Thursday, July 09, 2015

Seventh-Day Adventists: No Ordination For You, Girl

Seventh-Day Adventists have voted to deny women ordination:

The delegates, who represent Adventists around the world — including Africa, South America and the Caribbean, where the faith has been booming — were asked this question: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?” The vote was 1,381 no and 977 yes.

The reason for those voting no has to do with Biblical texts.  If I understood the article correctly, Adventists from Africa, South America and the Caribbean were more likely to vote no:

Western Adventists say the ban on female leaders is holding back their ability to function in this culture, while proponents of the status quo say they read scripture as banning women from overseeing men.

Sigh.  On the global level organized religion is one of the largest obstacles for women's equality.  This is true in Islam and it is true in conservative Judaism and conservative Christianity.  I've written before about religions being one of the legs of the stool on which unequal gender roles sit.  If religions really wanted to, they could saw that leg off and become major forces supporting women's full participation in societies.

It's not easy to saw that leg off.  I understand that.  The holy books tell us that god's will is for women not to lord it over men but the reverse (the Bible), that men are the leaders (the Bible), that women should be silent in church (the Bible), that because men are the breadwinners they have more rights than women (the Koran), including the right to beat women to the proper submission (the Koran) and so on.  And whatever alternative interpretations exist, god is still a he.

Those who take the holy books literally as the inerrant word of god have a case which is impossible to fight with logical arguments:  Who can box with god?

The only real alternative is to point out that the books were written by people, not by god, that they largely express the religious understanding (and its biases) of men who lived a very long time ago in nomadic societies, and that the understanding and the biases of those men came from the rules of their societies.

But those who believe in the literal interpretations of the holy books are told to choose between disobeying god and having fairness, to choose between a limited and subordinate life now and eternal hellfire later, to indeed take the actual words (often translated several times over) as the precise intention of a divine power, as never changing at all, unless it is towards an even more austere interpretations (as is done by ISIS).

Still, those rules do change over time.  I doubt even the Seventh--Day Adventists can keep women from ordination forever, but I also doubt that the time of female ministers in that church, all over the world, is anytime soon.  Likewise, the current Pope has been praised for his concerns about the poor, about climate change and about economic inequality and wars.  Little praise, so far, is necessary for his brave stances on women's equality with men. 

We are not going to have women lord over the men anytime soon in the Catholic church (though the opposite is today's reality), just as we are not going to have women exert much influence on the interpretation of the Koran.  It's not only Kaiser Wilhelm II and later the Third Reich who believed in "Kinder, Kirche und Küche (children, church and the kitchen)" as the only proper spheres for women. 

Of course religions do much good.  Of course most people get peace of mind and joy from believing in life after death.  Of course spirituality is an important value.  But do these have to be served in a dish into which women's continued oppression is so thoroughly mixed?

Many of the same arguments apply to the treatment of gays and Lesbians in more conservative interpretations of religions.

I write about this topic so much not because I'd be an atheist who hates all religions (how could a goddess be an atheist?  that's self-immolation!), but because too few feminists do so.  I can respect religious feelings and the good religions achieve, but I should also be able to point out what I think is bad in religions, what needs to be changed, and which aspects of religions just might be the cause of extremists and the violence they commit.

And from that angle the religious roots of women's oppression do need exposing.