Paul Perini is on the board of CBE-International, as well as being the president of CBE-Sydney. Last week Paul travelled to Denver, Colorado, to attend a CBE-International board meeting. This is his reflection on the meeting.
I recently attended my first CBE International board meeting, in Denver Colorado. The board consists of volunteers, teachers, biblical scholars, pastors, small business leaders and medical practitioners. They are serious Christians with a strong devotion to Christ. They are people with a passion for women to serve and lead in family, church and community. For the board, patriarchy may have been, and may still be, a dominant cultural force, but it is not God’s intended way for men and women to relate. It is not the future God plans.
In the recent past the board has wrestled with complex issues. It has drawn up a new presentation of its statement of faith and core values. It maintains its strong evangelical heritage and honours marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. In its work the board has a focus on the world not just the West. CBE has a commitment to work with irenic advocacy and good scholarship in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
During our ‘off-times’ I was asked what is the situation in Sydney. I was introduced as an Anglican minister serving in the city. I thought.
Sydney is a large and diverse city. My experience is primarily with the Anglican Church and in Sydney the Anglican Church has a rich evangelical heritage similar to CBE. It has a longing for Christ to be presented and lives to be changed. In Sydney women serve as parish leaders on church councils and as wardens, equally with men. Women are elected to the synod and robustly debate. Women go to theological college and are ordained to the diaconate. Ordained women are licensed to preach. In our liturgical resources there is an order for marriage in which the promises made by the man and woman are identical, thus enabling an egalitarian understanding of marriage. (There is also an alternative service enabling a complementarian understanding.) Sydney, compared to some situations in the U.S, has a lot going for it.
BUT, in Sydney women are not ordained as presbyters. The training college has defined itself as being complementarian. In Sydney there is an hierarchical culture amongst many clergy, which shows itself by them not inviting women to preach to the whole church gathered and not allowing women to lead home groups designed for both men and women. In Sydney some able women teachers have themselves said ‘No’ to teaching opportunities, because men will be present in the learning audience. This culture has been the cause of real pain in the lives of many. This culture also confuses the majority of lay men and women, who are committed to the priesthood of all believers in their local church and who are accustomed to having women teach and lead in their places of learning and work.
Over the years Sydney has enhanced women in ministry, but there is much that needs to change. CBE Sydney seeks to be a leaven. It constantly prays and steadily works for cultural change to occur. Such change will take time, patience, godly living and a commitment to see the world won for Christ. The majority church culture will shift over time. It has to. Evangelical scholarship has presented consistent and credible understandings of what some call ‘the difficult passages’; understandings which enable women to teach and to lead. The Genesis creation account can be read faithfully to give both of God’s image bearers an equal dignity and an equal function in caring for creation and enabling family to flourish. The work of CBE International has been excellent in making this scholarship available. A visit to www.cbeinternational.org will reveal the extent of its work.
Half the church cannot, forever, be prevented from serving the other half through teaching and leading. We cannot forever truncate the concept of church in Paul, denying women leading and teaching roles in the church gathered, but yet allowing women to use their gifts leading in church councils, large and small, and teaching through the written word to the church dispersed. The church cannot forever be on the margins of the debates in the wider community, about what makes for good leadership from men and women, especially within political life, because we are unsure if it is appropriate for women to give such leadership. The church must speak to the concerns of the day, but for us to have a credible zero tolerance approach to domestic abuse, the vestiges of patriarchy must be abandoned. The challenges are great but, with God’s enabling Spirit, much can happen, not only in Sydney, but throughout the world.
4th of April, 2015.