Last year, the world's media were abuzz with stories of the “Arab Spring,” a revolt against autocratic rulers that swept across the Arab world from west to east. The revolt started in Tunisia, with the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, then spread to Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in an armed revolt, and swept on through Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. The Arab Spring sparked protests in many other Arab countries, led to an ongoing and very bloody civil war in Syria, as many sought to oust second-generation dictator Bashar al-Assad, and led to a relatively peaceful change of government in Yemen. This year, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is witnessing its own “Arab Spring” over the role of women in the church. Because of clear apostolic guidance, most churches with a high view of Scripture, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, historically have not ordained women. The world church in General Conference session has twice voted against the ordination of women, first at Indianapolis, in 1990, and again at Utrecht, in 1995. But church officials in North America and elsewhere have nevertheless pushed to hire female pastors, and have promoted a form of ordination for female pastors, “commissioning,” that is ceremonially indistinguishable from the ordination of male pastors. Finally, they have sought to erase any meaningful distinction between commissioning and ordination, which brings us to the genesis of the current revolt.
This past October, the North American Division Executive Committee, for the third year in a row, voted for a policy change that would allow commissioned pastors to be elected to the office of conference president. This policy change is out of harmony with General Conference Working Policy. NAD president Dan Jackson was informed that the NAD does not have the authority to vote for or establish policies that conflict with GC Working Policy or the GC Model Constitution. This was confirmed by the NAD's legal counsel in an an opinion letter issued on January 3, 2012, which noted that the NAD does not have a constituency. The Church later made clear that the divisions, including the North American Division, do not form a separate layer of church governance, but are essentially administrative territories or sub-divisions of the General Conference.
In a January 31 letter to the NAD Executive Committee, Elder Jackson reiterated his commitment to placing women in the headship role of conference president, and called for more work to bring that about:
“While we, as a Division family, have philosophically supported women in leadership in three successive Year-End Meetings, the time has now come for us to become more practical in our application of philosophy and belief. . . . We must also develop intentional methods of mentoring women who can take on executive leadership positions within our conferences.”
Elder Jackson went on to lament that there are so few female pastors in North America (only 107 out of approximately 4,000 pastors), his implicit assumption being that the church should be moving toward a pastorate more evenly divided between the sexes.
Mid-American Union Conference President Thomas Lemon is on the NAD Executive Committee, and on March 8, while he was explaining to his own executive committee why the NAD's vote to allow women to become conference presidents was reversed, the Mid-America Union Executive Committee decided to vote, then and there, “to support the ordination of women in the Mid-America Union.” This was followed, on March 15, by the Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee voting to “reaffirm its commitment to the ordination of women,” and, on March 20, by the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee voting to reaffirm its previous request to ordain women. On March 22, the Southeastern California Conference Executive Committee voted to issue only one credential, “ordained,” to all of its pastors regardless of gender, effectively retroactively ordaining all commissioned female pastors. On March 29, the Southern Union Executive Committee stated that, while they would not take an action contrary to the policy of the world church, they were “actively supporting, encouraging, and empowering women in all areas of ministry including . . . conference and union leadership . . .” On April 23, the North German Union voted to amend its constitution to end gender discrimination in ordination.
On May 9, the Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee voted to hold, on August 19, a special constituency session to authorize ordination without regard to gender distinction. On May 15, the Atlantic Union Conference Executive Committee voted a statement almost identical to that voted by the Southern Union, supporting the ordination of women, but declining to take any action contrary to world church policy. On May 17, the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee took an action essentially identical to that taken by the Pacific Union, voting to hold, on July 29, a special constituency meeting “for the purpose of authorizing ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.” Also on May 17, the North Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee voted “to appoint an ad hoc committee to create specific recommendations on how to fully integrate committed and called Adventist women into all levels of church leadership within the NPUC territory.”
