Ted (Wilson II) and Joe (Benedict XVI) Have a Common Problem: Women in Ministry In their Churches
by Ervin Taylor
Ted is the current leader of a relatively young—not yet 150 years old—very conservative and, in many places, fundamentalist Protestant denomination. This denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, claims about 17 million members. Although its origins and early development occurred in 19th Century America, about 80% of its members now live in Third World countries and its Anglo membership in its homeland is rapidly declining. The Adventist church officially claims to be, and Ted believes it to be, “The Remnant Church.” Ted himself is widely regarded as a fundamentalist actively seeking to reverse decades of relatively progressive theological movements in his church and return it to the sect-like status that characterized Adventism in the 1930s.
Joe is the current leader of an ancient Christian church, the Roman Catholic Church,with over 1 billion members. However, in Europe and America, it has lost a number of its Anglo adherents who have been partly replaced by those migrating from Third World countries. His church officially claims to be the only true Christian church. Some conservative members of his church believe that there is no salvation outside of their church. While Joe himself is considered a brilliant scholar, he supports conservative and reactionary elements in his church who wish to return it theologically and organizationally to where it was prior to its great reforming Vatican II Council.
The full given name of Ted is Ted Norman Claire Wilson, 20th President of the General Conference (GC) of Seventh-day Adventists (Adventists). The GC represents the highest bureaucratic level in the Adventist church’s hierarchically-organized administrative structure. Ted is sometimes referred to as Wilson II, since his father, Wilson I, was the 17th President of the Adventist GC.
The full given name of Joe is Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, now better known as Benedict XVI, 265th Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
The most serious problem currently facing Wilson II involves efforts to ordain women as Adventist clergy with equal standing with men. This currently is a highly divisive issue within world-wide Adventism although widely supported in First World Adventism. Some view it as a topic which has the potential to split the Adventist church. Wilson II does not want women ordained and goes out of his way to make sure that he avoids any situation in which he would be photographed at events when women are being recognized for their ministerial role. Conservative supporters of Wilson II commend him for opposing the introduction of what they view as a feminist agenda into Adventism.
One of the problems currently facing Benedict XVI are American nuns who have publically disagreed with the stand of Catholic bishops on several issues and have frequently questioned Catholic doctrine. The Vatican released a statement that accused the Catholic Leadership Conference of Women Religious for advancing “radical feminist themes” such as their advocacy of ordaining women as Roman Catholic priests.
Ted and Joe apparently share common views about women and thus share a common problem: how to deal with calls for justice and equity in how women are viewed and treated by male clerical elements controlling the political systems of their respective churches. It will be interesting to see how each of them will deal with that problem in their respective faith traditions.
Parenthetically, Ted and Joe’s churches share several other characteristics. The first is that their history includes prominent personages of the female gender: Joe’s church has Mary and Ted’s church has Ellen. A second characteristic is relying on tradition. Joe’s church is honest about the importance of tradition. Ted’s church tries to ignore how much the source of its unique theological view is tradition-based and the source of that tradition, namely, Ellen’s views about theology and other topics. Her influence provides essentially the same function in Ted’s church as tradition does in Joe’s church.
Finally, Joe’s church is honest about it being hierarchically-organized with authority and power flowing from the top down. Ted’s church projects the myth of having a political system which is “representative.” The reality is that Ted’s church is, like Joe’s church, a top-down organization. Also, the higher one goes in the bureaucracy of Ted’s church, the more it is dominated by male clergy. In fact, as many have pointed out, in terms of its organizational structure, Ted’s church is much more hierarchical than Joe’s with, in all, five administrative levels, with three levels of bureaucracy between the local church and the equivalent of its Vatican, the General Conference.