I could not go to GC. I do not have a TV. The live streaming of “The Hope Channel” was choppy in every 3 seconds interval at best. I found out about the “No Vote” for Women’s Ordination via my aunt, whom I was calling to offer her comfort after she lost her job, which in turn tried to comfort me. I kept receiving confirmation of the, “No Vote” through texts of my brother-in-law who is at the GC and through good, ole, trusty, Facebook.
My feelings? Kind of numb. The feeling of kind of being stuck. The looming question of, “now what?” hangs over my head. I am not angry. I am not bitter. I am not enraged. I am not disappointed. I am not shocked. I am not hurting. I am not crying. Just processing.
Some people are upset, angered and hurting for the “No Vote” and they weren’t even women pastors. Some people were pushing for the vote more vehemently than myself and women pastors that I know. However, when the decision was called for, some people are expressing their feelings, which they are entitled to, but yet, since not being women pastors, it doesn’t really affect them as how it will effect the women pastors. Yesterday’s decision put a new twist on how my future will look like. It puts a new twist on friends that I know who are women pastors and their future.
I have been oddly quiet during the whole endeavor, just really trying to see what will pan out during the whole situation. A lot of people have posted their opinions, but I am posting my perspective as a woman pastor. I am speaking for mostly for myself, I am giving my viewpoint, my experience, and what I have learned.
There are a lot of questions running through my head. Once again, I was not at the GC, perhaps these were answered already in the discussions. But I guess I can put it out there now. What are we going to do about the women pastors who are already ordained or commissioned? Will the title be taken away? Will they no longer be able to practice baptisms, marriages, child dedications, and anointings? If it is not taken away, will their work as ordained ministers be recognized now that the whole world church decided, “no”? Will other divisions and countries require a new “baptism”; a new “anointing” if they found out you were baptized or anointed by a woman? What about women elders? Since the argument has been made, and there is Biblical evidence for it, that there is no difference between pastor and elder? Why carry the pastor/ elder title as a woman? Why has the church allowed for women elders to begin with if there is so much friction about women pastors? Are we working off semantics? Should we even allow for ordained women elders? Should we even have women elders? Is it even fair now to allow women to be “pastors” to fill positions that “women are so good at”? Are these even the right questions to ask? There even seems to be a lot of confusion on what was voted on, and there are some articles going around with wishful thinking.
It almost feels that at the end of the day what women pastors will end up doing is working administratively or doing the work of Bible workers, but on steroids, with nothing to show really for being the “pastor,” there will hardly be any distinction. At the end of the day, we are allowed to minister, but being in ministry is not the equivalent of being a pastor. That’s what it seems that has been handed to us. Again, these questions may have been answered, but at the same time, right now, I don’t think there will be a satisfactory answer to all of it, because these are issues that are going to rise from it, regardless of what people say, and because it is so fresh.
Regardless of it all, when there is a vote, there will always be a happy group and a disappointed group. The happy group will always claim God’s favor and the disappointed group will always say that God allowed it. God does not always work in majority votes; God does not always work in minority votes. There is the hot topic till this day of GC 1888 to show what I mean. What is always hard in situations like these is that there are no clear, cut lines, regardless of what some would say. While not everyone from both sides may have exhibited Christ-like behavior to each other, I do know also that there were strong, God-fearing people on both sides, people who have prayed, fasted, poured over scriptures, entered into dialogue to try to understand the other’s viewpoint, and still arrived at different convictions while reading the same Bible, praying to the same God, and following the same Holy Spirit. Nothing hurts more than when someone dedicates their whole life to what God has seem to show them on a personal level, and another person comes and flippantly rubs it in their face that it was not God’s will and they were being unfaithful to God. Folks, that is nothing short of spiritual abuse and the ground preparation for a great faith crisis in that person’s walk with God.
