The Theological Corruption of Church Women United
by Donna F. G. Hailson
Jean Williams left Church Women United’s World Community Day service feeling “uncomfortable” and “offended.” Her two friends—who, like Jean, are United Methodists—had never seen anything quite like this observance, entitled “Gathering Seed from a Medieval Motheroot.” They, said Jean, were simply “speechless . . . shocked.”
The ninety-minute ecumenical event took place on November 2, 1997, at the Yale Avenue Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Services, using the CWU-produced leaders’ guides and worship bulletins, were held the same week in more than a thousand churches across the country.
For Jean, the defining moment came during what she perceived as a belittling of the Lord’s Supper. “In a ritual of remembering,” she said, “they referred to the chalice as containing the menstrual blood of women, and they said the bread was made with old raisins representing the dried-up dreams of women. I thought my friends would up and leave at this point but we stuck it out. We wanted to see exactly what they were going to do. Three women near us, however, did just look at each other, get up and leave.”
All in all, Jean concluded, “it seemed to me the service was a mini-Re-Imagining. The three of us who attended went back to our church, and our women’s group agreed with us that we should no longer support CWU with our money or with our presence.”
Little did they know to what extent radical feminist theology has been creeping into the national, ecumenical organization Church Women United. With a little more exposure they would have encountered prayer offered to the “Universal Mother,”1 calls for the abandonment of fall/redemption theology because it is said to be linked with “shame, fear and guilt,”2 and the lauding as “prophetic voices” and “sacred storytellers” of those who praise the rebellion of Eve in the Garden of Eden,3 encourage goddess worship and syncretism,4 suggest that Christian missions are an imposition,5 and dismiss of the biblical concept of an omnipotent God as a “phallocratic” fantasy.6
How is it that so many women like Jean Williams—some of whom have devoted decades to CWU—are being caught completely off guard by this advancing anti-biblical agenda? Just what is Church Women United, and what is it proffering to church women unaware?
In the Beginning
In December 1941, as the country was still reeling from news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, women gathered in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to constitute a movement that would become Church Women United. The organization began as the United Council of Church Women, which, in 1950, joined with eleven other interdenominational agencies to form the National Council of Churches. It was known as United Church Women until 1966, when it split off from the NCC to form an autonomous entity: Church Women United. Today, CWU encourages the participation of individuals from Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches in its 1,400 local units across the United States, 52 state units (including Greater Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico), and a national unit with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C. and the United Nations.7
Church Women United works to influence public policy especially on behalf of women and children, contributes financially to self-development projects for women in a number of countries, and seeks to partner with like-minded groups for work on “justice and peace issues.” It is best known, however, for the three annual worship services it sponsors. The World Day of Prayer (observed the first Friday in March), instituted in 1887, has been officially sponsored in the United States by CWU since its founding in 1941. Every four years, representatives from World Day of Prayer countries meet to decide which nations will write the program for the following years in the cycle.8 According to the CWU website, the World Day of Prayer is to focus on “confession of individual and national sins with offerings that appropriately express contrition.” May Fellowship Day (the first Friday in May) was first observed in 1933 and focuses on “creative and healing relationships in local communities.” World Community Day (the first Friday in November) was initiated in 1943 and centers on issues related to peace. Worship bulletins, leaders’ guides, Bible studies and education/action materials for these services are made available in English, Spanish and Braille.9
Financial support for CWU comes from offerings received in these services and from individual gifts and denominational support. The seven denominations of the mainline contribute to the organization, as do other church bodies such as the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, the Salvation Army, the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites, the Moravians, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgians).10
The World Day of Prayer
The materials written for the World Day of Prayer (WDP) are almost consistently the most orthodox. It would appear that this may be the case because the writers are usually from outside the United States and, perhaps, not as influenced by the increasing radical spiritual feminist agenda in this country. With some exceptions, which bear some examination, the WDP materials give credence to the Bible, recognize the existence of sin and the need for repentance, and assert that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ.
One must note, however, the tendency in many of the packets to insist that all of the world’s people are the children of God.11 The problem here, of course, is that the Bible is clear in asserting that, while God is the Creator of all persons, only those who have received Jesus as Savior are the children of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1–10; Rom. 8:14–17). Membership in God’s family is by grace alone. Christians are those who have been adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5).
The most serious concerns about WDP materials from the decade of the ’90s, however, focus on the packet produced for use in 1997. As the May Fellowship Day and World Community Day materials are intricately linked with this World Day of Prayer, we will follow them through to detail the progression through the year.
