Why is UMW Declining?

Bishops preside over a service of Holy Communion during closing worship at the United Methodist Women Assembly 2018 in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Katy Kiser –

In 1973, Response magazine, the official publication for the United Methodist Women (UMW), claimed the organization had 1.5 million members. Since that time, membership in UMW has declined at an alarming rate.

In 2012, the Women’s Division was granted independence from the General Board of Global Mission – and became the United Methodist Women National Office. The staff hoped their independence would bring new vitality and influence, but the organization has failed to curb its staggering membership loss.

Currently, less than half of the nearly 32,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States have a UMW unit. (It should be noted that UMW identity carries a different sense of spirituality and fellowship outside the U.S.). Institutionally, UMW is losing members at five times the rate that the general church is losing female members. According to official GCFA numbers at the end of 2016, membership in UMW was only 438,543. The decline from 1.5 million to less than 450,000 is drastic. The signs are not looking promising. Within the last 10 years, UWM lost more than 200,000 members — nearly one-third of its membership.

What has contributed to this precipitous membership loss? Like the general church, it can be partially attributed to the death of its aging membership, which is not being replaced. But this is not the primary reason.

As Team Leader of Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, I get a steady stream of calls from women who voice concerns for the partisan politics, missiology, and theology coming out of the UMW National Office. It is in their voices that I find compelling reasons why eight out of every nine women in the United Methodist Church do not belong to or support the UMW.

It’s all Partisan Politics

“Can you help our United Methodist Women?” asked the woman on the phone when she called our office. “We don’t want politics. We want Bible study!”

By far the question most asked of Renew is, “What can you tell me about the politics of the UMW? The women of my church want to know.” These requests represent a concern that the leadership is predominately involved in community organizing, activism, and lobbying for specific left-leaning political outcomes.

The perception that UMW is political is supported by the United Methodist Women’s lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, which is run out of the UMW National Policy Office in D.C. as well as at the United Nations where they have consultative status. Women are invited to participate in political action through a number of venues.

On its website, it maintains a list of Action Alerts (currently 40+). These alerts give everything women need to call or write Washington and add their voices to support or defeat the positions that the National Office recommends. Rarely do these Alerts reflect the concerns or positions of moderate or conservative women. It disturbs these women when they hear the UMW staff claim to represent all women in the United Methodist Church.

The UMW National Office also sponsors Annual Social Action or Legislative Events in various states where women can gather to influence state policies as they relate to the justice priorities of UMW. This year, at the UMW 30th Annual Legislative Event in Austin Texas, the women partnered with Texas Impact, a progressive advocacy group. The UMW rarely if ever advocates for politically moderate or conservative public policy solutions.

The UMW National Office utilizes “Mission U” held in every conference each summer and a quadrennial national gathering know as “Assembly” to organize the women for action. At the May Assembly, women were organized to embrace their power to change our economy, our climate, women’s health, and the incarceration rate. The event held 54 workshops led by social activists – two of whom were co-chair persons for the 2017 Women’s March held the day after the inauguration – including the exceedingly controversial Linda Sarsour, a provocative Muslim-American activist.

Over the years, UMW’s political activism has been rooted in an unbalanced and strongly progressive perspective. Without fail, it advocates for public policies that call upon big government solutions to social inequality. Rarely do they consider unintended consequences or the possibility that government intervention can hurt instead of help. Social inequality has widened as the traditional family has weakened. But strengthening the traditional family is not a justice priority of UMW.

Becoming informed and participating in the political process is not at issue, nor is the importance of the church’s social witness. But when the work of the UMW clearly promotes policies that favor the legislative proposals of one party over the other, it leaves them open to the charge they are both political and partisan.

Partisan politics is not a recipe for growth. Nor is it a recipe for making disciples for Jesus Christ.

What is Mission?

The emphasis on activism and community organizing begs the question, “What is Mission to the United Methodist Women?” In a 2017 summer newsletter, Harriet Olson asked a similar question. She quoted an orthodox theologian saying, “Mission is following the Holy Trinity into the World.” She went on to say, “We hear and respond to the cries of the needy… and we root ourselves in the core of the message: to ‘love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength’ through faith in Christ and to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.” Wonderful words indeed.

But it is not in these words that women question the motives or the mission of UMW; it is in the actions they take that women have asked, “Has the mission of UMW become a mere political vision for social justice as defined by progressive politics and in so doing neglected, if not lost, the gospel altogether?”

Is it possible to bring about the Kingdom of God by changing our social systems? The UMW National Office appears to believe it is. Why else would they put so much emphasis on one-sided partisan responses to all the controversial issues facing the United States? Politics, politics, politics.

At the 2012 and 2016 General Conferences, an individual submitted legislation to amend the Responsibilities of United Methodist Women in paragraph 1320 of the Book of Discipline to include the statement, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition would have required the incorporation of evangelism, central to the mission of the church. The UMW did not support the petition; it failed.

The UMW were not successful in their effort to stop a petition and a resolution to recognize and encourage women’s and men’s ministry independent of UMW and UMM. But they did insert the phrase “justice advocacy” into the resolution, signaling its continued commitment to their particular vision of progressive social justice.

Many women who believe Christ alone is unique and holds the keys to salvation and transformation of the soul realize the gospel has been sidelined. In its place, transformation of our “systems” and achieving human so-called justice based on material equality has become a substitute for the cosmic changing work of Christ on the cross.

This point should be remembered when we hear some bishops claim that all Methodists can agree to lay aside theological differences and organize around shared mission. The issues that divide us politically, also divide us theologically and lead us to different understandings of mission. The “social holiness” of John Wesley was a concept based on discipleship – not the partisan brand of “social justice” promoted by the UMW.

Radical Feminism and Other Theological Concerns

Theological concerns have also played a major role in the decline of United Methodist Women. In 2016, UMW Spiritual Life Study, The Bible and Human Sexuality came out; it was a focus at Mission U (what used to be known as the UMW School of Christian Mission). A female clergy friend and I decided to attend; we had read the book and had serious concerns. The author had reinterpreted scripture to justify a new understanding of biblical morality. We were hoping that Mission U, which reaches thousands of women each summer in each annual conference, would be more balanced than we had found the book.

Our hopes were not realized. An entire Saturday was spent deconstructing biblical teaching on sexuality and revising it to promote a new sexual ethic. This book turned the Bible’s teaching on sex before marriage, adultery, and marriage upside down. It undercut the Bible’s dichotomy between sin and righteousness by calling into question time-honored understanding of Scripture. Much of the revisionist questioning came out of the author’s claim that the Old and New Testaments were written in a time of male dominated society (patriarchy) and thus many of the injunctions of scripture are not applicable.

The participants were asked to accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than “consent and safety.” We were asked to categorize our sexual experiences as positive or negative. We were told that the church needed to discard the marriage culture, because it condones harmful behaviors as long as they are within marriage and says nothing to singles, widows, and homosexuals.

To reinforce these points, we were shown a short film where Barbara Lee, a Christian feminist said, “To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientation and gender identities, of all marital status, and of all physical capacities, have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life-giving part of their existence.”

Sex was being taught not as a covenant between a man and a woman ordained by God, but as a “right” because it was God’s good gift, healthy and pleasurable.

In the early 1990s, the then Women’s Division was a major participant in the Re-Imagining Conference, which was initiated by the World Council of Churches and billed as a theological conference for feminist, womanist, and lesbian ideology. The conference created quite a stir in United Methodism.

The radical feminism and goddess worship that permeated the conference has not gone away in the decades since. In fact, the Sophia worship of the Re-Imagining Conference resurfaced in the 2017 UMW spiritual growth study titled, If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All God Means for You to Be. The authors reinterpreted scripture beginning with the creation story where they reframe “Eve as a wise woman, the serpent as an agent of transformation, and the garden as a symbol of innocence that must be left behind to experience the complex fullness of life.”

The authors see the Bible as a “call of liberation.” They portray the Holy Spirit not as the Spirit Jesus describes in John 14, but as one that brings new revelation as society evolves. They see biblical teaching on sexual morality and purity as fear-based ideas that young women should reject. The authors believe the lack of feminine language for God promotes sexism. They encourage women to name God for themselves, because seeing God as “He” keeps the oppressive patriarchal systems in place.

Is it any wonder that some women have left their UMW units over serious theological concerns?

Good News for Women’s Ministry

At the same time that UMW has been declining, Christ-centered, biblically based, spirit empowered women’s ministry and mission has been thriving. This fact was recognized at the 2016 General Conference when paragraph 256 in the Book of Discipline was amended to officially allow and encourage women’s ministry alternatives to UMW. This addition to the Discipline has given women in the local church the freedom to expand their ministries in hopes of not only growing membership, but also with the goal of growing in Christ and offering him to a hurting and confused world.

Although the staff of the UMW National Office continues to claim that UMW is the only official women’s ministry in the church, this simply is not true. Women’s ministry in the church is not limited to UMW. Many women in the local church have recognized that unless we ourselves are transformed by and have a deep relationship with Christ, we cannot hope to further the mission to make disciples and transform the world. We cannot share what we do not have. The world does not need more of the world and its secular agendas. The world needs the transforming power of our Savior.

It was the power of Jesus Christ that inspired the women in Women’s Society of Christian Service and Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church both of which originated in the late 1800s. The torch that carried the light of Christ into the world by the courageous women of the predecessor organizations has been preserved in the work of any number of Methodist women in the church today.

These fore-mothers are claimed by UMW who trace their origin back to these early groups. But if these inspiring women were with us today, they would have much in common with the women’s groups who operate outside UMW. They too would most likely be concerned by the politicization of mission and revisionist interpretations of Scripture. Thankfully, new evangelical Wesleyan women’s voices have emerged within the United Methodist Church. Women who do not belong to UMW are attending various Bible studies, ministry programs, prayer groups where spiritual formation is faithful to Scripture. They participate in both local and global mission opportunities which take seriously the Great Commission that Jesus gave his disciples and subsequent generations.

With the new legislation passed at General Conference 2016, the future for women is bright despite the decline of United Methodist Women. 

Women in the Mission and Ministry of Prayer

Founders of Knit-A-Prayer from left to right: Karen Wentzel, Sharon Wainwright, Rev. Dr. Richard Thompson, and Joyce Spetz. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Thousands of American service men and women have lost their lives in the on-going battle against terrorism. Since 2009, bodies of fallen soldiers, mostly from the war-torn areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, have been flown into Dover Air Force Base. At Dover, these heroes are given a dignified transfer as they are received by their grieving loved ones. And it is here that those loved ones are comforted by the ministry of the women of the First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California. The women call their ministry, Knit-A-Prayer.

The Dignified Transfer program at Dover has become a vital tradition of honor, respect, and a way of acknowledging the sacrifice of the fallen. Early in the Repatriation and Dignified Transfer program, chaplains at Dover asked for prayer shawls and lap blankets. They wanted grieving families to have something tangible to show that they were surrounded by the love of God and the prayers of fellow citizens. They also wanted them to know our country does not take their loved one’s loss of life for granted nor is it unaware of the deep grief the family experiences.

When families receive their fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, they are ushered onto the tarmac to witness a solemn ceremony as the casket is brought off a plane. Often the walk from the base to the plane is cold and windy. The shawls the family receives provide comfort both spiritually and physically. Many notes of appreciation have been sent to the Bakersfield women. For example:

“I’m writing to thank you on behalf of my sister. She and her family live in Arkansas. On November 20, her grandson, my great nephew, was killed in Afghanistan. When his dad flew to Dover AFB to receive his body, he was presented with a prayer shawl made by your group. Their hearts were touched by the shawl, the note you included, the words of comfort and the prayers that had gone up in the making of the shawl. I’m amazed at our God and how He works. Words cannot express our appreciation. God is good all the time. Blessings to you.”

Although the number of fatalities has fallen in recent years, the Methodist women in Bakersfield continue to pray and send the love of God to those who grieve.

In May, just before Mother’s Day 2017, Knit-A-Prayer celebrated its 10-year anniversary. It was founded by Sharon Wainwright, Joyce Spetz, and Karen Wetzel. When Sharon closed a needlework store she had operated for 22 years, she knew she must find something productive to do with her creativity and love of knitting. She mentioned this desire to her friends Joyce and Karen. Joyce knew about the prayer shawl ministry and ordered the book, Knitting Into Mystery: A Guide to the Prayer Shawl Ministry,which taught creating shawls as a way of nurturing one’s own and others’ souls through prayer.  The three women met several times to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance before going to their pastor, the Rev. Richard Thompson, and receiving his blessing to start a ministry.

The three women were amazed at the interest in their proposed endeavor. Within a short period of time, 25 women signed up and committed to bi-monthly meetings. These women were intergenerational ranging from college-aged to mature women in their nineties. Over the last ten years, these women have sent 2,700 shawls and lap robes to people all over the world.

Sharon and her friends began by contacting another prayer ministry in their church known as Prayers and Squares, whose chapter #317 was started in 2005. This ministry, launched by Isabel Carrera, promotes prayer through the use of quilts. The quilters were happy to see their prayer ministry expand to a group who knitted and crocheted.

The quilting ministry originally began in San Diego at another United Methodist church, that sponsored an informal quilting group. A member’s two-year-old grandson, Kody, ended up in a coma following heart surgery; he had little chance for recovery. As the women worked quickly to make a quilt to cover this critically-ill child, they prayed earnestly for him. Against the odds, Kody came out of the coma. As he recovered, his little hands touched and fingered the knots on his quilt. His doctors wrote into his medical chart that the quilt was not to leave his side! The quilt remained with the child through several surgeries, tests, and treatments. It provided comfort and strength for many years. Other patients began to ask about the ministry and soon it had spread to other churches including Bakersfield First UM Church.

