Women’s Ordination: The Underlying Issue
A leader in ministry and speaker at GYC shares her thoughts on Women’s Ordination, and the underlying issue at stake.
“So, what are your thoughts on the whole Women’s Ordination (W.O.) debate as a graduate of a top women’s college who is currently enrolled at the top Adventist Seminary?”
In spite of everything, I actually thought I could navigate my way past the whole W.O. debate and avoid the conversation altogether. But just a few short weeks into my studies, I was forced to confront it when one of my classes required me to write a paper analyzing the arguments posited at the July, 2013 meeting of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). Thankful it was not a position paper, and quite honestly, intimidated by the enormity of the task, I painstakingly took up the task with a keen awareness of its personal significance.
My conclusion after that project, much reflection and countless conversations with students, professors, men and women in ministry of various persuasions, is that we are not even having the right conversation.
How is it possible, that different individuals approaching the same text, come out with diametrically opposite conclusions? Read the papers for yourself and see what I mean!
Now, when I have brought this up, some have been very quick to affirm that “both sides” of the debate have a high respect for Scripture. By the way, as the conversation stands, there are more sides than just two on this. But it is a useful simplification to say there is the camp in support of W.O. and those opposed to it although each camp has a spectrum of positions.
With all the theological conversation about hermeneutics, beginning in particular with the Symposium on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1974, Adventist theologians are sensitive to avoid negative labels like “higher criticism.” Thus any suggestion that there may be differences in approach to Scripture touches a sensitive spot. No-one wants to be told that their hermeneutics are faulty and no-one wants to throw that accusation!
Yet, regardless of whether or not we address the issue, the fact remains that we have respected Adventist scholars, all who claim to have a high respect for Scripture, reading the same Bible, and yet tendering irreconcilable positions on W.O. No matter who is right and who is wrong, I perceive that our church has a problem that runs deeper than the ordination of women to pastoral ministry.
The integrity and viability of our church is grounded on our understanding on Scripture. Theologically speaking, sola-tota-prima scriptura is the bedrock of our identity. So we can talk all we want about unity, but if we cannot agree on how to read the Bible, how can we agree on anything, really?! Yes, we could very well forget about the W.O. debate and go about evangelism because there is a world that is dying out there for want of the gospel, but what gospel will we preach?
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about uniformity here! It is possible, and it is healthy, for us to have different perspectives on Scripture. But unity requires that the diversity of perspectives are complementary and some things just aren’t complimentary. Either God created the world in six, literal, contiguous days, or He didn’t. Either the Sabbath is a literal day of rest every seventh-day of the week, or it isn’t. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. You can’t have your cake and eat it.
The W.O. debate has brought to light, at least two camps on a particular topic and since Scripture is the arbiter, there must be principles in Scripture applicable to the resolution of this debate. The fact that appeals to Scripture are yielding contrary results does not mean that the Bible is confused on this matter (it managed to predict 1844 alright but it’s schizophrenic on this issue…?). No, something in the approach to Scripture is amiss. And if we don’t resolve that issue, regardless of how the church votes on this particular debate in 2015, we will fail at achieving that ethereal unity we have heard repeated appeals to.
So, yes, this is a debate about W.O., but the underlying issue of how we understand Scripture is what most concerns me. We must first admit that herein lies the problem so that we can begin resolving this issue from its foundation. Then as we actually study the Bible unitedly (instead of yelling at each other across the isles), we may arrive at a true and deeper understanding of what God would have us to do concerning this particular question of W.O..