The Consequences of Female Ordination
A. Loss of Our Historic Hermeneutic
Ever since the creation, God's people have consistently believed in a clear distinction of gender roles based upon God's Word. But in the last century, especially in last couple of generations, progressive theologians have challenged the role distinctions specified in Scripture. Fifty years ago, the vast majority of Seventh-day Adventist professors agreed that it was not Biblical for women to be ordained to gospel ministry.
What has changed, the Bible or our culture? Scripture has not changed, but the culture has changed radically. Those who would conform to the culture find themselves needing to radically re-interpret the word of God. But we have been cautioned that “all who exalt their own opinions above divine revelation, all who would change the plain meaning of Scripture to suit their own convenience, or for the sake of conforming to the world, are taking upon themselves a fearful responsibility.” (GC 268).
B. The Perils of “Ordination Without Regard to Gender”
The call to ordain “without regard to gender” opens the door to transgenderism in the church. The term “gender” has been re-defined and no longer means just the male or female biological sex. It now stands also for subjective, self-defined sexual identity. A man may inhabit a male body with XY chromosomes, but if he identifies as a woman then, according to the latest “civil rights” enthusiasm, he must be treated as a woman. Likewise, a woman who inhabits a female body but subjectively feels like a man, will self-define her gender as male. This is what “gender” has come to mean: not an objective biological fact but a subjective mental feeling. If the church adopts a policy of ordaining “without regard to gender,” it becomes vulnerable to this redefinition of gender concepts.
C. Women's Ordination and Homosexuality
The purported interchangeability of the sexes, which is what the push for women’s ordination is based upon, denigrates the created sex differences between men and women. This blurring of sex roles in the church (compounded by the push of our elites in media, government, the military, big business, the professions, Hollywood, etc. to totally eradicate all gender roles in society) leads to the blurring of sex differences in more basic ways. If men and women are interchangeable, why shouldn't two women get married, or two men? If men and women are interchangeable, what is wrong with a family having two mommies or two daddies, instead of a mother and a father? If men and women are interchangeable, homosexuality seems very trivial indeed.
To accede to the notion that men and women are interchangeable is to lay the philosophical and “worldview” groundwork for the normalization of homosexuality. The bulwark against homosexuality is not the handful of texts that condemn the act of sodomy (which are no more numerous than the texts that specify male leadership in the church), but rather the whole biblical-patriarchal worldview that holds that men and women are created as such, and the differences between them are not to be eradicated.
The tsunami of open homosexual conduct the Western world has witnessed, beginning with the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City and waxing ever bolder with each passing decade, is largely a result of the collapse of patriarchal norms in society and the denial of created sex differences. Interestingly, Ellen White warned long ago that, “I was referred to Romans 1:18-32, as a true description of the world previous to the second appearing of Christ” (CG 440).
The connection between the erosion of biblical patriarchy and the acceptance of homosexual conduct was recently remarked upon in Time magazine:
“For many evangelicals, the marriage debate isn’t really about marriage or families or sex—it is about the Bible itself. And that makes many evangelicals all the more uncompromising. The roots of the conflict are deeply theological. . . .
“And there is another, just as fundamental, obstacle. So far no Christian tradition has been able to embrace the LGBT community without first changing its views about women. The same reasoning that concludes that homosexuality is sin is also behind the traditional evangelical view that husbands are the spiritual leaders of marriages and men are the leaders in churches. . . .
“‘It is not an accident that the women’s-liberation movement preceded the gay-liberation movement,’ [Episcopal Bishop Eugene] Robinson says. ‘Discriminatory attitudes and treatment of LGBT people is rooted in patriarchy, and in order to embrace and affirm gays, evangelicals will have to address their own patriarchy and sexism, not just their condemnation of LGBT people’” (Elizabeth Dias, “A Change of Heart: Inside the evangelical war over gay marriage” Time, Jan. 26, 2015, pp. 47-48.)
The fact that ordination of women leads to the normalization of homosexuality is attested by the history of denominations such as the Episcopalians, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Church of Christ, and the fact that denominations such the Methodists—which long ago accepted women’s ordination to the gospel ministry—now face major internal pressure to embrace homosexual relationships as acceptable for the Christian.
D. Female Ordination Does Not Lead to Church Growth
Nearly all denominations that have ordained women have experienced both the collapse of Biblical authority in their witness to the world and a major loss of membership and relevance to society. Mainline denominations such as the Episcopalians, the United Methodists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the United Church of Christ bear painful testimony to this fact.
