Moody Takes the Lead Again!

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It was a week to remember. What happened that week was enough to create a serious case of cultural vertigo. It was a dizzying clash of perspectives on women.

The worst of it came when movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal broke. The best by far was Moody Bible Institute’s 2017 Missions Conference in Chicago. The contrast between the two events couldn’t have been more stark.

While dozens of women were coming forward to accuse Weinstein for decades of sexual harassment and assault, something vastly different was happening in Chicago. In the most emphatic way Moody Bible Institute (MBI) was honoring and celebrating the legacy and promise of Moody women—past, present, and future.

The week was loaded with exclamation points.

Moody’s Feminine Legacy

At its founding, MBI was at the forefront of biblical and theological education for women. The mission of God was paramount, and the door for training wide open to anyone who sensed God’s call to ministry.

MBI produced some extraordinary women. My early childhood impressions of Moody were of MBI’s female graduates who were teachers, authors, missionaries, and leaders who influenced my mother when she was a young girl and also as an adult.

Even the founding of the school bears the influence of a woman. That fact was highlighted during the conference and honored with the announcement of the Emma Dryer Legacy Award to be awarded annually to a MBI alumna with five to fifteen years in urban ministry.

Maybe it was because other educational institutions have been catching up. Maybe it was because the pendulum at Moody regarding women took a swing in another  direction. But this year, things changed. MBI stepped up again to take the lead.

H.E.R.

I’ve been to plenty of conferences that strongly affirmed the gifts and callings of women—both Christian and secular. This conference topped them all.

First, there was the conference theme: H.E.R. an acronym for Honor, Empower, and Release intended to honor women in ministry, with a T-shirt to go with it. (I’ll let you guess who’s wearing the T-shirt.)

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Second, came the powerful poster that represented women as the ezer-warrior. The combined effect of the theme and the image gave rise to a short-lived controversy. “Are women supposed to be gladiators?” “Is this a women’s only conference?”

The stated intention of the image was “to convey a simple yet elegant image of a strong woman, a warrior and woman of valor.” With support from Moody’s administration and all of the missions organizations participating (not to mention backing from the Apostle Paul who instructs both men and women to “put on the whole armor of God”) the conference committee stood firm. The ezer-warrior image survived, and she appeared in all her glory in the conference opening session.

Third, the conference reached back into the past to acknowledge the strong legacy of Moody women through poignant student monologues and spoken word. The often forgotten Emma Dryer headed the list (see “Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman”).

According to Moody Missions Conference Director Clive Craigen, “As important as D.L. Moody was to the founding of [this institution], equally without Emma Dryer there is no Moody Bible Institute.”

MBI student actors represented four courageous female missionaries—either as the women themselves or as the woman’s husband or nephew. The dramatizations included Eleanor Chestnut, M.D., a medical missionary in China who was martyred.

Fourth, the entire conference opened and closed with the earthshaking video below. I say “earthshaking” because both times they showed it, the whole place rocked with the roar of the students. I can still hear them!

See if it doesn’t make your heart pound as it did mine.

The building physically did shake during Thursday evening’s Ethnefest. The whole evening is a celebration of cultures and languages through worship, spoken word (poetry), and dance.

That evening I had a near-mosh-pit experience. That’s what I get for sitting too close to the front. (Those who know me will understand how awkward that could have been.)

The Blessed Alliance Comes to MBI

As for my part, I was invited to be what I later learned was the “first female headlining speaker” for a MBI missions conference. In addition to two Q&A sessions (with faculty and students respectively) and Dr. Pamela MacRae’s class on “Theology and Philosophy of Women in Ministry,” I spoke for the three morning sessions. At their request, I based my messages on three of my books: Lost Women of the Bible, Half the Church, and The Gospel of Ruth (with a bit of Malestrom thrown in).

My focus was the Blessed Alliance. I gave them Eve at creation and followed with three narratives that display the blessed male/female alliance in action: Esther and Mordecai, Mary and Joseph, and (of course) Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.

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A Win-Win for God’s Daughters and Sons

Conversations that followed with students and faculty were high points for me. Although I love to hear it, I’m no longer surprised when women tell me the image bearer/ezer-warrior/Blessed Alliance message struck a chord with them. Deep down inside we know God calls us to this. That message honors, empowers, and releases women and girls to embrace God’s calling on our lives.

