This article is a part of the July blog series “Becoming New,” in light of CBE’s 2015 LA Conference, “Becoming New: Man and Woman Together In Christ.” Articles for this month will either introduce conference topics or feature stories of hope, faith, and personal transformation. We invite you to join us this month as we seek to become new together as a community.
The first time I realized that I was an egalitarian was before I even knew what the actual word meant. It was my sophomore year of college and I was suddenly starting to feel the pressure from my conservative church. All of my mentors thought it was thrilling to have a student who knew she wanted to pursue ministry as a theology major. However, they were clearly put off at the suggestion of her becoming a pastor. At first, I didn’t understand the concern—at least, not until I had a conversation with an evangelist at an outing in town.
I remember very clearly the words he shared with me that were supposed to be encouragements from God:
“You do realize that theology is a man’s role in the church, right? You need to pursue an avenue of ministry for women. Like helping human trafficking or something that women are supposed to do.”
In that moment, I realized why the people I loved so dearly at church were suddenly not proud of me—I had become heretical to them. That epiphany as a still-young Christian pursuing a life of theology and leadership flipped my worldview upside down. For the first time in my entire life, I had been told I was wrong because of my gender. The moment I felt that humiliation—that my gender was something God couldn’t use, I became an advocate for gender equality.
I was raised in a home with a paralyzed mother, and a father who had to take on traditionally feminine and masculine roles. He never taught me that my gender limited what I could accomplish. I had experience teaching youth groups, mentoring other Christians, and being a leader in my church and university—the thought of my gender playing a role in any of these activities had never crossed my mind before.
Soon after my conversation with that evangelist, I was given an opportunity to start a chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality on my university campus. It seemed like a life-changing opportunity that God could use to help me share the good news of equality on my campus—
However, much to my dismay, college students just weren’t as interested in social justice issues as I had hoped. I was surprised to find that my fellow students didn’t feel the same passion for advocating for themselves and others. Many were interested in the conversation (in a safe environment), yet few were willing to pursue the action that should follow the dialogue.
Within my generation of the church, there is an aura of complacency when it comes to acting on behalf of others. From gender, racial, and class equality to human trafficking, Christians engage in ongoing conversations that do not result in change. We project the responsibility of change onto someone else, ignoring and abdicating our obligation to others despite Christ’s command to love them as ourselves.
My biggest challenge as an advocate for biblical equality is getting others to act as much as they speak about social justice issues. The more I speak to students, the more I realize that they have many questions about their role in the church. And, in fact, they love being able to discuss these questions in safe environments. Giving them the opportunity to ask questions and explore answers without being judged is crucial for their theological development.
However, having an idea and living that idea out are two different things. The challenge comes in encouraging young people to pair theology with action. I have personally traveled the road to advocacy, moving from apathy to action, paving over ignorance with truth. On this journey, silence is the greatest enemy.
Martin Niemöller, a German theologian living during the reign of Hitler wrote a poem titled, "First They Came…" that speaks to the importance of advocacy for others, of ceasing to be silent:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Here, Niemöller stresses the importance of speaking out for others. He writes of his own failure to take action on behalf of the oppressed, knowing he should not have remained silent. His words are a reminder to us all that to stop advocating for others is to stop fighting for justice and equality in the world.
So, I have started to take action for egalitarianism in my community. I have begun raising my voice as an advocate for biblical equality in my local congregation, church curriculums, and university. This fight has not come without repercussions—but it is a fight that more Christians, churches, and Christian universities need to join. It all starts with a conversation, a dialogue that merges into advocacy and action on behalf of each other and ourselves.
We have an obligation to others regardless of age, race, gender, or social class to advocate for their rights as much as for our own. And truly, when we advocate for others, we are also advocating for ourselves. And as passionate advocates, we become true representations of Christ: loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves.
Sarah A. Brooks will participate in the intergenerational egalitarians panel at CBE's LA Conference.