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In the Mirror


Whether it is true or not I am unsure, but it certainly feels like our denomination has passed some point of no return in the last couple of weeks. To be fair, there are those raising the worst possible slippery slope outcomes while others deem those statements to be fear-mongering blown out of proportion. Both of those perspectives can be valid at the beginning of a new reality. Despite its truth, it isn’t comforting to say that only time will tell how (or whether) the advent of compliance committees will actually bring the stated goal of unity, or whether it will create more of the very problems the General Conference says they are seeking to solve.

On a macro level I find what we have seen these past few weeks to be oddly fascinating. Questions of theology, doctrine, identity, and community have been wrapped in unity’s clothing as the church decided to address an issue of belief and structure, not by clarifying the belief or the structure, but by establishing a system to root out offenders of the undefined.1 Also there is some truth to the notion that the political support against women’s ordination comes largely from the global South of the church as opposed to the West, as much as that general observation lacks some necessary nuance. I find this particularly interesting as well because if that general statement is true, then collectively Adventists in America and Europe have only one place to look for the cause of their current predicament – the mirror.2

I realize that I am being a little unfair at the outset in speaking about the Western Adventist Church as a collective. I am fairly sure that the actual people in the West who support women’s ordination would hold that position no matter the era. But I also think it is useful to step back from the present moment to consider the matter of unintended consequences and the idea that sometimes a present generation will have to pay for the mistakes of their ancestors.

Adventism is a uniquely American religion. It is the byproduct of the American phenomenon now known as the Second Great Awakening in the 19th Century. All of its doctrines and beliefs, including the belief that women are inferior to men when it comes to pastoral ministry, were born in the West. The preceding history was recounted in order to illuminate what I find to be an obvious point – the global South of this church did not decide unencumbered to be against women’s ordination. They learned it by watching us. This church started in the West and then the message was transported to other continents, nations, and peoples.3 And while it certainly can be argued that beliefs about the inferiority of women existed in the global South long before Adventism, we were the ones who laid the power of an omniscient, omnipotent, and forever unchanging God construct over the top of those (possibly) already held beliefs.4 Some of us, having realized our error on the issue of women’s ordination, now find ourselves stymied by those we evangelized, who are only holding onto a truth they learned from us. Far be it from us to be overly critical of those who are against women’s ordination who are only doing what we said they should do –  hold on to their sincerely held beliefs though the heavens fall.

Those of us (including myself) who support women’s ordination have been critical of the General Conference, of President Wilson, of process manipulation, of the outcome, of obfuscation of the issues. Much of that criticism has been justified. But it seems possible that we are guilty of obfuscation as well. Maybe the important issue is not only the treatment of women in our church who feel called to ministry (as important as that issue is). Maybe we also need to reconsider the God that we show others, ensuring that the picture we present is one that can change as we see it more clearly.


Notes & References:

1. To be more clear – the church, in my estimation has not addressed the problem (except in one area, which would be origins), but decided instead to reach for the amorphous and malleable issue of unity. The church could’ve easily engendered real debate and a pointed vote about the issue of the ordination of women (or making a change in where the authority to ordain rests), or the place of LGBT members within the Adventist community. For reasons I would not even begin to speculate about, the leadership decided it would be better (easier?) to frame the issue around questions of church unity as opposed to actually discussing the specific matters at hand.

2. While the idea that I am about to express is one that I have held for many years, I believe it is prudent at this juncture for me to publicly acknowledge Pastor Corey Johnson for reminding me of this idea’s macro level implications.

3. Although some would make an argument about the colonial concerns that justifiably come along with that missionary fervor, I can certainly understand the zeal that would motivate the early Adventist church to share this message with the world.

4. Once again credit where credit is due. I want to thank the students in my Introduction to Christian Ethics class for raising this point as I workshopped ideas for this post, in a lecture on gender and sexism.


Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: 

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