I'm Sorry for How the Church has Sidelined Women

I've been a church kid since the day I was born, deeply steeped in the culture of this community of people who follow Jesus. My belt is well-notched with church services, church camps, pathfinder retreats, week of prayer alter calls, Bible studies, church volunteer roles and years of Christian education.

As I reflect on all those years and all the associated people who have shaped my life, I'm surprised at one thing. As a Christian who grew up in the Adventist church, my life has been shaped more than anything else by women.

It's a surprise, I think, because of how often the language, policy and even doctrine of the Adventist church (and larger evangelical community) downplay the contribution of women.

Outsiders tend to think of Christianity as a tribe that marginalizes women. They're not wrong. While there are local congregations, even denominations, where women are invited to use their gifts and even participate at all levels of leadership, the sad truth is that in many places — from local churches to denominational headquarters — the opposite is true.

There are yet many churches teaching that women best occupy their God-given role when they raise children, tend the home, and quietly submit to the wisdom of their husbands (and, of course, their male pastors). Even today.

There are arguments some will make against women in leadership. They'll quote the Apostle Paul's words, "I forbid a woman to teach a man," as if that statement has no precipitating context and is the end of the conversation.

Careful and thoughtful study of the Bible finds women in the strangest corners. Women were judges, military leaders, and prophets. They were ministry partners for the Apostle Paul and leaders of home churches. This article isn't the place for deep dives into theology, 1st-century culture, and hermeneutics. That's been done well in other places. So, here I will just make this observation.

For every man in a pulpit who has impacted me, there were ten women who taught, encouraged, corrected or comforted me. I've had no lack of male leaders in my church experience, but it's been women leaders who have been the most willing to challenge me, call me to be a better version of myself, and who offered me the most care and support when I was in hard or painful places. Some of these women were in positions of leadership. Some were teachers, professors, even pastors. But most of them were women without a title, women who just did what Jesus put on their heart, serving with their gifts around the edges of public, recognized ministry.

As I think back over my own experience in churches for decades, and what I know of church history, and even what I see in the New Testament, I suspect this has always been the case.

And still, there are Christians fighting over this. Well, truth be told, not everyone is fighting it. Unable to be their full selves, some women have left. More and more families are refusing to raise their children in an environment where women are officially treated as second class citizens. I understand why and feel the same way.

I am profoundly sorry for the way the church — and men in the church — have limited the participation, ownership, and growth of women. This is not what I see in the life of Jesus. He went out of his way to speak with women. He taught women in the same way he taught men — even though that was against the common rabbinical practice of the time.

How could things be different for us, I wonder? When women can't bring their full selves into the church community, there are serious consequences, both for them, and for the church.

I imagine that the crisis around child abuse in the church would not have dragged on like it has if more women were in leadership. I wonder if, in fact, it would ever have become a crisis, to begin with.

I imagine if women were equally a part of leadership in the church, there would be a more robust and engaged conversation around issues of women's health, child flourishing, and how to compassionately understand and deal with abortion. It's self-evidently silly that church policy and doctrine on these matters have been developed without women seated at the table.

I suspect that the church might be more invested in local mission and service rather than the adventure missions so many youth groups embark on. Why? Perhaps I'm wrong, but it just seems so masculine to raise a ton of money then fly a group of teenagers across the world to build a school house out of concrete blocks. The whole process seems to reverberate with colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchal thinking.

I imagine that the conversation about the nature of God and our response to God would be broader and richer if women were more welcome in the discussion, invited to bring their expertise and study of scripture to the table.

Perhaps the church, as an organization, would do a better job listening and responding to victims of violence, sexual violence, and abuse.

If my suspicions are correct, even in the smallest measure, it means the church is missing out on incredible and healing opportunities — and the communities we serve are worse because of it. It's time for a change.

When we see shining mega-churches in successful suburban neighborhoods and celebrity pastors with personal product lines, it's hard to remember the origins of the Christian church. The early church — what we call the infancy of Christianity in the generations before 300 AD — was predominantly a community of the underclasses. It was composed of women, slaves, and children, nearly all of them poor. These people, who had little voice in their world, saw hope in a Savior who was excluded by the religious institution and executed by the occupying military authority.

