Am I My Sista’s Keeper? Women’s Ordination and the Black Adventist Church
By Rebecca Davis | 5 March 2019 |
I readily admit I had every intention on writing this article to slam and bash black men for their apparent lack of involvement when it comes to injustices against women. OK—I probably wouldn’t have been that harsh, but the perspective and tone would have definitely been negative.
I know what you’re thinking: that first inclination was a gross generalization. Well…it was!
I still hold the position that black men do not emotionally involve themselves or actively participate in the fight against discrimination, especially institutionalized discrimination, against black women unless there is some aspect of racism attached to it. I will concede, however, that not all black men stand on the sidelines watching women fight for themselves. I will also concede to the eye-opening plausibility that the reason for the apparent lack of emotional and active involvement may not be entirely black men’s fault.
The Church Discriminates Against Women
The Seventh-day Adventist Church as an institution discriminates against women. Did you hold your breath as you read that? I held mine as I typed it. In October 2018 at the General Conference Annual Council meetings this was confirmed as a reality. Let me give you the long and short of it. If your religious affiliation is Adventist you are probably aware by now that women cannot be ordained as pastors within this denomination. However, a woman can pay her money, which is gladly taken, and obtain the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from an Adventist educational institution, receive training, be hired as a pastor, lead in her own church or churches and can even be commissioned as a worker.
However, according to policy for full pastoral recognition there is only one track for a pastor and that’s ordination. Now here it comes: ordination is afforded to male pastors and male pastors alone.
After years of the institution’s voting down any potential action that would rectify this discriminatory practice, some unions decided to utilize the authority given to them to correct this practice within their territories and among their constituents. The General Conference (GC) did not like this. As a result, a document entitled Regard for and Practice of General Conference Session and General Conference Executive Committee Actions was voted at the Annual Council meetings last year. The document outlines a process for addressing matters of non-compliance within the Adventist church. To add further clarification an example of non-compliance would be a union’s choosing to ordain women when the GC in session and the GC Executive Committee out of session has voted that as an institution, we would not ordain women.
This was clearly a hot topic surrounding the Annual Council meetings. There seemed to be a good number of women who were up in arms about the document and the blatant discrimination in the church. Young adults were pouring out their disappointment and disapproval on social media with the imminence of their “leaving the church.” Men of all different races and ethnicities could be heard in the wind speaking out against what was taking place. However, when I took a closer look at who was actually up in arms about this injustice I was disheartened. As a black woman who has, in her own way, taken a stand against the spiritualized discrimination in this institution, it was disappointing to feel as if few males in general and few of my black male colleagues in ministry specifically were acknowledging the blatant gender discrimination that was taking place.
Where Were Black Men?
Where were the adult black men who were fighting for the cause? It wasn’t until photos of the Annual Council meetings showed everyone there dressed in costumes of an era that was not favorable to black people, and it wasn’t until our GC President, Ted Wilson, in his Annual Council sermon, bemoaned current worship trends—which many believe to be a dog-whistle theology condemning black worship styles—and it wasn’t until he frowned upon engaging in social justice issues by referring to “the tendency of some to overemphasize social justice issues while downplaying biblical truth”—it wasn’t until all of this that you started to see a rise out of black men. Not until then were articles being written, conference presidents deciding to have a sit down, text threads blazing, twitter responses to Elder Wilson no longer mincing words, and Facebook replete with criticism surrounding what was believed to be blatant racism.
I didn’t understand! I was upset! Why wasn’t it enough for the women’s issue alone to bring about that response? Why wasn’t it until perceived racism reared its ugly head that protest was without hesitation? Where were the black men who were just as emotionally and actively invested in the equality of women as they were for the equality of blacks? After all, isn’t injustice against women a social justice issue?
After having several conversations with male colleagues to try to gain some sense of understanding, I came across an article in Psychology Today on “Intersectionality and the Tragedy of the Black Male.” This article helped me come to the conclusion that black men may not be entirely to blame for their apparent lack of involvement. It may be the essence of the feminist movement that has left black men on the sidelines.
Intersectionality is a well-known word among people concerned about those who are marginalized. The term was coined by black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Per Wikipedia,
she introduced the theory of intersectionality to feminist theory in 1989 by becoming the first person to use this word in this context of feminism… In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include interactions between the two identities, which frequently reinforce each other.”
Whose Fault Is It?
The reality is, however, that the black male, in this society does much worse than a black woman due to incarceration and educational disparities. Read what the article goes on to say:
Feminism, which is arguably the most successful social movement in the United States (if not the entire developed world) has, unfortunately, often had the unintended consequence of perpetuating racism, particularly as it affects black boys and men. While I am no expert on the narrative of the women’s movement, I do know that historically, black women have felt excluded, and often still do. So, it is no accident that the concept of intersectionality was put forth by a black woman. But sadly, feminism in general, with its focus on women and, perhaps most damaging to males, its focus on girls—and not children, in general—has done little to improve the lives of African-American boys and men. Of course, racism’s effects on girls and women are also profound and damaging, but black girls and women have not been purposely excluded from inspiration, encouragement, and support, and the data clearly shows that in many ways their lives have been improved by the place women’s concerns have in American government, media, and the academy. But by ignoring boys and men—and lately even saying it’s even OK to hate the latter, and, by extension, the former—the women’s movement has left all boys and young men in the lurch, especially the group that most needs our attention, boys and men of color.
I suggest that it is plausible that the feminist movement unashamedly shut out black men, which in turn would explain the lack of emotional involvement when it comes to injustice against women. Maybe black men really weren’t permitted to have a place on the battlefield of that fight. Or maybe they were purposefully placed on the outskirts where they were ignored and marginalized even further.
Now, I know one article is by no means exhaustive, thorough research on this matter. But man, this thing got my wheels turning! I have no right to blame or get mad at black men for something that may not have been their fault. Maybe black men really are the least advocated-for group of people. Maybe racism was the only battle they could champion. Maybe together we women, or maybe even just black women, can begin to champion black men as we ask them to champion us. Maybe the reason for their lack of emotional involvement and active participation in a lot of different areas really isn’t their fault at all.
I want to challenge black women to not let frustration and disappointment to be their initial response if they feel black men aren’t fighting for them. Perhaps they need some encouragement in this area, and to challenge them with some specific ways they can help and support.
Pastor Rebecca Davis is an ordained minister in the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and the Young Adult Pastor at the Mount Rubidoux SDA Church in Riverside, California. Pastor Davis is the founder, chief architect, and visionary of a young adult ministry named “Connect.” Ministering to anywhere between 250 and 300 young adults biweekly, Connect has become a movement of young adults with plans to impact the community and the world! Connect Orlando, Connect Baltimore, Connect Phoenix, Connect Charlotte, Connect Andrews, and Connect Gwinnett have launched as franchises under the Connect Ministry.