A BRIEF HISTORY AND ACCOUNT OF THE RENEW NETWORK Prepared by Faye Short
FORERUNNERS OF THE RENEW NETWORK
The Women’s division had been fully penetrated by the radical feminism that swept the country and entered mainline churches by the late 1960s and 70s. Radical theology and liberal political and social concepts had invaded UMW resources prepared by the staff of the Women’s Division. Evangelical women and men recognized this early on. As a local UMW president in the late 70s, I found the content of UMW program resources appalling.
The first group of evangelical women to publicly “take on” the women’s Division came out of Dallas, Texas. They identified themselves as the Esther Action Council Task Force for Accountability and published a comprehensive handbook documenting the radical political, social and theological actions and resources coming from the Women’s Division.
These faithful women thought that this disclosure would create and uprising among the women of the UMC. They did not bargain for the deep-seated loyalty the women felt to the organization of United Methodist Women, which they equated with their mothers and grandmothers, and subsequently with the Women’s Division. Nor did they anticipate the vengeful response of the Women’s Division and the women who blindly stood with them. Finally, they did not anticipate that they had invaded the enemy’s territory and would suffer personal attacks in the physical and spiritual realm. Their valiant effort brought much to light, but the darkness comprehended it not – and swallowed it up.
In the 1970s, evangelical women began raising alarms about the resources they were getting from the Women’s Division. Many of these women were constituents of Good News. Under the early leadership of Good News women including Helen Rhea Stumbo, Diane Knippers, Alice George, Prudence Waltz, Lanelle Wright, Gail Smith, Margie Jones, Jackie Pyle, Andrea Andress, Dottie Young, and others, the Good News Taskforce on Women in the Church was birthed to challenge the misdirection of the Women’s Division. The taskforce published a bi-monthly newsletter, “Candle,” and produced supplemental program resource books. “Let Your Light So Shine.” They reviewed UMW resources and documented Women’s Division excesses. The taskforce performed this ministry from 1977 through the early 80s, then slacked off on their aggressive campaign, yet continued as a taskforce of Good News.
The early work done by the Esther Action Council and the Good News Women’s Taskforce laid the foundation for the formation of the Evangelical Coalition for the United Methodist Women (ECUMW), later renamed the RENEW Network.
THE FORMATION OF THE ECUM/RENEW NETWORK
My experience as a local, district and conference officer for United Methodist Women during the 70s and 80s was impacted by the work of the Good News Women’s Taskforce, and , in turn, my experience within the organization of United Methodist Women was to impact the work of Good News among evangelical women.
In my local, district and conference UMW leadership positions, I discovered that the worldview and radical activism of the Women’s Division did not match my Wesleyan, biblical world view, and I chafed under the UMW banner. It was the encouragement of Good News women such as Helen Rhea Stumbo and Lill Coker that kept me engaged in UMW conference service.
When I as an evangelical woman, representing those I knew to be conservative women in North Georgia, took clear, yet courteous, well-informed stands against such things as theological pluralism, liberation theology, pro-abortion positioning, homosexual advocacy, inclusive language, political and social liberalism, Marxist/communist leanings and much more, I was ostracized and threatened with removal from office. Finally, I resigned, and was glad to be done with UMW and the Women’s Division.
However, I carried a heavy burden on my heart for the women of the UMC, and grieved over the resources that were being used to undermine their personal faith and their witness in their homes, work places and communities. I was again impacted by Good News women such as Helen Rhea, Anna Collins, Carolyn Elias and other in 1987 and 1988. Helen Rhea asked if I would consider becoming a Good News Board member and invited me to attend a summer board meeting in 1988. At this meeting I walked into the board meeting with Jim Heidinger and said to him, “Jim I appreciate the work of Good News and support you on many issues; however, I must say that I come to this meeting with a strange burden on my heart for the women of the UMC.” Jim replied, “Faye, who knows but that God has sent you to Good News for this very purpose.” At this meeting, I was elected to the board and to the Executive Committee, effective January 1989.
During 1989, I assisted Anna Collins, the Women’s Taskforce Chair with several tasks and attended a taskforce gathering in the home of Virginia and Don Shell at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Anna asked that I oversee the planning of a workshop for evangelical women at the upcoming Good News summer convocation. I worked closely with Julia Williams, the invited guest speaker, and with Helen Rhea and Dianne Knippers in the planning of the workshop. It was attended by about 55 women. Julia allowed them ten minutes to “gripe” and then said, “Now, we are going to talk about how we can make a difference.”
