For those of you unaware, I was raised an Adventist. Though, the 3 or 4 of you who read this blog are probably doing so out of a sense of loyalty and, in that case, you probably already know me well enough to already know that. Currently, the Adventist church is embroiled in a controversy about whether or not women can be ordained pastors. And by controversy, I mean that 80% of Adventists in North America are very much in favor of the idea; about about another 10% like the idea but value “church unity” over the issue; and about another 5 or 10% adamantly oppose the idea for reasons that make sense only to them. If the polls reflect such a huge difference in approval, how is there even enough support to make it an issue? The answer lies in two places. The biggest lies in Adventist demographics. The bulk of Adventist membership lies in developing countries where female leadership is an anathema. The other part lies in how Adventists define “ordained minister”. Women can be pastors all they like. We have many and they contain all the moral and spiritual authority as male pastors (in so much as pastor’s have moral or spiritual authority). What Ordination means in practice is there is a solid glass ceiling within the church hierarchy.
Quick background. Individual churches belong to a regional Conference. Conferences, in turn, belong to a Union. For example, Boston, where I live, is part of the “Northeastern Conference” which is part of the “Atlantic Union” and the Atlantic union contains all the Conferences from all of New England to New York State. WA DC, Virginia and Maryland are part of the Columbia Union and the southern states east of the Mississippi are part of the Southern Union. Above Unions are Divisions. The North American Division includes the US and Canada (sorry Mexico). All the Divisions comprise the General Conference (GC).
Women not being ordained ministers can never rise above Pastor. They can’t be Senior Pastors if a church is large enough to have more than one pastor. This is directly due to the opinion of conservatives that women should never hold positions of leadership or authority. I should point out that conservatives feel that these opinions are divinely inspired so good luck talking them out of it. Women can’t work up the ranks of conferences, unions, divisions let alone be part of the GC. The end result is that the senior leadership of the SDA General Conference tends to draw from it’s conservative base and they are all men which facilitates a mono-perspective that is in no way healthy. But here’s the rub, the appointing and ordaining of ministers does not happen at the GC level. It happens at the Union level. These are self-same unions where female ordination is polling at 80%. So now you have a schism between the local churches and the senior church hierarchy, thus the controversy.
Feminism makes only a single statement. That men are equal to women. That’s not to say every individual is just as proficient as every other individual at all skills and tasks, but only that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. For the conservative and religiously minded, this represents a staggering change. Yes there are isolated examples of women throughout history wielding enormous power and influence. But, for the most part, serious attempts at equality are extremely recent and not just within the Adventist church. We’ve never had concerted attempts at egalitarianism before. When we look at social and political structures outside the Adventist church, we’re drawing from the same pool of individuals that the Adventist church is drawing from. The Church is a microcosm of the world around us. Entrenched male hierarchies that are probably not hostile to women (though some are) so much as too self-involved to really consider alternatives. Power drawn from a conservative base which by its very definition loathes change.
Feminism will destroy the Adventist church without question. By its very existence Feminism represent change and progress. The old church will fade away as its members die and replaced. Old ideas will die and be replaced. But the the ideas of equality, progress, change, are too powerful. They will continue to “corrupt” the old and replace it with something new. Something awesome.