What may come as a surprise to some is that the same message honors, empowers, and releases men and boys too. That’s what the men at Moody told me. At the end of the conference, one male student said it directly: “Your messages were really empowering.”

It is a marvel and a mystery—that when God raises up his daughters to love and serve him with their whole lives, men don’t pay a price. They benefit, for God created his sons and daughters to serve him together.

Like I said, it’s hard to imagine a sharper contrast or greater dissonance between what I was witnessing at Moody and the appalling evidence of sexual abuse and assaults that was turning up in the media. The #MeToo tweets reveal that all too often, instead of experiencing honor, empowerment, and release, far too many women and girls are objectified, degraded, and abused. It’s encouraging that women are finding their voices and speaking out.

Not only does this once again open the door for the church to take a prominent role in opposing abuse no matter who does it or what form it takes. It is also (and we can take our cues from MBI) to be known for proclaiming a far better message for women and girls–to be known for honoring, empowering, and releasing them to embrace all that God calls them to be and to do.

Craigen “urged the Moody community to not forget that women were the first ones to see the resurrected Christ, and during Jesus’ life, his speech with women at the time was culturally scandalous.”

In the wake of discomfort with the warrior imagery of H.E.R. and with the urgency that comes from seeing women mistreated, he went on to add,

“Perhaps, through a little ‘intentional dissonance,’ by allying with the committee, the administration, and the missions organizations to graciously encourage women to speak, the student body will do well to become a little more ‘culturally scandalous.'”

Once again Moody is taking the lead. Let’s pray many others will follow their example.

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37 Responses to Moody Takes the Lead Again!

  1. Paul Wolff says:

    Brought me to tears…God’s grace released in and through you…years of labor and pain and joy…this! So great!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephanie Looney says:

    What a gift this email was in my inbox this am! I have been struggling so much biblically with God’s purpose for women, and add the sexual predatory behaviors that we as women experience and read about in the news in 2017. Does God love His daughters as much as His sons? Your writings have been instrumental in my “wrestling”!!! Thank you. Is it possible to buy one of the H.E.R. shirts??? I would love one for my daughter and I. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dorothygreco says:

    I’m sorry I wasn’t there and I continue to be be grateful for the work that you and many other women (and men) are doing to cut across systemic misogyny in the church.

    Like

  4. Mary Getz says:

    My heart is full knowing of the legacy that was celebrated and the call that was given to women. This coming from an institution that was so formative in my own story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tim says:

    The cultural scandal of women and men working together to lead and preach the gospel is as old as our faith, and I am glad you and MBI and others work together to live out that scandal, Carolyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Susan C Nash says:

    You are right about the timing of the Weinstein and other scandals and the topic of the conference. It is impossible NOT to see the connection. The video is powerful and the message of honor, empower, release for both men and women redounds. Thanks for being on the front lines and for reporting this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I shared this on FB (I didn’t do it with the button, darn it, so you may not know). But this was my comment there: Oh, my! Sometimes we mix up “old and established” with “stodgy and out-of-touch.” Go, MBI!!! So, so good…xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Carol Ann (Bryan) Murillo says:

    How wonderful to read this this morning. As someone who is just now becoming aware of your ministry and books, I praise God that Moody Bible Institute supports and defends the role of women in the church. It is such a joy to serve Him.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Diana says:

    Love the poster!! It says it all. Thanks for sharing an experience that encourages us, and reminds us that God sees and hears our disillusionment when, as girls and young women, we encounter our first fight with what’s supposed to be our comrade. I love that the conference reflected a genuine and powerful intent to impact generations to come with the goal to change our narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a Moody alum and a female, I have been disappointed for decades at the barriers thrown up in the difficult path in pursuing my God-given calling. After many years of lay leadership and lay ministry, and after being snubbed and disrespected by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I finally was welcomed with open arms by Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I’ve had an M.Div. for twelve years. I’ve been in fruitful, worthwhile ministry as a chaplain for some years, and now a pastor at a suburban Chicago church for three and a half years. I am cautiously encouraged by this official Moody admission of the fact that women, too, do fruitful and worthwhile ministry to all God’s people, just as chaplains and pastors do every day. And about the woman headliner at the Mission Conference? About time.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I’m starting to understand why MBI was so urgent about quieting and firing Janay Garrick as she was gathering the stories of we female alums who endured phenomenal misogyny, discrimination, sexual intrusions, assault and rape (neatly swept under the rug) while we were students.