It is important to emphasize just how this Adventist “Arab Spring” began: It began not over the ordination of women, per se, but over the North American Division's attempt to amend the “E-60” policy to allow women to serve as conference presidents. The issue is female headship in the SDA Church at the level of conference president and higher. Elder Jackson's letter made this clear, as have several of the statements issued by the various executive committees. So we can now put to one side such issues as the meaning of ordination, whether ordination is biblical, whether there is a role for women in ministry, whether women can serve as tithe-paid pastors, etc. None of these is the issue that now confronts us. The issue that has crystallized is female headship in the Adventist Church at the level of conference president and higher.
Even those unions--like the Southern and the Atlantic--that acknowledged and deferred to the authority of the world church nevertheless voiced support for women in headship roles. With a couple of exceptions, the executive committees have not offered any theological or biblical justification for their actions. Female headship has been treated as an organizational or administrative issue, not a doctrinal issue. This is perhaps not surprising, because although the Bible has much to say about the roles of the sexes, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has had little to say; we have not formulated a doctrine of sex roles. But the present crisis demonstrates that it is now necessary to do so; neglect is no longer an option. As a church, we need to familiarize ourselves with what Scripture teaches about sex roles.
Scripture specifies male headship in the Christian church. God the Son, Jesus Christ, was incarnated in the form of a male, and Christ is the head of the church. The Twelve Disciples chosen by Jesus were all men. Mat. 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-19. When lots were cast to replace Judas Iscariot, both of the candidates were men. Acts 1:12-23. When deacons were chosen to perform some of the practical tasks of the church, the seven appointed to the office of deacon were men. Acts. 6:1-7. Both the office of episkopēs (“bishop” or “overseer”) and deacon are described as male offices, to be filled by sober men who are the husband of only one wife, and capable husbands, fathers, and heads of their families. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul makes clear that capable leadership of the family is a prerequisite to leadership in the church: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” And Paul elsewhere makes clear that the husband is the head of the home. Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1. Since the husband is the head of the home, and successful headship in the home is a prerequisite to headship in the church, it follows that headship in the church is also reserved for men.
Not only are leadership offices reserved for males, a submissive, non-headship role is specified for women. “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 1 Cor. 14:33-35. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” 1 Tim. 2:11-14. Even a very relaxed application of these passages upholds the principle of male headship in the church.
These scriptural principles are too clear to need elaboration, which perhaps is why the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never bothered to articulate a “fundamental belief” regarding male headship in the church. Another reason may be sheepishness over the prominent role played by Ellen White in the founding of the denomination. Proponents of women in headship roles argue that the prophetic authority exercised by Ellen White sets aside, by implication, the patriarchal church governance specified in the New Testament. But female prophets were common in biblical times---Miriam (Ex. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14)---and in fact there were New Testament-era female prophets, such as Anna (Luke 2:36) and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9), who would have been well known to the Apostle Paul. Yet Paul nevertheless gave clear instruction that leadership roles in the church were reserved for men. Neither Paul nor any of the other Bible-writers hint that the existence of female prophets suggested a non-patriarchal organization for the Christian Church.
The most common argument in favor of women in headship roles is that, in the Bible era, society was organized along patriarchal lines (patriarchy = “rule of fathers”), and in order to conform to the culture of that time, Scripture specified that the Christian Church would also be patriarchal in organization. Today, however, society is less and less patriarchal, and the church may properly reflect today's cultural realities. After all, Paul frequently told slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9-10), but this is not interpreted as an apostolic mandate that all societies should embrace the institution of slavery. Likewise, just because Paul specified male headship in the church of his time and culture does not mean that all societies must embrace the restrictive prerogatives of patriarchy. Scripture's mandate was culturally conditional, and our culture is different.
This reasonable-sounding argument runs afoul of the fact that male headship in the church is based upon the order of creation and the history of the Fall: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” 1 Tim. 2:13-14. These facts of history are never going to change, hence the biblical rationale for male headship in the church does not rest on the shifting sands of culture. Obviously, there is no comparable biblical statement basing slavery on the order of creation or the history of the fall, so there is no legitimate comparison between slavery and patriarchy.
