Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger has died. Kroeger, a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, helped to change the world for the better by founding two valuable and necessary organizations, Christians for Biblical Equality and PASCH (Peace and Safety in Christian Homes).
CBE has become a leading voice for what evangelical Christians refer to as an “egalitarian view of ministry.” In its own words, it is an “organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women.”
In the broader evangelical community this remains, sadly, a “controversial stance.” CBE has many opponents and critics among conservative evangelicals, but those opponents quickly learned not to pick a fight directly with Kroeger and CBE. She assembled a dream team of scholars that is to exegesis what the 2011 Phillies are to starting pitching. When it came to disputes over the meaning or interpretation of the alleged “clobber texts,” or over the abuses and distortions wrought on the text by anti-women interpreters, CBE just doesn’t lose. Over the years, they’ve made the proponents of male superiority at the sad Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood look like the Washington Generals. (Sorry for mixing the sports metaphors there.)
Kroeger also wrote an important book called Women, Abuse & the Bible, which became a springboard for PASCH, a resource against domestic violence and an advocate on behalf of its victims within the evangelical Christian community. She continued writing about the topic in books like No Place for Abuse.
In her work exposing and condemning the sin and crime of domestic violence, Kroeger also touched on a theme we’ve addressed here from time to time in our discussions of the World’s Worst Books — theologies that seem to portray God as an abusive husband writ large. The concept of God one reads in some books and hears from some pulpits creepily parallels the usual lists of warning signs for domestic violence. God seems to be a cosmic version of Patrick Bergin in Sleeping With the Enemy — controlling and obsessive and prone to fury if the towels are not just so on the towel rack. Kroeger helped to explore how such concepts of God help to fuel, invite and defend domestic violence — why they’re bad theology and destructive theology.
Dr. Kroeger’s passing has me thinking of my late grandmother, a strict, fundamentalist Presbyterian. Grandma would have frowned on Dr. Kroeger’s work with CBE. My grandmother firmly believed that women were not permitted to lead, to preach or to teach in the church, with the exception being that they could teach other women. So, since she was, in her bones, a preacher and a teacher — someone I think God had called to preach — Grandma taught women’s Bible studies all over North Jersey, dozens of them, working every year with hundreds of women.
And though I never heard these stories until after my grandmother died, that contact with so many women from so many different churches meant that Grandma would have been an enthusiastic support of Dr. Kroeger’s work with PASCH. From time to time a woman would arrive at Grandma’s Bible studies with wounds suffered at the hands of a husband. Such women would quickly find themselves riding home in Grandma’s Nash Rambler, where she would help them pack a bag and collect the children before shuttling them off to a well-hidden Anglican retreat center where the good nuns who ran the place would look after them. And then my grandmother — who in every other case believed that Christians must never divorce — would get her lawyer son on the phone to get started on the paperwork.
Complicated woman, my grandmother, but perhaps no more complicated than the rest of us. I can’t help but think that if Heaven is as we sometimes imagine it, she may be having a fascinating conversation with Dr. Kroeger about now.