Christians may argue about the role of women in scripture and the church for another hundred years, and yet, here's the truth. From the first witnesses of Jesus' empty tomb (it was two women) until today, the work of the Christian church has been largely carried on by women. Even the Adventist church, unable to come to resolution on the question of women in ministry, was founded by a woman!

Today, the majority of long-term volunteers in the church and its community ministries are women. The majority of faithful attendees are women. Perhaps that suggests some spiritual deficiency in men, or more likely, a struggle the church has in reaching men — but that's a conversation for another day.

I'm a pastor. A male pastor. I have been a part of the problem, sometimes intentionally, more and more, by accident. For that, I am sorry. We deny the truth, and I believe, undercut God's work among us when we leave women out of the central conversations of leadership and theology.

We hurt them, denying them the ability to bring their full God-given selves to the table. We hurt our children, passing on mental pictures of women limited in their capacity because of their gender. We hurt the communities we serve, as we find ourselves unable to bring whole solutions that reflect the best thinking and spiritual reflection of everyone, not just men. Even worse, we've painted a picture for any woman looking in from the outside that God is not interested in who she is, or her full range of experiences and talents.

We've told women they are meant to be in second place, that their voices don't matter. This may be yet true for some churches, but it is not true of the God we profess to serve.

On that watershed day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit inaugurated the church. Preaching to the crowds, Peter quoted the prophet Joel, declaring that in this new community of the church, an ancient prophecy was coming true:

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

This is God’s dream and desire for the church. Your sons and your daughters. It is long past time for us to embrace what the Spirit of God has already been doing.

Marc Alan Schelske writes about life at the intersection of grace and growth at MarcAlanSchelske.com. This is an expanded and updated version of an article that originally appeared there . He is the teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he has served for nearly 20 years. He's the author of Discovering Your Authentic Core Values, and the upcoming book The Wisdom of Your Heart. Marc is a husband, dad of two, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea and rides a motorcycle. You can follow him on Twitter at @Schelske.

Image Credit: Iakov Filimonov (JackF)

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8018
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While I agree with the author’s premise and ideas I would love to hear some fresh ideas on what to do with the problem of apathy and stagnation on the lack of inclusivity in our church. This article serves as yet another sign on the roadway of life that the church is ignoring. We have had articles, books, commissions, committees, and councils on the need for increased gender diversity at all levels of our church and yet the most obvious fact is that very little progress is being made. I know that there are the “usual” isolated examples where real progress has been made. These have proven to be temporary too few. Is the Seventh-day Adventist church taking gender diversity issues seriously, devoting real resources to redressing the gender imbalance that permeates the church at all levels?
Churches/denominations/faith communities with the greatest proportion of women in top positions put in place these three basic initiatives.
• Top church leadership is visibly committed to addressing gender imbalance
• Women’s representation through the talent pipeline is tracked carefully and consistently
• Understanding and addressing unacknowledged mindsets, among men and women, is part of the overall program. Education is needed at all levels.
Groups that put these initiatives as a top priority are also most diligent about execution—driving through their gender diversity programs. Adventist women who contribute to the health and effectiveness of their church are missing, discouraged, marginalized and needed.

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Now that you have admitted to being “part of the problem,” have you developed a plan of action for your local church, being a male pastor and “teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church,” your local conference, your union conference, the NAD and then the GC. Share us your plan of action and what you have accomplished so the we all may develop a coherent, consistent and uniform grass root movement.

So far, prayers have not helped.

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After reading this I couldn’t be more discouraged about the future for women in our church. Where are the churches that empower women to be full partners in the Gospel Commission?

EDIT: Response to @ajshep

@ajshep you just made the point

She obviously had mega spiritual gifts in leadership. And she DID move on. The church’s loss. We missed out. How many souls might she have won with her leadership and spiritual gifts? We will never know. And this is still happening, despite your implication that because this was 57 years ago, it doesn’t happen today. You know it does…

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OK, all that being said, I’m really getting tired of hearing about marginalized women. Never have I felt like a second class citizen, in or out of church. Who we are comes out of our own brains. No man or organization defines me. They may think they do - think again. Ironically, it just might be religions, of all kinds, that set up this subservient, helpmate identity for women; not to mention it being Eve’s fault that Adam sinned :rolling_eyes:.

As an East European by birth, in my house my mom and dad were equal partners. I remember my dad not wanting to be waited on, saying that if he can get his work done in eight hours then my mom shouldn’t have to work into the night either. This image of a “good woman” spinning and weaving till she drops no longer works; and the days when hiring a pastor meant you get “the wife” for free doesn’t work either.

