There are few places in the world where the phrase "unity in diversity" has as much meaning as in Brazil. We are a nation of great ethnic and cultural diversity. We have an inherited many traditions—indigenous, African, Asian, European and a strong American cultural influence.
Seventh-day Adventists are very present and in constant growth with ornate churches, with medical and educational institutions in large cities, and in small communities on the banks of rivers or within dense forests. In many ways the inequalities of our country equal that of our church.
Adventists in Brazil can be as diverse as the regions they inhabit. In the financial heart of São Paulo, the largest city in South America, the New Seed Seventh-day Adventist church was planted. With 10-15%* annual growth, this serves as a mission to reach secular-minded professionals. Recently its founder, Kleber Gonçalves was called to direct the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies which is one of the Mission Centers of the General Conference.* Every Saturday night there is a there is an evangelistic service, called "Viva,"* which features a contemporary praise band, drama and messages with the aim of reaching postmoderns. On the other hand, there are some Adventist communities in Brazil that think its sinful for have any dramatization or any musical expression that is not from a hymnal and piano. This diversity is not associated with tolerance; this heterogeneity often generates a schism. It is common to hear that some churches are "loyalists" while on the opposite side of the critique is that the others are "too liberal."
Undoubtedly, these cultural, financial, educational contrasts would be a hindrance to the adoption of a directive authorizing the ordination of women to the Adventist ministry in Brazil.
But the arguments for the ordination of women are less sociological and more importantly, theological. And I see no biblical reasons not to ordain women. But note that for many Brazilian Adventists, the idea of an exclusively male pastoral ministry assignment has never been questioned. Precisely why I am tempted to say that, at least here in Brazil, the ordination of women to the ministry would be an action that would involve great efforts and changes throughout our organizational pastoral system.
Devaluation of women
The fact is that in some parts of Brazil, especially in less economically developed, women are not as valued as men. Research has shown that in secular corporations, women earn up to 35% less than men in the same roles. It's not uncommon to hear women being treated as objects of sexual gratification, used as trophies, or as domestic servants of their husbands. It could be a risk to put pastors in these communities, even with the intention of using the female pastoral ministry as a factor of social change of women's role. Undoubtedly, the country of Leonardo Boff, creator of liberation theology, must walk a lot so that equality between man and woman is an established reality.
Paradigns to be broken by the church
Administrators should initiate a process to help change minds on this issue. Place female pastors in prominent positions and give them full support so that they are respected in their respective congregations until the wider membership gets used to this new reality, and breaks the resident prejudice. A women could be a religion teacher in high school, a chaplain at a school, or a husband and wife pastoral team. Change will have to be made gradually.
The Brazilian administrative philosophy toward ministry
Most of our members are surprised when I say that there are pastors like Dwight Nelson, who has more than twenty years of pastoring the Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University. Our ordained pastors work for a period of four or five years in a role. Those aspiring to ordination work in one church for a maximum of three years—and often no more than a year. This means a constant rotation between pastors. What does this have to do with the ordination of women to pastoral ministry? These changes are governed by the administration of local fields at the end of each year, when they takes into account a series of factors such as the profile of the church and the worker. The problem is that many of our pastoral districts cannot afford to have women as pastors. I speak now of the physical structure. Many cover more than a dozen congregations. Numerous roads are deserted at night without support posts, field GPS or mobile phone service. As if the woman feels more fragile than the man, she ends up being more prone to crimes such as theft, kidnapping and especially rape. Therefore, churches and institutions in localities with greater support and security could be the responsibility of women and men could work in the outskirts and slums.
Conclusion To have ordained women in Brazil requires a change of mindset among members, fight against prejudice generally established in certain localities and a change in how minister's are administrated. While I agree that many places in Brazil still lack preparation for women as pastors, I do not think what happens here and in other similar areas of the world should influence the adoption of guidelines in areas where this is possible. I do not see the adoption of such guidelines as an affront to unity, but as an appeal to respect for diversity.
Robson Romero de Sousa is a pastor in Brazil specializing on the theology of urban missions.
*The article orginally included some details about the New Seed church that have been updated as more information became available.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4844