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November 4, 2013

Adventist Pastoral Ordination and Dangers of Being Right without Others

It was one of those life-saving thoughts that creep into a person’ mind and saves them from thinking or doing or saying something stupid.

I still remember it. It was as if a switch went off, channeling my mind from a narrow view to a broader view. That re-routed way of thinking would enrich my life many times over.

Even years later, when I think about that “switch,” I shudder to think what would have happened had my old perspective instead have rutted itself further into my thinking.

I see people around me that have stayed fixated in rutted thinking and homes traumatized unnecessarily by failure to escape the frame of mind.

Flashback

I had been coming back to a closer relationship with Jesus. I was spending more time in early morning Bible study and prayer and wrestling with God’s love and will for me. At times, I poured out my soul like Daniel did in Daniel 9 realizing in a deeper way my sin and the sin of my church and nation. It was a life-changing time. I could see where I had turned from God’s thinking and lifestyle and what it had cost myself and others.

It was a precious and gracious time of overwhelming reaffirming grace.

My wife generally appreciated this rekindled spiritual experience but on a couple of issues she thought I was a little too intense, even at times misguided and even missing the more justice side of God.

As she remained resistant to some of my new thinking and living I began to I wonder if I had the courage to lead, to take ownership, to be the “man” of the house.  As I wrestled with this, I slowly began to question her moral thinking.

I quickly moved from wondering about her and seeing my “rightness” to seeing her as hardheaded, resistant and rebellious.

One day, as I was deep in my pity party of moral righteousness wondering why she got so wrong so fast, I happened to glance past the immediate issue and got a a sudden wholistic view of my wife. I realized she was one of the kindest people I knew: dependable and loving. She was compassionate, deeply willing to serve me and her family. She spent time with Christ and supported others generously with her money and wisdom. She had married me at one of the lowest points in my life and really helped me get back on track. If anyone had earned the right to a fair “trial” of ideas, it was her.

At the moment, a switch went off in my thinking. I could be right . . . but so could she. We had been watching a marriage DVD by Emerson Eggerich and something he said hit home. He was talking about the need for love and respect and that as men look down on their wives they started believing them to be ill-willed or evil.  I could hear his words: “Your wife is not ill willed, she is just different.”

In that moment, a new way of thinking through differences came together for me. Years early I had read about Gandhi’s approach and I could see how my rightness was preventing me from seeing her rightness, and that we had to practice deeper the truth the “two shall become as one.”

It was not an easy journey from there, but finding a third way has become such a liberating aspect of my life . . . in my work with students, my colleagues, my detractors. It has made me more flexible and at the same time clearer about the non-negotiables. It has tamed some of my paranoia about others, while at the same time made me more eager to get issues out on the table and aired because I am confident that the gentle Holy Spirit is working with all of us who are willing to learn.

With King Nebuchadnezzar, I have come to believe the deep truth of Daniel 4:37:

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

We each are most prideful of our rightness. We believe we have experienced and are in the right. That stubbornness gets subtly lodged in our minds and often becomes resistant to new understandings. We can get so rutted in that way of thinking  that the only solution is seven years of eating grass like King Neb.

I know by personal experience. I also learned some hard lessons.

But I believe God’s preference was to guide me as He did that day, not with lots of pain or “exiling” but by a wink or guiding look from his eye (Psalms 32).

My wife and I now attempt to help others through that journey. It is life changing.

Being Right About Women’s Ordination

I don’t know if I need to explicate the application of this observation to the current debate on women’s ordination but just in case, I will state the way I connect it to this issue.

The short version:

“I know each side thinks they are right: really, really right. Of course, you are on the right side. You would change sides if you didn’t think you were. I know you will cite many wonderful ideas to justify you being right. I got that. You probably are correct . . . a little. But don’t let your rightness become a means to offend your sisters or brothers who are finding other moral wisdom equally valuable in this debate. Remember, your WEIRD (explained below) morality is not the only viable option.  Living in only your rightness might lock you in your own narrow moral perspective.”

