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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From 1865 to 2015, Will It Change?

I finished watching Lincoln this evening. It is a strange film, the president often mumbles and yet has a strong presence, while it appears he was not as honest as history makes him out to be as his people who obtained the votes offered positions in return. One phrase stuck with me, Lincoln’s discussion of Euclid’s first common notion that things which equal the same thing always equal each other. I imagine Lincoln meant that if whites were human and blacks were human, then blacks were equal to whites.

One thing troubled me, however. It took 89 years from the founding of the nation for blacks to receive their freedom. While we could argue that this was in reality a short time for an emerging nation, I immediately thought of women’s rights. If indeed the abolishing of slavery was to happen in a “short” period of time, then women’s rights should naturally have followed right behind. This was not to be the case. It would be another 54 years until women would receive the equal right to vote as the 19th Amendment passed in 1919. 

Taking this thought one step further, I thought of women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church and wondered if it could be viewed in a similar manner. When Biblical culture is translated into principle, how does it apply to our culture? How do we as a world church, proud of our unity yet claiming to embrace diversity, balance the tension between cultural and interpretation of principle? Because that is what it is: interpretation, which itself must be based in cultural context. The culture of Bible times would have been biased too, wouldn’t it? It was, after all, influenced by human behavior and sin. For example, it was acceptable to have multiple wives, especially if you were a king. However, God did lay out specific laws that went against the culture of Bible times. Perhaps the question here is whether we are clamouring for Biblical culture (or absolutes as set in the 10 Commandments and principles as written in Leviticus, Numbers, and the Gospels) or the culture of Bible times to be our guide. 

I wonder if 2015 will see a historical moment for the world church or whether women’s ordination will again be shelved or perhaps even shut down. While I do not have a strong Biblical foundation to uphold my belief that women’s ordination should be allowed, I do believe that the God Who created culture also created equality. Jesus made it His mission on earth to demonstrate this through His interactions with every class of person who was considered “below” the sanctimonious. The prostitutes, the tax collectors, the women, the children, the Gentiles, the blind, the Samaritans, the lepers, the lame and the dumb were those to whom Jesus gave special attention. It was His purpose to show the world that the kingdom of heaven was for ones such as these. Not for those who stayed in the box, self-righteous, self-justifying, and self-confident. His words were for the poor in spirit, the hungry, the persecuted, the humble. His heart yearned to give salvation to those who sought it and even in His last hour He turned, not to the mocking priests, but to a criminal. A criminal who believed. Perhaps then, this is how God will continue to work through His church. To give the blessing of service to those who are ready rather than those who sit in judgment on the very same. 

Women received the right to vote a little less than a hundred years ago but they still struggle under the burden of inequality. They are abused, underpaid, and mistreated. In the workplace they are sexually harassed, in the home they are beaten, and in the church they are relegated to menial tasks deemed worthy for them. They go to the religious leaders and ask for justice but instead are admonished to humbly serve those who abuse them, “for in doing so you may save his soul.” Because their lives are lived for their children, they continue in fear or they leave without a fight, to save not their own but the fragile souls of the little ones they have been entrusted with. 

Someone who sits on the General Conference committee and votes against women’s ordination asked me to listen to his position statement in preparation for the next meeting. I shook my head, saying that I was likely not the best person as I had not studied the matter in depth myself and did not have an informed opinion. He smiled condescendingly and said that was okay. I continued to refuse, saying that my opinion would be emotional and based on logical principles rather than a studied Biblical foundation. He said that was precisely what he was looking for, and that sentence still resounds troublingly in my ear. 

I have a bachelor’s degree in Religious Ministry but I am not a Greek scholar and I do not know how to use a lexicon or commentary or dictionary to research the nuances of various words relating to women’s ordination. I cannot debate with those who opposite women’s ordination because they are well educated, they have strong opinions that they say are based in studied fact, and they have a decided agenda that they will not relinquish. I, on the other hand, see only a Savior. I see One Who stooped to form us out of dust and bone, Who sacrificed His very breath and endured the harshest of separation for us, Who waits longingly for a soon-coming day when we shall all go home, and Who stands, waiting. Asking, Why do you take so long? Perhaps if we could relinquish the battle of self and semantics, we could pick up the dusty tools that served us before and set out, man and woman together, to show the world why it is we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Only in Him. Who created us equal.

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