Question: You are the current president of the Association of Adventist Women. What's the job like? Was it a hard decision to accept this role?
Answer: The job has been challenging, since I am working full-time as a professor and chair of department [Chair of World Languages at La Sierra University], but I took it on because of my long-standing interest in women's issues, particularly at this time of heightened interest in the ordination of women to the gospel ministry.
The AAW Board has monthly teleconference meetings at which we plan the annual conference and deal with matters pertaining to the smooth operation of our organization.
Question: What has been the hardest or most challenging thing about serving as AAW's president? What have you enjoyed the most? What do you feel are your greatest accomplishments as the organization's president, as you prepare to step down from your two-year term?
Answer: Frankly, I feel that I've barely scratched the surface of the potential in this organization. There is much to do, now that we've straightened out some bureaucratic details that needed attention.
During my presidency I've helped to organize two annual conferences, and meeting other like-minded Adventist women has been a great pleasure for me. I've also enjoyed working with the women on the AAW Board who share my desire to see this organization become relevant to a new generation of Adventist women.
AAW has a long and distinguished history of advocating for women's rightful place in the work of the Adventist church. We have honored truly amazing women who are making a difference in their communities and across the globe. At this juncture, we're needing to draw on this noble past and reach out to the next generation of young Adventist women who are trying to understand why these issues of woman's place in the church are still a matter of such heated debate.
Question: Your background is in languages and Spanish literature. Yet you have long been an advocate for women. How are the two areas related? Are they?
Answer: I come from a culture that invented the word "machismo"! Not that "machista" attitudes are limited to Hispanic men, but the place of male above female in Spanish and Spanish-American cultures dates back to medieval Spain, a time when this European country was hammering out its identity in the context of religious wars against the Arab invaders. In a long history of peaceful coexistence as well as bloody wars with both Jews and Arabs, the "macho" was firmly established in the cultural memory of the Spanish-speaking peoples in Spain as well as in the Americas.
While this concept of the dominant male is squarely ensconced in Latino culture, so is the mother-figure associated with the cult to the Virgin Mary. This explains why, for example, Latin America has had women in leadership positions for many years, even as presidents in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Chile in recent history. Woman-as-mother is highly respected even by the macho. So, yes, there is a strong and logical connection between my interest in Spanish and Spanish-American literature and civilization and my passion for women's rights.
Question: Andrews University published a book you edited, Women and the Church: The Feminist Perspective in 1995. What is the thesis of that book, and what did you hope to accomplish in publishing it?
Answer: I was privileged to work with some of the leading Adventist women activists of the time in the preparation of this book. I wanted to share with the Adventist reading public the rationale for "Christian feminism" within our church.
I was quite ill at the time, but made myself get up and work on this book so it would be ready to distribute at the GC World Session in Utrecht [summer 1995]. I did learn that the book was widely distributed at that session, which made all my efforts worthwhile. I like to think that this book has contributed its tiny grain of salt to the Church's understanding of God's plan for women and their service in His cause on earth.
Question: In your professional life, you have worked both inside and outside the Adventist church. How have the experiences differed? Do you feel women are treated differently within Adventism?
Answer: I’ve found that it is assumed, outside the Adventist church, that women should be treated fairly in every realm of life. I'm not suggesting that they actually are treated fairly, but, at least the assumption is there. Inside the church I don't think that assumption is as widely held as one would wish. There are those (men as well as women) who believe that God has already settled this question: woman-as-different-from-man means that she is, in some ontological way, limited with regard to what she can and should do in the church. Therefore, it is concluded that women should not occupy positions in the church that were meant only for men nor should the church ordain them to certain positions, no matter how evident the fruits of their spiritual labors.
Adventist theologians, such as Darius Jankiewicz, have demonstrated the source of this idea in the Christian church, dating back to the early church fathers and firmly ensconced in the theology of one of the world's leading Christian churches.
That this idea is notably absent from the belief system and practices of the Adventist church from its very inception to this day only goes to show how powerful and persistent certain misreadings of Scripture are and how easily they can be grasped to support culturally-embedded concepts relating to male and female.
