The Misuse of Ellen G. White to Support Feminism's "Full Equality"
Besides misinterpreting Galatians 3:28 along the lines of egalitarian feminism, proponents of women's ordination also misinterpret Ellen White's statement regarding the relationship between Adam and Eve at Creation.
One of the fundamental arguments underlying the pro-ordination book Women in Ministry (written by some Andrews University scholars) is that Adam and Eve were "fully equal," enjoying "total egalitarianism in marriage." According to the book's leading proponent of this view, prior to the Fall there was no role differentiation between male and female. Role distinctions came as the result of the Fall. Because today the relation between husband and wife, even in Christian homes, "does not quite approach total role interchangeableness," Christians should aspire to God's "ultimate ideal" of full equality in their homes. Thus, God's ideal for Christian homes "is still the partnership of equals that is set forth from the beginning." 44
Fuzziness on "Full Equality." To speak of full equality as the ideal for today without coming to terms with the nature and extent of this equality leaves the reader to wonder just how far believers in this view are willing to go. Some, no doubt, will take it to mean a partnership of identical roles, and others will probably understand it to mean a partnership with different roles of equal value. Thus the phrase "full and equal" could be hailed by radical feminists who reject the Bible's teaching that because of God's Creation arrangement, He calls upon men today to bear the primary headship responsibility as leaders in their homes (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8, 9; Ephesians 5:23-33; cf. 1 Timothy 2:12, 13).
Even more, just as radical feminists seek full equality by getting rid of gender or sex roles in marriage and in the church, so also does gay theology seek to bring about "equality" between homosexuals and heterosexuals by obliterating sexual identity. Radical feminists and pro-gay advocates can also endorse the full equality or "total role interchangeableness" concepts as validations of their claim that there were no gender-based role distinctions at Creation.
As far as I know, none of the authors of Women in Ministry has endorsed radical feminist and gay theology. Yet this kind of fuzziness or this lack of clarity is a common prelude to liberalism's revisionist theologies. I suggest that we should not speak of "full equality," "equal partnership," or even "shared responsibilities" without stating unambiguously that to act as "equal and joint partners" does not mean to act identically. Individuals in a relationship can be equal and yet have different roles. They can act "jointly" and yet not act identically; they may "share" duties, but not bear the same responsibilities. 45
Misuse of Ellen G. White's Statement. This kind of fuzziness on equality mistakenly employs the following statement from Ellen White to support egalitarianism's ideology of full equality:
Eve was told of the sorrow and pain that must henceforth be her portion. And the Lord said, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." In the Creation God had made her the equal of Adam. Had they remained obedient to Godin harmony with His great law of lovethey would ever have been in harmony with each other; but sin had brought discord, and now their union could be maintained and harmony preserved only by submission on the part of the one or the other. Eve had been the first in transgression; and she had fallen into temptation by separating from her companion, contrary to the divine direction. It was by her solicitation that Adam sinned, and she was now placed in subjection to her husband. Had the principles joined in the law of God been cherished by the fallen race, this sentence, though growing out of the results of sin, would have proved a blessing to them; but man's abuse of the supremacy thus given him has too often rendered the lot of woman very bitter and made her life a burden. ( Patriarchs and Prophets , pp. 58, 59, emphasis mine.)
Those not familiar with the writings of Mrs. White might be misled into believing that the equality of Adam and Eve at Creation and the subjection of Eve to Adam after the Fall imply that there were no role distinctions prior to the Fall. But in making this claim, the advocates of women's ordination make three major mistakes.
First, they equate equality with role interchangeableness, and assume that equality at Creation means the absence of gender role distinctions. But the above proof for full equality and equal partnership overlooks the fact that Ellen G. White rejects the egalitarian model of "total role interchangeability." Despite the abuse of God's Creation arrangement for role relations in the home, she writes that "Heaven's ideal of this sacred [marriage] relation" is one in which the man is the head of the home. This kind of relationship is "what God designed it should be" ( Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing , pp. 64, 65). And because "the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the Head of the church; and," she writes, "any course which the wife may pursue to lessen his influence and lead him to come down from that dignified, responsible position is displeasing to God" ( Testimonies for the Church , vol. 1, p. 307).
