David Hamstra serves as pastor of the Fort McMurray Adventist Church in Alberta, Canada. He is a graduate of Canadian University College (BA) and Andrews University (MDiv). David, who has been involved in the Adventist blogging community since 2005, still occasionally posts at his blog, apokalupto and is web editor of Memory,Meaning & Faith. David is married to Heidi, and God has blessed them with two sons. He enjoys cooking, jogging, telling jokes, and road trips.
Let's face it. The past months of conversation about women's ordination in Adventist media haven't been pretty. The evident divisions in our church had, I suspect, at least some influence on our top-level leaders' decision not to bring the topic to the 2010 General Conference floor.
If we want to make progress toward unity on this issue, something about the way we discuss it is going to have to change. One way to begin is by eliminating distractions to the core issues that are at stake in whether we ordain women. Therefore, I propose we elevate the conversation by first recognizing what the question of women's ordination is not about.
This Is Not About Making The Bible Say Whatever We Want It To Say.
A favorite tactic on both sides of the question seems to be the accusation that the others want to disregard the message of scripture and substitute a culturally biased interpretation. Granted, there is a minority who believe that there is no such thing as a message in Scripture that transcends culture, nor a way for us to interpret scripture that can move us beyond our cultural biases. But, as far as I can tell, they do not at all represent a majority position among those who favor women's ordination.
Those in favor of women's ordination need to respect the regard those opposed to it have for the clear statements of scripture and not dismiss them in ways that diminish the authority of the word of God. Those opposed to women's ordination need to respect the tota scriptura approach taken by those in favor, which is the same type of argument Adventists make for the finite duration of hell.
And in all this, we must never use allegations of cultural bias against those who disagree with us, which is one way of judging motives. Ellen White strongly warned against this tactic in church disagreements (e.g. "Judge Not," Signs of the Times, March 14, 1892).
Another way to avoid judging our opponents is to recognize that...
This Is Not About Liberals vs. Conservatives.
Of course, one may choose to define liberal and conservative according to the question of women's ordination, but that obscures important differences within those groups. I know many people with a conservative lifestyle who are in favor of ordaining women. And among those with a more permissive attitude, there are those who regard the Bible as a transcendent authority on these matters as well as those who would disregard those portions of the Bible they see as culturally conditioned.
If we make this a war between liberals and conservatives, we miss the opportunity to find common ground on which to solve this question. Those in favor need to realize that the issue is not just about whether we ordain women, but why we ordain women. Those opposed need to realize that at stake is not just the idea of Scripture's normative authority, but whether we can still allow Scripture the authority to change our traditional views.
And if we're going to be open to the power of the Scripture and the Spirit to change our mind, we must admit that...
This Is Not About Defeating The Other Side.
I hope by now it's become clear that most individuals on either side of this question have more commonalities than differences across a range of fundamental issues. In this context, the arrogant ridicule that some have attempted to heap on Pastor Doug Batchelor is, frankly, inexcusable. And the same is true of the haughty, heresy-hunting rhetoric of some opposed to women's ordination.
If we treat this as a binary-outcome, winner-take-all fight, we will certainly all end up loosing. In Acts 15:1-33 we have a model for sorting out these questions on the basis of the Bible in a prayerful, humble, inclusive, and Spirit-led way. I propose we ask the Holy Spirit to give us these attitudes and help us adapt the model to our 21st century question.
If we're going to change the tone of the conversation on women's ordination, we should face up to the fact that...
This Is Not About Online Discussions.
Internet discussion is a good way to learn interesting ideas, ponder questions, and explore new possibilities. But I don't know anyone who has changed his or her mind on a divisive issue as a direct result of participating in an online discussion. Do you?
Where Internet discussions tend to polarize positions, personal relationships change hearts. Do you want people to accept your position on women's ordination? Invite them over to your house and become their friend. That's how Jesus worked.
As long as we sit in our separate camps on Sabbath morning and fire-off at each other in websites on Sabbath afternoon, we will remain divided on this question. As far as I can tell, we've said pretty much everything there is to say (and some things we shouldn't have) online, and now it's time to start the hard work of building relationships and having face-to-face conversations about this issue.
And finally, I submit to you that...
This Is Not About Women's Ordination.
Why? (1) Because as much as it is about women, it's also about men. In my experience, men need to feel they have something unique, important, and powerful to offer before they will commit to a cause. In a North American church that is finding it increasingly difficult to keep men who are not full time ministers engaged, we need to consider how the message of ordaining women will be interpreted by men in our church.
(2) Because, "ordination," a term our pioneers adopted, is loaded with unintended theological baggage. It is originally a Catholic term that implies an elite class of ministers, which is contrary to the Priesthood of all Believers principle. In many local contexts, Adventist ordination comes with un-Christlike authority that I would not want men exercising over me, to say nothing of women. This suggests that we may need to rethink the language we use to set apart full-time ministers of both genders. (cf. Matt 20:25-28)
(3) Because as much as we focus titles and positions, the real question is what leadership roles men and women are allowed to have in day-to-day ministry. Both sides argue for the inherent equality of the genders and their capacity to perform all the tasks of ministry. The question is whether the Bible teaches that in church leadership, men must always have the decision-making role and women the nurturing role, or whether it says those roles are not mutually exclusive and/or interchangeable between the genders. If we get this question right, the correct titles and positions will follow on the basis of effective leadership.
"Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20-21, NET).
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