Please don’t make the ignorant statement that if a person has a faith crisis from the “truth” being told, then they never had faith to begin with. That’s part of what makes recovering from a faith crisis to be such a difficult task to begin with, because what was once thought to be solid in your walk with God, you are finding that you now are questioning everything, from the Bible you read, to the prayers that you pray, to the church you go to, and to the God you worship, with the people that you worship. There are countless of examples in the Bible of mighty men and women of God who went through their own faith crisis while still actively holding onto God and having a relationship with Him, (Jeremiah, anyone?); Don’t be that person, the type of person who speaks before thinking in the Name of God and too prideful to realize that you made a mistake while realizing that you have left a brother or sister in Christ questioning Him. Instead of criticizing that person, please, for the glory of God, extend the hand of grace, and become a reason why you helped that person stay in the community of God, and not a reason why they left it.
I for one, and I think I can honestly speak on behalf of a lot of my women pastor friends, I did not step into the pastoral arena to push forth my authority over the men. I had no desire to showcase, “Women do it better than men.” I had no desire to uproot an established authority that God has placed on earth. What I was looking for was to help my brothers in Christ. To reach the places that they couldn’t go while still holding onto their hand. To show a hurting world that God also validates women in His work and that His hand was being extended to them. While women are being persecuted on the other side of the world because they want to learn how to read, I wanted to help them see that there is a God who stands up for us. I came because I was called. No person would eagerly put himself or herself in a position that was heated, difficult, sensitive, at times hazy, receiving insults, questioning my own faith, getting looks of surprise, having my ministry questioned from others, and my ministering considered second rate, at best sometimes, just to “help people.”
No, it usually takes a calling to get people through the difficult nights of praying and pleading with God when interceding for His people when they have been a stiff-necked people. It takes a calling to still show your face after what some would consider a humbling experience in GC 2015. It takes a calling to go and minister to a mother who has lost her job after a difficult divorce, to comfort a second mother who has received the diagnosis of breast cancer, to encourage an exhausted and broken pastor’s wife, to be the listening ear of a young woman who grew up in church questioning the existence of God, to be the arms of comfort for a young woman friend who is grieving the loss of a strong spiritual mentor after cancer and recovering from abusive parents, to offer hope to a friend who admitted to being bisexual, to tell a young teenage girl who is recovering from bulimia that God still loves her no matter what. It takes a calling.
I have gone through some difficult times on my journey being a woman pastor. Others have not had it as difficult as me; some may have had it harder than me. What I do know is this; it is not easy. And as a woman pastor who has gone through some bumps in the road, and have had to search for answers that only God could give, I just ask for a few things from my family in Christ.
1. Be understanding that not all women pastors are liberal in their theology.
For some reason, when people heard that I studied theology and that I was taking the steps to continue onto the path of pastoral leadership, they looked at me like I had three heads, and the infamous question would come, “What do you plan to do with that?” Then the next question that would come about, “What is your stance on Women’s Ordination?” And then would proceed to ask questions on trying to figure out my theological stance. It was almost a quick assumption that if I was interested in pastoral work, that I was a liberal in my theology. And while there may be women pastors who have liberal views, (by all means, I am not a voice for all women pastors), I just know that the majority of the women pastors I know, myself included, do not hold liberal views about theology or the Seventh-day Adventist church.
2. Understand that we are trying to be honest, God fearing Christians, just like you.
It was almost borderline pure amusement to see all the hate comments that I would read on articles that would be for Women’s Ordination, it was to either laugh and pray for strength, patience, and wisdom, or cry and become despondent. Some of the comments were just harsh, that we have received the Mark of the Beast and being used as puppets for Satan. And while I am sure that the other camp who was pro Women’s Ordination have not been innocent of harsh comments towards anti Women’s Ordination, it doesn’t get worse than that folks, to be compared to be used by Satan. Come on guys, not a single one of us have the authority, nor the wisdom, nor the concept of correct justice, nor the full picture, to be able to pronounce those type of judgments. Once again, I speak for myself along with other women pastor friends that I know, we strive to seek the face of God, we beseech Him to show us His will, to correct us when we are in the wrong, to humble us when we have been prideful, to put us where we will be the most useful, to have us work for His glory. My desire is to do the will of God.