Second, advocates fail to mention that in the very next paragraph of the Patriarchs and Prophets statement quoted above, Ellen G. White made it clear that prior to the Fall God had already enjoined different roles for Adam and Eve, each with their "assigned spheres." It was because Eve chose to disregard this divine arrangement, that God had to remind her after the Fall, saying, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Prior to the Fall, Eve's submission was freely and spontaneously expressed. But after the Fall, the Lord had to make explicit the "law" that she had, perhaps, been obeying unconsciously. 46
Eve had been perfectly happy by her husband's side in her Eden home; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her . In attempting to rise above her original position , she fell far below it. A similar result will be reached by all who are unwilling to take up cheerfully their life duties in accordance with God's plan. In their efforts to reach positions for which He has not fitted them, many are leaving vacant the place where they might be a blessing. In their desire for a higher sphere, many have sacrificed true womanly dignity and nobility of character, and have left undone the very work that Heaven appointed them. ( Patriarchs and Prophets , p. 59.)
Third, advocates of women's ordination fail to call attention to a parallel statement of Ellen White, in which she brings together role distinctions before the Fall and the subjection of Eve after the Fall. Mrs. White taught that male and female were created equal, neither of them superior nor inferior to the other. But because Eve chose to abandon her God-assigned role, God's curse enjoined her to subject herself to her husband. Referring to Eve before the Fall, Mrs. White wrote:
She was perfectly happy in her Eden home by her husband's side; but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered that there was a higher sphere than that which God had assigned her. But in attempting to climb higher than her original position, she fell far below it. This will most assuredly be the result with the Eves of the present generation if they neglect to cheerfully take up their daily life duties in accordance with God's plan. . . .
A neglect on the part of woman to follow God's plan in her creation, an effort to reach for important positions which He has not qualified her to fill, leaves vacant the position that she could fill to acceptance. In getting out of her sphere, she loses true womanly dignity and nobility. When God created Eve, He designed that she should possess neither inferiority nor superiority to the man, but that in all things she should be his equal. The holy pair were to have no interest independent of each other; and yet each had an individuality in thinking and acting. But after Eve's sin, as she was first in the transgression, the Lord told her that Adam should rule over her. She was to be in subjection to her husband, and this was a part of the curse. ( Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 483, 484.)
Contrary to the claims of pro-ordinationist scholars, Sister White never taught the kind of full equality that obliterates role distinctions. Adam and Eve were created equal. But within this partnership of male-female equality, God designed that the man should be the head of the home. The claim in Women in Ministry that Adam and Eve enjoyed full equality or "total egalitarianism in marriage" is, therefore, incorrect.
At a time of rampant divorces, sometimes because each party seeks to be the head, we need to be clear on what we mean by "total role interchangeableness" as God's ideal for the home. And at a time of increasing homosexual demands for marital rights, we need to say unambiguously that men were not created equal with women personally or even physically as candidates to be spouses of men . Failure to be unambiguous would open a welcome door for those who seek to nullify the Biblical case for divinely instituted role differences and a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Proponents of gay theology within Adventism have not lost sight of this fact. 47
What has been said about the vagueness of expressions like "full equality" and "joint leadership" also applies to using the expression "mutual submission" as though Ephesians 5:21 ("submit to one another") means complete reciprocity ("wives submit to husbands and husbands submit to wives as if there were no role distinctions among you. ") 48
"Women in Leadership" and "Women in Public Ministry." The pro-ordination book Women in Ministry frequently refers to women serving in positions of "leadership" and "public ministry." For instance, it is claimed that in Bible times nothing barred women from holding "the highest offices of leadership, including authoritative teaching roles that constituted headship' over men," and that "in the late-nineteenth century, women were active in [Seventh-day Adventist] Church leadership and ministry," serving in "both leadership and ministerial positions in the early history of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination." 49
Another writes: "Throughout both the Old and New Testaments women served not only in home and family administration but also in public and religious spheres. The roles of women in Scripture are varied and vigorous"; "the entire [Biblical] canon can be seen to affirm women, whether in the home or in public ministry, or both." 50
What, exactly, is meant by "leadership" or "public ministry"? These terms often are not clearly defined in Women in Ministry. If they mean positions of genuine, significant responsibility in the church, then the implication that women in churches today should likewise be given roles in which they can exercise their spiritual gifts in significant ways is not Biblically objectionable. In fact, this is what Seventh-day Adventists historically have believed and practiced.
