“The Vote”: What Would Mary Say?

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. . . because we know she wouldn’t be allowed to vote.

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From private, locked-away meetings to wide-open social media forums, the 7th day Adventist Church has wrung out this frothy debate over many years. Two “NO” votes predated this last one, but this vote was different. I’ve been a member for four decades and have never seen the church polarize to the degree it has over this last vote. On one extreme, “WO” has become a social justice litmus test and a must-have mark of our Christianity; on the other, it’s the Omega of apostasy, a dangerous lurch toward irreverent interpretation methods and moral chaos. Reports say that millions of dollars have been spent on carting high-level officials, thinkers, and scholars to meetings where they would present papers, review history, and discuss, discuss, discuss.

If women get nothing else out of this, it should be a compliment that we matter. But for some, the “no” crushed their spirits with a message that left them feeling devalued and discouraged. I empathize. I’ve never aspired to be an ordained pastor, but I’ve been left out many an inner circle of men. Experience has taught me that the exclusion and undervaluing of women are much more essentially about human nature than they are about church policy. I believe that even if the exclusion of women from pastoral ordination is biblically correct, our attachment to it has, to a degree, been fueled by plain old, garden-variety male chauvinism. “Male privilege” has been well-documented in scientific literature, well-validated in personal experience, and even predicted in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you.” As James Brown sang, “It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world.”

As I’ve followed this debate, I’ve come to a point of tension: I fear gender neutrality as the gateway to gender confusion and, ultimately, moral anarchy. For this reason, I affirm gender differences and male headship in the family. At the same time, I realize that the demon of chauvinism has crept into the sanctuary under the cloak of these very things.

I have no trouble admitting that women are weaker in many respects. We are weaker physically, and arguably that has led to us being weaker socially, financially, and politically (1 Peter 3:7). Our uteruses keep us, collectively speaking, tending to children versus building empires. This “weakness” has put us in an unenviable position in a world where “dominion becomes the prize of the strongest.” DOA 436. The carnal heart devalues and exploits what is weak, leading to the global denigration and oppression of women.

I wish I could say this strong-dominates-the-weak boot never crushes anyone on church soil, but Jesus calls today’s church Laodicea and charges it with covert carnality. Fleshly motives are alive and well among us, however righteously they may be dressed. In our condition, why would Laodicea not exploit the little guy—or girl?

Jesus bluntly stated that “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” but then quickly inserted that “you are not to be like that,” Luke 22:25-26, NIV. Servant leadership lifts up what is weak, bestowing “more abundant honor” upon the “weaker members,” 1 Cor. 12:23. Whether or not we conclude that this honor entails ordaining women to pastoral leadership, we can all agree that it does entail valuing women, paying women, including women, and that it does not entail leaving women out of paid ministry positions and creating an “ol’ boy’s club” in church leadership as we have done over the last century. C’mon, let’s just admit that we haven’t conquered chauvinism, and that we need more of Jesus.

But—and I’m talking to my sisters now—don’t hold your breath. Instead breathe a prayer, and follow the example of Mary Magdalene, who showed us a better, braver way. Think about it: Not only was she female, but a recovering prostitute. Apparently Mary relapsed six times before she finally stayed clean. I think I know what triggered her—could it have been the ol’ boy’s club? The inner circle that Jesus had hand picked, but that still evinced all kinds of fleshly superiority including male privilege attitudes to the point of offending this little one, a brand plucked from the fire, a lost sheep on her way back to the fold? I can imagine how over and over again they belittled her, and how over and over again she felt the crushing sense of shame and devaluing, synapses screaming memories of sexual abuse at the hands of privileged male clergy. And I can imagine how over and over again Jesus sought her out with I’m not like them. Mary, follow me. Don’t look at them. They’re wrong. I love you. That’s how I see her story anyway, because I’ve experienced and witnessed it many times over.

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I’ve never been paid by the church, but God has paid me. Here I am singing at about 25 years old.

Mary finally got it. The last devil—the one that whispers, “If they shame you, you’re shameful!”—came flying out when Mary finally renounced her (understandable) desire for human affirmation, rapturously crashing to her signature position at Jesus’ feet. In that instant, she was delivered of her demons. Psychologically speaking, her rattled brainwaves stabilized and her tender emotions began to re-emerge like so many tiny crocuses in spring.

How to thank Him? She had a good stash of money, but Moses said the hire of a prostitute could not be used as an offering (Deut. 23:18). Thankfully, creative Genius sent His Spirit, who coalesced with this God-follower until they birthed a beautiful idea. She would buy ointment for Jesus’ burial. Thirty thousand dollars later she held her famous alabaster box close to her tender, thumping heart.

