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Emma Dryer is Smiling

About 3 years ago I wrote a blog post that was widely read entitled, “Moody, You Are Worth the Fight.” In this post I addressed Moody’s demarkation from their historic posture on women in ministry. While the school bears the name of 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody, the Institute was the brain child of a woman named Emma Dryer. Moody Bible Institute was among the first colleges in Illinois to admit women, it’s mission was to create a place for laypeople to get trained to serve the local church and mission field.

In it’s day this was progressive. Very few bible colleges or seminaries admitted women at that time. And while throughout Moody’s history it’s been known as a conservative place, practically speaking it’s also been a place that fostered great amounts of theological diversity among it’s student body. In my time, I shared the classroom with many classmates from evangelical and non-evangelical backgrounds who both thrived there. (And we all struggled through the rules.)

But this changed abruptly more than 100 years after Moody’s founding. For reasons unknown to me, MBI formally adopted a view on women in ministry that excluded them from preparation for pastoral ministry. This went as far as reshaping degree programs specifically to limit women’s participation. For example, in 1995 the youth ministry program was moved from the Pastoral Ministries department to the Christian Education department. Why? So they could continue to prepare women to serve in youth ministry while restricting women from being in classes with Pastoral Ministries majors.

Here was the crux of my complaint in that 2013 blog post:

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.

[No need to read between the lines about what that means… I’ve withheld my support for MBI as well as financial support]

Good News from LaSalle Boulevard

After I wrote my original post I had several pleasant exchanges with some higher-ups at Moody. I felt like they heard me. But ultimately the conversation died off, they stopped responding to me, and I moved on.

As promised, I respectfully stood in protest. I have deep love and respect for Moody but I felt like they were wrong.

Change #1 – Women are now admitted to all majors

Then yesterday, a fellow alumni and long-time friend posted a screenshot on my Facebook wall, asking if I’d seen it. It was a letter from Larry Davidhizer, a VP at Moody and man I casually knew at our church in Oak Park, letting students know that there had been some changes to the Pastoral Ministries major, clarifying that women were now invited into the Pastoral Ministries major, which is being combined into the Pastoral Studies major. The letter even includes an apology to current and former female students over the lack of clarity.

Here’s the letter:

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When I read that I was completely shocked. I didn’t think this would happen. Ever. I even doubted the truth in the letter posted, so I sent some emails and posted it on Twitter. And, to my surprise, they confirmed it as true.

Translation for non-MBI folks… that’s Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, their campus in Spokane, Moody Theological Seminary Chicago & Michigan campuses, and Distance Learning. Basically, that applies to all majors at the undergraduate and graduate level. Women are in! Title IX compliant and everything.

Change #2 – Women are now invited to fully register and attend the annual Pastor’s Conference

This might seem like a minor thing but I think it’s big. For whatever reason Moody’s annual Pastor’s Conference— which I’d snuck into a couple of times as an undergrad and found very encouraging- didn’t allow women to register. Spouses were invited to come to main sessions, as guests, during the main sessions. But women were prevented from registering independently or attending the breakout sessions and seminars.

That’s no longer the case. Women are now invited.

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What Hasn’t Changed?

To be honest, it’s not clear to me if Moody has walked back from their official complementation position or if they’ve merely gone back to their historical non-position position on women in ministry. To me, as an egalitarian it’s almost makes no difference. Ultimately, students will make their own choices and these changes create space for those differences to co-exist.

The victory, in my opinion, is leaving those choices more on the movement of the Holy Spirit than as an institutional decision. A place like Moody does best, in my opinion, when it sees itself as preparing graduates to serve the local churches, ministries, and missions and worse when it tries to hold the line of a specific position within the broader evangelical spectrum.

Not Taking Credit, But Saying Thanks

I have no idea if what I wrote 3 years ago made any difference. I know that there are lots of people who made similar complaints as I did. So I’m not making any claim (or blame!) to these changes. Certainly, besides a few pleasant conversations– mostly by email– I’ve had very little contact with Moody about this.

But I do want to say thank you to whomever pushed to make these changes. I feel like they are reflective and honoring to the founding of the Institute and likewise reflect current realities for the ministries Moody claims to be preparing graduates to serve at.

Bit-by-bit, the Institute is addressing my concerns and regaining my support.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

7 replies on “Emma Dryer is Smiling”

Wow! This is amazing news. Thank you for writing to Moody. I’m a former Moody student (Class of ’95) who used to write in the student newspaper against Moody’s position on women in ministry and leadership… and even went so far as to quote professors who made sexist comments in class! (Granted, in my day, women couldn’t even be student council president. I was pretty angry by the time I graduated.) It took me a long,long time to work through the damage done to my identity as a woman/minster/daughter of God. (So, the apology bit is nice… not enough… but a good gesture.) With LOTS of intentionality, I have healed and forgiven. Today, I work in an egalitarian organization, and I forget people in the church could possibly still have an issue with female pastors and leadership. Here is my question: By “subsuming” the Pastoral Ministry studies into the Pastoral Studies Program, they are ridding themselves of a gender-exclusive tract of study, but they’ve also replaced the word “ministry” for “study.” Are they giving themselves a politically correct out? (Semantics are a powerful thing.) Or, is this the real deal? Women are now accepted and encouraged to become pastors?

