An Open Letter to the General Conference Delegates from Africa

Dear Delegates from the Motherland:

In about two weeks, our church will be voting on a motion regarding the acceptability of division executive committees in each territory ordaining women to the gospel ministry. And somehow, all eyes are on the delegates from our part of the world, because there is a growing sense that our three divisions, comprising roughly 23% of the delegates to San Antonio, will determine whether the motion is accepted or rejected. Ordinarily, to be in this position is a cause for celebration, but not this time. So how did we get here?

We are here because, during the years’ long Theology of Ordination Study Committees (TOSC) deliberations, it became clear that, unlike the transparent and thoughtful discussions that were characteristic of the TOSC meetings in other divisions, the discussions in the TOSC gatherings in all three African divisions were notable by their inaccessibility. Yet when the final documents were released, all divisions were unanimous in their opposition against ordaining women in the church. Also conspicuous about the three African divisions has been the eerie public silence of individual church members, pastors and theologians--on speaking, preaching, or writing papers, in favor of women ordination. What happened to the typing fingers of all the budding young Adventist theologians on the continent? Is there such clarity on this issue that a continent of almost seven million Adventists cannot spare a single discordant voice in support of women’s ordination (WO)?

I am perplexed by this unprecedented show of agreement by the church apparatus and the seeming acquiescence by the membership at large, because this behavior goes against our very nature as Africans. We are not ones for matching in concert as though headed or minded. We are a disputing bunch. Ordinarily we take every opportunity to speak our mind, and often do so just because someone else is advocating our preferred position. But on this issue, an issue that speaks to fairness or the lack of it; suddenly, strangely, all our talking drums are peeling a cacophonic monotone as though all the drummers are hamstrung and have lost their improvising instincts and are only awkwardly going along with a non-native scripter’s orchestration. What has happened to us?

Yes, we’ve been told that we are the “saviors” of the world church from the “decadent” west. That the Lord is entrusting the future of His enterprise to us, and us alone, to steer to port. That WO is a Trojan horse that will usher into the church other more terrible things if we don’t stand firm against it. When I hear this I am reminded of an incident I witnessed in the fall of 1984 during my first year as a college instructor. I was teaching at the Adventist Seminary of West Africa, Nigeria, now Babcock University. The school was at the time affiliated with Andrews University, so every year, three or four Andrews University professors descended on the campus for affiliation evaluation meetings. Every year, on Sabbath during the visits, the head of the delegation preached during divine service. This arrangement had gone on for years. It turned out that in the year in question, the head of the delegation was Dean Ogden, a woman. This was first time during this arrangement when the leader was a woman. So what to do? Well, after a lot of hand ringing on the side of the local school and church officials, the decision was made to break the tradition of not allowing women to preach from the pulpit on Sabbath. Dean Ogden preached a delicious sermon based on Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”. When she finished there was a thunderous affirmation of amens. The sky did not collapse on us. And a year later, women were accompanying men to the pulpit on Sabbaths, and have been preaching from there since 1986. That was a long digression, I know, but it speaks to fears about change that often never materialize.

What we have not discussed among ourselves, because our leaders have shirked that responsibility of preparing us, is that what is happening regarding the WO debate is the normal process of change. Change in any form is almost always difficult. As a block, we lean “conservative” in social outlook compared to our fellow Adventists from the West, and consequently are more likely to view any impactful change with both suspicion and apprehension. But the Bible is littered with enough examples to guide us in approaching change, especially the kind of change that has the potential to further the Lord’s work.

The Bible might not have actively promoted slavery in some distant past, for example, but it certainly tolerated and regulated the dehumanizing practice. After the accounts leading to the proclamation of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the highlight in Exodus 21 is negotiating the rules about what is allowed and what is not when we sell our daughters into sexual slavery. Paul would advise Onesimus to go back to his master, Philemon, and for Philemon to take him back, Onesimus still a slave. When Samuel told the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites, including women and children, he spoke at God’s command. Today we will take any leader who does this, God’s command or not, to The Hague and charge them for the crime of genocide.

