A ViewPoint by Anne Linstatter
In July I spent a wonderful few days with Xana McCauley and Bronwyn Stanford, friends from Johannesburg, South Africa, who flew to Los Angeles to attend the 2015 conference of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). My time with these women has prompted me to think anew about the relationship between CBE and the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC)—the official name under which our organization is incorporated, although we more often go by the name on our website now, Christian Feminism Today or EEWC-CFT.
I first met Xana online when she wrote to me in 2010 after an article I had written appeared in Sojourners Magazine, “The Persistence of Patriarchy.”
At that time, Xana (pronounced “Shawna”) was feeling alone as a woman working for gender equality in her Christian community, Rhema Bible Church in Johannesburg. She had learned about our organization because her email, first sent to Sojourners, had been forwarded to our EEWC-CFT office and then sent to me.
As Xana shared her experiences and her efforts to work for change, I realized that CBE International might be a good resource for her as well as EEWC-CFT.
CBE has developed an excellent network for bringing gender equality to evangelical and charismatic churches that often resist women’s equality on the basis of various Scriptures with which we biblical feminists are all too familiar.
In addition, CBE is less threatening because it has not taken any position in favor of gay or lesbian rights, as we in EEWC-CFT have done.
There’s a myth circulating in the evangelical world, and still not laid to rest in secular culture, that feminists are probably man-haters and lesbians. At the very least, it’s thought that a feminist commitment could lead to other heresies. See Letha Dawson Scanzoni’s latest article, “Christian Feminism and LGBT Advocacy: Let’s Move Away from Slippery Slope Thinking.”
The connection with CBE turned out to be very helpful for Xana, partly because CBE holds conferences in Africa, Asia, and Australia as well as in the US. In fact, Xana and Bronwyn will be hosting the 2016 CBE conference in South Africa; it will be held at their large church, where they serve as pastors. Bronwyn directs Rhema Kids at the Cross, the children’s ministry program, serving 2,000 children ages 1-12, and Xana has led Hand of Compassion, Rhema’s social outreach program, with her husband Alan since 1987.
Xana gave a testimony at this year’s CBE conference and received the Micah Award for her work for gender equality in Johannesburg. A few years ago she founded GEMA (Gender Equality Matters), a ministry of Rhema that provides a platform for gender-related discussions, including an annual seminar. As a result, the church’s website now identifies six women as pastors, including Xana and Bronwyn.
This progress on gender issues builds on a history of radical advocacy on racial issues. Rhema was one of the first churches in South Africa to defy Apartheid laws and hold non-racial worship services.
Justice on many fronts is important to Xana, and she finds it useful to keep membership in both CBE and EEWC-CFT.
Another friend of mine with both CBE and EWC history is Britt Vanden Eykel-Huff, who led a workshop at the CBE conference this year about exploring strategies for change in the local church. Britt lives in southern California; in the 1970s and early ‘80s she was active in Evangelical Women’s Caucus, as EEWC-CFT was known then. She spearheaded EWC’s work for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment prior to June, 1982, when the ERA ended up three states short of ratification.
In 1986 EWC experienced a crisis over whether and how to acknowledge its lesbian members. At a national conference in Fresno, California, EWC members voted to support the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in such areas as housing, jobs, and hospital visitation. This vote occurred eight years after publication of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Though EWC didn’t make a statement on the Bible and homosexuality, our stance was widely interpreted as an endorsement of the biblical analysis in that book.
As a result, some members of EWC who were employed in evangelical churches and schools felt that affiliation with an organization seen as pro-gay could endanger their jobs. They ended their membership in EWC, as did the entire Minneapolis chapter.
The Minneapolis members went on to organize Christians for Biblical Equality during 1987, including a specific line in CBE’s statement of faith to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Those words have since been moved out of the statement of faith into a less prominent list of core values, where item #6 states, “God’s design for relationships includes faithful marriage between a man and a woman, celibate singleness and mutual submission in Christian community.”
CBE was successful in seeking funding in the evangelical world, and its leaders worked hard to promote gender equality in the church. Mimi Haddad became its second president in 2001, and she continues in that work today, speaking at churches and seminaries around the world. In September she will speak at Campbellsville University in Kentucky on “A Wholistic Hermeneutic to Woman as Ezer—Strong Rescue.”
Though the biblical basis for women’s equality has been accepted in many churches in the US, there are still denominations that teach gender hierarchy and oppose women pastors, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.
EWC and CBE members have gone their separate ways since the 1986 division, but I have tried to stay in touch over the years, emailing with Mimi occasionally and visiting the CBE website. In 2010 I was delighted to meet Mimi and hear her speak. I was attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in Minneapolis, and she was speaking at a luncheon sponsored by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, her alma mater, and held in conjunction with the General Assembly that year.
“How Evangelical Heritage Empowers Ministry Today” was the topic of Mimi’s riveting lecture, complete with PowerPoint visuals.
“Sometimes evangelicals have a short memory,” she said, beginning a recital of theological leaders who were radical feminists from the 18th century to the present. The list included Hannah More (1745-1833); Amanda Smith (1837-1915), who took part in the Keswick Convention; Frances Willard (1839-1898); William Wilberforce (1759-1833); William (1829-1912) and Catherine (1829-1890) Booth, co-founders of the Salvation Army; Eva Burrows of Australia (1929-2015); and Pandita Ramabai of India (1858-1922).
I was dazzled by Mimi’s tour of lost Christian feminist history and learned that she holds a doctorate in historical theology from the University of Durham, England. Her passion for the cause of biblical feminism was evident.
A day or two later I visited the CBE headquarters in Minneapolis, where I saw 5-6 summer interns working and a backroom full of shelves of books, journals, and articles to be mailed out. I praise God for the abundant ministry CBE has developed.
Three years later I attended my first CBE conference, which was in Pittsburgh. Some 255 men and women were gathered, including many from Africa and Asia. The accounts of injustices faced by women in Africa were particularly disturbing. Speakers described cultural oppression of women as beasts of burden in some countries, compounded by supposedly-biblical injunctions to obey their husbands. CBE’s outreach to these women and their churches is so important.
One reason I went to Pittsburgh was to meet Xana, my pen pal, face to face. What a joy to sit together and talk and to meet her husband.
Though I wanted to attend this year’s CBE conference in Los Angeles, a family wedding in Seattle was a higher priority for me. At least I was able to hear about the conference from Xana and Bronwyn and to spend time with them.
LGBT issues continue to distinguish CBE from EEWC-CFT, but as social attitudes and laws in the US change, CBE too is evolving. The movement of its description of marriage to a less prominent place on the website is just one marker.
EEWC-CFT and CBE share a long history of work for biblical feminism, although we differ on the same-sex issues that divide our country. It’s my hope that members of both groups will honor and respect each other’s contributions. We are sister organizations after all, working to bring the good news of healing and wholeness in Jesus to all women.