If Stephen Cahill is right, we learn history in pieces. And the pieces of Adventist history dealing with women’s ordination are proliferating as the committees of the General Conference and the various world divisions begin their appointed studies. At the January meeting of the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee, eight papers were presented and discussed. Angel Rodriguez’s “Toward a Theology of Ordination” is being revised—after much discussion—for presentation again (with the hope of consensus) at the committee’s summer meeting.
The topic has been given its own website by the General Conference’s office of Archives, Research and Statistics. There one can find research papers and other study documents prepared for the special commissions and ad hoc committees that, since 1973, have considered the role of women in the church. Also available are the minutes of the meetings of the various study committees, plus the minutes of General Conference sessions and standing GC committees, where actions taken on ordination are reported. It is exciting to see these documents being openly shared with the church. (Now, if the same openness could also apply to the papers and meetings of the committee, we would be getting somewhere.)
There are other websites, too, on both sides of the issue. Just this week, a new website was launched by a small group of pastors in the North Pacific Union Conference in opposition to women’s ordination (OrdinationTruth).
The unions that voted in support of ordination put significant documents about the topic on their websites and in their printed journals. The North Pacific Union’s current issue, for instance, includes an excellent article by Walla Walla University President John McVay.
The multiple presentations given at the 2012 meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Studies are being gathered into a book. The latest doctoral dissertation by European scholar Jan Barna has been turned into a book available at the ABC.
Can Adventists read themselves into agreeing with each other on this issue? Or, talk themselves into doing so?
Stories might bring them together a lot faster. Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book Redirect, about how we change our minds and behavior, told the New York Times that stories are more powerful than data, because they allow individuals to identify emotionally with ideas and people they might otherwise see as “outsiders.” Once you care about a character, Wilson says, you can find a way to fit them into your identity.
So, perhaps it would be helpful for the General Conference TOSC to consider the stories of the Adventist women pastors already at work, making a difference in specific churches. Chris Oberg, for example, a member of the committee, could talk about her experience pastoring a large university-based congregation.
Galina Stele, wife of the committee chair Artur Stele, could tell the miraculous story of how she became the first woman to study for a Doctor of Ministry degree at Andrews University. The role of then Seminary Dean Gerhard Hasel in finding funding for her studies might surprise some.
The story of the women pastors in China should also be shared. These stories are significant pieces of Adventist history.
Of course, there are also women on the committee who are opposed to ordination, and they should share their personal stories, too, to help people understand their position.
Perhaps the variety of stories would rightly remind the committee of the diversity of people and kinds of stories in the Bible that form the bits and pieces of God’s history. Just as history is learned in bits and pieces, it is also made in bits and pieces.
Then, after the stories, it would be good for the committee to acknowledge that in addition to recommendations on ordination, the committee will also be setting a precedent for how we handle diversity within the community. Is it possible for us to agree to disagree on certain subjects? Can unions make decisions without approval from the General Conference? Unions were created to diversify decision-making in the church. Will they be allowed to fulfill their purpose without interference from above? Can the committee also be an example of openness? With members from every division, pastors, lay members, and administrators, women and men, the committee’s makeup clearly shows intentionality for inclusivity and diversity. Can its process also now model openness? Posting the papers of the committee for all to read would be a great step in that direction and might also help prevent overlap in what the GC committee does and what the Division BRI committees do.
These are some of the additional bits and pieces of Adventist history in the hands of the committee. We hope we are in good hands.
—Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5064