Evangelicals and scholars are convening in St. Louis, Mo., to explore the formation of gender roles and discuss how the church and culture define gender.
Hosted by Christians for Biblical Equality, the July 24-26 conference is being held under the theme "Are Men from Mars and Women from Venus? A Biblical Response to Gender Difference."
CBE is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who "believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures."
Mimi Haddad, president of CBE, wants women to be viewed not through gender roles and expectations but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Citing 19th century Christian women such as "Sojourner Truth" and Catherine Booth, Haddad says "the most important factor in the equation of life was not gender, but our newness of life in Christ."
Some of the speakers scheduled to lead sessions at the annual conference include Dr. Brian Howell, associate professor of Anthropology at Wheaton College, and Miriam Adeney, associate professor of World Christian Studies at Seattle Pacific University.
Adeney will be addressing the question "Does Christianity raise the status of women? Or do women sometimes experience greater freedom and influence before the gospel arrives?"
Other topics speakers and attendees will discuss include: "Are gender differences God-given, shaped by culture, or biologically determined?", "Does God Have Gender?" and "Reading the Bible for its Original and Contemporary Meaning."
The conference comes after former president Jimmy Carter and a group of "Elders" released a statement this month in London's The Observer saying the "justification and discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority, is unacceptable."
They called for equality and an end to religious and traditional practices that discriminate against women.
The statement drew a media storm although Carter's belief on equality is nothing new, as prominent Southern Baptist theologian Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. noted.
Carter argues that "the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths."
Mohler points out in The Washington Post/Newsweek forum "On Faith" that the former U.S. president rejects the inerrancy of the Bible and thus dismisses Bible passages that "clearly establish different roles for men and women in the church and the home."
Carter's argument, Mohler states, "is grounded in little more than his own sense of how things ought to be."
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, found Carter's statement imprudent and presumptuous.
"It is plain hubris when some people play God, telling us what the Scripture ought to say," Colson writes in the "On Faith" forum.
Explaining gender roles as described in the Bible, Colson says, "In the Bible, men and women play complementary roles. For example, the wife is to submit to the husband, exactly as the Church submits to Jesus, because the husband is to give his life for the wife, just as Jesus gave his life to the Church. Hardly discrimination or oppression."
Colson also advises Carter not to "confuse Christian teaching with the offensive practices of other faiths" such as Islamist discrimination against women.
The CBE conference in St. Louis will feature general sessions, workshops and a panel discussion. A student paper competition on faith, gender and culture will also be held.