After the workshop, the women mobbed the leaders and said, “All of this is well and good, but once we leave this place, how are we to achieve these objectives?” we assured them we would give this some prayer and thought.
About a month later several of the event leaders (Faye, Helen Rhea, Diane Knippers and Julia Williams) met for a time of prayer and discernment. We determined it was time to begin a network for evangelical women for the purpose of renewal at the local level and accountability on the part of the Women’s Division. Because of the far-reaching power of the Women’s Division, and their involvement with so many national and international issues, and their theological, political and social scope, we decided to form a “coalition” under Good News, The Mission Society and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This was sanctioned by all three boards, and provided the newly-formed Evangelical Coalition for United Methodist Women (ECUMW) the resources and the umbrella protection needed to take on the Women’s Division’s destructive and insidious control of the women of the UMC.
I will never forget when Lil Coker and I approached Jim Heidinger about our plan. We met with him in his office and shared the vision with him. He was very supportive and voiced his awareness that only women could take on the WD. As we were preparing to leave the room, Jim opened the door for us, then, shut it again. He turned to us and said, “Do you realize what you are taking on? The Women’s Division is the most powerful, well-oiled machine within the denomination. There is something intrinsically evil about it. Are you sure you want to do this?” We assured him we did understand, yet felt called to the task. In December 1989, the ECUMW was officially launched.
Initially Julia Williams and I were co-directors of the new network. However, as vice-president, soon to become president of the MSUM, Julia had little time to devote to the cause, so I took up the position as director, later designated as president.
The ECUMW was formed on solid ground because we drew from the three renewal organizations to form our initial steering committee and support team. We had resource personnel who could assist in addressing the political, social and theological radicalism of the Women’s Division. The ECUMW/RENEW was never a light-weight group. We were equipped to address with intelligence and intention the excesses of the Division, and they knew it. At the same time, we had theologically solid women who could provide the supplemental resources needed for the women of the church. We held writer’s workshops that produced excellent resources.
God blessed the network and our impact was felt immediately. The United Methodist Reporter did a front-page article on the ECUMW in 1990, drawing attention to our existence. They did not publish contact information for us, and so received requests from women asking how to reach us. We never did a membership campaign, but realized continued, solid growth over the years. Our membership consisted of women from all over the nation, from local, district and conference UMW officers, and from men and pastors which were aware of and concerned about the direction of the Women’s Division. The ECUMW, later the RENEW Network, was loved and hated by the women of the UMC – and feared by the Women’s Division, whose denouncement of us and attempts to discredit us were constant.
After several years of coalition existence under the three UM renewal organizations, RENEW opted to come under the Good News Board of Directors for the purpose of fiscal and program accountability and to facilitate the working of men and women together for the renewal and reform of the United Methodist Church. The RENEW Oversight Committee and Good News Board have guided and applauded our work. RENEW continued its close association with the MSUM and IRD, and also networked with other renewal groups including Bristol House, Transforming Congregations, Lifewatch, Celebration, the Association for Church Renewal and EQUIP.
WHAT HAS RENEW ACCOMPLISHED IN ITS 20+ YEAR HISTORY?
RENEW has accomplished so much over its 20+ year history that it will take a book to adequately present it to the church. Below is a thumbnail sketch of the overall ministry of RENEW along with brief accounts of the significance of this ministry upon the Women’s Division and the denomination.
A Voice For Change From its inception, RENEW has provided a place for evangelical women to unite and network together over their documented concerns, thereby providing a concerted voice for change. Having such a network provides real and powerful support for women who, out of genuine concern for the women of the UMC, are willing to take on Women’s Division excesses.
Financial Analysis Early in its formation, the RENEW Network did a thorough analysis of the Women’s Division finances and spending patterns, disclosing where the money comes from and where it goes. This analysis also looked at the radical organizations that the Women’s Division networked with and funded. On the basis of our financial disclosure, RENEW recommended to its network members that they not give to undesignated mission giving, but rather designate or redirect their funds. Many women took this advice and Women’s Division funding plunged over the years. RENEW produced Financial Files I-IV over this time period.
