By Jack Hoehn
Boulders of granite left in fields are all that is left of mighty rivers of ice that covered much of the world thousands of years ago. They are now strewn over northern Washington state, relics of an age now long past and a climate that no longer exists. Are some Adventists living in a past long gone?
I left the USA on November 8, going north across the border into Canada. Driving through the fields with huge boulder erratics left in northern Washington’s Douglas County by the ice age thaw starting thousands of years ago, I also drove past little Adventist churches that have become notorious recently for their outspoken opposition to women pastors. Making up about 3-4% of the total Seventh-day Adventist membership in the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC), some of these small rural churches and their male pastors cling to a past subjugation of women by men like the huge boulders left behind by the disappearing glaciers. These members live where they can see that global warming has happened, and those mighty rocks carried in the past by rivers of glacial ice are now marooned and going nowhere at all today.
Some Adventist church members seem threatened and endangered by the idea that the Holy Spirit is calling women to serve God as pastors, and write letters and politic with the UCC officers to halt any progress towards equality of women with men in ministry. They view the Bible as a fence about truth, instead of an introduction to truth, and a witness of how holy men of God and their women reacted to the truth at sundry times and divers manners in the past. They think what was necessary 2,000 years ago in Corinth puts a limit on what can be done in Chewelah, Ione, or Leavenworth today.
To the Corinthian church Paul wrote something that anti-women-in-pastoral-ministry churches need to hear today: “He has made women competent as ministers of a new era in history—not by the letters of the Bible but by the Spirit who inspired the Bible; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (see 2 Corinthians 3:6, paraphrased by author). Biblical literalism kills if used to prevent the spread of truth and the expansion of truth into today’s needs. Sticking to the letter kills. Listening to the Spirit gives life, openness, “for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.”
The rivers of ice in the ice age moved great boulders hundreds of miles from the Canadian Rockies down into northern Washington state, but the ice age began retreating thousands of years before Christ and long before Biblical history began to be recorded. So today all that is left of the glaciers is huge boulders sitting in the middle of fields where farmers plow around them and cattle graze between them. Relics of a different time in history, and a different landscape, one not suitable for human habitation.
The subjection of women began long ago with disobedience in the Garden of Eden, when Eve lost her dominion and became subjected to males. It worsened with Lamech’s killing men and demeaning women by taking two of them to wife, not as equal partners but as subjects or property to serve his cruelty. And so it stayed for thousands of years till Jesus of Nazareth rebuked critical men saying, “Leave her alone…why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing for me.”
And the Apostle Paul wrote the first written words in human history suggesting that in Christ women and men were again to be equal. The icy ages of female subjection thawed slowly but from many nations of earth they are gone. Women can now vote, hold property, become presidents, lead nations, and may pastor in churches. Ordination of women gives them no more power than it gives ordained men; it is just an acknowledgement by the churches that God has called these people to these positions of service.
When I turned on the TV in our hotel room in Vancouver, BC, later that election night I watched in dismay and amazement as a minority of Americans elected a new male president who had made himself noted for crude language, sexual profligacy, and bullying of all opposed to him. Even Mr. Trump seemed surprised at his victory. Canadian newscasts showed night riots in scores of US cities, something I had never seen in the 16 presidential elections I have watched.
But what especially touched me was at the 5,000-member Canadian College of Family Physicians meeting that I was attending. On November 10, two days after the American elections and after the Canadian Minister of Health gave her talk on the future of health care in Canada to these doctors, the organizer of the annual scientific assembly stood up. Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, MD has chaired these large annual meetings for many years; this was his last assembly. Before the assembled physicians he stood and said, “I have something finally to say to you that is personal; this is not from the College of Family Physicians of Canada; this is from my own heart.”
And then he revealed to the assembly the pain he felt as a gay physician who cared for many women who had been abused by men, and many men who had been bullied because of their homosexuality, by other men. The pain was because the president of the USA is the leader of the free world, and the champion of all free nations on the earth. The pain he felt was because a man known for mocking homosexuals, disrespecting women, and bullying any he disagreed with, was now elevated to the highest position of honor and responsibility this world offers. “I don’t know what to say to my patients; I don’t know what to say to my friends. I don’t know what to say.” His eyes were moist, and his voice cracked as he shared his pain with those doctors. The audience of thousands of Canadian family doctors rose to their feet and gave him a standing ovation in support of his grief and pain.
If all over the world in all nations those who have been bullied and abused and treated as less than full members of the family of humanity are in sorrow and pain over the US election of an abusive male to the presidency, what pain and sorrow and dismay must women pastors feel, whom Christ through His Spirit has called to ministry, when the officers of “the highest authority of God on earth” cling to the ice ages of women’s subjection?
Should Adventists permit the letters of the Bible’s recording what was done then to bind them from hearing what the Spirit of the Lord is requiring now? There are over 100 female pastors serving the Lord in the USA. There are more in other nations of the world. This is not apostasy; this is fulfillment of prophecy. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Joel 2:8, emphasis added).
There is an Adventist organization called TEAM. They give scholarships to women to receive an education in Adventist colleges and universities to prepare them to become pastors. They do this in the USA, in South America, in Asia, in Europe, and in Africa.
These scholarships were started after Neal Wilson, the father of the present President of the General Conference of SDAs, challenged TEAM to prepare women for the church’s need for female pastors in these times of earth’s history. They have been doing this quietly and with limited support for many years now. If you think that the ice ages of female suppression are over and that the global warming to return women to equality with men is a fact of spiritual life, why not send them a tithe of your tithe this year?
TEAM—Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry (click for internet link).
Or send a check to:
P.O. Box 7816
Langley Park, MD 20787-7816
There is not much we can do for the bullied and abused of earth dismayed by the American election results. But there is something we can do for women and girls discouraged and held back from service for God by men and women who can’t tell the difference between what the Bible said back then and what the Bible means today.
Here is a video about Adventist churches becoming pastored by women pastors, that should be viewed by those supporting and opposing women’s ordination alike to expand the conversation and expand the issues women now face.
(Here is another address if that link doesn’t work for you: https://vimeo.com/189377594)
Questions or comments may be sent to Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please forward this information to any who might be interested in responding to the attempt to discourage and disrespect women in pastoral ministry in the Adventist church.
Photo is Glacial erratic, Norber – geograph.org.uk – 1503348.jpg used by Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.