Years ago at a meeting of Adventist  pastors in Little Rock, we gathered to listen to our conference leaders and their hopes and plans for the Arkansas/Louisiana territory. Our guest speaker for that event was Bob Thrower. He was a radio evangelist in the Texas Conference. Bob was a spitfire. He was a Baptist in an earlier life and I tend to think he kept a lot of his Baptist personality with him when he became an Adventist.

He spoke to us pastors about the privilege of serving our churches, members and our leaders as well. He was so convinced about this privilege that he had most of us in tears about the times we felt down about our ministries or about our churches. Coming from his Baptist background made him especially interesting as he spoke of how he treasured becoming an Adventist pastor. I left that meeting with the firm conviction that I would never speak bad about anyone again, not if I could help it. Especially important was the notion that I would speak well of my members and their families. Bob’s message to me left me certain that they already had enough said about them that was bad—why should I add to it? He convinced me to truly search for the good in people, even if they rarely did the same in return.

I also left the meeting feeling as though my supervisors, our church leaders, needed the same treatment. They go through some deep agonies and experiences where they carry so much on their hearts that most of us will never ever know. No matter what I feel about the decisions of individual leaders, I do my best to keep that apart from my respect for them. I continue to pray for them.

The current climate surrounding the discussion of women’s ordination has tested those convictions once again in my heart. I have not engaged in many personal conversations about the matter, but I have seen many online conversations, either in blogs or on Facebook. And I really do hurt over some of the things I have seen, heard or read. It’s especially bad when we resort to comments that are devoid of any respect for the leaders of our church.

Bob Thrower really got to me that day. You could tell that he would never surrender certain opinions related to his faith. He was a tough customer. But he would also be very careful in how he addressed his fellow workers and church members. I think he followed the counsel of scripture with all his heart to be slow to speak, quick to listen, to guard his words, and so on.

I left that workers meeting with very deep convictions about all of this. That’s probably why you will never hear me say anything bad about a church leader—locally, at the conference or Union level, or at the General Conference. If you hear it from my mouth, I must have been in a really bad way. You probably never will. That doesn’t mean I agree with all they say or do. It just means I respect the call of God in their lives to lead. Even more so, it means I respect the privilege I have to serve as a result of God’s call in my life.

Once we take sides, it may be too late to repair the breach and return to a whole community. We will certainly do what we can to repair the broken spirit and the broken hearts of those who are wounded in the struggle but I’m afraid we will have said and done things that we cannot undo.

I wish to do everything I can to see women pastors treated equally as men pastors. I look forward to the day when this is not an issue in our church, where it unites us in harmony of purpose and pleases God as well. In the meantime, I will do all I can to discourage us from judging our leaders and fellow church mates who have taken one side or another.

We really do have a bigger mission than separating over issues like this. Our bigger mission is to extend the love of God into a world that has no idea that it is missing in their lives. Forgetting that is to forget how privileged we are. I won’t forget that. I hope you won’t either.