Teresa Reeve, PhD
Associate Dean, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University
Interviewed by Scott Moncrieff
How did you get into ministry?
At Pacific Union College, I was a multiple subjects/elementary education major. I did hang around with theology majors, but it just didn't seem like a possibility to do theology as a woman. Then I did an MA in Education and Developmental Psychology at Andrews University, when John, my husband, came here to do a Master of Divinity (MDiv). Professor Donna Habenicht got me involved in writing children's ministries things, so I did freelance writing for the Adventurer Club, Sabbath School and VBS. I also got involved in doing workshops in Child and Family Ministries.
When did you start your PhD program?
I looked for a way to serve children and families through full-time ministry; however, I found very few options available without an MDiv. I had teased my husband, when he was doing his MDiv, because he had to study Hebrew and Greek. And then once I started studying for my MDiv I loved it; I loved every piece of my seminary education. Then, my husband and I were given the opportunity to get some additional funded study to pursue our PhDs and teach at the seminary. I had never thought about getting a PhD, but we prayed about it and God’s guiding just seemed so evident in bringing us to this place in preparation for this work.
What is John's area of specialty?
I specialize in the New Testament and he's my next-door neighbor—he specializes in the history of the early church ri ght after the New Testament period.
How would you assess the opportunities for women in ministry in our church at the present time?
There are growing opportunities, despite the challenges. Dan Jackson, President of the North American Division (NAD), gave the sermon for seminary worship today (Oct. 18). And he said the North American Division has not and will not ever change its support for women in ministry, and that the NAD has set aside $700,000 for matching grants for hiring and developing opportunities for women in ministry. There is a strong commitment from the NAD and from every NAD Union to make more places available for women in ministry, and the seminary is committed to training women for many varieties of ministry, including pastoring, chaplaincy and teaching religion and theology.
How many female seminary students are there at present out of total enrollment numbers at Andrews’ Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary?
As of Oct. 21, we have a total of 169 women enrolled in the seminary out of a total of 1105 seminary students from around the world.
This fall, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists passed a “unity” document; what exactly did the unity document address?
The final voted document was entitled “UNITY IN MISSION: PROCEDURES IN CHURCH RECONCILIATION.” It outlines in generic terms how to deal with church entities that choose to go against established policies of the church.
Even though the unity document doesn’t name women’s ordination, there's a general consensus that women's ordination was a leading concern in its development.
Yes, the main concern seems to be dealing with unions that have voted to ordain women pastors.
Have any female students here at Andrews’ Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary or faculty members come to talk with you about any concerns in relation to this document?
Certainly. There is a lot of discouragement about how the church values the ministry of women. This is made worse by the misinformation being spread on the Internet and elsewhere.
What are some of the concerns that you hear expressed?
Well, theology is where we start. That has to be the ground from which we make decisions—what the Bible says and how we understand God's will. There is appreciation that the document is very pastorally spoken. It's attempting to create some dialogue. And rather than earlier proposals which sought to deal with these issues immediately, this plan gives a year for the process of correction and reconciliation. The primary theological concern with the document is that it puts the fundamental beliefs of the church and the voted policies of the church on an equal level. There's a phrase that's repeated three or four times in the document, which refers to “the biblical principles as expressed in the fundamental beliefs or voted actions and policies of a world-wide nature.” The way it’s stated not only do we have 28 fundamental beliefs, but we also have a policy book about this thick (holding hands several inches apart) that appear to be equally binding on everybody in the church. That's theologically problematic and has huge implications. The desire that is expressed in the document to hold the church together and that we stay a united people, we all affirm. But that apparent equating of fundamental beliefs and voted church policies, and where that will take us, is problematic, because even though it's words in a document, words in a document have consequences that can be very far-reaching.
Who came up with the unity document?
The three-page document came from a committee made up of the General Conference officers, the General Conference vice-presidents, and the Seventh-day Adventist division presidents.
Is this document separate from the policy that I heard talked about earlier this year concerning General Conference involvement in renewing ministerial credentials, instead of the local union or conference?
Yes, there are two completely separate documents that have been much debated over the past few months. The other document you're speaking of is the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE) Handbook, which deals with the preparation of pastors, chaplains and religion and theology teachers in Adventist academies, colleges and universities and the endorsement of faculty teaching in these programs. This is an additional endorsement to the ministerial credentials. The Handbook, which was first published in 2001, has just been revised. It retains the endorsement policy, along with the requirement that teachers must qualify for re-endorsement every five years, although it puts more of the decision-making at school and division-level entities.