It is certainly true, however, that the move toward female headship in the SDA Church is being driven by cultural changes in what is referred to as the developed world or the “first world.” The “executive committees” involved in the Adventist Arab Spring have felt little need of a biblical rationale for their actions, but no need whatsoever to critically re-examine the cultural trends that are driving their actions. The members of these executive committees tend to be practical people who know how to operate within the prevailing cultural/legal complex of mores, laws, rules and regulations. Such people excel at running enterprises and organizations, but are unsuited to the task of critically examining the culture in which they operate. And the question of whether the SDA Church should bend to the dominant culture or resist it turns on a broad overview of cultural trends.
In the biblical-patriarchal form of sexual-social organization, the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society, and legitimate sexual expression is restricted to opposite-sex married couples. Since the “sexual revolution” of the late 1960s/early 1970s, however, Western elites have promoted a post-patriarchal form of sexual-social organization in which the basic unit of society is the individual, not the family, and legitimate sexual expression encompasses anything consenting adults can think of to do with each other. These two different forms of sexual-social organization have very different ideas about the sexes, about proper sexual conduct, and about what is just and unjust. A contrasting summary of the assumptions and attributes of the two systems follows.
|Attributes and assumptions of Biblical-patriarchal culture:||Attributes and assumptions of Post-patriarchal culture:|
|1. The Sexes, and the differences between the sexes||God created us male and female. (Gen. 1:27; Mat. 19:4-5; Mark 10:5-9) The very significant differences between the sexes are part of the created order, and not something we should strive to efface. These differences mean that men are better suited than women to certain roles and tasks, and women are better suited than men to certain roles and tasks.||Except for their obvious physiological differences, men and women are the same. Persistent non-physical differences between men and women are the product of culture; they are not innate.|
|2. Sexuality, and the difference between male and female sexuality||Men and women have very different sex drives. Male sexuality can be problematic, even destructive. (2 Sam. 11, 12; 1 Kings 11:1-13) An important goal of Christian patriarchy is to curb the negative potential of ungoverned male sexuality, and to channel male sexual energy into monogamous (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6), heterosexual marriages, that build families, societies, and civilizations (see 7 & 8, below).||Men and women are the same in their sexual drives. Women are just as likely as men to want casual sex with multiple partners, and men are just as likely as women to want to marry and raise children.|
|3. Marriage||Men and women need each other in long-term relationship in order to live the fullest, happiest, and most productive lives. It is not good that man should be alone. (Gen. 2:18; Heb. 13:4) A happy marriage is an important goal for all, and young people, 19 or 20 years old, are old enough to get married. Marriage is intended to last until death. (Mat. 19:6-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18)||Traditional heterosexual marriage is one option for sexual expression, but not the only legitimate option, nor the socially preferred condition. People should probably postpone marriage until they are fully educated and in their late 20s (and it is obviously unreasonable to expect chastity for the first 15 years after puberty). Marriage should last as long as both parties are happy, and no longer; during the sexual revolution, no-fault divorce was adopted in all states, meaning that either party could end the marriage at any time, for any reason or no reason. More recently, same-sex “marriage” has been enacted in several jurisdictions.|
|4. Raising Children||Men and women each bring something unique and irreplaceable to the rearing of children. The man's biological role in producing children is trivial, but he makes up for that by providing protection and support for the woman. The woman is a nurturer and has a greater role in the raising of infants and young children. (Isaiah 49:15; 1 Kings 3:16-28) When a wife gets pregnant, she reduces her participation in the money economy in order to concentrate on her physically and emotionally demanding role in bearing and raising the child, whereas the husband increases his participation in the money economy so as to be able to fulfill his complementary role of protector and provider.||Because men and women are not different in any meaningful respect, it doesn't matter who raises children. Two daddies or two mommies are as good as a mother and a father. Even a single mother is just as good as two parents. Discrimination in adoption in favor of married heterosexual couples has been outlawed in many jurisdictions; Catholic adoption agencies in several jurisdictions have closed because they can no longer discriminate in favor married heterosexual couples.|
