Theology and Its Impact: CBE's 2021 Online Conference

by Mimi Haddad | September 22, 2021

Over 220 participants from more than ten countries joined CBE’s first virtual conference, “Men, Women, and God: Theology and Its Impact.” Registrations continue to climb for those eager to hear online sessions, and speakers are giving thought to presenting their lectures in cities around the world.

Why are we so committed to CBE’s conference theme?

Because patriarchy is embedded in centuries of Christian teachings and practices. And Christian churches, organizations, institutes, and NGOs too often lend their support uncritically. To date, there is no scholarly evaluation of its theological foundations and social outcomes. Because of this, CBE’s conference, “Men, Women, and God: Theology and Its Impact,” re-examined the foundations of Christian patriarchy theologically and socially through varied disciplines. Theologians, lawyers, Bible scholars and translators, humanitarians, pastors, and those working to prevent abuse brought years of experience and wisdom to each session. 

Highlights From Select Keynote Speakers and Workshop Leaders

The conference began with Andrew Bartlett, a Queen’s Counsel lawyer and a skilled theologian. Over two keynote sessions, Bartlett guided us through an examination of the textual and historical evidence to harmonize 1 Timothy 2:11–15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 with women’s leadership in the New Testament.

Following Bartlett, Lucy Peppiatt, Westminster Theological Centre principal, explored marriage and Scripture’s vision for women. She astutely warned:

There was a spiritual manipulation that functioned over women who questioned the status quo. They were labeled as ‘rebellious,’ and not just rebellious against their leaders, but rebellious against God. That’s a pretty hefty weapon to use against them…Once you’ve set up that system, there’s no room for questioning the system. And within the system I saw multitudes of gifted, strong, godly women, but they were so often kept in their place, which was supposed to be under male authority. Once this assumption is made, it’s actually extremely hard to dislodge.

Amanda Jackson, director of the Women’s Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, led the workshop “Co-workers and Co-leaders: Women and Men Partnering for God’s Work,” a topic she said comes from her “desire to get around the barriers. How do we find ways to overcome stereotypes, what traditionalists call biblical manhood and biblical womanhood? As if you believe anything else, you’re not believing the Bible. We’ve certainly been corrected on that by wonderful teaching.”

Another keynote speaker was Nancy Beach, a founder and the first female pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Her experience at Willow Creek suggests “we need to acknowledge, when we look at our past, that some among us have experienced deep wounds in the church, and maybe even abuse… there needs to be space made for lament and for confession and for transparency, for grieving where we’ve gone wrong.”

Ally Kateusz explored women's status in early Christian art and texts while Elaine Storkey recounted the impact of theology through her years as president of Tearfund, a leading UK humanitarian organization. Georgetown University’s Katherine Marshall, who spent over thirty years at the World Bank, addressed global patterns that raise the status of girls and women. Tearfund’s Prabu Deepan explored positive masculinity on a panel led by Amy Reynolds (Wheaton College). Emily Nielsen Jones and Domnic Misolo, co-authors of The Girl Child and Her Long Walk to Freedom, discussed what it means to be change agents. World Vision’s Pontsho Segwai shared how her field ministry research demonstrates Scripture’s teaching that men and women are created in God’s image for shared governance and this, God said, is very good.

Returning to some of our keynote speakers, Natalie Collins considered porn and purity culture and crucially set straight the narrative, saying that “it’s really important that egalitarians understand our history, because otherwise, complementarians can re-write the history… The CBMW was developed to fight the success of Christian feminism.”

Our final keynote speaker, Boaz Johnson, brought to life one of the great heroes of Christian faith—Pandita Ramabai (18581922), a Bible translator, humanitarian, and egalitarian activist. Her challenge to patriarchy addressed both theology and its social impact. How fitting to end the conference by celebrating her achievements! The fruit of Ramabai’s life is recognized today by Christians and Hindus alike in India and throughout the world.

Stunningly, Ramabai’s life demonstrates a significant point made by John Wijngaards—a major proponent of women’s ordination in the Catholic church. Addressing Genesis chapters 1–2, Wijngaards showed how Adam and Eve were both created in God’s image for shared governance, and significantly, how also bearing God’s image provides the moral capacity required in their governance. When women are excluded from leadership teams, these teams are morally compromised as a result. For this reason, Ramabai challenged distorted Bible translations which render women not as moral equals and necessary partners beside men, but as moral inferiors.

The Root of CBE’s 2021 Conference

Tragically, male rule throughout history has obscured God’s image in women with two results:

  1. It demeans women at the level of being (ontologically), and this leads to demeaning actions toward them as so-called moral inferiors.
  2. It marginalizes women’s leadership and therefore their moral voice and agency with a measurable decline in ethical practices, decision making, and productivity on leadership teams that exclude women as NGOs and business data suggest.

For many Christian groups, turning around male rule involves better Bible translations and theological teachings, and when this happens, there are better consequences and noted growth in human flourishing—the focus of our conference.

Conference speakers and attendees shared tragic accounts of Christian patriarchy in their marriages and communities in small chat groups. The diagrams below represent our challenge as Christians, to truly be agents of human flourishing. Currently, women’s equality is not embraced as a biblical ideal, but when it is, their moral voice improves leadership teams.

Venn diagrams displaying relationship among women's equality, humanitarian work, and Christian faith

Final Thoughts

Wijngaards, along with Tom McCarthy, Amanda Jackson, and Charles Read, was recognized by CBE’s Lifetime Achievement award. Pontsho Segwai and Domnic Misolo were both recipients of CBE’s Micah Award. For me personally, it was enormously gratifying to recognize the achievements of these leaders and to hear their words of acceptance as they reflected on their life, calling, and God’s goodness throughout.

What was the impact of these and other sessions? Here are some comments from attendees:

Rev. Liz Testa, Coordinator of Women’s Transformation and Leadership in the Reformed Church of America, said, “Our ministry has grown tremendously as a result of the wisdom and encouragement gleaned from [CBE’s] annual conferences and we are thrilled to be able to attend this one virtually. Blessings on all the leaders, speakers and participants!”

A Fuller MDiv Student wrote, “As soon as [women] understand their worth in God’s eyes, they are transformed and transform the communities where they are!”

If you’re interested in hearing keynote and workshop speakers, it’s not too late! You can still register and hear speakers until September 30 when the conference officially closes.