Four More Commitment

Post a Comment » Written on December 14th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Pastor Devyn Chambers Johnson’s “Four More Commitment” Facebook Challenge has gone viral in the past week. If you haven’t heard it yet, here is a link to the Facebook video.  If you would like to respond, sign up here.

The challenge’s transcript is below…

My name is Devyn Chambers Johnson, co-pastor at Community Covenant Church in Springfield VA.

I am forever grateful for the Evangelical Covenant Church for affirming the calling of the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. Long before I could admit my calling to preach and proclaim God’s word, others saw it in me and encouraged me to follow Christ into unfamiliar territory.

Because of individuals at Interbay Covenant Church, professors at North Park Seminary, and my current congregation, I have been able to claim God’s call on my life as right and good. I can stand confidently at this pulpit because individuals not only advocated for me but made space for me.

The Evangelical Covenant Church has ordained women for 40 plus years, and while the number of women ordained has risen steadily, the number of women regularly in the pulpit as lead or co-pastors is still shockingly low. The denomination has invested in education and advocacy but the place associated with ‘power’ in our churches—the pulpit–is still inhabited largely by men.
I applaud the men in our denomination who have advocated fiercely for my right to be here. But it is time to stop advocating. It’s time to start sharing. It’s time to make room.

Because when we advocate we speak on someone else’s behalf. When you make room, you let them speak for themselves. You see advocating, however noble and good, is still an exercise in power. And of course I’d rather people use their power for good than for evil but the radical gospel of Christ actually calls us to give up our power. If we take the radical gospel of Jesus seriously then it’s time to do more than advocate. It’s time for men, and particularly pastors in the ECC, to let go of their power. It’s time to make room, to make space for women.

And I know at this point some men are recoiling—because when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

But step back. Think about the kingdom. There’s enough work in the Kingdom for all of us.

But some of you are thinking: how? What does it mean to make room? Listen first and talk Less.

We can apply this to all sort of places: ministerium meetings, staff meetings, pastoral counseling and social media.

But let’s talk about the pulpit. Make room in the pulpit. Share the pulpit.

Talk less and listen to your sisters preach the word.

So if you make decisions about who fills the pulpit in your church, you can do one simple thing: commit to filling your pulpit four more times in the coming year with a woman. Maybe you already have women preach, but if your pulpit is filled by men more than 50% of the year you can still do four more.

Not four times when you are on vacation. Four times when you, along with your congregation, can hear the gospel of Jesus proclaimed by called and gifted women.
Ask your leadership for $500 to fund four additional honorariums. And if they can’t or won’t take a $500 pay cut.

That’s what making room looks like in a small but tangible way. It’s time to do more than advocate. It’s time to let go of power, position, and the pulpit and make room for women.

This is not official denominational appeal. I’m just a pastor who believes we can do better. Commit to four more. Four more women in the pulpit this coming year.

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    Review of “Beyond Sex Roles”

    Post a Comment » Written on November 10th, 2017     
    Filed under: Resources
    Jeff Ondrey is the Director of Nursing Home Operations for Heritage Ministries and is a member of First Covenant Church in Jamestown NY. He recently completed his tenure of service as a lay member of the CBGE.

    Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. Baker Books, 1985.

    Bilezikian’s thesis is that God created men and women as equals. Although woman came from man, man is born of woman. Any inequalities or hierarchical relationship between men and women is the result of the fall. Any biblical interpretation with contrary conclusions is also the outcome of or influence of the fallen state (which, incidentally, was not Eve’s (i.e., woman’s) fault).   Jesus came to restore all that was destroyed by the fall of the first man. In no instance did Jesus establish a dominant, hierarchical relationship between men and women. Rather, in every instance, Jesus displayed the utmost respect and compassion for women.

