This article is part of a series of perspectives by younger Adventists on the women’s ordination debate. Read other perspectives here.
There are three reasons why I am an outsider to the women’s ordination (WO) debate. First, as a man, my perspective is distinctly limited. Second, I am not a theologian. Third, I live in a context that makes the WO debate seem pedantic. The last point will be the focus of this blog.
I serve as the country director for an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO); I chair the organization that represents all INGOs in the country where I serve; and I am part of the team that coordinates humanitarian work for that country.
This country is plagued by protracted conflict. Women suffer most. Rape and gender-based violence are all too common, along with acute malnutrition, lack of water, food insecurity, and related problems. Women with extraordinary grit and luck find jobs, but in the workplace the ceiling is steel, not glass. Much can be done to prevent and alleviate the harm, but resources are very limited. Interventions must be carefully designed to help those most in need while simultaneously addressing root issues.
Coming back to WO: The Adventist Church is relatively small, but it does have a distinct message and it does have some resources. The ill treatment of women is one of the biggest problems in the world, and it makes sense to heavily invest in addressing it. However, I question the value of the church’s current level of investment in the WO debate for the following reasons.
First, the number of direct beneficiaries is very small—a minority of the pastors of a small church. Second, by virtue of their employment and most common countries of residence, these women are generally among the most privileged in the world. Third, pastors usually know Jesus, and in major investments a church should target those without this knowledge.
Ronald Reagan and others have argued that making things better for those at the top eventually makes things better for everyone, and I allow that this is likely to hold true with WO. However, we cannot ignore the plain fact that Jesus’ commission to serve the least of our sisters is bottom up, not top down. Yes, female spiritual leaders deserve fair treatment, but we need to spend much, much more time and money helping women who are unemployed, unemployable, unable to feed their families, impoverished, and lacking even the most basic knowledge of Jesus.
I work in a country with millions of physically and spiritually hungry people, millions of women who face incredible inequalities, and as I look at what our church is investing here in this country (near zero in 2014 and 2015 to date), I must admit that the WO discussion seems surreal. I hope that by God’s grace we can refocus our limited resources and advocacy on those who need it most.
Jesus is coming soon, but perhaps not during the current GC Session. His priorities for His church are simple, clear, and focused on helping those most in need. He will require an accounting of the current session and the decisions there made. Where is our focus?
(Photo by Manta Sidhu, New Delhi, India, from FreeImages.com.)