Written by Gregg Brekke
Ordaining women as pastors to serve Middle Eastern churches took one step closer to becoming reality today. Delegates at the Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC) voted unanimously to adopt a statement in support of this change. The statement was drafted on the spot in response to a report by the fellowship's theology committee, which found no biblical or theological reasons to oppose female ordination.
The vote occurred at the Sixth General Assembly of the Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches. FMEEC is an association of evangelical (Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed) churches of the Middle East.
The report inspired lively conversation as to how to respond to it, with delegates expressing support for it as well as concern for how their congregations would accept it. Mary Mikhael, president and professor of Christian Education at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, acknowledged the obstacle presented to the church by societal traditions but, she asked, "Who should reform who?" Finally, conference leaders agreed to reconvene after drafting a short statement in support of the report and of female ordination. It passed unanimously among the fellowship's 29 voting delegates, including two women.
ELCJHL Bishop Munib A. Younan, who serves as FMEEC's president, developed the statement in Arabic. An English translation provided by the conference interpreter reads: "The Sixth General Assembly supports the ordination of the women in our churches in the position of ordained pastor and her partnership with men as an equal partner in decision making. Therefore we call on member churches to take leading steps in this concern."
Speaking later of the historic vote, Younan said it is in keeping with the Middle Eastern evangelical tradition of leading the way in ministry. The fellowship's action means its 16 member churches are urged to open the doors to women's ordained ministry, he added.
The vote resonated with the remarks with which Younan opened the conference the previous day. "If we have any influence in the Middle East, it is the theology of grace," he said.
To a world that values work, achievement and ritual, "Jesus Christ gave us the theology of grace that we may influence the community that we live in," he said to some 70 people gathered for the Jan. 11-13, 2010, conference.
FMEEC was formed in 1974, the fruit of a long history of ecumenism among member churches. The purpose of FMEEC is to strengthen the mission and ministry of its member churches through training and formation of leadership and laity, both women and men, and promoting unity through joint work and education.