    This majority of the book is dedicated to analyzing and clarifying these viewpoints. Throughout the book, primarily in the many footnotes, Bilezikian points out the flaws in the interpretations of James B. Hurley’s Men and Women in Biblical Perspective, which Bilezikian uses as a representative work of the alternative viewpoint that men hold a dominant or authoritarian role over women and thus women are to be submissive and subordinate to men. In views such as Hurley’s this dominance/submission relationship is prescribed particularly in the church and most particularly in the leadership or pastorate of the church. Bilezikian quite forcefully debunks each of Hurley’s assertions with consistent and thorough biblical exegesis.

    Bilezikian’s introduction lays out the foundation for the book and in summary God’s revelation of himself through the continuum of human Creation-Fall- Redemption.

    Chapter 1 deals with the creation story as revealed in Genesis 1 & 2. In creation God did not establish a hierarchy of God over man over woman over nature; the “hierarchy” is rather God over humanity, as man & woman, over nature: God is sovereign over humans and humans were given dominion over the earth. Bilezikian develops the scriptural basis for the equality of men and women and the oneness of the marital relationship between Adam and Eve throughout Genesis 2. God’s created ideal is that men and women enjoy a relationship of mutuality and equality.

    In Chapter 2, Bilezikian attributes the fall to the cunning nature of the serpent rather than Eve’s weakness. In his view Eve lacked firsthand knowledge of God’s prohibition. Instead she learned of it through Adam and even questioned the serpent’s assertions relative to what she had learned from Adam. Adam, on the other hand, took the fruit without even a challenge; he was silent. Eve was deceived but Adam sinned in that he knew better, having heard the prohibition directly from the mouth of God. God pronounced the sentence of death on Adam. Bilezikian notes that God did not look upon Adam as the spokesperson, the head, of Eve. He questioned Eve and allowed her to speak for herself as an equal. He also notes that Eve confessed what she had done without attempting to pass blame on others. The fall results in a different order: God over nature, over man, over woman.

    Chapter 3 moves us through the Old Testament covenant that God established with Abraham, initiating a program of redemption that will only be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament features both the negative effects of the fall while bringing forth some positive elements that point toward redemption. On the dark side is featured polygamy, patriarchal oppression, double standard on adultery, trial by ordeal, and divorce legislation. The bright side includes the existence of some female authorities in religious life (prophets), civil life (Deborah), and in marital life (Nabal). Other briefly noted redemptive elements of the Old Testament include the Song of Solomon, and the strong wife featured in Proverbs 31.

    In Chapter 4, Bilezikian cites example after example of where Jesus conquers the effects of the fall and demonstrates a restored relationship between humanity and God and between man and woman. Rather than taking on a compromising view between the creation ideal and the realities of the fall, Jesus consistently rejected the male-rulership principle and demonstrated in his actions, teachings, and example his special concern for the restoration of women to the place of human dignity that Eve held in creation, before the fall.

    Chapter 5, entitled “The New Community,” is the lengthiest chapter in the book. The author goes into great exegetical detail with analysis of original languages to treat particularly challenging concepts. Two in particular include the concepts of mutual submission and headship. Ephesians 5:21 is featured as a key passage to emphasize this mutuality rather than a hierarchical submission.   Additionally, the meaning of headship as authority or rulership versus headship as source or first born or first place is extensively discussed. Bilezikian then goes on to highlight some of the problematic verses that are most often used to justify the subordination of women. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which seems to prohibit women from teaching is analyzed. In an era where women were essentially excluded from a place in the synagogue, following Jesus time, women are now included in the common worship. This passage references a problem in a specific congregation where some women were speaking without knowledge. In Bilezikian’s conclusion the essence of this passage is competence rather than a blanket prohibition against women speaking/teaching in the church. The remainder of this chapter highlights the numerous women who appear in the New Testament as converts, apostles, prophets, teachers, helpers, and administrators. In summary he quotes Galatians 3:28, “There is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Bilezikian’s appendix is titled “A Critical Examination of Wayne Grudem’s Treatment of Kephalē in Ancient Greek Texts.” Here, he refutes each of 49 instances cited where this word is given the meaning as “having authority over.” He breaks these into three distinct categories: 19 instances in non-biblical writings, 19 Greek translations of the Old Testament, and 12 instances in the New Testament. His conclusion is that the word kephalē is never used as “authority” in the New Testament but rather as “source, origin, person or thing from which something else is derived or obtained” which should be servant, provider of.