    I think it’s wonderful that Moody has tried to take this step forward. It’s a shame they chose to do it while dancing around and on top of that heaping, putrid lump in the center of the carpet.

    If Moody is sincere in this endeavor, they will need to go back and deal with the ugly, ungodly, unethical, immoral (and at times illegal) issues they have attempted to entomb under the rug. I hope they will.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jordan Harper says:

      Agreed. As much respect as I have for Clive Craigen as a person, the overall administration is being epically hypocritical.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Heidi says:

      I completely concur. This is a step on the right direction, but Moody HAS to come clean or it risks losing momentum due to hypocrisy. There are too many MBI women out there that need to know Moody is being honest and has the integrity to deal with its sordid past.

      Like

  12. Mitch says:

    As long as MBI’s existing doctrinal views about gender roles remain in place (patriarchy, complementarianism, church authority, etc.) this is just a transparent bit of silly fakery.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Jen, 1995 alumna says:

    I am sick. This is not Moody taking the lead. This Moody decades behind most of the rest of Christendom (as usual). Stop patting yourself on the back and get to the real work making sure your faculty and staff are equal part female and pay them the same. Also, ordination of women needs to happen yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am aware of Moody’s gender statement and also that Moody like other Christian organizations has dark chapters in their past. There is no excuse for the harm that has happened or for the refusal to protect those injured and deal properly with those who harm. At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the strong message communicated at this conference or the power of God to change hearts. The images and presentations at Moody’s conference weren’t timid. Yes, it is true that this can all end up being little more than a blip or window dressing on a crucial issue. Even changing (or removing) a restrictive gender statement can fall short of real change. I pray that doesn’t happen. But from what I saw at Moody and am seeing at other Christian academic organizations (including TEDS), I’ve been as surprised as anyone that things are beginning to change. I’m seeing it in a lot of different places, and I can’t help feeling hopeful.

    Younger faculty are willing to address gender and other issues. Plenty of the men have come to respect and benefit from the achievements, contributions, and friendships of their female colleagues. I’ve had conversations with male professors at Moody, Houghton, Taylor, Covenant, and other colleges who were deeply disturbed by negative attitudes towards women especially because they know and value their female students who they recognize as smart, gifted, and promising for the whole church. Some of the faculty members I met at Moody were unaware of some of the painful chapters of their organization’s history. Student bodies now are primarily post-Millennials who don’t share some of the perspectives that have been regarded as “gospel” by older generations. Some do, but many don’t.

    Some of those terrible wrongs may never be made right until Jesus comes. But I believe his Spirit is at work, not just during the conference, but in the character, hearts, and commitment of both students and faculty I met.

    Like

    • Fairly said. I realize God has called many, many people, at many different places on the comp/egal spectrum. However, as one who has been repeatedly harassed, maligned, ignored, condescended to, and disrespected by numerous “church folk” for several decades, I am afraid I need significant examples to convince me otherwise. I am not reassured by mere statements that Moody’s position on women in ministry is beginning to change. (Oh, and #MeToo.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I stand with chaplaineliza 100%. #MeTooAndAlsoAtMoody

        Liked by 1 person

        • I am so sorry for what has been done to you and not surprised at all at your reservations. And also Carolyn G below. One story like yours is one too many. The #MeToo statistics are the same inside or outside the church and/or Christian organizations. We need your voices. One great conference doesn’t erase what has happened. Changes are needed at multiple levels to make the church and Christian institutions the safe places they are called to be.

