Friday, May 25, 2012

A History of Gender Role Issues in Canada's C&MA

The Great Debate: Women as Elders
in the Christian Missionary Alliance
 Church in Canada
The following (up to 2000) is based on the research presented in Alexandra Meek Sharman's MA thesis at McMaster University, entitled The Great Debate. With her kind permission I am here summarizing two chapters, but I highly recommend that Canadian C&MAers go and pick up this valuable resource for themselves at lulu or on itunes. It can also be read in McMaster's digital commons. My interest here is neither to aggravate nor to defame the denomination to which I belong, but to promote an informed and historical perspective in advance of upcoming denominational discussions. I have tried not to insert my evaluation of various events, but a few historical footnotes are provided which I think give some relevant context and likely reveal some of my views on this matter to some degree (which I am happy to discuss). I welcome your questions and comments but also ask you to observe respect for this, my family of churches, as we work through one of the more difficult biblical and cultural interpretation issues of today within a widely varied community of churches. 


Albert and Margaret Simpson
1881 - A.B. Simpson, ordained Presbyterian minister, resigns to do evangelistic work in New York. Practical and theological convictions play in to his departure: In the first case, he feels constrained in his fervour to reach as many as possible with the gospel, and in the second case he has differences of opinion with Reformed teaching on baptism and sanctification, as well as healing and eschatology. Before long, an independent congregation grows out of his activities.

1887 - Two societies begin: The Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, intended not as churches or denominations but as service arms for co-operating churches. 

1889 - John Salmon, former Methodist pastor, invites Simpson to share his vision in Canada and ends up birthing the "Dominion [i.e., Canadian] Auxiliary Branch of the Christian Alliance." First president is William Howland, and the vice-presidents are John Salmon and Maggie Scott.

John Salmon, later in life
1891 - Salmon has Simpson officiate an ordination service, which causes some to leave the Auxiliary because it is now perceived to be acting as a denomination (which presumably brings them into conflict with their home churches and determines a choice).

In the early years, in both Canada and the U.S., women are involved in all levels of ministry, but are not referred to as church pastors, ordinands, or elders, since the Alliance (soon merged as the Christian and Missionary Alliance) does not self-identify as a denomination, and its branches do not self-identify as organized churches.

1912 - A General Council agrees to a new constitution organizing the congregations/branches that have stabilized and, in this time, begins focussing more intently on foreign missions.

1914-1918 - World War
1918 - Women in Canada may now vote in federal elections

1920s - Edmonton's Beulah Tabernacle the first C&MA Church in the West. J.H. Woodward calls for help spreading the Word in the area and has four assistant circuit-preachers/ministers, one of whom is Muriel Owen. In the meantime, Margaret Connor begins (and preaches to) new congregations in Denzil, Allenbach, Elk and Major, Saskatchewan. In 1923 Woodward sends a summer student, Catherine McCoy, to help Connor begin a congregation in Greenvale, Saskatchewan. When Connor asks the C&MA to provide a man to take over congregations so she can keep planting more, in the process she is made an official C&MA worker. Later she becomes a pastor at Beulah. These women are not mentioned in this video but it gives a sense of the early days of the C&MA in the West.

1922 - Miss A.B. Rose preaches to and pastors a congregation in Lac LaBiche. Raymond Francisco requests that the C&MA send a "really good young man to be a full-time pastor" for him so he can return to school. They send two women: Della Carstead and Grace Johns, from the Canadian Bible Institute.

1928 - The C&MA forms a District in the West and three women are on the District Executive Committee (DEXCOM), including Margaret Connor.

1928 - The Third Annual Conference of the C&MA decides to maintain current practice and not ordain women, but to maintain that they were deaconesses, as was the practice for A.B. Simpson south of the border.

1929 - Myrtle Bradley pastors a congregation in Regina, Saskatchewan, despite it having a chairman, secretary and treasurer who were apparently capable. More stories about the women of the early C&MA can be found in Barbara Howe's Forgotten Voices.