    The phrase “Where is it written?” has taken on a new meaning for me, and this book has demonstrated how critical it is for both historical context and original language interpretation to be utilized, particularly where there are difficult or controversial passages in scripture. My own understanding of many of the scripture passages dealing with women in church life or the “subordination” of women in the church or in the home has been challenged and altered to a healthier place after reading this book. Reading the scripture from my own base of knowledge or my own bias can lead to error. The importance of relying on theological “expertise” and openness to the Holy Spirit is critical to a broader understanding of the Bible. I am now challenged to explore some of the other viewpoints listed by the author. I also hope to be able to enlighten others to the information learned whenever necessary or whenever led by God to do so.

     

     

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      My Experience Serving on the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality

      Post a Comment » Written on November 8th, 2017     
      Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
      Jeff Ondrey is the Director of Nursing Home Operations for Heritage Ministries and is a member of First Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York. He recently completed his tenure of service as a lay member of the Commission of Biblical Gender equality.

      I was asked to serve on this commission back in 2011 presumably because at the time I was finishing up as a board member for Camp Mission Meadows in western New York on beautiful Lake Chautauqua. This was also presumably because of the fact that my daughters and my wife had served or were serving the Covenant Church through employment or serving on the board of the Great Lakes conference. Upon agreement I received a packet of information about the Commission, its history, its challenges and its present status.

      I was asked to read a book and submit a brief review of it for my first meeting. This book was by Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family (Baker Books, 1985). This book, in addition to the many resources that are listed to the right side of this blog, were instrumental in educating me to an area in the life of the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I had previously not been very well informed. After the first couple of meetings, it became apparent that a stated goal of the Commission was to establish a blog that could be used to inform and to enable conversation surrounding the issues that women and particularly women pastors regularly face. At that time my daughter Sarah was working for the denomination as the web content manager and in short order she was able to assist me in setting up the format and initiating a new blog on the Covenant web site.

      I guess that if I look back and consider my six years of experience on this Commission, I would have to say that I have certainly gained an appreciation for the courage of women that have been called by God to enter seminary and ultimately to become pastors only to be thwarted in many instances because of the continued inability of some churches to get beyond their own biases and cemented theology that is not at all open to different interpretations of scriptures — this despite the fact that the denomination voted to ordain women over 40 years ago.

      Never-the-less, the Covenant denomination maintains a congregational form of church governance. We are not ruled by the pope of the Covenant. I can only hope and pray that God will continue to inform pastors and members of our churches that God does in fact call women, who being created in the image and likeness of God were created as equally qualified for leading our congregations toward a fuller relationship with Christ. Let us all remember, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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        Mary Mary

        Post a Comment » Written on October 23rd, 2017     
        Filed under: Poetry
        Debra Auger was called out, by a mentor, as being in “the middle of life” when attending seminary, which is, now, nearly twenty years ago! Even though a “late bloomer” she has had the opportunity to serve in a variety of roles from her current one at NPTS as the Dean of Students and Community Life for over a decade and before that, for six years, as a faculty member and Director of Ministry Arts at Covenant Bible College in Ecuador. She earned a doctor of ministry in spiritual formation and direction at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and is an associate professor of ministry. Her most significant work, though, has been raising her four kids and discovering life with her partner and husband, Bob.

         

        Mary Mary

        Seems unfair we always praise your virtue

        Of love and faith

        the student’s place

        listening

        learning…..be-ing

        Martha Martha

                 Seems a shame Your service went upraised

        Of work and welcome

                          The place of host

        Unending work of doing….doing

        Sisters both…once and always… are choices thicker than blood?

        Choice to do and choice to be …..Embodying both…as do we.

         

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          Like Pulling Teeth…

          Post a Comment » Written on October 18th, 2017     
          Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

          Mary Peterson serves as Pastor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Highland Covenant Church in Bellevue, Washington. She is also President of Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women and sits on the Commission of Biblical Gender Equality.

