Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Naming My Champions

Another tribute -- this one to the many men who have shared the platform with me over the years.

Meet Our Champions: August Konkel, Dan Block, and Rick Hess
with Jen Jones and me at the IBR Emerging Scholars Session
in Boston, November 2017
As a society, we’re at an important crossroads where women and men who have been victimized are speaking out against the abuse of power. I commend their courage. I am grateful for their message. With each one, I cry out for the end of abuse, assault, and harassment. But the danger with momentum like this is that we begin to wonder if any man in power can be trusted, if any are “on our team.” In the wake of these gut-wrenching stories, I cannot help but feel profound gratitude for the influential men who have treated me with dignity, shared their platform, given me leadership opportunities, and mentored me well. So while in France, women are “naming their pig,” I thought I’d name a few of my champions — those who have spurred me on and opened doors of opportunity.

My high school pastor was the first. In 1993 I returned from a summer youth mission trip to Panama all fired up. But re-entry was difficult. I had glimpsed something worth dying for and I didn’t want to return to life-as-normal. At the time our family was attending a cozy Foursquare church in Denver, Colorado. Pastor Jim Hammond had the wisdom to harness my fervor by putting me to work in an official capacity. At 16 years of age, I’m sure I was the youngest volunteer “missions coordinator” our church had ever seen. I began presenting monthly missions updates during the Sunday morning service, telling about needs and opportunities around the world. Pastor Jim generously shared his microphone and his platform with a young woman who had no credentials and very little life experience. I don’t know if my words-from-up-front inspired anyone else, but they galvanized me for a life of service, helping me bridge the gap from my mountaintop experience overseas to life back home.

After my high school graduation, the congregation sent me off to Bible college with their enthusiastic blessing. My freshman year was everything I hoped it would be and more. I grew spiritually and academically. Critical for my development was a course taught by Professor Ray Lubeck, “Understanding Worldviews.” I came home that summer bursting to share what I had learned. Our generous pastor again shared his platform, this time by inviting me to teach an adult Sunday school class on worldviews. Then my pastor did something that still stuns me: he required all the church elders to attend. And he and his wife came, too. 

With Dan Block after I successfully defended my
doctoral dissertation in April 2016 
You can read the rest of my story over at The Well. My champions have been too many to name in one article. I'm so grateful for all who have shared the platform with me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

My Tribute: Snapshots of Billy Graham

At Billy Graham's funeral yesterday, his daughter Ruth said this: "One thing I've learned this week is that everyone has a Billy Graham story."

I am no exception. Mine is a series of snapshots that double as a memoir.

Billy Graham at Mile High Stadium
(Photo: AP/Aaron E. Tomlinson)
5th grade. Mile High Stadium, Denver, 1987. I sat beside my Dad in the choir section and listened to Graham preach to thousands. I remember that I wanted to go forward in response to the altar call and Dad wouldn't let me. It's true, I had already been a Christian for more than a handful of years, and I had prayed the sinner's prayer with regularity. Dad said the altar call was for those who were responding for the first time. I remember thinking that by responding, we'd be letting the world know that this Jesus was worth following publicly, that this Jesus made it worth getting lost in a stadium. I wanted those going forward to know it was a decision worth making, and that they were not alone.

High school. Babysitting. I was totally absorbed in a televised crusade. In the corner of the screen was a woman interpreting Graham's message into sign language. By this point I knew some sign language, and I was trying to follow along. Trying, that is, until the little boy I was supposed to be watching said, "Carmen, look!" While I was absorbed in the crusade he had become a pirate, complete with a permanent-black-marker patch colored in around his eye. I gasped, but soon learned that permanent marker can be scrubbed off skin if you do it right away. After that I focused on what I was being paid to do.

College. Dating. I will never forget my shock when my boyfriend (not Danny) said, "Who's Billy Graham?" Was it possible to come into adulthood in the 90's without knowing him? It was, apparently, though I couldn't imagine how.

