During Colonial times, the story is told of a benevolent woman who dedicated her life to providing medical service in the country of Haiti. While she was much loved by the Haitian people, she was still a foreigner. She was the outsider who came with superior skill and resources to “help” those deemed less capable and knowledgeable. And she kept close control over these resources.
Even after there were Haitian medical Doctors working in her clinic – she kept the key to the drug cabinet on a chain around her neck. If an operation were needed in the night, she would be wakened and taken to the clinic where she would open the cabinet for the physicians.
Colonialism kept people in their place. It was a whole culture which assumed the natural superiority of those in control. It was a belief system that maintained God had ordained certain groups with the right to make decisions and exercise control over those whose circumstance of birth and place in life made them unfit to rule or govern.
Paternalism, like colonialism, keeps people in their place. Paternalistic systems have dominated the religious world for centuries. Father knows best. Father will care for you.
Dangers of Paternalism
In order for paternalism to work in religion, it must rely upon the exercise of overt power and authority purportedly communicated from God. Early on with the separation of a priestly class from the common worshiper, access to the Holy and to desired spiritual benefits were strictly controlled. In Jesus’ day the rabbi’s relied on a multitude of rules and regulations to keep the people in line. And they benefitted from the exorbitant prices charged for temple sacrifices the people believed they needed to secure God’s blessing.
In the medieval church, priests maintained control by limiting or denying access to the sacraments. Even the use of the church’s cemetery for burial was restricted to the faithful. With the reformation came the motto of “the priesthood of all believers”. Nonetheless it was male clerics who dominated the pulpits of Protestant churches. Threats of hell fire and damnation were used to cower the sinner, entice them to walk the sawdust trail and fill the pews. Abuse of authority and power has been the prerogative of men whenever religion is institutionalized and sadly the word of God has been used to defend the existing ecclesiastical structure.
Human beings, male and female, were created in the image of God and given authority to exercise dominion over the fish, the birds, and over every living thing EXCEPT one another! The ability to govern, to direct the activities, to initiate policy and implement change were to be shared jointly by both men and women. Collaborative rulership was to be the norm. God’s delegation of dominion to humankind was not carte blanche for exploitation and one-sided authority. Dominion is a service word.
God, in describing the patriarchal structure that would exist after sin, said to Eve, “You will desire a relationship with your husband but he will lord it over you.” Jesus repudiated this paternalistic system when he said, “The Gentiles lord it over you, but it shall not be so among you.” When Jesus took the towel , wrapped it around himself and knelt before his disciples, he reversed the hierarchical, top down, male only, “power over” authority of the religious leaders of his day.
As the men and women disciples prayed together in the upper room, the Holy Spirit came upon all who were present. In the early church, spiritual gifts, including the gifts of administration and leadership, were given without discrimination to all believers, regardless of their gender.
The recognition of the equality of all believers as having the God-given responsibility to exercise dominion is at the heart of the three angel’s message. The call to worship the Creator God must draw attention to the original design of humankind. In Genesis, God blessed THEM and gave THEM dominion.
The Christian church should be a model of God’s government on this earth. The Adventist church with its end time message should be at the forefront in promoting Jesus’ kingdom principles in its organizational structure. A blatant eyesore on our denomination’ structure is the continued denial of women’s equality in service. Our unwillingness to ordain women to the gospel ministry reduces all women to second class status by reserving top administrative functions, governance, decision and policy-making determination in the church to men only.
It would not be accepted by other cultures
The rational often given by the Adventist church for not ordaining women is that such an action would not be acceptable by other paternalistic cultures.
Recognition of the human rights of women and children is being strongly urged by governments and nations worldwide. It is in the news daily. This is an issue whose time has come. Does it not behoove us as a worldwide church to seriously consider the implications of our church’s position on the role of women and our policy regarding this issue? Do we really want to continue to kowtow to the “culture” argument?
Even Islamic cultures ruled by Sharia law are under attack by their own people who recognize that many of the repressive cultural requirements are not according to the Quran but merely rules imposed by males to keep females in subjection.
The Time is not right
This argument presupposes that ordination of women is a valid ordinance for the church – which will – at a future date – become the accepted practice – just not yet. Once ordination of women is an established practice in the Adventist church most folks will wonder why it took so long to recognize its validity.
“The time is not right” is a poor argument to delay ordination in today’s world. What is the worst that could happen? Some less informed and/or prejudiced individuals might leave the church and take their resources with them? People with integrity make moral decisions because they are the right thing to do – not because they are the politically expedient, popular or financially motivated.
We first need a “theology of ordination”
For a church which decries the need for creeds or catechisms this is really a lame excuse. It is basically saying, let’s refer this issue back to a study committee so that we do not have to deal with it.
Ordination is simply a public rite in which the elders of the church place their hands in blessing on individuals who have been called to service. It is not hocus pocus. It is not some magical conveyance of power. It is not a sacerdotal action that changes a person from laity into clergy. It does not signify the initiation of the recipient into a 2,000 year old club for men only.
What is does mean is that the church, as a body, recognizes the activity and work of the Holy Spirit in its midst. When it becomes evident that the Spirit has called and gifted an individual for public ministry it is then beholden on the members to add their blessing by the laying on of hands.
The employment Issue
In today’s world ordination has also become an employment issue involving credentialing. As an employer churches are empowered to authorize individuals to function on their behalf. These individuals then can sign certain legal documents, claim certain legal exemptions, and accept positions outside the church in agencies needing chaplaincy services. Non-church employers can require credentialing (i.e. ordination) by a recognized religious entity in addition to educational criteria and professional experience.
I remember applying to work as an Academy Bible teacher in 1978 only to discover that while I had the educational qualifications to be hired, in order to advance or get a raise in pay I would need to be ordained. Today, non ordained women are hired as Bible teachers and as Adventist ministers. These women pastors perform most of the same duties and functions as that of ordained men. Nevertheless they are still barred from moving up the organizational ladder into leadership positions, from sitting on policy- making boards or from holding church administrative titles.
Women are also prohibited from legally organizing a church. To say that an individual may plant a church, nurture it, dedicate its infants, baptize and marry its members but that they must be male in gender in order to legally give a church birth is as ludicrous as it is paternalistic.
For a religious organization to intentionally and deliberately deny credentialing to qualified and employed individuals who are performing the essential functions of a job is unconscionable.
For the Body of Christ to intentionally and deliberately deny the activity and work of the Holy Spirit by failure to lay its hands in blessing on women borders on blasphemy.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3122