Feminism and Adventism

Before I even address the idea of feminism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I should first discuss what feminism is so there is no confusion or assumption as to what is being written about.

“Fourth Wave” Feminism

Feminism can initially be defined as, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” It is not some liberal-based agenda to usurp the concept of gender or any other definition stated by those who do not give the subject more than a passing glance. It does not focus on the belief that one gender is more superior than another. This is a very condensed definition on an expansive subject, but for the topic at hand, it will suffice.

Another argument is based on the idea of “wave” feminism, as in second-wave feminism, third-wave feminism, etc. The issue at hand is with the idea of the wave. As Constance Grady writes,

“The wave metaphor can be reductive. It can suggest that each wave of feminism is a monolith with a single unified agenda, when in fact the history of feminism is a history of different ideas in wild conflict.

It can reduce each wave to a stereotype and suggest that there’s a sharp division between generations of feminism, when in fact there’s a fairly strong continuity between each wave — and since no wave is a monolith, the theories that are fashionable in one wave are often grounded in the work that someone was doing on the sidelines of a previous wave. And the wave metaphor can suggest that mainstream feminism is the only kind of feminism there is, when feminism is full of splinter movements.”

Feminism is more complex than boxing it into different eras and dismissing it as a fad. While the wave metaphor is incorrect in how it views feminism, it is helpful as a way to examine its history.

From feminism’s birth in the 1840s advocating for women’s suffrage, it has always been a movement about women and men being seen as equals. The idea that feminists want to eradicate the concept of gender itself or replace men as leaders is a modern invention by very conservative circles who do not truly understand the movement either because of a lack of education, or because of a deep-seated belief that women really are second-class citizens and they just don’t want to say this outright, so they pepper their belief with non-sequiturs about being separate but equal.

Primarily this article deals with women’s ordination, and it’s quite sad there is so much controversy over the idea that women are able to preach like men, when the most essential, beautiful part of the story of salvation, Christ’s resurrection, was first given to a woman, to then tell the disciples (John 20:17). The most beautiful, redemptive point in the story of our Messiah was given first to a woman to preach to the disciples who would then give that message to the entire world.

Learn in Submission

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” —1 Timothy 2:11-12, ESV

“Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.” —1 Corinthians 14:34-35, ESV

The infamous passage in 1 Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy in Ephesus. It was intended to address specific issues that Timothy was dealing with, it was not intended to be the end-all to any discussion of the role of women in the church. As Jesus Feminist author Sarah Bessey writes, “they are a portion of the letters from the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, written to specific people in specific cities for specific situations that had arisen.” In these same letters, Paul asks for his cloak, and sent personal greetings. There is a backstory, a shared history, implied and understood by those it was intended for.

Women during this time were teaching, leading, prophesying, and ministering in the church. They were fulfilling the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 2, “In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants — men and women alike — and they will prophesy.” Women were leading and teaching, and Paul had full knowledge of this. In 1 Corinthians 14:39, Paul was encouraging the women who were leading out congregations.

John Stackhouse writes that we must remember the context in which the Scriptures are written. For example, Paul was instructing the church on how to “survive and thrive in a patriarchal structure that he thinks will not last long and to maintain and promote the egalitarian dynamic already at work in the career of Jesus that in due course will leave gender roles behind.” The Christian churches of the time were revolutionary, accepting women, children, slaves, downtrodden, poor, and anyone else who wanted to join the beautiful, growing family.

Many theologians and scholars believe that in the whirlwind of this revolutionary newfound acceptance, several women in Ephesus were disrupting the meetings and services with constant questions and opinions that prevented the Gospel from being delivered as effectively as possible. Paul wanted to remind them that they learn in quietness and talk it over with their husbands. Even this was revolutionary for the time because he was encouraging women to learn! He wanted them to seek out answers, grow in Christ, and participate in their community. The Jews of the time forbid women from becoming educated, being trained for religious positions, or even participating in religious services.