If, however, "leadership" and "public ministry" mean women served in positions of ultimate responsibility as priests, apostles, and elders or pastors in Bible times and as elders or pastors in early Seventh-day Adventist history, then, as we shall later show, the authors of Women in Ministry do not sufficiently substantiate their claim.
My point is this: The basic issue is not "women in ministry" (a nonissue), but "women as ordained ministers-pastors"; not women "in leadership" or "public ministry," but women as elders or pastors. Broad, undefined terms can be misleading.
Feminism's Challenge to Adventism
We have seen how feminism's ideology of full equality lays the foundation for women's ordination. Drinking deeply at egalitarianism's fountain, feminism's fundamental opposition to Scripture's teaching on role distinctions between male and female in the church ultimately leads proponents to embrace lesbianism and witchcraft, to redefine and feminize God, to indiscriminately push for gender-inclusive language, to question the Bible's inspiration and authority, to adopt higher criticism to reinterpret the Bible, to transpose women's ministries into feminist ministries, to advance a questionable interpretation of Galatians 3:28, and to misinterpret the writings of Ellen G. White regarding the relationship of Adam and Eve at Creation.
Feminism has always posed a threat to the Seventh-day Adventist Church . Long ago, Ellen White warned that "those who feel called out to join the movement in favor of woman's rights and the so-called dress reform might as well sever all connection with the third angel's message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other. The Scriptures are plain upon the relations and rights of men and women" ( Testimonies for the Church , vol. 1, p. 421).
In the above warning, Mrs. White described the women's rights (the feminist movement of the 19 th century) and the third angel's message as incompatible. The specific reason she gave was that there exist differences in the role relationship between men and women. As has been shown in Prove All Things , Sister White also warned against feminism because of its links with spiritualism. This relationship still exists between today's feminist movement and modern spiritualism. 51
Above all, feminism poses a challenge to Adventism because of its selective interpretation of Scripture, setting some portions of Scripture aside as less inspired than others. Warned Ellen White:
There are some that may think they are fully capable with their finite judgment to take the Word of God, and to state what are the words of inspiration, and what are not the words of inspiration. I want to warn you off that ground, my brethren in the ministry. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." There is no finite man that lives, I care not who he is or whatever is his position, that God has authorized to pick and choose in His Word. . . . I would have both my arms taken off at my shoulders before I would ever make the statement or set my judgment upon the Word of God as to what is inspired and what is not inspired. (Ellen G. White Comments, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary , vol. 7, p. 919.)
God speaks to all students of the Bible when He says: "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My Word " (Isaiah 66:2, NIV). As we approach Scripture, we must not come with the spirit that possesses feminists, that is, the attitude that seeks to correct the alleged male biases of the Bible writers. Rather, we must be willing to learn from the Spirit of Christ, the One Who inspired the Scriptures:
"In the presence of such a Teacher [Jesus], of such opportunity for divine education, what worse than folly is it to seek an education apart from Himto seek to be wise apart from Wisdom; to be true while rejecting Truth; to seek illumination apart from the Light, and existence without the Life; to turn from the Fountain of living waters, and hew out broken cisterns, that can hold no water" ( Education , p. 83).