|5. Out-of-wedlock Births||Stigmatized and frowned upon in patriarchal societies, because they are the product of illegitimate sexual activity, and also because complementary, opposite-sex parents are viewed as crucial to successful child-rearing. (Deut. 23:2)||Because there is nothing wrong with sexual activity outside of marriage, and because a single parent can raise a child as effectively as an opposite sex couple, there is no stigma whatsoever attached to childbirth outside of marriage. In the U.S., 40% of births, and the majority of births to women under the age of 30, are out of wedlock). If anything, there is now a stigma attached to disapproval of what used to be called illegitimate births and bastard children.|
|6. Sexual behavior||Legitimate sexual expression is limited to opposite-sex married couples. Adultery is proscribed. (Ex. 20:14; Mat. 5:27-28) Unmarried heterosexual sex is proscribed. (Mat. 5:32; 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20; 1 Cor. 7:2; Gal. 5:19) Homosexuality is proscribed (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and widespread open homosexual conduct is a sign of the removal of God's Spirit (Rom. 1:18-27) and even cause for immediate, supernatural judgment. (Gen. 18:16-19:29)||Between consenting adults, anything goes. Homosexuality is fine; pre-marital and extra-marital sex are fine. Since age and consent are the only guidelines, sexual expression is discouraged in situations that raise the possibility that consent is not genuine, such as when one party has power over another by reason of economic or social circumstances. Laws against workplace sexual harassment, and against sex within various relationships of trust, have multiplied pari passu with the acceptance of extra-marital sexual activity.|
|7. Female virtue-chastity||This is highly prized and protected in truly patriarchal cultures. The father is the protector of his daughter's virtue until she is married, after which her husband is her protector. The desire of husbands, fathers, and brothers to protect the virtue of their female relatives puts an important check on voracious and variety-driven male sexual appetite; it protects women from the worst male impulses. (Gen. 34)||This is viewed as quaint, if not actually oppressive. It is a woman's prerogative to be as sexually active and adventurous as a man, if not more so.|
|8. Female economic independence||This is not a value in patriarchal systems, because fathers are expected to support their daughters, and husbands are expected to support their wives. Fathers typically demand that their daughters' suitors be able to support their daughters; as a result, young men are forced, in order to gain sexual access to a woman, to channel their energy into hard work and economic success. (Gen. 29:16-30)||Very highly prized in the post-patriarchal sexual-social order. Economic independence, they are told, means freedom from male domination; it means that women don't need to get married for the wrong reasons, but can wait for “Mr. Right.” (A darker reason, seldom mentioned in polite society, is that a large cohort of single, self-supporting women creates a large pool of potential partners whom men can sexually exploit without being expected to financially support; Hugh Hefner was an early and constant supporter of “women's lib,” or equal economic opportunities for women. Moreover, when a woman is economically as powerful as a man with whom she has sex, the genuineness of consent is not usually in question, and, again, consent is the sole criterion of legitimate sexual expression between adults.)|
|9. Gender fairness and economic justice||Men and women have different roles and functions and perform different jobs. Not all jobs open to men are also open to women, and vice versa. Since the basic unit of organization is the family, not the individual, as long as jobs and other economic opportunities are open to all families on an equal basis, the fairness/justice element is met.||Because the basic unit of society is the individual, not the family, and it is not assumed that most adults will be, or will have been, married to a person of the opposite sex, family opportunity is irrelevant. Every individual, whether male or female, should be eligible for every job. Gender-based discrimination in employment has been almost universally outlawed (clergy being a rare exception). Any job that men do, women should also be encouraged to do, even to the extreme of putting women in military combat. (Again, in the post-patriarchal system, this isn't just an issue of fairness and justice; it is critical to the logic of the system to have a large cohort of women who are self-supporting and can freely consent to sexual activity.)|
|10. Headship||Headship, in the home (Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1) and in the church (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9), is a male prerogative, but it is servant-leadership, to be exercised in a Christlike, self-sacrificing manner. (Eph. 5:25-33).||For the dwindling few who choose to get married, the marriage should be a 50/50 partnership; there is no “headship” in marriage. In society, women should be in leadership roles as frequently as men. Since there are actually more women than men in the church, there should be at least as many women as men in church leadership, preferably more.|
If one reads down the column, it becomes apparent that each culture has an internal logic and consistency; there is a coherent rationale behind each. And if one reads across the columns, it becomes apparent how sharply each culture conflicts with the other. (Obviously, neither the United States nor any other developed country is purely patriarchal or purely post-patriarchal; rather, they are at points along a continuum. In the mid-20th Century, most were still largely patriarchal societies, but for the last 40 years, they have been rapidly transitioning into post-patriarchal societies, although that transition is not complete.)
