Last week BIC U.S. released a statement from Leadership Council on women in ministry leadership. The statement has been well received, and we have received a significant amount of positive feedback. Reflecting on the statement and your input, National Director Alan Robinson shares insights on the Church’s position and provides context on the creation of the statement.
Why did leadership decide to create the Women in Ministry Leadership Statement?
The genesis of the statement arose from a need within our pastoral credentialing process. When people consider becoming ministers in the Church, we require them to read the Articles of Faith and Doctrine of the Church, the Manual of Doctrine and Government, and also a number of papers that clarify our theology and doctrine. We felt it was important to have a current statement of the Church’s view on women in ministry leadership, which is a matter of discussion and disagreement among Christians.
Is the affirmation of women in ministry leadership a recent belief of the BIC U.S.?
While this statement is new, the Church’s position on this subject is not. As the statement references, the Brethren in Christ stance on women in ministry leadership was a topic of discussion and decision at General Conference in 1982 and 1992. Therefore, this statement intends to concisely outline the Church’s position and some of the reasons why the Church made this decision decades ago.
What led the BIC U.S. to affirm women in ministry leadership more than 30 years ago?
Our commitment to the authority of the Bible for faith and practice led us to the decision. We were convinced a full-orbed reading of the Bible’s support for women in ministry leadership ought to guide the Church rather than a more limited reading of the few passages that place restrictions on women. Today, just as in the 1980s and 1990s when the decision was made and reaffirmed, we read the Bible’s overarching affirmation of women in ministry leadership to be the more general and universal teaching and the restrictive passages to be contextually specific (for some people in certain circumstances at that time).
What was the process of creating the recently released statement?
The entire Leadership Council (LC) of the Brethren in Christ U.S. were involved in the writing of the statement. The statement went through multiple drafts, and each time the drafts were reviewed and changes were made as necessary. Leadership Council is especially grateful to Perry Engle, bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences, and Anna Haggard, communications editor at BIC U.S., for leading the work by writing the drafts and incorporating the changes suggested by LC members.
In the drafting and editing of the statement, we incorporated specific language to make sure the statement was as clear and as transparent as possible.
Consider, for example, an early version of the draft: “The Brethren in Christ U.S. fully affirms women in ministry at all levels of Church life.” Along the way, we realized that this wording may not be specific enough.
- From “women in ministry” to “women in ministry leadership.”
Many, perhaps all, Christians accept women in many ministry roles and positions — while they reserve certain leadership roles for men only. We therefore added the word “leadership,” so that we support “women in ministry leadership.” This is intended to communicate that we are not reserving any role — even the highest leadership roles — for men only.
- From general concepts to specific examples.
Similarly, rather than use only the words “women in ministry at all levels of Church life,” we felt it would be helpful to highlight examples. So, the next sentence states: “Women are ordained and commissioned as pastors, bishops, deacons, denominational leaders, and members of local, regional, and national BIC U.S. governing boards.” These examples are intended to convey that there is no position, role, or office from which a person is excluded based on gender.
What are your concluding thoughts?
I feel that one final comment is in order — the statement attempts to recognize the reality that a minority may always exist who won’t agree with decisions and positions made by voting delegates at General Conference (now termed General Assembly).
Any time a decision is made by a majority vote (whether it is a simple majority — anything more than 50 percent — or a two-thirds majority), it is always possible, and, perhaps, even likely, that some opposed the decision.
The question then becomes, How do we live together as brothers and sisters with divergent views on a certain topic? How does the majority treat the minority, and what does it ask of them? How does the minority live and teach when their view or preference is not that of the Church? Are there issues where a divergent view is not acceptable, and if so, what are they? And are there issues where divergent views are acceptable, and if so, what are they? And very importantly, what does it mean to live as followers of Jesus who are “devoted to one another in love” and who “honor one another above [ourselves]” (Romans 12:10).
These are important questions the Church must continually wrestle with.