On Unity, Gender, and Power

This week the Adult Bible Study Guide comments on the first half of Ephesians 4. It focuses on unity as believers in Christ. But what does Christian—and even more specifically denominational—harmony mean? 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/unity-gender-and-power
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The .dynamic of unity/uniformity seems to reveal an inherent flaw in not only Adventism, but Christianity in general, and perhaps the human condition. It’s easy to see the grasp for power as a key driver of uniformity. While power is doubtless involved, I suspect it only explains part of the problem.

Christianity is built on belief, so as Christians we care deeply about the questions of what is important, and we care deeply about our disparate answers. It takes maturity, or a laissez-faire attitude ( I don’t think they same thing, but maybe they are) to tolerate difference. This in encapsulated in our origin story of Eden, when the prototypical husband and wife couldn’t agree over lunch.

I thought unity was achieved in the church of my youth, where opposing voices were heard in friendship. But that may have been a mirage of naivete, because that church imploded years later, after I had moved away. In churches I have attended since, there has either been a veneer of tolerance - by avoiding deep questions, or an expectation to conform. The polarities of secular politics don’t demonstrate any better capacity for humans to agree away from a religious community.

So, while the promise of unity in diversity is so tantalising, and part of what attracts me to Christianity, I suspect it cannot be realised. (But I’ll keep trying!)

I was with you ‘til here.

This sounds too much like doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results….


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Unfortunately the church leadership is leaning authoritarian in its efforts to maintain power and control. With on the one hand an over developed sense of orthodoxy and on the sins of its past and present being exposed it has rejected the principle of present truth on on-going revelation. This has caused no small amount of fearfulness and moral panic as a result the opine for the mythical good old days. This was on display in a the dressing up and beard wearing in a meeting held in the not to distance past. The ever increasing threats of action against those who have followed Gods leading in greater understand of scripture, science and biology. The leadership rhetoric reminds me of the Apple Macintosh 1984 commercial where the voice of the leader calls for conformity to a grand ideology. Never thought the church would go down this road.

Hope is my most essential delusion😁


Did you ever wonder why the gods decided not to release that last evil, hope, from Pandora’s box?

Here’s one response:

Zeus did not wish man, however much he might be tormented by the other evils, to fling away his life, but to go on letting himself be tormented again and again. Therefore he gives Man hope,—in reality it is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of Man.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (1878)

So all I can say is good luck with that….


NRSV, Ephesians 411 He himself granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Good Word/John McVay

(2) The gifts are not spiritual gifts given to people; they are people, gifted people given to the church.

My take: Rather than institutional office, titles or form, it’s function that matters People who offer their expertise and skills are empowered or spirit-filled by the ascended Christ.

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Thanks Bruce, I didn’t know that story. Yet without hope we have no love, no justice, fairness, peace - or unity. All if these are at best imperfectly experienced.

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While the General Conference may be insistent on male headship and therefore exclusive of women from these posts, I am of the view that God has been and will continue to use women in His service, very likely in roles that were perhaps perceived as the domain of men alone.
When the Holy Spirit qualifies someone to work, be they male or female, no one can stand in His way.
I believe it is the Holy Spirit alone who makes women eligible for the pastoral ministry to the same degree as He does with men.
God in His wisdom may have established male headship, but it should not be interpreted to be the exclusion of women. If the Holy Spirit qualifies women, it maybe a case of the GC and others actually fighting against the will and desire God, while ironically using texts to support male headship. It is the Holy Spirit who determines whether women can be ordained as pastors, not necessarily the GC We are well warned against fighting against God. If we do this, God can move us and we will certainly lose!.