Providing Connection RENEW did not recommend that women leave the organization of United Methodist Women, but rather encouraged them to remain within and work for change and accountability. However, when the women became educated, and confronted the Women’s Division with their concerns, the dismissal of the Women’s Division and the failure of the division to change pushed many women to determine to withdraw from the organization. When this happened, RENEW provided a connection for these women and produced supplemental program resources and guidelines for effective women’s ministries. Stats from GCFA indicated that only 15% of women who are members of the UMC were members of United Methodist Women. That left 85% who had no women’s ministry, or who had adopted alternative ministries.*
Monitoring of the WD The monitoring of Women’s Division program resources has been a major goal of RENEW. Highly capable individuals were enlisted to review materials produced either by the Women’s Division alone or in conjunction with other organizations such as Church Women United and the United Nations. Many pastors availed themselves of RENEW’s reviews, particularly when they were asked to teach a UMW mission study and found it to be highly egregious.
RENEW representatives faithfully attended the spring and fall board meetings of the Women’s Division, observing first-hand the program direction of the various committees of the Division. Picking up budget and program information in advance enabled RENEW to alert the women of the church as to policies and programs they needed to watch and address as needed.
RENEW sent teams to the quadrennial UMW Assemblies which inevitably showcased radical speakers, anti-American sentiment, deviant theology and left-leaning social and political advocacy.
Renew also sent representatives to the highly controversial quadrennial National Seminars where participants were schooled in liberal social and political advocacy in behalf of many controversial issues. The tone of this event is hostile toward democracy and orthodox Christian faith.
The Ecumenical Decade’s Re-Imagining Conference and Resulting Crisis The World Council of Churches developed a program called: “The Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women.” The Women’s Division gained General Conference sanction to participate in the Decade. A study book by the same title was offered to United Methodist Women as a resource. When I, as president of RENEW, reviewed this workbook, I was shocked at the blatant radical feminist content, promoted by well-known feminist authors such as Virginia Mollenkott, Barbara Lundblad, and others. It propelled me into a year’s research on radical feminism and its incursion into the church.
Good News hosted a summer celebration, at which RENEW presented a workshop on the Ecumenical Decade, exposing the radical content of the study book, and I shared my findings. Not long after, while attending one of the Women’s Division board meetings, RENEW’s press rep picked up printed material promoting the upcoming 1993 Re-Imagining conference, which was the midpoint event of the Ecumenical Decade, Churches in Solidarity with Women program. The material revealed that this conference was to be a “coming out” of radical feminism. I alerted the women of our network to the potential danger of this event, and, as I recall, encouraged them to discourage the Women’s Division from participation.
As the event drew closer, I had a telephone call from a Catholic women’s leader in California encouraging RENEW to send a press representative to the meeting. She was not able to attend, but recognized the radical nature of the event, saying she believed it would be a “high water mark” for radical feminism. I asked Dottie Chase, who had covered other liberal church meetings for Good News, to go in our behalf. She consented. I contacted Rev. Sue Cyre with the PCUSA and asked her to consider attending. I also contacted a representative from the American Baptist Church. These three press reps attended the Re-imagining conference and found, among other things, the worshipping of the goddess Sophia, standing in solidarity with Christians Lesbians, denying the necessity of Christ’s atoning death, and promoting the syncretism of religions.
RENEW’s disclosure of the content of this meeting rocked the church and caused the Women’s Division to back off from – although never denouncing – full support of the Re-Imagining community, which continued meeting for several years prior to disbanding. RENEW monitored all Re-Imagining meetings. I attended the second meeting as a participant and was refused seating by six tables of women. I was finally asked, by embarrassed leaders, to go to the press box. Jean Audrey Powers came over and talked with me. After a lengthy conversation she said, “Faye, I am sorry we are poles apart theologically, because I like you.” I responded, “I like you too Jean Audrey.” She went back to the table she was monitoring and got the group to allow me to sit at their table.
Annual Re-Imagining Conferences continued for several years during the remainder of the Ecumenical Decade. The Women’s Division continued participation, never acknowledging the escalating egregious nature of the gatherings. Renew had press reps at every Re-Imagining Conference, and Faye Short wrote many articles and letters to the women of the UMC. RENEW also reported on the prurient magazine that sprang out of the movement, keeping the Women’s Division’s feet to the fire. No doubt, the Women’s Division’s commitment to Re-Imagining was a major cause of UMW funding and membership loss.
A Call to Reform In December 2001, Good News joined with RENEW in issuing “A Call for Reform and the Women’s Division.” This action was taken in response to years of egregious actions on the part of the Women’s Division culminating in several actions taken by the Board of Directors of the Women’s Division at the Fall 2001 board meeting. This meeting came on the heels of the September 11 attack by terrorists upon the United States.
