The Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) has decided to ordain women and allow them to carry the title of “pastor.” More than 60 percent of the denomination’s delegates approved the two changes at the Alliance’s general council in Spokane, Washington, last week, after four years of official discussion and debate.
John Stumbo, president of the Alliance, supported the changes but also urged the gathered delegates to respect different interpretations of the New Testament verses on church leadership.
“Do not think that just because someone disagrees with your biblical position that they don’t love the Word of God, honor the authority of the Word of God, and hold true to its core teachings,” he said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to across the country has come with a thoughtful position. … We have the right, privilege, and necessity of having a mutual respectability for each other.”
Stumbo said the Alliance, which includes about 2,000 churches in the United States, needs unity, but not uniformity. Churches that accept the ordaination of women and those that don’t can work together to proclaim the gospel.
“A deeper life and missions movement—that has always been the Alliance at its best, experiencing the fullness of Jesus within us, the heart change of Christ within us, that sends us on mission to the world,” he said.
The denomination has trained both men and women for that mission to the world, but the women were previously “consecrated,” not ordained, and were told they should not use the title of pastor. Some women testified during the biannual conference that calling themselves “Consecrated Woman of God” and using the acronym CWG creates unnecessary confusion.
“When I go to the hospital and I show my credentials, they look at me,” Leida Matias, a chaplain in Puerto Rico, told the gathered delegates. “They don’t have a clue what the letters mean. Then I have to say, ‘I am a pastor.’”
Explaining the distinctive Alliance terminology gets in the way of doing ministry, a number of CMA women said. Worse, it seems to diminish their calling.
“Being ordained would make my life a lot easier as a military chaplain, not having to make the big long explanation,” said US Air Force chaplain Krista Lain. “But it’s so much more than that. I am called to join God in raising up a vast army from dry bones by the breath of the Holy Spirit. … I know I have angel armies backing me up. But I wonder, do I have the Alliance family backing me up?”
Some CMA churches already use the title of pastor for women in ministry. They have pointed to ambiguity in the denomination’s governing documents and the longer history of women in ministry in the Alliance. Founder A. B. Simpson insisted that women be trained to preach when he started Nyack Bible College (now Alliance University), and one of the first students to win a preaching prize at the New York school was a woman. Simpson wrote that women are “under certain limitations” and so are “not called to exercise ecclesiastical authority,” but he also supported and encouraged women to become Bible teachers, evangelists, branch presidents, and executive board members.
Rob Bashioum, the lead pastor at Salem Alliance Church in Oregon, told the conference that his congregation was started by a woman 102 years ago. When she asked Simpson to send a pastor, he sent another woman to lead the fledgling church. Today the congregation has 25 people on staff with the title of pastor, and 14 of them are women.
“I believe this recommendation affirms the early practices of the Alliance and the intentions of our founder,” Bashioum said. “Our women are exceptional, and without them we would not see the kingdom advance like we have.”
The conference also heard from vocal opponents to the changes. Some expressed concern that the Alliance was turning its back on the wisdom of previous generations who didn’t think women should be called pastors.
“Is this saying that the men and the councils of previous generations were somehow less spiritual women haters and weren’t as godly?” asked Doug Birr, pastor of Campbellsport Alliance Church in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. “Now we’ve arrived at having people who are progressive and able to be spiritual?”
Others warned that ordaining women would inevitably lead to a liberal slide and, eventually, denominational decline. They pointed to the examples of mainline churches, such as the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church, which began to lose members after they ordained women.
“This motion serves to destroy the role of men in the body of Christ and the authority that God has given to the shepherds in the Word of God,” said Paul Taylor, pastor of Discovery Alliance Church in Missoula, Montana. “We must face the hand of God and removal of his blessing.”
One consecrated woman spoke against the changes. Sandy Rose, whose husband is pastor of Living Hope Alliance Church in Huron, South Dakota, said the “biblical pattern” is that “men carry a greater level of authority.” That didn’t mean consecrated women were inferior to ordained men, she said, just that they had a different role, just like Jesus has a different role in the Trinity than God the Father, and submits to the Father, but is still fully equal.
“I think that titling women as pastors is going to have a long-term negative effect on our denomination,” Rose said.
Several men went out of their way to say they respected the women in the Alliance and believed they really were called to ministry—they just shouldn’t be called pastors.
“I want to fully affirm the calling, the gifting, and the ministry of women in this room and throughout the Alliance,” said Don Wiggins, former North Central District superintendent. “I can make that distinction in my heart and I believe many of us in the room can do that as well.”
The council delegates voted 1,008–588 to ordain women. They voted 1,025–592 to allow churches to call ordained women pastors. The conference also voted to reaffirm the Alliance position that elders can only be men. The lead pastors of Alliance churches are required to be elders, so that role will also be reserved for men. The rule change only applies to Alliance churches and ministries in the United States, and churches will not be required to hire women if they don’t want to.
The denomination cannot be neatly categorized as either “complementarian” or “egalitarian,” Alliance vice president Terry Smith told CT. Rules about church leadership are considered a secondary issue.
“What really makes our heart pound fast is mobilizing more people to ministry,” he said. “That’s kind of the heart of who we are.”
After voting for the change on June 2, the Alliance delegates gathered in the evening to worship together. They started with a CMA song written the week before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US in 2020.
“All of you for all the world / All we have no holding back,” the delegates sang, paraphrasing Simpson’s summation of the commitment of the Alliance. “All of you for all the world / All we have no holding back.”