The long version:
Jonathan Haidt, in his 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics uses ethical intuitionism to explain why liberals and conservatives seem to talk past each on moral issues. He sees six fundamental moral values:
Using an evolution argument that is not compelling, he describes a portrait of moral sensibility that I do find compelling. He argues that his six moral “taste buds” frame most groups palate of morality (see also http://www.moralfoundations.org/).

  1. Care      2. Liberty       3. Fairness       4. Sanctity/Purity       5. Loyalty      6. Hierarchy/Authority

Liberals tend to favor the first two, interpreting the third, fairness, as equality. They don’t feel  much moral gravity in the last three.

Conservatives appreciate the first two and have a view of fairness that focuses on just rewards and level playing fields, but have integrated the last three more into their palate of ethical intuition.

In very persuasive ways, Haidt shows how Western Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) moral views often miss the last three moral value frames that are much more appreciated by those in Eastern moral contexts. The independent, individualistic, rational approach is skeptical of the moral good created by groups that emphasize purity, loyalty, and respect for hierarchy and authority.

As a liberal himself, he shares how he slowly came to see the moral limits of his own moral approach to life and living.  After 9/11 he understood better the loyalty & patriotic moral frames of others, and became more suspicious of the liberals argument for a claim on moral rightness.

He wonders, and so do I, if the liberals miss the richer moral repertoire that conservatives bring to an issue, the stabilizing views they bring to social-moral normative process. Yes, conservatives seem rigid when they want the group to decide by consensus. Yes, consensus can’t build everything, but a reading of Acts 15, suggest consensus plays a strong role in congregational moral development.

After working for nearly 20 years in higher education, I have come slowly to see the limits of my own community of professionals. Our WEIRD morality often backfires. By worshipping with good Christian women and men from diverse cultural, educational and political backgrounds, I have seen my life enriched and gained new perspectives, just like the day I began to see my wife’s varying views not as the capricious act of an ill-willed woman, nor as an act as an uninformed person, but as a valuable companion with a different moral frame of reference.

Can the left and right start seeing differently, toning their rhetoric to one of mutual moral respect?

Probably most will eventually, hopefully before it is too late to take the moral argument to a more fuller level.

I see the WEIRD argument as a very useful way to see the limits of a Southeastern California Conference decision as the only moral framework worth taking seriously in the debate with the General Conference “authoritative” command to not make a woman their president. Loyalty and authority are strong moral arguments. I applaud their moral courage and can even see them as loyal to a broader purpose. However, if they can’t see the moral goodwill of those who disagree with them, then we have a much worse problem. They will win the battle but ultimately undermine the moral war they claim to be part of.

Why? Because they seriously run the risk of limiting their moral repertoire, by undermining authority itself and even denying the moral world that is benefitted by people who emphasize purity, loyalty, and authority .  I find it hard to respond when one side of the debate fosters a sweeping moral cynicism. It suggests a lack of growth.

Daniel 12: “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”

I think the self-righteous would be one group of wicked this passage could refer to.  Those who are steeped in their own moral rightness often view themselves as having understanding and then cut themselves off from moral growth.  Being cut off from the task of painful learning from those you differ from will stifle moral understanding faster than most actions.

I personally don’t see a need to keep women out of pastoral ministry—or any ministry, but to have more creative views of increasing our way of supporting and celebrating all kinds of calls to ministry.

What I don’t like is the absence of a Gestalt of humility that alone can counteract the strong tendency to moral hubris that shuts down the ability to learn.

I highly recommend that both sides read Haidt, take a deep breath and accept Eggerich’s basic argument not to see your brother or sister in Christ as ill-willed but different, and to give them a “fair” trial.

I think we are likely to find a richer moral experience as a church if we do. Since I lived through the thick of the Desmond Ford debates that rocked and eventually closed my church, I guess I am a little more willing to stand up to both sides this time around and remind them of the value of community.