Question: How do you feel the world church should move forward on the issue of women's ordination?
Answer: It is my fondest hope that there will be flexibility in this matter as there is in other socially-conditioned matters of the church. As a member of the North American Division Theology of Ordination Study Committee, I was pleased to find that the majority, including some who came to our study quite skeptical about ordaining women, concluded that there is no clear "Thus Saith the Lord" on this matter and supported the idea that each division should be free to ordain or not ordain their women.
The fears that are being expressed about threats to church unity will come true only if we are inflexible and do not allow divisions or unions to make decisions according to the religious and social preparedness of their people for such a move.
For those who still believe that ordination of women is simply and exclusively a theological matter, they should make the necessary connection between the heated debates about women's ordination and the work of the EndItNow.org worldwide campaign sponsored by the GC Women's Ministries Department. Could it be that the shameful statistics of violence, aimed largely at women around the world, might have something to do with the resistance to women's ordination? Could it be that we should have begun the conversation about women's ordination with the topic of woman's worth in God's eyes and in our various cultures? As a world church, we should be willing to make this connection and search deep into our souls to find the true motivations behind our inability to see what God is doing through our women around the globe.
Question: You have organized the Association of Adventist Women's annual conference, which takes place at Southern Adventist University October 16 through 18. How did you choose the venue? Has the AAW conference been there before?
Answer: I don't believe we have ever had a conference on this campus, but I could be wrong. We chose it because it is one of the leading Adventist universities and because its president was actively involved in both the NAD and GC TOSC. Gordon Bietz’s even-handed treatment of the work before us, his Christian kindness and consideration at all times, even when it seemed that there were strong disagreements, blessed us all.
In addition to women's issues, I'm also a strong believer in promoting peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict; it's dealing with conflict head-on using the godly tools of respect, patience, kindness, forgiveness, and even humor. Dr. Bietz exemplified these virtues and modeled how, I believe, we must address this issue of ordaining women, if we are to safely navigate the turbulent waters of the ordination debate.
Question: How were the speakers chosen? Which speakers are you particularly looking forward to hearing this year?
Answer: We chose our theme first, i.e., "Lifting As We Climb: Women Mentoring Women." Then we looked for women leaders in various areas of endeavor who could shed light on this theme from their unique experience and perspective.
Mentors can make all the difference between success or failure in life, no matter how you define those terms. We thought this would be an inspiring and instructive topic and we believe we've made an outstanding selection of speakers.
Personally, I'm looking forward to hearing our keynote speaker, Dr. Ella Smith Simmons, and Dr. Sandy Roberts, president of the Southeastern California Conference. But, really, I think each one of these speakers will give me a fresh vision of mentoring and I'm very much looking forward to all the presentations!
Question: Can you tell us who the Women of the Year will be?
Answer: Yes, of course! We are honoring Pastor Sandy Roberts who has exemplified grace under fire and is quietly blazing a new trail of service for women in the Adventist church. We are also recognizing Frederica Harris who, together with her husband Cliff, has run one of the nation's most successful drug rehab programs.
Question: What do you think is the best thing about the conference? Is there anything you are disappointed about this year?
Answer: I think what I'm most excited about is that AAW is taking on new energy with every conference we celebrate. Last year, for the first time in the history of AAW, we held our conference on the Oakwood University campus and this year, another first, on the Southern Adventist University campus.
Next year we'll be sponsoring a booth and a reception at the GC World Session — a unique opportunity for us to reach out to women from around the world. There is a sense among us that there is still a work for AAW to do and this energizes us. In an effort to internationalize our organization, we've even discussed holding one of our next conferences outside the U.S.
Question: What will you do with your freed-up time once you step down as AAW president?
Answer: I probably will continue to support the work of AAW in some capacity, so I won't be stepping down entirely. We are in need of women to step up and take positions on our board that are being left vacant by our retirees. Young women with a vision for the future of our church and who want to make a difference. International women who can help us broaden our view of women in the Adventist world church.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6284