The process of making these quilts is saturated in prayer. When a quilt is requested, it is personalized to the recipient on a label and dated. As the women of the quilting ministry piece their quilts and tie in square knots the thread that holds the layers together, they pray for each recipient. After they finish a quilt, it is displayed so that the congregation may come and say a prayer while tying a knot on the quilt.

The same process is true for knitting and crocheting shawls. From the beginning of the project to its completion, the women bathe their work in prayer. Each shawl begins with a prayer for the recipient and their needs even when those needs are unknown. When they knit at home, they pray over their work. Some use a knitting pattern, a simple knit three, purl three that represents the Trinity.

One knitter shared, “In a sense this ministry is a ‘blind ministry.’ When knitting or crocheting a shawl one doesn’t know where it is going, what will be the effect, who will receive it, but God knows.” Another remarked, “There is joy in selecting the colors of yarn for the next shawl as well as the pattern. One can meditate while knitting. It is peaceful in God’s presence.”

Each shawl and blanket is bathed in prayer. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Opportunities to witness and share the love of Christ occur when a knitter has taken her project outside her home and works as she waits for an appointment or meeting. As one knitter explained, “Often an individual will strike up a conversation when they see someone knitting. That opens the door to talk about the prayer shawl ministry and our faith.” When the women gather together at the church, they take time to lay hands on their work and pray out loud in a ritual of prayer. At the completion of each shawl, a card is attached that includes a space for a hand-written prayer.

In their own city of Bakersfield, shawls are sent to several hospice groups and shelters for battered women, abused children, and the homeless. The women provide shawls and support for the Dream Center, a ministry to young adults in foster care who are required to transfer out of the program when they turn eighteen. At the center they are given help finding a permanent place to live, help with writing resumes, and learning how to interview for a job as well as other life skills. 

The Knit-A-Prayer ministry steps into action when disasters of all kinds occur. In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck northeast of Tokyo; it was the largest ever to hit Japan. The resulting tsunami compounded the damage. Serving at the time were eight missionaries from the United Methodist General Board of Global Missions. The Bakersfield women sent their prayers and shawls to Japan, which were distributed by the missionaries along with other efforts by the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR).

GBGM contact, Claudia Genung-Yamamoto wrote, “These shawls have special meaning and we would like to distribute them through partner groups, especially through the Japanese church women with a message of God’s love shared with both Christian and non-Christians in the Tokyo area.”

Each package is a blessing to those who receive. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California.

Closer to home, last summer these women sent shawls when one of California’s largest fires, the Erskine Fire, killed two people, destroyed 309 homes, and damaged hundreds more. People who lived in the path of the fire were in evacuation centers for weeks. These evacuees were not alone, for the Bakersfield women actively prayed and sent shawls through a long-time member of their church. He just happened to be serving as a local pastor for two of the communities hard hit by the fire.

The women share many stories where they have seen God’s hand on their ministry. One afternoon they received a request for a shawl from a lady in Missouri. She had found Knit-A-Prayer listed on a shawl ministry web site. She requested a shawl for a young adult man, seriously ill in San Diego. The shawl needed to be delivered quickly. Ironically, the daughter of the church’s administrative assistant was returning to San Diego that very afternoon. She took the shawl to the hospital and personally gave it to family members.

Another incident occurred when the women learned of a young girl who had attended VBS at the Bakersfield church. She was seriously ill with cancer. The mother was contacted and said she would appreciate a shawl for her daughter. When it was delivered, the little girl responded by saying, “How did you know that pink was my most favorite color?” She kept the shawl with her constantly through all her treatments until she passed.

Early in the spring of 2017, an adult nephew of a member of the Bakersfield congregation was seriously injured in an automobile accident. He was barely removed from the vehicle before it went up in flames. Doctors were unable to assure the family of his recovery. He was in ICU for a month and had many surgeries. Although he was not a believer in Christ, he kept the prayer lap robe with him constantly. All the prayers that were prayed for his recovery were eventually answered when he walked out of the hospital.

Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are not ordinary clubs; they are not an excuse for women to get together for fellowship, although meaningful fellowship occurs; they are not just a creative outlet, although they are that as well. Prayers and Squares and Knit-A-Prayer are two groups of creative, praying Christian women, who like Jesus, are full of compassion; they are women who use their talent to make visible the love of God in the material blessing of a quilt or a shawl. Most of all, they are women who know the power of prayer to love, encourage, honor, heal, and comfort infinitely more than all they ask or imagine.

As Sharon Wainwright attests to the power of God working through the Knit-A-Prayer ministry, “God continues to open doors where we can offer a shawl and prayer. Our original hopes and dreams for this ministry were so small in comparison to where God has directed us. The ‘God winks’ have been many and the blessings numerous beyond measure.”

Now is the Time

“Now is the time of God’s favor, Now is the day of salvation.”

– II Corinthians 6:2

Each year, women come to the national conference of the Celebration Women’s Ministry in Houston seeking to grow in Christ and encounter God’s Spirit. Some seek the assurance of salvation; others need forgiveness or desire to be liberated from sin, past and present; still others seek spiritual, emotional, or physical healing. This past March, women experienced all this and more at the Celebration gathering.

The Celebration leadership team chose their 2018 conference theme from the above cited verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. They were reminded that the people of the Corinthian Church had much in common with the church in America of our day. They too were suffering disunity; sexual immorality was a problem, and difficult challenges were overwhelming the church. In the two letters to the Corinthians, we find some of Paul’s most important theological writing.

Inspired by Paul’s words, “Now is the time of God’s favor – the day of His salvation,” the leadership team delved into the meaning of salvation. They found it to be a comprehensive term that had a depth of meaning beyond the initial decision to believe and be saved from the consequences of sin. Salvation was a word that implied forgiveness, healing, prosperity, deliverance, safety, rescue, liberation, and restoration. It signified everything the leadership team hoped women would experience at their yearly conference.

Readers of Good News will recall the March/April 2017 cover story written by editor Steve Beard about the Spirit-filled revival in the Methodist Church of Cuba. He had visited Cuba with Dr. David Watson, the academic dean at United Theological Seminary, and a team of seminarians. During a conversation after the article came out, Beard encouraged Judy Graham, president of Celebration, to visit the Cuban church or bring the move of the Spirit in Cuba to the women of Celebration. In response, he and Watson put her in touch with Pastor Adria Nuñez Ortiz from Havana.

Pastor Nuñez is the product of a powerful move of God and His Spirit in her country. The people in her Havana community know first-hand the hardship of living with scarce resources such as food and clothing. Although for many decades, freedom to worship publically was not possible, belief in Christ survived. It brought hope and helped the Cuban people rise above their circumstances.

Salvation was the power that healed, allowed those trapped in prostitution, drugs, and other addictions to find freedom, and gave them the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Pastor Nuñez wanted the women of Celebration to know and experience the power of salvation to bring dynamic transformation that enables all women in every culture to find the way that leads to life.

Nuñez told the women to “rise up wisely like Jael, to be virtuous like Mary, to carry hope to those around them like Esther and Ruth, to be full of faith like Hannah, and to be sensible and brave like Deborah.” Each of these Bible women were given exactly what was needed to meet their challenges; each challenge was unique. Nuñez wanted each woman to be as faithful and courageous as Esther, who the Lord had raised up for the challenge of “such a time as this.”

Women receive healing. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

At the close of her message, she issued a call for women who needed physical healing in their bodies and those who needed to receive the Holy Spirit in their soul to come forward. Whether in fire and power or in a sweet gentle presence, the Holy Spirit ministered deeply to the women present at each alter call.

Pastor Jennifer Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia, the other featured speaker, taught the women how to live out their salvation as chosen women, honored by God; as women who are being made into the image of Christ and exemplifying his characteristics. That calls for honesty, and honest she was. A spirit of conviction fell upon the conference as Cowart got specific about walking in the new nature and refusing to be dominated by the old. She encouraged the women to be more sensitive to the needs of others and grow deeper in their understanding of the love of Christ, allowing his love to flow out to those around them in practical, tangible ways.

For Graham, the entire weekend was in sync with the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit. A highlight for her, however, was getting to pray with a woman for her salvation. This young woman had never received Christ as her Savior; her work had brought her to the last five Celebration conferences, but this year during the prayer time, she ventured on stage and asked Judy to pray with her.

Jen Cowart and Judy Graham. Photo by Celebration Ministries.

Especially important to the conference planning team was issuing an invitation to the women and pastors of the Spanish speaking churches in the Houston area and the broader Texas Conference. The planning team knew it would be exciting for them to hear Pastor Nuñez in their own language. The first evening nine women attended. The next evening more than 35 women attended – in addition to the Rev. Arturo Cadar, the Texas Conference Coordinator of Mission Field Development. After the event, he approached Graham in order to start a Spanish-language Celebration chapter. He had the women leaders in mind to continue the blessing and the move of God’s Spirit.

Before the end of the conference, testimonies began to emerge. Women were reconnected with God, many were awakened to a closer walk with Jesus, a healing presence moved in their midst, some were called into ministry, and others were inspired for mission and service.

“I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit beginning with the time I got my name tag at the registration table,” one young woman testified after attending her first Celebration event. “National Conference has changed me forever! I am a completely new person and excited about seeing God in a new light.”

“On fire” is how Judy Graham described the conference.

As the leadership of the conference began to count the ways God had moved, they gave thanks for all the lives that had been changed. For new and seasoned believers alike, National Conference was a time for each woman to move deeper into her salvation.

The theme, “Now Is The Time,” reminds us that God is at work. He is at work in our individual lives and he is at work in our church. For those who are looking for God, he is there. He is moving all of us into a more profound understanding of our salvation, that we might apprehend all that he has for us.

August 2017 Newsletter – Monitoring: Nothing New Under the Sun


Dear RENEW Network,

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.

A Woman’s Voice for Renewal

 

Renew leadership, past and present. Liza Kittle (left) and Katy Kiser (right) with Renew founder Faye Short.

As Dixie Brewster, spokeswoman for the Local Church Committee of the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, came to the stage to present legislation prepared by the Renew Network to amend Paragraph 256 of the Book of Discipline, women all over the floor of the conference watched with anticipation. An objection was launched by a delegate who did not want the Discipline amended to recognize and encourage alternative ministry in addition to United Methodist Women. But those who spoke in favor had the more cogent arguments. The petition had been fiercely debated in committee yet had passed overwhelmingly without amendments. That day the entire body of delegates in Portland, Oregon, would vote to pass the legislation.

To some, the passage of this change to the Book of Discipline may not have seemed particularly remarkable, but to the women of Renew, this was monumental. As Ruth Burgner of the Mission Society had once written, “If you knew what was going on, this sight might strike you as the stuff short stories and classic tales are made of – the story of a smaller opponent squaring off toe-to-toe with a bigger (and apparently more powerful) one, engaging bravely on behalf of an entire unsuspecting community.” 

The passage represented over two and a half decades of conscientious work on the part of women who have played a role in the Renew Network, which is the women’s program arm of Good News.

The network was formed as a two-pronged ministry calling for spiritual renewal for the women of the church and accountability of the Women’s Division (now United Methodist Women Inc.). As founder and president Faye Short remarked in 2002, “These are the ‘grassroots’ of the church, the mainstream Methodists who joyfully embrace and share the great Christian truths that transform lives.” It was by and for these mainstream women that the Renew Network came into being.

Renew traces its roots back to the early 1970s. It was then evangelical women began raising alarms about the resources they were getting from the Women’s Division. Concerns were voiced because the theology, philosophy, and ideology of the Women’s Division were far different from that of the women at the local level. The Esther Action Council and the Good News Women’s Taskforce documented concerns and looked for ways to encourage the grass roots women of the church. These efforts led to the formation of the Renew Network in 1989 under the leadership of Faye Short.

The story of the Renew Network connects to Faye’s story. Many do not realize that Faye was a UMW local, district and conference officer in North Georgia prior becoming president of Renew. She knew first hand the concerns that were arising from evangelical women. When Helen Rhea Stumbo, now chairperson of the Good News board, invited Faye to her first Good News board meeting, Faye told Dr. James V. Heidinger II, then president of Good News, that she had come with a strange burden on her heart for the women of the UM Church.

As the church drifted away from classical orthodoxy, the leadership team Faye had organized began to shine light on the theological error coming out of the Women’s Division. A White Paper titled “Our Basis For Concern” was produced in 2001; it revealed much. Whether it was liberation theology, propagating that all faiths are acceptable ways to God, pro-abortion advocacy, participation in the Re-Imagining movement, tying the mission of the church to the goals of the United Nations, advocating radical feminism, support for a new sexual ethic, or substituting progressive public policy for the proclamation of the gospel, Renew was faithful to report these disturbing developments with the hopes of seeing reform.

Bringing to the conscience of the church that which had the potential of compromising her mission and weakening the proclamation of the gospel was not the only work of the Renew Network. Equally, if not more important, was the development of ministry models and Christ centered program materials. While Renew gave voice to the concerns of evangelical women, they developed alternative resources. These resources encouraged relationship with Jesus and knowledge of Scripture, and a biblical worldview regarding social and political concerns.

A good example of one such resource is the book, Reclaiming the Wesleyan Social Witness: Offering Christ that I co-authored with Faye Short. It put forward a Wesleyan social witness, and proposed a rediscovery of the core of the Wesleyan witness – “saving faith.” Bishop Lindsey G. Davis wrote, “This book offers fresh insights into how our social witness can be transformational and firmly rooted in the Christian faith.”

As we moved out of the late twentieth century and into the next, many churches began Bible studies and alternative women’s ministries. In many parts of the country new forms of vital ministry sprang up; but in other locations innovation was not so easy. Work remained to be done.

In 2008 Faye Short retired as president of Renew and Liza Kittle would take her place and continue the two pronged ministry. Liza was a former radical feminist who came to know Christ in her 30s. She had a real heart for women’s ministry. She wanted all women to experience the life changing transformation that had turned her own life to the Lord.

