I am a christian, in particular I belong to a denomination known as Seventh-Day Adventists or SDA for short. I am also married to a pastor. I am a black man. Great. My biases are out of the way.
Within the Seventh-Day Adventist church there is a massive debate regarding the ordination of women to Pastoral Ministry that at times verges on the brink of a civil war. For those that may read this and are not SDA, for a matter of clarity I need to briefly explain the basic global structure of this denomination. At the highest level is the General Conference (GC), who are supposed to govern general working policies, and fundamental beliefs. Beneath the GC are Divisions, which govern territories as defined by the General Conference and who make sure that the Unions, which are the level below them, are working in harmony with the GC’s working policy. Now to complicate matters, Unions have their own charters and bye laws thus giving them a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy, so as to act as a buffer and prevent a top down leadership style.
In 2015 the General Conference of SDA voted not to allow Division’s of the SDA Church to ordain women, which would have been to grant to them a power that they did not have before, as ordination was a responsibility that was carried out at Union level. Confused? You are not alone, as since the fated vote in 2015 many Seventh Day Adventist believers are mistakenly under the impression that the vote was about the ordination of women to pastoral ministry in its entirety.
As mentioned before, the SDA church to all intents and purposes is bubbling along nicely to what would amount as a civil war. The pro and anti women’s ordination camps have drawn the lines, and sadly they are both showing a scary and insidious nature of bigotry that runs throughout the denomination I have belonged to for many a year now.
The anti ordination group, well its quite apparent that they are seeking to dress up their misogyny in religious beliefs and theological understanding. There is no hiding their contempt for gender equality, and where one form of discrimination is found, there is usually at least another one or two lurking around for good measure. For a large portion of the anti women’s ordination brigade comes the claim that the church is following a worldly agenda regarding gender equality, whilst ignoring the objectification, devaluation, abuse, and trade in women. In truth a vote for the equality of genders is rather in opposition to how women are treated globally.
But these are not the people I am concerned about, as I said, their bigotry is clear and apparent, instead my fear and concerns are born out of the group that I belong to; those in favour of the ordination of women and gender equality.
In the debates I have seen, heard and participated in since the 2015 San Antonio vote by the GC, I have heard it claimed that the unions and divisions that are in the southern hemisphere are holding back gender equality. I have heard these aforementioned territories described as ‘third world’. I have heard them generalised and labelled as sexist, bigoted, and ignorant, so what territories are being referenced and why is it a problem.
Well lets look at the continents that are widely regarded as lying in the southern hemisphere; South America, Africa, part of Asia and Australasia. Yet only one of these is not regarded as a ‘third world’, any cares to guess which one? Yes. The one with white people. (For clarity’s sake I use the term ‘third world’ as a quote, more enlightened people now say ‘developing’). So now lets re-examine what people are actually saying in light of the fact that they have now clarified what they mean by blaming it on third world countries: “People of colour are holding back the ordination of women. They are ignorant, sexist, and have no respect for women”.
Whoa! Hold up, they couldn’t possibly have meant that.
Well my northern hemisphere brothers and sisters, if sexism exists within the Seventh Day Adventist church, why can other forms of discrimination not exist. In fact, let us consider in North America that black and white regional conference’s exist. Lets not forget that the birth of these conferences began in the 1940’s and recognise that there are a great many people still living that can remember the birth of these conferences. However please don’t feel that this discrimination is something peculiar to the USA, in Europe, I can tell you from personal experience, that twenty years ago I was met at the church door with the welcome “Your church is down the road.” I can hear the protests now; the objections that that was a long time ago, or that we have come so far, but when you can find a Facebook group titled ‘Adventists for Trump’, is it really that long ago? Have we really come so far?
Northern hemispheric society does not value black lives, that is why #blacklivesmatter. (And for those of you reading this that still say #alllivesmatter I hope the irony of claiming this whilst not fighting for all ordinations, both male and female, is not lost on you). And despite what a number of people in the pro women’s ordination camp may try to claim, it does not value female life either. Donald Trump, from his own words is a sexual predator, and is demeaning to women, yet he is not sufficiently repugnant enough not to be considered for president of the USA. On the 12th of October 2016 a new hashtag began to trend on twitter #Repealthe19th. The 19th in question here is the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution that gave women the right to vote. Women are trafficked for sex work, with large numbers being kidnapped from the Southern Hemisphere, and guess where they end up my Northern Hemisphere brothers and sisters? Yes, right here in the Northern Hemisphere; right where the demand is.
In the USA, the NNEDV reports that every day three women are killed as a result of domestic violence, and in Europe the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reported in 2014 that one in three women have reported some form of sexual abuse since the age 15.
And what of Ted Wilson, the president of the General Conference? Was he born in the southern hemisphere? It seems to me that he is very much a white, northern hemisphere, heterosexual male with all the privileges that accompany that. Nor is he isolated in this regard; Doug Batchelor.
It seems to me that there is a whole oak tree that the Northern Hemisphere needs to remove from its proverbial eye, before it starts to examine the splinter in others.
I think it is clear to see that the oppression of women is not one that is solely limited to the southern hemisphere, but it is also clear that sexism is not the only form of prejudice living within the SDA church. Whether overt or whether it is intentional or not, racism also exists, so I am calling to my fellow supporters of women’s ordination, to examine yourselves, and ask where you can do better. I sincerely believe that the fight for the ordination of women, or the equality of race cannot be fought in isolation, for where we develop spaces for one prejudice to exist, another will become its room mate. We cannot win the fight for equality for one group whilst ignoring the inequity for another. The fight for justice must be fought on all fronts, not just some.
“Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.” Amos 5:22-24