What do evangelical Christians mean when they use words like “equal,” “complementary,”—or even “biblical”—to describe the truth about gender? Egalitarian and complementarian scholars discussed these issues at sessions hosted by the Evangelicals and Gender study group at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) annual meeting entitled, “What is Truth?”
The study group sessions were co-moderated by an egalitarian, CBE President Mimi Haddad, and a complementarian, New Testament Professor Mark Strauss. There was standing room only in the group’s first session: a panel critique and discussion of the recently published, Discovering Biblical Equality (IVP 2004).
The session began with statements by two of the book’s co-editors, Ron Pierce and Gordon Fee (Discovering Biblical Equality co-editor Rebecca Merrill Groothuis was unable to attend; her responses were read by Gordon Fee and can be accessed at www.zondervan.com). Then the editors responded to reviews and critiques offered by Robert Saucy from a complementarian perspective and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen from an egalitarian perspective.
The presenters were passionate and the discussion that followed was lively, but some of the questions from the audience became redundant. The book review session revealed the need for ongoing dialogue between egalitarians and complementarians, in which communication gaps can be bridged before leading to division. Though gender and the Bible can be a divisive topic, at the end of the session we all joined together as Mimi Haddad led us in singing the doxology.
The second Evangelicals and Gender session was a panel interview and discussion on “Living Together as Husband and Wife: What are the Differences between Egalitarian and Complementarian Marriages?” The moderators interviewed two couples on topics such as parenting, finances and decision making. Steve and Celestia Tracy offered a complementarian perspective and Aída Besançon and Bill Spencer offered an egalitarian perspective. Though this session was scheduled in the same slot as the debate between famous New Testament scholars N. T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan, it was very well attended. One woman commented on her way out, “This made the whole conference for me!”
In addition to participating in these study group sessions, CBE authors presented papers in their areas of expertise. Aída Besançon and Bill Spencer each presented papers in the Other Voices in Interpretation study group. Linda Belleville presented a paper on “Facts and Fictions about Homosexuality: Debunking the Socio-Biblical Myths of the Religious Gay Community” and moderated a study group on Paul. William Webb had an opportunity to respond to some of the concerns Wayne Grudem raised about his book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals.
Thanks to a generous donor who covered the airfare, Chelsea DeArmond (staff member) and Jimmy St. Peter (reconciliation intern) were able to travel to San Antonio to host a booth in the Book Display area. CBE members Laurie and Frank Livingston volunteered time setting up and serving at the booth, and opened up their home to Jimmy. Georgia and Llewellyn Hughes also generously offered to host Chelsea in their home during the conference. These examples of giving saved CBE significant travel expenses and truly enriched relationships.
Interest in Discovering Biblical Equality (IVP 2004) was also evident at CBE’s booth. We sold out of the copies we brought along almost immediately, and InterVarsity Press also sold out of copies at the conference. ETS members who stopped by our booth to browse received free resources on biblical equality, including articles, Gender Reconciliation Maps and CD recordings of N. T. Wright’s general session on “The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church” from our International Symposium in Durham, England. They could also sign up to win a copy of the IVP Women’s Commentary.
Our time at ETS was not all work and no play. CBE hosted a dinner at Café Ole on San Antonio’s beautiful river walk. CBE members and friends compared notes on their experience at the conference. New friendships were started and old friends had a chance to catch up with each other.
Although several complementarian leaders in the ETS have become increasingly insistent on their interpretation of the Bible regarding gender and other issues, CBE leaders like Roger Nicole and Millard Erickson continue to serve key roles in the society. As attendance at the Evangelicals and Gender study group indicated, interest in exploring the truth about gender and the Bible remains high among egalitarian and complementarian scholars alike.