The point I am making here is that at some point in time, as the Bible attests, a lot of objectionable things were routinely done in the name of God. But over time we as a community of humans, Christians and non-Christians alike decided such actions can no longer be justified or condoned. Neither in the case of slavery nor genocide do we conclude that we humans are better than our God. What these examples and others like them in the Bible illustrate is that over time, as humans become well exposed to the Christ ethic, we come to understand God better than our forebears and champion God’s higher causes in our different generations. A William Wilberforce comes around and notices the incongruence of a God of love and one that justifies slavery and concludes that the God Jesus reveals in the Bible would not condone slavery and so he goes about fighting against slavery. Similarly a Martin Luther King sees the injustice of Jim Crow around him, and armed with the same Bible his distractors used to decry his “agitation”, did something about it. Every generation is presented with the opportunity to right some long enduring wrong or injustice, and it is that generation’s response to this opportunity that defines it.

My teenage children often ask me with genuine puzzlement when we have conversations about such past issues as criminalization of interracial marriages, fights in favor of desegregation, or the massive undertaking to preserve Jim Crow: why? And no matter how often they ask, I always get stumped by that question. Because from their perspective, aided by what has happened since these events were “resolved”, it all seem such a waste of resources devoted to things that in hindsight is so plain to them.

As you vote on the issue of WO next month in San Antonio, think about the future generations of African Adventists who in 30 years may be looking at this history and asking why? Why did they think voting against the ordination of women to gospel ministry was advancing the ministry of God? Our debt to our children and our children’s children requires of us to give careful consideration to this question recognizing that, voting to deny other divisions the ability to ordain women in their territories would not stop unions from churches in the West from continuing to ordain women in their field. That ship has sailed and will not be recalled to port. What you can control is how history will evaluate your vote.

Sincerely,

Matthew J. Quartey, PhD Berrien Springs, MI


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6877
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Amen! I sure appreciate you writing this!

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What courage you have shown, Brother Quartey! I hope all delegates around the world will read your words of wisdom and let the Holy Spirit lead. Thank you!

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i don’t think nad, ted, or spd is going to sit back and be controlled by 23% of the delegate vote…it would be nice to see all 13 divisions on board with a yes vote, but my hunch is any nay-sayers are going to be dragged kicking and screaming over the finish line in this instance…indianapolis and utrecht are ancient history…the legitimacy of women’s ordination is much more self-evident now, and headship outside of marriage has been severely discredited…if american pharoah can win the triple crown and end a 37-year drought, and if rachel notley can win alberta’s premiership and end 43 years of conservative rule in canada’s most prosperous province, we can vote yes on wo in san antonio…

part of me actually thinks the yes vote in san antonio will be a bit anti-climactic, and that there will be a broad feeling that our church has come of age…

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Bravo! Written with courage and passion, and irrefutable logic.

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How is this reasonable, knowledgeable document being disseminated? Did all the delegates get one or the URL to this one? Probably, the people who need to read this are not the people who just did . . . .

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“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” should have been written “all mankind”. It seem the Church is the last place, while it should have been in the first place to find women an equal part of mankind. The vetting should be limited to education, training, experience and fidelity to Scripture. In doctrine and in lifestyle.,

we are on the cusp of Father’s Day. Man and women has been taught to pray, "Our Father which art in heaven. He doesn’t hear just the prayers of men. we think of Hannah and her prayer to be given a son. lo, The Lord heard and gave her Samuel. And him to us. Would the church have hundreds of Hannahs.

I count my Acadrmy Principal among the most influnrnial in my life. A giant intellect, who was also highly moral and full of compassion, No nonsense but very approachable.There are women of talent, character, and learning fully equal to the task of leading a congregation to Christ. Throught the Holy Soirit Mary gave us Christ. so also through thevHolynSpirit women of faith, training, and experience can bring Christ to a people. let it be so. Tom Z

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I recommend that every African Seventh-day Adventist read Larry Morrison’s The Religious Defense of American Slavery Before 1830 found online here: http://www.kingscollege.net/gbrodie/The%20religious%20justification%20of%20slavery%20before%201830.pdf. Compare the arguments made by Christian apologists for slavery with the arguments that are made by opponents of women’s ordination and note the chilling similarities.

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I find this very interesting…Something I have suspected here and there, listening to people from Africa, but also from Russia, Moldavia, Rumania etc…
Who tells them this? There have been no minor problems in our German churches just because of this strange mentality, which is sometimes articulated and many times only to be detected between the lines.
Who is the author of these thoughts? That is not religion, much less christianity, it is just populism.

