The student council at the seminary I attended called a special meeting to decide one matter: Should supporters of biblical equality have access to student funds to host forums on gender equality, when only a portion of the student body supports this position? In fact, should gender egalitarians be represented on student council at all? The dean of students came to observe deliberations. No one was in high spirits. In fact, the mood was tense and divided. The discussion was circular, until one voice was raised.
Articulate and impassioned, the senator representing Students of Color made our case. “Only people of color understand the challenges of attending a predominately white, northern seminary,” he said. “We are your most valuable resource to building a community where people of color feel included. You have spent white student funds to make this seminary a better place for people like me. I am asking you to do the same for my egalitarian brothers and sisters.
“While you may not agree with their reading on gender, they are part of this community. By eliminating their voice, you impoverish rather than enrich our academic environment. As scholars, let us create forums to explore differing opinions with rigor, respect and a willingness to admit we might be in error. As followers of Christ we should build a community that embraces all who sign our seminary mission statement, regardless of other differences. Let us invest our resources to understand and encourage even those with whom we disagree.”
Few in that room will forget the power and poise of his speech. Because of his vision, egalitarians continued their work with the support of student council funds. I imagine it was like that to hear Sojourner Truth speak on behalf of suffragists and abolitionists. Perhaps this is why advocates of gender and racial justice have labored in tandem throughout history. The parallels are indeed endless.
This is true also in the ministry of CBE. We have had the privilege of partnering with leaders in racial reconciliation like Curtiss DeYoung, Brenda Salter McNeil, Jeanette Yep, Cecilia Yau, Craig Keener, Cheryl Sanders and Ron Sider, who have raised their voices only to enrich the ministry of CBE. Cathie Kroeger too has done much to recover the contributions of Africans in the Bible. Our book service, conferences and publications work to provide helpful resources on the interlocking logic of race and gender. Despite these efforts, CBE has remained largely white. I say this with much sorrow.
CBE’s lack of racial diversity can feel discouraging. It is the result of several factors, one being the location of our headquarters. Because Minnesota is not as racially diverse as other parts of the country, it limits our ability to network closely with people of color. Also, we admit that we have our hands full promoting gender equality in the church. However, thanks to the passion and God-given vision of CBE leaders like Craig Keener, International Coordinator Julia Bloom and others, we look for new ways of partnering across racial and ethnic lines. We are making intentional efforts to unite with people of color through our strategic plan, and we are working to broaden the resources we carry in our bookstore about racial reconciliation.
We are also working to bring many more speakers from other nations to our events. Our 2003 conference is focused on the theme: “Celebrating the Priesthood of All Believers, Serving Christ as a Global Community!” Members from CBE’s international community featured as speakers include Funmi Para-Mallam from Nigeria, Kevin Giles from Australia, Ed and Coralee Murray from Hungary, and Lianne Roembke from Germany. Carolyn Gordon and MelindaJoy Mingo will lead workshops on racial and cultural diversity. And, two Ugandan CBE members would like to attend our conference to share their experiences as egalitarians in a country in which they hold a minority viewpoint. All we need is $4,000 to make this possible.
Like that senator from my seminary, I am asking CBE members to make a special contribution so we can learn from others who have labored under the banner of Galatians 3:28. Help make CBE a truly multicultural organization.