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:
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.
Yes, men and women may apply to all programs at MBI, MTS and MBIDL.
— Moody Bible Institute (@Moody_Bible) June 7, 2016
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.
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.