Reflecting on the beginning of what would become gal328, Lance Pape writes, “Looking back on all of this, the thing that strikes me most is how large my daughter loomed in my theological imagination at that time.” The urgency to “do something” for gender justice for the sake of his daughter, and the daughters of others, is also evident in a 2001 letter to the West Islip Church of Christ council. There, Lance wrote,
I’m writing to inform you about a project that I am very excited about. It seems that from time to time, even the preacher may be affected by a sermon. Such was the case with my recent sermon about the “Daughters of Lydia.”
You may remember that in that sermon I argued that, just as the Apostle Paul labored to lay the ground work for the inclusion of Gentiles like Lydia (Acts 15-16), we must strive to make our communities of faith inclusive so that the message of the Gospel can be received enthusiastically by women. Gender bias has always been wrong, but now and with each passing year it looms as a growing danger—a stumbling block to the faith of our daughters. Will our daughters be more accepted, their gifts more celebrated in the world than in our Lord’s church? God forbid!
For my part, I am committed to raising my daughter in a church that celebrates the spiritual gifts of women and includes them fully in its work and worship. By grace, God has made that possible while at the same time allowing both Katie and me to answer our call to ministry. West Islip Church of Christ is even now the mediator of that grace. For that I am truly grateful.
But, of course, a day is coming when she will leave us and enter a larger world. Will the churches she recognizes as her own spiritual inheritance be willing to fully recognize and accept her? And what about the countless other daughters out there?
The project referred to was, of course, gal328.org, which Lance had already begun discussing and collaborating on with Katie Hays, Mary Lou and Christopher Hutson, and Joe Hays.
Katie, Lance and the Hutsons met in the early 1990s at the Whitney Avenue Church of Christ in Hamden, Connecticut. Katie and Lance were studying at Yale Divinity School; Chris had finished the Divinity program and was engaged in doctoral studies. Among the other Yale students was Ken Cukrowski (now Dean of the College of Biblical Studies at ACU), who with his wife, Karen, led the youth group at Whitney Avenue. Although he did not participate in the founding of gal328, Ken has continued to speak and write on gender issues and frequently conducts workshops on the topic in congregations around the country.
In the late 80s and early 90s the Whitney Avenue congregation went through several years of study about the issues that would later be framed as “gender justice” on gal328. It was a time of intense study, prayer, and congregational ministry that forced all to work hard integrating theory and practice. The congregation had long had women serving on committees and even as trustees, but Sunday worship became a tough issue. Katie began teaching the adult class on Wednesday nights, and other women began serving communion and offering occasional singing solos on Sunday mornings. But for some members, these limited developments seemed beyond the pale, and the congregation stumbled along, divided and uncertain of whether they wanted to be so far out in front of all the congregations around them.
In the late 90s, Katie and Lance served for three years as co-ministers of the Cahaba Valley Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama, while Chris and Mary Lou lived in Tennessee, Illinois and finally North Carolina, continuing to teach about gender issues and hold workshops in various congregations wherever they lived.
A 2001 visit from the Hutsons to Lance and Katie, now co-ministers at West Islip Church of Christ, provided the occasion for the first discussion of the possibility of gal328.org. They all had experience building the case in local congregations, and they had a shared sense that there were people scattered among many congregations around the country who were interested in the topic, but there was no place that people could go for a thorough discussion of the case for how and why churches should use all the gifts of women.
The idea for gal328.org was both bold and simple. As Lance explained the proposal in the West Islip council letter,
Essentially, the site will serve as a resource for people who are studying the issue [of gender]. In the coming years it will be important for ministers and other leaders to have access to resources that will help them think carefully about these questions. Each church that tackles the difficult transition to gender justice shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel; much of the hard thinking and writing has already been done. The site will also fill a need I have experienced many times in my ministry here–allowing me to quickly point sincere questioners in the direction of prayerfully and carefully crafted responses. And the beauty of the web site concept is that it is simply made available for those who are actively seeking answers. It doesn’t go out and find those who are not ready and willing to learn more about the issue. The very nature of the technology keeps it from being too “in your face.”