Perhaps sometimes God is just a bit too subtle for us. Perhaps too often )or just as limited human beings) our biblical/theological understanding is entrenched in what is explicit. Consequently the conclusion is that anything not explicit must be false. Jesus had the problem when he tried to explain that adultery was not just a physical act but was an attitude, a mindset in thinking towards women. To look at a woman and consider adultery implies that pervading sense of male dominance, domination and female subjugation.
Compare Hebrew adam “man,” from adamah “ground.” and I think we have a stab at the problem. The creation established a clear difference between creator and creation, and prescribed the physical space in which they were to operate. Following the Genesis narrative both beings were created before sin and were therefore equally perfect as examples of the creators best work.
I believe that since the day these ‘groundlings’ got the boot, and could no longer see their creator face to face God has been doing His best (sic) to give humanity a revelation. In fact more often than not God had to remind the people that leadership was not their domain. (Remember that Samuel was brow eaten into letting Israel have a king to ‘be like the other nations’. and this decision was only allowed after God told them the results of their choice to do things differently from the way that had been set out.) Much of the history of God and mankind has been the account of God doing the best of a bad job in spite of and not because of men. God reminded them that men look on the outside but god looks at the heart. And this, I suggest is both the issue and the reality,
When it counts God has often gone to the ladies. The imminent arrival of the Messiah is revealed to Mary before Joseph. I like it that Mary is the only one I can think of who gets to give the saviour of the world a good ‘where-the-heck-have-you-been-we-were-worried-sick!’ telling off! It’s Mary who anoints Jesus before the crucifixion and it is the ladies again who are first witnessed to the resurrection. Pauls counsel is that a man should love his wife as much as he loves his life, and the analogy is used to present the church as a bride. God is not the church, we are the church so we are the bride. God has no issues with women.
Can a woman fully represent God? Well, no. But then neither can man (and we have more biblical evidence for the latter than the former!)
As James Brown repeatedly belts out the explicit truth that ‘This is a mans world’ it’s not praise or adulation its just a recognition and acknowledgement of the imperfect circumstance in which we find ourselves. Fortunately, before we get to testosterone filled, he reminds us ‘but it wouldn’t be nothing, without a woman or a girl!’

What if a person is born male but somehow they don’t have a penis? Maybe they had it removed or it got removed by accident, or they were born deformed. Can they still be ordained?

Better, what if a person with an XX chromosome is actually born with a penis? Can she be ordained? How about if she has one installed by a surgeon? How about then?



There are over 9 million physically documentable people alive today that actually fall somewhere in your listed conditions. I know you were pointing out the absurdity of the situation, which, by the way, I totally agree, but this is where the whole notion of acceptable and unacceptable sexuality is rooted whether it is misogynistic or homophobic or anti-gender affirming. God gave us enough of these individuals which can physically prove they were born this way, and now with computers and communication, we can quantify their existence with the modern tools of extrapolation. Almost all scientific “fact” is based on extrapolation. No one actually demands that every instance of an event or circumstance must be shone to prove a position. We should all be able to see how absurd the hurtful rhetoric has become over ignorance.

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Perhaps we should be reminded that all faiths and services, to a lesser or greater extent, incorporate symbols, analogies and metaphors; whether that be the sacraments of the Passover/Communion/Eucharist (Christ’s theological points were mostly couched in stories). The early books of ‘The Law’, long before political correctness or Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQ+ pride celebrations contain long and detailed lists of acceptable symbols and analogies to make visible those things which are not visible. On face value (sic) its a pretty exhaustive list - no visible deformities, no skin conditions, no illnesses etc. Animal sacrifices too were supposed to be ‘without spot or blemish’ as far as an external assessment could be made. Why all the specifics? It seems that God was trying to find a way to present godly perfection and purity and goodness with only imperfect, impure, ungodly raw material (hence the prayers over everything and everyone even after they or it had been selected).

Can anything less than God truly, accurately and equally ‘stand in the place’ of God to represent God. Well, no, Everything and everyone called into representative service was a symbol of something more perfect. Jesus said don’t call me good, only God is good. Not that Jesus was not ‘good’ (especially in comparison to those around him. But that God, by being the only God, is therefore the only the perfect, dictionary of definition of what ‘good’ means).