44. Richard M. Davidson, "Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture," Women in Ministry , p. 275. Denying that God made man the head of the home at Creation, Davidson argues that God's original plan for the home was "total equality in marriage" (p. 267) or "total egalitarianism in the marriage relationship" (p. 269) or "headship among equals" (p. 270)expressions understood to mean the absence of role differentiation before the Fall (pp. 264, 267, 269). Though he believes that "headship" was instituted after the Fall, it is his view that God's original plan of "total egalitarianism in the marriage relationship" is still the same in the post-Fall situation "as it was for Adam and Eve in the beginning" (p. 269). In other words, today, as at the beginning, there should be no "ontological or functional" role distinctions. Rather, Christians should aspire for the "ideal" of "full equality" in their homes (p. 284; cf. p. 275). Cf. Peter M. van Bemmelen, "Equality, Headship, and Submission in the Writings of Ellen G. White," Women in Ministry , pp. 297-311, who also speaks about an "original equality" in which Eve "fully shared in Adam's headship" (pp. 308, 298).
45. Not too long ago a friend of mine stated, "I know of a pastor who once commented that everyone in the world is willing to love God with all their heart and love their neighbor as themselvesso long as each individual person is allowed to pour into the words love' God,' and neighbor' whatever definition they want! But God does not allow this. He defines for us what these terms mean. The same is true for full equality,' etc." (Jarrod Williamson to Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, correspondence dated June 22, 1999).
46. The perfect harmony that existed in Eden before the Fall may perhaps be likened to the harmony in Heaven before the fall of Satan, when "So long as all created beings acknowledged the allegiance of love, there was perfect harmony throughout the universe of God. . . . And while love to God was supreme, love for one another was confiding and unselfish. There was no note of discord to mar the celestial harmonies" ( Patriarchs and Prophets , p. 35). Though God's law governed everyone, "When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of" ( Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing , p. 109). The angels responded freely and spontaneously to God. They seem to have been almost unconscious of a "law" to obey God or to worship Christ. These things were their delight. (See Patriarchs and Prophets , pp. 35-37.)
47. For example, speaking at the annual meeting of North American Seventh-day Adventist college and university Bible teachers in San Francisco, California, in 1992, Ron Lawson, the "liaison" of the pro-homosexual group Kinship, correctly remarked that the push for women's ordination, when successful, will eventually open the door for the church to embrace homosexuality, since both causes are waging a similar battle against "discrimination," and since both share the same basic view of total obliteration of gender role distinctions. The experience of other Christian denominations that have jettisoned the Bible's teaching on sexual role differentiation for an "egalitarian" model confirms Lawson's observation that an open attitude toward homosexuality inescapably follows once that step is taken. For a discussion of how Seventh-day Adventists' attitudes are changing with respect to the question of homosexuality, see my discussion in chapter 38 of Here We Stand: Evaluating New Trends in the Church (Berrien Springs, Mich.: ADVENTISTS AFFIRM, 2005); cf. my "Born a Gay and Born Again?: Adventism's Changing Attitude to Homosexuality," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 10/1 & 2 (Spring-Autumn 1999) :143-156.
48. For the other side of this issue see Wayne Grudem, "The Myth of Mutual Submission,'" CBMW News, October 1996, pp. 1, 3, 4; cf. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., 50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, Ill.: Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1992), pp. 13-15; see especially p. 13, n. 4. Cf. C. Mervyn Maxwell, "Let's Be Serious," Adventists Affirm 3/2 (Fall 1989) : 25, 26.
49. Richard M. Davidson, "Headship, Submission, and Equality in Scripture," Women in Ministry, p. 282; Vyhmeister, "Epilogue," Women in Ministry, p. 434; Roger L. Dudley, "The Ordination of Women in Light of the Character of God," Women in Ministry, p. 399.
50. Jo Ann Davidson, "Women in Scripture," Women in Ministry, pp. 159, 179.
51. Laurel Damsteegt, "Spiritualism and Women: Then and Now," in Mercedes H. Dyer, ed., Prove All Things: A Response to Women in Ministry ( Berrien Springs , Mich. : Adventists Affirm , 2000) :251-271.