Adrian has now come up with a subject which I would like to take up. He reports on John Piper’s message about Ethnic Diversity and “Affirmative Action” for Pastoral Appointments.
Affirmative action is of course a controversial issue, and I agree with Adrian in being unsure about Piper’s strategy here while applauding his goal of ethnic diversity in his church leadership team. Also, in general I agree with Adrian’s comments that it is better to appoint pastoral staff from within one’s own church than from outside. Sadly perhaps, that is not the usual practice in my Church of England; indeed the church will consider for ordination only those who are prepared to serve in congregations other than the one they are leaving.
Holy Trinity Brompton is a very rare exception in that Nicky Gumbel was originally an ordinary church member, then a curate (assistant pastor), and is now the vicar (senior pastor) there, apparently without ever serving at any other church; but then HTB, the home of the Alpha Course, is an exceptional church in many ways.
Having said that, my own congregation appointed from outside, according to the normal Church of England procedures, a vicar from an ethnic minority, a Palestinian Arab. This was not because of any affirmative action but because he was the best qualified candidate, and has proved an excellent pastor. But if we had looked to our own congregation we would never have chosen an ethnic minority person, because we have rather few in our church – although more than the 2.6% non-white population of our parish according to the 2001 census statistics. Also we probably would not have found among ourselves such a good leader, certainly not someone with the same training and experience.
But unfortunately John Piper’s appeal for diversity in leadership appointments looks rather hollow to me because it applies only to race and not to gender, although the arguments he makes for racial diversity apply just as much to gender diversity. I wonder how he would react to the following adapted version of his own reasons for pursuing ethnic diversity as an argument for gender diversity in the pastoral ministry:
- It illustrates more clearly the truth that God created male and female in his own image (Genesis 1:27).
- It displays more visibly the truth that Jesus is not a male deity, but is the Lord of both genders.
- It demonstrates more clearly the blood-bought destiny of the church to be those “redeemed from mankind (anthropoi, gender generic) as firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Revelation 14:4).
- It exhibits more compellingly the aim and power of the cross of Christ to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
- It expresses more forcefully the work of the Spirit to unite us in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
(Quotations from ESV, so Piper can’t complain. I note that Ephesians 2:16 is primarily about the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, a religious matter, and so to apply it to gender is stretching it no more than to apply it to race.)
Yes, the church in New Testament times discriminated against women, because the first believers, like many conservative Christians today, brought the presuppositions from their partly patriarchal society into their church. For similar reasons slavery was not explicitly condemned in the New Testament (although of course slavery at that time was not linked to race as it was in 18th-19th century America). And there are significant Christian movements in the USA today which support not only the patriarchal system under which women are oppressed but also slavery. Piper, to his credit, does not seem to be advocating slavery, and certainly not racism. But he needs to realise that the same approach to interpreting the Bible which allows most modern evangelicals to condemn slavery (indeed it was evangelicals like William Wilberforce who led the campaign to end the slave trade 200 years ago this year) also implies condemnation of the patriarchal system and an end to discrimination against women in pastoral appointments.