My Take: Beyond San Antonio
by Raj Attiken, May 7, 2015: The issue of women’s ordination does not belong on a General Conference Session agenda. It shouldn’t have been placed there years ago; it shouldn’t be placed there now. That was the opinion I presented in a previous column after the 2014 Annual Council action to place it on the agenda. I also offered reasons for my opinion. My opinion, obviously, did not alter what’s on the Session agenda. I didn’t expect it to!
Since this column is an opinion column, it is, by definition, the subjective personal view, belief, and judgment of the writer, and may or may not rest on grounds of certainty! I can, therefore, enjoy the luxury of speculation on what will follow the vote at the upcoming 60th General Conference Session. (A disclosure: In the past three years, I have had the privilege of officiating at the ordination to the gospel ministry of six women. I am strongly in favor of the ordination of women and men. So, don’t read this for a disinterested or unbiased perspective!)
At the upcoming Session, delegates will be asked to register as a “yes” or “no” answer their reference on the question submitted to them by the 2014 Annual Council: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.” There have been many perspectives offered on what the aftermath or fallout might be of either a “yes” or a “no” decision. Some fear the splintering of the denomination.
My take on this is that the impact the vote in San Antonio is likely to have is almost solely related to time: how soon various regions and entities will ordain women for gospel ministry. Regardless of the vote, the Church in certain parts of the world will recognize, through the laying on of the hands of ordination, those women whom God has already ordained for gospel ministry. Those regions in which this has already happened will continue the practice. Others will join them. Some may hold out for a long time. A “yes” vote will accelerate the speed of adoption and implementation in certain regions. A “no” vote will not prevent or stop the ordination of women. The vote in San Antonio will merely influence the timing: how soon various segments of the world field join those regions that are already ordaining women. That’s it!
I base my prognostication on three convictions:
First, God’s promise through the prophet Joel will continue to be fulfilled in greater magnitude as time moves on, both in speed and scope: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. . . . In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants – men and women alike” (Joel 2: 28, 29, NLT). God certainly will not retract His promise based on what is voted at a General Conference session; nor will He begin to limit the gifts of the Holy Spirit to men. Women will continue to sense God’s call to serve Him in pastoral ministry and experience His anointing and consecration. In the admitted absence in scripture of any explicit injunction to ordain women (or men!), or any coherent interpretation of scripture that prohibits such ordinations, the Church will increasingly recognize through ordination those women whom God empowers for the gospel ministry through the “pouring out” of His Spirit. As the fulfillment of Joel 2 intensifies, so will the numbers of women whom the Spirit mobilizes for ministry.
Second, the distinctive perspectives that women bring to pastoral ministry will enrich the Church and will, therefore, be desired by more and more congregations in more and more parts of the world. As the Church notices that women pastors bring to pastoral ministry fresh dimensions of expression, perspectives and emotions beyond the categories within which men have traditionally functioned, it will desire the increased participation of women. Pastors bring faith to bear on the challenges and strains of human life. This calls on one’s capacity to think rationally and relationally. In addition to their intellectual capacities, women bring a deep relational intelligence; they move comfortably between the reasons of the heart and reasons of the mind. This will be welcomed by congregations. Further, male and female are complementary categories that are tied to the creation of humankind and to the image of God. A woman’s voice, then, is an important component of what the Holy Spirit is saying to our generation. God’s action in fulfilling the Joel 2 prophecy is His attempt to let the world hear the “bilingual” proclamation of the gospel through the language of men and the language of women. I expect that women pastors will move us deeper in experiencing our faith both as a matter of the mind and as a matter of the heart. All of this will create a positive shift in how the Church relates to the ordination of women.
Third, there is a predictable adoption cycle with any major change or innovation. Different people sign up for new ideas or cultural changes at different rates. This was the basic concept behind the theory of Adopter Categorization that Everett Rogers published in 1958 – a theory that has been validated repeatedly over the years.1 He proposed five adopter categories based on people’s speed of adoption of a new idea or product. We have already seen church entities take the lead in ordaining women. There will be additional early adopters of the practice; there will also be late adopters. For some the adoption process could be rather lengthy, with adoption lagging far behind their awareness and knowledge of the issues. Time is a significant variable in how individuals or other decision-making units will pass from knowledge and understanding about the issue to a decision to adopt and implement the practice of ordaining women to gospel ministry.
The wider acceptance of the practice of ordaining women to the gospel ministry is inevitable – even if the delegates in San Antonio decide not to hand the decision-making responsibility to the Division executive committees. “Time,” wrote British poet Lord Byron, “the corrector when our judgments err!” Time is the chief determinant here as to how many, and where, women will be ordained in the coming years! “Yes” or “No,” it’s all about time! That’s my take!
1 Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (New York: The Free Press, 2003. 5th edition), pp. 281ff.