Sowing New Seeds
The writers begin by reworking the biblical parables of the sower (Matt. 13:1–23; Mark 4:1–20; Luke 8:1–15) and the growing seed (Mark 4:26–29) to convert the seeds from the intended gospel and the kingdom of God to human beings (or, more particularly, women). The writers, CWU members in Korea, speak of women who have been sown as seeds in the hard road of the demilitarized zone, in the stony ground of the patriarchal and Confucian society of Korea, and in the thornbushes of materialism, systemic oppression and injustice. This unreceptive ground, they say, “reveals to us that even in the church women cannot be partners with men.”12
In a litany based on a sort of “victimization theology,” women—assuming the roles of “seeds”—confess that they have played into their own victimization by “taking the easy way in a patriarchal society,” by not resisting “the system which sees women as beautiful possessions” and by feeling hopeless in the face of sexual slavery.13 In an accompanying Bible study, the CWU writers proclaim that “fertilizers” for the development of the “seeds,” in the Korean context, include the women’s movement and the ecological movement. Nowhere mentioned as “fertilizer” is the Church and nowhere mentioned is personal evangelism (the sowing of the gospel in the individual human heart).14 The deliberateness of this is made clear in a song offered up in the worship service that asserts that people will become “a new creation” by “meeting each other” and “by meeting with the earth.”15
In the subsequent May Fellowship Day (MFD), women declare in the worship service—through a responsive reading—that they will be responsible for this “world of the new creation.” A leader asks: “Women, what will we bring to birth in the church of the new creation?” The answers: a disdain for power, divestment of wealth and status, a sharing of resources and “an unbreakable bond in the Spirit that binds as one all brothers and sisters, transcending . . . religion . . . that treats no personal preference as aberration or handicap. . . . Blessed are we when we give birth to the Word made flesh in us.”16
In the May Fellowship Day materials, the image of the amaranth seed is introduced, and participants are reminded that the amaranth was at the mystical heart of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan cultures. The writers of this program (CWU women from Arizona) and the writers of the succeeding World Community Day program (the CWU Celebrations Committee) suggest that just as the male oppressors—“the Spanish empire-builders”—sought to destroy the mystical seed of the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas and just as the male oppressors—European church leaders—sought to destroy the mystical seed of the medieval women mystics (Hildegard of Bingen and others), so male oppressors today will try to destroy the rediscovered mystical (linked with pagan) seed CWU is celebrating.
The writers offer CWU as the soil in which to plant the seeds of “the revolutionary values of Jesus.” These seeds are called “scriptural seeds” and Bible verses are read. These switchbacks keep participants off balance with moves from the mustard seed to the amaranth seed, from Bible verses as seeds to women as seeds.
Participants then celebrate the seeds CWU has planted in the past and lift CWU as the sower of “seeds” who are spread abroad in the land with the gospel of the new creation.
Seeds Fully Grown
The seeds finally grow to fruition in the World Community Day (WCD). In this, the writers draw “seed from a medieval Motheroot”—the European women mystics—claiming that “the suppression of their art, ideas and spirituality was a prelude of the domination and colonialism that would increasingly subjugate people of color, labeling our/their religion as pagan, denying our/their humanity as persons with souls.”17
The final worship guide celebrates the creation-centered spirituality “rediscovered” in Hildegard of Bingen and other European women mystics by modern theologians such as Creation Spirituality guru Matthew Fox. The CWU materials then go on to reject the doctrine of original sin and to link fall/redemption theology with patriarchy, shame, abuse, and fear. Participants are introduced to Wisdom Theology (a la the Re-Imagining Community). Encouraged is the use of the mandala, which is said to be “the primary means in which the human and the universe are brought together.” (In Eastern and other traditions, the mandala symbolizes the mystic’s journey to the center, which is union with the divine.)18
Women are again challenged to usher in the “New Creation” and to “hold men accountable to the work of the New Creation.” It is interesting to note here that pronouns referring to Jesus are given in the lowercase, while the writings of the women mystics (now said to be the “Wisdom of the Motheroot” leading “into the joy of the New Creation”) are referred to as the “Word” (uppercase).19 The “God-head” is portrayed as embracing all “just as a circle embraces all that is within it,”20 and the interconnectedness of “the divine, the cosmos and humanity” is asserted.21 Jesus is described as the “greening power.”22 And Hildegard of Bingen is said to have referred to Christ as the “green man.”23 The Green Man is identified as symbolizing “the union of humanity and the vegetable world” in William Anderson’s Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth.24 And, indeed, the CWU writers go on to assert that green “is nature, the energy source which kept life ‘moist’ and showed God’s presence in earthly matters.”25 Lifted up for reverence are “creation . . . sensuality . . . non-hierarchical order—the circle.”26 (As we proceed through the CWU materials, the reader will note that the circle is often lifted as an important image.)
