I am writing this letter today not because I pretend to offer the solutions to the crisis that faces our church over women’s ordination, but because I am tired of trying to avoid such a vital conversation. Surprisingly, despite my tendency to dive into controversial topics, I chose for a while to stay out of this one. Why? Probably because I had too much invested in it. I knew too many people on both sides of the issue. In short, I was scared. Scared to make a fuss and lose respect from people I love. Scared to change my opinion of a church and a people I love and believe in. Most of all, scared to let myself feel all of the fear, frustration, and hurt that I would inevitably encounter if I honestly pursued the topic.
Yet, no matter how hard I have tried to ignore it, the debate remains like my own dark shadow. Unable to flee it, I finally decided it was time I face it. I do desperately want to find a peaceful resolution, but I cannot say that I always feel peace within my heart regarding this issue! The disharmony I feel is deep seeded and complex because this issue not only affects countless people’s lives, but it has profound implications for people’s callings, ministries, and the overall effectiveness of the Gospel message at large.
I myself am pursuing a degree and career in ministry, as I have felt God putting this call on my heart, and confirming it throughout my life, sometimes even from opponents of women’s ordination. This is my church. I am not a Seventh-day Adventist Christian simply because I was born into the church, although that is certainly how my SDA identity began. I am a Seventh-day Adventist Christian because I support the 28 Fundamental Beliefs that are outlined in God’s Word. I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I am convicted of the spiritual truths that we faithfully advocate in our own congregations and to the world.
The more I study the topic of women’s ordination, the more convicted I am that God, through Scripture and Ellen White, has instituted women as equal, vital, and authoritative partners in His gospel ministry!
The issue is currently being defined by two opposing camps. If someone believes in women’s ordination, then they must be in favor of a fight, of disunity, and of rebellion. Conversely, if they believe in unity, they must be making a subtle but clear stance against women in ministry.
As a woman who has chosen to accept a call to a life of ministry, I am raising my voice to say that this dichotomy is not only unfair, but it is wrong. Plain and simple.
I cannot and will not pretend to speak for all women in ministry, but I speak on behalf of my own journey and the journey of some of my fellow women in ministry. Personally, I am 100% committed to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to its truth, to its people, to its mission. Sometimes it lets me down, and even hurts me, but I am committed all the same. I am also committed to the life calling that God has given me and to honoring and encouraging the calling that He has given to many other women like me.
I can assure you that none of us entered ministry for the glory! We entered the ministry, not for the title or the power, but for the opportunity to serve God with our whole life. Many of us have resolved to answer this calling with or without an “ordination” title. So why is it that we continue to fight for it? Because without it we hinder our ministry from reaching its full capacity. The more our church allows the gender division to exist, the more a culture of disrespect and subordination grows among our members. And as this grows, it hinders our mission and, simultaneously, hinders the mission of our church.
I can’t help but feel that I am being asked to make a choice that is impossible to make. If I give up my calling, I give up the essence of who I am. I turn from God’s guidance, and I choose to follow the decision of men over the decision of God…an impossible and horrendous decision. But if I leave this church, I also leave who I am. I again turn my back on God’s clear guidance.
Sure, women pastors could leave the church. They could become ordained in a congregation that values their ministry and treats them as equals to their male counterparts. But that would beg the question of their entire calling. Ministry is never about self-acclaim and power, but about a God-given calling, a Spirit-led life, and a selflessness that accepts all of the consequences, even belittlement and subordination by those who don’t believe in what they stand for. It’s about giving your life up in relationship to your Savior, because you are convicted of Scriptural truths and are committed to the church that supports those truths.
So, please do me a favor: stop being surprised when a female pastor advocates for unity! We committed our lives to this church! We knew what we were coming into. We knew we were not going to receive full equality and respect, but we came in anyway. We came because we were called, just like our male coworkers. We came to serve, without the assurance that we would ever be accepted for the calling. We came when people challenged us and made us feel “sinful” for choosing to commit our lives to the Gospel work. We came when we knew that admitting our career path would invite dirty looks, judgment, and shame. And despite the ridicule, the tension, the judgment, and the disrespect, we are still here.
That being said, do me another favor: don’t be surprised that we advocate for women’s ordination. This is not a selfish desire, but a selfless one. We are asking that you throw us deeper into ministry, that you give us more responsibility. Sure, we are also asking for respect, for love, and for equality, but in hopes that this will not simply benefit us, but that it will benefit our entire community and will multiply God’s efforts and kingdom. We fight for ordination because it sends a message of unity and equality that is consistent with God’s own unity and equality and with His plan for a perfectly harmonious humanity. We fight for ordination because we believe in God’s world-wide mission and we want to remove the barriers standing in its way.
For now, I will make four simple appeals to my church, and specifically to its leaders:
1. Please stop demonizing women pastors.
Whether you agree with women’s ordination or not, consider the way you talk about women in ministry. Additionally, consider the way you talk about unity. The second you pit the two against each other, you equate women as the enemies of the church. In essence, both advocates and opponents have placed a target on women pastors’ backs, portraying their ministry as the source of this church’s problems. So please, stop unintentionally presenting your women pastors as the reason for the church to split. We never asked for a broken church, we entered into one, hoping to help heal it.
2. If you want to support women in ministry prove it more in your daily actions than in your public displays.
Instead of focusing your support on public speeches and presentations, strive to let your advocacy ooze out of your daily interactions with your congregants. Support your women in ministry by confronting others’ disrespect of them, by giving your female pastors an equal voice in church decisions, and by avoiding gender stereotypes that diminish women. Treat us as equals in your daily life, so you create a culture of equality in the church at large.
3. Create a culture of advocacy not of war.
Teach your church that their women pastors are not the villains of the Seventh-day Adventist Church but the supporters of it. Create an ethic of respect and dialogue. Use your daily acts of equality to create a culture of advocacy and support, not of war! When possible, instead of seeking ways to defy opposition, find ways to peacefully but powerfully depict advocacy. Help inspire a new ideology, where equality and unity are held as equally important and necessary values.
4. Journey with us.
Don’t expect us or ask us to give up our church or our calling. Help us wade through the madness that threatens them both. Pray for us, listen to us, believe in us, defend us, and minister alongside of us! Don’t just support us with your vote, support us with your life.
There is a long way to go in this journey, and much that could be criticized. Instead, I choose to end with gratitude. Despite the tensions we face, many have chosen respect, peace, and love. To you, I simply say Thank you! Thank you to those of you who are willing to listen to the other side of the debate even when you disagree with their conclusions. Thank you to those of you who live a life of advocacy that uplifts, supports, and respects women pastors as equals to their male coworkers. Thank you to those of you who pray for this church every day, as we journey through a dark and trying time. Thank you to everyone who is willing to surrender all for the cause of Christ. Thank you, women pastors who have selflessly given yourself to ministry, despite the disrespect you have faced.
To each of you who has chosen to believe in God’s plan for women and for this Church, thank you for not giving up!
Haley Gray is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist with a Masters in Divinity.
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