Prior to becoming president, Liza had served as a press representative, writer and analyst for Renew. Among her reports was an analysis of the Book of Resolutions. After studying the legislation of several General Conferences, it was determined that over 80 percent of the social policy agenda of the UM Church originated from a handful of the liberal boards and agencies in the church. The once six-page addendum of the Book of Discipline had morphed into over 1,000 pages of social justice policy and political agendas that boards and agencies used to fuel their advocacy on Capitol Hill, the White House, and around the world. Her analysis brought important statistical evidence to the eyes of the church.

It was Liza who rewrote and submitted legislation to the 2012 General Conference using language similar to that of United Methodist Men and containing goals associated with the new emphasis on Local Church Revitalization and Growing Vibrant Congregations. Renew’s legislation passed overwhelmingly in the Local Church committee. Unfortunately, due to the late decision from the Judicial Council, time did not allow for the legislation to come to the full floor for a vote. Although this presented a delay of four years, it could not stop the momentum.

After years of involvement with women’s ministry, I became the Renew team leader in 2015. We’ve assembled a team of women pastors and lay teachers to provide devotionals, teachings, Bible studies, and mission ideas. Renew continues to be committed to build and encourage vital women’s programing. Churches and women’s ministries that are making a difference locally and globally are being featured on the Renew website, Facebook page, and in the Good News magazine (see the “Rooted” article in this edition). These stories of authentic women’s ministry are inspiring churches in and beyond Methodism.

The Renew team and all the many women of the network were thrilled when legislation passed at General Conference 2016, amending the Book of Discipline to officially allow alternative women’s ministries. The passage of this legislation represents a new freedom for women within our denomination. With this official endorsement of The United Methodist Church, the hindrances and constraints of the past have been removed. The gates are open for an even brighter future for women’s ministry in the church. The reality for some time has been that churches are offering options that meet the diverse needs of Christian women. We are excited for the days ahead as the Holy Spirit fans the flame of revival and renewal among the women of the UM Church that it may move in ever growing power.

Renew is thankful for having played a part in inspiring biblically based ministries. Yet vigilance remains essential. Renew reported that in 2016 the UMW National produced a spiritual life study on human sexuality that, if embraced, would take the UMW related women and the Church away from the Church’s official biblical sexual ethic.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe, current president of Good News, expressed his appreciation for the contribution of Renew to the reform and the renewal of The United Methodist Church when he said: “Renew has been a genuine gift to the women of the church who have looked for balanced, biblical resources to support their spiritual growth and their ministry in the world. In addition, Renew has served as a vigilant and effective force in exposing the radical political agenda behind much of the work of the Women’s Division.”

The women of Renew appreciate this assessment. We view the work of Renew as part of the faithful witness of both men and women within the Good News movement whose purpose is to lead United Methodists to a faithful future. 

Katy Kiser is the team leader for Renew Women’s Ministries. For a more detailed account of the history of the RENEW Network go to: www.renewnetwork.org or call 832-381-0331.

 

Rooted in Christ: Women Being the Church

The Rev. Kelly Brumbeloe of Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church. Photo by Donna Lachance.

 

What should be the business of the church? For the women of the Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta Georgia, it is providing women with the opportunity to become Rooted in Christ. Their women’s ministry places equal emphasis on the spiritual and material needs of women, realizing that a poverty of either can be devastating. They actively make Christ known to those in their own pews, their community, and the world. Their women’s ministry is one of the most successful in The United Methodist Church.

Recently, Renew had the privilege to celebrate the women’s ministry at Mt. Bethel at the invitation of the Rev. Kelly Brumbeloe. The evening began with powerful worship led by a young college woman and was interspersed with several speakers. Women from the North Atlanta area came together to worship, share testimonies, pray for each other’s needs, and be taught from the scriptures. They call these gatherings “Home Grown.”

Presence of the Holy Spirit

As Kelly took the stage the music lowered in volume and she began to share from the story of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. She reminded us that this was set in a time of deep discouragement; Jerusalem had fallen and with it the temple. It was a time of total destruction, banishment, and national death. The people had been stripped of their identity and their hope was lost; they were in a valley of death.

Kelly continued to describe Ezekiel’s vision and the life that came into the dry dead bones that inhabited the valley. But even after bodies had been formed, they were lifeless, until God commanded something extraordinary. He commanded Ezekiel to speak God’s “ruah,” his breath into the lifeless bodies, the same breath breathed into Adam.

Having worked with Renew Network the last fifteen years, my mind went to the crisis we face in The United Methodist Church. Unable to agree on God’s intention for human sexuality, including basic biblical teaching and theological truths held for thousands of years, the church is in need of a breath of new life.

But this night was focused on the large number of women who had gathered at Mt Bethel. There were women present there who needed to be reminded that in our difficult and seemingly hopeless situations, God wants to breathe into us his “ruah” – breath that is full of new life, hope, restoration, and transformation. He wants to breathe new life into each one of his precious children, each institution, and, yes, even each nation.

For this story speaks to more than the hopeless situation of Israel who were captives of the Babylonians, or even the great impasse of The United Methodist Church. That evening was alive with women who had gathered to worship and receive a word from the Lord that would speak into the difficult, impossible, desperate places of their circumstances. The places only his “ruah” can heal.

Worship and praise is a major part of the ministry. Photos by Donna Lachance.

And just as the Lord God came through for the Israelites in the hopelessness of their captivity, he was present among us that evening breathing life and hope into each woman. The atmosphere was vibrant with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Leadership Development

Home Grown is just one opportunity in Mt. Bethel’s women’s ministry known as “Rooted” where all women have the opportunity for spiritual growth. The Home Grown ministry encourages women to share their testimonies and gives them opportunities to teach, lead prayer, praise, and worship.

The women who participate in this ministry come from several United Methodist churches, including Canton First UM Church, McEachern UM Church, as well as from other denominations. By joining forces, they have resources that some of the smaller churches would not otherwise have. They have found that each church brings strengths to bless the whole.

The evening I attended, Eastminster Presbyterian Church brought 26 women and their children from The Garden Church, which shelters women who have been victims of abuse, alcohol, drugs, and sex trafficking. 

When the time of prayer came, the women gathered in groups of two to pray for one another. It was touching to see the women from Mt. Bethel and other churches pray and minister to each other. The move of the Holy Spirit was powerful as the women confessed to one another and received the truth of God’s deep love and true purpose for each one of their lives.

Developing women’s prayer life is a key component at Mt. Bethel’s women’s ministry. There is a story on its website about one woman whose young daughter developed a rare form of bone cancer resulting in the amputation of a leg. The church prayed with great intensity for the family and their daughter’s crisis. Today, the mother shares her amazing faith, wisdom, and the biblical truth that sustained her and her family. And her daughter, Grace, is sharing her faith and courage with another young girl also named Grace who is battling cancer.

Women with a vision for ministry. Photo by Donna Lachance.

Women in Mission

Reaching out to the women of The Garden Church is just one of the many mission projects that the women of Mt. Bethel and their partnering churches sponsor. 

Notable is their participation in a local ministry they birthed, Faith Bridge Foster Care, which has seen such growth it has become its own 501(c)3. This ministry encourages families to foster children and supports them with practical resources. An eight-year-old girl named Charlotte, whose family has fostered several children, told me all about her experience with the program. She is learning at a young age what it means to share the love of Christ and the blessings of her family with others.

Project 82 is a ministry to the 2.5 million orphans in Kenya. The women of Mt Bethel have responded to God’s call to love and care for the vulnerable children of Kenya who have been orphaned by caregivers wiped out by HIV/AIDS, tribal conflict, and poverty-driven diseases. This ministry nurtures orphans holistically to achieve sustainable family solutions. The women of Mt. Bethel have raised money and numerous supplies to provide for the needs of these displaced children.

Whether it is encouraging and resourcing foster care for needy children or the orphaned in Kenya, the women are focused on strengthening the family and building up women who play such an important role in the family. Nicole Taylor, director of women’s ministry at Mt Bethel, helps women find small group ministry for each stage of her life and the life of her family. Soon to launch is a new mentoring program where older women will be paired with younger women to fulfill Paul’s admonition in Titus for the older women to teach the younger.

Through their multifaceted ministry, Mt. Bethel’s women are committed to being salt and light to a hurting world; and they are committed to helping other churches bring “ruah,” a fresh breath of God into their ministries.

Katy Kiser is the Renew Network Team Leader. If you would like to learn more about the dynamic women’s ministry at Mt. Bethel, please contact the Rev. Kelley Brumbeloe or Nicole Taylor at http://mtbethel.org or Katy Kiser at http://renewnetwork.org.

Is the Moral Teaching of Christ really “tired Christian lady stuff?

Is the Moral Teaching of Christ really “tired Christian lady stuff?”

Good News is celebrating 50 years in the renewal movement of the United Methodist Church. If you haven’t read the magazine’s excellent articles in the last two editions – please do. They informed my deep appreciation for the role Good News has played to bring about renewal and revival of classical Wesleyan doctrine.

As our church in the states has become more influenced by secular agendas in our decaying culture, Good News has been faithful to proclaim the gospel and challenge the church to be faithful to the faith once delivered to the saints.

Renew has been a part of these past 50 years. As the church drifted away from classical orthodoxy, founder Faye Short began to shine light on the theological error coming out of the Women’s Division and now the UMW National office. Whether it was liberation theology, the Sophia movement, tying the mission of the church to the goals of the UN, advocating radical feminism, or substituting progressive public policy for the proclamation of the gospel, Renew has been faithful to report these disturbing developments.

Today Renew must challenge the United Methodist Women’s teaching on human sexuality. Let’s just call it what it is. It is the cultural issue that is pressuring the church to adopt unbiblical false teaching. Let me give you an example.

My last two updates drew attention to the UMW spiritual life study, The Bible and Human Sexuality, which was taught to women all over the country in Mission U last summer. This study asked the church to embrace a new sexual ethic based on consent and safety. It casted doubt on classic orthodox moral teaching on sexuality in favor of “new interpretations” that undercut our understanding of sin, repentance, righteousness, and holiness.

Even worse, in 2017, the UMW reading list added another book, Femmevangelical: The Modern Girl’s Guide to the Good News. This book illustrates the UMW National’s commitment to transform the church’s sexual ethic so it is inclusive of current sexual practice.

Author Jennifer Crumpton speaks of discarding “tired ‘Christian lady’ stuff about purity, piety, patience, prudence, and obedience.” She advocated for overthrowing the “slyly suffocating, subordinating effects of male-dominant religion.” She wants to build a relationship with a “different God.” She uses the words of Jesus in Luke 12, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” to give women the evangelical license to determine for themselves what is right and good and sexually acceptable to God.

What is Renew’s Response?

It saddens us to recognize that do-it-yourself morality is being substituted for the clear, righteous, holy ethical teaching of Jesus. We should remember that liberal progressive influences have brought the church to the present crisis. They cannot lead us out. We must see attacks on our faith for what they are.

New at Renew

Renew is indebted to our founder and president emeritus, Faye Short for a thorough analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. This resource can be found on the Renew Website. It details and combats the revisionist teaching of this so-called spiritual study. It will be helpful to the women of the church not only to recognize false interpretation of scripture, but also can be used to steer our congregations away from teaching that does not show us the way, the truth or how to find real life in Him.

Also you will find Sacredness in Sexuality by Mary Lambrecht. Mary points us to God’s true plan for sexuality which stems from His love, not man’s, which is holy, sacred, joyful, and life-giving.

Renew continues to minister to the church with truth and love. Please check out our website and Facebook page for new resources including critique, vibrant ministry, and mission ideas. And feel free to contact us by phone; we are blessed by your calls, your prayers and continued support.

Stand with us by going on the Renew Website to download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
Good News
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
Fax: 832.813.5327

Please be praying for the Judicial Council, who meets next week to decide the legality of the election and consecration of a lesbian married bishop.

I hope to see many of you in Memphis, April 28-29 at the Wesley Covenant Association meeting. If you haven’t made plans you can do so here.

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Network Team Leader

New Opportunities for Women’s Ministry

New Opportunities for Women’s Ministry

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“The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host.” – Psalms 68:11

The 2016 General Conference was good news indeed for women’s ministry in The United Methodist Church. Legislation developed by the Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, was adopted to allow ministries to women and men in addition to UMW and UMM.

For some, the addition to paragraph 256.7 opens the door for churches to welcome women’s ministry that meets the unique needs and gifts of their particular congregation and conference. No longer is women’s ministry “one size fits all,” nor is the United Methodist Women under the leadership of the New York office the only official women’s ministry outlet.

For others, the Book of Discipline now officially recognizes and encourages the vibrant work of women that has been taking place for decades. One such women’s ministry is Celebration Women’s Ministry, which began in the Texas Annual Conference and dates back to 1997.

Katy Kiser, team leader of the Renew Network, recently sat down and spoke with Judy Graham, president and co-founder of Celebration Women’s Ministry.

Judy, why did you and others feel there was a need for a women’s ministry like Celebration? 

There were three founders of Celebration who saw women hungering for spiritual growth. We recognized everyone needs to experience the power of God; that was simply not happening in some of our ministries. We knew that the church cannot transform the world unless we individually have been healed and transformed.

Some needed the basic step of accepting salvation and the life that God intended through Jesus Christ. Others were seeking opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. Many women needed the healing touch that only Jesus can provide. And all women needed the sweet fellowship of one another and the power of each other’s prayers.

Many of our churches needed to develop women’s ministry that met these needs. But let me be clear, the founders, including myself, simply recognized a work that God was already doing and joined it. He led us to work within the UM Church and develop a structure by which women could connect to each other and reach out.

How did the Lord lead you to meet these needs?

