Dilemma on Women in Leadership Still Unresolved

by Rebecca Roman

It’s hard to imagine a more disappointing outcome for the Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO) after the Recommendation on Resolving the Dilemma of Women in Pastoral Leadership failed to pass at the Ministerial meeting on June 18, 2021.

The recommendation was put forward after a lengthy process that attempted to “find a solution that, as much as possible, affirms our commitment to the scriptures, acknowledges we have congregations on both sides of this dilemma, and envisions a conference where different churches who accept our Statement of Faith can work together.”

The solution proposed, in summary, is “where the Conference itself is involved in giving broad pastoral oversight to churches, that oversight should be male since that will allow the Conference to support both egalitarian and complementarian churches equally. Where a congregation determines its own local pastoral oversight, the Conference gives the congregation freedom to answer this question as the congregation discerns.”

Since the BLO pre-determined not to release the numbers of “yes” and “no” votes, we cannot know the level of support the recommendation received. (It required a two-thirds majority of credentialed ministerial members to be in favour in order to pass.)
On both sides of the dilemma, there are questions to be wrestled with. For egalitarians, there are Paul’s admonitions to women in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15 to “remain silent” and not to “assume authority over a man.” Twelve men were chosen as Jesus’ apostles; how does or should this affect our view of women in church leadership?

On the flip side, complementarians need to explain apparent biblical exceptions to an exclusively male authority, both in the Old Testament and New Testament—even, apparently, by Paul himself. If exceptions existed then, why not now?

In days ahead, the BLO will be examining why this recommendation failed and how to move forward, since the dissonance between our Constitution and our practice remains.

Is part of the reason for the failure a disconnect between egalitarians and complementarians on whether this issue is primary or secondary? The recommendation describes this issue as “secondary.” And, it would seem, by placing descriptions of male leadership in the “Church Administration” section rather than in our Statement of Faith, drafters of the Constitution would agree with that assessment. But when complementarians tie the issue of women in leadership to scriptural authority, it becomes a primary issue.

The recommendation’s failure also may point to questions about the ministerial’s role in decision-making. When only credentialed ministerial members can vote, and the bulk of those members are male (some women have been credentialed as deacons; but, as of 2019, deacons are no longer credentialed by the Conference), female ministers’ votes don’t count. That is, those with the most to lose don’t really get a say in the outcome.

Rebecca Roman

The Constitution describes part of the Ministerial’s purpose as “to give direction to the Conference in theological issues, spiritual and ethical matters and social concerns” (EMC Constitution, p. 33).
It is hoped that the BLO, the General Board, and the Ministerial can, indeed, come together to provide direction on this issue in a way that resolves the continuing unresolved dilemma, brings unity, creates justice, and honours the Christ we all serve.

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