I doubt that Simon invited Mary to his party. He considered her his victim, not his equal. Still, she crept in unnoticed, spotted her Messiah, broke her box, drenched His body, cried a river, washed His feet, and worshipped. Planning to then disappear unnoticed, she suddenly realized: I forgot the power of this fragrance (a week later the masses would worship Jesus as king because they smelled the still-exuding spikenard, a fragrance associated with royalty). The disciples smelled the money, and, taking in the embarrassing scene, issued their disapproval, Judas’ scorn swelling the loudest. Simon sat back, arrogant and smug, wondering why Jesus indulged such weakness.

Flustered and afraid, Mary waited for Jesus to join the chorus of shame. Instead, He surprised her again with what a different kind of man He was. His voice rang out over the cacophony, confident and clear: “Leave her alone.” Oh, that each victim of abuse and corresponding shaming could hear those three simple words. Jesus says, “Leave her alone.” If you don’t, you will one day meet the eyes of infinite, holy, righteous Servant leadership. Then you will wish you had left her alone.

Like a schoolteacher shushing the class smarty-pants so the shy genius can shine, Jesus diverted His attention from the disciples to Mary. “She has done a beautiful thing to Me . . . Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her,” Mark 14:6, 9.

Never has such an unqualified compliment come from the lips of God to the ears of humankind. Without fear of evoking pride, He anointed with praise the one who anointed Him with perfume. The honor shown her nipped at the egos of the ever-striving disciples until they bled envy. Judas immediately left to feverishly pursue his betrayal plot.

This story speaks powerfully to the issue at hand: Jesus’ words to Mary exhilarate all of us (male or female!) who have poured out our spikenard without recognition. God allows for systems, even establishes them. But humanity taints those systems. Undeterred, God finds a way around the systems, breathing inspiration into the worshipping, willing marginalized. We’re human and will long for “at-a-girl”s from our brothers. But it’s an unreliable supply line. Let’s not imply by our despair that the frail, fitful tributary of human support keeps us alive. What sustains us is the roaring river of God’s faith in us, which, in one powerful surge, can exalt the humble and humble the proud. “He shall purify the sons of Levi,” Mal. 3:3. He said He would. Leave them with Him for now. Fix your eyes on Jesus, who has fixed His eyes, and His extravagant hopes for womankind, on you.

And then tell me what he’s done for you lately.

22 thoughts on ““The Vote”: What Would Mary Say?

  1. Michael Bender

    This is an incredibly lovely and well thought out comment. Thank you for expanding on this issue.
    I should have anticipated you would have kind words of wisdom to share with us.

    Coming from a congregation that already has a woman pastor, it is difficult for me to comprehend the aversion. After being somewhat out of the church for a long period, we came to the church she was pastoring and received just the right “motherly, nurturing” approach to the gospel that we needed. Now, ten years later we are fully involved in the church and pathfinders because she saw our needs and helped heal our spiritual wounds.

    I may be misinformed, but I was made to believe the vote was not so lopsided as it has been in the past. And I still have not seen the tally for the North American votes.

    We must remember that Adventists outside the US now outnumber those inside. Many of those congregations are filled with Adventist Christians who grew up in societies far more patriarchal than us in the USA so change for them will be slower in coming.

    For now, please rest assured we are all equal in the eyes of God.

  2. David leone

    Hey Jennifer,

    Please watch this video me and my wife did about WO all the way unto the end (you have to watch the whole thing for the last 10 minutes to make sense). Even if you do not agree with it, please give me your feedback after you have watched it all the way through.

    Thank you. Your brother in Christ,
    David

  3. David leone

    Hey Jennifer,

    Please watch this video me and my wife did about WO all the way unto the end (you have to watch the whole thing for the last 10 minutes to make sense). Even if you do not agree with it, please give me your feedback after you have watched it all the way through.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5N9fnQ5gHew

    Thank you. Your brother in Christ,
    David

  4. Ava

    The Lord wants living members in His church, men and women who will encourage one another in faithful service.—Letter 172, 1908, p. 5. (To the Officers of the General Conference, May 26, 1908.)

    “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop,[a] he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,[b] but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous,….” I Tim 3: 1, 2, 3, …
    Jesus audience was men. Would not Jesus say to an audience made of women: … the wife of one husband?
    Is not ordination a prayer for blessing upon the one being ordained? Is God blessing men only? ! If we are in the business of enlarging God’s Kingdom the more blessed workers the better!
    I am still of the same opinion… ordained or not God’s worker will continue!