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Great question. I think the clearest first step begins with my admission, and others making the same. Male pastors, who become male division leaders, who become male GC leaders need to see and understand this same thing. It’s hard to let go of power, but the church is always better for it when we do. As for the congregation where I am fortunate to serve, we seek out women and invite them to the table in every available capacity.

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I’m so glad you had that experience. That’s a real blessing for you. I’d venture to say that in twenty years of ministry, I have heard very few women share the kind of experience you’ve shared here. You might, if you’re interested, take some time to browse the hashtag #ThingsChristianWomenHear on Twitter. Reading through this thread brought me to tears many times.

https://twitter.com/hashtag/thingschristianwomenhear?lang=en

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Women of the SDA church [and that is most of them world-wide] who have NOT heard “THE CALL” Do Not and Cannot UNDERSTAND the Women of the SDA church who HAVE heard “THE CALL”.
As I have read comments from many women over the past year here on Spectrum Comments by Women,
women who are satisfied to be in a pew only, keep house and kids and husband, do a little volunteer work with the kids on Sabbath,
Have Absolutely NO UNDERSTANDING of the women who hear The Call, and because they have no understanding are willing to “Put them down” because they think they might be some type of celebrity
seeker of the church.
Put down their own sisters in the church.
If the Women of the church cannot understand their Sisters. one can certainly understand WHY the Men of the church have no idea what these women who Hear “the call” are talking about. And refuse to listen, refuse to act, refuse to allow.

Rodney – the world church did not vote against Ordained Women at SA2015. It still left it up to the Unions to decide on Ordination [BOTH men and women if they chose]. It only PREVENTED the Divisions from deciding from a Division Level regarding Ordination [Both men and women IF the Division chose].

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The use of the word call, has many connotations. if the call is from God, then there is no denominational attachment. The call is to the Gospel, not a creed or a set of beliefs other than the message from the incarnation to the resurrection.

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In exploring the Bridge City Community Churches web site and going to the FAQ I find some interesting answers; "Is Bridge City a Seventh-day Adventist Church? “No”…“we are a non-denominational community church”. “Is Bridge City a Sabbatarian Church?” “No”…“we do not hold Sabbath-keeping as a central doctrinal issue”. I find it deceptive that the author talks about his upbringing

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Let’s hear it for all the perSISTERS out there. You are the future.

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The Headline of this article is misleading . The church has not sidelined women. This issue is in discussion as to how the church would move forward dealing with WO . As of 2015 , the church spoke to not move forward at this time . Will we respect this decision, or will we move full speed ahead , imposing our will on the world church.?Please note, we have elected persons to look and vote on this issue on our behalf . So why is there a move to inflame emotions around this issue to get persons worked up that their RIGHTS are being violated.? This is God’s church, led by the Holy Spirit . He will not allow the work of Christ to fall behind . Let us pray that we will resolve not to let this or any other issue separate us from the love of Christ.

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I feel compelled to reply to Rodney Smith’s comment that “The church has not sidelined women”. No statement could be further from the truth. The church has sidelined women for a very long time and it continues to sideline women even to today. For example, in the 1960s my wife was attending Walla Walla College and she applied to be a religion major. The chairman of the department asked to meet with her. In that meeting she was told by the chairman that he “would not allow her” to be a religion major because there would not be any job for her. He further stated that she could not be a pastor and she could not teach religion at an Adventist college because all of those jobs “were reserved for men”. The church made it completely clear that there was no place for her within its organized structure and she should stay on the sidelines. As a measure of the cost the church paid for this position, my wife took her talents into the business world and ultimately became the Human Resource Director for a major technology company and managed 300 direct reports and had worldwide responsibility for 65,000 employees. It is beyond my understanding as to how the church thinks it can achieve its goals when it puts one-half of its most talented members on the sideline.

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It is not the “church” that is at fault.God at creation of A&E decreed that E would play a subordinate role as would her descendants. End of story.Millions and millions of women are happy and content to fulfill their God given role it is only the rebels and misfits that seek what is not theirs to have…

Paul made it very clear what the females role in ministry was to be. It is unfortunate that the SDA church does not heed the counsel. But then they couldn’t go on pretending that EGW was a prophet.