1939-1945 - World War 2
1960s-1980s - Second Wave Feminism

Harry Turner
1960 - Dr. Turner, President of the C&MA, declares it has officially become a church denomination and should begin self-identifying as such. The dilemma now, as Alexandra Meek Sharman puts it, is that "[i]f Simpson's ecclesiology was to be followed women should no longer be able to serve as pastors or 'branch leaders' ... [or] the official role of an Elder"  (40). Women continue to minister in roles available to them, still recognized as deaconesses.

1960s-80s - Significant growth in the Canadian branch of the C&MA, including its school, now called Canadian Bible College, in Regina, Saskatchewan.

1980s - Believing it true to the movement's initial impulses, at least one pastor, Rev. Ross Ingram of Southern Ontario, hires female pastors and places women on the elder's board of his church. When asked to remove women from the board he does not, arguing that his is acting within denominational precedent and is not in contradiction of Scripture's authority.

Dr. Melvin Sylvester
1981 - The C&MA in Canada (hereafter just C&MA) becomes autonomous from the U.S.A. and Dr. Melvin Sylvester is elected its first President.

At this time the organization of local churches is simplified in distinction from regular practice. Until then churches had been run by an Executive Board (of women and men) and given spiritual oversight by an Elders' Board (all men). Now the two were rolled into one, and would operate as the Elders' Board, with less distinction between administration and spiritual leadership. This single Board would by virtue of the change be all male. One of the women affected by this change was Wendy Thomas, on staff at Cedarview Alliance Church in Nepean, Ontario, who at the time of the change was on her church's Executive Board. She did continue to serve in this capacity, however, because the change was in its early stages.  

1982 - At the C&MA's General Assembly (GA), Pastor Royal Hamel raises the question whether women could serve as Elders. The C&MA's Board of Directors (BOD) commissions a report to be considered at the next GA, in 1984.

1984 - At the next GA, the comissioned report leads the BOD to release a statement called "The Basic Scriptural Principles of Women in Ministry" and to put forward four recommendations. Two were passed (regarding licensing women for various ministry functions and one was struck down (which proposed that there be a list or eligible roles written up). The remaining recommendation -- which proposed that women not be eligible for elders' boards, for DEXCOM (the district leadership board), or for the national BOD -- was referred to committee. When the Committee on General Legislation brought it back to the floor the next day it was narrowly defeated and an exegetical paper was requested so a more informed discussion could take place.

(In the debate that took place there were arguments made against putting women in leadership roles which claimed the masculine grammar of eldership texts as support and questioned the hermeneutics and the commitment to the authority of Scripture on the part of the College and Seminary professors who spoke in favour of women's leadership. Correlations with the ordination of homosexuals were drawn, and the Seminary President argued against such parallels. Some apologies regarding rhetoric followed the next day.)

1988 - R. v. Morganthaler deregulates abortion and the United Church ordains homosexuals

1988 - After four years the BOD, with the requested report submitted, presents a statement on women in leadership, which over the course of the debate takes on two new words (indicated in italics) but otherwise is passed as written. In the final report it states "that in the biblical pattern and in the historical practice of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Elders in the church have usually been men. The weight of evidence would imply that normally this pattern should continue." The matter is considered closed, and any further discussion "counterproductive."

Westside Alliance Church met
in this school in the 90s
1988-1992 - Following the GA, Pastor Douglas Schroeder-Tabah reports on the matter in an article in Christian Week, interpreting it to mean that local churches, should they feel so led, could assign women to the Elders' Board. Surprised by this interpretation, Pastor Peter Ralph of Westside Alliance Church writes the National Office for clarification, only to learn from vice-president Gerald Fowler, in consultation with President Mel Sylvester, that Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation is valid. Some time later when the Westside congregation in Regina asks if they can have women as Elders, Pastor Ralph assures them they may do so in "good faith". Along with two other churches they end up doing so during this time.

