Women’s Ordination, the Axis of Evil, and
Presenter: Larry Kirkpatrick
Two developments: Articles in Ministry magazine in January and March of 2007 place those who oppose women’s ordination as part of the “Axis of Evil.” General Conference President Jan Paulsen was dramatically misquoted concerning women’s ordination in a January newspaper article that continues to circulate. It is time to clear the air.
Opposition to WO Portrayed as Membership in “Axis of Evil”
General Conference Ministerial Director James Cress, in articles published in January and March issues of Ministry magazine, identifies those who oppose women’s ordination as preventing deployment in ministry and as hampering the proclamation of the gospel. In January he wrote,
Like the other evils, preventing deployment in ministry on the basis of gender hampers the proclamation of the gospel and denies the biblical message of the priesthood of all believers.1
But Cress’ assertion is a bald misstatement of fact. No one is preventing deployment to ministry on the basis of gender. This is not the issue and never has been. Women have ministered through the Seventh-day Adventist Church for a long time. Today, many are employed by the church serving in a spiritual capacity. The issue is not service in ministry, but headship. Many conscientious Adventists have resisted the placement of women in headship roles as being inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible and as a scheme only defendable on the basis of compromised principles of Scriptural interpretation. This is a price that Bible believers—and their world church—have been unwilling to pay.
But does this make us members of an “axis of evil”? Was it right for the General Conference Ministerial Director to label those who oppose women’s ordination as representatives of an “axis of evil”? And does this make the majority of the world church that has repeatedly voted in General Conference session against the ordination of women, an “axis of evil”? Cress’ language, rather than helping us pull together, stigmatizes and marginalizes voices that he finds unwelcome.
In the March issue, Cress’ words were looser yet. His article is virtually all supposition and opinion. For example, Cress takes a shot at those who voted contrary to his preferred position at Utrecht, claiming that
While the Seventh-day Adventist Church today does not ordain women to ministry, this decision appears to have been driven far more by ecclesiological policy of all denominational entities remaining unified in practics than by nonnegotiable theological imperatives.2
Thank you, Mr. Cress, for your opinion. Would you like to discuss it with the Episcopal Church USA, which, after it insisted on ordaining practicing homosexual Gene Robinson, is on the verge of being shut out of the 77 million member worldwide communion of the Anglican Church?3 When Gene Robinson was ordained in spite of decisions that that worldwide communion had made, when the worldwide Anglican praxis was broken, the destruction of that communion hastened.
Cress goes on to insist that Jesus, Paul, the New Testament, church practice, apostolic declaration, and biblical affirmation all support his notion that all roles are open to all genders. If you reason otherwise than Cress, he calls it “prejudicial reasoning.”4 Perhaps most telling is Cress’ assertion that in the incident of Jesus’ interview with the woman of Samaria at the well (John 4), Jesus “destroyed” the “man-made” barrier of gender discrimination.
According to Cress, “The Lord called this new convert to proclaim the message of spiritual liberty to the captives.”5 Of course. “In utilizing this woman as the first-recorded public evangelist, Jesus clearly demonstrated that every believer possesses capacity and calling for ministry.”6 Fine. And your point is?
Apparently, this: “She was used by God just as Mary was used as the first preacher of the resurrected Lord. These women ministered, not just in prophetic roles, but in a proclamation. Clearly, God calls and uses women in ministry. The Church should do no less.”7
Cress’ outline proves nothing in favor of his thesis. In fact, nowhere in this entire passage (John 4:1-42), nor anywhere else in the Bible, does Jesus (or Paul, or anyone else) lay hands on a woman to ordain her to a headship role in pastoral ministry. Jesus had many disciples, male and female, but the apostles He did ordain to that male headship role were—surprise—all male.
Cress confuses the general ministry of the believer with the particular leadership roles where the principles of headship do come into play. And, while we are at it, was this woman the first-recorded public evangelist? Or might someone else qualify for that role, like John the Baptist? The Samaritan woman was a precious person and Jesus was interested in her salvation. But Cress is stretching his point a bit far if he intends for us to think that Jesus, while this woman’s things were still in the house of her partner in adultery, was called and ordained by the laying on of hands to the formal role of public evangelist! Paul warned that when it came to leadership, the church should be careful to avoid laying hands on—ordaining—any man quickly to gospel service (1 Timothy 5:22; 3:10). Did Jesus disagree with Paul?
The air of Cress’ article is thick with spin! As, it seems to me, almost universally is the case when it comes to the promotion of the practice of women’s ordination, the evidence presented is far from sufficient to sustain the assertion. Likewise in this case. It is asserted that somehow Jesus’ kindness to this woman means the eradification of Cress’ supposed “gender discrimination.” Then we “axis of evil” sorts in the church become enemies of Jesus.
So. Is it really open season on church employees, let alone laymen and women, who don’t share Cress’ contorted gospel mathematics? Rather, Cress presses his own self-deceptions on us using the moneys of the church to publish material of the sort found in January and March Ministry to demonize his own fellow workers. This is over the top, and it must stop. The General Conference should review this matter and see to it that appropriate changes are made so that ridiculous people at Ministry do not unravel the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
GC President Jan Paulsen Misrepresented on WO
On the evening of January 27, 2007 the The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, published an article titled “Consensus needed on women, Adventist church president says.” In the article, Bettye Wells Miller, author of the piece, represents Jan Paulsen as saying that the world church
Needs to find a way to sign off on it [women’s ordination]. If they don’t, those conferences that want to ordain women will find themselves acting in a rebellious way against the global church. That is not healthy.8
Paulsen is presented as insisting that the world church has never taken a position on women’s ordination, and that in order to prevent a few conferences that are adamantly in favor of ordaining women from rebelling, that the world church must find some way of permitting the ordination of women. She represents him as offering a new position that would stand in exact contrast to the position of the world church.
