When I attended last years C&MA general assembly in Ottawa, I vividly remember seeing a young man stand up and clearly articulate his desire to open up the debate of allowing females to become senior pastors. I listened as he shared his own testimony of a woman in his church who demonstrated excellent leadership qualities, preaching abilities, and long-time service to the church, yet was greatly hindered because the church/C&MA would not acknowledge her as a senior pastor despite doing duties similar to that func tion. His passionate speech prompted yet another man to come up to the microphone and share yet another similar story of equal vigor. As I watched as their requests were denied and saw the first man nearly break down in tears as her sullenly sat down, I asked the Lord, “why is this such a big deal to him? Why sacrifice church unity in order to bring about such a divisive matter?” Later on when I read his writings I got my answer.
Well it’s time to bring everything full-circle around and talk about how Gender Roles have affected the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada (does not apply to C&MA in US/Australia). I want to note that this is a VERY heated, long topic that I have studied to which I will do my best to summarize but is subject to mistakes.
In the beginning, the C&MA (going forward, just referring to Canada) had mianly been complementarian in its stance. That means that males were mostly the leaders in the church. This included both areas of clergy (pastors, missionaries) and lay (elders). The females played more of the support (wife homemaker) role. I think this makeup was also reflective of cultural values that it lived in, namely the early-mid 1900’s. There are exceptions to the rule however, and there were women during this time who DID pastor/elder churches, but never officially recognized as pastors or elders (see Barbara Howe’s Forgotten Voices).
It wasn’t until the modernist era where family values began shifting in the 1970-80’s that this complementarian view began to be challenged. Specifically, the first challenge came in 1982 at General Assembly when a notion came out to study whether or not females would be qualified to occupy the office of church Elder. Uh oh. The debates became heated and opinions on both sides were strong. Without re-gurgitating what I have already said about complementarian and egalitarian views, it looked something like that. Finally in 2000, a revolutionary change in C&MA’s constitution came about: A female could serve as an elder of a church if 2/3’s members of that church agrees in vote. This rule holds to this day.
Being a female Pastor seems to have never been a barrier in the C&MA as long as they were not the senior Pastor. As far as I can tell, as long as they were “licensed” they could serve in all capacities except “senior pastor, ordination and administration of the ordinances” (C&MA 2006 Manual). The status of “licensed” means that they can serve as a minister in a C&MA church, and is the first point of entry into the C&MA. In case you’re wondering, I’m currently “licensed”. It also means I can officially offer the sacraments and do weddings. The next barrier was broken down when the topic of “ordination” was discussed. In a nearly 51/49 split vote in 2012 , the C&MA allowed females to become ordained within the church. Ordained means simply that their calling by God is recognized by the C&MA and they may officially take on the title Pastor/Reverend if they choose. I can’t stress this enough, as there are so many people within the C&MA who are afraid of that big word “ordination” and when they see a woman with that title they freak out even more. In case you’re wondering, I’m not “ordained” yet.
Next up, in 2016 there is an upcoming vote that will take this matter further: can a woman serve in the church as a Senior Pastor? After all, they can already be an elder, pastor, and ordained, so whats stopping the flood gates from coming wide open?
From what I have heard, many complementarians are unwilling to compromise much more. Allowing female senior pastors could cause a serious division within the C&MA. Without mentioning names, some individuals + churches are willing to go so far as to completely leave the C&MA because they would refuse to submit to a lead female pastor. The last vote that allowed female ordination was already VERY divided on the matter, and General Assembly 2014 served the purpose of not bringing up the matter so quickly without allowing time to heal wounds. My heart grieves at the pain this has caused and yet still we must be faithful to the Biblical texts. How are we as a church to deal with this matter?
I can only point toward the Bible and offer my own views. I believe it all stems back toward how you view gender roles within the family and church. If you feel very strongly that males must lead the church, then by all means take your stand. If you are indifferent or feel that male dominated leadership is cultural than I encourage you to apply the scriptures to your life and live in an Egalitarian world boldly.
As for myself, I’m complementarian but I’m open to be wrong on the matter. The scriptures just aren’t 100% air-tight about it. I hold toward key tenants (Trinity, Death and Resurrection of Christ, Salvation by faith alone) and I also leave others loosely. I don’t think the church will apart because this does not affect an “essential”. After all, it’s not like my boss or even boss’ boss (John Healey) is a woman, nor does it affect the church I go to (because all the elders/leaders are male), nor is it a pressing matter in my church (half aren’t even aware of this problem). Even if females were allowed to be senior pastors within the C&MA how exactly that trickles down can differ. It could be forced down everyone’s throat (highly doubt), you could choose to disagree with it (likely), or maybe it’ll come down to another vote by 2/3’s on a per church basis like the elders, who knows. Believe it or not, Egalitarians are the “minority” group, so a vote like this likely won’t succeed anyways. Again, I just don’t see it as a “big” deal. Few people remember that the C&MA had a strong debate over what to believe about the end-times and that is now long-forgotten. This might be the same thing. Then again I could be wrong, if you see what happened to the United church in Canada you’ll see a liberal church gone horribly wrong when it dabbled in the same things 50 years ago what the C&MA is doing right now.
If I missed something here or you want to share your thoughts, please shoot me an email. There’s a site that was setup specifically to discuss this topic within the C&MA here (can be a bit wordy though)