Mutuality between women and men has been the heart of CBE’s mission since its inception in the late 1980s. If you return to the early documents of the egalitarian movement, and the founding papers of CBE, you cannot escape what we believe to be the biblical truth of women’s equality with men in the eyes of God, and thus the obligation we have to share leadership and authority as God’s people. We feel convicted that God has asked us all to serve the church based on the gifts we’ve been given by the Spirit, and that those gifts are not given based on the recipient’s sex.
What CBE holds to be true about gender we also extend to “all cultures, races, and classes” in our mission statement. God does not show favoritism, so neither do we. But CBE’s staff and donor base, statistically speaking, is majority white. We are humans still struggling with sin, so we have not always held to our ideals that culture, race, and class ought not to create a distinction between us.
In this issue of Mutuality, we hear almost exclusively from and about Black women who speak from a broadly womanist perspective. Alice Walker’s now classic definition of womanism dovetails with our mission as egalitarians in that we are “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” But egalitarians have struggled to carry out some aspects of our mission—we struggle to amplify the voices of egalitarian women and men of color and to recognize that, for many, Black women cannot separate racism and sexism. In this way we have failed to see that the quest for equality for women requires that white women use their privilege to make extra space at the table for the leadership of women of color.
The women featured in this magazine have a strong word for us, especially us white egalitarians. These articles were written over the spring and early summer, which was a moment of global protest. George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white police officer while taking him into custody for allegedly paying with counterfeit currency. This clear injustice sparked protests against police brutality and rallies for Black lives throughout the US and around the world.
I am a white woman. As I learn from these women, I find myself returning to the words of the apostle Paul, which act as an anthem for egalitarians: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26–29, emphasis mine). We readily appeal to this verse to establish the radical equality of women in the church. We must also see how Paul is radically including gentile women (race), especially gentile slave women (race and class), as fully equal children of God, one in Christ, and recipients of God’s promise.
Talking about race can be uncomfortable, even when we are committed to mutuality for all people. In the US, we as a nation have yet to fully confess our historical sins of slavery and systemic racism, which can hold us back when it’s time to reckon with what has happened and how it continues to affect real people’s lives. But as egalitarians, we come to the table equipped to have these conversations. As egalitarians, we are not without a framework for listening to and amplifying those who have been treated as second-class citizens. Not only do we believe that we are all one in Christ, but we have let that truth guide the way we live and work together as Christian women and men. And now is the time to let our faith guide how we work together with our Black sisters and brothers in Christ.
As you read these articles, I pray you might “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas. 1:19). Coming to terms with the ways some of us may have been complicit in the silencing and the pain of others can make us feel defensive. We must ensure that the freedom we have found in Christ, the freedom we proclaim to women and men, is truly extended to all women and men of every race and class. These writers see a way forward for us to achieve true justice and full equality for all women and men. Let them lead us in our shared commitment to mutuality.
This article appears in “Womanist Theology: Unraveling the Double Bind of Racism and Sexism,” the Fall 2020 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.