It wasnt her “experience”. It is her perspective. Huge difference

I think you are mistaken here. I know all kinds of women who hold offices and preform duties. I suggested a certain lady be head elder at one of my churches because she was the best qualified for the position. She did not get it because some WOMEN from the third world felt she should not have the position. There was no male objection at all. She declined to take as she did not want to cause division, another evidence of her class act.

Lets see now, the 60’s? 57 years ago? Still nursing that wound? I am sorry, but it is not so today. Sixty percent of college students are women now. Maybe we should start holding positions for some men. And besides, women can do all in the ministry save two things, as they are only credentialed. Not such a big deal except that it sticks in the craw of some. It might be appropriate to allow for the third world to have a say in some things as they comprise something like 80 + % of the church, instead of constantly complaining about this. Might be time to move on.

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This article is a good example of how this issue is mis-characterized by a certain segment of the church. “Sidelined?” Nothing could be further from the truth. Women are vital to the operation and success of any church. The fact that they cannot be ordained to the gospel ministry (note to the Unions who continue to ignore this fact: did you fail to get the memo?) cannot be misconstrued into a claim that women are sidelined. If it were true, then there would be no women on church boards or in any other position in the local church. Our local church would hardly be able to function if our women were not busy doing their share of the work.

It’s time to get over this foolishness. There is plenty of work to be done with or without ordination. If more of us got busy doing what needs to be done, this issue would go away. Unfortunately it seems as if the sour grapes will continue to ferment for some time to come.

i don’t think anyone is going to get over the fact that third world culture is determining the extent to which women in n. america can exercise their spiritual gifts…the no-vote in san antonio hasn’t delivered unity, as promised, which shows that male headship is a false teaching…and imposing force and coercion on practically half of the church is the definition of insanity and self-defeat…

what is needed now is a mechanism through which all parts of the church can chart their own course on WO according to their convictions…the political charade that went on in san antonio hasn’t been good for the church…i do hope pro-WO unions and divisions can stick to their guns, and force a restructuring of the GC…

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“It’s time to get over this foolishness. There is plenty of work to be done with or without ordination. If more of us got busy doing what needs to be done, this issue would go away. Unfortunately it seems as if the sour grapes will continue to ferment for some time to come.”

In a word…dismissive. At this point I hope that the “sour grapes” results in a schism because the male “Headship” is so very dense and full of pride.

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A The inconsistencies of Adventism reflect Catholicism, where one woman is venerated, esteemed, adulated and all others are second class citizens.
( Catholicism’s Virgin Mary versus EGW ).

My astute teenage daughter made an acerbic observation, many years ago when we found ourselves in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral on Christmas Eve. ( we were there for the sublime music, not for the Mass ).

As the scarlet robed Cardinal swept into the cathedral, followed by his retinue of bishops and priests, she said. : "Just like the Adventist church, Dad, no women! "

Not even a Mother Teresa was in that pompous pageant of a parade.
However, everywhere in that magnificent Gothic structure, were representations of the Virgin, with the Christ child at her bosom.

Just as in Ted Wilson’s home church, no women elders are tolerated, yet his sermons and articles are prolific with passages from the church’s female prophet.

I agree with SIRJE’s statement above that most Adventist women do not feel marginalized. However all astute, educated, modern, professional women have to agree that women pastors’ second class status is untenable in an egalitarian twenty first century world.

Withholding tithe/offerings from church entities which insist on gender discrimination could be one avenue for change.

Much more effective, would be for ALL Adventist women to take a month’s vacation from church duties.

Let male church members run the cradle roll, the pathfinders, the vacation bible school. Let the men cook and serve the church potlucks, and wash up,afterwards. Let all female organists/pianists/choir leaders/soloists/instrumentalists take a much needed vacation.

When "the brethren " realize how dependent each congregation is on its female members, just maybe women’s role would be better appreciated.

If all women members were to take a "sick day " one sabbath, our pews would empty, since in most congregations, women are in the majority!

The heinous heretical headship,dogma does not recognize women’s,worth.
Who will organize a mass demonstration to jolt our misogynist brethren into a world of reality?

The newly elected young charismatic president of France, MACRON, is promising GENDER PARITY in his new administration— the impetus to egalitarianism is RELENTLESS.

When will Adventism see gender parity?

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