Billy Graham Library, 2008
Missions Training. We flew into Charlotte, NC from Portland, OR, stunned to see Bible verses adorning the concourses. Stunned again to see that the main street leaving the airport was Billy Graham Parkway. Welcome to the Bible Belt! Later, after 2 1/2 years of ministry in the Philippines with SIM, we were transferred to Charlotte. It felt odd to be missionaries in a city with a street named Billy Graham. In 2007, the Billy Graham Library opened, a museum where one could experience his years of ministry and hear the gospel message. If you watched Graham's funeral, you saw its iconic barn in the background. We visited several times, but I most remember going with my grandparents, because after the tour we scoured the archives to find evidence that Graham had preached in the Netherlands when my Oma was a young woman, just after WW2. We found no record, but she remembers.

Seminary. Gordon-Conwell. Billy Graham co-founded my school -- the same Graham who said if he had it all to do over again, he'd study more. He spoke so frequently that there was little time for learning. I wonder which impact will prove greater in the long run -- the millions who "met Jesus" after hearing his simple gospel message or the thousands who have been and are still being deeply trained for pastoral and academic ministries in the seminary he started? Deep and wide, deep and wide, there's a fountain flowing deep and wide . . .

Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College (Photo: C Imes)
Graduate School. Wheaton College. My classes were held in the Billy Graham Center, just a few floors above the Billy Graham Museum. I defended my dissertation on the fourth floor. Graham and I are both alumni of this flagship of evangelicalism. He once said, "The years that Ruth and I spent at Wheaton College were among the most important of our lives." Mine, too.

Publishing. The magazine I find most consistently thoughtful and substantive for a general audience is Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Billy Graham. Within hours of his death, a special commemorative issue went to press. While his preaching was simple, the magazine is not. Deep and wide . . .

Prairie College. Our school President and his wife were invited to attend the funeral yesterday. My colleague, Ron Nickel, Professor of Digital Media, was head photographer for the event, which was also live-streamed on our campus. Graham's influence reaches even to our little school on the Alberta prairies. We are linked by a common purpose: the ministry of the gospel.

Graham's passing prompts all of us to look back and remember. What is your Billy Graham story? It also prompts us to consider how we can carry on his legacy. Yesterday his daughter Ann Graham Lotz so eloquently pledged to devote herself to the work of sharing the good news of Jesus.

Billy Graham Center at Night (Photo: C Imes)
Graham is most known for his preaching to millions. He took the simple gospel message far and wide. But these snapshots point to another dimension of his ministry: the founding of institutions that will have a lasting impact by going deep. I carry on his legacy by teaching Bible classes in a Christian college, training others to serve wherever the need is greatest, and by investing in the institutional health of my school. I carry on his legacy when I have occasion to preach. I carry on his legacy by writing for Christian publishers. I carry on his legacy by investing financially in mission work. By teaching, speaking, writing, and giving, I hope to carry on what Graham started: a ministry of the gospel that is both deep and wide.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? (Part Three)

Is racial injustice really a problem today? Or has the problem been exaggerated?

In my first two posts, I introduced the series and told of my chance meeting with John M. Perkins. A few examples from his book, Let Justice Roll Down, might help to set the stage for understanding racial tensions today.

Mississippi Department of Education
Statistics from the year preceding
Brown vs. Board of Education
-Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, 86 
In my parents' lifetime, the "separate but equal" school system in Mississippi just prior to the famous Brown vs. Board of Education distributed funds in a way predicated on racial discrimination. Someone somewhere determined that black students "required" less money to educate, so black schools were allocated less than white schools in the same district. Although roughly half of the students in Mississippi were black, only a fifth of the transportation money was spent on getting them to school. Their teachers' salaries were only about 75% of what white teachers made. And almost three times more money was spent on instruction in white schools. (Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, 86-87).

