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Published Date: December 7, 2022

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ETS and Women’s Belonging

Since attending my first Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) convention in 1996, these yearly academic conferences have often seemed “high voltage” given the divide over women’s leadership. Far from feeling welcomed, women’s experiences at ETS have raised questions around calling, competence, and belonging at a society upholding theological priorities that evangelical women also treasure. 

This year, however, a striking number of high-profile ETS colleagues have been busy dismantling my prior sense of women’s marginalization at ETS. It began last summer at CBE’s 2022 International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Here I received a reassuring gift from a past ETS president.

A devout Christian, leading New Testament scholar, and author of a pivotal book supporting women’s leadership, he took me aside to express his gratitude for CBE’s long and enduring work at the ETS over the years. While his consistent support has always been an enduring comfort for more than twenty years, his overt encouragement suggests a significant change in the climate around women’s leadership at ETS. And there was much more to come as the annual convention of ETS launched a few months later. Here is what happened.

Day One

Day one was exceptional as our study section—“Evangelicals and Women”—welcomed papers by four gifted young scholars. Not only was the originality of each paper outstanding and worthy of publishing, but speakers also garnered engagement and support from their institutional colleagues alongside a broader ETS community. The result was a fruitful exchange of ideas that brought not “heat” along party lines, but “light” on Christian scholarship.[1]

The day ended as our ETS Women Reception convened the largest gathering yet! How thankful we are to the ETS, and Bonnie Thigpen in particular, for supporting yearly women network receptions complete with warm beverages and delicious snacks. Here I had the opportunity to personally meet the eminent scholar and Bible translator, Dr. Karen Jobes. A pioneering theologian, Karen will become the first woman president of the ETS since its incorporation in 1949! Astonishingly, she thanked me for my faithfulness at ETS over the years. Addressing this gathering, Karen spoke on the importance of scholarship aimed at edifying the church. Her observations reminded me of the spiritual power of monastic scholars like Paula, Eustochium, and Jerome.[2] The Latin Vulgate Bible was the result of their devotion to Christ and the church. I shut my eyes that evening wondering if ETS could get any better. And it did!

Day Two

Day two began with papers presented at the Other Voices in Interpretation study group. The first scholar—Dr. Kenneth Reid—considered the biblical and theological case for systemic sin. His astute observations had clear points of connection with my paper titled, “The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy’s Impact on Women’s Leadership.” Grateful for an enthusiastic audience and their provocative comments even though Dr. Reid and I critiqued failures within the church. In particular, my reflections on the history of evangelical scholars exposed false accusations of theological liberalism for women preachers and their allies who not only shaped the early evangelical movement along with its social and biblical activism, but as they also forged a theological trajectory that fostered the vision and formation of ETS itself! 

The second day ended well as Evangelicals and Women committee members met to pray for one another and our work at the ETS. What followed was a successful second panel of papers assessing Old Testament Songs of Women. Once again, we were grateful for a larger than anticipated audience. Thankfully ETS reserved a large room anticipating the Holy Spirit’s power in each paper presented. It was a pleasure to learn these papers, along with those on the New Testament Songs of Women (presented last year), will be published in a forthcoming book. Imagine how encouraging this has been to the women contributing to this volume. Now this is an academic society that serves all its members.

Day Three

Day three began with a sumptuous breakfast hosted for ETS study section leaders. I had the privilege of sitting next to the head of the Bible department at a Christian university in Minnesota. We discussed our interests in the founder of his institution and he invited me to visit their archives to learn more. He mentioned his ill mother, and I added her to our weekly prayers. It was far more a conversation between believers dependent on God than opponents separated by our differing views on women’s leadership. From here I dashed to our annual ETS members business meeting and greeted a well-known Bible translator who said, “Mimi, you’re my hero.” Stopping cold, I asked why such superlatives? He said, “Because you’ve stayed the course at ETS.” I said, “I’m just stubborn!” “No” he said, “You’re faithful.” His comment was so very affirming. 

As I walked from session-to-session senior ETS members greeted me by name, stopped by CBE’s booth to say hello, while others cited content from CBE’s Mutuality issue on porn. More than one professor stopped by CBE’s booth to carry home journals for their students while others tucked CBE resources in bags for their church and seminary community. 

ETS ended very well as our booth distributed record numbers of books and articles while staff held many inspiring and prayerful conversations. Despite the snow and flu that prevented Susan Howell from participating in our IVP author luncheon, an engaged group of more than eighty ETS scholars and local CBE supporters gathered to hear reflections from Caryn Reeder—author The Samaritan Woman’s Story: Reconsidering John 4 after #ChurchToo—and Rob Dixon—author of Together in Ministry: Women and Men in Flourishing Partnerships. Both books along with Susan Howell’s—Buried Talents Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God’s Call—center women’s dignity and agency as God’s design. Everyone left with more than one new book to enjoy over Thanksgiving. 

From day one through the end of ETS, women’s vibrant and faithful determination to use their gifts for Christ’s glory, the church’s edification, and human flourishing represents the very purposes for which ETS exists. These expressions of appreciation, welcome and confidence in women’s vocational leadership does indeed bode well for the future of ETS. May we keep ETS in our prayers as women go from strength to strength, navigating their careers, walking through opened doors as evangelical scholars. Thanks be to God!

Photos by Alexandra Horn of IVP Academic and Liz Beyer of CBE. 

Notes:

[1] You can listen to the sessions from ETS once they are posted here.

[2] See https://www.academia.edu/35147046/Egalitarian_Pioneers_Betty_Friedan_or_Catherine_Booth.


Related Reading

(Audio) Fair Fight: In the Fight for Egalitarianism in the Church, Men Must Be Willing to Help and Work
How to Use Male Privilege to Create Space and Opportunities for Women in Churches  
To Leave or to Stay: How Women Can Change the Church