Several years ago, God sent CBE a prophet from Brazil. Holding a doctorate from a prominent institute in Brazil, she attended CBE’s 2017 conference in Florida. There she met my husband, who was also born and raised in Brazil. Throughout the conference weekend, she shared her story as a theologian, called to serve the church. Her passion for her faith and professional work most definitely represented a calling to serve the church as a teacher. She longed to help her faith community share the good news of Christ by deepening their engagement with Scripture. Part of a large denomination in Brazil, she watched in agony as women were slowly marginalized to serving in the kitchen and nursery. She lamented as women were, in some churches, even excluded from playing instruments during worship, as that too was construed as leadership. Concerned about the impact complementarian theology was having on marriages and outreach to non-Christians, she was also worried about women like herself, who knew very well God’s giftings and calling as preachers, teachers, and leaders. Her voice had a strong prophetic call to all of us at CBE even as it was filled with much sorrow.
Fast-forward four years later . . .
As CBE’s conference team prayed for God’s guidance on the best location for CBE’s 2023 International Conference, colleagues in Brazil spoke with a loud and confident voice: “The church in Brazil needs CBE’s message and ministry.” They need to know Scripture’s teachings on women, not only because of the enormous influence American complementarians exert on evangelical denominations in Brazil, but also because more than forty percent of evangelical families in Brazil experience abuse.1 Beside colleagues working in seminaries, publishing houses, and Christian colleges, they identified the conference theme Brazil needed most, “Women and Scripture: Setting the Record Straight.” From there, we invited a mix of Brazilian and American speakers, biblical and theological experts in their fields like Craig S. Keener, Alan Myatt, Cynthia Long Westfall, Cynthia Muniz Soares, and Viktorya Zalewski Baracy. We also needed practitioners acquainted with Brazil’s struggle with abuse and Scripture’s remedy. São Paulo was selected as our host city given its local Christian colleges and seminaries and access to ground transportation and airports. God worked out every imaginable detail, large and small.
Our host facility—a welcoming Baptist college—was directly across the street from an affordable hotel as well as the largest, most prestigious graduate school in the country. Coincidence? Nope! Librarians in both schools not only welcomed CBE’s journals and books but also invested hours strategizing ways to increase egalitarian resources in their libraries at other locations. Thanks to generous donors and friends at the largest Christian publisher in Brazil, two CBE books—Still Side by Side by Janet George2 and Partners in Marriage and Ministry by Ron Pierce3—were translated into Brazilian Portuguese and are now available in bookstores throughout the country. Each conference attendee received a copy of each book, Brazil’s first CBE resources! Other titles will soon follow, as Thomas Nelson Brasil (TNB) and others have expressed interest in investing in and contributing to the spread of egalitarian resources in Brazilian Portuguese. TNB is, as I type, translating and editing other egalitarian titles for release later this year and next!
Why is God moving all so powerfully in Brazil?
Because of the chaos and pain as churches continue to advance male authority as God’s ideal. Complementarian theology, according to our conference attendees, has demoralized and demeaned God’s gifts and calling to women in Brazil. Even worse, it extends power to men not based on character but because of biological sex. Men with a demonstrated pattern of violence and abuse are placed in authority over their wives and children because of flawed biblical teachings endorsed by many churches and denominations.
Throughout the conference, I spoke with women and their families desperate to know that God values and loves women as much as men. One woman, now divorced from an abusive husband, approached me to share how much she has appreciated hearing Scripture interpreted to give women equal dignity, responsibility, and a voice in their marriages and churches. She talked about her life of abuse with enormous regret and sorrow. Her family members, also present at the conference, thanked me privately for the confidence and healing they too gained from the conference overall, but especially the sessions on abuse. One woman said she cried throughout my lecture on human flourishing because of the many lost opportunities for families in complementarian churches to flourish.
Another woman greeted me with pain on her face and her shoulders slumped forward as if she wished to be invisible. Fortunately, she joined several groups for meals, and we had the privilege of hearing some of her story as it pointed to the toll and damage caused by a totalitarian marriage. By the time the conference ended, there was a noticeable change in her face and overall demeanor. Her smile was very bright, and her posture was upright and confident. Thank you, Jesus!
We spent a considerable time with another young woman during and after the conference. She worked serving the youth in her church. Her ministry resembled in every way that of a youth pastor, though her church would not give her either the title of pastor or a pastor’s salary. Yet, she was undaunted. A highly skilled linguist, passionate about biblical languages and theology, she was constantly thinking of ways to help young Christians become more confident in Christ. At one point, she broke into tears asking, “Why did God give me these gifts that bring so much frustration and humiliation when denied an opportunity to use them full time as a pastor?” “Well,” we said, “surely the pain you feel now is evidence of your gifts and calling. Do not give up! You have your entire life ahead of you, and God has and will continue to open doors. Remain faithful!” Fortunately, she was surrounded by other young leaders who were also moving forward, gaining experience whenever and wherever possible in using their gifts and testing their vocation!
To support younger leaders in the Brazilian context, we invited several young theologians to lead devotions and workshop sessions, to translate content, and speak on podcasts, each exploring our conference theme through their own experiences and reading of Scripture. Stunningly, after leading devotions, one such speaker’s husband teared up and said to me, “She’s such a gifted teacher and preacher. I cannot hold back my joy in watching her use her gifts. I’m so thankful she’s had this opportunity.” Of course, his support of his wife was an example to us all. Needless to say, the energy, insights, and engagement of young Brazilian leaders was insightful and irrepressible! As we know too well, great content comes from younger theologians. Two approached me in tears, saying they never imagined having an opportunity to use their gifts at an international conference supporting women’s leadership as biblical.
The last day, we took photos together, discussed future possibilities, and exchanged emails. A CBE WhatsApp group had formed—the beginnings of a CBE chapter in Brazil. Just today I learned of a seminary interested in adapting their statement on gender and service to reflect CBE’s mission statement.
These events and more are the direct result of your prayers and generous donations. Thanks to each donor who made this possible. Thanks also to a generous grant so CBE could provide more than twenty conference scholarships along with books, journals, and conference resources which people carried in their arms like precious, treasured gifts. Truly, God’s word is always precious but especially when its teachings have been distorted to demean and humiliate women and families, leave bodies bruised, hearts crushed, and worse.
As we sang our last worship song together, those of us less fluent in Brazilian Portuguese entered more fully into this glorious culture with its love of people, its discernment of hearts, its passion for family, and its devotion to God. We sang in another language, and beside a people who know and love our Lord, who have committed themselves to faithfully interpret Scripture in serving the church they love so dearly. As we sang praises to God, we trust that our work together will bring lasting glory to God. Joined more closely as sisters and brothers in Christ and united in our struggle to expose Christian patriarchy and its blight on cultures worldwide, we leave the conference emboldened, more skilled, and hopeful.
As you read this, will you please pray for the precious souls that attended CBE’s conference in São Paulo? Pray also for those who will discover our resources in libraries, watch our conference sessions on YouTube and SoundCloud, or read the conference presentations published in the forthcoming issue of Mutuality. Pray that God will protect, guide, embolden their calling, and heal their wounds. That the church in Brazil will bring the message of “Women and Scripture: Setting the Record Straight” not only to many more in Brazil but also where it’s needed most in the world. Thanks be to Christ, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20–21).
This statistic is from Kathy Myatt’s workshop session titled “Submission and Abuse,” available on CBE International’s Youtube channel.
See Ainda lado a lado: Uma explicação concisa da igualdade bíblica or Thomas Nelson Brasil.
See Parceiros no casamento e no ministério: Uma visão bíblica da igualdade de gênero or Thomas Nelson Brasil.