It is one week since San Antonio. This dust is beginning to settle. But the debate will go on. In the past week I have intensely participated in the digital discussion about the position of women in the Adventist Church. My blog of last week, entitled NO, has been read by a few thousand people. I received many e-mail reactions and comments on Facebook. Many of these were positive, and some were heart-warming, but there was also a sizable amount of hate-mail. In one reaction I was even referred to as ‘one of the most evil leaders’ in the Adventist Church. Well, i can live with that. It even gives me a certain degree of satisfaction that the writer of this comment thinks that I continue to have some influence.
At present I am still on vacation. However, when I return to the Netherlands, some time next week, a number of very busy months are awaiting me. One of the projects I am working on, at the request of the Dutch Adventist Church, is a completely new translation into Dutch of Ellen White’s book Education. The old Dutch translation is in urgent need of refreshing. It is a challenging assignment to render the text of this book into the kind of Dutch that (also younger) people still want to read. Therefore, the language of the book must be brought into the twenty-first century.
In this book Ellen White makes a statement that is extremely relevant in the context of the current discussions about the ordination of women. I quote: ‘The greatest want of the world is the want of men – men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.’ This quote emphasizes the need for total integrity. And, indeed, that is what counts. God has created men and women with equal status. The NO-vote by some 60 percent of approximately 2,500 people does not change that. We cannot play with that principle: men and women participate equally in the priesthood of all believers. YES, in Christ all differences in status (that for a long time were culturally stamped by a patriarchal society) between men and women were annulled.
By the way, now that I mention the name of Ellen White, it is good to realize she never slavishly followed the ideas and decisions of the church leaders. Repeatedly she protested against the ‘kingly power’ that ‘the brethren’ often claimed for themselves. I have a strong suspicion that, had she lived today, she might have uttered a similar criticism. Church leaders who continuously cite her books (at time more frequently than the Bible) should take such statements much more seriously.
Ellen White also quite often commented critically on the way presidents of the General Conference approached certain issues. If in doubt about this, read the book The Prophet and the Presidents, written by Dr. Gilbert Valentine. It was published in 2011 by one of the official denominational publishers (Pacific Press). Here we may also say: Had she lived today, she might have sent some critical testimonies to the current president of the world church.
Church leaders often tell us that a decision of the a general conference session must be interpreted as God’s voice. Admittedly. Ellen White made comments to support this. But such statements must always be balanced by other statements that she made and that point in a different direction. When I do this, I cannot escape the conclusion the ‘the church’ may at times err and that leaders must be loyally, but also very critically, supported.
Then, just one more thing at the end of this blog. There was a time when our faith community practiced large-scale racial discrimination. We still detect traces of this. And we should still feel ashamed because of this. Do we now enter the history books also as a denomination that officially approves of gender discrimination? The very thought makes me ashamed.