Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts made his case for female pastors in his 1891 book “Ordaining Women,” but women could not become Free Methodist elders until General Conference 1974 delegates unanimously approved a resolution giving men and women equal status in church ministry.
Support for women in the pulpit is far from unanimous, however, as many prominent evangelicals describe ordination of women as an unbiblical surrender to modern trends. Long before gender equality was popular, Roberts used the Bible to make the case that “there is nothing in the creation of woman or in her condition under the law which proves that no woman should be ordained as a minister of the gospel.”
Benjamin D. Wayman —an assistant professor of theology at Greenville College and a pastor at St. Paul’s Free Methodist Church in Greenville, Illinois — believes Roberts’ message deserves an audience throughout and beyond the Free Methodist Church. He is the editor of “Ordaining Women: New Edition With an Introduction and Notes” (fmchr.ch/owbw), which Wipf and Stock Publishers released in November.
“I hope this book reaches the broadest possible audience — not just women, not just Free Methodists. Unfortunately, women’s ordination has been wrongly cast as a women’s issue, and the book has been narrowly treated as a Free Methodist resource,” Wayman said in a Light + Life interview. “But Roberts’ vision of the gospel is broader than women and Free Methodists. It’s a pressing matter for all of God’s people in every faith community of the global church.”
Why release a new edition of Roberts’ book when a PDF of the original edition can be downloaded for free from the Internet?
“The ordination of women is arguably the most pressing issue for the church today, and Roberts’ handling of the issue is concise and compelling. The problem with the online version is that it’s in a 19th century style and format, which jars modern readers. For example, Roberts sometimes writes in all caps, is at times unclear about where his quotes end and whom he’s quoting, and he follows 19th century citation and formatting conventions,” Wayman said. “My main aim with the new edition was to re-present Ordaining Women in a format and style that is useful and readable for people in the 21st century.”
Although Wayman hopes to reach a wide audience of Christians, the new edition would not have been possible without the help of fellow Free Methodists.
“This book is a collaborative work of church and academy,” Wayman said. “The bishops of the Free Methodist Church – USA, the Committee on Free Methodist History and Archives, [former Gateway Conference] Superintendent Lucia Delamarter and [Ministerial Development and Credentialing Director] Jason Morriss were all lively supporters of the project.”
Wayman also credited Free Methodist scholars Christy Mesaros-Winckles and Howard A. Snyder, who co-wrote the foreword, and his supportive colleagues at Greenville College. He praised the research of Beth Armstrong, a Free Methodist elder who recently defended her Gonzaga University doctoral dissertation on gender equality among Free Methodist clergy.
“She argues that what’s needed are more ‘Benevolent Male Advocates’ (BMA),” Wayman said about Armstrong. “She’s surely right. It’s important to note that advocacy must have feet. It’s not real advocacy if women aren’t being placed and supported in positions of leadership in the church.”
Wayman said the ordination of women creates “a new kind of community” that exposes the lies of the world’s distinctions, classifications, hierarchies and values.