Last week the fourth and final meeting of the TOSC (Theology of Ordination Study Committee) was held in Silver Spring (near Washington, DC). Just over one hundred committee members (pro- and contra Women’s Ordination [WO]) were supposed to finalize their advice to the General Conference executive committee. Unfortunately, no consensus was reached. And, to make things even more complicated than they already were, this last round of talks ended with three (rather than two) opinions: (a) those who are in support of WO; (b) those who are opposed to WO, and (3) those who support a compromise proposal.
Adding (a) and (c) produces an ample majority for those who support WO, either unconditionally or under some specific conditions. However, adding (b) and (c) gives an other substantial majority, namely to those who either reject WO completely, or will not support WO if certain conditions are not met. From the perspective of those who favor Women’s Ordination, as well as from the perspective of those who reject it, the result of this money- and time-devouring exercise is rather inconclusive and unsatisfactory.
During the past three months I have heard and read a lot about the issue of Women’s Ordination. It was worrying to see how during the past few months a new element has surreptiously crept into the discussion, and has been embraced with passion by many of the WO-opponents. I refer to the so-called ‘headship theology,’ that was been imported from fundamentalist circles into Adventism. We must in this respect think of the influence of people like Bill Gotthard (do a little googling if you do not know the name), who had quite a following among Adventists, and Adventist theologians like the late Samuel Bacchiocchi. But, significantly, this philosophy has just in very recent times become more popular than ever.
At issue is the question whether men received a higher ranking in God’s created order than women. Yes, say those who defend this way of thinking. Adam was created before Eve was formed as his ‘helper.’ The apostle Paul, they argue further, makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that the man is ‘the head’ of his wife. The order is: God – Christ – man – woman.
I am at a loss to understand how intelligent theologians can arrive at this conclusion. The chapters around 1 Corinthians 11 and the chapter itself seem to provide ample evidence that Paul reacts to various local customs and situations, that we only very partially understand. Such Bible passages surely should not be used to establish church policies that must be implemented universally in 2014.
Things become even more serious when some (academic!) participants in the discussion suggest a horrific answer when they are told that you might as well defend slavery, since, similarly to what we find in the case of the status of women, there are some New Testament passages that defend slavery. Some will say that a mild form of slavery may actually not be unbiblical! Fortunately this goes far beyond what most anti-WO people would find acceptable.
The leaders of the denomination are in a difficult situation. Whatever is proposed during the coming GC session in July 2015 in St. Antonio (TX), will cause major controversy and bring a lot of turmoil to the church.
I am a fervent supporter of ordaining female pastors. I know the Bible texts that supposedly defend the unequal status of men and women, but I cannot deny one of the core principles of the gospel that we are all—whether we are male or female—equal in Christ.
But I am also a realist and I know that some processes may take a lot of time in a complex worldwide movement with enormous cultural differences and with distinct modalities in theology.
I believe it would, after all, be best if the ordination of female pastors would not be put on the 2015 GC agenda. That might well be the safest option. I my next blog I will mention some points that have gradually led me to that conclusion.