This is not our distant past. These statistics mean that a black man my Dad's age grew up using inferior textbooks, learning from teachers who were not fairly compensated, and likely walking long distances to school. He grew up hearing the strong message that he was not as valuable, not worth the investment, that he need not have any aspirations beyond manual labor. As a nation we failed these boys and girls and their parents, teachers, and communities. The men and women alive today who were educated in the 50s are still living with the repercussions of their most formative years. They have not forgotten. But have we?

John Perkins himself was unjustly imprisoned in 1969 for trying to help diffuse a tense public situation and again in 1970 for peacefully demonstrating in Mendenhall, Mississippi. He and his friends were beaten bloody and tortured by drunk police officers before being released, though they had done nothing wrong. He explains,
"After I was beaten by white policemen, I began to see things a little more clearly. I was able to see the needs of white people and what racism was doing to them. You see, I had gotten set to the fact that the sickness of racism had affected the black community in a way that kept them from functioning as a healthy community. A lot of our people were sick -- affected by generations of slavery, oppression and exploitation -- psychologically destroyed. But I had never thought much before about how all that had affected whites -- how they had been affected by racism, by attitudes of racial superiority, by unjust lifestyles and behavior." (166)
Most troubling of all was the effect racism had on white churches. Visiting a white church as a black man could get you thrown out by the police. Perkins laments:
"The most systematic haters are ministers and Sunday school teachers. In fact, most of the outstanding killings and murderings of blacks in the South have had white ministers involved in them. This was true even of the killing and secret burying of the three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964." (164) 
Not all white ministers were racists. Indeed, those who spoke out against racial injustice were themselves mistreated. Rev. James Spencer, a white Presbyterian minister, helped with initial efforts to start Bible classes in Perkins' community, but quit under pressure from the Ku Klux Klan (93-94).

Another white pastor, Dr. Odenwald, slowly started preaching about God's love for everyone, gently questioning whether the attitudes of the white community toward blacks was consistent with biblical teaching. His messages met with great resistance from his congregation. Under the strain, Dr. Odenwald ended his own life (96-97).

Such a legacy of injustice does not evaporate overnight. If we want to understand the tensions in our world today, it helps to know the history.

My aim in this series is modest. I'm writing to people like myself who have grown up in mostly white neighborhoods and who can't readily produce first-hand examples of racial injustice. Reading a few books and citing a few examples will not solve the world's problems. But it will help us to take a longer view on race relations, to become more aware of how the same community can be experienced in such vastly disparate ways. I hope we'll get a sense of what it's like living in someone else's skin. I hope we'll be bothered by these stories, and more aware of ways that "the system" benefits us at the expense of others. Most of all, I hope that blog posts like this one will foster our Christian commitment to living out the gospel in practical ways.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

What John Piper Said . . .

. . . has sent shockwaves through the blogosphere, the twittersphere, and every other sphere. My Facebook feed has been punctuated by alarm, by groaning, by reasoned responses, and by all-out debate. Did you miss it? You can listen here.

But I am not surprised.

John Piper has been saying it long and loud in a myriad of ways. In his universe, where Christianity is essentially masculine and God has appointed only men to leadership both inside and outside the church, and has appointed women to the joyful task of following, it is only logical that women should not be seminary professors. He clarifies,
"Just to be clear, the issue is not whether women should attend seminary in one of its programs and get the best biblical grounding possible. The issue is whether women should be models, mentors, and teachers for those preparing for a role that is biblically designed for spiritual men." 
In other words, women can attend seminary, but since seminaries are designed for training men for pastoral ministry, all the professors should be men. He goes on to say,
"If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded? I don’t think that works."
I appreciate Piper's logical consistency. But is he right? All three of his premises deserve comment.

