Christians for Biblical Equality is a resource ministry—our mission is to develop and distribute biblical resources on the shared leadership of women and men. For over forty years, CBE has been active presenting, creating, and distributing biblical resources on gender at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). ETS is perhaps the most academic and male-dominated audience we engage with on an annual basis.
As an organization, CBE has a long history of engagement with ETS. While this history is often forgotten, CBE founders were among the founders and past presidents of the ETS. For years, egalitarians have served as ETS plenary speakers. They’ve contributed to the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). They have also been a part of the ETS executive committee.
However, for the last twenty-five years, egalitarians have been marginalized in the pages of JETS, on plenary platforms, and in ETS leadership as a whole. Despite our affirmation of the ETS mission, we find ourselves peripheral to the voice and leadership of ETS. This is the result of intentional exclusion in the ETS nominating committee which determines the presidents of ETS and therefore the executive committee, all of whom oversee the editor of JETS.
Yet, one of the great ironies of God is that he cannot be out-powered. While ETS’s leadership and journal are tightly controlled, vigorous academic exchange between complementarians and egalitarians has never been stronger at the ETS. Indeed, iron continues to sharpen iron where it matters most—among its members and dedicated academics—even though one “iron” has been pressed to the margins of ETS leadership.
Just consider the fruitful work of Christians at this year’s ETS:
CBE’s Princeton intern, Emily Zimbrick-Rogers, published a qualitative study of ETS women entitled, “A Question Mark Over My Head.” Her work, along with several other articles, was included in the 2015 CBE special edition journal sent to all ETS members.
Zimbrick Rogers presented her research in a lecture where all ETS members were welcome. The lecture was well-attended and after Emily presented her findings, attendees asked questions ranging from “does this data suggest institutional abuse of women at the ETS?” to “how can men work beside women in creating a welcome for God’s gifts to women scholars?”
Emily’s data raised a focused examination of social and exegetical assumptions as well as incited new concern for the biblical ethics and spiritual climate within the evangelical academy and in ETS. These candid conversations expanded and continued throughout the week.
Dan Wallace, ETS president-elect, followed up Emily’s presentation with a passionate apology to ETS women for how they have been treated within ETS in the past. I felt a glow of appreciation fall on the audience as they received Dan’s heartfelt words.
ETS sponsored its first tea for women scholars, perhaps to encourage healing for female scholars in its midst. While the idea might sound prosaic, the event was utterly uplifting. Women scholars from different perspectives and backgrounds shared tea and coffee and enjoyed an atmosphere of community and support.
We laughed unrestrainedly and shared stories of our lives as female scholars. We also celebrated the sacrifices made by our family and friends with deep gratitude. At this first-ever gathering of ETS women, the depth of Christian unity came to life.
I am convinced that, as sisters in Christ and because of our similar experiences, we are called to encourage each other with prayer, friendship, and through practical help. Though women are a minority in ETS, I am confident that where two or more are gathered, the God who called and gifted us is able to use those gifts to accomplish more than we have ever dreamed or imagined possible.
In recognition of that truth, the group discussed ways to enlarge opportunities for women to use their gifts. Several times that evening, women approached me to ask if I knew someone who could help this woman in this way, or that woman in another way. We were doing what women have done since the empty tomb, defying the patriarchy of our culture and following Christ despite the risk, obstacles, or challenges.
In each woman present, I observed a Christ-led determination to fan into flame the gifts of other women in the room. We prayed for open doors for each other with the hope that an open door for one sister would mean open doors for all. It was our deep wish that the women who follow us in ETS will know greater institutional support for their gifts and calling in the academy. After sharing with these godly women, I returned to my room grateful for a space to speak frankly. I felt blessed to labor alongside them for new opportunities for our students and daughters.
The same unquenchable faith was noted at CBE’s community meal, where more than fifty Christians gathered. Those present shared the high calling of Christian scholarship as well as a camaraderie and bond in their pursuit of truth.