Regarding the letter to Corinth, this portion of the letter was written during a time of disunity and disagreement in the Corinthian church. Paul wrote that those who were inhibiting the Gospel might more actively participate in it. David Hamilton writes that Paul “wanted everyone to be involved in the ministry of the church, each one contributing according to his or her ministry gifts.” To help accomplish this, Paul went through each and every disordered group and then went back through to “defend their right to communicate in an orderly fashion, correcting those who would silence them outright.”

Also, in 1 Timothy, the word quietly, in Greek hesuchia, is better translated as stillness — meaning more of a peaceful learning, not outright silence. Scot McKnight writes that Paul “is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind.” Some scholars even translate the word women as a woman, meaning Paul may have been talking about one specific woman. Loren Cunningham writes,

“So, should women be silent? Yes, just like the men. Should women be prepared to minister with ‘a hymn, or word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue of interpretation’? Yes, just like the men. Should women exercise self-control as they minister? Yes, just like the men. Should women seek to educate themselves so that they can better edify others when they minister? Yes, just like the men.”

When women are prevented from serving in their full capacity, the Church is allowing an ancient male-dominated culture to drive our understanding rather than Jesus and the Scriptures. As Carolyn Custis James writes in Half the Church,

“God never envisioned a world where his image beaters would do life in low gear, or be encouraged to hold back, especially when suffering is rampant, people are lost, and there is so much kingdom work to do. He wants his daughters to thrive, mature, gain wisdom, hone their gifts, and contribute to his vast purpose in our word… God created his daughters to be kingdom builders — to pay attention to what is happening around us, to take action and contribute.”

A Mountain Removed, One Stone at a Time

A pastor and his wife living in their Haitian compound dreamt of having a school for the orphans that lived there. However, there was a large rocky hill in the center of the land. One day, a Haitian man in his sixties showed up with a pickaxe and shovel, and only lunch as his promised payment. He moved every single stone from that rocky hillside, shovelful by shovelful. It took months in the sweltering heat, but he leveled the ground, and the pastor and his wife were able to set up a tent school. More than 150 kids from the compound and neighborhood showed up in their uniforms and began their education.

The process of change is long, slow, and sometimes painful. We may feel as though we want to stop; we may feel that no progress is being made when only a single stone has been moved. Some churches and leaders may even believe that the fact that the mountain is there means that it’s simply God’s will that nothing should be done and that we should leave things as is.

Christianity is radical, in that it disrupts the status quo. Women, slaves, and poor people being seen as equal? Unheard of. Dialing into Adventism specifically, our popular evangelists have fervently debated over the idea of whether or not women should be ordained, rather than commissioned ministers. Doug Batchelor, a man with no theological training, president of Amazing Facts Ministries, and something of a rockstar in more conservative, fundamentalist circles of Adventism, believes that one of the reasons women shouldn’t be allowed to be ministers is the fact that the word seminary shares the same root as the word semen. At the same time, Dr. George Knight discusses how the concept of ordination isn’t even biblical, it’s a post-Catholic idea. You can really only have a problem with ordaining women if you believe in ordination as the Roman Catholics did, as increasing said person’s power. In the Adventist view of ordination, it is a recognition of what has already happened in Heaven, where God has called the person to preach the Gospel — all of this disagreement for something God has already decided.

It’s also quite strange that some individuals believe women should not be ministers even though some scholars believe that it was a woman who wrote the book of Hebrews. Women are more than capable to deal with the spiritual and emotional toll of ministry. In his book, Life and Work on the Mission Field, J. Herbert Kane wrote, “the more difficult and dangerous the work, the higher the ratio of women to men.” While we prevent and hold down the powerful women throughout our world church, we are preventing half of our congregation from living up to their full potential. Megachurch pastor Dr. David Yong-gi Cho once said,

“All the churches are so little! And all of them are holding back their women, not allowing them to do what God calls them to do. I’ve told them to release their women, but they insist that’s not the problem. They ask me, ‘What’s the key to your church?’ I tell them again, ‘Release your women,’ but they just don’t hear me!”

