What the Women’s Ordination Debate Leaves Behind

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What the Women’s Ordination Debate Leaves Behind

This article is part of a series of perspectives by younger Adventists on the women’s ordination debate. Read other perspectives here.

My wife and I recently stopped by a gelato shop in Hanover, New Hampshire. Besides it being my birthday, we just needed a treat in general. Our days had been full of the inevitable stress and busyness that comes with moving to a new state, starting a new job (my internal medicine residency at Dartmouth), buying a house, and having a baby (due this October!).

We sat together and shared flavors as we enjoyed the sunlight and calm of a New England evening. People were about, of course—many exuding that distinctive blend of privilege, brains, and sophisticated secularism—but I was nevertheless able to overhear snatches of conversation here and there.  One group of guys was sitting around a small outdoor table, talking with unusually intense earnestness. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about at first, but then suddenly I caught the phrase “I don’t judge you and I don’t judge myself.”

That was weird. Was I just primed by a religious upbringing, or was that a spiritual conversation going on? I wasn’t on an Adventist campus anymore, but in one of the most secular regions of the United States. Then I caught more snatches: “having the Spirit,” “the apostle Paul says,” and “the fires of Revelation.”

I didn’t catch any more, but the conversation was as intriguing as it was strikingly unexpected. It put me in a reflective mood about being an Adventist Christian in a place like Dartmouth. Forget about meeting other Adventists—the only Christian I am certain to see each day is my wife!

Part of me was strongly tempted to go join in that conversation of earnest Christian guys as they hashed out some soteriological issue or other. Yes, finding out exactly what they were talking about would have been nice, but I also just appreciated the value of having fellow believers to hang out with.

The Diminishing of Ministry

The very next morning, I noticed a passionate Facebook post linking to an article on women’s ordination, with a long string of contentious comments beneath. I had no time to read or reflect, so I just closed Facebook and headed out the door.

I had seen an increasing number of these women’s ordination articles come up over the past year or so. Sometimes I read a few lines, but usually not. Like most other Adventists, I live and work in an environment where the issues pro/con for women’s ordination seem almost esoteric compared to the everyday challenges of maintaining my own faith and then sharing it with others. And yes, this is true for the Adventist women I’ve talked to as well.

I’m beginning to realize, however, that women’s ordination (or WO as the veteran debaters apparently prefer to abbrev.) is becoming a HUGE issue, and this worries me for one equally huge reason: the more monolithic and all-consuming the church’s focus on women’s ordination to pastoral ministry, the less important all other forms of ministry are becoming by implication. Nobody intends this to be the case, but it seems to be happening all the same.

Like the vast majority of other Adventists (of either gender), I am very unlikely to ever pursue pastoral ministry, yet amid all the Facebook furor over WO, there’s been nary a peep about the myriad forms of ministry pursued by the rest of us. For all the talk about the servant role of pastoring and how it really has nothing to do with rank and authority, I can’t help but feel increasingly unimportant and disposable as the ordination chorus continues to swell.

I hope that our church leaders at the General Conference Session manage to keep the non-ordained in mind as they deliberate in San Antonio. I hope they remember that the greatest need in our church is not for more empowered pastors (whether male or female) but for more empowered laypeople. Changing a church policy to allow women to participate in one specific form of ministry may or may not help, but I highly doubt it’s going to be a game changer, because in the end, the only game changer is Jesus.

I understand that for pastors, administrators, teachers, and other leaders within our church, WO is a big deal, but I have a message for them: it is time to reprioritize the church’s agenda. Sure, keep WO on the table, but can we hear and see more about how we laypeople can just share Jesus better?

To sweeten the request, I’ll throw in this little offer: you don’t even have to ordain us.

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Barry Howe is an internal medicine resident at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.