Being combative with each other proves nothing. Both camps will have people who stood up for either side and will claim, “Praise the Lord that ‘So and So’ spoke the truth!” We are so quick to point out what we think will divide the church that we become almost paranoid about everything. We develop champions in our minds of people who spoke up for our viewpoint that we have deemed as Biblical. We are quick to cast stones to those who do not agree with our viewpoint, and rapidly mark them as unfaithful towards God and the church because they were not consistent with the viewpoint that we had marked as truth. Please understand that this helps nobody and it certainly does not help you in your witness towards others. The will of God, in how He has portrayed it in His word, should be the will of our life, not what we think His will is, but what He says it is.
3. Be considerate and kind with your words.
As a theology student on my first week at Southern Adventist University I was standing in the presence of a classmate who told me this after he found out I was a theology student, “Wow…. Southern has really lowered their standards in accepting you into their program,” in which he then proceeded to laugh and said, “Just kidding.” I am sorry, but that is not something to joke about. That comment essentially said that just because I was a woman, I have tainted Southern’s doors. I have heard others say that we are too emotional, or incapable of being able to minister effectively. You are surely entitled to your opinion, but please, there is no godly love being shown once you begin to make comments that degrade the worth and the capability of a fellow human being.
4. Please stop saying that our ministry as women exists because men are not doing theirs.
This honestly is probably the most frustrating to me, on two sides. The first side is that women are only in the picture because the men are not doing the work. It implies that we were second picked, only the second best, because well, “Someone has to do it.” It implies that if men were doing the job, then women would not be in the picture at all. Why do we have to have that mentality? Why is almost always an “either/ or” and not a “both”? Why can’t it be the both of us, men and women, working together for the kingdom of God? Men are called to a certain position of authority, and I understand that, but at the same time can I not help that man in that position of authority? Why does it have it be, “I am only here because he is not doing it?” It seems to treat the ministry that God has given me as second best. That I am second best. I have worth in the eyes of God and I am important in His eyes, but in front of my church family, I am second place. And I am only in second place because of being a woman and that’s it.
The other side that this statement shows is the low position that men are being held at as well. It is shoving men to the side and saying, “What you are doing is not good enough so we will bring someone who can do it.” What of all the countless of men who have done God’s work in the past and in present time? Those who have lost their lives to the cause and have laid their heads down to rest to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”? Of the countless of men who still stand up to preach, to share God’s word to a people yelling at them that whatever they do is never good enough? Their decisions as pastors are never good enough, that what they preached was not good enough, that how they handled the situation was not good enough, that what they said was not good enough.
We are worse than a nagging, embittered wife to the leaders of our church. Almost always, someone, somewhere out there has a better idea of what our men pastors should have done. Well, in the words of Pastor Henry Wright, “Get some scars on your soul first and then come and talk to me about how to run a church.” It is so easy to criticize on the sidelines when you are not in the fight. And it is also detrimental to your effectiveness in your personal ministry if this is the mentality that you have of yourself, you, as a man pastor. That there can always be something more done, sure, that you can always grow more in Christ, of course, but to ridicule yourself and to put the holy work that God has placed in your life as not good enough because you are not doing enough in what you think it should look like is going backwards and not forwards.
Let our ministry work together as part of the image of Christ, not as a competition on who can do it better, who is lacking, or just because a spot needs to be filled.
5. Invite me to be genuinely part of your team.
Invite me as your team because God lead you to pick me, not because it is the cultural fad to do so. I have gone through countless of interviews with conferences where almost all of them supported women in ministry, and women’s ordination. However, at the end, I did not receive jobs from them regardless of their words of support. It is much more appreciative to be invited, wanted, and needed, than to be told of support, or just being picked up to show “progressive” movement. As a woman, I value more an invitation to join a work than a civil responsibility to get something done.
