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Why Stephen Bohr Wants Male Headship in the Adventist Church


Stephen Bohr’s summation of the arguments for women’s ordination? “They’re based on faulty reasoning, faulty study of Scripture, partial evidence, redefining words, injecting contexts that are not there, and ignoring contexts that are there.” That categorical dismissal of ordination equality came on the first night of the Fresno, California pastor’s Women’s Ordination symposium. In a two-hour marathon lecture, Bohr made the case that male headship is God’s way–the right way. Really, the only way forward for the Adventist Church.

The four-day symposium is the work of fifteen headship proponents, many of whom sat on the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). Members of this bloc within TOSC advocate not only denying ordination for women pastors, but also reversing a past GC votes sanctioning the ordination of women elders. While the ostensible goal was “that everyone that is watching is able to understand the presentations that were made at the Theology of Ordination Study Committee,” the program description made clear that this symposium would represent only the extremest position from within TOSC.

Bohr offered three reasons for the symposium:

1. A desire to uphold the decisions of the church (presumably with the exception of the GC policy of ordaining women elders).

2. A desire to popularize the materials from TOSC, which Bohr stated without irony would take “hours and hours of arduous reading” (The symposium is scheduled for over 24 total hours of lecture and panel discussion time).

3. The sense that church outlets were not open to headship arguments. “It has been virtually impossible for us to gain a communication outlet where we can share our strongly held view that, although we support women in ministry, we are opposed to the ordination of women to pastoral leadership,” Bohr said.

Bohr’s lecture sought to simultaneously refute the arguments for ordaining women and to give male headship legs to stand on. With rapid-fire delivery, Bohr listed and disagreed with over twenty arguments in favor of women’s ordination. He began by arguing that in all of Scripture, no woman is ever ordained as an elder or pastor of a church. Further, Bohr contended, the preponderance of evidence is that males, not females, were the leaders in both Israel and the early Christian Church.

Deborah and Hulda, two Old Testament examples of strong women leaders, were not leaders at all, Bohr said. Rather, they served in advisory capacities to male leaders whose prerogative it was to accept or reject the women’s counsel. King Josiah, not Hulda, was the leader of Israel. The center of the story is the king–he pulled the strings, Bohr said. Bohr compared Ellen White to Hulda, saying that White always insisted that she was not the leader of the Advent Movement. Likewise, Deborah gave counsel to Barak, but it was the man who held the reins of leadership. Barak was the hero who delivered Israel, Bohr said.

Junia was probably not an apostle, and Phoebe was not ordained by the laying on of hands, Bohr contended. And speaking of the laying on of hands, not every instance equalled ordination. Jesus placed his hands on children and on the sick. “I guess he was ordaining the children and the sick,” Bohr joked. He also serious-joked that those who dislike male headship are not going to like God as the head of Christ or Christ as the head of the church.

Proponents of male headship describe themselves as “Complimentarians” and label ordination proponents “Egalitarians.” Bohr sought to show that egalitarianism is wrong. Using a body as an analogy, Bohr asked whether a head and a body have an egalitarian relationship, or whether the body ought not submit to the loving authority of the head. 

Bohr sprinkled his presentation with references to the Creation Order, which he argued placed man as the servant-leader of the woman. He strongly rejected the idea that the Church should give consideration to society that might consider headship sexist or backward. “Our standard is what the Word of God requires. Should we change our views on marriage and creation? Should we worry about being called obscurantist, fundamentalist? Absolutely not,” Bohr said emphatically. The church must risk persecution and ridicule in order to uphold Holy Scripture, he said.

Bohr rejected the notion that Ellen White had ministerial credentials, or that any Adventist women did until recent times. He rejected the idea that Scripture calls for mutual submission between a husband and wife. He denied that male headship is repressive to women or that it was a culturally-specific practice. Headship is not a bad thing, he insisted.

Bohr ridiculed the idea that women feel called to ministry. “We believe that it’s not feelings that tell us whether or not something is according to the Word of God. Success in ministry isn’t a litmus test. The Bible dictates whether we should do it or not.”

Throughout, Bohr argued that Scripture demands that elders and overseers must be the husband of one wife, necessarily precluding women from serving in those leadership roles. “There is nothing that would prohibit a woman from being a Bible instructor,” Bohr said.

The symposium runs through October 4 with presentations from morning to evening. Live video and archival footage can be found at the Secrets Unsealed website. An event schedule can be found here.

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