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Minister’s Ordaining of Sister to Defy Church

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Openly defying his denomination’s policy against women pastors, singer-minister Andrae Crouch will ordain his twin sister Aug. 1 as co-pastor of his church.

“God told me to do it, regardless of who doesn’t like it,” said Crouch, who combines his careers as a minister and a popular gospel singer, composer and pianist, for which he has won nine Grammy Awards.

He cut back on his musical career three years ago to fill the pulpit vacancy at Christ Memorial Church in Pacoima created by the deaths of his father and brother.

His sister, Sandra Crouch, a professional singer and Grammy winner as well, would not be the first woman pastor in the 5.5-million-member Church of God in Christ, the country’s largest African American Pentecostal denomination. One church leader estimated that 50 to 60 women serve as pastors.

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But her planned ordination poses an unusually public challenge to the church’s policy. Most such ordinations are conducted clandestinely, by ministers who run the risk of censure by the Memphis-based denomination.

A long-awaited report on women’s ordination is expected at this year’s national convention. Convinced that the 90-year-old denomination is unlikely to change its policy, Andrae Crouch said he and his sister, who already functions as a minister in the 800-member Pacoima congregation, will wait no longer.

Unlike the low-profile installations of women pastors, however, the Crouches announced their plans in advance, hoping to “free up a lot of other people” to recognize what Andrae Crouch called the inequity of denying ordination to spiritually gifted women.

Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and strongly conservative Protestant churches limit their clergy ranks to males, citing biblical tradition. But most mainline Protestant and several white Pentecostal churches have opened the doors to women clergy, although some women complain that cultural biases limit their opportunities as pastors.

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If all goes as planned, at least nine clergy of other denominations, including a woman bishop from Virginia and a male evangelist pastor from the Bahamas, will join Andrae Crouch in ordaining his sister in a 4 p.m. ceremony next Saturday at the church.

Crouch conferred Wednesday with his church superior, Los Angeles Bishop J. Bernard Hackworth, who succeeded the singer’s late father, Bishop Benjamin Crouch. Crouch said he assured his bishop that he is not going to leave the denomination, and Hackworth indicated he would not try to block the ordination.

When contacted Friday, however, Hackworth declined to comment. Attempts to reach a denominational spokesman were unsuccessful.

Two other bishops of the denomination in Southern California said they wished the Crouches well. But because their presence would imply official approval, they said they do not plan to attend the ceremony.

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Bishop Charles Blake, a lifelong friend of the Crouch family and pastor of the nation’s largest Church of God in Christ congregation, was reluctant to talk about the sensitive issue.

“I love Andrae and his dear sister Sandra, and I wish her the very best in everything she sets out to do,” said Blake, whose 18,000-member West Angeles Church of God in Christ broke ground last month for a multimillion-dollar cathedral in the Crenshaw district.

Blake, who sits on the denomination’s general board, said the Church of God in Christ does ordain women as chaplains and evangelist missionaries. But “a variety of views” exists on whether to approve women as pastors, he said.

Another Crouch supporter in an awkward position is Bishop George McKinney of San Diego, who heads the committee that will report to the denomination’s November convention in Memphis on the issue of women pastors.

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Other than saying that the majority of the committee members have been opposed to a change, McKinney declined to say what the group will recommend to the mostly male delegates at the upcoming General Assembly.

Ironically, in a ceremony 10 years ago at his church, St. Stephen’s Church of God in Christ, McKinney ordained seven women pastors and received TV and newspaper coverage in San Diego.

“I was promptly reprimanded by the presiding bishop,” said McKinney.

Although he defended his actions then, McKinney said he promised not to ordain more women unless the denomination acts to change its tradition. He was subsequently chosen to head the doctrinal review committee examining the issues.

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McKinney said he personally supports the Crouch siblings and remains an advocate of dropping barriers to women who aspire to the pulpit.

“I believe that if God has anointed and appointed a woman to full-time ministry, then I as a bishop have no choice but to support that call,” McKinney said.

“It is dangerous to undo what God has done.”

Two leading predominantly white Pentecostal denominations--the Assemblies of God and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel--have ordained women pastors through most of this century. The Foursquare church was founded in Los Angeles by female evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

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Sandra Crouch said that a Foursquare pastor in Vancouver, B.C., offered to ordain her about 10 years ago, but she turned it down after a Sunday morning call from that Canadian city to her bishop-father in Pacoima.

She said her father advised, “I want you to wait; when you get ordained, I want you to do it in Christ Memorial,” his church. The senior Crouch died in 1993, without ordaining her.

Although the Church of God in Christ has a seminary in Atlanta, formal theological training is not a requirement for ordination in the denomination. More important, pastors say, is evidence that the clergy candidate meets certain spiritual and ethical criteria.

Ordination, Sandra Crouch said, “doesn’t mean that you will be doing ministry; it means you are doing it and that we bless you in what you are doing.”

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The Crouch twins, whose age they hint is in their late 40s, are successful musicians. Andrae Crouch has been a major recording star in gospel music. Sandra won a 1983 Grammy for best female gospel performance and has worked with Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond and Julio Iglesias.

At the same time, music in service of the church has been a major part of their lives. Andrae Crouch has composed many hymns used in Pentecostal churches, including “To God Be the Glory.” And since he became pastor of Christ Memorial Church, Sandra Crouch has acted as musical director and substitute preacher.

Though certain New Testament verses are used to argue for and against women’s ordination, Andrae Crouch said those debates are superseded by biblical predictions that “in the last days,” God will pour out his spirit “upon all flesh, male and female” (Acts 14:17).

“With the problems that young people have, God wants to use everybody who has the Word in them,” said the minister-keyboard artist. “God is pulling out every stop.”

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