"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:13-15, TNIV).
Have you ever noticed how problems become worse the longer we ignore them? Perhaps this is one reason why a gifted attorney, now a judge in Chicago, frequently reminds her family and friends of the importance of being proactive. As it relates to biblical equality, this is never more the case. Here are a few examples of how valuable it is to have an answer for those who ask for the reason for our hope as egalitarians.
A CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality) member was visiting a church that used versions of scripture that were not gender-accurate. That is, the congregation was asked to read out loud from passages in which the Greek word for humankind was translated as "men" rather than "people." Disappointed, this CBE member asked the pastor to consider a gender-accurate translation that included women in passages where the Greek intended to include both men and women. The next week, not only was a gender-accurate translation used for scriptures read aloud, but the music minister also decided to incorporate gender-accurate translations of lyrics in songs they sing as a congregation.
Another CBE member attends a church in which the pastor is not an egalitarian, at least not yet. Each time he preaches from a passage of scripture that deals with gender, she sends him biblical evidence for an egalitarian's interpretation of the passage. They have a very positive relationship, and the pastor appreciates her feedback. On occasion he even incorporates egalitarian scholarship in his sermons.
Two CBE friends run a missionary organization. They work in dangerous locations around the world, and they have devoted their lives to leading others to Christ regardless of the cost. They are single-minded, disciplined, passionate, and successful. Absolutely everyone recognizes their gifts as missionary leaders, including a large church that supports their work -- well, the church did support them until they learned that the couple affirmed gift-based rather than gender-based service. The moment their gender perspective was criticized, the couple immediately scheduled a meeting with the church's missionary committee. What a meeting they had!
This missions committee had never heard an interpretation of scripture that placed God's gifting and the world's needs ahead of gender. They had never interpreted words like "head," "helper," or "authority" in a way that did not subjugate women. And they did not realize the ancient creeds that have nourished Christians for centuries understand the members of the Trinity as coequal and coeternal. This group of Christians had made so many assumptions about gender that they could not support by scripture.
These brave CBE friends were used by God as emissaries of biblical equality to a church that is passionate about the gospel. Throughout the meeting, committee members repeatedly said, "We've never heard things like this before." Every criticism was matched with a gracious biblical response, even the charge that allowing women to use their gifts and share decision-making weakens families and churches. These leaders cited in their response the evidence of church growth and the stability of families in Asia, where many women hold leadership in the underground church. (Remember, the largest church in the world-the Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea-grew once it gave women opportunities to use their gifts. See Why Not Women)
Friends, there is so much fruit when Christians study issues together under the power of the Holy Spirit! More often that not, people have simply not had an opportunity to hear another biblical perspective on gender. Being proactive in clarifying our position gives God an opportunity to open hearts and minds. I am so thankful for the many CBE members who encounter the power of God when they give a reason for the hope they have within them. Will you join us?
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.
Read more about the rich history of female leadership in the New Testament and in evangelical Christianity in Mimi Haddad's article Empowered by God in July's issue of Sojourners.