Why We So Desperately Need Role Models
by Hannele Ottschofski | 30 September 2022
Yochi Rappeport’s blog in the Times of Israel on September 13 about role models led me to think about the influence of what we Adventists see and experience. Yochi writes about the influence that exclusively male teachers and rabbis had on her spiritual development as a teenager. If you only see men in leading roles, how can you imagine that women could also be leaders? If you are told to go and see the rabbi when you have a question, and you have only seen men in that role, how could you imagine that a rabbi could also be a woman?
In our Christian churches, we too are affected by what we see. Why do our Christian female pastors often have a difficult time being accepted by their congregations? Could it be the same reason? Many churchgoers have never before seen a woman in a pastoral role. They cannot imagine that a woman could be a pastor. If you have always been surrounded by male leadership in your church, it can be difficult to accept that women can lead as well.
Because the pastors who are elected to head the various regions of the church have always been men, it was no wonder that at the recent General Conference session, only men were appointed. As far as the division presidents are concerned, there is an excuse hidden in the Working Policy, which stipulates mandatory ordination for that position.
There is no such policy for departmental leaders, though. And yet, these leadership positions are mostly, with very few exceptions, given to male pastors. The nominating committee did not seem to be able to imagine a woman in a leadership role that has been in male hands for about a hundred years.
A hundred years?
Yes, a hundred years. When we look back to the time from the organization of our church in the middle of the 19th century to the rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, there were lots of women who successfully headed departments. There were women in leadership positions in church ministries, Sabbath school, education, and finances. Women served as evangelists and pastors. Women were visible in leadership.
Today the only female directors at the General Conference department lead departments for women, children, education, and family. The reason why women were gradually left out was, of course, that the number of male pastors increased and they needed jobs. The fundamentalist agenda sent women back to the hearth, and whole generations grew up without female role models in church leadership.
Long ago, I grew up in a country where we had a large number of women ministering in the church. They were not called pastors, nor were they ordained, but they did everything a pastor would do except baptizing. They were successful evangelists who led hundreds of people to the Lord. They were visible. They demonstrated that the gospel ministry was not a calling for men only. Today many talented female pastors are working in Finland. The foundation was laid by the faithful women who served God and His church in times past, developing an openness toward women in ministry.
Others have grown up in cultures where it was unthinkable that a woman could be a minister. Although in such countries women work diligently to uphold and serve the church, they can never be a pastor. It may take longer for the culture to change in regions such as South America, but things will change. Churchgoers in those countries need to see women in leadership roles and little by little their attitudes will change. They need to be reminded of the female pioneers of the church in South America, who worked so hard to bring the message to unreached areas. They were visible and should not be forgotten.
Yochi Rappeport is the Executive Director of Women of the Wall. She was raised in Tzfat in an Orthodox family and served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a commander in the Nativ Military Course, teaching Judaism and Zionism. She now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and two daughters, who are part of a modern Orthodox community that values feminism and pluralism.
Things have changed. Progress is being made.
The question that bothers me is, are we as a church making progress, or are we going backward? Are we forgetting our early female role models and letting male power and ambitions suggest that the Holy Spirit can only use men as pastors? We do have an increasing number of women who work as pastors and chaplains in several divisions, but it seems to me that our top church leadership is not happy about this and wants to halt the progress.
Church leadership is dominated by males although the majority of the church is made up of women. Why should such a great part of the church be relegated to the peripheries? Why can the potential of women not be recognized? If we consider the biblical metaphor of the body, with all believers being a part of the body, working together for the common good, how can we expect the body to function when it is half amputated?
If we as Christians want to be followers of Christ we should learn from Him and how He respected and treated women. He rejected the traditions of men and pointed to how God created man and woman as equals. If we as a church value the redemption of fallen humans through the sacrifice on Calvary, we should also accept the restoration of the corrupted treatment of women to the pre-fall divine intention. The church would profit from following the example of the early church where the involvement of women was not questioned.
It is time for the church to recognize that it is not a church where men have a special elevated position, just as we should stop thinking of the Bible as a book written by men about men for men only. If women have been hidden in our understanding of the Bible and historical records (mostly written by men), we should finally give them the place God gave them at creation, as partners and equal partakers of their mission.
Hannele Ottschofski writes from Hechingen, Germany.