Nevertheless, at least symbolically, patriarchs like Abraham, Noah and Moses, could, to some degree, and in there faithful obedience to the revealed will of god, claim 'if you have seen me you have seen the Father. God ‘Himself’ has no problem with using the analogy of a breast feeding mother to represent a particular aspect of godly ‘fullness’. The point is that God is beyond the symbols because even if the mother forgets her sucking child God will not forget His people. god is a better Mum that Mums are. Is God a feminist? Yes, but a better, a perfect one.

So, asking if a person with an XX chromosome and a penis an be ordained is not, I think, the crux of the matter. Paul is also struggling to be all things to all people so that he might win some for Christ (and for this he was imprisoned, stoned and finally executed; it’s not an easy gig). Whether you are a male or female, slave or free, a lamb which which appears from external examination to be without spot or blemish - you’re still only a symbol (not even a logo!) a signal, a milestone, not for who God is but for what God can do. Until we all come to the measure of the fullness of God which is (only) in Christ Jesus.

This an assumption based on hearsay.

There is no evidence that the the supposed distinction between created and creator could happen, much less actually exists.

The way I read the gospel-and many other mystic texts-the good news is the that creator and created are one, just as a man and woman can become “a thing”, even if the essential connection between them is not visible or is “only” spiritual.

To think otherwise and believe humans are somehow different from their creator is like a finger who’s convinced it is fundamentally different from a thumb, or a thumb who believes his existence is independent of the hand.

In this context, the creator mentioned in Genesis can be seen as analogous to the singularity to which Jesus referred when he used the term “I”, as well as the one thing which science tells us somehow existed before the Big Bang. That is, Jesus wasn’t talking about his ego or physical self-nor the conception of pure nothingness which supposedly existed before everything somehow became something-but the all pervasive Self of the Universe, in which the creator participates with his creatures and each enjoys the egalitarian nature of their existential, if transitory, oneness.

(Or something temporary, and temporarily, like that.)


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Surely ‘Hearsay’ presupposes both a speaker and a listener even if it ends up as an elongated game of telephone. Everything begins (scientifically speaking) so pre-existence is a kind of ‘hearsay’ as the truth of it is solely dependent on the clamant - like someone boldly walking to the head of a mile long queue claiming that before the queue even formed ‘I was here first!’
I think the God-as-Creator hypothesis, for me anyway, is not conducted by comparing or harmonising or homogenising a range of ‘mystic texts’ because they all - humanly speaking -begin with someone putting pen to paper. In this sense all texts are equal as products of the human mind trying to make sense of this otherwise transient time on the planet. But I don’t think (sic) its a discussion between fingers, thumbs or any other extension of the body (indeed the scripture mocks those who don’t seek unity by using the analogy of body parts foolishly claiming to have an existence and a purpose outside of the whole body). Instead I would argue (and I understand that it can only be a faith proposition) that what you call a pre-existent nothingness was a pre-existent somethingness; because you cannot get something from nothing and good science states that energy - creative or otherwise- can not be made or destroyed it can only be reformed, stored or transmitted. Unless there exists a ‘somethingness’ that is not limited by scientific equations but was the source or ‘creator’ of those elementary rules of the universe. The potter makes the pot, you an lean about the potter by studying the pot, but he is not the pot. Thew pot, in its perfect state only exists only as it is formed (even if was nominally pre-existent in the bag of powdery clay). The pot can be broken down and reformed into something else but it is not able to do this in and of itself, it is always a product of the creators will. (Imperfect analogy of course).

What I am happy about is, whatever or ‘source’ or ‘beginning’ we are able to freely think, hopefully without condemnation by other thinkers. If there is or is not an ultimate Truth or Creator then that reality is not dependent on us. I suppose its whether that though gives you hope or anxiety is the question…

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From a ‘choose your poison’ approach to belief I can see the attraction of reincarnation ( I like the film 'Groundhog Day). So let US just keep going till WE get it right is an attractive and sensible proposition if that’s how it works.
However I think Pauls solution is less US/WE and more Him.

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