The service concludes with participants lifting icons or their own artwork in celebration of “resistance and creativity.”27
In other World Day of Prayer materials, one finds traditional Native American spirituality, creation-centered worship and earth symbols.28 There are calls for a new world order or a global sisterhood.29 And there are suggestions of panentheism found in calls for recognized interconnections between persons. This is seen, for example, in the 1998 WDP Bible study wherein the writers set up the story of the Good Samaritan by insisting: “We are all connected as God is in [my emphasis] each person. The Samaritan is a model of this ‘connected’ love.” The writers go on to identify “a neighbor or friend,” in this context, as “anyone who needs help.” Thus, it is implied that the indwelling of God is extended to include those outside the Christian community of faith.30
May Fellowship Day
The sense of God as a panentheistic or pantheistic oneness carries through into the May Fellowship Day materials where one finds, for example, prayer offered to the “all-encompassing God”31 and reference made to “the divine within.” “[W]hen we allow the divine within us to reach out to the divinity of Christ,” it is said, “healing happens.”32
In several of the worship services, including the 1996 MFD version, a song is used, entitled “Weave,” which speaks of persons in their diversity making up one tapestry. The closing line proclaims, “Now the Christ in me greets the Christ in thee in one great family.” This salutation is comparable to one employed by the Re-Imagining Community at its 1993 conference, where, in a responsive reading, the leader began, “[W]e greet the place of God’s presence in one another . . . I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . there we are one. Namaste.” Namaste is a Hindu greeting wherein an individual brings his or her palms together and offers a slight bow of the head. When shared with another, it symbolizes the recognition of the divine within each person.33
In the “Human Touch, Divine Healing” MFD packet, crystals are suggested for use as appropriate symbols of healing, and the physician Bernie Siegel and death-and-dying guru Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are singled out for thanks from an elite group of “healers.”34 Siegel and Kübler-Ross, darlings of the New Age movement, have been very public about their use of channelers and spirit guides.
World Community Day
But the theology most blatantly divergent from the biblical Christian track is found in the World Community Day materials.
In the 1995 WCD worship service, for example, participants are called on to praise “Mother God of all the Earth” and “Universal Mother” who, in turn, is asked to “cover the world with [her] sweet rain so that all of humanity can huddle together and know the warmth of [her] loving arms.” This “Spring of living waters” it is said, “brings forth life, as if from the protective embryonic fluids, nurturing and cleansing as it continually flows . . . the water is as new as the mother’s water breaking. It is as protective as the embryonic fluids. It is as life sustaining as the cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name.”
In this context, John 7:37–38 is read, wherein Jesus speaks of the “streams of living water” as “the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.”
This Scripture is placed alongside the words of Kahlil Gibran and Chief Seattle, of the Suquamish Nation. The latter instructs: “The earth is our mother.” Children are said to be “the fruit of God’s labor,” and the “Doxology” is sung to these words: “Praise Mother God of all the earth, Praise Child the source of life to come. . . .”35
The graphic used to illustrate this service is that of a cornucopia filled with children. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects identifies the cornucopia as the “Horn of Plenty. It was originally the horn of the Great Mother. . . . All good things poured forth from the hollow horn, which became a symbolic prayer to the Goddess for ongoing fertility of the earth and an abundance of its fruits.”36
The theme of earth as mother is found again in “Discovering the Sacred Circle,” the WCD materials for 1992. Here, quoting Sioux Chief Standing Bear, participants are told “the Indian, as well as all other creatures . . . were sustained by the common mother—earth. The [Indian] was therefore kin to all living things. . . .” Used, in this context, is the rewritten hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” with its references to brother sun, sister moon, brother wind, sister water, mother earth and brother fire. Participants call on the “Great Spirit,” pray to the four directions, and honor the animal signs for those directions.37
The writers of these materials say they were designed “to review our understanding of the life, spirit and theology of Native Americans. It is an opportunity to enable reflection and repentance of the sin of destroying the uniqueness of ethnic groups throughout our land.”38
The service concludes with a responsive reading detailing the significance of the circle in Indian belief. The Reader says:
Indians believe that everything the Great Spirit does is done in a circle. The canopy of the sky is round and the earth is round like a ball. The wind in its greatest power, whirls. The seasons form a great circle in their changing and return. The sun comes forth and goes down. The moon does the same and both the sun and the moon are round. Birds make their nests in circles. A person’s life is a circle from childhood to childhood. And so it is in everything where power moves. Tipis are round like the nests of birds and they are always set in a circle; therefore, the nation’s hoop is a nest of many nests. In the old days it was believed that power came to the Indians from the sacred hoop of the nations and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished.