It seems similar in that it leads towards a more centralized authority.
It does have that similarity. As our church grows and spreads and has become diverse in so many ways, there are different perspectives as to how to keep unity. It certainly is a challenge and a difficulty, no matter who looks at it or how you look at it. While there are significant differences in approach between the IBMTE document and the unity document, both documents do leave the final authority with General Conference-level committees.
We have a perhaps paradoxical situation in which the theological leadership of the church is pretty strongly in favor of women's ordination and women in pastoral ministry. And yet General Conference leadership and the vote in San Antonio differ from that.
This is not the first time that issue has been voted at the General Conference. The number of delegates voting against allowing divisions the freedom to ordain women has decreased amazingly over the last 20 years, and while most Adventist scholars would like to have seen an approval for the divisions to make their own decision, the closeness of the vote was quite encouraging for the future. This is a difficult issue to deal with. Humans, as you know from your profession, interpret words from their own experience and background. We all seek and want to follow Scripture, but it is very easy to read one’s own ideas and cultural understandings into the biblical text. So when people from different parts of the world with different experiences of the relationship between men and women read Scripture, they read it with things already pre-loaded in their minds about what these words mean and what this must be talking about. So it's very difficult and challenging to hear Scripture for what it's really trying to say—what it meant then and how it applies to now. That's a challenge. I don't think that God generally inspires any one person with all the answers, but we need to work together as a community to figure out these things together. How do we move out of our own cultural biases and the way we were raised? Scholars have tried to develop and use methods of exegesis and hermeneutics that help to screen out our own biases in order for us to hear what Scripture is really saying. This is something that we have to tolerate and work on together to resolve as God's people.
For myself, personally, I don't care whether I'm ordained or not. If people will let me do what God has asked me to do, that's all I need. And I think that's the feeling of most women: “God has asked me to do this; I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, but it would be helpful if you would support me in it.” It's not about ordination. Ordination simply says “you have our support.” That's nice to have, but it's not anywhere near the imperative that God is giving me a job that I need to do.
What would you say to a female undergraduate who would like to make a contribution in the area of pastoral ministry, or to a woman enrolled at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary?
If God's calling you to do that—as you pray for God's will if this is what you keep coming back to, if this is the burden on your heart and if you're getting affirmation from other people that you have the gift for ministry—then just follow it with all your heart. There are people all over the country and all around the world who are there to support you. You'll have to be strong in order to keep following Jesus and Jesus’ will, but that's the key thing. That's the only thing that really matters. So if God wants you to do something, go do it. You've got support all over the world; you've got support here on campus; you've got support in the North American Division, and in all of the unions and most of the conferences. And it's growing support, not dying, it's growing.
What if some man tells this person, “You're not called to do that. Women are not supposed to be involved in pastoral ministry”?
Know your Scripture. I think you have to work that out for yourself first, in your own heart and with your relationship with God and in your understanding of Scripture. Pacific Press published last year Women and Ordination: Biblical and Historical Studies, put together by faculty from the Andrews University Seminary. A recent less academic book is Questions and Answers About Women’s Ordination (Pacific Press, 2015). But check out both sides of the issues. Ask the questions. Don't let someone else convince you either way—that women should or shouldn't be ordained. Don't walk into it with a preconceived notion. Check the Scriptures for yourself.
Do you, as a female administrator at Andrews’ Theological Seminary, feel supported by your colleagues?
Absolutely. I feel hugely supported, and I'm very grateful.
How is that support manifested?
Well, I was appointed to this position by Dr. Moskala, who consulted with the Dean’s Council and then made the appointment. But I have also received many words of affirmation, emails (and) prayers. When you're leading, you can tell when people aren't following, so when I ask for cooperation on something that might be difficult but it's something we need to do together, we just all work together as a team and it’s an amazing community to be a part of.
What is something that you do outside of your job here to refresh and renew yourself, to de-stress?
I need to find more of those. I love to read, but most of my reading energy is now engaged in scholarly and professional areas. Anything outdoors. I have a garden, and it's very odd, but pulling weeds pleases me; making something beautiful pleases me; just going out and walking in the woods; hiking, backpacking (and) canoeing. Being out in God's nature—that's probably the best thing.