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Hot on Campus | December 7, 2012

Campus ministry conflict


Cru finds itself in debate over women's roles in ministry

Daniel Harman (Handout)

Controversies over women's roles in ministry have rocked churches in recent decades. But at the University of Louisville's chapter of Cru, the conflict has entered the world of campus ministry. Cru officials recently demoted Louisville's Missional Team Leader, Daniel Harman, over his refusal to allow female staff to teach Bible studies to mixed-gender audiences.

Harman is an 11-year veteran of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), having served as a missionary in Eastern Europe for eight years prior to becoming the director at Louisville in 2009. Harman became concerned about Cru's policy on women in ministry at a staff training meeting in spring 2010, when Cru officials noted that they required male and female campus staff to share leadership duties.

Harman asserts that he tried repeatedly to understand the implications of the policy. He encountered other Missional Team Leaders who did not agree with Cru's stance on fully shared leadership and teaching between women and men. But these dissenters told him, in effect, "Stay focused on evangelism and discipleship and they [Cru officials] will leave you alone."

This fall, however, one of Louisville's female Cru staff members asked Harman for clarification about whether women could teach the Bible in mixed-gender Cru meetings, and Harman said they could not. The exchange came to the attention of regional Cru officials, who met with Harman and reiterated Cru's policy of "men and women leading together." They gave Harman three weeks to reconsider his position, and said that if he remained "dogmatic" about the issue, he could no longer serve as Missional Team Leader. Harman decided that he would not change the practice, and Cru demoted him.

As campus director at Louisville, Harman has permitted female staff to speak in front of mixed-gender audiences on a number of ministry-related topics, and to assume numerous leadership roles relative to both female and male students. But Harman contends that Scripture prohibits women teaching the Bible to adult men (including those of college age), based on passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-12, in which Paul says, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet."

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman representing Cru, argues that the personnel issue is essentially about policy, not theology: "A local campus leader for Cru in Kentucky was asked to relinquish his current leadership position, not because of a theological disagreement, but rather, because of a failure to abide by the terms for holding a position of leadership within Cru," he told me. DeMoss confirmed Harman's contention that he was not advised of Cru's policy until after coming to Louisville, but he notes that regardless of the timing, Harman knows what the policy is now.

Cru staff, DeMoss said, do not have to agree with their leadership on every theological issue, but they do have to abide by Cru's standard ministry practices. Among these practices is women and men sharing leadership, including both women and men exercising "gifts of Bible teaching," DeMoss told me.

A Cru written statement from DeMoss commented further, "Cru is passionate about connecting men and women to Jesus Christ. … While believers understandably have different beliefs on a wide variety of theological issues, Cru has chosen not to allow secondary issues to become primary passions and divert us from proclaiming Christ to the world."

Harman says that although he still deeply respects Cru, he does not see a long-term future for himself in their ministry (he currently remains on Cru staff, in spite of the demotion). He may pursue a church-based pastoral position, as he is currently studying for a Master of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.