In 1997, we approached Bishop Woodrow Hearn who gave us his support, as did our annual conference. At our first event, 65 women leaders from 22 churches in our conference committed to pray on a monthly basis for Celebration. We held a meeting at St. Luke’s UM Church in Houston where over 500 women attended. Not long after this, another 55 women from 16 churches met in East Texas and enthusiastically embraced our vision. Subsequently, at the invitation of pastors and lay women, Celebration was started.

Over the next year and a half, Celebration became a foundation and a covering for women’s ministries in which the focus was on salvation, healing, and equipping based on Luke 4:18-19. By providing speakers and studies in these three areas, Celebration met and continues to meet a full range of women’s needs including praise, worship, prayer, personal witness, Bible study, and fellowship. Today in the Texas Conference we have 21 chapters and new chapters are still being added.

You mention that prayer played a role very early on in starting this ministry. Does that continue to be the case for the organization?

We believe that all beginnings should be birthed in prayer. In fact, we ask women interested in having Celebration at their church to pray for several months and receive God’s vision before becoming a chapter. We also ask that each chapter keep their church, its leadership, and their pastor in prayer as well as our ministry.

The National Board has developed “Guidelines for Intercessory Prayer.” Praying key scriptures is just one tool we encourage along with prayer for renewal, revival, and unity. We also pray for one another. We want women to expect God to answer their prayers: for the church, this ministry, and their personal needs. Prayer teams that meet regularly and email prayer teams operate between chapter meetings. We also maintain a prayer room at the Texas Annual Conference each year. Bishop Janice Huie wrote to us, “Thank you for the beautiful prayer chapel your team provides during the Texas Annual Conference. Your oasis helps us strengthen ourselves for ministry decisions.”

Has Celebration been limited to the Texas Conference or the UM Church for that matter?

2017 marks eighteen years of service for Celebration Women’s Ministry. In that time we have begun chapters in Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Celebration is seeing walls come down when women come together to worship Jesus. In our meetings are women of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.

This ministry is not limited to the UM Church; we work across denominational lines, because regardless of denominational affiliations, women need Jesus and women need each other. The Celebration chapter in Appomattox, Virginia, is one example.

Our National Board is particularly excited about the adoption of Renew Network’s legislation by the 2016 General Conference that gives denominational approval to women’s ministries like ours. While we have always had official approval from our conference and local churches, we expect this action will have a big effect on the expansion of Celebration in other UM conferences not to mention other vital ministries.

Of course, expansion is meaningless unless the lives of women are being freed to heal from sin, grow in Christ, and become equipped to share what God is doing in their personal lives and the life of the church.

Can you share one of those testimonies?

Over the years, we have received thousands of testimonies of lives that were changed by our ministry. One of our members wrote after a Celebration National Conference: “I was a broken child of God. The conference was such a blessing. The main message couldn’t have been more relevant to what I needed. 2 Timothy 1:7: ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-control.’ I am now, finally, living for God and it feels so great.”

What would be your advice to women who want to begin alternative ministries in their church? 

Prayer should be first; it is essential, as well as working with your pastor and church leaders. If your ministry grows beyond your local church, I also would advise working with your bishop and conference leaders. For those who wish to begin a Celebration chapter, all the principles, steps, and requirements are on our website. We have a leadership team that personally guides new chapters and trains their leaders.

Judy, what are your general thoughts about the UM Church and the state of women’s ministry?

Like Renew and Good News, I realize our church is in a crisis over human sexuality, and I would not want to discount that in any way. But at the same time, I see God moving in a mighty way. For years, many of us have been praying and working for renewal. Much of what happened at General Conference indicates that is happening. I contacted Renew when I heard that the GC had adopted legislation officially recognizing a variety of women’s ministries. I felt this was monumental. We need to move where God is moving. Praise God that is happening. In my mind, another huge indicator is the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA).

Since 2017 marks eighteen years of ministry to women, what will Celebration do to celebrate?

Our celebration begins at our National Conference – the theme is “Covered” – and will continue in our chapter meetings throughout the year. Our theme is taken from Psalms 91:4: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

We are praying that the Holy Spirit will join us and stir our hearts and minds to heed His word.

If you would like to learn more about Celebration Women’s Ministries or Renew Network, please visit their websites: http://celebrationministries.org and http://renewnetwork.

Holy Week Update 2017

April 10, 2017

Dear Renew Network,

It is Holy Week as I write this update. I can’t help but wonder what the disciples were thinking in the days leading up to Christ’s resurrection? Did they experience despair; did they want to give up and leave? Given that many of them fled and hid in fear, I think it safe to say they did.

Certainly the crisis of the disciples when Jesus was arrested is different from ours in the UMC. But ours is a crisis all the same, and many of us have become impatient and fear it is too late. For over 40 years our church has implemented secular and culturally-driven agendas that have brought us to an impasse. And now we find ourselves in a holding pattern waiting for the Judicial Council to rule on the legitimacy of the election of a married lesbian as bishop and the findings of the Commission on a Way Forward.

In a recent letter, Rev. Rob Renfroe, president Good News reminded us that waiting should not be confused with doing nothing.  We can pray, fast and prepare ourselves to take action.

At the Good News board meeting we heard from two presenters who were from mainline denominations which have experienced division and split. Each had valuable lessons and seasoned advice to share. Each had watched as their denomination undermined its own scriptural and doctrinal foundations. One speaker described the process as “spiritual genocide.”

Both our speakers offered some very salient advice, which I share with you.

First, we must read the sign of the times. In Matthew 16, Jesus chided the Pharisees and Sadducees for not discerning the signs of the times. We should be prepared for what happens next. We know what likely is to happen. It should not throw us when it does happen. We stand having done all.

Secondly, we should be studying the scriptures that admonish us to beware of false teaching. The crisis we are in is not about a difference of opinion on non-essential matters. It is not about allowing a diversity of legitimate interpretations. The crisis has been caused by the clash of godly, biblical, gospel teaching on one side and on the other, false teaching that gives rise to a prophetic mission to change our understanding of human sexuality. We were reminded that the UMC will either be – “Biblically orthodox or not – Christ honoring or not – Christ centric or not.”

Thirdly, we were advised to enlist those who would do spiritual warfare on behalf of the church and the renewal efforts of Good News, Renew and our other partners. We were reminded that what we are up against “does not come out by anything other than prayer.”  We were told:

“This is spiritual warfare, and the devil loves division, distraction, depression and deceit. He hates the Bride of Christ and he will stop at nothing to humiliate her.”  

Finally, we were encouraged to focus on gospel mission and be real missionaries even if the institution is not. This means we should be discipling someone at all times.

A Call to Prayer

In this time of uncertainty, Renew encourages you to stand in prayer with Good News and Renew. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might that we will stand against the wiles of the devil, our true enemy. This is not a time to become hasty or weary. We must stand in truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and faith;

  • Discerning the signs of the times. 
  • Standing in sound doctrine while rejecting, not compromising with false teaching. 
  • Engaging in serious prayer and spiritual battle for the soul of our church and our culture.
  • Reaching out to others to both make disciples and grow them in truth, righteousness, peace and faith.

Please join us in fervent prayer. I believe the Lord’s timing is perfect. We are on the threshold of revival and new life in the church.

As we prepare for Easter in 2017, let us remember that first Easter. Confusion and fear abounded when Jesus was taken from the disciples in the garden. They did not realize they were on the threshold of an unfolding of events by which our enemy would be overthrown and the salvation of the entire world would be made possible.

Thank you

Renew is blessed by your prayers and continued support.

Stand with us by going on the Renew Website and download or print the Donations Form. Or you may designate a check to Renew Network and send to:
Good News
P.O. Box 132076
The Woodlands, TX 77393-2076
Fax: 832.813.5327

I hope to see many of you in Memphis, April 28-29 at the Wesley Covenant Association meeting. If you haven’t made plans you can do so here.

In His Service,
Katy Kiser
Renew Network Team Leader

 

renew@goodnewsmag.org

The Bible and Human Sexuality

Introduction by Katy Kiser

Several months  ago, I wrote about my experience at Mission U where the United Methodist Women’s spiritual life study, The Bible and Human Sexuality was taught. I remarked that the study was designed to help the church accept not only the practice of homosexuality, but also a sexual ethic that would eliminate any scriptural boundaries on sexual practice other than consent and safety.

This concerned me greatly because not only is this new sexual ethic unbiblical, it is particularly harmful to women and children, works counterproductively to ending sex trafficking, and encourages prostitution and pornography. Even more disturbing was my discovery that this teaching comes under a larger attack on Christian understanding of morality and sexuality known as “Sex Positivity”.

But in a day when clear moral teaching is dismissed by “new” interpretations of scripture and a “new” understanding the work of the Spirit, how are we to stake our stand? For many of us it is confusing and difficult.

That is why Renew is happy to recommend to the women of the church, Faye Short’s excellent analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. She takes on the revisionist’s interpretations of our day with biblical scholarship, based on a classic interpretation of the Bible. This provides the reader with the tools to uphold and defend the church’s long held understanding human sexuality and morality.

Faye Short is no stranger to the Renew Network; she founded and faithfully served as President of Renew for 20 years. Nor is Faye a stranger to UMW, having served as a local, district and conference UMW officer in North Georgia prior to founding Renew. She has a keen eye for distinguishing biblical truth from revisionist interpretations that lead to tragic consequences in the lives of us all. Renew is grateful to her for her clear analysis and strong words of warning for the women of the United Methodist Church.

 

 

OVERVIEW

THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY:

CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT

Prepared by: L. Faye Short

Purpose: The purpose of this overview is to capture the major themes of The Bible and Human Sexuality by Ellen A. Brubaker – a study authorized by the national office of United Methodist Women for use at the local, district and conference levels in UMW or Mission U events. This document accompanies a comprehensive analysis of the book which provides support for the Overview.

From the Introduction to the Closing, The Bible and Human Sexuality advocates for a “new sexual ethic” for our time through the technique of creating confusion and uncertainty about what the Bible teaches and what the Jewish and Christian communities embrace. This method opens readers to a revised understanding with the age-old question, “Did God say?”

The text references liberal, progressive, revisionist, womanist and feminist scholars, to advance this new sexual ethic.

By reinterpreting and questioning everything from the creation accounts to the Law codes to the Song of Solomon to the inter-testament time period, the writer sets us up for a redefined understanding of the teachings and views of Jesus Christ.

One blatantly obvious intention of this book, from the beginning, and throughout the entire text, is advocacy for the acceptance of homosexual practice, and a change in sexual ethics by the Church. For example, under the Law Codes Develop section, questions are raised: “Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity?….”

As we move into the New Testament,, the teachings about Jesus Himself are called into question as the author casts doubt on the Virgin Birth, and in essence the Divine Nature of Jesus. She writes: “Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”

Even so, the author postulates that Jesus exemplified and taught a new understanding of love and relationship that would likely embrace the views espoused in The Bible and Human Sexuality.

A selective overview of the birth of the church is given, being careful to avoid Peter’s discourse on the need for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin.

Paul is both extolled, when “he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus,” and dismissed, “on issues pertaining to the status of women and of sexuality.” The author comments: “There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. …Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.”

In regard to Pauline and other writings in the New Testament, cause is found to discredit or discount much that is part of the Biblical text. The claim is made that that some of the letters attributed to Paul and other apostles were in actuality written by others, “Deutero.” Theologian L. William Countryman contributes: “This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there.” Both of these statements are blatantly false.

Chapter 4 goes to great lengths to discount the process of the canonization of Scripture and the teachings of the church fathers, while giving far too much credence to the aberrant theology of Gnosticism. Inaccurate timelines and misrepresentations of Church history are used to call the foundations of the Christian Church into question. The concept is, if you can pull down existing structures, you have reason to construct new ones.

Another theme throughout this book is the promotion of the right of individuals to interpret the Scriptures for themselves—to “take authority” for their own faith and practice. While a full-fledged call is not given to totally disregard the innate authority of Scripture, or the role of the Holy Spirit, or the place for church leaders, or the significance of Church history; with these already called into question, this step seems natural.

The author encourages use of the “tools of interpretation,” particularly Albert Outler’s “Wesley’s Quadrilateral,” which consists of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. However, these tools are used in a way neither Outler nor Wesley would approve.

The Bible and Human Sexuality challenges traditional Judeo/Christian, Biblical views on male/female relationships, the family, abortion, homosexual practice, and even righteousness. The new sexual ethic this book advocates looks like what the author described in the final chapter: “At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?”

How does the Church answer? We answer as the Church has since its inception. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth, and the single, to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.

 

 


AN ANALYSIS

THE BIBLE AND HUMAN SEXUALITY: 

CLAIMING GOD’S GOOD GIFT

Author: Ellen A. Brubaker

 

Analysis By: L. Faye Short

Opening Statement:

For decades at every General Conference the church’s stand on human sexuality has been challenged. In fact the United Methodist Church has been brought to a crisis over this issue. It is not the only issue that divides us, but it is the main issue. Much is at stake including our understanding of scripture as well as the future of the UMC.

As a former local, district and conference officer for United Methodist Women, and as the former president of the Renew Network, UMW mission resources are not new to me. Over a thirty-year timeframe, I have read the studies, reviewed the studies, taught the studies and assigned the studies to experts for review.

Of all the UMW studies I have read and reviewed, this study, “The Bible and Human Sexuality” has the clearest agenda. Its purpose is to change the church’s biblical teaching on human sexuality and replace it with a new sexual ethic that is more inline with our culture’s full acceptance of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. I have reviewed this book prayerfully and offer my analysis to guide the reader to seriously consider just what the Bible actually says about human sexuality.  ___Faye Short

Introduction

In the introduction and throughout the entire text, the Biblical, Christian understanding of human sexuality is held up for examination, and doubt is cast upon the traditional view. Instead of holding fast to established truth, the reader is invited to realize, “As this study is being written, we are encountering deep differences in society and within the church over issues related to divorce, gender, abortion, and homosexuality.”

