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. 

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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.

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If you would like to hear a twenty-two minute sermon offering an introduction to biblical egalitarianism (i.e., mutual submission), click here: http://db.tt/uGMHM2PV. (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. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Worth Watching: Looking Stranded and South

My friend Dave McGregor of Winnipeg Manitoba has made an eloquent short film I'd like to show you.

While you are at it, you might as well take in the song "South," written and performed by Dave and his wife Forrest with their Calgary Alberta band The New Family.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

On Religion and Theoretical Atheism

In the following excerpt, Barth is talking about how much energy is potentially mis-spent debating the ambiguous statement that "There is a God." There is a lot that I appreciate about what he asks us to ponder:
That there is no God may perhaps apply to the deity of philosophy, or to a deity that might be regarded as the common denominator of the gods of the different religions, or to a deity that demonstrates its existence by having a place in a world-view of human construction, or even perhaps to the "God" who is in one way or another poorly proclaimed and understood in some Christian tradition or theology.... Theoretical atheism is, of course, a frightful profanation of the name of God. Yet we may quietly say that the particular way in which it profanes God's name is not the most frightful. Indeed, since it is the most easily explicable, compared to others that we shall mention later, it is relatively the most innocuous.... 
[A] worse form [is religion, for it] thinks it has sought and found a positive substitute for what is lacking.... Because they do this positively, they do it in a much more illuminating, tempting, and dangerous fashion than any denial of God. In atheism the world defends itself against the threatening self-giving and self-declaration of God. In religion it tries to deal with him by establishing itself behind a wall of self-invented and self-made images of God, so that it may really be left to itself. This is why the angry protest of the biblical prophets is not directed against atheism but against the idolatry that characterizes the world around Israel, which may be seen in the religions of other peoples, and which is absolutely intolerable for Israel as the people of the true and living God.
- Karl Barth, The Christian Life, p. 128-130.