Ellen White said clearly, “There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry. In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God. Women who do such labor, especially full-time, were to be paid fairly from the title for their work. “The tithe should go to those who labor in word and doctrine, be they men or women. She added, “Seventh-day Adventists are not in any way to belittle woman’s work.
Some believe that Mrs. White thus called for elimination of any role distinction between men and women in the ministry of the Adventist Church. The fairness she urged in the treatment of women workers, they say, should be understood to include ordination to the gospel ministry irrespective of gender.
Yet Mrs. White did not make that connection. Her statement, “There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry,” comes from a manuscript whose opening paragraph says: “The ministers are paid for their work, and this is well. And if the Lord gives the wife as well as the husband the burden of labor, and if she devotes her time and her strength to visiting from family to family, opening the Scriptures to them, although the hands of ordination have not been laid upon her, she is accomplishing a work that is in the line of ministry. Should her labors be counted as nought, and her husband’s salary be no more than that of the servant of God whose wife does not give herself to the work, but remains at home to care for her family?”
The subject under discussion is the pay of ministers’ wives, and the kind of work they are doing is described as visiting homes and opening the Scriptures to the families. Further, rather than seeing ordination as a remedy to the injustice regarding pay, Mrs. White dismisses it as irrelevant to the issue. Her point is simply that those ministers’ wives who function as what we would call Bible instructors are “accomplishing a work that is in the line of ministry,” and they should be paid for it.
It is in this setting that Mrs. White’s statement “There are women who should labor in the gospel ministry” appears. The sentence that follows it underscores the nature of the work she envisioned for these women: “In many respects they would do more good than the ministers who neglect to visit the flock of God.” Immediately she adds, “Husband and wife may unite in this work, and when it is possible, they should. The way is open for consecrated women.”
So it seems that she was not calling for women to function in the same roles as do men, but rather to have a complementary ministry that focuses on personal work.
- Prove All Things, pp. 275-276