The Bible's values with regard to sexuality are part and parcel of the patriarchal system, but are rejected by the post-patriarchal system. Obviously, then, the Seventh-day Adventist Church should not view the fact that female headship is demanded by post-patriarchal culture as a point in its favor, but rather as a compelling argument against it. If we reject biblically prescribed male headship in the church on the basis that biblical culture was patriarchal but modern culture is post-patriarchal, we are consenting to be ruled by a neo-pagan culture, the sexual norms of which are anathema to biblical values. If we accept the foundational assumptions of post-patriarchal culture, we render irrational and unsustainable the entire complex of biblical prescriptions and proscriptions relating to human sexuality.
Christian patriarchy need not apologize to women. Wherever the gospel has taken root, the social, legal, and spiritual status of women has been elevated. Consider the position of women in Christian cultures versus their position in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Confucian, or other Eastern cultures. But whereas Christianity elevates women, post-patriarchal culture devalues femininity and female attributes. Created sex differences are downplayed, dismissed, despised, and denied. Post-patriarchy has contempt for women who embrace family and motherhood as their first and highest priorities; it denies that there is anything unique or extraordinary about women, insisting that women are just like men, except for the plumbing.
Moreover, an unspoken but obvious aspect of post-patriarchal culture is the enabling of immature male sexual instinct by creating a huge pool of self-supporting women whom men can sexually exploit without commitment or financial responsibility. Instead of ennobling men by demanding that they become responsible husbands and fathers, it degrades women by demanding that they shorten their own sexual horizons, and knuckle under to male patterns of sexuality.
Denominations that have embraced female headship are coasting toward oblivion. Liberal Presbyterians began ordaining women to the ministry in 1956, and by 2001 there were almost as many women as men in the PCUSA clergy. But the Presbyterians have witnessed a 40 year decline in membership. In 1968, there were over 4 million members, or almost 2 % of the U.S. Population; today membership hovers around 2 million, or about 0.6 % of the U.S. Population. Their membership was halved and their percentage of the population was reduced by more than two thirds. The United Methodists also began ordaining women to ministry in 1956, and first ordained a female bishop in 1980. Their U.S. membership has declined every year since 1968, from around 11 million (5% of the population) to 7.8 million (2.5% of the current population). The Episcopal Church began ordaining female priests in 1974. Their American membership has declined from about 3.2 million to about 1.95 million. Promoting female headship in the church is not the path to church growth and cultural relevance; it is the path to irrelevance and extinction.
The liberal churches that have embraced female headship have also embraced (or are in the process of embracing) homosexuality, as witness the confirmation of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson in the Episcopal Church in 2003. Why? Because the culture of post-patriarchy is opposed to the entire corpus of biblical directives relating to sex, sexuality, and gender, and once a denomination has placed post-patriarchal culture above Scripture, the biblical rules will all eventually be jettisoned. It is also important to note that no church adopted female headship until after it had made peace with Darwinism and rejected a literal reading of the Genesis narrative. We have seen that Paul grounded male headship in the church upon a literal understanding of the story of the creation and the Fall. 1 Tim. 2:11-14. Patriarchy is part of the created order, if we understand the creation narrative literally. Liberal activists, unlike many serving on the “executive committees,” well know that these issues are all connected, which is why Spectrum divides its time about equally among: 1) agitating for female headship, 2) arguing for normalization of homosexuality, and 3) promoting Darwinism. They understand that these three issues are inextricably bound together.
Last year's “Arab Spring” was a disaster for American and Western interests; in every case, a more secular autocrat was replaced, or is in the process of being replaced, by a more Islamic government that embraces the sharia ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological offspring, Al Qaeda. This year's Adventist Arab Spring will prove just as disastrous for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, because it signals a willingness to thoughtlessly embrace the cultural imperatives of post-patriarchy, in derogation of clear Bible truth.