All respond: “Spirit of God, mend the hoop of your people.” The Reader concludes, “Let us, Holy Spirit, follow the great circle, the roundness of power, and be at one with the moon and the sun and the circling ripples of water.”39
This circle motif is repeated in the two most recent CWU services. In the 1998 MFD materials, the emphasis throughout is on circles (the circle of the sun; circles of hospitality; circle of one’s life; blessed circles of giving and receiving; expanding, ever-widening, unbroken, welcoming circles; Mary’s circle; the God of Sacred Circles and the circle of life said to be repeatedly broken because of the sin of exclusion) and cycles (cycles of the seasons; cycles of the year).40
Radical feminist thought also is based on the great round, the cosmic egg, the wheel of time, the infinite womb. The circle is a feminine sign—the symbol of oneness, the cosmos, eternity and the sun. It is often used to represent the concept of deity as an unbroken circle, encompassing all reality. The circle is also associated with the idea of sacred ceremonial space wherein all participants are equal. An accompanying graphic, used throughout these MFD materials, is a circular mandala which serves to illuminate the circular/cyclic view of life, nature and time.
CWU notes that the symbol is “created in a rose window motif.” According to The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects: “The rose window was essentially a female-symbolic mandala, expressive of the spirit of Mary as mystic rose, Wreath of Roses, Mother of the Rosary, or Queen of the Most Holy Rose Garden . . . the rose was a female sexual symbol expressing the symbol of Mary’s physical gateway, source of the Redeemer’s life.”41
And indeed, Mary is celebrated in this service through a reading of the Magnificat. CWU invites those who wish to “stretch their understanding of God and Mary,” to use Miriam Therese Winter’s translation of Luke 1:46–55 entitled the “Canticle of Mary” included in her book, The Gospel According to Mary: A New Testament for Women. Also contained in the MFD materials is the song “We Are Dancing Mary’s Circle,” offered to the tune of “Jacob’s Ladder.”42
In the 1998 World Community Day, the words “unlimited solidarity” have been introduced. The writer asserts that, through Abraham and Sarah, “God initiated a new relationship with the world that was based on unlimited solidarity.” CWU invites all to “gather at the great altar of God to celebrate our diversity and to claim our birthright of oneness in Christ.”
The CWU writer repeatedly issues this call insisting that “all have a place . . . all people will be united . . . to form a new community of unlimited solidarity . . . in God’s loving vision of a world where all are embraced, as multi-cultural and intra-cultural bridges are built among us . . . Jesus’ radical inclusivity means that within the community of faith there can be no dividing walls. Nobody is left outside, alienated from the household of God. All the people from the four corners of the earth are bound together in the one Spirit of God’s love in Christ Jesus.” Further, she insists that “The Great Spirit” lives “in all beings,” that all will “sit in the circle together—the circle of listening; the circle of speaking our truth; the circle of peace.” And the CWU writer affirms Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung’s assertion that the spirits of ancestors and indigenous peoples also embody the Holy Spirit.43
The Bible nowhere proclaims an “unlimited solidarity” nor does it affirm a “radical inclusiveness” of all of the world’s people. It does say that the gospel will be proclaimed to every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev. 14:6) and that the redeemed will come from every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev. 7:9). But parables such as that of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) and the sheep and the goats (Matt. 26:31–46) make it clear that not everyone will be included in the community of Christ Jesus. The Scriptures also clearly state that the Holy Spirit is a personal being who dwells within the Church on both an individual and collective basis (John 14:16–17; 1 Cor. 3:16–17,19; Eph. 2:21–22; Matt. 28:20; John 14:18,20; Rom. 8:9–10). But, again, God is not us. We are not God. We are not included in some all-encompassing impersonal god-force.
The Five Sacred Storytellers
The image of the four directions is repeated in the World Community Day. This is portrayed in the symbol of a cross within a circle, representing the four quarters, signifying the earth. Over these are placed five intertwining circles depicting, CWU notes, “the interconnectedness of the different perspectives” of five women theologians celebrated in these materials.