The “good news of the gospel” is appealed to, yet is not identified by repentance, redemption and restoration, but instead seen as a gospel in flux, changing with the times and shaped by cultural norms.

The Introduction begins by stating, “Over the centuries, there have been many interpretations of what the Bible says about sexuality.” The Jewish and Christian community, worldwide, has held unswervingly to the Biblical understanding of marriage, family and sexual practice over the centuries. This Biblical understanding has formed the moral and ethical fiber of the nation and the worldwide Christian community, spilling over into the culture. Only a small percentage of liberal theologians and secularists have advocated for a change in clear biblical perspectives.

An attack is leveled against supposed “literalists” who are really Christians who believe the Word of God to be inerrant (without error in its teachings on faith and practice), or infallible (totally reliable in content).

Yet another inaccuracy, “The Protestant Reformation was in part about the freedom and responsibility of Christians to read, pray and seek the meaning of Scripture.” In fact, the Reformation was a return to the Apostolic Faith of the early church, and the understanding that Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, speaks the Word of God clearly and understandably to believers. It was not an invitation to unbridled, uninformed personal opinion. The Bible admonishes us to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.”

Chapter 1: It Was Very Good: The Creation Stories

In the first paragraph, the author shares about her beloved granddaughter’s newly-forming “love relationship” with a special young man in her life. The granddaughter finds the word “partner” as an apt descriptor for their relationship. The author is quick to say this is the word “used often by same-sex couples.” The reader is drawn in this first paragraph to question several things about human sexuality and love relationships—premarital sex, cohabitation and homosexual practice.

In a warm story-telling atmosphere, the author lifts up the creation story, which she indicates is much like other centuries-old oral traditions. According to the author, Biblical scholars are able to determine when these “story traditions” became written accounts, with editors who put the stories together, and “…redactors who added their own interpretations to the material.”

This shot across the bow takes a swipe at biblical authority, divine revelation and God-directed process, so the reader is a bit stunned regarding the formation of Scripture. The author’s explanation places Scripture in the same category as other ancient texts, religious myths or oral histories. To the author’s credit, the “unique relationship of God and humanity” is acknowledged.

The Creation Accounts

Next, the author deals with the creation “accounts” in chapter one and two of Genesis. Most Biblical scholars see the creation accounts as ongoing, the first description in Chapter 1 fitting humankind into the total creative process, and the second narrative in Chapter 2 zoning in on Adam and Eve and their unique, individual placement and roles. The author struggles with male headship (servant leadership) even though the biblical account clearly shows, prior to the fall, a difference in role between the sexes. No doubt, something shifted when sin entered the picture, warping God’s original intention that the man lead in a partnership of equality between the two differing sexes. A hateful hierarchy was no more intended by God than a radical feminism.

The author speaks of how God “created us as sexual beings for relationship with other human beings.” One must add, ”of the opposite sex,” and “within the context of marriage,” as affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 9:3-8.

Human Sexuality and the Development of Israel

Numerous stories and customs from Israel’s history are recounted. Our observation would be that the authenticity of the Bible is borne out by the honesty of accounts that do not reflect well on Israel, showing their failure to understand God’s intentions and the sinfulness of the human heart after the fall. The author tries to recast the sin of Sodom, claiming it was the failure to show hospitality, rather than sexual perversion and homosexual practice, that brought judgment upon the city. However, the Old Testament account and the New Testament book of Jude make it clear that sexual immorality and perversion was the cause for judgment.

Law Codes Develop

This section begins by rightly defining the heart of the conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites when stating, “The spiritual warfare was over the Canaanite religious beliefs and practices. Leviticus 18 covers unlawful sexual practices, including child sacrifice, homosexuality and beastiality, concluding with God’s warning, “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.”

God speaking His Law directly to the people is acknowledged with the statement, “They were God’s word for God’s people. They served to form the identity of Israel as a nation.” Early on the codes of behavior entailed the punishing of some conduct and the rewarding of other conduct. Let me add, since God is God, the Law was not based on whim or preference—but on God’s judgment of what was best for not only Israel—but for all who would embrace God’s Law. God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

The author then cites yet another theologian who is critical of the “patriarchal framework” that in his mind denigrates women, daughters, wives, mothers, sisters to a subordinate position. Several biblical accounts are shared that cause concern about how the code of law impacts behavior in negative ways for some, and positive ways for others. Jumping from this critical analysis of the code, there is a section in the middle of page 14 that strikes at the heart of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the significance of the Law in the formation of moral, ethical and relational standards. The quotation below is italicized for emphasis.

“Why should we in the twenty-first century pay so much attention to the law codes of the ancient Hebrews? Literal interpretations of the biblical laws are still practiced in many parts of the world. They may well be taught to our children as they mature as sexual persons. Some of the laws reflect solidarity and a sense of justice for the community, while others cause shame or hardship for individuals without voice or power. At the moment, sexuality is the central biblical background as interpreters everywhere are asked to take sides on a whole host of sexual political questions:

 Should we be for or against gay marriage; for or against the availability of abortion; for or against the submission of women to their husbands; and for or against women’s political leadership? Should we build policies assuming that our commitment to premarital virginity and abstinence can be mandated for all, or will sex education and informed consent lead young people to make healthy choices? Should we prevent gays and lesbians from serving as ordained clergy, or can God’s call include everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity? If women play the submissive role in relationships, what does that mean for men? How do we define sexual freedom or choice, for women, for men? What side is the Bible on? These questions and others arise from our contemporary views of sexuality and the challenges of a changing world with regard to sexual behavior.”

Having dropped this bombshell on the reader, the author then shifts yet again to the biblical accounts of women in the bible and their stories, Although these accounts were not built upon sexual issues, the author asks, “How are we to interpret these Scriptures for our sexuality in the twenty-first century?

At this point our eyes should be wide open to the actual purpose of this “mission” study on human sexuality. The author goes back and forth regarding the biblical witness, yet, in the final analysis, what the God who created and sustains all things spoke is up for questioning and reinterpretation to fit our contemporary views of sexuality. This is not being applied to the culture, which we know places little value on God’s opinion; but this is written for the Church, and specifically for the women of the church! For Christians, do not the matters of faith and practice in all areas of our lives come under the authority of God’s Word?

The Song of Songs/The Song of Solomon

We are aware that the Song of Solomon faced much discussion before being included in the Canon. Once again, the integrity of its inclusion shows that Biblical scholars were not afraid of the sexuality of humankind, but as God declared at the time of creation, found it “good.” In fact, the Song of Solomon fully epitomizes the depth of love that can be realized between a man and a woman. Many felt the book showed the depth of love Christ has for the Church. Suffice it to say it is a part of the Holy Bible.

Despite the absolute clarity that the love expressed in this text is between a man and a woman, the author pulls from the text some far-reaching assertions. She writes:

“Above all else, Song of Songs argues for love that endures all the impediments and frustrations that may exist in the face of love at its deepest levels. …Song of Songs celebrates love relationships in the human community. There is no indication that the lovers are married; it is more likely that they are not….” Then, quoting liberal theologian Renita Weems, “The poet is apparently sympathetic to the lovers desire to plead for their right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices, and to their desire to explore their love….”

This didactic method of interpretation reads into the text what the reader wants to be there, rather than reading out of the text what is there. In this instance, it is yet another way to attempt to find Biblical license for sex outside of marriage, homosexual/lesbian practices, or, the “right to love whom they choose, irrespective of norms and prejudices” (or, apparently, Biblical prohibitions).

The author concludes, “It is important for us to see in Song of Songs how some Scriptures flow from the concept of God’s love, goodness, and grace, just as it is important for us to recognize when other Scripture passages (or particular interpretations of passages) are not helpful to individuals or to the community as each seeks to grow in Christ.” In other words, we pay attention to only those passages that make us comfortable and affirm our lifestyles and sexual preferences. Is it not true that both God’s promises and God’s prohibitions are intended for our good?

 

Chapter 2: The Human Face of God: Jesus the Christ

Between the Testaments

In this chapter, the author begins by recounting Jewish history following the return of the Hebrew people from Babylonian captivity. She aptly describes the effort by the Jews to maintain their religious purity and traditional practices in the midst of ongoing foreign invasion and rule. Mention is made of the antagonism of the Jews toward the people who had been allowed to remain in the land, such as the Samaritans. The author makes the accurate statement that, “The resulting community practiced a faith that was considered a syncretism that diluted the pure Judaism of Israel.” She concludes this section by speaking of the time of unrest and turmoil into which Jesus was born; a time when Jewish tradition continued to reflect a patriarchal system which placed women in subservient roles.

 The Birth Narratives

Not comfortable to refer to God’s gift of His Son, the author begins by saying, “The incarnation is God’s gift of the Son entering into human history that we might know God more fully in human experience.” She is careful in the first paragraph to remind the reader that the virgin birth is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and is not mentioned by Paul or the later epistles.

The author’s presentation regarding the Virgin Birth is so mistaken that one must read her own words to realize how incredulous her assumptions and arguments are. Sections from pages 27-31 of the text are cited below interspersed with comment. The reader would do well to read these pages in their entirety.

It is important to ask why a virgin birth is essential for Matthew and later Luke. The word ‘bethulab’ in Hebrew means either ‘virgin’ or ‘young girl or woman.’ Usually the Hebrew Scriptures make clear the virginal state by adding phrases such a ‘had never slept with a man’ (Genesis 24:16, Judges 11:39, 21:12).

The author does not acknowledge that this is exactly what Mary said when she asked the angel how she could be pregnant since, “I am a virgin.” (NIV); “I do not know a man.” (NKJV).

In cultures in and around Palestine, there were frequent references to miraculous births. There were male gods who impregnated mortal females, given birth to heroes…both mythical and real. There may have been an intention (italics mine) to highlight the birth of Jesus, Son of God, in a notable way. ‘Also, the numerous reports of virginal conceptions of mythological figures…could have motivated (italics mine) Jesus’ followers to have him recognized as the offspring of a god.’”

The author acknowledges that Mary’s case is not that of a male god impregnating a human female, but rather that she becomes pregnant by the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Matthew’s linkage of the Old Testament prophecy to the birth event is, according to the author, “…always a topic for interpretation and discussion.” In other words, not necessarily an accurate interpretation.

In the next part of this consideration of Jesus’ virgin birth, the author conjectures that perhaps the reason the virgin birth was construed as necessary is the “…perceived negative aspects of human sexuality.” She concludes, “There would have been then, as there is now, a sense that God’s divine Son would not be born in such an impure human process.”

Does the author intend to mislead, or does she know nothing of the theology of the Incarnation—when, through a divine act of the Holy Spirit Mary was impregnated with the Son of God—who was born into this world through the natural human process, to become the incarnate Son of God—very God and very Man; human yet divine? She goes on to recite a Catholic theology of Mariology which is not embraced by other Christian denominations. Yet, right in the middle of it she throws in the Biblical, Christian understanding of the Virgin Birth when she writes,

In some Christian traditions, Mary, a virgin, becomes pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She gives birth to the Son of God. Such mythological language (italics mine) would not have seemed exceptional to men and women of the first-century Mediterranean world.

It must be said, nor does it seem exceptional to Christians of the twenty-first century!

“Perhaps the birth narrative remains in the realm of mystery, with the doctrine of the virgin birth being a way to claim (italics mine) God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.”

That is the claim of God’s Word, believed by Christians throughout the ages. Not to believe in the Virgin Birth is to deny the Incarnation.

The Life and Ministry of Jesus—The Misfits

Under this title, the author begins to examine the life of Jesus to determine just how He impacted the Mosaic Law and how He interfaced with people, particularly women. The language and conclusions in this section are difficult to follow for they attempt to formulate a theology of partnership relating to human sexuality which is not inherent in the biblical text.

In actuality, many of Jesus’ actions cut away the practices and requirements that were added by well-meaning, or in some cases, self-seeking, leaders. As God’s Son (very God of very God), He revealed God’s true understanding of and intentions toward humankind.

Brubaker attempts to lead the reader to conclude that human sexuality was not a priority for Jesus but instead He prioritized human wholeness. The author observes on page 31:

While Jesus directly said little about human sexuality and how to live with integrity as a sexual being. It is still fair to conclude that he honored the wholeness of persons, he understood that wholeness to include sexuality.

Jesus did, in fact, address a number of sexuality issues as they came before Him, including the topics of adultery, fornication and marriage. Matthew 19:3-8 is probably the strongest passage showing Jesus’ understanding of divorce, marriage and adultery. In this passage, Jesus affirms that God’s plan is for marriage between a man and a woman and that this relationship is sacred and meant by God to be undefiled and life-long.

The author misstates that “Jesus challenged the family institution in several ways.” What Jesus challenged was that which differed from God’s original intentions. On the other hand, the author uses the Matthew and Mark (10:11&12) passages to affirm that “…women as well as men should not enter into divorce, as the marriage bond is sacred.” A bit confusing as to the author’s standing on these issues.

Our text relates, “Jesus also questions the rigid rules regarding family when he blesses children.” Yet, the Old Testament clearly taught the value of children and the importance of passing the faith on to them. Jesus acted within that understanding, and exemplified the value God places on children by doing so. Other New Testament passages address the significance of children within the family context.

From this point, the text shares biblical accounts in the New Testament relating to Jesus and various women: the woman caught in adultery; the woman who was hemorrhaging; the Samaritan woman, the woman at the well, the Canaanite woman and others who were a part of Jesus’ followers. Some of the conjectures from these accounts are off base and stretched to include progressive thinking. In the middle paragraph on page 39, beginning with “Jesus spoke….,” the evaluation of Jesus reads as if He is only human, not divine, hearkening back to the questioning of the virgin birth, and the implication that this doctrine was an attempt to “claim God’s agency or to embody Jesus’ identity as the Son of God” (page 31). Instead, ought not we to see the exchanges Jesus had with women as a demonstration of how Jesus, the Son of God, has broken down the dividing wall between us and God, and between one another.