1. Is Christianity Essentially Masculine?

I can't get away from passages that compare Yahweh to a nursing mother (Isa 45:19) or say that God has given birth (Deut 32:18). Notice how fluidly the prophet moves between masculine and feminine imagery for God in Isaiah 42:13-14. Even Jesus compares himself to a mother hen protecting her chicks (Matt 23:27). These are metaphors, of course, so they don't make God female any more than speaking of him using masculine pronouns makes him male. But even Paul is not above using feminine metaphors for his own ministry! See 1 Thess 2:7. Why, then, must Piper privilege masculine modes of talking about the spiritual life? Are the passages that use feminine imagery for the life of faith somehow less accurate? I think not.

2. Is It Unbiblical to Have Women Pastors?

I used to think so. Thanks to male college and seminary professors who patiently showed me the biblical and theological case for women in pastoral ministry, I changed my mind. I feel no need to reproduce here the excellent arguments for why women can teach and preach in the church and can exercise their pastoral and leadership gifts. A good starting place is Alice Mathews' new book, Gender Roles and the People of God. She deals with all the key passages well. You might also appreciate the autobiographical approach of How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership. For those of you who are getting nervous, consider this: To conclude that women can teach and preach does not necessitate the abandonment of conservative exegesis. I teach at a 95-year-old Canadian institution that has been unabashedly conservative since it's founding, but which has also had women teaching Bible to men since 1923.

3. Should Women Be Seminary Professors?

This question follows closely on the heels of the previous one. If women may serve in church leadership, or at least as teachers, then my answer is yes. Michael Bird has made a good case for why women in seminary need women professors, as role models, as advocates, as encouragers. He has listened well to the women in his circles, and I am grateful. But he left something crucial unsaid:

Men need women as seminary professors, too.

Women are not the only students who benefit from having female professors (in seminary or at any level). Male students benefit. Male colleagues benefit. I believe it is critically important for men to hear a women's perspective in the classroom. Having an intelligent woman at the podium calls into question the ill-formed assumptions of students -- both male and female -- who might have thought that anything and everything worth knowing about comes from men. Young male pastors who meet brilliant and articulate women in seminary will be far less likely to overlook them in their churches. They will be far more likely to encourage young women to cultivate their gifts of leadership and invest in education.

Several years ago I watched a powerful documentary that argued this thesis: if we want to break the cycle of poverty, the key is to educate women. In developing nations all over the world, the education of women is a game changer. Educated women make sure their own children -- both sons and daughters -- know how to read. Sons of educated mothers don't fall prey to the lie that women are only useful in the kitchen or in the bedroom. The same is true in seminary.

It seems to me that having female professors goes a long way toward breaking a cycle of gender disparity in church leadership. Not only does it model for female students that female leadership is possible (which in itself is critically important), but it models this for men as well.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? (Part Two)

The year was 2008. I was in New Orleans for my first academic conference, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It was a giddy experience to walk the halls with those who had taught me so much through their writings. A living bibliography surrounded me. One thing that struck me was how white this conference was. As a woman, I represented less than 10% of those attending. But when I looked around, I was hard pressed to find anyone of color.

Perhaps that’s why he made such an impression on me. A friend and I were riding the elevator up to the ballroom level for a plenary session. Mid-way there, the elevator stopped and the door opened. Three men entered the elevator. I remember nothing about the other two men, except that they were taller but more deferential. Leading the way was a short, black man with a storied face. His eyes sparkled. He was the kind of man whose whole body exuded so much energy that he couldn’t stand still. Most people look down when they get on an elevator, avoiding eye contact. Not him. He surprised us by looking us straight in the eye, eager for conversation. I’ll never forget his southern drawl, “Now, are you ladies here for the theology-thang? Or for the nursing-thang?”

I’m sure we both smiled, almost giggled, at his energy. “We’re here for the theology thing.”

I wish you could have seen his face light up. “Oh! That’s wonderful!” Then, as if admitting a secret, he leaned in and added, “There aren’t near enough women here, are there?”

