Editorial: Unfortunate vote by Adventists
We are surprised at the quietude - some will claim almost secrecy - with which the recent vote by the global Seventh-day Adventist Church on the ordination of women has been greeted in Jamaica. They won't be. At least not for now.
Lest we be confronted on the minutiae of the facts, the vote at the 60th session of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists in San Antonio, Texas, wasn't specifically on whether women should be ordained as pastors. Rather, it was on whether each division of the church, such as the conference in Jamaica, should have the right, on its own, to decide on the issue. Fifty-eight per cent voted no.
In other words, the status quo remains. Or, as the Ted Wilson, the president of the General Conference, remarked, "We maintain the current policy." And that is not to ordain women. This is significant to Jamaica in several respects.
Based on the 2011 census, 64 per cent of Jamaica's 2.7 million population is Christian, of which more than 322,000, or 11 per cent, are Seventh-day Adventists. That's makes them the largest and fastest-growing denomination in Jamaica. Having grown fourteen and a half per cent in the decade between the last two censuses, the Adventists have nine per cent more members than the next largest denomination, the Pentecostals.
So, this is a congregation that you can ill-afford to ignore, either as a religious, social or potentially political force. We also presume that, like with most organised social and political groups in Jamaica, women form the substantial majority of the congregation, as we would expect to be case with the 18 million Seventh-day Adventists worldwide. Nor do we believe it to be far-fetched to assume that women, in Jamaica and internationally, undertake most of the church's ministry - in both its spiritual and temporal aspects.
It is just that some supposed divine ideology dictates that women are not qualified to lead. Not formally.
We will, of course, acknowledge that among Seventh-day Adventists, women can be ordained as elders, senior ones, too, which qualifies them to undertake significant and formal aspects of ministry - as is often the case in Jamaica. Indeed, women sit on many committees of the church in their communities at district conferences. In that respect, they are involved in the decision-making process.
What is beyond debate is that among Protestant Seventh-day Adventists, there is a gender bias against the majority, who, in leadership, are automatically subservient to men. Further, among the island's main Christian denominations, only the Roman Catholics and Brethren retain a similar prohibition on the ordination of women - Brethren even more shockingly do not endorse women as lay leaders.
Doctrinal arguments, notwithstanding, we insist that gender inequality defies good sense and the logic of a 21st-century world in which societies ought to make full use of, and extract maximum value from, their best talent, of whatever gender, including in the service of God. Indeed, we find it hard to believe that in his creation endeavours, God configured less intellectual or spiritual capacity in women than men. The evidence doesn't support this.
Jamaican Seventh-Adventists will, reasonably, wish to maintain global church unity. But it would be good to hear their position on the ordination question - especially in the context of their spiritual founder and pillar, Ellen G. White, who they revere as a prophetess and whose writings, for them, hold para-biblical authority.