1992 - The new President of the C&MA, Dr. Arnold Cook, thinks Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation of the prior ruling incorrect, and asks these churches to remove the women from their Elders' Boards. Two comply, but Westside does not, defending its course of action as proper.

1996 - At GA in Regina, a woman named Jean Daly is nominated to the BOD (as this aspect of the 1984 deferral had not been dealt with in the subsequent 1988 statement on the matter). The current BOD chairman, Rev. Keith Taylor of Beulah Alliance, looks for consistency with general practice in lieu of clear polity on the matter. Some debate takes place, and before a vote occurs the nominee in question withdraws her name. The following day Ross Howell offers a general apology to the women of the denomination for some of the things that had been said in the course of an emotional debate.

Dr. Miriam Charter
1998 - The issue as it regard the BOD is raised again, and much healthier debate reportedly ensues. Five motions are presented, and all but one carries. From here on women will be allowed to serve on the BOD and DEXCOM, and will also be able to administer the ordinances. The motion regarding eldership is referred, however, to the next GA. Following the vote to allow women to the BOD (which passed by 60%), Miriam Charter is elected (with 75% of the vote) the first woman to serve on the C&MA's governing board since its early years.

2000 - After having consulted another commissioned paper on the matter, the BOD suggests that a consensus may not be reachable despite long arguments from many angles, and so seeks to make it possible for local churches to have Elders if they so choose. Some debate takes place regarding a motion to see to it that these Boards still have a majority of men, but the constitution is finally amended according to a statement put forward by Paul Little from the Committee on General Legistlation, which said: "The local church may by a 2/3 majority choose to have women on their Board of Elders."

2005 - Jon Coutts is ordained in the C&MA while pastoring Selkirk Alliance Church in Manitoba (this is of no consequence whatsoever).
Personal note: At this time I would have self-identified with the "complementarian" positioned of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood rather than the "egalitarian" position of the Christians for Biblical Equality. However, I was far more familiar with the biblical arguments for the former, and generally equated egalitarianism with perceptions of a power struggle in political culture, the rise of abortion, and the decisions of the United Church.
2008 - A motion brought to the floor of GA by the BOD asks for the manual's "Statement on Women in Ministry" to be rescinded. A motion is made and carried to postpone this discussion indefinitely, reportedly for the reason that a debate would detract from the "Kingdom business" at hand (namely the church planting initiatives that were to be put forward).

2010 - GA is held outside Canada for the first time, in Turkey, and the tabled motion is not brought up again, other than in Round Table discussions. Sometime after this, on the C&MA website -- in place of the Statement which had been the centre of such debate and controversy in and after GA 1988  -- is found the explanation:
"The BOD of the C&MA in Canada has ruled that the Position Statement “The Role of Women in Ministry” is inconsistent with legislation adopted by General Assembly (specifically, the Local Church Constitution). Consequently the Board has directed that the statement be removed from the website until such time as the General Assembly considers it appropriate to engage in a full discussion and debate on the issue."
In response to a recommendation from the GA, the BOD commissions and distributes four papers on the issue of ordaining women and opens an online forum for official workers to dialogue. Interaction is sparse and lacks direction. The 2011 District Conferences host round table discussion of the matter as well, revealing a wide spectrum of opinion and a good deal of variance not only on gender roles but the nature of ordination. 

Promotion for 2012 GA in Winnipeg
2012 - After 12 years, an unknown quantity of the C&MA's local churches have voted to allow women to their Elders' Boards (the statistics have not been kept; one estimate has it at 10%, but some have it closer to half). It is also unclear how many have had a vote or a discussion on the matter.