I have done enough stupid things while strongly believing in my righteousness. My safeguard is to see some moral wisdom in most of my detractors. I find they are more right than I am at times. That insight keeps the moral myopia controlled a little more.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




16 Comments


  1. Nicholas Miller

    A wonderful application of principled moral thinking, and an excellent call for both sides in the debate to exercise some humility and restraint. Both sides need to read this!


  2. Rob Kearbey

    Duane, Thanks for the articulate way of bringing balance to the table. I wish I had half the writing skill you do. Thank you for the needed challenge for us to work to be understanding in our disagreements and to see Christ more in each other than we do.

    I’ve been in both camps on this issue and have been so deeply sadden to see the utter godlessness in so much of the deliberations on this subject. I’ve stated to many of my colleagues that no matter what side of the issues we may be on we have no business moving forward on such decisions until we can do so with more of the spirit of God, using godly words and attitude, and understanding toward those who are in opposition. In my thinking, to move forward on these issues would be to seek a win on a political agenda rather than to win souls for Christ. We need to learn more how to win each other.

    I would like to copy this to handout to others but I’m wondering if you would mind me separating the portion concerning your experience with your wife to use for some couples I’m working with? It’s a beautiful illustration of our need to recognize each other’s value in spite of our differences. Blessings to you brother. It’s good to see how God has been using you after all these years.


  3. Samuel

    I praise the Lord for you article it spoke to my heart and hope many others. Proverbs 3:5 is what comes to mind when I think about your post. Jesus says that the world will know they we follow Him by the love for one another. We should not forget that even when we discuss issues that people are very passionate about such as Women’s Ordination.


  4. This is the most helpful and practical perspective that my heart has been yearning for. Thank you for expressing it so well.


  5. Nathan Mowa

    Duane: Nice article. Thanks for the insights! We need to learn to distinguish theological and spiritual correctiveness. You can be theologically correct but spiritually wrong and vice versa. The spiritual correctness carries more weight, it reflects maturity, as you rightly put it. God bless! Nathan


  6. Wame Sausau

    Thank you, Duane, for the clear and balanced writing.
    Yes, it is unfortunate that proponents of both sides of the WO debate (and me included) often fail to listen to the other, and claim their position to the ‘right’ or ‘moral’ thing to do, forgetting that ‘we know in part, and that we see through a glass darkly …’
    I agree with Nic, we need generous doses of humility and restraint. These will move us towards true ‘submission’, which can only happen when different parties disagree with each others’ positions.
    I hope this article will be read by both sides. Very helpful.


  7. Being right without others is very dangerous. There is safety in a multitude of counselors. At times, godly men have looked around at the religious landscape and thought there were no others who love God and keep His commandments, but God says otherwise. “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.” Romans 11:4.

    Humility for the Christian who refuses to compromise the truth is not found in allowing others to believe he may be wrong, but in giving the opposing party a fair hearing. When one comes arguing their religious beliefs based on Scripture, then by all means listen. The truth can stand on its own. When a Seventh-day Adventist brings other matters to the table in support of a doctrinal position, they err.

    Jesus did not reveal to His disciples all that He could have. They could not bear to hear it. So it is today. We must withhold some truth for a time. But, there are lines drawn in the sand. The teaching of evolution in Seventh-day Adventist schools and making men followers of women are issues that will separate the sheep from the goats. Not all who are on one side or the other will remain there. Some are in the valley of decision. It is the Bible that holds the answer. Included in that answer is the fact that God has an organized church that stands on Bible truth. Many are waiting to come into His church, but first there needs to be a revival and reformation. There is a shaking that has begun. All who love God and keep His commandments will be found on the right side of both of those lines drawn in the sand.


    • Alexander Voigt

      Is it possible that you may have missed the point of the article? I know it is a temptation to see an article referring to women’s ordination, skip to the bottom, and assert one’s views, but this article points out that maybe you’re wrong. Maybe I’m wrong. Even so, we can still learn from each other.

