I held back on this story for more than a week expecting to see a larger outpouring of commentary online, but outside of people who attended the General Assembly of the Canadian wing of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA), or people who were following the events, the interwebs have been strangely silent. Suffice it to say they voted to permit the ordination of women.
Blogger and PhD candidate Jon Coutts presents an exhaustive “History of Gender Roles in the C&MA” in which he obviously sees the present announcement as 130 years in the making.
There’s also an excellent article online (in .pdf form) written by the newly elected president of the denomination, which uses the example of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, a denomination whose connection to the C&MA I often refer to as “doctrinal cousins,” to make a case for ordination of women.
What is probably most significant about this, is that while some evangelical groups sanction the participation of women in leadership on various levels, there has been very little movement on this in Evangelical circles up to this announcement.
While the C&MA is not well known among all U.S. Evangelicals, it is proportionately more visible in Canada, especially in the western provinces where some of the country’s largest churches are Alliance. Among its membership is Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The denomination began as a missionary-sending agency in its early days with a “fellowship” establishing itself along a parallel track. In that sense, there are similarities between the C&MA and the Salvation Army, the latter also having in its history a ‘parachurch organization’ type of beginning which quickly expanded to include offering its own Sunday worship services.
Ordination of women as elders is a contentious issue in some C&MA local churches. As someone who has been a part of one — with a brief interruption to attempt a non-denominational church plant — the most recent vote for change in our congregation had more than 50% support, but the bar had been set previously as “a two-thirds majority.” To compound matters, there are families who do not hold membership — and therefore could not vote — because they don’t support the church’s refusal to have women ordained as church board members. That’s a “Catch 22,” or in the case of a two-thirds majority, a “Catch 33.”
The change in policy at the denomination happened largely because of serious discussion as to what ordination constitutes. Undoubtedly, there are women in many local churches who are already “set apart” in leadership roles; this simply confers official status on what God is already doing in their lives.