On the agenda to be discussed at GA in July is the matter of whether to ordain women. In an effort to clarify the issues involved the BOD has undergone some internal investigation and debate and determined (in statements found here, thoroughly explained by the BOD chairman Steve Kerr in videos found here) that, as it stands, nothing in the polity restricts women either from ordination or from the senior pastorate--despite the use of the word "man" in the ordination policy and the remaining restriction  on female eldership in most congregations (which eliminates the possibility of female senior pastors). All of this will undoubtedly have to be discussed.


If you would like to hear a twenty-two minute sermon offering an introduction to biblical egalitarianism (i.e., mutual submission), click here: (The sermon will play when the window opens so check your volume. Right-click to save a copy). Feel free to share, ask questions, seek clarifications, or prompt elaborations. There is obviously more that could be said. 


Amanda Strain said...

Thank you Jon. Your blog has been bookmarked on our computer.

Amanda Strain said...

After reading this blog post last night I remembered something I thought you may find interesting.

In October 1993 Tony Campolo came to CBC. I remember attending a Q&A with him in the Tozer Chapel. During that time, he made a statement where he said essentially - Unless the Alliance changes it's position on Women in Ministry it will not survive the changes that will come.

Perhaps not surprisingly it was at another of His sessions I attended at Briercrest later that weekend that I clearly heard God call me into vocational ministry.

Just thought you would find this interesting.

Darcy Coutts said...

Thanks for the summary Jon. Found this very helpful.

Uncle D

Ed Drewlo said...

Hi Jon,

I hope you don't mind a few comments regarding this article in view of our discussion otherwise. I've enjoyed poking around your site. You are a prolific thinker/writer.

This particular article, though maddingly biased represents a summary, as I also recall, of some of the main happenings regarding the gender issue in the Alliance. It is not a pretty tale.

That is why I think we need to take a much more scholarly approach to this matter in these days. The time for pragmatism and one-up-oneship is over. Since we have matured as a missional movement into a church, we need to speak and think differently about these things -- looking long and hard, not at our history as the pattern of how to procede, but in depth at what God's Word has to say.

My plea, in these days, is that we suspend this discussion, continue the status quo for the next couple of years or longer, if necessary, put our hearts and heads together to see what the Word really has to say about the nature of leadership in the church and gender. I think it's well-worth taking the time for this so that we end up with a deeply shared conviction about it based on the Scriptures.

Ed Drewlo

Jon Coutts said...

Hi Ed. Sorry I left your comment in moderation so long. I didn't notice it in my queue. My bad.

I didn't try to hide my "bias" in this account, nor do I mean by any stretch of the imagination to imply that a look at our history will or should decide this for us in either direction. I simply tried to relay, based on a friend's research (which was done with scrupulous attention to the accounts of both complementarians and egalitarians), where we had come so far, and what things may or may not have influenced the course of events (in either direction).

I'd be interested to know how the "bias" was maddening. Most of what I have included here is plain fact.

I hope we have matured as a missional movement as well, and are ready to approach this theologically rather than merely pragmatically. For my part I have been putting my heart and my head to this matter in dialogue with Alliance folk for years now, and am frankly quite ready to see us go forward rather than retain status quo. I'd like to do that in discussion and in a search for consensus, but I think we've been doing status quo and dragging our heels on this far too long. No one has the excuse that they were not ready. They just don't. If you argument is that we need to stay status quo in the meantime, while we seek theological consensus, then my counter-argument is that the best course of action in the meantime is to remove those restrictions which actually do not represent the current diverse realities in the C&MA, but actually represent one view's bias over another's.

But thanks for engaging me. Do let me know what specific points of historical bias you would like to challenge. Peace.

Ron McClelland said...

This article does not mention the 1982 ordination of Rev. Ron McClelland formerly of The Pas, MB which is of little consequence to most people including his four daughters who have all grown up and have been in full time ministry in various parts of the world. None of them are officially ordained which is of little consequence to them or to me. I appreciate the article.

bh said...

Helpful summary here Jon - thanks for doing this. I think there's some missing detail at 2007 if Allan Langlois knows what he's saying.