Upon reading the aforementioned article, I was led to contact Pr. Paulsen in order to confirm the facts of the matter—something others apparently elected not to do.
It turned out that it had been wise to check the facts. Pr. Paulsen, in personal correspondence to me, indicated that the reporter had not electronically recorded the meeting with him, and had apparently chosen the sentences or half sentences that suited her intents and purposes. Paulsen assured me that “I [Paulsen] did not state to her what I have not already stated in public several times. No new element or perspective was brought to this interview.”9
In his letter to me, Pr. Paulsen graciously and patiently answered every question I had asked him. In some cases he answered in detail, making clear that he had been significantly misquoted. In some cases, points were made in the original article that Pr. Paulsen indicated were “wholly incorrect as attributed to me.”10
Pr. Paulsen also forwarded to me a copy of the letter he sent to Betty Wells Miller seeking correction of his remarks. Our General Conference president indicated to me that he considered the matter closed at this point. However, We do not know whether The Press-Enterprise ever published a correction of the matter as requested by Paulsen. Unfortunately, the article keeps showing up, hastily reproduced on the web by Adventists, and now, a portion of the uncorrected article has been reprinted in the Pacific Union Recorder of April 2007 by Edna Maye Gallington.11
Without adding further detail, which I feel is Pr. Paulsen’s prerogative rather than my own, I can say that according to his correspondence with me, Pr. Paulsen was significantly misrepresented by the The Press-Enterprise article. Thus, its persistent circulation, and now republication in part in the latest Recorder, becomes problematic. Since Pr. Paulsen himself has indicated that no new element or perspective was brought to the January 27 interview, we suggest that, except for those preferring to remain deluded concerning this matter, all others hit the reset button. The interview is a sufficiently bent piece of reporting that all would be wiser to treat the matter as if the article had never appeared—and in future check their facts before going into print representing the General Conference President as saying the opposite of what he said.
In the interview Pr. Paulsen was simply stating that the world church had made its decision in these matters, and that those bent on pressing them forward needed to reconcile themselves to that reality. We agree. The world church has visited the question of women’s ordination and decided against it. Let’s move on, resisting the inclination to generate a fantastical and unfair scenario where the president of the church has suddenly taken a new and destructive position. As Paulsen says, “The global church has spoken to it [women’s ordination] and said that it should not be... an accepted ‘signing off’ we must have.”12
Knowing that Pr. Paulsen had been significantly misrepresented, we had ourselves let the matter rest. We refrained from publishing (we had a response to Paulsen’s views, had they been correctly represented in The Press-Enterprise, prepared almost instantly. However, our correspondence with Paulsen indicated that the material published in the newspaper article were was erroneous and that therefore there was not a story). Yes, the misrepresentation circulated quite freely on liberal websites, but they have only a small audience. But seeing the continuing agitation for woman’s ordination by our General Conference Ministerial Director in the pages of Ministry, and then in the Pacific Union Recorder that arrived today, seeing the inaccurate reports of Pr. Paulsen’s words repeated afain and yet again, it was clear that the disavowals that had gone forth from Silver Spring were not having sufficient impact. It is now past time to bring clarification to these matters.
I agree with Pr. Paulsen, our General Conference president: the global church has spoken. The matter is settled. How right he was in stating that some in our midst are having a considerable trouble “signing off” on it—a group that would seem to include our General Conference Ministerial Director down the hallway from him. Recommendations? Realize that it is 2007 and that it is time to move on. Perhaps Cress can lead the way. Perhaps in his next column he can tell us that he himself has signed-off on the issue and that he does not view his conscientious co-workers as part of an “axis of evil.” And when it comes to newspaper reporting, well, don’t believe everything you read. General Conference presidents are sometimes misquoted, even when that doesn’t fit your preferences. GCO
James Cress, “Defeating the spiritual axis of evil,” Ministry, January 2007, p. 30.
________, “Defeating the spiritual axis of evil, part 2” Ministry, March 2007, p. 30.
For an up-to-date look at the currently-in-process crash of ECUSA, take a hard look over at http://www.virtueonline.org/. That denomination is coming apart, and members of that community of faith are looking beyond watch-the-train-wreck Archbishop Rowan Williams to other bishops in Africa holding a more biblical line for guidance and leadership, leaving behind the self-destructive Westerners. Seventh-day Adventists need to watch closely and learn, for similar dynamics are possible in part in our own situation.
James Cress, “Defeating the spiritual axis of evil, part 2” Ministry, March 2007, p. 30.
Bettye Wells Miller, “Consensus needed on women, Adventist church president says,” The Press-Enterprise, January 27, 2007,
http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_B_adventist28.42cd496.html, accessed 2007-01-29 16:00Z). (This original link no longer accessible.)
Personal correspondence, Jan Paulsen to Larry Kirkpatrick, January 30, 2007.
Edna Maye Gallington, “Church must reach consensus on women,” Pacific Union Recorder, p. 15.
Personal correspondence, Jan Paulsen to Larry Kirkpatrick, January 30, 2007.