At that point the elevator arrived at our floor and we exited. I don’t remember how we responded, but we had the sense that we had met a real character.

Imagine our surprise in the next plenary session when our elevator friend took the stage. It was the venerable John Perkins! I had heard his name before, but didn’t know him well enough to recognize him. Perkins had been imprisoned and beaten unjustly, and had labored long and hard for civil rights in some of the most segregated corners of our nation.

Our encounter was arresting. Here was a man who’d been invited to address thousands of (mostly white) participants. He was neither cocky nor self-centered. He had no chip on his shoulder. In our brief conversation he celebrated our presence at a conference that was planned, led, and addressed by only men. He saw us.

Ever since, I have wanted to read about his work. Last summer seemed the perfect time. Let Justice Roll Down is the amazing, heart-breaking, inspiring story of his struggle for justice in the South. It is neither textbook nor how-to manual. It is simply his story. But he opened my eyes to the ugly realities of racial inequality in our nation. It’s easy to imagine that because slavery ended in the 1800s and African Americans have gained the right to vote, that the struggle for civil rights is long over. But here is a man who has lived the struggle and still lives today. I can no longer imagine that the suffering of blacks in our nation is a thing of the distant past. This man – friend of Martin Luther King Jr. – steps into the elevator and looks me in the eye. His verve confronts my complacency. I can no longer say “That was so long ago.” This is now.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Professor's Prayer

Have I mentioned that I have the #bestjobintheworld?

Last week the campus lay dormant, mounds of snow lining empty sidewalks. Quiet buildings stood ready, expectant. So did my heart. This week all is abuzz as students return from break and embrace in happy reunions. Classes begin with characteristic rigor. Last semester I was new here and my head swirled with names and syllabi and schedules and handbooks. This semester I welcome familiar faces with a settled heart. The inner calm permits more deliberate reflection on my role as professor and my investment in this community. Perhaps my prayer for this new term may become your prayer as well.

You can read my prayer over at InterVarsity's Blog, The Well.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? A Series in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today it’s his actual birthday, the man who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. The man who spoke and kept on speaking until white America was listening, too. The man who would not be content until there was truly “liberty and justice for all” within our borders.
And he achieved it, didn’t he?
They got what they wanted, didn’t they?
Today there may be Americans who wonder about the value of yearly reliving our storied and painful past, about the emotions that it stirs.
Slavery was over a long time ago.
People should just get over it and move on.
If African Americans want to make something of themselves, then they should just work hard, the way we did.
Nobody has handed me anything free. I’ve had to work for everything I’ve got.
Inequality? What inequality? Everyone in America has the same opportunities.
I wish someone could give an example of prejudice today. How exactly are Blacks being mistreated?
I’ve heard these words often enough from the mouths of people who look like me that I went looking for answers. The claim from the African American community that injustice lives on sounds strange to fair-skinned Americans whose personal experience offers no pertinent examples. Sure, life’s not fair. We all get a raw deal sometimes. No need to get so bent out of shape over it. Of course black lives matter. All lives do. 

America is still so segregated that it’s possible to live one’s whole life without a friend of another color. As a result, we can be puzzled by public protests or cries for justice.

I wanted to understand. I wanted to see the world through the eyes of someone who grew up wearing different skin. In my quest for answers over the past year or two, I've done some reading:
Ta-Nahesi Coates, Between the World and Me 
John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down 
Sharon Draper, Stella by Starlight
Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Daniel Hill, White Awake
These books gave me answers – loud and clear – a whole legacy of injustice that is far from over, a monstrosity that has been codified in law (in some cases) and petrified in our systems of criminal “justice.”  Racial inequality is not a thing of the past. It is heart-sickeningly present today. In the coming weeks, I’d like to share what I learned. If you’re looking for examples, you are invited to start right here.

It’s not enough to celebrate what was accomplished in the 1960’s. Let’s take a hard look at 2018 and see what remains to be done.