          My almost nine year old son has a common problem… huge teeth and a little mouth. So we have ventured into the world of orthodontics early in his life. He was the first second grader to get braces at his school. Thankfully, this was a seriously cool moment in the life of my sanguine boy. The orthodontist explained the importance of making room early in his mouth to allow the permanent teeth to have a place to enter correctly. So with the addition of a spacer and some barbed wire, we have been making space for his new teeth to come through this past year. Overall the results have been amazing, but there are two incisors that are refusing to budge. They are his baby teeth, and they don’t want to come out. They are refusing to make space for the teeth who are anxiously waiting in the wings to make their appearances. My brave son has done the hard work of wiggling those obstinate teeth to encourage them to leave. He was successful with one of them, but the other will require assistance from our dentist to come out.

          As I sat around a conference table last week, it struck me that this is the exact kind of work we are trying to do with women in church leadership. After decades of study of Scripture and context, we have decided to fully support the inclusion of women in all levels of leadership within our denomination. And it is difficult work.  I know so many women who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to utilize their education, giftedness and calling. All they need is a space to do their work. We have to think strategically about where we need to make space for women to enter into leadership roles- to evaluate how the systems that naturally work to increase leadership capabilities in our male pastors need to shift to include women. Just like the spacer stretches the upper jaw to make room for those new teeth, we need to look for places to make more space.

          Making room requires more than just stretching. We may also need to do some difficult work of removing obstacles that are preventing women from entering into the roles to which God is calling them. Do our church policies support women who are entering into ministry later in life? Do we support women who need a break to raise babies or care for aging parents? Do we value the life experience of women who took a long time to understand and envision God’s calling on their lives? Do we value the years of hard work in children or youth ministry as valid experience to move into senior pastor roles? Are we including women in church leadership at all levels? Do we listen for the voices of our sisters of color? Do our pay and benefit structures reflect our commitment to equality? Are there churches or organizations in our denomination who refuse to acknowledge the giftedness and calling of women?

          It is difficult work to be self-reflective as an individual or an organization, but necessary for our healthy growth. We have lots of room to grow. I can only imagine the beautiful smile that God will have when he sees his church as he imagines it- women and men serving fully as they live and grow into their callings together. I have a feeling it will be an even bigger smile than when my kid gets his braces off in a few months.

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            The Day of the Girl Child

            Devyn Chambers Johnson serves as co-pastor of Community Covenant Church in Springfield, Virginia. Devyn, and her husband Ryan, are proud parents to two active young daughters. In addition to serving as co-pastor Devyn is pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry with an emphasis in leadership and ministry development. 

            My husband and I are raising two amazing girls who I know will change the world. Our oldest is a natural performer who loves life, exudes joy and turns any social situation into a party. Our youngest, a mere 15 months old, is more reserved but determined, thoughtful and independent.

            And they make me see my call as a pastor differently.

            I was raised a pastor’s daughter and the most common avenue for ministry that I saw available to women was that of a pastor’s wife. Ironically, I married a pastor and now wear dual hats as both a pastor and a pastor’s spouse.

            But my girls see the world so incredibly differently than I did as a young girl.

            This summer we drove passed our neighborhood Lutheran church, where my friend serves as pastor and where oldest had attended Vacation Bible School. She began to retell the story of how she got scared but Julia’s mommy let her sit in her office and helped her feel better.

            Making conversation I pointed out that Julia’s mom is the pastor of that church. To which my daughter responded “Yeah! She’s really nice.”

            Then out of curiosity, and because you never really know the mind of a four year old, I asked “Who’s the pastor at our church?”

            And as a true four year old she replied with her newfound know-it-all exasperation “you are mom!”

            And I couldn’t help but smile. Not because I needed some sort of affirmation from my four year old but because I realized that to her it was a ridiculously stupid question. Her mom is a pastor (and her dad too!) and while that reality is still foreign to some—it isn’t to her.