Chapter 3: The Early Church, St. Paul and Beyond

This chapter begins by stating, “Jesus returned the essence of faith to the original vision of creation that was called good.” The author does not speak of the fall and the entering in of sin which was the catalyst of Jesus’ coming—to redeem people from their sin. Instead, our text says, “Through the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus lived and died so that all people (italics mine) might live lives of wholeness….” In actuality, those who acknowledge their sin, ask for forgiveness and accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord are the ones who experience redemption and wholeness. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

The author asserts that, even after the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples did not fully understand his ministry…and that we still have the same difficulty. While there was much the disciples did not understand prior to Pentecost and the infilling of the Holy Spirit—Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 showed total clarity regarding redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection. As post crucifixion, post resurrection, post Pentecost believers, we too understand Jesus’ ministry and mission.

The Birth of the Church – Pentecost

The author fully acknowledges the coming of the Holy Spirit as paramount to the birth of the church. Even so, the part of Peter’s Pentecost message calling for repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins is not mentioned. Peter made it clear that repentance was essential before they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming a part of the church body.

 The Expanding Ministry to the Gentiles

In this short section, the author rightly describes the process the early church went through to determine the requirements that should be placed on Gentile believers. The Holy Spirit was operating at God’s pace.

The Emerging Ministry of Saul/Paul

The conversion story of Paul is recounted, acknowledging that the Book of Acts is in large part, his story. However, in paragraph 2 on page 44, the author begins to be selective in Paul’s teachings and authority. She indicates that some take Paul’s writings literally while, “Other contemporary Christians dismiss Paul as not authoritative for faith formation, especially as the faith addresses the status of women and of sexuality.” Brubaker writes:

“There continues to be division within the body of Christ today, based on issues of interpretation and authority of Scripture. Perhaps it is important to see Paul as an intense man, caught at times in a battle for a faith that changed not only his life, but also the lives of Gentiles and Jews throughout the world of his day. There are times when he may be inconsistent, falling back on the culture from which he came, and other times when he forges new paths for the growing community of faith in Jesus.”

In plain speak, the author is saying that the church is in conflict regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—which is not an accurate statement. While some segments of the church may be conflicted regarding the interpretation and authority of Scripture—most are not. As John Wesley said in Catholic Spirit regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith, “…we are as fixed as the sun.” Can we then pick and choose where we think Paul is accurate and where he is not, particularly as it pertains to the status of women and human sexuality? If we truly believe in Paul’s conversion and in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in his ministry, we must accept his teaching as inspired and applicable for today on all of the topics he addressed. Yes, we look at them in the context of Paul’s cultural setting, even as we apply the core principles of those teachings to our own culture.

Contrary to Brubaker’s text, neither Jesus nor Paul sublimated the Law, but rather saw its fulfillment and the continued application of the core principles of the law under grace. The Gentiles were not exempted from keeping the basic moral code of the Ten Commandments, as evidenced in Paul’s writings to them, but from the peculiarly Jewish regulations that did not apply to them. Paul rightly did not insist on Jewish cultural norms as authoritative for all cultures of his day or ours, but that in no way negates his writings on God’s plan for human sexuality. Neither Jesus nor Paul ignored the moral and ethical teaching found in the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus expanded the Law’s moral prohibitions to include not just actions but even the thoughts in our heart.

On page 45 we read: “There are other facets of Paul’s views on sexuality that have long been under discussion in Christian communities.” Reference is then made to Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 6 where he states:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, not thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

A shorter listing is referenced in Chapter 5 of I Corinthians, including incest.

The author appears to convey to the reader that a statement Paul uses, apart from these specific passages, applies as a “maxim”—a saying that gets at the heart of the matter—“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is obvious within the scriptural context, that Paul is not saying it is lawful for him to do the things listed, but not beneficial for him to do so. It is a huge jump to imply that Paul found “all things lawful.” His statement about “all things lawful” but not necessarily beneficial is made within the context of what we eat and drink. Furthermore, Paul concludes chapter six by saying: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

In the final paragraph in this section, the author makes the statement, “At times, Paul seems to fall back on his old interpretations. Paul was human and like all of us was a person of his culture and context.” She then proceeds to say Paul is able to “…forge ahead with new understandings as God is revealed to him,” and suggests it may have been the women Paul mentions in his letters who had this positive influence upon him. Are we then to surmise that Paul’s theology was unsound, personal and inaccurate when it does not fit a progressive, theological interpretation? Where is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the Apostolic position Paul holds under Christ? Thus again, Brubaker causes the reader to doubt the authority of scripture, in this case Paul’s writing. This opens the door for her to invite a new interpretation, which contradicts the original clear meaning.

Influences in Paul’s Teaching

The author begins this section with the statement, “Paul was not the first person in history whose writings may appear inconsistent to some of us.” The first half is spent recounting the plight of women who have entered ministry—finding it difficult to gain full acceptance partly because of some of the biblical writings of Paul and others regarding the “position” of women within the family and cultural setting. Rather than appealing to the opportunity for women to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus Christ for all, she appeals to the new role of “strong, talented, creative” women to partner with men, “…in working to make God’s vision of justice, peace, and equality a more present reality.” Sadly this has in large part been the case, taking away from those women called into ministry to “preach the Word” without finding it necessary to attack and modify its’ inspired content.

 

In the second half of this section, the author both accepts and rejects Paul’s teaching, according to her interpretation of those teachings. She refers to Paul’s teaching on the “flesh” and the “spirit” as dualistic like that of many religions of the day. Yet, she fails to see that Paul separates the acts of the flesh from the acts of the Spirit, claiming that they are contrary to one another. By flesh, the author rightly says that Paul includes under the term “flesh,” both sexual and other sins of the mind and body. At the same time, she mentions 1 Corinthians 6:15a and Romans 8, but not I Corinthians 6:9-11 or Romans 1:20-27 which categorizes numerous sexual sins along with other sins of the flesh. The writer concludes that, “…for Paul, life in Christ was the harmony of the body and the spirit. Life in the flesh was made whole by the Spirit, and the Spirit was God’s presence in every aspect (italics mine) of the life of the one who was in Christ.” This is true as long as the flesh is subject to the Spirit and not the Spirit to the flesh…for Paul says, “They are contrary one to the other.”

 

Deutero-Pauline and Other Writings in the New Testament

This is a “loaded” section, with many claims and interpretations that do not hold to historic, Biblical teachings or the doctrines of the Christian church over the centuries. The opening statement stirs the controversy so evident in this study book.

It has become clear to many biblical scholars that some of the letters attributed to Paul were letters that bore his name, but were crafted by those who knew and honored Paul’s work. A term for such work…is ‘Deutero.’”

Then Brubaker proceeds to identify at least six of the books bearing Paul’s claim to authorship as likely written by another. This is liberal, progressive, revisionist scholarship—not authentic Biblical scholarship. If these books bear false witness as to the author, then can they be reliable, or “given by inspiration of God” as scripture self-claims? Paul’s authorship is questioned even in the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul claims a unique relationship to Timothy as his “true son in the faith” and then warns Timothy against false teachers who, “promote controversies rather than God’s work.” Is this not what we find in this UMWN study?

Just as several radical statements were dropped into the text earlier, we find another on page 50. It is set apart below in bold print.

“Before we go further in our exploration of the New Testament and sexuality, a word of caution may be in order. L. William Countryman puts it this way, ‘This brings me to the other and greater barrier which modern readers must overcome in accepting the New Testament witness on the subject of purity—our own traditional preconceptions. Sex is not a primary concept in the New Testament writings nor is physical purity an accepted principle there. To those who read the New Testament in the light of modern Western Christianity this will always be difficult to comprehend or accept, for a long history of pietism, both Protestant and Catholic, has made physical purity a major principle and sex a primary concern among us.’ This puts a discussion of the Bible and sexuality in a wider context with the growing church at the center. It is in this light that we examine the latter letters and writings of the New Testament.”

In the above quotation, Countryman is simply wrong to say that the New Testament has little to say about sex. In fact, the Gospels and much of other New Testament writings have much to say about purity and sexual morality. The long history of pietism is based on this clear teaching. Holiness was an integral component of John Wesley’s writing. Thus the reader and the church should reject and not embrace Countryman’s call to reexamine the writings of the New Testament.

Our author next claims that the Epistles of 1, 2 and 3 John, “…reframe family altogether as those who are living in the love of Christ.” While claiming that the New Testament says little about sexual matters, in this case, the author reads sexual matters into a text that is not about sex at all. In regard to 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but with truth and action.” Brubaker states, “The author (John) addresses the church members as children who are righteous and cannot sin if they are filled with the love of Jesus Christ.” The sexual aspect is added in when the author says, “One could do well to build a sexual ethic based on 1 John 4.” One could truly do well to build a sexual ethic based on the comprehensive teaching of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

The latter part of this section skims through various New Testament books, all the way to Revelation, looking at each through the lens of progressive, revisionist, womanist theology. Dating is questioned, authorship is questioned, interpretation is questioned. Statements in these Biblical books regarding sexual practice or male/female relationships are critically examined and discounted. To the author’s credit, a statement at the top of page 53 is a reasonable one, and one that most Christians and orthodox biblical scholars would agree with. “It is essential, perhaps especially when we disagree with certain ideas in some passages of Scripture, that we try to understand the context in which they were written and the point of view of the writer.” A step beyond this statement would be to say how important it is to look at the intent behind some statements about hierarchy, submission, sublimation of passion, silence for women—and to consider what consistent Biblical value might be inherent in these teachings. By removing some cultural baggage from them, we might find kernels of truth for our present circumstances.

In examining sexual imagery, the author concludes, “Revelation is not about sexuality per se; sexual imagery is used to get at John’s meaning. There are those who would interpret that imagery in ways that harm the image of the whole person, created by God as both flesh and spirit, held together by the love of Jesus Christ.” Here is a theological concept that was earlier reflected in the review of 1 John, an understanding that there is no sin in flesh or spirit if we are in the love of Christ. Yet in 1 John 2:15-17 we are reminded that love is grounded in obedience: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

This section concludes with another astonishing quote from L. William Countryman who wrote,

“…modern Christians find it hard to believe that the New Testament writers were, in fact, ethically indifferent to what we would call ‘dirty’ behavior and that they adopted this stance of indifference in response to the demands of the gospel itself. If the gospel is indeed ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16), then it must welcome the leper, the menstruant, the uncircumcised Gentile, indeed all the unclean without exception.”

Again, we are offered a gross misrepresentation of the gospel! The proclamation of the gospel is indeed for all—welcoming them to come to repentance, to acceptance of the sacrificial death of Jesus for their sins and to a transformed life, just as Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, and Paul reiterated in I Corinthians 6 after listing various sinful practices, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God.”

We must also disagree with our author’s claim that many of the New Testament teachings led later to theology that denigrated the sexual aspects of humanity. The New Testament places great regard upon human sexuality within the context of marriage and within the boundaries God established for humankind. It speaks clearly of God’s purpose in Jesus to redeem us from all manner of sin and selfish rebellion—both sexual and otherwise. Additionally, we should not forget that the New Testament makes clear God intended a deep commitment between man and woman that was exclusive to themselves, pure and holy. Because the natural fruit of such a relationship is the birth of children. Fornication and adultery were not permitted. There is no question that the young benefit and are more likely to thrive when raised in a home with both a father and a mother. He sent His only begotten Son to no less than this ideal.

Chapter 4: The Church Interprets the Bible (Chapter analysis by Dennis Short)

“The process of canonization of the New Testament was a long one that continued into the fourth and fifth centuries” is the opening statement of this chapter. In major respects that statement is not true. The major part of the New Testament was accepted, with only minor and occasional disputes, by the end of the first and second centuries. The vast number of the books of the New Testament were agreed upon by usage, authorship and references by the Apostolic Fathers. The church leaders did not “decide” which books to include, but by common acceptance of their value and authority and inspiration they were accorded what later came to be called part of the “canon.”

It is important to note that the church grew not because of the allure of the church to “marginalized” or “disrespected” persons, but because they believed the good news and were born again by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. The disparate backgrounds of various believers was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of the belief systems that plagued the early church were not because adherents of the Christian faith brought them with them in the beginning. Many of them grew out of the ever-changing mix of belief systems that grew up during the time of the church’s growth.

Gnosticism was one of those. Gnosticism was not a “Christian” stream of thought and never has been. It is better interpreted as one of those competing heresies that Christians as early as John the Apostle battled even from the beginning. Gnosticism, unfortunately, grew alongside Christianity and competed with it as a complete system and attempted to subvert true Christian doctrine and teaching as to the nature of absolute reality and the working out of salvation according to the Scriptures.

To refer to Marcion as a theologian is to accord him a respect that most do not give him. “Heretic” would be a more accurate description as the word means “one who causes divisions or factions” among the body of believers. Derived meaning is “one who strays from orthodox teaching.” A more accurate statement than that made in the text is “Gnosticism produced writings that were thought of as Scripture by “Gnostics.” There is a continued attempt to mainline the spurious “Gnostic Scriptures” by many revisionists who seem to expect to personally profit in some personal moral or financial way from promoting the idea that the “canon” was open until the fifth century. Such is not the case. The traditional way of referring to these writings was “pseudipigrapha” or “false writings.” Many of these attributed their authorship to one of the Apostles or other well-known church leaders when such was clearly not the case. Many of them were composed in the 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. timeframe that the author of the text mentions. They did not carry with them “divine authority” and the leaders of that time knew it.

