Do you find that people are as interested in your personal journey as an egalitarian as they are in your interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12? Once you do recount your egalitarian journey, are you amazed at its impact on others? Perhaps this explains why Alan Johnson’s How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals was a bestseller at the recent Evangelical Theological Society Convention.
Despite its popularity, however, Johnson’s vital book does not include egalitarians whose minds have never changed. There are some of us who have always been egalitarian. For this reason, Alan Johnson believes it is also important for those of us who are lifelong egalitarians to tell our stories. Here is mine in brief.
Growing up in Colorado, my childhood was filled with outdoor adventures. Whether it was mountain climbing, hiking, biking, or skiing, there was always a new conquest to consider. My father, an avid tennis player, spent many weekends helping me train for track meets or rallying with me on the tennis court. From early on, I learned how to be a strategic and aggressive opponent, never waiting for an opportunity to gain an advantage. On holidays or visits from college, you could often find us battling on the tennis court. My dad was more interested to see me develop my skills as an athlete than my feminine charms in captivating men. He often said that marriage was not a defining achievement in life. In fact, he felt marriage often hinders, rather than empowers, women. I was expected to expand my talents faithfully, as my duty to humanity. My mother shared his views. A violinist, she practiced long into the night so that her performances would be flawless. She worked hard to grow her vocational skills. My parents’ values—that females, like males, are expected to develop and contribute as able colleagues—were not always shared by the evangelicals I encountered after coming to faith.
After becoming a Christian, I approached men with confidence and eagerness to contribute as a peer. I was slow to notice gender barriers. I remember inviting my male friends to play tennis with me—believing that they would appreciate my hard earned ability. And yet, if I emerged the stronger player, few joined me on the tennis court again. Then there was Backgammon—an ancient game developed in the Middle East that was a favorite of the Haddads. My uncle, a brilliant Backgammon player, welcomed able opponents. But a competitive female proved disasterous among my male college peers. I remember once, as I was making my final and victorious move, my boyfriend at the time threw all the pieces up in the air crying, “I hate this game!”
During social gatherings at church, I often found myself engaging men who were seminary trained rather than chatting with females in the kitchen. Thankfully, God provided me with a brilliant Christian best friend, and, throughout high school and college, we immersed ourselves in the world of biblical ideas. My friend was an able Bible teacher, and many in our church grew spiritually because of her abilities. When she married and decided to move away, our Conservative Baptist pastor begged her to continue teaching Scripture. He said, “Remember to use that powerful gift God has given you, please!” This man sounded very much like my parents, and, as I was later to learn, he was an early member of CBE.
My passion for Scripture drew me to seminary, and there I met many outstanding egalitarians who, like my parents, believed that it is our duty to “fan into flames” our gifts (2 Tim. 1:6). This is the response of gratitude for having received the greatest gift of all—spiritual life in Jesus. And, the more egalitarians I met, the more at home I was. Here were vibrant believers who placed service in God’s New Covenant community ahead of gender expectations. These Christians located their truest identity not in their gender, but in their rebirth in Christ. It was pure joy becoming acquainted with CBE founders, many of whom grew up in ardent evangelical homes. Like my parents, they too were raised to develop and use their gifts in service to others.
My parents taught me to be grateful for having been born first generation in the United States, where opportunities for women are seemingly boundless. What I didn’t expect were the gender barriers I encountered after my rebirth in Christ. I owe my egalitarian mentality to my immigrant parents. And, I owe my fullest engagement with Christian faith to egalitarians. They helped me realize that our identity resides not in so called gender roles but in our response to God’s revelation—which is the standard for every believer, male and female. Jesus makes this clear in Luke 11:27-28. As the woman called out to him, saying “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you,” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” Responsiveness to God’s Word transcends gender. Because of this, women are “daughters of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), a phrase first used by Jesus to welcome females as equal heirs of Christ’s body, the church. My parents were grateful for a country where their daughters could share equally in the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. I am thankful for our Savior in whom there is neither male nor female but one body in Christ Jesus.