Rather than empowering our women to spread the same Gospel their male counterparts are preaching, we instead enforce their skirt lengths. We disregard the idea of Galatians 3:28, that “there is no Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We do not believe that women should be the spiritual “head of the household,” yet we draw the foundations of our very belief system from a woman.

Katherine Bushnell wrote, “cows were made before men — even before theologians — [therefore] men must be subordinated to cows.” The idea that there is a hierarchy based on order makes no sense, because man was one of the last things to be made. Also, woman was not taken from man's head to be higher than him, or from the foot to be lower than him, but from his side to be his equal. God did not say man was good, and then create woman. God created man and woman and then said it was “very good” (Gen 1:27; 1:31). The two are pieces of the same puzzle, essential and one not higher or greater than the other.

As the church has always shown us, it is a slow, sometimes painful process to strive towards a more Christlike theology. But in the end, the light of God always shines through and we slowly grow closer to the image of Christ. I believe we will come to a place as a church where men and women are seen as equals. Until the traditional church takes the official stance to see men and women equal in all aspects, we shall go forward hand in hand in the mission field, local churches, and hospital rooms. As Sarah Bessey says, “it’s a lovely thing to watch men and women working together for the kingdom of God.”

Hayden Scott is pursuing his Masters in Mental Health Counseling. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his wife, two dogs, cat, and soon to be baby girl.

Photo by Xuan Nguyen on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9256

Neal Wilson decimated the Gospel,oriented male pastors. His son is using all of his wiles To prevent women from taking their place. The church has a good start on 40 years in The wilderness. The great hymns of the church is about all there is left.

Thanks for the thoughtful piece. Well written and researched. I was struck with a thought while reading this:

John Stackhouse writes that we must remember the context in which the Scriptures are written. For example, Paul was instructing the church on how to “survive and thrive in a patriarchal structure that he thinks will not last long and to maintain and promote the egalitarian dynamic already at work in the career of Jesus that in due course will leave gender roles behind.”

It seems pretty clear to me that Paul believed Jesus was returning to usher in the Kingdom VERY soon. His attitudes seem to support the idea that Jesus himself predicted a new kingdom of God on earth with Israel at its head within the lifetimes of his 1st century followers. But perhaps that’s beside the point. Overall, Paul’s attitude and theology seems somewhat dismissive of worldly concerns and human suffering. His advice to women, slaves etc. all seems to boil down to “Sit tight everybody, we’ll be on to something better soon. In the meantime, all your effort should be focused on preparing yourself and others for the kingdom.”

Somehow, that attitude also seems uniquely prevalent in the SDA church 2000 years later. People still believe that Jesus and his kingdom will come within their lifetimes, just as segments of believers have in every generation since Jesus. When I hear certain segments of the Adventist church talk about social justice, humanitarianism and helping to reduce the suffering of their fellow man, I often feel like the same type of belief is used to minimize those concerns. It’s the same with the anti-women’s ordination crowd. Some certainly are theologically opposed to it, but many more, I think, oppose it simply because they think it’s far less important than the urgent business of evangelism. Like Paul, they’re saying, “Sit tight everybody, we’ll be on to something better soon. In the meantime, all your effort should be focused on preparing yourself and others for the kingdom.” It’s the very same message and belief of an IMMINENT return of Jesus… but somehow it’s still going strong after 2,000 years.

I think this belief gets in the way of actual human progress. Even when Adventists participate in humanitarian and social justice efforts (and many do) it often feels like either a duty or a sneaky way to trick people into listening to the gospel. I’m generalizing and of course not all SDAs think in this way, but I worked at ADRA for enough years to realize that many more DO think this way, and genuinely couldn’t understand why they should support “no strings attached” humanitarian work like that of ADRA.