  5. judy thompson

    Such Extravagance

    if only He knew the kind of woman she was
    if He had a clue of the kind of things she does

    what smells so sweet? What smells so rare?
    she wipes His feet with her raven hair

    it silently pervades the room
    the sweet aroma of perfume

    it’s screaming loudly thru the air
    What’s Happening in here? What’s Happening in here?

    such extravagance. is there evidence
    it’s worth the price–the sacrifice she made?

    such extravagance. such a great expense.
    LOVE paid the price. The sacrifice was made.

    such extravagance. is there evidence
    it’s worth the price–the sacrifice He made?

    such extravagance. such a great expense.
    LOVE paid the price. The sacrifice was made.

    if only we knew the kind of man He was
    if we had a clue of the kind of kind things He does

  6. Kendall Chaffee

    I too am disturbed by the GC vote on the ordination of women. However, I believe that no one will be saved by the SDA Church but rather by the blood of Christ. And unfortunately there is a difference between religion and spirituality, though they should be one in the same this is a striking example of the difference. Our founder, EG White was an ordained minister in this church yet we can’t allow women to be ordained? A stark contradiction to our history and a clear hypocritical stance. Who cares if it is a man or woman that ministers? All have gifts, not just men, but all and if the church is interested in everyone finding his/her gifts then ordaining women is a necessary, there is no option. The GC has now created a rift in the ranks and is bound to feel it’s backlash. Lord have mercy on us.

  7. Tom

    JJ,

    I have always felt men and women have an equal opportunity to serve, and where the difference lies is in the recognition and financial reward that comes with ordination. I have also known many men who wanted to “follow the Lord fully” into professional ministry who have been denied the opportunity. Only the Lord knows “what could have been.”

    I value your musical abilities, your spiritual insights, and your “free” ministry to those who are confused, baffled and thwarted. keep up the good work!

    P.S. As a compulsive proofreader I just wanted to note that the quote in
    The 6th paragraph should be Luke…

  8. Blaine Fults

    Jennifer Jill,
    That was beautiful!
    At-a-girl!
    I’m sure Jesus is proud of you!
    Ephesians 4:11-16

  9. Carolina Champion

    Good morning!
    Im sure you probably don’t remember me. I met with you during WI camp meeting. I have narcolepsy and cancer. A mother of 3 beautiful blessings, who’s dream was to be a Christian counselor but the Narcolepsy prevented me to continue my studies. Just wanted to praise the Lord greatly. Had a biopsy 2 weeks ago to see if the current treatment was working for my cancer. My results? There were no atypical cells found. Nor were there any cancer cells found. Amazing! God is amazing! I was told not to expect anything since we still needed to continue treatment for another 3 months before we would see a possible change. Plus we chose the more “natural” method which our doctor said less than 5% see any results…

    I think nomatter what obstacles arise or burdens and sorrows fall on our path…we need to cling to Jesus and Him only…how beautiful is our God!

  10. Nancy McCutchen

    That is just beautiful. I love the story of Mary and the love Jesus showed her. What a story of love. Jesus always was pointing out the formality and Lordship of the leadership of His day, but His way was to serve. His love and humility in leadership was without pomp and circumstance. He did not need fancy cloths or garments or approval of those rulers. The way he showed His love for Mary is the way He loves us all and your story brings me to tears. I know Jesus truly loves me, and He lifts up the weak.

    We women should, however, celebrate our uterus, for there is no higher calling in life than motherhood. Though many do not treat it as such.
    I just want Him to use me as is His desire. I feel all women should listen to their calling and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  11. Barry Gowland

    Excellent! While I do have questions about identifying the “woman who was a sinner” with Mary Magdalene(and I am not alone in this), the overall thrust is well-aimed.

  12. Sam Harboldt

    Dear Jennifer,

    New and refreshing outlooks consistently typify your writings, and this one on GC and WO exceeds all I’ve read. It was a relief to me that differences of opinion did not result in a church-embarrassing split for the popular media to enjoy ( so far as a I know ). If the philosophy of popular society is the underlying driving force for change regarding homosexuality and women’s ordination it seems to me very unfortunate. These societal issues could be like satanic camel’s noses in the tent of the church.

