Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” writes of the effects of what he calls, “The Culture of Honor.” This theory is based on studies done that show reactions by individuals are not just based on the present moment, but are in fact steeped in decisions made generations in the past of an individuals cultural heritage.
The study Gladwell refers to, was a study done in which individuals irrespective of being a “jock” or “nerd”, rich or poor, responded to a specific incident similarly based on their geographic/cultural upbringing. Students were given a test and then when they turned the test into the proctor, the proctor muttered a curse word under his breath. The researchers found that consistently folks raised in the Southern portions of the United States responded with more aggresion, while Northerners consistently responded by actually becoming more calm. Not only was this the visual observation, it also was consistent with the measured testosterone & cortisol levels before and after the incident. Southerners levels increased, Northerners levels decreased.
So what does this have to do with Women’s Ordination & what is perceived by some as disrespect of the church’s authority?
Well could it be that our very history as Adventist’s leads us to question “church authority” and to always stand more firmly on the side of individual conviction?
We as a people came into being as “rebels.” Disavowing the teachings and traditions of the Christian Connexion & Methodist denominations. We didn’t seek to be discordant with these groups but when we became convicted of certain positions nothing could dissuade us, even the threat of being out of harmony with church brethern, even when being out of “unity” from the church we would not back down from the position we believed to be right.
A few years later, when we learned the Sabbath truth, we were willing to be out of harmony with all of Christendom in order to keep God’s holy day. Ellen White’s own parents were critical of her & James’ decision to keep Saturday as the Lord’s true day, and this caused disharmony in their extended family unit. But they persevered moving forward not worrying what anyone else thought, even the thoughts of those whom they loved and respected, even the thoughts of the authority of the larger Christian church.
It took us almost two decades to become an official denomination because of our caution of establishing a creed or establishing “church authority” over individual conscience.
In the 1880’s as A.T. Jones & E.J. Waggoner became ardent proponents of what we now know as “Righteousness by Faith” many of the “brethern” were in great opposition to this movement, seeing it as antinomian. This opposition included one of our great pioneers Uriah Smith at that time Editor of the Review & Herald (currently Adventist Review), and our General Conference President at the time G.I. Butler, whom called for those who were sympathetic to him to “stand by the old landmarks” to not give up traditional theological positions. But the people no longer were ready to stand with him, they had been convicted of a position and were moving forward no matter what the “brethern,” including the G.C. President said, this included our prophet, Ellen White, who strongly rebuked Butler. Butler was subsequently removed as President and replaced by Ole Andres Olsen at that 1888 General Conference Session.
You see deep in the legacy of our Seventh-day Adventist hearts is a desire to stand with conviction over “authority” over “policy.” In Adventist history conviction has always won out over church authority and even “unity.” Now folk can debate the right and the wrong of women’s ordination ’till their blue in the face, and they probably will. But we should not be surprised by this uprising of much of the church in North America on the side of conviction regarding women’s ordination. It is a part of an Adventists “culture of honor.”