not lead to disunity since it was not an issue on a more intimate level – not divisions but local conferences within a union. The experiment had already been performed in several unions of the North American Divisions. Surely if unity was not an issue at this level, it would not be on a division level.
An interesting shift has taken place. Previously those who were presumably causing disunity were those in favor of women’s ordination because the last GC voted against it and the administration was presumably opposed to it. Thus when Mark Finley as spokesman for the administration spoke on unity at the last Annual Council, he was mainly addressing those in favor of women’s ordination and opposed to the administration’s position. He used the Book of Acts to show how the disciples settled questions of unity concluding with the Council of Jerusalem.However, Ricardo Graham, President of the Pacific Union, in defense of their action in ordaining women, pointed out correctly that the church at the Jerusalem Council for the sake of unity voted against the biblical command in Genesis 17 to circumcise all who would be members of the covenant by allowing the Gentiles not to be circumcised while the Jews would continue to be circumcised. In other words it was a unity of diversity just as those favoring the ordination of women were voting for. Also at the GC Theology of Ordination Committee, Mark Finley was doing the same in the name of the administration. However, with the majority of divisions in favor of women’s ordination or allowing it where they are ready, the parties involved have changed places. The call for unity should now be made by those in favor of allowing women’s ordination to those who are opposed to it. Are those who were calling for unity previously now ready themselves to heed their own plea when the majority now are those in favor of allowing the ordination of women where ready?
3. It was thought that only western divisions would vote for women’s ordination, but we find the Northern Asia-Pacific Division consisting of China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Mongolia also voting in favor of women’s ordination. This is not a surprise when we look at the facts. Of a total of 6,407 pastoral workers, 3,221 are women. Of a total of 5,730 churches, 2,782 churches are served by women. Of a total of 678,407 members, 252,500 are served by women. And this division’s emphasis on “Mission First” makes the ordination of women in their division of paramount importance.
4. The question the last GC dealt with was based on the assumption that ordination had worldwide implications. “The ordination conducted in the U.S. is valid everywhere so we cannot ordain women here unless the whole world agrees to it.” It was on this basis that ordination of women was rejected at the last GC. However, that doesn’t seem to be the issue at all today. As I indicated earlier, each division can control this by denying any call for ordained women. Since its worldwide validity is not an issue at all, and the majority of the divisions realize this issue is no longer relevant, this can be set aside as a problem. Only one division thinks this is a problem. The issue should be: “Should the GC session vote on whether the Church should allow women to be ordained in the divisions where they are ready while allowing those that are not ready not to do so?” The majority of divisions have already voted in favor of this.
Sakae Kubo originally posted a version of this article on his blog, panta.
Read previous Sakae Kubo posts about women’s ordination here.
Sakae Kubo, in his long career beginning in the 1940s, taught at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, served as Dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla University, as President of Newbold College, and as Vice-President and Academic Dean at Atlantic Union College.
Image: Four women ordained in Ohio in August 2013.