— Moody Conferences (@MoodyConference) May 15, 2013
11 years ago this week I graduated from Moody Bible Institute. The moment of walking across that stage, shaking Joe Stowell’s hand, and knowing that I had done it, goes down in history as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
I had defied every odd stacked against me.
- A family history of poor academics.
- I got to college without having a single useful study skill. I sailed through high school without studying or ever doing homework. Moody was relentless academically and I was ill-prepared.
- Culturally, I didn’t fit in. I hated the holier than thou sub-culture of some of the students. Hate might not be strong enough. (Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. Many of my best friends in ministry are bonds formed because of our disgust.)
- Academically, I competed against students who had been groomed for Moody. They had lots of exposure to the Bible, theology, and even the vernacular. I constantly played catch-up in the classroom.
- My family support system crumbled during my 2nd year… there was no financial help, not because they didn’t want to but because they had bigger challenges to face.
- A few, low-level Moody employees said vile things to me. Discouraged me from continuing. Told me to quit. Told me I wasn’t the type of student they wanted to invest in. Told me I wasn’t good enough. And I’m not exaggerating. (There were others who encouraged me and kept me going.)
- I returned to Moody as a married student with a full-time job. I worked from 4 am – noon 5 days per week, attending class in the afternoons, for 3 years. My last year I worked 45-55 hours per week, had a 10 hour per week internship, and Megan was a newborn. Every day was a physical and mental challenge.
- Somehow I fulfilled or begged exemption from a huge myriad of undergraduate obligations. I fulfilled as many as I could, but some just weren’t possible.
I am proud to have walked across that stage. No one gave that to me. I earned it. I fought for it.
It was worth fighting for. I wanted to finish. I wanted to learn. And I wanted to stand with the thousands of alumni who love that place, were trained by that place, and gone on to do great things for the Kingdom.
I soaked up my education at Moody like a sponge. They didn’t just teach me stuff. My professors taught me how to think. Brick by brick they built a foundation for not just how to do ministry stuff, but how to minister to people, and more importantly… to deeply understand the questions that define “why” we do stuff.
I share all of that because you need to understand my great respect and love for my alma mater.
Historically, she fits the mold for a place which has helped lead the church. The church desperately needs a ministry training school like Moody.
The Problem She Faces
But she is struggling. She is in trouble. While she has traditionally been a place for all kinds of protestant believers, she’s taken a turn to the right. She’s anchored herself to the tug boat of conservatives pulling her further and further into the dark seas of isolationism and lost her place as a place of neutrality.
Consequently, her alumni are increasingly ostracized and shunned.
Shockingly, those who are being shunned or just flat out ignored are not doing so because they hold views divergent from the historical Moody Bible Institute. Alumni are being pushed away because we’ve taken the very things they taught us and applied it to our ministries in exactly the way we were taught to.
Her alumni, engaged in that for which we were prepared, are left wondering where she is going and why she is acting the way she is acting.
And in the meantime we are left on the outside looking in. We aren’t invited to come and ask questions. We aren’t even responded to. Some have even been officially told to go away, quite literally pushed out the door.
An Example From Yesterday
An early catalyst for the creation Moody Bible Institute was a woman named was Emma Dryer.
There is a men’s dorm bearing her name. So much of the DNA that is Moody Bible Institute reflects Emma’s work. (The video above captures this.)
Moody was an exceptionally progressive place where women received a formal education in preparation for vocational ministry. Long before most Christian colleges and seminaries trained women, Moody Bible Institute was on the forefront. Moody was one of the first colleges in Illinois to admit women. 35 years before women could vote in the United States, they were educated at Moody.
Historically speaking, Moody has been progressive… even cutting edge… on the role of women in the church.
Wherever you go in the world, you will find women trained at Moody Bible Institute, doing Kingdom work as missionaries, teachers, and leaders.
That all began to change in late 1990s. Right around 1999 or 2000 Moody actually added this section on gender roles into their “Moody Believes” statement specifically mandating that women not be prepared for pastoral ministry. (This is the document that every student, staff, and professor signs as part of their connection to the school.)
Previously, they had been silent but largely affirming towards the role of women in the church. As someone who was a student at the time you need to understand how much this new addition to the doctrinal statement divided the campus. The topic dominated the classroom. It was beyond disruptive. Professors– the most powerful voices on campus– were hamstrung, they either complied, keeping their mouths shut, or left their tenured positions.
This was the marking of a huge turn towards conservative isolationism. (At the same time, many undergrad professors moved on. Some of that was surely related to this gender roles issue. In other capacities it was related to some leading the way on something they coined “Progressive dispensationalism.” It was a course correction to dispensational thinking, one which the board of Moody rejected, further turning the school towards the conservative.)
The point is that for decades Moody was one place within evangelicalism that was progressive on issues of women in ministry. But that course radically turned, became frozen, and is now tailoring a regression on the roles of women in the church while at the same time most evangelicals are embracing the roles Moody is now officially against. (There are TONS of conservative evangelical churches with women in pastoral leadership. It’s not on the edges anymore, it’s a mainstream reality within evangelicalism.)
So that’s why I find it offensive that Moody’s Pastors Conference doesn’t allow women to register to attend.
Women can get their undergraduate and graduate training at Moody. Many go on to pastoral roles. But come back to campus for encouragement, further training, and the common bonds of spending time with fellow pastors? Not allowed!
As their website so clearly describes… women may attend general sessions of the Pastors Conference with their husbands. But they cannot register as an attendee nor can they go to any breakout.
And this is the response I got from Moody’s Conference department about the policy:
— Moody Conferences (@MoodyConference) May 15, 2013
So many digs in 140 characters. Women aren’t seen as pastors. They aren’t worth refocusing, refreshing, or equipping as full participants, much less under the title of pastor or leader. And then the arrogance of the last phrase… “Praise God for other conferences… hashtag HE PROVIDES!”
My jaw fell open in sadness when I saw this. I couldn’t believe that someone at Moody thought it was OK to say that. U-N-B-E-L-I-E-V-A-B-L-E.
Further, their policy makes no sense to me. It doesn’t align with their historical progressive stand on women in ministry. It certainly does not lean into their heritage with historical ties to Emma Dryer or the tens of thousands of women they’ve trained for ministry.
Instead, the attitude that women are secondary in their role within the body of Christ continues to drive a wedge between people who love the Institute and those who refuse to support the degrading of women’s roles.
Join Me in Asking Moody to Lead the Change
Trust me. It would be easier if I just let it go. It’d be easier if I just wrote off Moody. But I love her too much to stand in silence.
I understand the idea of an institutional preference. (Much more so than poorly constructed proof-texting to create an exclusion of women from pastoral roles.) But I can’t understand an institutional preference which separates you from your historical posture.
So I am continually, out of love and respect, asking Moody to change its policy. I’m asking that they allow women to fully participate in every undergraduate and graduate program. I’m asking that women be allowed as fully registered participants at their annual Pastor’s Conference. I’m asking that they invite women pastors to speak and train both men & women at the conference.
And yes, I’m asking Moody to re-embrace their leadership position on the role of women in the church which proudly supported thousands of opportunities for women to serve the church to their fullest giftedness from the late 19th century until the end of the 20th century.
Until that time, this proud alumni respectfully stands in protest.