When we talk about mutual submission, unconditional love or service through giftedness rather than gender, we are often conscious of the tension between these biblical ideals and the realities of a Church that is still “under construction.” While we pray for and envision a Church in which all Christians may serve through giftedness rather than gender, class or race, we are often sideswiped by the tenacious presence of sin that weakens our witness and drains our effectiveness. At times we are, as Soren Kierkegard suggests, “a glorious ruin.” We seem caught between what theologians call the “already and the not yet.” Church reformers such as Sojourner Truth, Frances Willard and William Wilberforce experienced this tension deeply as they pressed into God’s Spirit to build a society few had dreamed possible — a world without slavery.
At times, advancing biblical equality is like swimming against a strong current of prejudice, faulty biblical interpretation, an unwillingness to think critically and humanity’s lust for power. Yet, just when we think our arms will give out, we suddenly hit a jet stream that carries us effortlessly to shore. That is what Urbana 2003 was like for many of us at CBE. Experiencing Urbana was like sailing into the harbor of the promised land, where, as Sojourner Truth used to say, “we left every- thing from Egypt behind us!” For four glorious days, we tracked visionary, biblical Christians who advanced the gospel and ushered in Christ’s kingdom where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Oh, what a joy it was!
Urbana, the largest missions conference in the world, was uncompromising in living out the ideals of biblical equality. Before our eyes, individuals from many ethnic backgrounds and walks of life engaged their spiritual gifts in building the Church. Nearly 20,000 watched gifted Christians such as Lisa Espineli Chinn, Geri Rodman, David Zac Niringiye, Samuel Escobar and Alex Gee “administer God’s grace in its various forms,”1 manifesting God’s Spirit for the common good.2 For the first time, a woman spoke from the main platform on Sunday, offering biblical exposition few will forget. And, for the first time, CBE led eight workshops — addressing hundreds of students on many issues related to gender and the Bible. CBE also hosted an information booth, which was teaming with individuals who eagerly said, “Glad you’re here at Urbana!” or asked, “What was Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 14?” Moreover, after each of my workshops, students wanted to continue the discussion. We held impromptu meals together so that every- one might engage the issues burning with- in their hearts. Upon arriving home, I received the following e-mail from a young student I met.
I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the time you spent speaking with me at Urbana. It is no understatement to tell you that the time we spent together was transformative for me... I know that God has already used you in a powerful way in my life. I feel like a completely new woman, more valuable to God than I had ever imagined.
We are grateful for the influence of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which permitted Urbana to be a glorious burst of Pentecost, reviving us all. Together we pressed into the Holy Spirit, who remade us into the body of Christ. From many tribes and nations, we were all were free to respond to the supreme call of Christ, finding the courage to serve the Church with- out barriers of gender, class or race. May it ever be so!
- 1 Peter 4:10
- 1 Corinthians 12:7