Most of us could not wait to say farewell to 2020! From the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, to COVID-19 with its manifold disparities, we’re eager to see 2020 in our rearview mirrors. We want to forget the events that haunted an annus horribilis (“horrible year”). Yet forget is precisely what we must never do! These tragedies demand we confront our blindness, indifference, and failures as a people, especially as Christians. The path to wholeness and reconciliation requires lament, repentance, and turning to God for deliverance. Let me begin by lamenting the errors that haunt CBE.
Despite the vision of CBE founders, we have dared to advance our mission apart from the leadership of our sisters and brothers of color. We have not been equally attentive to their experiences, voices, and vision. Worse, in exposing the theological roots of sexism, we have ignored the theological errors that prop up racism—a double burden women of color navigate daily. Without their leadership, we cannot respond fully to CBE’s mission embodied in Galatians 3:28. Apart from our sisters and brothers of color, we lose the clarity and skill gained from a long, arduous obedience in the same direction.
While we critique churches and denominations for their sexist theologies, we have not denounced the intersecting oppression of sexism and racism, twin demons that have the same root—presumed superiority rooted in fixed and unchangeable conditions. Yet, nothing could be more at odds with the teachings of Scripture or the example of Christ. Even so, we who teach women’s biblical equality neglect the double bind of race and gender though both are wedded in the moral teachings of Scripture, CBE’s cornerstone verse, and the experiences of CBE’s community. We who challenge male dominance in church culture have failed to oppose racial dominance in our own work.
These failures bankrupt human flourishing and diminish the unity and strength diverse teams bring to families, churches, and organizations. We have allowed the side winds of blindness and superiority to take us off course, and for these failures we are deeply sorry. We seek reconciliation, and we recommit ourselves to God’s call that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 3:28, NIV).
In turning to Jesus, we recognize that just as Christ inaugurates reconciliation between sinners and God, Christ also brings reconciliation and mutuality between the members of his body—the church diverse. Theologians put it this way: our Christology (what we understand about the work of Christ) shapes our ecclesiology (what we understand about the work of the church).1 To be in Christ is never simply a statement about our redemptive status. Our union with Christ also redeems our relationships with one another.
For this reason, Paul boldly declares that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female are all one in Christ. Therefore, Christ’s sacrifice confronts and upends the domination of racism, slavery, and women’s subjugation. Stunningly, Galatians 3:28 is the most egalitarian social declaration from antiquity. Despite division, conflict and dominance along race, gender, and social class lines, Paul reminds the early Christians (and all of us) that our redemption and oneness in Christ must become a lived reality in the church.
Hence, to Philemon and the church in Rome (chapter 16), Paul elevates a gospel identity and culture that eclipses the divisions and dominance in the surrounding culture. Thus, Onesimus, a former slave, became the bishop of Ephesus, and women became preachers, teachers, apostles, and deacons. Further, Paul places the burden of sacrificial love and mutuality squarely on the shoulders of those who held the most cultural authority and dominance: slave owners, men, and husbands.
A new Christian culture was forming where the free are now slaves and the slaves are now free (1 Cor. 7:21–22). Paul was certain that Christ was building a new covenant people with Jesus as head and you and me as joint members of Christ’s body. That is why Paul did not hesitate to celebrate Junia a female apostle. Boldly, Paul requires respect for Phoebe as a deacon and leader in the church of Cenchrea. Scripture does not shy away from celebrating the leadership of women teachers like Priscilla and house church leaders like Lydia, Chloe, Nympha and Apphia. The new wine of Jesus would require a new, larger wineskin where slaves, women, and diverse ethnic leaders participate equally in accomplishing the purposes for which God had called and gifted them.
That is why the Scriptures speak of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, and Eph. 4) as a call to serve. Spiritual gifts are not given along racial, ethnic, or gender lines because they are first and foremost an equipping for service. And all believers must be willing to lead by serving.
Not only is leadership service, but Christian leadership is inseparable from holiness. Here Scripture deals a death blow to any notion of privilege because of gender or ethnicity or class. Notice that in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul limits women at Ephesus from teaching, not as a consequence of gender, but because of the type of authority they exercised. While this passage is often used to limit women’s authority, Paul selects an unusual Greek word to expose their domineering—an ungodly leadership that slaves and others understood too well.
In determining who should serve as pastor, elder, teacher, or leader, it is not maleness, race, wealth, ethnicity, education, age, experience, or charisma that Scripture celebrates but character. You can never look at someone and determine the leadership for which God has called and equipped them. The power of Christ in them is able to do more than you or I can imagine possible (Eph. 3:20). The Christ that clothes and shapes our character and identity is our hope in overcoming evil, our annus horribilis (“horrible year”), and our blindness and failures.
We face 2021 with minds fixed on Christ’s reconciliation and Paul’s example and teachings in guiding our work. We lament allowing cultural priorities to eclipse the teachings of Scripture, the examples of Christ, and our ministry passage—Galatians 3:28. We lament and call on God’s Spirit to bring needed change in making all things new as we enter 2021.We commit to dismantle patriarchy beside women of color who know its demeaning too well. CBE will vigorously continue our strategic work of more than two years listening to the voices, vision, and experiences of people of color—who, according to the teachings of Scripture, share equal dignity and authority in leading CBE. Join us in prayer, will you please.
1. Gordon D. Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 59.
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