In mid-November, I joined two other CBE staff members and our distinguished Australian guests Kevin and Lynley Giles as we piled hundreds of books and journals into two vehicles and caravanned from Minneapolis to Milwaukee for this year’s annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). As in past years, CBE had a visible presence at ETS not only by our booth in the exhibit hall, but also through the many sessions and discussions hosted by egalitarian scholars.
Serving at our booth for the first time, I witnessed men and women who, while walking by in groups, eyed our booth and came back later by themselves. Some people hovered silently, and others took free articles. Some came to share their feedback on the special edition journal we mailed to ETS members this year, and others came by just to see if our prices were cheaper than the publishers’ booths. It was exciting to meet people who share CBE’s vision. And it was humbling to meet the many scholars and students who have worked tirelessly for biblical equality and stopped by to encourage us.
I was surprised by the number of people—both attendees and other exhibitors—who stopped by primarily to share their stories and to speak openly to friends in a safe place. I was able to talk multiple times with a representative from another organization. He is on the leadership team of his community church, where his wife is a pastor. The church leadership committee represents a variety of views, and will soon decide whether they will allow women to remain in positions of leadership. I also met a professor who stopped by our booth and shared that he is the only egalitarian faculty member at his school. I could see his relief and joy at being among friends.
A single mother in the ordination process asked us, “Why are people so afraid?” She was dismayed by the pressure to conform to a strict set of views in order to fit in. Another woman spoke of the young men, sitting on either side of her during a session, who carried on a conversation around her without so much as acknowledging her presence. “Maybe they just lack awareness,” she said. “But I’ll always wonder if it was because I’m a woman.” Others stopped just long enough to encourage us to keep up the good work. As I packed up our supplies and closed down the booth at the end of the week, I realized that CBE was not just another booth in an exhibit hall. I arrived expecting primarily to be a vendor; I left realizing that perhaps CBE’s most significant ministry at ETS is that of simple friendship.
It was in that spirit of friendship that scholars and students, along with some of CBE’s oldest and newest friends, gathered to share a meal. For me, this was a chance to meet new people and pick the brains of some of the best theologians in the world. I was struck most by the humility and friendliness of the scholars whose table I shared. Much to my amazement, they seemed more interested in learning about me and hearing my thoughts than in talking about themselves and their research. It was truly a positive and encouraging time.
CBE’s impact extended to the sessions as well, where CBE leaders were able to deliver several papers. CBE founder and first president Catherine Clark Kroeger was honored. In addition, Kevin Giles addressed the eternal subordination of the Son within the Trinity, a popular belief among many ETS members. His newest book, The Eternal Generation of the Son, was a hot item, and his sessions garnered a great deal of interest, translating into many new visitors to our booth. Lynley and Kevin’s loving conversations, sharp minds, and welcoming demeanor did a great deal to share and model biblical equality with friends and strangers alike.
CBE is not the highest profile organization at ETS, and certainly not the most popular, but after my first experience there, I am convinced that our presence makes a bigger difference than we know. I saw this in many of my conversations, but perhaps nowhere was our impact more clear than in the eyes of a man who silently looked over our materials for a few minutes, then, as he started to walk away, paused, and said sincerely, “Thank you for being here.”