While the hostess was less than thrilled with the large turn-out, I recognized again the deep need for a community of personal engagement for evangelical scholars. We are not only scholars, we are also Christians, and our work is devoted to Christ and the church. We need regular opportunities to simply be sisters and brothers to each other. Because our work often demands solitude, community is made all the more priceless. We long for a familial connection with each other and that is why meetings between Christians peers are so precious.
For me, it is not just “being” together, it is an opportunity for spiritual growth as I lean on the wisdom of experienced ETS members. I am rich in my friendships, having known many of my colleagues for over twenty years. I had the pleasure of knowing a few of the male scholars as their student.
We don’t all agree on the status and role of women, but we love each other deeply. We trust the integrity of our bond as followers of Christ, and in our work as scholars. And though they do not share all of my perspectives, we continue to enjoy rich intellectual engagement. They often hire me to teach at their institutions, because of the mutual respect we have for each other.
The communal spirit of iron sharpening iron continues to grow in ETS study groups like “Other Voices in Interpretation” and “Gender and Evangelicals.” Presenters spoke on a wide variety of topics, sharing perspectives that broadened our worldview and reminded us of the daily consequences of our theological teachings.
This year, Dr. Phil Payne reviewed textual evidence that suggests that 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is most likely a scribal insertion. Woojin Chung considered the two-way conversation of Bible translation. Karin Ryan, senior advisor at the Carter Center, explored the human rights impact of dismantling religious patriarchy on a global scale.
Did we all agree? No, but that is precisely the point! We need to hear others’ perspectives in order to grow as scholars, so that iron may indeed sharpen iron. The sky was enlarged over our heads as we listened to and were challenged by the many powerful presentations at ETS this year. A commitment to truth and a strong communal bond ensured humble and intentional engagement. We have remained united despite our differences.
The question is: will the varied perspectives of evangelical scholars reach ETS leaders and the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society itself? I feel hopeful that they will. Here is why:
For the first time since 1986, a female scholar presented a plenary paper. And this was not just any paper; it was one of the most powerful I’ve heard in years.
Dr. Myrto Theocharous, from Greek Bible College in Athens, addressed today’s most pressing humanitarian challenge—sex slavery. Her topic, “Becoming a Refuge: Sex Trafficking and the People of God” considered the many manifestations of patriarchy in the sex industry, particularly the profile of men visiting prostituted women.
According to Dr. Theocharous, more alluring than sex gratification when purchasing a prostitute is the fantasy of dominating a woman—a female who cannot say no even when brutalized by violence. The locus of purchasing erotic pleasure is in the thrill of ruling over a female. Theocharous also warned of the link between pornography and abuse. She observed that over sixty percent of online purchases are pornography-related. Considering this statistic, it was made clear that Western wealth is inextricably complicit in the abuse of girls and women globally.
Theocharous rightfully cautioned an audience of mostly male scholars to wisely nuance biblical messages around headship and submission in light of this issue. Her lecture was outstanding in its logic, research, tone, and gospel impact. It was another case of iron sharpening iron as a female scholar challenged her colleagues to reexamine their theological influence on the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis—sex trafficking.
Before leaving ETS this year, CBE moved key publishing projects forward in that same spirit that defines academic engagement at ETS—iron sharpens iron.
Because of this, we rely trustingly on God, one another, and you—our CBE community. It is our steadfast prayer that our commitment to truth and one another will unite rather than divide and inspire rather than shame. We are hopeful that these new projects will lead to generous Christian community, rigorous scholarly engagement, and continuous attentiveness to the truth and teachings of Scripture.
I am thankful for the generosity of spirit and the difference of opinion among ETS members, where iron sharpening iron is made uniquely possible. I pray that CBE will emulate that tradition in dialogue with those who disagree with us, but who remain excellent colleagues and even family in the journey.
To support CBE in these endeavors, consider giving on Tuesday, December 1 or Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back.