Swimming Against the Stream | CBE International

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Swimming Against the Stream

Egalitarian leaders reflect on CBE's past, present, and future.

What initiated your passion for gender issues?

We were part of a very conservative Baptist church. My mother was teaching a class to both men and women. My mother was a very gifted, talented teacher. But then the pastor resigned and we got new pastor. He said, “We can’t have a woman teaching men.” My mother said, “Well that’s fine; I need a vacation anyway.” So we got another teacher who was a man. He was a man, but he wasn’t gifted as a teacher. The class got smaller and smaller and smaller.

Finally the pastor came back to my mother and said, “Would you mind taking the class over for a little while until we can find another man.” So she did and the class began to grow again (they never did find another man). That pastor resigned and we got another pastor. He said, “Oh! We can’t have a woman teaching men!” My mom said “OK, that’s fine.”

My father said “This is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of! Everyone in church knows Momma is the best teacher here, so why do they insist that we should have a poor teacher just because he’s male. I can’t believe that’s what God wants!” My dad was always on my mother’s side, which was very good, and very good for me to see as a child. I knew my mother was a better teacher than that man, and I didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t teach. In my simple mind, God gave people gifts for them to use.

I tell the story about that church and I ask “Who was helped in that church and who was hurt?” Was the church helped by saying my mother couldn’t teach anymore? No, no. The church was hurt by that.

— Alvera Mickelsen, CBE founder and author

Most of all, I was affected by the injustice my sisters in ministry faced. An experience of deep injustice and pain in my own life made me care much more passionately about the injustice experienced by others. A secondary but very important concern was seeing how many non-Christians were turned off to Christianity by traditionalist gender ideas that I did not believe were biblical. I had become egalitarian some years before, but being on a university campus and seeing what difference the issue made for the credibility of the gospel helped motivate me to put my neck on the line.

— Dr. Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

Primarily, it was seeing how so many husbands treated their wives, as well as how men in general felt towards women. The whole marriage and family structure seemed unfair but the verse about the “man being the head of the wife” was always thrown out as being absolute. I witnessed this in my immediate and extended family and the injustices that resulted. 

When I first became involved in a church in Minneapolis and talked about the role of women in the church with others, a dear elderly woman suggested I read Women at the Crossroads by Kari Torjeson Malcom. I was convicted of the biblical truth of gender equality. Later I went through the Gospels and Paul’s letters and underlined every woman’s name and every reference to a woman. It was like a light bulb went off in my head!

— Diane Chynoweth, CBE founder

What are your favorite memories from the early years of CBE?

My favorite memories were of the first conferences that we had, and the enthusiasm of the people who came. They had never heard any of this before and they were so thrilled to have it.

— Alvera Mickelsen

It was like waking up from a nightmare, rubbing your eyes and recognizing that a new day was dawning. A small but growing number of people were moving to reclaim community from the grip of patriarchy. I suppose in a way it was an experience similar to that of the sixteenth-century reformers who, by poring over Scripture, realized the church had been led astray.

Closer to our times, believers realized, by the light of Scripture, that the very definition of the church as community had been obliterated by accommodation to unbiblical traditions. With a sense of exhilaration, they recognized each other and banded together. They bowed their heads together over Scripture and rose up to call the church back to its origins, as God’s community rather than as a man-made institution. The pioneers of this twentieth-century movement are now passing off the scene. But others, in great numbers, rise up to fulfill their vision.

— Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, scholar and author

I was the group’s secretary and office manager. In our earliest days, the “office” consisted of a TV tray table and a shoe box filled with 3x5 inch address cards in my living room. No faxes, emails, texts, tweets, or Skype, but typewritten correspondence and lots of prayer in response to those across the country who were hungry for the message of biblical equality.

As CBE grew, so did the office. By 1986, Cathie Kroeger had donated a word processor the size of a box of Saltine crackers and I moved into my back bedroom, complete with folding card table, where I wrote countless “thank you for your gift” letters to our dedicated supporters. Soon we moved to the basement of a member’s house in a suburb of Saint Paul and then to a real office in a commercial building in Saint Paul.

— Susan McCoubrie, CBE founder

What challenges did you face along the way? How did you overcome them?