When we speak of women elders, or women holding offices of authority in the church, we are embarking into new territory. Whatever we might speculate about Junia in Romans 16, the weight of evidence both in the New Testament and throughout history is that these roles have been performed by men. No doubt we can scour history and find exceptions here and there, but as a matter of policy these roles have been designated for and exercised by men.

Let's make a few observations about our culture at this point in history. Women are more politically empowered today than ever. There are greater numbers of highly educated women in the workforce today performing roles which historically belonged to men. There is an unprecedented number of single mothers and women with no children at all. Future generations may look back and see this was the high point of abortions. The birth rate is at an all time low of 1.5 since 1990.

Whether or not our culture can sustain this level of professional working women is debatable and from a purely demographic point of view, any worldview which gives rise to and maintains a birth rate of 1.5 is destined for collapse.

Each generation reads the Bible with cultural blinders on. And for many egalitarians it seems quite plain that the Bible is saying today that women can and should serve in an unrestricted capacity within the church. Culture has evolved for the first time in history to a place where what Jesus always wanted to do but couldn't can now be done: declare that gender is not a basis for a distinction in function in the church or the family.

When we enter into new territory as a Christian Church, when we are about to do something that the church throughout two millennia has not done, the weight of history ought to give us pause. Perhaps the wisest course of action would be to put a note in our denomination's file saying: "At this point in history we feel it would be right to equalize the role and function of men and women in the home and church. But in view of our unique period in history concerning the empowerment of women, we humbly admit that we may not be the first to be reading the Bible correctly on these issues, but the first to read it incorrectly. Please re-examine this issue in 200 years. If you, having the benefit of seeing the issue from another vantage point agree with us, perhaps a change would be in order. Due to our disharmony with the practice of the saints throughout church history we uncomfortably choose to maintain step with what in our day does not seem correct."

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks Bill. I may well be missing the info that Langlois has, and I'd love some clarity on what happened in 2007 (or whenever) in that regard.

I do not tend to want to look at this as a matter of progress, or 21st century realization of what Jesus was hoping for, but instead as a matter of seeking faithfulness to Christ in these unique times. I think with the developments you indicated in the West our best foot forward is mutual submission, and most of the dilemmas you indicated about workplaces and the home can just as easily addressed by men who pick up the slack and share the responsibilities as by families who prefer to revert to a 1950s family structure. (Also, women may be more empowered than ever, but our culture is not egalitarian by a long shot. Women are also as exploited as ever, and even the most equal-opportunity environments still tend to heavily favour men and to afford a veil for an underlying misogyny that every man who has ever stepped foot in a locker room knows is alive and well).

I appreciate your caution, but caution can hold us back from faithfulness just as easily as eagerness can.

In this issue I am more than ready to go ahead with mutual submission as the norm for my home and my church, and I'd appreciate if our denomination affirmed the freedom to do so. I am in no more danger by going forward than I am by staying put. I continue to submit to the authority of Christ, and to seek faithfulness to Scripture by seeking the HOly Spirit in the context of my church. Given the rhythms of confession and repentance and the mutual accountability that this entails, I am not fearful, and would in fact deeply regret having to leave a love note for someone to pick up in 200 years when there are other things they will have to face in their time. In fact, my fearful hesitance will have left them a bad example, and may even leave the impression that our God is not alive and active in our midst but dead and uninvolved except as a judge waiting at the end of time to drop the axe on our uwnitting mistakes.

bh said...

The denomination should not stand in your way. I know you have sought the Lord and diligently studied the Scriptures in coming to your conclusion. We need to create an environment and a policy in which two pastors of two Alliance churches can function with denominational support where one church allows women elders, senior pastors and whatever, and another church holds to traditional views of restricting women from those roles. The policy needs a balanced stance on the subject which makes room for individual churches to make up their own minds. It shouldn't be silent on either approach, nor force a church to confront the issue until they want to. A plain reading of the policy should make it clear to both men and women that they may go from church to church and encounter varying interpretations of the Role of Women in Ministry and these (though mutually exclusive) are all legitimate Alliance views.