The author rightly attributes authority to those who were closest to Jesus and the Apostles. Such is the case in many human (and divine) endeavors whether political, military or economic. The author states “Despite the unity of authority in Scripture and church leadership, varieties of interpretation of truth persisted.” It would be more accurate and truthful to say “heresies and unscriptural teachings persisted in spite of faithful teaching by church leaders.” The author mentions the “gradual denigration of women” and “the openness that had existed earlier.” Neither was the case! The scriptures are linear in their teaching about the roles of men and women in the church and in society. Difficulties in applying these teachings in various cultural settings have always been present and should bring no great surprise or outrage in our current setting.

Elaine Pagels has done much to popularize the gnostic writings without presenting a balanced and truly scholarly approach to the historical questions they present. There are many much more credible sources that offer reliable scholarship regarding these topics. No recent “discoveries” have really “reopened fundamental questions concerning scripture.” Later comments about the “female aspects to the divine presence” point to the Davinci Code and the perversion of sexuality that belief system presents. Other allusions to such writings are equally flawed. These are spurious writings with internally obvious deficiencies apparent to a person who is conversant with truly “inspired” Scriptures.

Augustine of Hippo

A tour through Christian History is usually thought of as being concerned with Systematic Theology, Salvation, Pneumatology (work of the Holy Spirit) and maybe Eschatology (end things or times) as being questions addressed by individuals in previous times in the church. This section is really a “Sex Tour Through Church History” which emphasizes minor topics (to most people) but of paramount interest to the “gay” church historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, who (fortunately) abstained from receiving ordination because he realized his lifestyle was objectionable to most in the Christian community. A few points will highlight the problems with this section.

*Augustine never condemned the sexual act by itself – he offered reflections on some implications.

*There was no “general early Christian prudishness about sexuality” – topics were addressed in an open and frank manner.

*Augustine did not “set in motion beliefs that have continued to equate sex with sin and shame concerning our bodies and our God-created sexuality.” Augustine rather equates the grace of the sacrament of Christian marriage as a remedy for concupiscence (lust).

Thomas Aquinas

*As regards Thomas Aquinas – what viewpoint do you expect from a medieval priest who has pledged himself to a celibate life? That marriage is preferable?

*Confirming or agreeing with scriptural statements regarding sex or sexuality is not “negative” unless the author disagrees with the basic premises and statements of Scripture.

*The author is guilty of already determining what the outcome of the study should be when she writes

“However, in the area of biblical insight into human sexuality, it is difficult to see much change in the understanding of sexuality as a God-given gift, emphasized in the Genesis creation stories, a source of joy (which only describes a man-woman relationship), only becoming harmful through willful action to possess, oppress, or hurt another human person. Is every carnal act a sin?” Such concepts were not even remotely addressed in the creation stories!

Arminius and Reformation Theology

The theology of Jacobus Arminius is set over against that of theologian, John Calvin. While Calvin emphasized unconditional election and irresistible grace, Arminius advocated for free-will, salvation available to all and resistible grace. John Wesley was a proponent of free-will. The author speaks of “prevenient grace,” which means the “grace that goes before.” The grace is characterized by the drawing of hearts to God by the Holy Spirit, before they accept Christ as Savior. Contrary to the author’s assumption, “prevenient grace” has nothing to do with the doctrine that denies innate human sin due to the fall. That is called pelagianism, a doctrine from the theologian Pelagius, and considered by the Church as heresy. Wesley believed in what is called “original sin” as a result of the Fall.

Contemporary Interpretations of Scripture

The final section of the chapter, continues to be a problem for the student of scripture and history. There seems to be a current of thought that says since there have been some deficient historical teachings about race, now we can call into question every church and clear scriptural teaching regarding sexual activity. Such an attitude can do just as much harm as the previous misinterpretation! There is no connection between race and a valid examination of Biblical teachings regarding sexual activity. The promotion of “liberation theology” as a valid way to interpret Scripture has and will continue to be problematic, especially in view of the assertion by members of the KGB that they developed it to aid in the destabilization of Latin America. Our salvation is not found by “standing in solidarity with the poor,” but rather in trusting the atoning work of Jesus Christ for our sin. Liberation Theology was rejected by the Catholic Church and should be by all Christians.

The statement is made that “traditional biblical teachings also arise from interpretation.” The author needs to keep in mind that it is necessary to maintain the distinction between teachings about sexuality and clear scriptural statements regarding the proper expression of human sexuality. Confusing this fact, or pretending to do so, will cause great harm to questioning individuals. The author concludes by pointing out the tremendous changes in culture, politics, technology and philosophy that the church has experienced. It is important to remember that the culture does not tell the church how to interpret the scriptures, the scriptures tell the church how to interpret the culture and how to impact it by Godly living through faith in Jesus Christ.

Chapter 5: Take Authority

This chapter deals with discerning the meaning of Scripture. The author rightly speaks of the need for every believer to study the Bible and discern the application of its teachings to our daily lives. Even so, there are principles that apply to interpreting Scripture. These include: the inherent authority of the Word of God as its own witness (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:20); the role of the Holy Spirit in understanding Scripture (John 14:16a, John 14:26, John 16:7-15, 1 Corinthians 2:10-13); the transformation of the believer which enables biblical understanding, (John 7:37-39; John 14:16b; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16); the guidance of leaders (apostles, pastors, deacons, teachers) and the tested witness of the Church through the ages (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 1 Timothy 3:1-15). Add to this the church fathers, the church councils and the body of beliefs that comprise the historic doctrines of the Christian faith since the Church’s inception.

As in all other chapters, the author takes issue with long-held Christian understandings on human sexuality. At the bottom of page 78, and top of page 79, the author states: “Different interpretations of the Bible over the years have both affirmed sexuality as a part of God’s gracious creation and regarded sexuality as the very nature of original sin.” She may be referencing some Catholic doctrine in this statement, but regarding sexuality as the very nature of original sin is not a Protestant doctrine. Original sin was rooted in disobedience, not in sexuality.

The reader is introduced to what has been called “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral”—Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Actually this four-point way of interpreting Scripture is not a formula of John Wesley’s, but one extracted from the teachings of Wesley by Albert Outler, a well-recognized United Methodist scholar. While these four tools can be helpful as we study Scripture, we need to remember that John Wesley claimed to be, “a man of one book.” And anyone who reads Wesley’s sermons will find them to be held together by scripture passages, quoted one after another.

Our author does quote from The Book of Discipline regarding the significance of the Bible as “…both a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.” An excellent statement.

While seeming to acknowledge the statement from the Discipline, the text goes on to say that “These statements indicate that there are many ways to approach the Scriptures…” The author tells the reader to allow the authors of the Bible to, “be as human as we are.” She indicated that, “We draw our interpretation upon the long tradition of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and who wrote what they believed to be the truth.” (Italics mine.)

The author goes on to make application of the components of the quadrilateral in ways that take license with that formula for understanding Scripture. She writes:

We are at the same time encouraged to bring reason to the task. Humanity continues to explore and to learn. Science continues to discover new truth about creation and the universe. Reason aids us in new understandings of ourselves, including our sexuality. Experience shapes us as it has shaped our forebears in new ways. All of these affect our own experience of the Holy Spirit speaking to us and through us, sometimes with a new voice in our contemporary world.

Her last statement seems to indicate that she embraces the notion that the Holy Spirit can lead us to reinterpret scripture to accommodate the culturally accepted behavior of our time – most notably sex outside of marriage including homosexual practice. In this view, the work of the Holy Spirit is revealing new truth, which may contradict truth in the original scriptures. This view rejects Jesus’ own words that the Holy Spirit will “teach us all things, and bring to your remembrance all things” which Jesus has said and taught. (John 14:26).

Most of Christendom differs with this understanding of “new truth” and a “new voice.” The teachings of the Word of God have stood the test of centuries and we still find it to be “…the power of God unto salvation”; and we yet find, as stated in The Book of Discipline, and quoted by our author, “Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.”

Our author mentions the value of the spiritual lives of individuals and communities of Christians over the years in shaping our understanding of Scripture. There is significance in knowing the history, style of writing and authorship as we expand our knowledge of the Biblical text. However, it is equally important to know the source of those study helps. Are they orthodox, conservative, evangelical, liberal, progressive, womanist, feminist or liberationist? This will determine the viewpoint under which you are studying. The theology of the writers must be examined in order to know the outcome that is determined.

The final three pages of this chapter swings back to the same conversation this book revisits over and over…a new ethic for a new day. The determination to alter biblical teaching regarding human sexuality and practices is obviously the intent of this study. Here are quotes from several sources that show this to be so. From the bottom of page 84:

With these tools of interpretation and the desire to grow in understanding of what God is saying to us in the twenty-first century, we need to examine the issues of human sexuality using the Bible as a primary guide in seeking insight for ourselves and for our witness in the world. Given the differing views of sexuality among the many writers and interpreters of Scripture over the centuries, it is difficult to write a rule book for sexual conduct that takes into account that historical diversity and also speaks to the reality most of us experience today.

For followers of Jesus Christ who accept the teaching of Scripture as authoritative for faith and practice, no new sexual ethic is needed. The Scripture informs our experience, not the other way around.

From the top of page 85, quoting Maxine Beach from The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia: Part 2: Interpretation & Authority: 

In spite of the long history of diverse interpretations of Holy Scriptures, Christians agree that the Bible was inspired by God. But what does ‘inspired’ mean? The word comes from the Latin for ‘breathe,’ the root of the word ‘spirit,’ and literally means ‘breathed into.’ If we agree the Bible is divinely inspired, does that mean that God dictated every word? Breathed it into the minds and hearts of the writers? Gave it to them in visions? Might it mean that each writer interpreted God based on the inspiration of an experience of the divine? Do we understand that angry, vengeful, or sexist passages are also divinely inspired? Can something divinely inspired be less than perfect? Is Scripture ‘holy’ because it is perfect, or because it contains the faith and practices necessary for salvation?

Ms. Beach both affirms and denies the inspiration of Scripture in her rambling questions. Her suggestions almost ridicule the process used by God (whatever the means) to transmit the Word of God to His people. If we believe the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” and authoritative for faith and practice, then can we not accept the teachings of the Bible and cease looking for ways to falsify or change what God has said?

At the bottom of page 85, Brubaker makes very clear her purpose in calling for the development of a “new sexual ethic.” She quotes from the work of Barbara Lee, a Lutheran who speaks and writes concerning attitudes toward human sexuality in contemporary culture

To relate to each other as whole human beings, we need to develop and live by a Sexual Ethic that celebrates sex while treating it with moral integrity. An ethic that begins by recognizing that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, or all marital status and of all physical capacities (italics mine), have the right to experience sex as a healthy and life giving part of their existence.

There is nothing ethical or moral in this statement. It totally ignores scripture passages where God states what is immoral and unethical. Lee’s remarks quoted here by Brubaker would have us totally dismiss clear biblical teaching about human sexuality.

Page 86 infers that asking “What would Jesus do?” might bring us to a clearer and differing understanding than that which has been embraced by Christendom since the formation of the early church. Drawing Jesus Christ into the equation at this point somehow suggests that the One who died for the sins of the world would have a view of human sexuality and sexual practices that differ from that which is modeled in creation, defined in Scripture and witnessed by the Spirit of God. In the next chapter our author indicates we will be “seeking to form a sexual ethic for our time.”

Chapter 6: Developing a Sexual Ethic for Our Time

This chapter begins in the same spirit of earlier ones with the declaration, “We are aware of conflicting views….” The first segment of the chapter repeatedly asserts that we need to find, “…a sexual ethic for our time.” Why are we in conflict? Why do we need a “new” sexual ethic for our time? Because of rejection of God’s moral and ethical standard and His clearly revealed plan regarding human sexuality?

The author speaks of people who are “marginalized because of their sexual orientation.” All have equal rights under the law. And, religious freedom allows the Church to maintain its Biblical positions on sexual conduct within the body of believers…applied to such practices as adultery, fornication, homosexuality or other related areas. The author asks, regarding sexual orientation, “What does the Bible say to help us navigate these issues of modern-day sexuality?” We would respond that there is no “olden day” or “modern day” sexuality—only human sexuality as created by God and ordered by His Word.

 Gender Issues in the Bible and Contemporary Times

The focus in this section is on the roles and relationships between men and women. The author presents her egalitarian perspective, with no distinction in roles, as the superior position. She infers that the Biblical, traditionally held perspective is outdated with comments like, “Some continue to believe that a husband is head of the household.” And, with seeming incredulity, “I attended a wedding where the bride promised to obey her husband in this manner.”

A note from The Woman’s Study Bible (written by women for women), gives insight into egalitarianism:

The dictionary defines an egalitarian as one who believes in the equality of all people. However, in contemporary society many insist that “equality” means that no distinction in roles can exist. The Bible presents equality and role distinction as different but compatible aspects of human existence. There is a difference in who a person is and what a person does…. Each individual stands before God created in His image, yet, at the same time, a sinner in need of salvation (Gen. 1:27; Rom. 3:23). Therefore each person has at the same time both an infinite equality of worth before God and in the midst of others and a total equality of need for Jesus Christ as Savior. Yet, out of the same “lump of clay” called humanity, the Creator has chosen to make vessels of various kinds and for various purposes according to His will (Is. 29:16). Therefore, in contrast to the world’s view, biblical egalitarians should not only recognize the equality of all people but also recognize God’s right to assign to those people different functions and roles (Ezek. 33:17).

This is applicable to men and women.

The author fails to give a clear understanding of the more traditional view which holds to the equality of men and women, both created in the image and likeness of God, yet bearing God’s image in different ways. The excerpt below from The Woman’s Study Bible sheds insight on the traditional, biblical, Christian understanding of the term complementarity—equal but different:

Male and female were created as equal and complementary expressions of the image of God. Both bear His image fully, though in different ways. Their different roles in relationship to each other provide a picture of who God is and how He relates to His people.