    On the other hand, I think it’s Paul who wrote…. “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female”…. We know that obligatory circumcision was abandoned by the Jerusalem Council. No one has convinced me that there could not have been cultural overtones coming through in the writing of the church fathers regarding women talking in church, or “not having authority OVER (maybe that simply means MORE THAN, which is not the same as EQUAL TO) a man”. Not being female, (and hopefully because I’m not too seriously dosed with chauvinism), I may be oblivious to the feelings of women who feel excluded. Whatever God wants is all that matters (and to me that’s not absolutely clear), but personally I have no aversion to women being ordained as pastors, and I certainly believe in equal pay for work done. I did notice that you chose to write… “even if the exclusion of women from pastoral ordination is biblically correct”…, which I would interpret to allow for the possibility that it might be incorrect.

    In Eden the prohibition against eating the fruit of one tree (literal or allegorical fruit I can’t say, but it was at least spiritually speaking a devilish concoction of knowledge of good and evil) seemed such a trite rule, and yet it was enough to break the trust relationship with God. Incidentally, I have a friend, a good fellow but to my thinking with a flabby argument that says that since Eve was the one deceived she (and her daughters throughout time) wasn’t fit for the highest (whatever that is) levels of spiritual leadership. My intuitive response to that is that I’ve seen many more stupid and evil men than similar women.

    However, it would be unfortunate if in a quest to achieve more than gender equality something God may mean to have enduring symbolic importance is slighted. It occurs to me that e.g. in the OT sacrifices the Passover lamb had to be a male lamb or goat. Also, there was the redemption sacrifices required for males, animal and human. This I understand to point to Christ, as sacrifice and now as priest.

    At times one could wish for more explicit instructions from Scripture, but then our twisted natures would likely find new angles for doubt, superstition, and legalism.

    Your reflections on Mary are so good. She never failed Jesus, but the men surely did. I have no answers, but enjoy profitable thought. Thanks for being the catalyst.

    Best,

    Sam Harboldt

  13. Mary-Alice White

    Hey Jennifer,

    What a beautifully written commentary. I believe the Lord has already given women the “at-a-girl.” As Dwight Nelson brought out in one of his sermons, Psalm 68:11 says: “The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host…” (NASB). The Hebrew for “good tidings” is the same Hebrew word in Isaiah 61:1 (translated good news) that Jesus quoted from when He stood up to read in the synagogue of Nazareth. In Luke 4:18, the Greek word is translated gospel. Is it not time for godly women of our age (as well as men) to fulfill our calling to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. Let’s do what the Lord has commanded!

  14. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Tom, thanks for the edit! All fixed. And Blaine, you’re so funny. At-a-boy right back at ya.

  15. nancy foote

    I so love the story of Mary. Relate to her demons and distrust of mankind. So even in the less-than perfect world we live in, I still take courage because where sin abounds grace does much more abound. Darkness has no chance in the light.

  16. Barry Kimbrough

    I really like the new format, readable and clear, and the pictures. As for the content, I appreciated your humble sensitivity to Scripture, and your eloquent presentation of the high place of women in the heart and ministry of Jesus. You write with a spirituality that is refreshing. I have studied the women’s ordination issue in depth and I hold a personal view, but I have often felt that if Jesus were here today he would make both sides uncomfortable by laying bare ungodly attitudes that can creep in.

  17. Clyde Thomas

    Hi Jennifer,

    I continue to appreciate your ministry to God and His children. You have blessed me many times.

    On this subject of your article, how can I reply — I would be considered being one of the “good-old-boys.” So herein lies one of the problems of this debate. There is no possible solution that allows for the working or command of God that does not afford those on one side or the other to scald the motives and castigate the character of the others. Jennifer, I hear the words on both sides of the issue. Both equally believe they are right and accuse the others of being wrong.

    How can I – Clyde Thomas – believe ether side of this issue and not have my character debased and motives maligned?

    Jennifer, I remind you that in the story you recite about Mary and Jesus, that with the amazing love, understanding, sympathy and forgiveness that Jesus had and expressed, still He did not ordain her as an Apostle.

    I am grieved that so many are hurting over this issue. That is Satan’s purpose. Is it possible that in social issues “there is no perfect answer in an imperfect world?” And that Satan creates the situation among us to bring out our imperfections and imperfect understanding of Divine will and always causing strife and ill will? How and when do we consider that God has a way to lead us and we trust our opinions to His methods and end the debate?

    Thank you for being a mother of Israel! Your ministry has touched many people that no man can touch. May God continue to lead you and use you for the salvation of many wounded of His hearts.

