Lecture Focuses on Women in Ministry as Primary Issue for Evangelicals
Fuller hosts a talk by the president of Christians for Biblical Equality
The Fuller community welcomed Mimi Haddad, president of the advocacy organization Christians for Biblical Equality, to the Pasadena campus on Thursday, January 26, for a lecture entitled "Why Women’s Leadership in the Church is a Primary Issue: Wisdom from the Early Evangelicals," and sponsored by the Lowell W. Berry Center for Lifelong Learning. Fuller Seminary recently joined Christians for Biblical Equality as an organizational member.
In her lecture, Haddad sought to answer the question, “Is women’s leadership a primary issue?” by sharing the history of Evangelicals’ support of women, a quality they were known for in the past. Sometimes the conversation about women’s leadership in the church is put aside, explained Haddad, by arguments for advancing the gospel and discipleship as the most important matters.
“But women in leadership is a primary issue!” asserted Haddad, citing a Barna Group study that shows how women’s faith in America has changed over the past few years—women’s church attendance, Bible reading, and volunteering have all declined; only the number of women who report being “unchurched” increased.
Haddad, who holds a doctorate degree in historical theology, shared how she has spent many hours digging through the archives of Christian colleges and seminaries, unearthing stories of “wild-hearted women” who stepped out in leadership. For instance, during the “golden era” of missions in the first part of the 20th century, women outnumbered men on the mission field two to one. When missions organizations refused to support single women volunteering for the field, they formed their own organizations and funded their own work.
“Our legacy as Evangelicals,” said Haddad, “was shaped in large part by women.” She pointed out that the service of women tended to differ from that of their male colleagues in that they poured their efforts into caring for oppressed women and children. “They simply could not separate the gospel message and social justice,” she stated.
These women embodied the four qualities that Haddad identifies as the main characteristics of Evangelicalism: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism—or an emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Haddad took some time to highlight several key women in Evangelical history who made a significant impact on the world—from Amanda Smith, a freed African American slave who ministered in India and England, to Catherine Booth, cofounder of the Salvation Army, to Frances Willard, an immensely popular suffragist of the 19th century. “For these women,” said Haddad, “gender was a primary issue.”
Near the end of her talk, Haddad shared information about Fuller’s history with women in leadership that she found in the seminary’s archives. In 1952, Fuller’s first female graduate was prohibited from enrolling in homiletics class or pursuing ordination, but by 1966 women at Fuller could take all classes. The seminary’s board of trustees unanimously voted to recognize the support of women in ministry as a distinctive of Fuller in 1979, and in 1996 the director of Fuller’s Office of Women’s Concerns, Elizabeth Patterson, wrote that Fuller was called to be “a rescue and rehabilitation station for women whose gifts have been stifled, whose calling to serve God freely has been ignored and shamed.”
Concluding her lecture, Haddad said, “Thank you, Fuller, for being faithful to that call.”