Sometimes it seems as if a Christian liberal arts college is the last place in the world to find evidence for equality. Women often seem focused on finding the perfect husband, and men on becoming the strong leader in the household. Captivating is the number one Bible study tool throughout the women’s dorms, and professors openly profess complementarian views without giving attention to egalitarian thought. Yet in this often overwhelming complementarian collegiate world, I find evidence—evidence for equality.
I find evidence in professors who openly profess their complementarian views, yet allow me to speak up on women’s equal access to roles within the church. One professor, because I had asked a question about the qualifications of deacons in the Bible, took an entire day to discuss with the class our thoughts on giftedness and how it relates or does not relate to gender.
I find evidence in friends who tell me they do not know what they believe regarding women in the pulpit but admit they are gifted to lead, especially in preaching. One of my friends had direct leadership over two of the male leaders on campus. She was in authority over them, and she could not understand how God could create this opportunity if he was not pleased to see her use her gifts with these young men.
I find evidence from my new friend who lives in South America. She comes from a culture where woman are not shoved under the rug or stuck in the kitchen when it comes to church. Women are free to prophesy and preach, for they are carrying God’s message with them.
I find evidence in friends who are willing to listen as I explain the struggles of bringing the message of biblical equality even if they do not share the same view I do. They love me, and are there for me, regardless of the issue and their stance.
I find evidence in the fact that there is a 3:1 ratio of women to men involved in campus ministries. Women are gifted and are already on the mission field, working to spread God’s grace. These gifts are not only recognized, but they are already being used to further the kingdom.
I find evidence in the professors who were relieved and so supportive when they found out a chapter of CBE was starting on the campus.
I find evidence in one of the men I met at my Christian college. We shared with one another a desire to be pastors; mine to serve as a congregation pastor and his to serve as a youth pastor. Excitement was his response; not disgust at the idea of a woman leading a church.
I find evidence in my parents, my best friends. They listen to my phone calls where I share the newest name I have been called as a result of speaking up about gender justice. They not only support me in my goals, but they believe them as well and live them out in their thirty-two years of marriage. I would not be where I am today without them.
I found evidence this past weekend, at the 2008 CBE Toronto conference. Surrounded by more than 150 members, I discovered support and encouragement. I found those who had walked this difficult path before me, and who were willing to take the journey with me. I saw women using their gifts, to preach, write, and teach. I was also affirmed by men in my goals and gifts.
Sometimes it can be discouraging when you feel as if you cannot see any evidence that equality is coming. I could not at first. I wanted to see lives changed and missions revived. But this evidence is not often found in leaps and bounds. It is found in the little conversations where someone says, “I’ll think about that.” It is found in the woman who does not know what she believes about gender roles in ministry, but is dutiful to God’s call to be in authority over men in her leadership positions on campus. So much of our work is education!
How can you make a difference, and allow others to see the evidence for equality that is all around them? Sometimes, the best way to do this is to simply be a voice for a different point of view. When you hear someone talking and you disagree with what they are saying, why not engage them in conversation? Say, “I find your point of view interesting. Here is what I think.” By acknowledging different perspectives you gain respect, and are able to share your alternate perspective without simply arguing. This must be done in a gentle way, or no one will take the time to listen. And just hearing another perspective can be more effective than you think. For example, I’ve observed that in my college, women often seem to strictly adhere to whatever “program” will get them in line for their ring by spring. It can be scary to align oneself with a view that often gives men pause as far as romantic relationships go. But imagine the impact if these young women were encouraged to put their relationship with God foremost in their lives, rather than dreams of marriage. Simple knowledge of an alternative can often produce seeds of change.
You can also start asking subtle questions, challenging other students in why they hold the beliefs they do. However, it is important to maintain a gentle and reconciliatory tone when doing so. If I asked the students on my campus to assign a gender to God, it would not be surprising if many of them answered “male”. However, many of them do not realize that this idea is not necessarily Scriptural, but is instead the result of a culture where all images of God are masculine and language is far from gender-inclusive. Simply asking students what their beliefs are based on can start their thought process, and challenge them to more critically evaluate their ideas.
Finally, and most importantly, pray. Pray for professors who continue to teach unbiblical principles to students who are trying to find the truth. Pray for students who want to learn more about egalitarianism, but are afraid of how others will react to them. Pray for female and male leaders to rise up and take a stand on their campus. And pray that you can find a way to help, whether through becoming a mentor to a college student, supporting CBE’s intern program financially, or praying for every Christian college in the nation, one day at a time. We need to start building egalitarianism on our college campuses, so that more ears are able to hear the truth.