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The arguments used to justify slavery are based on a twisting of Scripture, and bear no resemblance to the arguments against WO. God never ordained slavery; never commanded it. It existed in society and He put into place laws that mitigated, to some extent, the suffering caused by it. Why He didn’t forbid it outright, we’re not told, but since what God does is always for the best of all concerned, we can be sure that He had a good reason. I haveno doubt that we’ll learn those reasons when we get to heaven. However, those who claimed that Scripture condoned slavery, certainly didn’t follow the inspired counsel given to Moses regarding treatment of slaves. By contrast, there are some pretty clear statements by Paul regarding the role of women in the home and in the church.

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Amen. Wonderful letter…Thank-you.

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It is also very ego-satisfying to see themselves as “saviors”.

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No more eloquently written statement on WO has been published here on Spectrum. It is more than sad that this could not have been widely distributed months ago to enlighten all the world’s Adventists of the true, rather than presumed position of those in other divisions.

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Pici, they use often the same explanations of the same items.

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but birder, what you’re not factoring in is the fact that husband headship is not the same thing as generic male headship, even though both are facts in bible culture…in paul’s counsels we see respect for husband headship, because it’s a timeless truth instituted by god…but we also see respect for male headship, because it was a feature of the culture he was living and teaching in…decency and order in the church couldn’t have been achieved outside of that culture…paul didn’t distinguish between husband headship and generic male headship because there was no need to, and god didn’t reveal to him that there would ever be such a need…

but closer to our time, we see in egw’s counsels respect for husband headship only…this isn’t because egw believed paul wasn’t inspired and could be safely ignored, but because the world had changed…what was culturally important in paul’s time was less culturally important in hers - and how much less so in ours…egw’s own example shows us that the two streams of biblical teaching, husband headship and generic male headship, are not equally binding…husband headship is timeless truth as long as people still feel a need to marry…but generic male headship isn’t timeless truth…it’s a relic of the past, in the same way slavery is a relic of the past…racial and gender equality now means god has a greater opportunity to call more people with more talents into his service…i actually believe god has orchestrated the arrival of racial and gender equality in society to coincide with the time that the remnant church will need to finish its commission under the power of the latter rain, which we know will be happening in the not too distant future…

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Here is a comparison of the arguments in favor of slavery and the arguments in favor of male headship and female submission:

  1. Slavery instituted at Creation (the fourth commandment)–Male headship and female submission instituted at Creation (story of Adam and Eve)
  2. Blacks are assigned by God to certain roles (Mudsill Theory)–Women are assigned by God to certain roles (Male Headship Theory)
  3. Blacks are a sub-species of humanity–Women occupy a sphere that is lower than the sphere occupied by men
  4. Blacks are biologically inferior to whites–Women are biologically inferior to men (lower IQs, rotate objects in their brains differently, etc., as per Doug Batchelor’s sermon)
  5. Slavery essential to salvation of Blacks, so that their masters can teach them Christianity–Female submission essential to salvation of women, so they will not be deceived like Eve who wandered from her husband’s side
  6. Blacks are happier when they obey their masters–Women are happier when they submit to men
  7. OT patriarchs and NT Christians owned slaves–OT priests and NT disciples of Jesus were men
  8. Slavery enshrined in God’s eternal law (Fourth and Tenth Commandments)–Female submission enshrined in God’s eternal law (as per Paul’s writings)
  9. Slavery is a biblical institution–Patriarchy is a biblical institution
  10. The culture depicted in Scripture in which slavery and patriarchy predominate is God’s culture
  11. Literal words of Scripture must be followed as opposed to the following of over-arching principles of Scripture
  12. Scripture is not “localized” or “culturally conditioned”
  13. No statement in Scripture prohibits slavery–No statement in Scripture authorizes women’s ordination
  14. If Jesus opposed slavery, He would have said so–If Jesus supported women’s ordination, He would have appointed a woman as a disciple
  15. The greatest NT theologian, Paul, endorsed slavery and sent a slave back to his master–The greatest NT theologian, Paul, endorsed male headship and female submission
  16. Blacks can be saved but will continue in their servitude in heaven and the New Earth–Women can be saved but will continue to submit to men in heaven and the New Earth, because the subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father is also eternal
  17. What is at stake is the authority of the Word of God
  18. If Northern liberals succeed in abolishing slavery, then the floodgates will open and other liberal values and behaviors will be forced upon everyone–If liberals succeed in codification of women’s ordination, then the floodgates will open and homosexuals will be ordained
  19. We should not exalt human reason above the Word of God and second-guess God’s institution of slavery–We should not exalt human reason above the Word of God and second-guess God’s institution of male headship and female submission
  20. We are not in favor of harsh and cruel treatment of Blacks but favor only benevolent and well-regulated forms of slavery, as depicted in Scripture–We are not in favor of harsh and cruel treatment of women by men but favor only benevolent forms of male headship, as depicted in Scripture
  21. Biblical scholars such as Frederich Dalcho support slavery, so it must be OK–Biblical scholars such as Clinton Wahlen support male headship and female submission, so it must be OK
  22. Great pastors and evangelists such as Benjamin Palmer support slavery, so it must be OK. Great pastors and evangelists such as Doug Batchelor support male headship and female submission, so it must be OK
  23. For most of human history, Blacks have functioned as slaves but only recently because of liberalism has all historical precedent been rejected–For most of human history, women have submitted to men and not held a leadership office in the church but only recently because of feminism has all historical precedent been rejected
  24. We should follow the plain meaning of Scripture and not engage in a twisting of Scripture
  25. Everything that happens in the world is in accordance with God’s sovereign will; slavery may seem bad, but God has a purpose for everything He wills on earth–As the Calvinists whom we rely on for male headship theory say, everything that happens in the world is in accordance with God’s sovereign will; male headship theory may seem strange and inequitable, but God has a purpose for everything He wills on earth.

