No place for emotionalism

While the issue of women’s ordination has consumed a lot of committee time in the last number of decades, it virtually roared into prominence in the months leading up to the General Conference in San Antonio. I had not paid much attention over the years. However, when I found myself caught up in the general fever and began to study the matter in earnest, I was surprised by what I observed. 

First of all, I was disturbed to observe that many Adventists use their emotions to make spiritual decisions. Secondly, I observed that many resorted to manipulative means to convince others to view women’s ordination through the same lenses as they. I also observed that there were many on both sides of the issue who chose to present arguments based on careful study of the Bible. Good people can, of course, disagree about biblical interpretation.


I observed that those who voiced a stand against women’s ordination were speaking against a strong cultural tide. Sadly, people who build their beliefs on cultural (and therefore secular) assumptions start with a distinct advantage in any argument because their opinions are readily digested and deemed acceptable by those who are regularly exposed to the predominant cultural thinking of the day. Those who do not present the Bible as the primary source of direction are actually secularists in sheep’s clothing.

Let me illustrate my point about the dangers of emotionalism. Both before and after the General Conference in San Antonio, we frequently heard accounts of the deep emotional pain caused by the discussion of women’s ordination. Undeniably, though the emotions are real, their use is dangerous. Sentimentalism was predominant and promoted the fear that life after a no vote could not go on. In fact, all this weeping reminded me of the crying child who keeps one eye on his mother. We all recognize that children sometimes cry for effect and many children discover that it works. However, the “no” vote did not change anything in the church, except the feelings of many who were in favor of women’s ordination. In many cases, their emotions ran the gamut from hurt to anger and the result has been that many of those who are in favor of women’s ordination are more aggrieved than ever.


Sadly, those who based their view of women’s ordination on a cultural or emotional foundation often view those who voted “no” as people who oppose a fair and just view of women in ministry. When this happens, a rational approach to study is removed in favor of an emotional accusation based on a straw man argument and in some cases, those sincere believers who base their position on the scriptures are viewed as a deadly menace. 

Manipulative emotionalism extended itself in an interview published at August 5, 2015. Charles Scriven interviewed a highly regarded Adventist scientist by the name of Alvin Kwiram, a graduate of the California Institute of Technology and a former faculty member of Harvard and the University of Washington.

The interview appears to be a straightforward discussion of science and faith, but the underlying argument is based on pure emotionalism. According to Kwiram, Adventist scientists are suffering deeply from an oppressive church. Adventist scientists are being “vilified” at the hands of “people with limited qualifications” and “little or no understanding.” Kwiram goes on to compare the current situation of many Adventist scientists to Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church.

With all due respect to the scientific credentials of Kwiram, this claim is simply false. Howling mobs of ignorant peasants are not attacking Adventist scientists, many who believe in theistic evolution. Galileo’s persecution at the hands of the Catholic Church bears no relationship whatsoever to the case of modern Adventist scientists. In fact, Seventh-day Adventists embrace an intellectually informed and logical response to modern philosophies such as Darwinism and the consequent tendency to worship nature.

Adventist Today published an article called “Tenderly Caring for Our Wounded." Allan Martin, a youth pastor in Arlington, Texas, explains that the entire General Conference 2015 in San Antonio was an act of war against the youth. Martin’s solution suggests spiritual triage based on emotion. If necessary, he writes, pastors should apologize for the actions of the church. Pastors should “actively listen and empathize. Initially, it is likely most important to hear their heart and allow them to voice their emotions and reactions."

He goes on to say that pastors should offer additional resources to support those who have been left traumatized and debilitated by the “no” vote. He even suggested that perhaps counseling and therapeutic referrals would be necessary. From what I could see, Martin did not offer the Bible or prayer as a source of comfort. What he offered was “togetherness” to stand in place of “the touch of God.” In fact, his counsel is based on emotionalism. It is anti-intellectual and it is anti-biblical.


Seventh-day Adventists have always taught that the Bible alone is the means of spiritual survival in a lost world and that the word of God is the answer to all our pain and disappointment. This is not ignorant foolishness. This is wisdom. 

Studying and understanding the Bible is the most demanding intellectual challenge of all time, far surpassing the challenge offered by any of the so-called hard sciences. To love the Bible means to love logic, evidence, and progress. Many of those who voted in favor of women’s ordination want to make it appear that reason and logic are on their side. However, when their arguments are based on emotion and the prevailing culture, rather than the scriptures, the evidence suggests otherwise.

In fact, when individuals destroy the Bible by promoting highly questionable methods of interpretation, they are relieved of the intellectual demand of a close study of the Bible. Brothers and sisters, when we reject the Bible, we reject the Spirit who gave it. Emotionalism is a dangerous and flimsy rock on which to build one’s house.