Chris Hutson elaborates,
One early decision was that gal328 would be a single issue web site. We recognized that discussions about what was commonly called “women’s roles in the church” often tended to bleed over into other topics like marriage and divorce and sexuality and so forth. We decided that we would focus on the one question of women in ministry.
A second early decision was to stay focused only on the Church of Christ. We recognized that other denominations and fellowships had moved much further in embracing the gifts of women for ministry, and we could learn much from them. Indeed, the reading list includes authors from various denominations as well as many authors from the Church of Christ. We also recognized that other denominations were struggling with the same questions, and we could benefit from shared experiences. However, there was no forum for a broad conversation on women in ministry within the Church of Christ, and we wanted to foster such a conversation.
A third early decision was that gal328 would present only the case for gender justice. Some people criticized us for being one-sided and thought we should offer both sides of the question. But we decided early on that the case for repressing women was well known and had many, many champions with plenty of venues for making their views known. Pretty much everyone who grew up in the Church of Christ knew the case against women in ministry. But where could anyone find the case for women in ministry? We did not want to dilute our message by giving yet another forum to the voices against women. Having framed the issue as a matter of “gender justice,” we did not want to use our space to help make a case against justice.
Finally, we decided early on that we wanted to foster a civil conversation. So we took pains to welcome everyone and to treat all discussion partners on the blog with respect and not to allow anyone to flame another writer on the blog. We needed a safe place were people could express their feelings and support one another as they wrestled with various aspects of the question.
The website was designed to be a resource for people who wanted to study questions pertaining to gender in the Church of Christ and also a place where like-minded people could find one another and realize that they were not alone. It was helpful to know that other congregations were exploring the issues and making changes, because it was so easy for leaders of any one congregation to feel isolated when they raised the topic for discussion.
From the beginning, gal328.org served as that resource for study, with an extensive bibliography covering biblical, historical, theological and pastoral facets of gender justice, annotated by Lance, Chris, and Stamford Church of Christ minister Dale Pauls. The site also provided sermons, congregational statements and study materials from specific churches, among them Brookline Church of Christ, Manhattan Church of Christ, and Stamford Church of Christ. Gal328 also featured narrative essays by Katie, Mary Lou, D’Esta Love and others, providing a much-needed public platform for “voices of experience” to tell their stories. Among the most important functions of the site, however, was the creation of a community of like-minded people, of all ages and farflung places, who came together on the gal328 discussion forum, moderated by Joe Hays, to share their experiences in Churches of Christ.
In 2005, Lance and Katie moved to the Atlanta area, where Lance enrolled in a doctoral program at Emory University, and Katie became the pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lawrenceville. At that point, there were very few opportunities for Katie to live out her call to ministry within the Church of Christ. So both of them decided to seek ordination in the Disciples of Christ, and they decided to withdraw from gal328.org, so that the web site would remain focused on the Church of Christ. Christopher Hutson assumed editorial oversight and financial responsibility for maintaining the site, and Chad Smith agreed to serve as webmaster. Chad was working with the Brookline Church of Christ while studying at the Boston University School of Theology.
In 2005, Chris and Chad began to explore the possibility of incorporation as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with a board of directors. The idea was to be able to raise funds in order to offer scholarships to women studying for ministry, and perhaps organizing a conference on the topic of gender justice in Churches of Christ. But incorporation proved to be complex, and the idea languished. In 2007, Chad Smith resigned as webmaster; thereafter, though Chris kept its registration current and it remained a fairly frequently accessed resource, gal328 became dormant rather than an active community.
An early beneficiary of the site’s materials and participant in the Forum discussions, Jeanine Thweatt-Bates was among those who missed the community that had formed around the site. Convinced that the needs the site was designed to meet were still present, she began dreaming about what a revived gal328 might look like. Conversations with many others led to a collaborative list of ideas for action, and eventually, she approached Chris about the possibility of redesigning the site and acting as moderator. At the same time, the initiative 1voice4change.org launched its initial campaign at Pepperdine Bible Lectureships in 2013. This serendipitous occurrence provided the final incentive for re-launching gal328.