There was something different at this year’s Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) Annual Meeting. I could feel it almost immediately. Rather than a tightening in my shoulders as ETS launched, they relaxed.
Day One: A Hopeful Start
Among the first to arrive, CBE’s team Liz Beyer, Kim Dickson, and I began assembling our booth, setting up banners, article racks, and tables, and loading these with journals, CDs, articles, and books. A few feet away, our ministry partners—InterVarsity Press (IVP)—smiled as they also piled new titles on their enormous surface areas. So began a synergy of priorities impossible to miss, especially elevating the leadership of women at ethnic and racial margins. With IVP’s team we also shared new titles and book ideas, and hurriedly restocked copies of the new edition of Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE).
Day Two: Come Let us Reason Together
Friends met at CBE’s booth to join the CBE-IVP book launch luncheon with many ETS colleagues. Egalitarian and complementarian faculty and students were eager to hear more about the inspiration behind the new edition of DBE. Craig Keener, myself, Ron Pierce, and Juliany González Nieves discussed the vision that guided our contributions. Expressions of appreciation replaced fears and caricatures of former days as a spirit of “come let us reason together” hummed throughout our two-hour gathering. Hopes for fresh conversations saturated the air as I dashed to moderate papers at Evangelicals and Women—a section of ETS.
Arriving early, it was quickly apparent we needed a room twice the size. Many attendees sat on the floor or stood along the walls, with others waiting in the hall for a seat. Four papers were presented, beginning with David R. Wallace’s “Paul’s Instruction in 1 Timothy 3:8-13: Men and Women Deacons?” Challenges to reading 1 Timothy 3:8-13 as “wives of deacons” were prominent not only given the evidence of Phoebe the deacon cited in Romans 16:1-3, but also in light of Paul’s pattern of calling leaders to controvert cultural dominance. Pushback to complementarian rhetoric reached a summit with John McKinley’s paper, “Seven Things that Need Revision in Complementarianism.” Unsurprisingly, complementarians challenged his ideas—though they were well-defended, even unassailable. I deeply admired his courage, humility, and spiritual discipline as he admitted how God had been pushing him for deeper reflection on these crucial issues.1
That evening, we joined the ETS Women’s gathering, generously sponsored by ETS and complete with delicious snacks and drinks. Carmen Imes welcomed the largest gathering of ETS women yet, with a growing number of women of color. Every year, ETS Meeting Planner Bonnie Thigpen goes way above and beyond to create a safe and welcoming space for women to network, support, and inspire one another, and this year was no exception. Women scholars lingered to laugh, chat, and strategize well after the end of the event.
Day Three: Seeing Some Fruits of Disciplined Scholarship
Tired but exhilarated, the following day I presented my DBE chapter, “Human Flourishing: Defeating Gender Inequities Worldwide,” at the Christian Ethics section. As the first presenter of the morning, I was delighted by favorable attendance. Leaders in Christian ethics expressed appreciation for my contribution, and tweets afterwards referred to its content as “powerful and needed” and “heavy and important (and a bit hopeful).”
Conversations on women’s equality, Scripture, and human flourishing were continued at CBE’s booth throughout the week. Here we also met students and faculty from complementarian institutions who stopped by to express gratitude for CBE’s academic journal, Priscilla Papers. For many, our journal helped form their theological position on women and faith. Our apprentice, Kim Dickson, had a lengthy conversation with Dr. Eric C. Redmond, a Black Professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute, who thanked her for holding sacred ground at ETS, realizing the cost women pay for activism—a cost he admitted was painful for women and people of color. “We’re both minorities here, and it’s challenging work to be prophets at the margins.”
In the evening, we enjoyed the annual ETS banquet and presidential lecture, this year by Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A gifted speaker, Mohler asserted his support for the ETS not only to stand in the gap in an increasingly secular culture, but also to provide scholarship that challenged Christian liberalism on the one hand and fundamentalism on the other. His call to stay in the game, as academics, despite our disagreements recognized how the strategic task of scholarship is sharpened, honed, and deepened by critique from Christians with differing views necessary for the good of the church and its mission in the world. As Alan Jacobs suggests in How to Think, thinking never happens in isolation. Good thinking is fostered by disagreement. Mohler, it seemed to me, was asking us to do the hard work of disciplined scholarship that demands hearing reasoned ideas we’d rather ignore. Little did I see the connection between his lecture and the events that would unfold the following day.
Day Four: Watershed Moments Abound
On our final day together, ETS members assembled to vote on future ETS leaders. Several of us met early to pray, walking through the room and asking God for newness of life at the ETS—and God’s answers were immediate and stunning. Standing rules were amended, tellers were appointed, and the executive committee presented candidates in line for the presidency, including Dr. Karen Jobes—who was elected as vice president, meaning she will later become the first woman president of ETS. As her nomination passed unopposed, Sandra Glahn was also elected to the nominating committee by a significant number of votes. As I described these events to colleagues afterward, I burst into tears, thankful to God first and foremost, but also grateful for complementarian colleagues who joined hands across the aisle in support of women’s leadership at ETS.
Wrapping up the annual meeting, our final session of papers at Evangelicals and Women was epic! Scholars explored the songs of women in the Old Testament with clarity and skill. As committee members gathered early for prayer, a profound sense of family between egalitarians and complementarians prevailed. Together, we prayed for a colleague battling cancer. Over the years we’ve sparred and disagreed, but during this trial he said, “Mimi, it’s at times like these that long-standing friendships like ours really matter!”
In looking backwards over my years at ETS, there were times our differences threatened friendships and even our unity in Christ. But staying in the game, persisting as family with a commitment to each other as Christians, academics, and pastors—nurtured by ETS—we continually discovered we’re better together than apart. Our decisions over the years have been guided by the Holy Spirit, careful research, and attentive listening to those we disagree with—all for the good of the church and its mission in the world. I have only gratitude to our complementarian colleagues and egalitarian allies who welcomed women leaders, including their wisdom and moral agency as necessary in leading the society in the future.
- Recordings of all ETS sessions are available for purchase here for those who may be interested: https://www.wordmp3.com/ets-recordings.
Photos by CBE / unknown photographer.