Anti-American Response to 9/11 and the Continuing At the 2001 board meeting: (1) “A Resolution on Terrorist Attacks” was passed calling for a halt to the bombing of Afghanistan, favoring negotiation over action against terrorism. Speakers spoke disparagingly of U.S. policies that supposedly evoked the horrific 9/11 attacks; (2) Plans were devised for the implementation of a “Mobilization Against (the Anti-) Terrorism Act” although the House of Representatives passed the Anti-Terrorism Act by 357-66, the U.S. Senate by 88-1;
Re-Imagining Continues to Influence UMW WD Allows Sophia Circle The directors voted to continue to allow official status for a District Unit of UMW, “Sophia Circle,” whose stated purpose was to gather monthly “for an hour’s lively discussion on material from the Re-Imagining Newsletter; (4) It was announced that Barbara Lundblad, a former controversial Re-Imagining speaker, was to be the Plenary speaker at the UMW Assembly scheduled for Philadelphia in April 2002. RENEW’s press representative, Carolyn Elias, captured all this information and more.
Our Basis of Concern The official “Call for Reform of the Women’s Division” was endorsed by thousands of United Methodist women, and affected the status and membership of the Division. I wrote “Our Basis for Concern” as the foundational piece to support the “Call for Reform of the Women’s Division” campaign.
RENEW and WD Conversation at Wesley Seminary At her inaugural address to the Women’s Division, Dr. Jan Love mentioned her desire to listen to the women of the church and her willingness to converse with them. I, as president of RENEW, took this as an opportunity to invite the Women’s Division to engage in a conversation with representatives of the Renew Network. This exchange took place at Wesley theological Seminary on September 21, 2005. The women who represented RENEW acquitted themselves well, addressing political, theological and social issues with clarity and impressive expertise. Network members were pleased to have their concerns brought directly to the staff of the Women’s Division. RENEW representatives did them proud.
WD Ties United Nations Goals to the Mission of the UMC General Conference presented serious challenges to RENEW due to the radical nature of the legislation of the Women’s Division brought to the conference. The Women’s Division is a world player – into national and international social and political concerns. Their advocacy for the support of United Nations’ treaties is well-documented. The Women’s Division is pro-abortion, pro-homosexual practice, pro-welfare support, pro-international criminal court, pro-redistribution of wealth, pro-socialist policies, and on and on. Key evangelical leaders within Methodism have long decried the power of the Women’s Division at GBGM meetings and at General conference. The “Agreements of ‘64” granted the Division rights that give them the “edge” on representation on boards and agencies and within the church structure.
WD’s General Conference Petitions and Resolutions Challenged RENEW has faithfully challenged the petitions and resolutions presented by the Women’s Division to General Conference. We have done this with a comprehensive analysis of their legislation by capable women such as Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, and by equipping delegates to challenge bad legislation. While the ingrained and ruthless power of the Women’s Division at General Conference is still active, we have defeated some of their legislation and have eroded the confidence delegates have in Women’s Division proposals. RENEW has been persistent in calling for the General Conference to approve the formation of supplemental or alternative women’s ministries, beyond UMW, within the denomination. While the Division has aggressively opposed this legislation, RENEW finally saw the culmination of our efforts with the passage of legislation in 2016.
THE RENEW NETWORK IS WELL-KNOWN AND FULLY APPRECIATED
The letters, card and e-mails that have poured into the RENEW office over the years from women and men expressing appreciation for this ministry has been remarkable. This does not include the thousands of telephone calls that have come from those looking for an affirming voice regarding their concerns, documented information to use to make their case, honest evaluation of WD resources, and supplemental program materials. The relief and joy in finding such a network was clearly expressed.
RENEW AND GOOD NEWS
The RENEW/Good News history reaches back to the 1970’s when the Task Force on Women in the church was formed as a committee of Good News. This relationship has brought United Methodist men and women into a close-working relationship for the renewal of the denomination. The power and influence of the Women’s Division is well recognized as is the fact that RENEW has done much to weaken this monolithic, wealthy organization. The numbers are there to prove it.
What does the future hold for an ongoing relationship between the RENEW Network and Good News? As the denomination catapults toward serious lines of demarcation, we trust Good News and RENEW will be ready to lead the evangelical men and women of the United Methodist Church into a faithful future. If a separation were to ever occur, a complete break with the UMW National and the UMW organization would be absolutely essential for the health of the evangelical component of the church. UMW National continues to advocate for and promote to the women of the UMC the same radical political, social and theological ideology RENEW and its predecessors have fought in the spiritual and natural realm for over 30 years. There would be no room for fellowship with this co-opted organization.