If we’re trying to understand why the church seems to be standing in such open opposition to human ethical progress, it might be because, fundamentally, our eschatology makes us believe that the world will only ever get worse as we slide downhill toward the time of trouble. And, ultimately, if that’s our honest expectation, why bother trying to make it better? God’s in control, and Adventists seem to think he’s given the church a unique message. So instead of trying to make the world a better place, our evangelistic message of “good news” amounts to a proclamation that the world is screwed up and will never get better–and so are we. In both cases, the only solution is Jesus. It’s just too bad we can’t figure out how to try to make things better in the meantime…


Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” He told me to share this with you, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”

Christ’s Father and God was Mary’s Father and God as surely as He was the Father and God of the disciples. No preacher, male or female has a greater foundational message to proclaim than this truth given to Mary. This message unlocked the floodgates of the gospel to all the world as Hayden expressed it so well.

This reminds me of the woman at the well, a Samaritan, to whom Christ entrusted one the most important and profound revelations of His entire ministry. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The Eastern Orthodox Christian faith records that this Samaritan woman took the name Photini at her baptism at Pentecost. What followed was a life of discipleship ending in martyrdom that church history claims was equal to the apostolic ministry of the disciples.

Even allowing for the way stories can be embellished over time, it is true that Photini drank from the streams of living water that Christ offered her that day at the well. She introduced her village people to Christ. She no doubt worshiped God in spirit and in truth during a lifetime of devoted ministry. In time she confronted the Emperor Nero with the Christian gospel but it cost her her life. BTW, she converted Nero’s daughter and her retinue of slaves while she languished in prison, much to Nero’s ire.

Women in ministry were a force to be reckoned with in the early Christian church.

Hayden has clarified a number of issues in this article at a level that should remove all doubt about the equality of every believer in gospel ministry, according to God’s calling.

When God calls women to ministry, who are we to question? He did it with an empty tomb as a backdrop and He has continued for near-on 2,000 years of Christian witness.


Thank-you, Hayden, for this fine article. Though not permitted in the scope of this article…it would have been very enlightening for you to elaborate upon more of the history of Feminism in the US and England. There were different “forms” that developed with time in both countries that would be interesting to explore.The form of Feminism that developed in the US was much more “stringent” than the “softer” version in the UK. Perhaps, this happened because of the status of women and Patriarchy in the US. The US still hasn’t had a female President unlike the UK (Prime minister)…so, apparently, the US still needs more “Feministic” work to be done.

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This is why I say that the GC has been infiltrated by a group that does not represent the true SDA Church. They want to make decisions on issues that are not their business, and are even willing to corrupt the whole system in order to impose their ways.

They, at the GC, do not respect the established hierarchy, they want to grab all power into their own hands. They certainly don’t like the Unions because they know that in great part the Unions were created to protect the Conferences from the GC’s abuse. Just imagine the situation if we had no Unions… :open_m\

Well, I bet the Unions will not chicken out! At least I hope they won’t…


I think it’s quite funny that the more determined an Adventist is in their belief that Jesus is coming back immediately, the older they are. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a coping mechanism so they don’t have to face the idea of death (even though they know it’s a sleep). They’re afraid of it, and rather than acknowledge that Jesus may not come back before you have to die, fervently think he’ll be back right (regardless of the 2,000 years of people who have thought the same. It makes no difference to me if Jesus comes back tomorrow or millions of years after I’m gone, and that shouldn’t impact how I treat people of different genders, races, religions, or sexualities. I shouldn’t have to ignore social justice to be a good Adventist, but some think we should just sell all of our belongings and go wait in a field like it’s 1844 rather than have one discussion about equity.


Yes! I would have loved to, but I don’t think my name carries enough of a weight to write a George Knight-length article (just yet!) A friend just suggested I touch on the idea of the feminist waves so that argument could be addressed, at least in a small way, because it seems that the idea that “waves” exist is enough to discredit the feminist movement as a “fad,” which is heartbreaking.

I agree that U.S. feminism has a ways to go, especially in the general public. For example, the idea that men (with no medical training) have the authority to legislate female reproductive rights. As Rachel Green said, “No uterus, no opinion.”

