Back in the 1980s, the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was commissioned to undertake a major study of the ordination of women in Scripture and history. The Institute asked me to write a paper on the experience of Australian non-Adventist churches regarding this issue. Entitled “The Ordination of Women in Australia: An ‘enduring problem’ in historical perspective,” the paper was presented to the Institute; it was also adapted for presentation at the tenth joint annual conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Theological Studies and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools (1987).
That experience galvanised my interest in the topic of women’s role within Adventism. Earlier, that interest was nurtured by an MLitt thesis and a chapter for the book edited by Dr Noel Clapham, “Founding Mothers: Women and the Adventist Work in the South Pacific Division,” published as Seventh-day Adventists in the South Pacific Division (Signs, 1985). The thesis, presented to the University of New England in 1984, interpreted Ellen White’s concepts of women and their role in the church while she ministered in Australia and New Zealand, 1891-1900; the chapter was re-published in Adventist Heritage: A Journal of Adventist History (1986). Aspects of my research were also summarized as “The Ordination of Deaconesses,” Adventist Review, 16 January 1986; “Adventists and the Ordination of Women” Record, 29 October 1988; and “The Adventist Pastor and the Ordination of Women,” Ministry, April 1989. An earlier blog on this website (posted November 4) indicates that my interest in this topic was alive and well when I presented a short history of the subject in 2010. Sometime I must write a blog about the experience of Women in Ministry, Incorporated, the volunteer entity that for almost a decade raised funds to help create a more level playing field for women with demonstrated spiritual gifts.
The two paragraphs above indicate why I am excited with “The vote by the NAD [North American Division] to allow commissioned ministers to become conference presidents.” While that may be only a small step forward, in the context of Adventist history over the past three decades, it is significant.
I began thinking about the content of this blog when I read Bonnie Dwyer’s 16 November 2011 letter to the Spectrum community, sharing her “Top Ten Reasons for Gratitude in Adventism in 2011.” Bonnie is one of the most literate, articulate and dedicated women in the Adventist church. Here, verbatim, is her list.
10. Vision of President Ted N.C. Wilson to evangelize the cities utilizing a comprehensive approach
9. Increased enrolment at Adventist colleges in North America
8. Success of Adventist hospitals in giving us an identity based in healing and health
7. Adventist employees who daily continue to do their best to make a difference
6. Sabbath School
5. The hope and en joy expressed in Adventist worship music
4. Advocacy of Adventist Peace Fellowship for the traditional non-combatant position of SDAs in time of war
3. Work by the Adventist Alumni Foundation to improve Adventist education
2. The vote by the NAD to allow commissioned ministers to become conference presidents
And my number one reason for gratitude and hope:
1.You. As a member of the Adventist Forum you have kept alive the mission of community through conversation and independent journalism that Spectrum pursues on a daily basis.
Ten cogent reasons that impel us to break forth in thanksgiving! We could, of course, fruitfully explore each one of them, in depth. Oh yes, I admit the progress in understanding and implementing women’s roles in the church has been slow, in view of the obvious fact that when God pours out spiritual gifts upon His people, they are not gender specific. We have been hesitant to recognise many of the valuable insights that research has unearthed in recent decades. But the trend lines are unmistakable.
I don’t want to reduce Bonnie Dwyer’s list, but I do want to extend it. The editors of the Ellen White Project have asked me to read the completed manuscript, on the assumption that another pair of eyes (or two of the same) may spot a historical problem here or there. I began reading this morning. Already I have a dilemma. The manuscript is scintillating to the point I don’t know how I’ll be able to sleep until I finish it.
Just an eleventh reason to rejoice.
Arthur Patrick, 24 November 2012