This is a very personal blog. I love the Bible, and during this course I have learned some things about myself, and have observed some shifts in my thinking, particularly about ideologies (thanks, Crowley). If you don’t want to read about religion, feel free to pass. But I find it relevant to our readings, if not in the classroom, in our attitudes and in the spirit of searching for ways to communicate with each other a la Berlin, Ratcliffe and hooks, at a minimum. To explain, I quote Steve, as I have found that “ideology influences every person’s perception of reality as well as their own place within this reality, and who they are in relation to this reality….” My ideologies may run too deep for my own comfort.
Prior to reading Ratcliffe or hooks, I would have accepted the rejection of my North American church to ordain women as a denominational fact, dismissed it as frustrating, and gone on my merry way. I really don’t care whether men or women are ordained ~ my concern is whether they are truly following God’s calling as demonstrated by their words and actions. Interestingly, my first awareness of rhetorical listening (kind of) was this past summer at my camp meeting. A husband-and-wife team who pastor in the Caribbean held a marriage seminar and early on, presented the most astounding finding (to me): until sin occurred, i.e., Eve bit into the forbidden fruit ~ she and her husband were equals.
Therefore, that first act of sin mandated man’s dominance over women; hence, the first woman enabled a “man’s world” to exist. (See Genesis 1:24 [creation of Eve] and Genesis 3:16 [man will rule over woman]). This epiphany made the following story quite remarkable for me personally.
My denomination has made a Biblical stand that women cannot be ordained. They can be elders (although that is unacceptable in many geographic regions of the church), but cannot baptize. I have never understood this, except for cultural reasons. Almost 20 years ago, the worldwide church entertained the ordination of women during its worldwide Annual Council. This was a controversial issue, one that is being resurrected in what I believe is a timely matter. The particular matter I am referring to occurred at the October 2011 Annual Council. You can visit http://www.adventistreview.org/index.php?issue=2011-1531 to learn more about what the church is doing to investigate ordination of women, but in the meantime, let me share the parts that relate to our readings.
As noted by Berlin, “… ideological prescriptions are in continual conflict for hegemony, with the groups in ascendance calling on all of their resources of power to maintain dominance in the face of continual opposition and resistance,” (p. 93). Last month, during the church’s Annual Council, women’s ordination came up, and the North American Division officially rejected the invitation to pursue investigation of the matter. This is a “continual opposition” to a real issue that is causing oppression to women in my church. Church leaders from Europe opined that “opening doors for women in leadership would strengthen growth of the church in Europe.” I know Berlin was referring to English studies, but the discourse in this Annual Council is filled with ideological prescriptions, supposedly based on the Truth. And yet…
One church president from an African region stated that ordaining women “would give me a lot of problems.” Gulp. On the flip side, Ella Simmons, the first woman elected as a general vice president of the worldwide church, spoke to the African delegates who opposed the motion: “We talk about unity. What is this unity?…what we are describing is uniformity that is more akin to the bondage that grows out of mind control.” This woman is African-American, and her comment strikes me as one of daring, given her position, and one of pain, hurt and frustration. She was speaking at a gathering of the church’s world Annual Council, mostly attended by men. But it was a European man who pleaded with the Council to understand that in his society, children are “taught from their first hours that men and women are equal; it is very hard for them. We are losing many young people who feel that this is a matter of justice.” A MAN is yearning for equality for women. Simmons’ reference to “bondage that grows out of mind control” reminds me of Berlin’s reference to ideology’s way of maintaining dominance. The church must not be its own worst enemy and exclude women from ordination without a clear Biblical warning against it. But Simmons also sheds light on hooks’ mention of slaves. When Simmons refers to bondage, surely she is remembering her ancestors, whose bodies were “the concrete site of suffering,” (p. 224). Does the rest of the leadership get it? Are they able to “learn from spaces of silence [women who are marginalized by men in honor of their holy code] as well as spaces of speech [Simmons],” (hooks, p. 226). And Simmons’ African-American counterpart, a male pastor and church leader, is explaining the delicacy of the situation when he “says” gulp~this is gonna be tough for my constituents to swallow. He should read hooks’ admonition to “take the oppressor’s language and turn it against itself [to] make our words a counter-hegemonic speech….” (p. 227).
As Micah suggests, “…epistemic rhetoric theory…posits that language is socially constructed, and so meaning is socially constructed, and so our conceptions of reality are socially constructed as well.” I believe the exchanges in the Annual Council give rich meaning to this concept. How will women progress in a man’s world if the women don’t stand up, take risks, and make the Council’s language “into more than the oppressor’s language?” (hooks, p. 224). This is 2011, not 211. The church doesn’t want to modify its stance, its reality, of a male-dominated religion, and consequently is encouraging “continual conflict for hegemony,” (Berlin, p. 93).
Hooks refers to Rich’s poem “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children” that reprimands marginalization, whether it be via domination, racism and/or class oppression. I hear, in Simmons’ comments, the oppression that Rich and hooks rely upon to help their readers reflect on their cultures. As Steve wrote, “The important point to observe here is how individuals are situated within a wide range of significations, but that individuals also retain a level of agency to make change happen.” Simmons and many other high-ranking female church officials are situated in a conservative, sola scriptura denomination. I subscribe to it, but the dilemma: Will Simmons and other women, like first female Adventist pastor Dr. Hyveth Williams, below, “make change happen” or will they have to rely on the men free them from their so-called Biblical oppression?
P.S. I followed up on this print version of the Annual Council and found this: “North America voted October 31 to fully participate in the world church’s recently launched study of the theology of ordination while also reaffirming the division’s unique policy of allowing ordained or commissioned ministers to serve as presidents of local conferences and missions. The latter action, voted by nearly a 3 to 1 margin, broadens the opportunities for non-ordained leaders to be elected to the top position in any of the 58 conferences that make up the 1.1 million member church region. The pair of votes came three weeks after the North American Division’s request for a variance in the world church’s model constitution to allow for the broader leadership opportunities was turned down by the church’s Executive Committee in its Annual Council session. The model document states conference leadership can only be held by an ordained pastor; the NAD policy, while valid within its territory, places the region at variance with the constitutional template.” (Retrieved from http://www.adventistreview.org/article.php?id=4858.)
Someone, somewhere, is listening to the oppressed. I am one of the some.