      Maybe your rightness in thinking that this is a purely Biblical issue and that the Bible is explicit on the topic is wrong. Maybe my rightness in thinking that this is a non-Biblical issue that deserves application based on a cultural context is wrong. Maybe we’re both wrong, but maybe we’re both right! Either way, we need to seek the wisdom of those from the other side. I tend to argue based on care, liberty and fairness, while you seem to lean towards sanctity, loyalty and hierarchy.

      This article is challenging because I know I’m right! As such, what if I’m wrong? What if I’m right, but I’m missing what you’re right about? We need to be much less hostile, much more loving, and much less right about our own positions.


      • Daryl

        God gives clear direction concerning women’s ordination. All of this talk of “administrative” and “cultural” concerns is irrelevant: God has said it, our duty is to accept His Word.
        Any other response stinks of Ecumenical Catholicism. What is the next step? Shall we sanctify Sunday? After all it is easier to “administrate” and is far more “culturally” acceptable.
        Every denomination that has accepted women’s ordination is well on its way back into the waiting arms of Rome!

        “Come out of Her, My people, that ye be not partakers of Her sins…”


        • Ben Nichols

          You say that God has given clear direction about women’s ordination, but I submit to you two reasons that is simply untrue. 1) The Bible does not contain the word “ordination”, as it is from the Latin and, interestingly, was first used of ministers by Roman Catholic theologians. Neither does the Bible refer to the practice as we currently use it. The closest thing is a laying of hands, which was not a permanent indication of superior merit or status in the ministry, but a sending of missionaries for a specific purpose. 2) The very fact that our church, composed of a wide variety of views, has expended the time, energy, and expense to assemble theology of ordination study committees around the world, is evidence that this is an unclear issue that deserves careful study.

          But then, of course, every strong opinion is clear to the one who holds it. The same can be said of people holding an opposite opinion to yours. The point of this article is that it’s not enough to think you’re right. We are a church, and that means we are to live in community both relationally and when it comes to issues of doctrine and practice. Humility and submitting to one another have no meaning or merit when you only do it when you know you’re wrong. Submission is most needed when we think we’re right. That doesn’t mean being a doormat, but it does mean having a mature conversation and really listening to others.


          • Daryl

            It is not necessary to find the word “ordination” in God’s Word to discern the Spirit therein. We are not to worship in a legalistic, pharisaic, fashion but in “Spirit”.

            It is clear that men and women are to have different roles.
            In Genesis, we see that man shall “rule over woman”.
            In Ephesians, we see that man is the head of the family, and woman is to submit to him: man is to be the priest at the family alter.

            The Old Testament rules are clear as crystal that only men may serve as priests in the Temple.

            These are not “cultural suggestions” folks, these are the Words of God!

            Woman’s ordination will mean the fragmentation of the SDA church.
            If each conference is allowed to vote in its own “private interpretation”
            of ordination, there will be accusations of discrimination against those conferences who are against it. Lawsuits will be brought, directly contravening the Biblical command:
            6 “But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
            7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another.”
            1 Corinthians 6:6-7

            No matter how well disguised, this issue is not about being fair to woman,
            it is a concerted attack of Satan, against God’s Remnant Church.
            It is about conformity to the world vs conformity to God’s will.


  8. Andy Blosser

    This is a fantastic perspective. Good reading. I read Haidt this summer, and found him very helpful, if not totally persuasive. Thank you.


  9. All good points made, but I do not believe the matter of Women’s Ordination will be resolved or is resolvable. It boils down to administrative wisdom and an administrative decision over the question of regional autonomy. This is strictly an administrative choice and not a doctrinal question.


    • Alexander Voigt

      While I wholeheartedly agree with you, it seems as though our study committees and published literature keeps trying to argue theologically while everyone is coming to this same understanding. How can we change the dialogue from Biblical arguments to functional ones? Even more, how do we educate those in less developed nations about the necessity or problems with this issue in more developed nations?


  10. […] my post that review Haidt and women’s ordination and Haidt and the Sabbath or Haidt and Moral Progress […]



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