            And it hit me—that for all the advocacy and training I can provide for women in ministry the greatest gift of my call is the gift of normalcy to a younger generation.

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              A Resounding “Yes”

              Post a Comment » Written on September 5th, 2017     
              Filed under: Project Deborah, Testimonies and Stories

              Brian Wiele has served since 2006 as the Lead Pastor of River Ridge Covenant Church in Olympia, Washington.  Brian and Linda have been married for 36 years, and have two children and two grandchildren.  He is an avid reader, and wishes he could play golf more frequently.

              At Gather ’17 – the annual meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church held in late June – something was formally renewed, a resounding “yes” from the delegates to work done so far and work still to be addressed. As that “yes” was affirmed, there was a silent accompanying “good-bye” said from afar by one person – a farewell spoken with joy and appreciation.  

              What was renewed?  The continuing work of the Covenant’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.  Formed in 2002, the question comes up every five years – should we continue the work of educating about and advocating for women in ministry?  In those fifteen years, dozens of your fellow Covenanters have served in that effort to create documents, awareness, and hope.  

              I am the one who said “good-bye” from afar, as I was not able to participate in Gather this year. I joined the commission in 2011, and served for two three-year terms. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I considered it a special honor to have been asked to lead the effort as chair for four years. Having left the Commission, I have been asked to share some reflections, looking back upon where we’ve come and peering forward into the future.

              I am thrilled with the progress that is being made.  We continue to rely upon solid resources [hyper-link to BGE resources here] that were prepared by the first members of the Commission.  But more importantly, we see an increase in gifted women thriving in various ministry callings, in the local church, in Covenant leadership, and in various segments of our culture.  As I write this, the new Chair of the Commission, Abby Jones, has begun her work as Lead Pastor at Paradise Valley Community Church in Phoenix.  Abby is the first woman to lead a multi-staff congregation in the Pacific Southwest Conference. May her tribe increase!

              As I think about the present situation, with many women languishing without a call, and search committees refusing to look at their profiles, I’m struggling for a different word to use beside “discouraged”.  I am grateful for and appreciate how the Covenant works, where each congregation makes their own decisions. As a result, denominational leadership has no leverage in bringing about change.  Part of the Covenant DNA is to “keep the peace”, which often prevents pastors from starting the women in leadership conversation in their churches out of fear of potential dissension and division.  This is our disheartening reality, which means in one sense not much has happened after fifteen years of work for the Commission.  

              I know well that pastoral concern, because that’s exactly how I operated for the first twenty years of my vocational ministry. My view on women in leadership had evolved by studying the scriptures more carefully, but I didn’t let my theology effect who preached on Sundays or who served as leadership Chair. That changed when my convictions were given a name, a gifted woman in our midst named Colette who was on a home assignment from her mission work in Mexico.

              Which is why I am hopeful in leaving the Commission. In 2017 we launched Project Deborah, a wonderful set of tools for pastors and congregations.  Looking at the Old Testament leader raised up by God, people are encouraged to ask the questions: who are the gifted women in our midst?  Could God be raising up a Deborah among us, and what are we doing about that?  The Commission believes that Project Deborah will have a long-term effect, as dozens of individual women will be affirmed and encouraged in their local settings.

              It may sound like I’m overstating the case, but my life has been changed by serving on the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality.  The issue of women in leadership has become far more for me than just another interpretive matter over which we can agree to disagree. To quote John Weborg, “all God’s people are called and gifted.” To prevent half the Church from fulfilling their call by misinterpreting a couple of difficult passages deeply offends me, and I believe it breaks God’s heart also. I will continue to advocate for women to serve passionately and faithfully in the Kingdom wherever God calls them.

              I am so grateful for the leadership and encouragement I have received from the staff of Develop Leaders, especially Mark Novak and Carol Lawson.  It has been a joy and an honor to serve alongside them and so many others in this crucial work. There is admittedly still much to be done, but I have no doubt that God also contributes a resounding “yes” to his daughters who faithfully serve Him.  

