I hope you have been enjoying the celebration of the Good News 50 Year Anniversary. Our editor Steve Beard has done an admirable job on the time line and the articles that remind us of why Good News came into being. I was asked to write an article for the July/August magazine, “A Woman’s Voice For Renewal,” which was a brief history of the role RENEW Network played and continues to play in the renewal movement. As I prepared, I was led to reread many of the reports and analyses that chronicled the challenges and concerns faced by women in the United Methodist Church. Interestingly, many of the issues encountered in the decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s are still concerns today. I found plenty to prove that old adage: “there is nothing new under the sun.”
One particularly interesting report I came across was a history of the accomplishments of RENEW written by founder and president, Faye Short, at the time of her retirement. Faye recounted the role RENEW played in bringing the Re-Imagining Conference to the attention of not only Good News and the other United Methodist renewal groups, but also evangelicals in the Presbyterian and American Baptist denominations. It was while monitoring one of the Women’s Division board meetings that RENEW picked up on the planned 1993 Re-Imagining Conference.
The Re-Imagining Conference was just the midpoint event of the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women developed by the radical World Council of Churches. The Ecumenical Decade was designated to celebrate and study feminist, womanist, and lesbian theological perspectives. What originally made it noteworthy to the women of the church was the fact that the Women’s Division had gained General Conference sanction to participate in the Ecumenical Decade. A study book by the same title was offered to United Methodist Women as a resource. Faye Short explains,
“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.
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.”
If you have read the article by Jim Heidinger, titled, Re-Imagining And The Trivialization of Doctrine, also in the July/August Good News Magazine, you know the conference was indeed a high water mark for feminist and lesbian theology. You know that the Good News staff listened to the recordings of more than 34 presentations given at the Re-Imagining Conference. And, in addition to goddess worship, you know the egregious attack made on biblical human sexuality, the family, the deity of Christ, and the core tenets of the Christian faith. And you know the woefully inadequate response of our bishops.
Annual Re-Imagining Conferences continued for several years during the remainder of the WCC’s Ecumenical Decade. The Women’s Division continued to participate, 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. No doubt, the Women’s Division’s commitment to Re-Imagining was a major cause of UMW funding and membership loss.
Yes, there is nothing new under the sun. The church, the gospel, and all we hold dear is still being challenged. Vigilance remains essential. RENEW’s monitoring of the Women’s Division played a huge role in alerting Good News and the entire church to the theological crisis brought on by the Re-Imagining Conference. It played a role in 2016, when I was monitoring a UMW board meeting and learned that the spiritual life study The Bible and Human Sexuality would question the moral teaching on sexuality found in the Old and New Testament, and instead teach our young women a new sexual ethic based on mere consent and safety. And it will continue to be important in our present theological crisis, as we patiently await the proposals of the Bishops’ Commission.
This fall, a press representative and I will again attend the UMW board meeting to be held in their New York offices at 475 Riverside Drive and the Church Center for the United Nations. On one hand, it is tempting to think that we will hear nothing but the same-old, same-old. Nevertheless, it will be an important meeting.
We at RENEW are confident, because we know the day will come when everything will be new under the sun, or rather everything will be new under the Son of God, Jesus the Christ who is the beginning and the end, and who is, and who was, and who is to come.
Until that time, in addition to monitoring, RENEW has been working with women and pastors who have sought us out to help them find ministry models and materials for programs that meet their needs for spiritual growth and authentic kingdom mission. Our website is being updated to better serve these requests. You will find much that is new there.
As we leave the days of summer behind and begin a new school year, let us all recommit to fight the good fight and after having done all – to stand firm. Many thanks to you who have stood firm with us over the years. Your prayers and support make our monitoring and ministry work possible. If you haven’t made a contribution to RENEW recently, we trust you will. I promise you it will be put to good work.