Tell Her Story

By Mimi Haddad:

On Tuesday, July 12, Alvera Mickelsen was welcomed into the loving arms of Jesus. Our beloved leader, mentor, mother, and friend died at the age of ninety-seven. A founder of CBE, she was CBE’s first board chair in 1997, worked with grassroots CBE chapters, and served for years as a CBE board member. She authored accessible books that remain bestsellers not only in CBE’s community, but around the world.

Alvera and her husband, Dr. Berkeley Mickelsen, a Bible scholar, were among the founders of Christians for Biblical Equality. They devoted much of their efforts to teaching, writing, and participating in public debates on biblical gender equality.

A gifted teacher, writer, and editor, Alvera attributed her skills to her own mother who taught Bible at their Swedish Baptist church in Indiana. The daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers, Alvera was the first person in her family to earn a college degree, and later, a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Alvera taught journalism at Wheaton College and Bethel University, and began publishing her work as early as the 1980s.

Disturbed by the shallow reading of Scripture used by many Christians to marginalize women’s gifts, Alvera frequently wrote for and edited CBE publications, and spoke at CBE events and those of her denomination—the Baptist General Conference.

A key visionary within CBE and a tough debater, Alvera was intensely gracious to all she engaged. She was a sought-after mentor for younger egalitarians, writers, scholars, and leaders. She was in constant contact with her students, and served as a faithful guide to many aspiring movers and shakers.

Early in the egalitarian movement, Alvera contributed vital books like Women in Ministry: Four Views and the now-classic, Woman, Authority & the Bible, published by IVP in 1986. Women, Authority & the Bibleremains in print today. She also contributed to Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. She served as editor of Lausanne Occasional Paper: Men and Women Use their Gifts Together in Advancing the Gospel.

Her practical wisdom, biblical knowledge, and experience with challenging people problems made her the ideal “Egalitarian Bible Answer Lady,” as we often called her. CBE archived her responses to often-asked questions in a folder called: “Alvera Answers Difficult Questions.” On a regular basis, we receive questions about egalitarianism that she eloquently answered, and we continue to reply with her thoughts. In this way, her wisdom lives on!

Alvera represented CBE several times on Christian radio at the Minnesota State Fair. She answered questions from listeners who wondered how you could be both a feminist and a Christian. Responding to one (angry) man, she asked him to pull out his dictionary and read aloud the definition of a feminist. With thousands listening, he read: “A feminist is someone who supports the political, economic, educational, professional, and social equality of women.” He told Alvera, “Well, I agree with that!” She quickly replied, “Well, then, you’re a feminist.” The producer called CBE the following year and asked, “Can you send back that woman who convinces people they’re feminists?”

Alvera was a frequent office volunteer. She was willing to do anything that needed to be done from stuffing envelopes to writing or editing promotional materials to just listening to our tales of woe and offering righteous wisdom. Alvera had a particular interest in fundraising, and her vision for development shaped CBE’s first fundraising plan. After it was implemented, CBE’s financial base grew 60% within a few short years. She also established CBE’s charitable gift annuity program, and was the first to sign up!

Years ago, Alvera and two other women—all in their eighties—came to volunteer in CBE’s office. They soon discovered that all three of them attended evangelical churches in the greater Chicago area. All three were raised by evangelical parents. All three went to Wheaton College, and all three could remember hearing the female evangelistic team, Stockton and Gould, preach on prominent evangelical platforms in the Chicago area.

Alvera finally burst out with laughter and said, “You, know, it wasn’t until 1950 that women preachers were considered liberal. Before that, no one thought twice about women preaching the Gospel.”

As a result of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, women’s preaching was considered liberal after the 1950s. These three women, because of their age and life-long commitment to evangelical ideals, were all too aware of today’s evangelical retrenchment on women’s leadership as preachers, evangelists, and scholars. For this reason, Alvera frequently reminded us of the true history of evangelicals as one that supported women’s leadership.

I refer to this as the “Alvera Hypothesis,” which I often use to explain the vast number of women leaders who were prominent in early evangelical denominations and at the evangelical Bible institutes which grew to become Wheaton College, University of Northwestern, Biola University, Vanguard University, and others. Sure enough, prior to 1950, these schools seemed proud of their female preachers and gospel-workers—something we long to see happen again. You have to love the way Alvera made truth come to life!

As she aged ever so gracefully, she often expressed gratitude for each day God had given her. Alvera often said that we are all on this earth to help others. She brought enormous encouragement, love, joy, and laughter to many within CBE and beyond. Above all else, she aimed to please Christ.

The last day I was able to speak with her was several weeks ago. For much of my visit, she seemed unable to talk and unware of my presence. Regardless, I sat next to her as I did every Sunday I was in town, reading Scripture and praying beside her. Though she seemed unresponsive through much of my prayer, she lifted her head slightly when I said “Amen,” and echoed, with some power, “Amen!”

We love our Alvera more than words can express! We plan to remember Alvera’s life and service to Christ in a memorial celebration on Saturday, July 23. The visitation will be held at 10am. The memorial service will follow at 11am and lunch will be served at noon. Please join us for these events at Gracepoint Church (2351 Rice Creek Rd, New Brighton, MN 55112 Phone: (651)-633-7515).

Alvera identified two organizations as recipients of gifts in her honor: Christians for Biblical Equality and the Salvation Army.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.