Seeking community and empowerment, egalitarians from across Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and beyond filled lecture halls during CBE’s 2010 Melbourne conference! Sadly, because of their egalitarian views, many experience censorship and marginalization in their churches and ministries. Some have even lost friends. This explains the low tone used by a woman who approached me in Melbourne that year, to share her aspirations to organize a CBE chapter in Sydney. Courageously, one year later, CBE members in Sydney took bold steps in becoming a CBE chapter which, like the CBE Melbourne chapter, would hold events and incorporate as a charitable organization in Australia. They honored me with an invitation to lead lectures with them in September. And, to make the trip especially productive, our Melbourne chapter asked me to address their group, as well. The journey gave me an opportunity to visit friends at Crossway College in Brisbane where three lectures were organized, introducing students and faculty to the work of CBE.
Arriving first in Sydney, I found myself speaking on Australian Public Radio’s The Spirit of Things, hosted by Rachael Kohn. As the Sydney diocese was promoting new marriage liturgy in which a woman agrees to submit to her husband, Rachael asked me to address the need for CBE’s ministry in Sydney and elsewhere in Australia. Australia National Radio gave egalitarians a voice denied them by their own churches and denominational leaders. God does work in mysterious and powerful ways!
God’s discernible presence was also evident in the cohesive and visionary leadership of the CBE chapter in Sydney. You could not hope to find a more inspired, focused, or congenial team despite (or perhaps because) of their diversity. Led by Paul Perini—an Anglican priest and a man devoted to social action—CBE’s sessions opened by acknowledging the Aboriginal leaders of the region, past and present. Paul made visible marginalized leaders, who, like the women serving in churches throughout Sydney, had also been silenced and marginalized. Listening to him speak reminded me that wise leaders recognize that one cannot solve a problem with the mentality that created it, as Einstein observed. In leading by example, the Sydney chapter is a game changer! Shortly after these events, Paul Perini was invited to speak on biblical equality at a prominent seminary typically opposed to an egalitarian perspective. They too are drawn to Paul’s irenic and wholesome approach, as he welcomes others to join a gracious conversation on gender and faith.
CBE lectures in Sydney considered the initiative and leadership women demonstrate throughout Scripture, so much so that one searches in vain for a truly passive woman honored by the text. We also explored the moral and social consequences that result when the biblical teachings regarding gender are ignored. Given the shortage of egalitarian resources in Sydney, it was no surprise that individuals lingered afterward to chat one on one and share personal stories. It was essential to give this community a safe place to process their ideas and experiences. Several admitted to me that they had never heard an interpretation of Scripture that supports the shared leadership and authority of men and women in marriage and ministry. As a result, they had many questions.
My next stop was Crossway College in Brisbane, an institution that trains men and women for varied ministries around the world. I spoke first to female students on the value of women’s gospel leadership, then to the whole community, where I was given an opportunity to discuss CBE’s ministry as part of an evangelical tradition in which activism and evangelism were inseparable biblical ideals. This led to practical examples of CBE’s work with our partners in Africa, which delighted this community because of their deep commitment to missions. Finally, I found myself presenting the egalitarian position, opposite a local pastor holding another view. A graduate student with Wycliffe approached me afterward to say how inspiring it was to meet someone with a high view of Scripture who also believes that the Bible teaches that gender is no barrier to service or leadership. Thanks to so many generous donors, I was able to stock Crossway’s library with CBE classics, knowing these students are hungry for biblical resources on gender. (If you’re looking for a good project to fund, consider making a donation to CBE’s Literature Fund to help us stock other libraries like this.)
With lighter bags, I headed to Melbourne to work beside our dear friends leading the CBE chapter there. Our first project was a dinner lecture, which was filled to capacity. The next day was packed with theological and practical forums. Here I met several young Christians from a church opposed to CBE’s message. One woman said she was interested in CBE’s message ever since her professor gave her a copy of Half the Sky, by Kristoff and WuDunn, a book she said that changed her life. I chatted with other women who shared the challenges of pursuing theological studies in seminaries where faculty are fundamentally opposed to the ministry of women. One man, listening on, said that he could no longer financially support seminaries that enroll women but teach a distorted view of their service as pastors and teachers.
By affirming the biblical foundations of gender equality and justice, CBE chapters in Australia offer an essential challenge to Christian communities. They work faithfully to show that our newness of life, inaugurated at Calvary, creates a new humanity where identify is not associated with gender, ethnicity, or class, but in our rebirth in Christ. I praise God for their liberating and healing ministry and ask you to join me in praying for their work.