6. Don’t turn a blind eye to the abuse of women in the church.
Even though the church passed a “No Vote” on Women’s Ordination in the world church, please, don’t let this be a set back for working towards women’s rights and recognition in the world church at large. While some have played up that the vote for women’s ordination is just culture pressure on sexism and gender discrimination, it would be unwise to say that this will not have an effect on how the world church has portrayed its view on women and their importance. While I recognize that there were plenty of women who were against Women’s Ordination, I also acknowledge that there were plenty who were for it, in part to give a voice to the women. It would be naive to turn a blind eye towards the abuse that happens in the church in the Name of God towards women because the church voted, “no” on Women’s Ordination. While some may say that I am being extreme in saying this, and that just because the church said “no” to women’s ordination does not mean that it was an abusive act towards women. I understand what you are saying, and I acknowledge that, but hear my viewpoint. The church has had a long history of abuse towards women who have been made to keep quiet because of spiritual abuse due to their husbands or the men in their lives have manipulated it in such a way that if the women voiced their concerns they are being unfaithful Christians or not being submissive wives.
I just encourage the church to be proactive in helping the women who are being abused in the church, to properly discipline the men who have abused these women, regardless of their position in church leadership and to not encourage a shame culture towards these women, which unfortunately, almost always seems to happen when a woman finally stands up to speak for herself. Sometimes in the Christian culture, we act as if someone who demands their rights as a human being is all of a sudden usurping the will of God. We play the card that because we are sinners, we have no rights, and therefore we are working off of our selfish nature instead of being submissive. And while that can be true for a good portion of the human race, we also have to remember that we are made in the image of Christ, that we have been bought at a price, that we have been ransomed, and with that comes an inheritance of being God’s children. A person who cannot stand up for their self worth does not recognize who their Father is.
As a woman pastor, I will continue to minister, however that may look like. It may look like pastoring the church as an associate pastor, it may look like a Bible teacher, and it may look like as a school chaplain. I don’t know. What I do know is the willingness of being flexible in the calling that Lord has placed in my life, wherever He takes me, and how He takes me is important. I do know that God will be faithful to the calling that He has placed in my life. I understand why the world church took the vote that they took. I respect their decision and I understand what they had to balance as world leaders. I understand it is not easy to be world church leaders in a world that differs in cultures that spans over 24 different time zones, that all voices needs to be heard, that there are things that have to be weighed that we may not even know about. If we have erred, may the Lord grant us mercy as we sought to do His will. If we were correct, than praise the Lord that we pressed forward.
Let us not forget that when Jesus walked on this earth, the chosen church, His chosen church, was fragmented to many pieces, into the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Essenes to name a few. And while He was patient with all, and may have said strong words to them all, Ellen White points out that He said it with tears in His voice. It is never easy to walk the line between differing groups in the same church, but what I do know is that Christ Himself manifested love to all, took time to talk to them, to minister to them, to show love to them, and to save them. Desire of Ages tells the story of how once Christ was resurrected; many who were once enemies of Christ became His followers.
While things may be unclear on how to manage differing viewpoints within the church and the questions that come, and we beseech the Lord for His guidance; I know that this is perfectly clear: that the Lord has called us to love one another, that has never changed, to exemplify the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and that if we differ in viewpoints, just like how the Jewish Church once did, and the early New Testament Church once did, we can never err in showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). In these things, we can never go wrong, no matter what our differing viewpoints may be. Am I being too diplomatic? Perhaps, I am for some. Am I being too sensational for others? Perhaps, I am for some. This is my perspective. This has been a bit of my experience. I will respect the church, and its decision, I am still part of the church, and I will minister to and for the church, but at the same time, I answer to God and God alone. I go where He leads me. I cannot go against my conscience, and as God as my witness, so help me.