I would love to write or collaborate on some in-depth feminist writing and research within the Seventh-day Adventist church. For now, I’ll just be submitting my frustration-fueled articles about social justice to Spectrum! :joy:

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Any analysis is warped unless it includes, at least, 1 TIM 2:13 & Gen 3:16.

So many just parrot analysis of others and are contaminated with culture & the system of the world.

Singleness of purpose leads to spiritual perception.

Anyone care to guess why the 4 requirements were included in the ACTS 15 session?

Anyone ever do some study about the sexually pervert & depraved living styles of the Greeks & Romans in the 1st centuries AD and also the women’s movements at that time?

It is not great for sermon material…so most are ignorant of the culture context of that time.

I would love to see more from you on the topic when you are ready in the future ( frustration-fueled or not :wink: ). As you said, there is much more that could be expanded (and expounded) upon on the topic of US feminism…and in the church.


Early Christianity , in general, countered & civilized the barbarian populations that it encountered.

As modern Christianity has become antinomian, pagan, impotent & irrelevant in these times…there is an increasing trend of barbarianism, perversion, depravity and breakdown of the family unit.


Sugar & junk food is more like it.

What “Women’s Movement” at the time? …please…do enlighten. :slight_smile:

If I were to dissect this article point by point, it would show some serious flaws. I will only mention one. “Doug Batchelor is a man with no theological training…” That is a not so subtle way is discrediting anything he says or writes. I would suggest that Peter, James, and John and the other disciples had no training in “any seminary”. Paul was the only one with “theological training” and he had it all wrong until God took him aside in the wilderness for three years. Doug Batchelor spent years in the wilderness reading his Bible. And the young men coming out of our Andrews Seminary now and then going on to other worldly institutions for their “higher degrees” are not preaching the truth as I find it in the Bible.
Men and women are equal in God’s eyes as far as salvation goes. That is what Gal. 3:28 is talking about. God set up certain roles, and culture cannot change His decree. Name one women who was a priest or offered sacrifices… Name one woman who was an apostle that Jesus picked. You won’t find any. He could have set the example of “ordaining women” by laying his hands on even one, but he did not. Did he discriminate then? Was he wrong in not picking at least one woman?
I find the argument about Mary being the first one to “bear the message” empty. She just happened to be the first one there because of her love for Jesus. As far as I can tell, she never preached a sermon or was an elder in the church. In my opinion, that was grasping at straws…

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"Doug Batchelor is a man with no theological training…” That is a not so subtle way is discrediting anything he says or writes. I would suggest that Peter, James, and John and the other disciples had no training in “any seminary”."

It is true that Doug B. has no theological training…and it shows. I do hope that you aren’t trying to say that Doug is equal to one of the Apostles. The fact that he spent “years in the wilderness reading his Bible” doesn’t mean any more than me reading my Bible (or you). Hopefully he got something spiritually enlightening out of it but from some of his attitudes towards women- I doubt it.


Nope, you missed my point. Let me try again. The author was saying that Doug didn’t have any theological training in order to discredit anything Doug would say or write. Theological training is not a prerequisite for preaching the truth. Many a highly trained theologian does not speak the truth (Sabbath, state of the dead etc) That is all I was saying.

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I often see this assertion being made. On what basis though is it made? Why then didn’t Paul write “Let this woman” or “let these women learn quietly with all submissiveness”? Why did he use the generic articles referring to women in general? Or did he? I don’t read Greek; I have no idea what Paul really wrote, I can only go by the English (and French, and German, and Portuguese, and Spanish) translations. Is there something in the Greek text conclusively indicating that Paul was only referring to certain disruptive women? Or is this something we just made up a few decades ago?

Maybe DB resents that while he was isolating in the desert no women showed up to brighten his day… :wink: :innocent:


I don’t know what DB preaches, I don’t need to know. What I know is that he is a LGTarian and supports discrimination of women. This is bad enough, I don’t listen to people who promote heresies and discrimination of any kind.