Christ Jesus is equal with God the Father, yet submissive and responsive to Him (Phi. 2:6-8). God the Father loves the Son and exalts Him. The pattern is repeated in the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ provides loving, servant leadership; the church responds with respect and submission as Christ’s “Bride” (Eph. 5:22-33). Another counterpart to the picture is the relationship between church leaders and local bodies of believers (Heb. 13:7, 17).

Sin has distorted the relationship between man and woman at every level, but believers are called to relate according to the Creator’s plan instituted in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world (Gen. 2-15-25).

While much more could be said on the topic of the relationship and roles of men and women, hopefully the information provided helps the reader see the validity of the traditional, Biblical understanding of men and women and how they are instructed in Scripture to relate to one another. There is no demeaning of women, or men, in this model, and, as Paul indicated, there is a holy mystery within it that we may not always understand—or even want to embrace—yet, it creates a remarkable, undeniable bond.

 Body Image and Health

Regardless of your theological viewpoint (conservative/liberal, traditionalist/progressive) all would likely agree that Psalm 139:13-14, opening this section, is appreciated by all, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” All would probably concur that our bodies are a gift from God who created us and called us good.

Even so, we would differ with the author’s point of view that there are no distinctions, other than obvious physical characteristics, between male and female. And we would disagree with her perspective that certain characteristics, endemic to the two sexes, should not be taught to children. The author identifies them as stereotypes, while others see them an innate, God-given traits.

There is mention of the secular, worldly standards by which men and women are judged. Yet, while the church may fall prey to these portrayals, they do not represent a Christian worldview and should be rejected.

The author states, “Both ends of the female continuum suggest a sense of sexual shame.” She claims the virgin may be ashamed of her sexual desires while the loose woman may have a sense of shame in regard to her sexual behavior. The difference between shame and guilt is identified, “Guilt is the conscience telling us that we have done something wrong.” While it is said, “With shame, actions are not the whole story. Our very beings are at fault.”

This all seems to be circular reasoning and quite invalid. In truth, if we commit sinful actions, we are guilty and should experience a sense of shame—unless we are beyond feeling shame or guilt. Guilt produces a sense of shame because our sin is against God. Repentance and forgiveness remove our sense of guilt and takes away our shame.

In the final paragraph, a statement from one of the Social Principles is referenced. “We therefore urge that every effort be made to eliminate sex-role stereotypes in activity and portrayal of family life and in all aspects of voluntary and compensatory participation in the church and society.” The Social Principles are not binding upon United Methodists, and often express diverse viewpoints. It is improbable that most United Methodists would support this social principle.

Relationships and Intimacy

The center point of this section rests in the statement: “Christian faith is about loving relationships with those near to us, with all persons and all of creation.” I found that many statements in this section required an addendum to give the authenticity and truth needed. I will put these additions or modifications in italics for easy identification. For the statement above, a biblically balanced statement would read: Christian faith is about forgiveness of sin and transformation that puts us in right relationship with God, humankind and all creation.

Another statement reads: “We may have differing interpretations of some of the things Jesus said, but the New Testament seems very clear that Jesus put relationships first.” Jesus gives clarity as to what those relationships would entail in John 15 when He said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. …My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you”

Although it seems unrelated to sexuality, the text speaks of the need to “…become as humble as little children who know nothing more than to be true to themselves (Matthew 18:1-5). This teaching encourages us to accept the good gift of our sexuality.” To which we need to add, “as defined in God’s Word.”

Our author writes: “Righteousness has to do with the quality of our relationships—the identity we carry with us into relationship and the new identity that becomes ours in relationship.” To which we respond: “Righteousness is imputed by God to those who are in Christ and who love Him and keep His commandments. ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ 2 Corinthians 5:17”

Covenant is lifted up as another way to speak of relationships. “The notion of relationship as grounded in covenant and commitment has come to be a part of a Christian understanding of sexuality and the intimacy shared by two persons, families, and communities.” And to the “two persons” we add, “a man and a woman.” The author references the statement on marriage in the Social Principles and acknowledges that it states that marriage is between a man and a woman. With that said, we move to the next section.

Changing Views of Marriage

Four and a half pages are devoted to this segment, which is a major section of the book advocating for changing the Biblical understanding of marriage, pre-marital sex and homosexual practice.

Our author begins by citing that the weight of sexual purity falls more upon the woman than upon the man. God’s righteous requirements regarding sex apply equally to both sexes. It is the sinful, fallen nature that equates more responsibility to the woman. The man’s abdication of responsibility makes him less than God’s intention for him. It places the woman in the place of having power to say “yes” or “no.” It is the Christian woman’s commitment to sexual purity that calls the man back to his God-given responsibility to a wife and children.

A couple of paragraphs on page 95 merit italics to emphasize their development of a new social ethic on human sexuality.

In the 1960s and 1970s, times changed. Gender and racial equality brought about new opportunities for women and minorities. At the same time what some called the ‘sexual revolution’ changed sexual expectations. More people seemed to opt for living together before marriage. Many people of faith who continued to seek guidance from the Scriptures began to ask new questions. …Marriage for many women and men became more of an equal partnership, each sharing their gifts for building up the other.

The concept of partnership and mutual respect was a concept among Christian couples despite the sexual revolution of which they chose not to be a part. The confused thinking about sexual practices that permeated the rebellious culture as a whole, did not devastate the faithful Christian community. Our author writes:

At present, there are many couples that make the decision to become intimate before marriage. People are waiting longer to marry, and some deny the need for marriage at all. What will determine a sexual ethic or covenant for such couples? How can the church minister to them? At the same time faithful same-sex couples seek the blessing of marriage for their covenant. How do we in the church respond to their desire to affirm their covenant?

The answer is what the majority of people within the United Methodist Church have given for the past 40 years. We affirm that all persons are of sacred worth, but that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching. We maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. We call our youth to sexual purity until marriage. We cannot affirm what God does not affirm. We are not judgmental, but we make right judgments. To do otherwise would be to harm not bless God’s people.

An appeal is made again to the actions of Jesus in various occasions where He encountered sinful behavior. He never condoned the sin, but moved to deliver people from their sins—often telling them to “go and sin no more.” Robert Gagnon, in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, writes,

Jesus did not overturn any prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic law. He did not regard sexual ethics as having diminished importance in relation to other demands of the kingdom. …Clearly, he did not adopt more liberal positions on other matters of sexual ethics such as divorce and adultery. Instead, he was more demanding than the Torah, not less. …The portrayal of a Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew who was open to homosexual practice is simply ahistorical. All the evidence leads in the opposite direction.

There is an appeal to baptism as being a sealed deal for those living in sexual sin. We are not saved by baptism, but by the blood of Jesus Christ that “cleanses us from all sin.” Baptism is a sign of that covenant relationship in Christ.

Next, the author quotes revisionist theologians Walter Wink and Daniel Helminiak who attempts to discredit and reinterpret Old and New Testament passages that clearly prohibit homosexual acts.

Their arguments are farfetched and hollow and fly in the face of the clear biblical prohibitions against same sex acts. This section ends with the sentence, “Helminiak’s ultimate conclusion is that the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se.”

In answer to these two revisionist theologians, let us consider a few conclusions drawn from the Scriptures by Dr.Robert Gagnon, who offers a comprehensive analysis of the biblical texts relating to homosexuality in The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Contrary to Helminiak’s conclusion that “the Bible does not prioritize a view of same-sex relationships as negative per se,” Gagnon points out that in the Leviticus 18 and 20 listings of condemned sexual practices, only the act of sexual intercourse between males is designated as “an abomination.” Gagnon writes:

Homosexual conduct was not merely prohibited but also regarded as a supreme offense, a penalty consistent with its description as an ‘abomination.’” Leviticus 18 states that this, along with other forbidden sexual practices, if not dealt with, “…would result in the expulsion of the whole community from the land of Canaan, just as the previous inhabitants had been expelled for such practices.

Gagnon rightly concludes:

“Christians do not have the option of simply dismissing an injunction because it belongs to the Holiness Code (a designation for the O.T. prohibitions against things deemed harmful). The same God who gave the laws of the Mosaic dispensation continues to regulate conduct through the Spirit in believers. …Paul himself, the very apostle who proclaimed salvation in Christ ‘apart from the law,’ clearly believed that there was considerable continuity in the divine will across the two covenants in matters of sexual ethics.”

Gagnon continues:

The commands of God, and not the consensus of the surrounding culture, must shape the behavior of God’s people. The relation of church/synagogue to culture is at least in part, supposed to be reforming rather than conforming. …The position adopted by Paul in the New Testament is not an aberration but is consistent with the heritage present in his Scriptures. The two covenants are in agreement.

Reproductive Health

On page 89 of the textbook, the section on “Body Image and Health” began with quotations from Psalm 139. As we look at the topic of reproductive health, it would serve us well to quote more extensively from this Psalm.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:11-16

As in previous sections, the author jumps from one assumption to another—some are viable options—others are not. There is a sense of being snatched back and forth between truth and error. By all means, both husbands and wives have a say in family planning, and family planning is an important component in the well-being of children. Studies have shown that the best environment for raising children is the two-parent home. Yet there are times when single parents are either left to raise children alone or opt to do so. This is a viable, and often necessary, option. God, one’s friends and certainly a Christian community can come alongside a single parent and help make their task easier and more effective. Most Christians (and non-Christians) would concur that raising a child in a two-parent home headed by a father and a mother is the best option. Studies regarding the psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being of children support this viewpoint.

The author speaks of contraception, primarily from a Catholic viewpoint, but concludes that family planning is by-in-large a choice belonging to individuals and couples. A Social Principles statement is drawn upon to advocate for “access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information.” It is important to understand that “comprehensive” means including the option to obtain an abortion.

The claim is made that “United Methodist Women and other church entities have addressed the issue of reproductive health for many years.” Sadly, the advocacy of the UMWN (formerly Women’s Division) in this area has been entirely Pro-Choice, never Pro-Life. The WD helped to form the RCAR (Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights), later renamed RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). This agency advocates for abortion rights into the 9th month of pregnancy, for non-parental notification for abortions for minors and for the distribution of contraceptives to children and teens without parental consent or notification. After years of effort, the United Methodist Church voted at General Conference 2016 for all boards and agencies to disassociate from RCRC. The UMWN did so with great reluctance and a letter of apology to RCRC.

While our author continues through a few additional paragraphs with the struggle to address the pro-life, pro-choice issue, would it not be best, in light of Psalm 139 and similar passages, and given the value Jesus placed upon children, to err on the side of Life?

Rape and Abuse

In this section, the author identifies various sexually-related concerns we have in today’s culture, just as were present in past cultures. Rape and child molestation in various settings is reprehensible, destroying the lives of children, youth, women and men. Sex-trafficking is spiraling, as is sexual exploitation of children, women, boys and men through pornography, prostitution and other deviate practices. The Church has not had the impact upon the culture it should have. Nor will we if we continue to wrestle with human sexuality issues as if God’s Word has not provided us with clear answers for ourselves and our culture.

Closing

Right down to the end, this study book continues to advocate for a new sexual ethic for our time. It refuses to accept the clear Biblical plan for human sexuality and the family. It seeks to construct something better than what God created, and what is upheld in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

The answer to the sexual ills of our society will not be found in the Church’s accommodation of the sexual revolution, but in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel. The scripture passage referenced in the “Closing,” regarding God’s love has encapsulated within it this passage, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loves us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We must deal with the sin issue—far beyond the social justice issue.

If we believe, as our author states, “…that God has created each of us, loves us unconditionally, and desires that we love others as God in Christ loves us,” will we not hold one another accountable to the truth? Our wholeness and full personhood is not in the sanctioning of sinful practices contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. It is realized through transforming faith in Jesus’ atoning death.

Personal Closing

Through the years, I have shed tears over some UMW studies, because of the radical theological content, the secular/progressive worldview and the biased social and political perspectives reflected in materials prepared by UMW National (formerly Women’s Division) for the organization of United Methodist Women.

Reading this study provides a clear witness as to why so many women have abandoned their mother’s and grandmother’s organization. Countless United Methodist Women have called for reform and accountability of UMW National over a 40-year timeframe, to no avail. Consequently, the UMW has been losing members at a rate three times faster than the decline of the United Methodist Church overall in the U.S. How sad that UMW National forges on with its radical theological, political and social agenda with the funds these women trustingly send in for “missions.” Yet, at General Conference 2016, UMW staff and committee members rallied to defeat a petition to, “Encourage United Methodist Women in efforts to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their local communities.” This petition was defeated, despite the fact that the theological task for the UMC is, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The failure to adopt the petition at General Conference 2016 to make evangelism a part of our mission goal spoke volumes!

I retired from Renew/Good News in 2008. Yet, I am drawn in once again to address the egregious nature of this book, The Bible and Human Sexuality, because of its bold, audacious attempt to influence United Methodist Women with its revisionist, progressive, radical views on such topics as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth, abortion, the nuclear family and homosexual practice. It is hitting a most significant part of the church—its’ women—broadside, in an attempt to sink their faith, “once for all delivered to the saints.” It is my hope that God has enabled me to sound an effective alarm.

It was challenging for me to prepare this analysis of The Bible and Human Sexuality. After spending over 30 prime years of my life challenging the radical perspectives of UMWN on political, social and theological issues, I was so done with it. Yet, the impetus that compelled me to get involved in the first place, was the same that compelled me to prepare an analysis of this study—love and appreciation for the women of the United Methodist Church. They deserve better than this attempt to undermine their faith, values and commitment to truth! My prayer is that in some way, this gift of my time to them will enlighten them and provide a resource to help them evaluate the content of this destructive book.

Christian apologist Ravi Zachariah says that Truth is what unifies our diversity. And he concludes, “When the Bible is presented in its beauty and its cogency, it is compelling.” Can I get an “Amen”? –Faye Short