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                “That’s Where you Belong!” | Speaking Blessings in the Seasons of Life

                Post a Comment » Written on August 27th, 2017     
                Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
                Rev. Rose Lee-Norman is Associate Pastor of Family Ministry at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has served there for seven years. She lives in North Minneapolis with her husband Ryan. They have been married ten years and have two daughters, Esme and Isla. Rose is in a season of life that barely allows for much leisure and uninterrupted time, but when she has a day to herself she can be found reading, sewing and slowly redecorating (or at least dreaming about it) spaces she abides in.

                Many people ask what my mom thinks about my calling and vocation as a pastor. They ask because my mom is a devoted Catholic and raised my siblings and I in that tradition. It’s wonderful to be able to say that she fully supports me and even sometimes, after attending Mass in her small city first, drives almost an hour to listen to me preach.

                While she has always encouraged me in my calling to ministry, it was through her unbeknownst-to-her blessing she gave me 12 years ago that made all the difference.

                Twelve years ago I was an undergrad student at North Park University (NPU). I knew I was called from a young age to seek a vocation in ministry, but was met by confusion with that call in the setting of my Catholic upbringing. Through God’s guidance I attended Covenant Bible College – Ecuador and later NPU.
                It was a crisp fall day and a lazy weekend setting on campus as my mom and I walked around to the different buildings. When we came to an open area, she pointed and asked what that building ahead was. She was pointing to the seminary. I told her what it was and she said, “That’s where you belong!” She noted my desire to be a pastor and plainly stated a place like that is where a person like me belongs and should pursue.

                Her words were a blessing. Not a blessing in the way we often think about in our Western culture where God gives us stuff we want. But similar to the Old Testament ritual of speaking a blessing over a family member or God creating the world and blessing it for God’s purposes, my mother’s words were a blessing in that season of life that opened up a deeper potential and movement.

                Growing up Catholic and through my mother’s example I knew her faith was fundamental to her. In a way I did desire her blessing to go down another path and seek a vocation in ministry in Protestantism. While I did not go on to attend North Park Seminary, I did move to California and attended and graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary. It was a move I may not have taken without the blessing my mother gave me.

                Her blessing has become a pivotal milestone for me in my faith journey. As I pastor families at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, MN, I know the value of blessing another person, especially someone of another generation, to speak the value into another person’s faith and life process. Research shows that when we integrate our faith and model that faith for a person of another generation in healthy and holistic ways our and their faith will grow and is much more likely to sustain for a lifetime. And blessings are a way to integrate our faith through the various seasons of life. When we see and recognize God in the ongoing movements and seasons of our life and name that, we speak great power into another person’s experience.

                Practically my husband and I have been trying to do this with our children. We have two daughters and before they go to bed we speak a blessing over them. It isn’t always the same, but we do try to connect it with what they’re experiencing in life in that season.

                Blessings though do not have to have that same ritual. As women (and maybe some male readers, too) we know the power of another person validating and empowering us through a season. Many of us could share the encouraging words or poignant challenges we’ve received through our vocation and faith journey. My prayer is that we are aware of our power and voice so we can bless another woman to show them that they belong.

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                  Feminist Literature?

                  Post a Comment » Written on August 22nd, 2017     
                  Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
                  Here is a link to a recent post on Ellie VerGowe’s –one of the Commission’s contributors — personal blog site. It is entitled “Reading for Liberation.”

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                    Reframing: An Architectural Design Thinking Process of 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 | Rev. Gricel Medina

                    Post a Comment » Written on August 17th, 2017     
                    Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

                    How can we better serve and inform an increasingly diverse egalitarian community? How can we ensure that egalitarian theology is clearly understood by people of many different backgrounds? How can we create bridges with conversation and avoid being intrusive or divisive? What are the unspoken needs that we are ignoring, dismissing, or are unaware of in our communities? This lecture challenges and emboldens you to utilize every opportunity to advance the egalitarian message. It will inspire you to go deeper in your understanding of your place at the table of diversity and mutuality.

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