On the other hand, if we were to ask our membership whether they believed the Bible to teach that women could serve as senior pastor and there was a resounding yes or no. Then our policy should reflect that hermeneutic. And those who want to deviate from the majority position could either practice out of harmony with policy come what may, or find a denomination commensurate with their position.

I know how you respond to the slippery slope argument re homosexuality, but the process would be identical. There would be a subsection of the community who would argue biblically for the position and we would need to decide to make room to accommodate or stand firm and force out. Probably the Alliance solution would be that the board of elders could vote 2/3 to ordain homosexual ministers if they wanted to. We could commission a study to investigate the original languages as was done in 1984. They could report back that there is no biblical basis for it as they did with this issue in 1988. Then the pro gay community would insert the required words: normally and usually into the policy. And under continued pressure and a resolute argument over a number of years that this is what Scripture teaches we would find ourselves in a very similar position to the one we are in now with this issue. Do you imagine there is someone as passionate about following God as you are who is committed to a correct biblical interpretation on homosexuality who comes to a different conclusion than we do on that issue. As long as that person exists the slippery slope is real. At some point we still need to say, "No, that's not what the Bible says about that. You'll have to practice Christianity that way somewhere else." And I presume some democratic principle should be at work in deciding when we make room for divergent views and when we should hold the line and ask people to leave if they want to practice that way.

Who knows, by the looks of things it may be me who has to find a new home before long.

bh said...

I'm now following this post.

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks for chatting this out Bill. I'm on board with the first paragraph, but am interested to think through why, in that event, a statement of some kind might be necessary which explained the diversity in local churches. On one hand I totally agree that this might be helpful, on the other hand I'm not sure we could agree on one and might be better off leaving it unspecified and a matter of common sense that local churches are going to be different. I'm reaching for an example here, I suppose, but we don't have a statement explaining why some churches will have small group pastors and others will not--we just assume there will be freedom on this. Maybe that's a bad parallel. I'll think on it some more.

As for your second paragraph, yes, if the membership gave a "resounding yes or no" then our policy should reflect it. Not sure what counts as resounding, but female eldership has already been voted biblically allowable. Same with females on DEXCOM and BOD. At the same time, there is room for churches to not have female elders, so the (less than resounding) yes does not necessarily mean that those opposed must see it as "deviating", let alone feel the need to "find a denomination commensurate with their position." Isn't this only the case if we come to a resounding no? Then egalitarians face the dilemma you are suggesting. But if all we do is allow freedom on this, what is the reason why complementarians would have to consider leaving? Does it have to do with conscience? (That's a fair answer I suppose, I'm just exploring what the reasoning is here).

As for the third paragraph, there are a number of things that make these situations UNidentical, and I don't quite agree with in the way the dilemma is set up.

First of all, to parallel these cases is to assume that they have the same credibility, biblically speaking, and that there is an actual connection between them. To present a slippery slope you have to be able to draw a line from one thing to the other. I'm unsure what line you would draw here, other than the imagination that someone as "passionate about God" as I am might also want it (the ordination of homosexuals) to happen. The problem is that there are more biblical correlations between the slavery issue and the gender roles issue than between gender roles and homosexual immorality. So if you want to talk about slippery slopes maybe we should talk about that one, and about how we could be on the wrong end still looking up.

Secondly, I have never made the argument for egalitarianism based on my passion for God. This has been called into question often enough that the implication has needed some pushback, but to argue for egalitarianism on that basis would be a bit absurd I think.

Thirdly, I would stop short of making the IMAGINED POSSIBILITY of a future acceptance of a biblically prohibited act a measurement on whether we should make room for diversity of interpretation of the Bible on an unrelated (or at best loosely related) issue.

Okay I think I had other things to say but I've run out of steam, which is probably just as well!