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A Response to “WANTED! More Female Pastors—Essential to the Harvest,” (Adventist World, February 2013, p. 17).
Some at the North American Division (NAD) have decided that “women in ministry” will be one of six key emphases (See “WANTED! More Female Pastors—Essential for the Harvest,” Adventist World, February 2013, p. 17, also at http://www.nadministerial.org/article/370/for-nad-pastors/pastor-life/women-clergy/why-the-nad-needs-women-pastors/wanted-more-female-pastors-essential-for-the-harvest, accessed 2013-04-18). The major element of “women in ministry,” the article makes clear, actually means women serving as clergy providing leadership in congregations.(1) Since all such women would be ordained as elders, all would be women serving in headship positions. These are positions which the Bible reserves to males (1 Timothy 2:11-14; 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
How can the North American Division make the employment of women clergy, holding headship positions in congregations, a priority, while the world church is continuing to investigate the associated issues in an extensive study involving representatives from the whole world body? What message does it send Seventh-day Adventists around the world when the North American Division announces that it “will move forward independent of the findings and conclusion of the ordination issue”?
If the world church decides that the Bible does not permit women to serve in such positions, does Division leadership think the NAD will just sail on?
The article insists that women are “equally called of God” to minister. We agree that men and women are equally called of God to minister, but ministry in the general sense is not, we think, what is intended in the article. If we read its author correctly, he means that women in ministry are equally called alongside men to serve as headship-giving clergy, who would be ordained just as males are today. With this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a direct vote by the General conference in session, has not yet concurred. Indeed, 1990 and 1995 sessions refused similar initiatives.
The NAD knows that not only in the world field, but even within this Division, most members would not agree with disregarding the decisions of the world church. So, now they inform us that they are engaging in a process of “educating” the church members about why we need women clergy in male roles. If this great need exists, why is it necessary to educate members about it?
What is the North American Division announcing its intention to do? Is this what church members signed-up for? That, when they open the pages of official church publications, they are to anticipate being subject to attempts to persuade them of something which the Seventh-day Adventist Church has never taught, which the world church has never yet approved, and for which no serious straightforward Bible rationale can be advanced, but upon which a determined group within their Division insists on promoting independently of the world church?
Equally troubling is the admission that financial incentives will be offered to Conferences and Unions to employ women in these new roles. Where, pray tell, is this money coming from? Is this tithe? Is the holy tithe, faithfully returned to God, to be used experimentally? Unfaithfully? In a manner it is known full well shall deepen disunity in the church? Is the NAD ready to use the tithe to incentivize the placement of women in positions which the world church is not even clear are biblically-available options for women?(2)
Some of us have spoken with theology departments in Adventist Universities here in North America. We learned that many male graduates of our theology programs are not finding placement in the ministry. Each year there are many such young males, who love the Lord Jesus, who have sacrificed and engaged in the required process of study, who, in the end—in their non-incentivized maleness—are not employed.
No doubt, in some cases there may be reasons of substance beyond the financial why certain of these have not been called by the church to serve as clergy. And yet, we cannot help but wonder what committed, young, male theology students must be thinking when they graduate, not having been “incentivized,” in some cases having acquired a significant debt load, but remaining unhired, only to learn that because of a terrific need for pastoral services, financial incentives will be offered to Conferences to encourage the hiring of female clergy! There is not enough money to hire males but there is extra money to hire females?
This has a bad scent. If more pastors are essential for the harvest—but we are turning away those who are biblically qualified and ready to consecrate their life to such service now, for a lack of available positions—how can NAD justify offering a financial incentive for the hiring of a particular gender? What signal is the Division sending when it indirectly penalizes the hiring of committed young males while incentivizing the hire of females? It is inescapable; to use tithe to incentivize the hiring of female clergy is at the same time to use tithe to disincentivize the hiring of male clergy. This is an ethical question. Is this transparently political behavior on the behalf of this Division really the kind that is “essential for the harvest?”
I believe that many of our members in North America, not to mention around the world field, would like to appeal to this determined group within the North American Division. They would plead with them to educate themselves first about what the Bible and the writings of Ellen White say on these topics—before setting forth to educate the world about the need for women to serve in roles reserved by the Creator for males.
In this time, when families are disintegrating, when unity is especially needed in the world church, some in the North American Division seem to have caught the scent emanating from Columbia Union and Pacific Union Conferences. The NAD plan outlined above represents a failure of leadership within the Division. The direction of leadership needs to change. The mission of the church is precious. The North American Division should not become a re-education camp, and our young men and women who wish to serve Jesus should not be made pawns in a battle of incentive/disincentive.
(1) The article also speaks of some women serving in other roles, such as aspects of administration, which are sufficiently different from congregational leadership that they may not be problematic in terms of headship.
(2) The author does not oppose women serving in appropriate (non-headship) ministry positions for which they could be reimbursed from tithe, but is opposed to bribery via tithe or other incentive for the hire of females.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Pastor Larry Kirkpatrick has served churches in Nevada, Utah, California, and presently in the forest fastness of Northern Idaho. Larry and wife Pamela live with their children Seamus (age 7) and Mikayla (age 6).