by Cindy Tutsch, November 29, 2014: In the new book Questions and Answers About Women’s Ordination, the editors use Scripture and Ellen White writings to answer common questions about the theology of ordination and the history of women leaders in our church. Read our interview with Cindy Tutsch, Columbia Union consultant for the Columbia Union school of evangelism, one of the editors below. (Interview by V. Michelle Bernard)
Visitor Staff: When did the Seventh-day Adventist church start having women pastors? Is it a new practice?
Cindy Tutsch: Since the early years of our movement, women were involved in evangelism and many other facets of ministry—serving as conference secretaries, treasurers, departmental leaders and even in management of churches. During the lifetime of Ellen White, 31 women were licensed credentialed ministers, and served as church planters, evangelists, as well as in the type of work that we would call pastoring today.
Is it possible to still have unity in the church, even if different divisions decide differently on women’s ordination? How so?
Throughout Adventist history, we have often faced theological and ecclesiastical issues that have caused differences among us. Despite vigorous debate at times, we have remained united as one body under Christ pursuing our unique God-given mission.
Ellen White has counsel that could be instructive in answering this question: “We cannot then take a position that the unity of the church consists in viewing every text of Scripture in the very same light “Love, the Need of the Church,” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 11, p. 266).
She also wrote, “The connection of the branches with one another and with the Vine constitutes them a unity, but this does not mean uniformity in everything. Unity in diversity is a principle that pervades the whole creation” (Review and Herald, Nov. 9, 1897).
Fundamental Belief No. 14 on “Unity in the Body of Christ” states: “Distinctions of race, culture, learning, nationality and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another. We are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation.”
On the basis of this fundamental belief, the General Conference has established policies regulating responsibilities within the church, including employment practices recognizing women in leadership roles (see GC Working Policy BA-60). These policies reflect our convictions on the doctrine of spiritual gifts: that the Holy Spirit calls both men and women to service and that all spiritual gifts are gender inclusive (1 Cor. 12:11; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-21). The church has taken action to allow for the ordination of deaconesses and female elders and the commissioning of female pastors.
Although these church policies and practices are implemented differently throughout the world, the church has remained a unified, worldwide organization pressing together in mission and message. Thus, there is no historical indication that ordaining women in places where it would promote kingdom work and not ordaining them in other places would fracture the church.
What surprised you most when you were researching for this book?
I was especially surprised by two things:
- Ellen White affirms “unity in diversity” many times.
- Male headship theories did not exist in our church until they were imported in recent years from evangelical writers who opposed women’s ordination.
How does having women in pastoral and elder roles impact our churches?
Women, as men, are varied in the gifts and talents they bring to the pastoral role. Some are strong administrators, some are particularly gifted in preaching, others serve exceptionally as evangelists. Today, in a world of abuse, exploitation and abandonment, our churches benefit greatly from dedicated women in ministry who can nurture, counsel and comfort. An affirmation of God’s calling on women, as well as men, will strengthen and grow His church by using the talents of all.
The question that Annual Council recommends be taken to the 2015 GC Session is whether to allow divisions to decide whom to ordain in their territories. How would the answer to this question impact our church?
I believe a “yes” vote would best allow our church to remain united though we differ in our understanding of this topic. Those areas that choose to ordain women may be benefited by their ministry. Those who do not ordain will be glad that their convictions or culture has not been disregarded. The church as a prophetic movement can focus more on its mission to propagate the messages of the three angels and the righteousness of Christ.
I believe that a “no” vote would unnecessarily fracture our church. Many young people would be disillusioned by what they may see as a failure of the church to recognize God’s calling as more important than human prejudice or interpretation and would vote “with their feet.” Some entities would continue the practice of women’s ordination because of their constituents’ personal convictions that biblical principles of justice and equality trump human legislation. The debate and controversy would continue to distract and pull away from Jesus’ commission to spread the gospel, and we may “wander in the wilderness” many more years.
Why do you personally support women’s ordination?
I believe understanding the inclusive character of our God is part of “present truth” for this time of Earth’s history. From my study of the Bible and Ellen White’s writings, I have come to realize that it is essential to allow the Holy Spirit to anoint whom He will for the task to which He calls. How can puny humanity limit or prescribe who the God of the universe may call?
This interview was originally published in the online Columbia Union Visitor and has been reprinted with their permission. https://www.columbiaunionvisitor.com/questionsandanswers/