I was working in a very traditional environment and I had to be very careful in how I talked about issues so as not to lose that traditional audience. My stand for equality led to some embarrassing problems for the administration at Denver Seminary, though the president stood behind me. When the CBE statement came out in April, 1990, with my name in the long list of supporters, my stand cost me a job I had been offered. Did I overcome these challenges? I tried to address them humbly and judiciously.

— Dr. Alice Mathews, scholar and early CBE chapter leader

I knew that taking a position on a controversial issue would get some people angry, but I had no idea how divisive it truly was. Once my first book came out on the subject, I found just how volatile the subject was, even though I had tried to write in a gentle and scholarly way. I was pretty thin-skinned back then, and I had some experiences with fellow evangelicals that were so terrible I was having nightmares six months later. How did I overcome? I love Jesus, and Jesus says to love people and forgive them even when they don’t love you. He gave me grace to let go and reach out to people and work for Christian unity regardless of where people stand on the issue. I can’t say that I don’t still feel defensive sometimes, but I have matured more and I find common ground with other brothers and sisters in Christ (even when, as still happens occasionally, they don’t think they have any with me).

— Dr. Craig S. Keener

How have you seen CBE change over time, and what do you think remains to be done?

We’re much more practical now. We deal with the practical things. You look at the old Mutuality issues and it was mostly theological. We’re more into social justice now than we ever were. Back then, “social justice” was kind of a bad word.

— Alvera Mickelsen

In the early days, we were more passionate than professional. Gradually we learned how to function as an effective board. This change of emphasis came about with Mimi’s Haddad’s selection as president. Her energy, enthusiasm, administrative gifts, and willingness to learn, as well as her ability to cast a vision under God’s direction have helped bring CBE to its present place in helping to bring healing to so many of the world’s wrongs.

There is still much to be done. My heart grieves when I hear of churches and even entire denominations which do not allow women to use their gifts and serve in answer to a clear call to advance the gospel. Can they not see how this devalues women and diminishes impact for the kingdom? Unfortunately many women are taught and believe the Bible says this is the way it is supposed to be, so they are passively supportive of hierarchy.

Other issues which must be addressed relate to mental and even physical abuse experienced in hierarchical homes where this philosophy is carried to extremes and sadly condoned when relief is sought from the church. The woman is blamed for her own abuse. Clearly there is much to be done in this situation as well. And what about human trafficking and gender-related economic issues around the world and in our own nation? CBE can and must be a voice for so many who are voiceless.

I look for CBE to be at the forefront in addressing issues which go way beyond concern for the ordination of women, though that should continue to be an emphasis. As we expand globally we must be open to dialogue to hear what other leaders in other cultures can teach us as we work side by side. We must never have an attitude of having all the answers. 

— Dr. Sara Robertson, CBE board member

What advice or encouragement do you have for younger egalitarians who are attempting to follow in your footsteps?

I trust that future generations of egalitarians will honor the past, be aware of the history, continue to study, and be ever ready to articulate and advance the mission utilizing new methodology and strategies, but with commitment to the principles and practices on which CBE was founded.

— Dr. Sara Robertson

Keep pressing on, persevere! Even if you’re in a group of two or three, keep on meeting and encouraging one another. It’s crucial that you are knowledgeable about the Word of God and positive biblical female role models. Learn the arguments against gender equality and appropriate biblical responses to those arguments. Pray for opportunities and that you’ll stay calm as you discuss egalitarian issues with others who disagree with you, because this is a highly emotional issue. It’s been my experience that even if no one speaks up and supports you in a group for what you’ve said, later someone will come forward and thank you for what you said or did. It may seem you’re all by yourself but you are not alone! First of all, the Lord is with you, but rest assured there are probably quite a number of others in your faith community that share your beliefs. I’m grateful that today those who take a stand for biblical equality can be assured of many others in our country and around the globe who believe as we do.

— Diane Chynoweth

They are brave women and men. They swim against the comfortable stream of unexamined beliefs. They are still a minority of faith. But both history and eternity are on their side. History shows that unfailingly committed minorities often prevail against massive stronghold of error and abuse; while biblical previews of eternity show the eternal community unbroken, undivided and whole, gathered under the supreme lordship of Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and above every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come, God having placed all things under his feet and appointed him, above all things, to be head for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills equally all in all.

— Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian

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CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

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