          Like

  15. Kristin Beasley says:

    How wonderful..tremendous, uplifting and encouraging. Wish I had been there. So glad you got to experience the moment and the affirmation for your life’s work. Love, Kristin Beasley

    Sent from my iPad

    Like

  16. Carolyn G. says:

    LOVE THIS! I hope there is much more to come, with many other institutions, colleges, etc., following. I am also incredibly saddened because this stand is 60 years (literally) too late for me. I would have/could have been like the woman wearing the awesome headdress! I am 70+ and, until relatively recently, I saw myself and all women as “less than” and second to men in every way, and not just in ministry, needing to stay in our ‘place’. It was reinforced by all churches I had ever attended. In fact, just 2-3 years ago, I heard twice from the pulpit (my church) that women were “subservient”. Wow! That’s a terribly strong word. As soon as I could, I bolted from my seat and almost ran out to the car, holding back the tears until I got there. Dear hubby talked to the pastor (very graciously) about it. Pastor coolly ended the conversation by saying, “That’s what it says.” Crickets. We have a new pastor (surprised?), and I’m cautiously waiting for him to indicate his position. 🙂 Blessings to all….

    Like

    • Carolyn G, see my comment above, which includes you. Also, please know that it is ~never~ too late for you or anyone else. I knew a woman in her 90s who was still asking God what he wanted her to do with her life, and she was getting assignments. We need women in every age group to join us in working toward healthier and God-honoring relationships between men and women. The very fact that you are noticing the hurtful comments pastors can make means we need you to stay in the battle with us.

      Like

  17. Christine Labrum says:

    Dear Carolyn,

    Thank you for this post about the Moody conference. I loved the image and the title. As an artist I am drawn to images – they hold a lot of power.

    I have become acquainted with your books in the last year or so. I have been blessed and challenged. Thank you.

    Gentle blessings, Christine

    ps – I am a Biblical grad, and I live in Hatfield. Would you like to meet for a cup of coffee/tea sometime?

    *Christine Labrum*

    *Spiritual Director & Artist*

    *Space To Listen, LLC* *Creating Space To Listen, LLC* http://www.creatingspacetolisten.com

    *But as for me, I will hope continually, I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14*

    On Thu, Oct 26, 2017 at 8:03 AM, Carolyn Custis James wrote:

    > carolyncustisjames posted: ” It was a week to remember. What happened that > week was enough to create a serious case of cultural vertigo. It was a > dizzying clash of perspectives on women. The worst of it came when movie > mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal broke. The ” >

    Like

  18. Jordan Harper says:

    Positioning Moody as the opposite or antithesis of the #metoo movement is laughable. Near a dozen “me too” instances happened to me personally while at MBI. And this isn’t ancient history, I graduated a few years ago. I was publically demeaned by a professor who is still there. I was told repeatedly I didn’t belong in my major. On and on. I have friends who were sexually assaulted there. And the professors who were telling me they hoped to hire a female bible or theology professor 1) had multiple opportunities while I was there and didn’t and 2) never made a concerted effort to get the professors fired who are treating female students like shit.

    Clive Craigen has my utmost respect for arranging this conference and attempting to bring a different perspective on campus. But painting the administration and faculty and students with his brush is an insult to his character and an affront to reality.

    Like

  19. Randi Craigen says:

    SO proud of my husband and SO honored by your words regarding MBI’s 2017 Missions Conference! He was so excited about this conference and especially excited to tell me you would be speaking. You’ve had a huge impact in my life through your writing and I was thrilled to get to meet you and thank you in person! Been listening this week to your book on Ruth on Audible. W.O.W. Thank you so much for studying, listening, walking with God and sharing your journey with others. And thank you for doing so at this year’s Missions Conference!
    Blessings!!!
    Randi Craigen

    Like

  20. juliezcoleman says:

    YESSSS!!! So wonderful to see Moody taking a stand for what is truly biblical and right. I’m so excited to see where God has begun to move them forward to become leaders in the Christian world where reform is desperately needed. May this be just the beginning of inspiration for a new generation to honor each other with mutual respect.

    Like

  21. Pete Ahlstrom says:

    Heartening. Encouraging. Inspiring. Wonderful to see you so “upbeat” because good things are happening and you can rightly feel your ministry’s had a part in making them happen.

    Like

  22. Carol Floch McColl says:

    I never would have expected this to happen at Moody, and certainly would have never expected them to invite Carolyn Custis James as their keynote speaker! I guess pigs fly after all! 😊🎉

    Like

  23. Ingrid says:

    I am so deeply encouraged! This is incredible! Praise God! Thank you so much for your faithfulness, courage, and embodying this message of HER with so many others. Wow!!! and at Moody!

    Like

  24. Pingback: Harbinger of Moody’s Ezer-Warrior Video | Carolyn Custis James

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