The sad reality of the matter is that the hermeneutical approaches to Scripture taken by Christian apologists for slavery and Seventh-day Adventist male headship theorists are identical.

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It is my experience that believers in Africa are told about the decadence of the west in sermons. It seems to be a rather common rhetorical device. I have heard several people in Angola say that they want to go to the US to wake up the spiritually weak.

They do have a point. Europe is pervasively secular and North America is rapidly moving that direction. But their concern goes beyond societies as a whole; they are also concerned with the church itself being lost.

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Philip, good work!!! May I quote you here once in a while? Alan should read this…

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Thank you. You can quote me anytime.

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I appreciate much of what this author is saying. Yet probably he is overstating the importance of the African sector of the vote on WO. There are several other Divisions that are just as likely to vote an almost wholesale NO - the South American Division, the Euro-Asia Division, the Southern Asia Division for instance.

The author speaks as if the inaccessibility of each Division’s Biblical Research Committee Reports is an African problem only. May I assure him that this problem extends at least as far as the South Pacific Division too. I should know. I submitted a paper to the South Pacific Division BRC in 2013. And yes, many of the papers reviewed by the SPD BRC could be accessed on the GC Archives, Statistics and Research website from 2014 on.

Yet, I understand that these papers (mine included) will come off the presses in book form sometime this week, in preparation for distribution at the GC Session. This has hardly facilitated an extended public discussion of the issues in our Division. The Trans-European Division have recently released a summary of their massive 980 page report. It has been published in book form. Once again, this material has hardly been available in the public domain until very recent weeks.

Again, I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this observation. Yet to imagine that this is totally an African experience alone is incorrect. The South Pacific Division has maintained a semi-offical and rather effective ban on public discourse on the ordination issues. Our Division paper has been very muted in its canvassing of the issues, pro and con. As a result, I doubt whether Adventists are prepared to understand the dynamics of the decision in San Antonio, whatever that decision may be. In the absence of understanding, Adventists in my part of the world will embrace misinformation, innuendo, suspicion and the rest. Mark my words!!

This is what I said in my “Open Letter to the GC Officers” on this blog site in June 2014. I urged the GC Officers to ensure that the subsequent 12 months beyond June 2014 was a time of diseminating the various conclusions of TOSC from all perspectives and of educating our people about WO. I quoted the conclusion of the East-Central Africa Division to the effect that it would be counter productive to vote on WO if delegates and church members were not educated to understand the issues before the vote.

In conclusion the very accurate forecast of the East - Central Africa Division may be about to come true, in that the vote on WO may indeed be counter-productive!

The ECD Report of the ECD BRC was a very nuanced NO to ordination of women at this time in their territories because they concluded that for them in Africa there was more to understand in the biblical material and also because the design and implementation of the rites of ordination for women had not been worked through with the required cultural sensitivity. They believed that many aspects of the current model of Adventist ordination practice were less than biblical. Until such matters were cared for, they couldn’t in all good conscience move ahead with WO. They are 100% right for them. This was a conclusion for their own situation which they have not sought to impose upon others.

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