There are two aspects to this proposal. One concerns my view of how the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada should correct its failure to adequately address the gender-roles question at the recent General Assembly and the other concerns my view of what to change once it does address it.
1. A Proposal for Properly Addressing Gender-Roles Polity in the C&MA
Those who have been reading along will note the rationale for this proposal in part 1 of this series, a few posts back. As much as I'd love to change everything in one fell swoop, this is not really the compassionate or proper way to make change, let alone to have the necessary discussion. A discussion allows truth to be spoken in love; allows different opinions to pull at one another with the proper tension; allows Christ's reconciling work to take place; allows the Spirit to guide us as a community rather than simply leaving that up to power-plays.
Also, let us recognize that this particular issue must allow for contextual determination of the speed at which changes are made. Some local churches will need time to process and consider things, perhaps also needing coaching in this regard as well. Remember that the goal here is not simply a decision, but to operate as we ought to as an interpretive community that faces the questions of our day with confidence to debate Scripture and read it together rather than cower in fear of division.
Thus, I propose a three year process. Ideally year one would be 2009 leading up to the Assembly in 2010, and the others would follow.
Year One - A Motion Made: A national committee is struck up by the Board of Directors and the President to carry out prayerful and careful discussion leading to a proposal on gender-related policies in the manual. These would include the Statement on Women in Ministry, the rule that states churches can vote by 2/3 majority to allow women as elders, and the Ordination policy. This committee should represent the varied views of the denomination and bring them together with the purpose of discussing this issue exegetically, theologically, and practically with a view to making a motion for approval at the 2010 Assembly. This motion to the Assembly should include a plan for communicating to the denomination churches whatever decisions are made (and why) and for overseeing their implementation over the next two years.
Year Two - Communication and Implementation: Thus, after Assembly has voted on the motion (likely with some amendments), there will be a communication and implementation team whose job it is to ensure that each district's churches are given a chance to understand the decisions that have been made and the chew on how it will affect and be applied in their local context. Some churches may at this point realize that further discussion needs to happen at their local level, and that they may need further coaching in this regard. Some churches will be ready to roll with whatever decision is made.
Either way, the congregation should have the opportunity to hear and understand the process and decision made and the leadership should weigh carefully how it will proceed. No church should fail to communicate with their people about the theological and interpretive issues. There should be no excuse for further fear of going to the Scriptures together on important issues in the future. A breakthrough needs to be made in our ability to be the interpretive communities we are supposed to be, and in our mindset which shifts the locus of our unity to the reconciling power of Christ rather than to some corporate vision statements or conflict-avoidance strategies.
Year Three - Feedback: After churches have worked on this for a year the denominational team should take feedback to see if further coaching is needed or if unanticipated snags need to be addressed. If there are amendments needed they can be brought the floor of Assembly 2012, at which point the team can either be dissolved or given a further mandate.
2. A Proposal for Changing the Gender-Roles Policies in the Manual
Basically, the Statement on Women in Ministry should be removed for being an inadequate articulation of the issue at stake and for no longer being consistent with denominational practice or opinion. It may be necessary to vote in a statement of some kind that explains the rationale for whatever decision has been made on this issue, but in my opinion the denomination is better off without official policy on this at all. Qualifications for eldership can be contextually applied to women and men without reference to gender as a disqualification for eldership in itself.
As for the rule which allows churches to vote by 2/3 majority to allow women as elders, this should be removed as well. Churches can then vote to have women as elders the old fashioned way: By the nominating recognizing God's gifting and calling on a person and nominating them for election to the Board. If it seems that a woman (or a man) is not equipped to lead in this regard or is only looking for self-promotion or power to make a point then that should be a knock against them. It may be that some churches will not have women who feel led in this regard or are even in the place to understand how to adapt their leadership philosophy to appreciate the different things that a woman may bring to the Board table. But removing this caveat from the Manual allows them to begin to process and prepare these things as God guides.
As for ordination, it may be that a separate committee needs to be struck up to reform this whole system. But there is no reason why the Alliance should not ordain women who have been called and gifted by God to preach, teach, and lead the church and whose money and time has been accepted by our denominational training institution for the very equipping that such pastoral offices require. If graduated, accredited, and hired, women should be ordained as well. What better way to ensure that women are taken care of the way Paul thought they ought to be?
One last thing: Whatever decision is made on this issue the denomination needs to communicate it very clearly. And if changes are made it also needs to communicate to women and men that at no point has the worth of a woman or a man rested on whether they could hold positions of leadership in the church. Many women and men are not called to lead or teach in a pastoral role. Many women and some men are also called to work full-time in the home. At no point should movement toward a more egalitarian model be taken as a slight against that calling, as if the true women are the ones out "making it in the world" or something like that. Too many women already face insecurity issues in this regard because of the message of secular feminism.
Furthermore, the goal in all of this should be speaking the truth in love as an interpretive community that rests its identity in the reconciling power of Christ. The goal in gender relations and Christian communion should also be mutual submission and self-giving love for the benefit of the Body rather than the self-aggrandizing equality with self-fulfillment as its highest goal that passes for so much egalitarianism today.
If we keep these things central I think there is a lot of promise for our denomination as it seeks to find itself in Christ and participate humbly in the work of his Kingdom.