A liberal member of the Anglican Synod made a telling acknowledgment:
“I do not want the Church to vote to shrink more, and there is no doubt that the ordination of women has not had the entirely positive effect that was anticipated. It has not led to an increase in the membership or the effectiveness of our church, however good most women priests have been. The decline in numbers and in status and in the respect in which we are held by ordinary citizens who are not active members has become precipitous.”
The liberal branch of Presbyterianism began ordaining women to the ministry in 1956, and by 2001 there were almost as many women as men among PCUSA clergy. But membership has steadily declined throughout that two-generation span of time. In 1968, there were more than 4 million members, and Presbyterians constituted about 2 percent of the U.S. population; today their membership hovers around 2 million, and they compose about 0.6 percent of the U.S. population. Their membership was halved, and their percentage of the population was reduced by more than two-thirds.
The United Methodists began ordaining women to ministry in 1956, and first ordained a female bishop in 1980. Their U.S. membership has declined every year since 1968, from around 11 million (5 percent of the then population) to 7.8 million (2.5 percent of the current population). The Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism, began ordaining female priests in 1974. Their membership has declined from about 3.2 million to about 1.95 million.
If the other denominations provide any clue, ordaining women to the gospel ministry will not help Adventists reach more people. Because the ordination of women requires departure from strict faithfulness to Scripture, churches that have gone that direction have weakened their witness to the world; they have increasingly conformed to the surrounding culture, and reduced their relevance. Generally, they are shrinking in absolute numbers, but even faster as a percentage of the population.
The pattern seen in other denominations is already being seen in the Seventh-day Church. The areas of the world where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is experiencing the most rapid growth are not promoting women’s ordination. By contrast, territories where agitation for this practice is strongest (Germany, the Netherlands, North America, and Australia) have seen comparatively stagnant church growth.
E. Female Clergy a Liberalizing Force
A thoroughly studied phenomenon in secular politics is a “gender gap,” a term describing the fact that women, especially unmarried women, vote more liberal than do men. This raises the question: if we began to ordain women to gospel ministry, would a gender gap emerge in the ministry? Would female ministers be more theologically liberal, no different, or more theologically conservative than their male counterparts?
What research there is indicates that female pastors are more liberal than their male counterparts. Several years ago, a study of clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland produced evidence that women clergy tend to be more theologically liberal than their male colleagues in ministry (http://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/2/3/358/pdf) Based on surveys conducted in 2002, 2006, and 2010, the study found that:
“clergywomen are changing the Church in a clearly more liberal direction. They do it in various areas of church life; they change the perception of faith and dogma, the policies of the Church as well as daily practices in parishes. Clergymen are notably more traditional in their orientation, even young clergymen. Therefore it is especially the female clergy who serve as agents of religious change in the Church.”
The surveys reported by the article note that women clergy tend to read their Bibles less than their male counterparts, are less likely than male ministers to believe in the literal existence of Satan, hell, and the literal return of Jesus to this earth, and are significantly more supportive than male clergy of accepting and formally recognizing homosexual couples within church fellowship.
In all, the data assembled in this article demonstrates that women in ministry tend to be less insistent on doctrinal and moral rectitude and more inclined toward a theologically indifferent, morally ambiguous spirituality than their male ministerial colleagues. The “gender gap,” it turns out, exists in religion as well as in politics.
F. Will the Church Lose Young People Over This Issue?
We are often told that if the church does not adopt “ordination without regard to gender,” it will lose young people who demand female ordination. It is argued that we should accommodate them on this issue so that they will stay in the church. But what happens when those same young people discover that the Bible condemns homosexuality? What happens when they find out that in Scripture there are only two sexes, not 72 genders? Once we start down the road of appeasing young people who have been indoctrinated—brainwashed—by Leftist professors, actors, musicians and cultural icons, we will find that there is no stopping until the church becomes a social gospel country club that abandons the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith.
I would say the shoe is on the other foot: If the church adopts women’s ordination, it will alienate its most earnest, converted, consecrated young people, youths who are committed to Jesus and to the supremacy of sound Bible teaching in the Church. Many Adventist young people have seen contemporary culture up close, understand that it is an abomination, and are grieved to see it infiltrating their church. They long for something better.
The majority of Adventist young people are found outside of the two or three Divisions whose present leadership is so keen on the ordination of women. And even within those two or three Divisions, large numbers of dedicated young people have been drawn to the GYC (Generation of Youth for Christ) movement, which has led thousands of SDA youth and young adults to a deeper commitment to Scripture, the writings of Ellen White, and the Fundamental Beliefs of the Church. Jesus draws us to truth; trendy ideologies lead us into error.
The question is never, “Who will be offended by God’s revealed truth?” but always, “Who will follow Jesus’ revealed truth?” The consecrated of all ages will embrace a truly Biblical answer to the present dilemma.