    In His love
    Clyde

  18. Dave Evans

    Jesus is getting my eyes off this world and ready for the ONE to come.
    I don’t know if Ellen White was ordained but men and women in our church recognize that GOD used “her”? voice as HIS authority in our church. I do not think we need to “worry” about ordination if GOD has given us His Spirit to “MINISTER”. Jesus said (my interpretation) “he that would be great would be the servant of all.” I think Women have more of a servant attitude then Men. That my not be an attitude the world would honor but it is the one the LORD is looking for in His people. In the striving to be equal with Sinful men we have lost the suffering and ministering Savior. We have to realize that the world’s priority in empire building is the opposite of the Kingdom of God.

    He must increase but I must decrease until there is only Christ seen in my Character.

  19. Clyde Thomas

    You may not be interested in an opposing view, but I will answer your question “What would Mary say?”

    She said nothing. In all His defense of her as a person – one He loved and cherished dearly, Jesus did not ordain her as an Apostle with the other 12. Nor any other woman. He could have. Many women followed Him and attended to his needs. Yet he did not ordain one to leadership over His new church.

    I am sickened by the blatant articular to divide and fan the flames of unrest and pain. While you uphold women here, you castigated all men who might disagree with WO. You wrote: “I believe that even if the exclusion of women from pastoral ordination is biblically correct, our attachment to it has, to a degree, been fueled by plain old, garden-variety male chauvinism. “Male privilege” has been well-documented in scientific literature, well-validated in personal experience, and even predicted in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you.” So even God is at fault for placing women in this position?

    Lets figure it out and then get over it. God has made us different and given us different “roles” to serve Him in. Yes there is a LOT of male abuse toward women — I wish it were not so! Attach that with a vengeance if that is your calling! But decrying the problem then pointing at ALL men and crying “foul” is not only untrue but destroys the very means of finding the solution. If we assert that male chauvinism is the problem of not ordaining women “even if it is biblical.” then what were the delegates supposed to vote?

    If you wrote this article purely to support and encourage women, then try again without tearing down the very ones whom women are to be “help meet.” Gen. 2:18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” He did not say identical or with the same roles. How can women respect or even appreciate the kindness of proper men if All men are villeins and women are victims? Are we solving the problems by making all choices men make and even the choices God has made in creation, a source of the problem?

  20. Robin Kerr

    From the Lifetime and Experience of Ellen G. White

    A paper presented at the ministerial meeting at the 1990 General Conference session. Prepared by the White Estate staff.
    1. A resolution to ordain women was discussed at the General Conference of 1881. No action was taken. The minutes include the following lines:
    “Resolved, that females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry.
    “This was discussed by J. O. Corliss, A. C. Bourdeau, E. R. Jones, D. H. Lamson, W. H. Littlejohn, A. S. Hutchins, D. M. Canright, and J. N. Loughborough, and referred to the General Conference Committee.”—The Review and Herald, December 20, 1881.
    Ellen White did not attend the General Conference of 1881. Her husband died on August 6 of that year. Two weeks after his death she left Battle Creek, bound for California. She did not return to Michigan until August of 1883.
    2. For many years Ellen White was voted ministerial credentials by the Michigan conference (see E.G. The Review and Herald, September 10, 1872)and then later by the General Conference. However, she was never ordained by human hands, nor did she ever perform a wedding, organize a church, or conduct a baptism.
    3. In 1895 Ellen White recommended the ordination of women who would give themselves to a deaconess-type of work:
    “Women who are willing to consecrate some of their time to the service of the Lord should be appointed to visit the sick, look after the young, and minister to the necessities of the poor. They should be set apart to this work by prayer and laying on of hands. In some cases they will need to counsel with the church officers or the minister; but if they are devoted women, maintaining a vital connection with God, they will be a power for good in the church. This is another means of strengthening and building up the church.”—The Review and Herald, July 9, 1895.
    A number of women were ordained as deaconesses during Ellen White’s Australian ministry. On August 10, 1895, the nominating committee at the Ashfield church in Sydney rendered its report, which was approved. The clerk’s minutes for that date state: “Immediately following the election, the officers were called to the front where pastors Corliss and McCullagh set apart the elder, deacons, [and] deaconesses by prayer and the laying on of hands.”
    Several years later, in the same church, W. C. White officiated at the ordination of the church officers. The minutes of the Ashfield church for January 7, 1900, state: “The previous Sabbath officers had been nominated and accepted for the current year, and today Elder White ordained and laid hands on the elders, deacon, and deaconesses.—AR, January 16, 1986.

  21. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Not trying to castigate anyone, Clyde, and I don’t believe I did. I have friends on both sides of the issue and I don’t believe all anti-WO people are chauvinists. I wish it was that simple, but it isn’t.

  22. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Thanks Barry! I agree. The divisiveness and pride of opinion is on both sides.

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