Hi Tonya- We were at MBI at the same time, I was a couple years behind you though. I poked around on their website for quite a while yesterday. The best I can tell, they dropped their 1999/2000 era policy. I just don’t see any mention of that online anywhere. It used to be kind of tacked onto the doctrinal statement stuff, like “institutional preferences” or verbiage like that.

That said, I don’t think they’ve embraces egalitarianism. I think they’ve gone back to their pre-99/2000 stance of not having an official position, which allows for both to co-exist, though I’m sure complementarianism is still the norm among professions.

To me, as an egalitarian myself, I can co-exist with both positions, even if mine is the minority. Just allowing for the minority opinion to exist is a pretty big step.

As for how this will pan out in the classroom, if women will be invited to teach pastoral training, how this impacts Pastors Conference… that all remains to be seen. I’ve been pushing for younger, more diverse, and yes… females… to preach at Founders Week. Really, until we see that not much has changed except some semantics. But again, sometimes policies change and the impact of those policy changes don’t roll out into the community for a few years.

Question: Now that you’ve had some years of separation… do you look back on your MBI experience as a good one?

I completely agree with you that it’s a huge step for them to allow a differing theology to co-exist. My organization is also interdenominational, multi-cultural, and multi-generational. We need each other (and our differences) to see more clearly and love more fully… it is a very beautiful thing that I’ve grown more and more to appreciate the wisdom of. The body of Christ is incredibly diverse, and we all reflect a different aspect of his character and truth. Policy changes and semantics can be the mustard seed that slowly grows into a tree!

Do I look back on my experience as a good one at Moody?? Ha ha. What a complex question! So, I will answer it as “a female called to full-time ministry with leadership gifts.” (You can imagine I really did not fit the Moody mold of the day, and I was too young to understand that there were many other Christian molds out there and available to me!) So, I would have to say, from that aspect… no, my experience there was not good. I would not send my daughter (or son) to Moody based on mine and my husband’s (Kevin) experience, nor would we recommend it. I say this having many great friends from there… who had a very different experience from mine.

But, I would not change history. I’m thankful for my time there. I gained so much… both from the school and despite the school. I learned how to ask the hard questions at Moody and not shy away from them. I learned how to search for truth in both what the professors offered and what they prohibited. (Moody is where I became an egalitarian thanks to two professors who worked with me… but asked me to keep it a secret! Quote: “This is not the hill I want to die on.”) I would not be who I am today had I not tasted the sting of gender discrimination. And I felt it greatly, mostly from other students. (There is no person more sure of themselves than a bible college student!) But, I also felt it from the faculty if I asked the wrong question in class… which would result in me being shut down publicly, or there was the time I asked to write a paper on the varying view of women in ministry (because I wanted to learn) and was told no. Plus, there were the endless side-comments from the front of the class… male students leaving chapel in protest if a woman spoke…. it went on and on… (I still don’t understand why it didn’t bother other women like it did me.)

I suppose it’s not a surprise I went on to work with global gender-injustice issues both in the church and in the world! It took me a long time to work through the anger, the hurt, and the lies I believed about myself. Once I did, God was able to redeem it all and use it for His glory. Moody is part of my story, one of the hardest, but also one of the best parts.

Thanks so much for sharing all of this. I know a lot more people will read it than will respond to it.

As a dude, who was egalitarian as a student, I suppose the whole thing was much less intense. It was annoying to me, but it didn’t personally impact me, so there wasn’t any damage there to process.

Would I allow/encourage my kid to go there? I dunno… I’d really have to process it. That said, I loved my time at Moody. I usually tell people that I loved what happened in the classroom (an overstatement) but I really didn’t like student life. (an understatement) Like you, I learned a lot about myself, which I suppose was the point.

This is awesome, Adam. Thanks for putting your money where your mouth is to help support women in ministry. Unfortunately it is sad but true that just allowing women to participate does not create a welcoming climate (I say this as an alum of a seminary that has “no position on the matter” but the majority of their faculty don’t believe in women in ministry). I completely agree that I’m willing to coexist with people of varying theological beliefs, but I also acknowledge that our beliefs have an impact on our environments. This attitude affects mentorship, networking, opportunity, and most abstract but significant, the climate in the classroom. It’s a great step for seminaries but not the end game and I’m thankful there are people like you and my other friends who are working to create more welcoming environments from a holistic perspective.

Great post Adam, and I just want to say thanks for seeing that women are smart, talented AND called by God to use their teaching and leadership gifts to glorify His Kingdom. It is sad to see so many great men intimidated, territorial and fearful when it comes to other women in ministry, hiding behind a misunderstanding of scripture. God calls each of us to bigger things than forcing others into our small minded box of what we think their ministry should look like. And kudos to Moody for at least taking a step forward.

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