The five are Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, from Cuba; Mercy Amba Oduyoye, from Ghana; Dorothee Soelle, from Germany; Chung Hyun Kyung, from Korea; and Jose Hobday, of Seneca Iroquois descent. They are referred to collectively as “sacred storytellers whose prophetic voices are shaping our understanding of the ways that God is moving and transforming life all over this planet.”44 During the worship service, these women are honored for their contributions to theology, but little information is provided as to their beliefs. Their writings are described as “a Motherlode of creative and prophetic thinking for our time, designed to enhance our journey of faith.”45
As the following excerpts from the writings of the five will show, CWU participants will be honoring women in November of this year who—individually and sometimes collectively—reject Christian tradition; stress human experience over the revealed Word of God; claim that statements like “Christ is the Son of God” are part of a dying language; reject the idea of personal salvation through Jesus Christ; hold to beliefs in the oneness of all reality; claim that belief in the existence of an omnipotent God is a “phallocratic” fantasy; celebrate the rebellion of Eve in the Garden of Eden; demand the Church repent of its “homophobia”; lift creation spirituality over fall/redemption theology; encourage goddess worship and syncretism; and suggest that Christian missions are an imposition.
Four of these women were featured speakers at the first Re-Imagining Conference (all but Soelle). Four have connections with the ultra-liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City—Soelle was employed there as a professor of systematic theology; Oduyoye has been a Visiting Professor in World Christianity; Diaz and Chung took their doctorates there.
Oduyoye formerly served as a Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. A quick scan of her writings would suggest that she may be the most orthodox of the five featured theologians. Her work appears to focus primarily on peace and justice issues and the empowerment of women.
Soelle calls for a feminist revolution in society to replace what she sees as corrupt patriarchal structures that oppress women. She calls her readers to a mystical union with God a la Meister Eckhart, whose fourteenth-century writings were declared heretical by the Church.
In her book, The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, she writes,
It is meaningless . . . to use as a point of departure for our theology statements like “Christ is the Son of God” or “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. . . . This kind of deductive language is dying out in theology . . . even though fundamentalist Christians are doing their best to keep such language alive. . . . Theology begins with experience and sets experience over against the promise of a whole life, the promise of the Kingdom of God. . . . Redemption is not the granting of salvation to a specific individual. It is instead an occurrence that takes place in this world and for everyone of this world. . . . Protestantism has always stressed human sinfulness and our inability to change the conditions of our lives . . . [this is] internalized helplessness . . . why is it that human beings honor a God whose supreme quality is power, whose interest lies in subjection and who fears equality? . . . [Radical feminism is critical of these] phallocratic fantasies.
Soelle also celebrates the rebellion of Eve as liberation and suggests that people read the story as a “coming out. . . . Without Eve we would still be sitting in the trees. Without her curiosity we would not know what knowledge was.”
Soelle rejects the concepts of obedience, sacrifice and the yielding of self. She lifts instead solidarity, unity, oneness with all life, oneness with the All that is God. “[I]t is not a matter of a distant God exacting sacrifice and self-denial, but rather a matter of agreement and consent, of being at one with what is alive. . . . When this happens, solidarity will replace obedience as the dominant virtue. . . . There is ‘one world’ we have to believe in; there is a universal ‘wholeness’. . . .”46
Hobday has been employed as a part-time faculty member teaching Native American Spirituality at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS). Matthew Fox, a former Dominican silenced by his order for his unorthodox views and now a member of the Episcopal Church, is the founder of the ICCS and key spokesman for Creation Spirituality. Teaching along with him and Hobday has been the witch Starhawk. Fox’s New Age-laden theology celebrates panentheism rather than Christian theism, and the reincarnation in the mind of an archetypal Cosmic Christ rather than a salvific relationship with Jesus the Christ. Hobday’s theology appears to be a blend of traditional Native American Spirituality and Creation Spirituality.
Isasi-Diaz is Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University Theological School and formerly worked for CWU on the Ecumenical Action staff. She replaces the concept of the “kingdom of God” with the “kin-dom” of God, believing the former to be a “sexist word that presumes that God is male [and] . . . the concept of kingdom in our world today is both hierarchical and elitist. . . . The word kin-dom makes it clear that when the fullness of God becomes a day-to-day reality in the world at large—we will all be sisters and brothers—kin to each other.”
Diaz is a mujerista theologian, concerned with liberation as it relates to Hispanic women. In her book, En La Lucha, she writes,
For Latinas to talk about salvation, liberation and the coming of the kin-dom of God are one and the same thing. Liberation involves freedom, faith community and justice . . . mujerista theology does not shrink from claiming that the fusion of Christian, Amerindian, and African religious strands operative in the lives of Latinas may be good and life-giving. . . . The history of Christianity shows that orthodox objections to syncretism have less to do with the purity of the faith, and more with who has the right to determine what is to be considered normative and official. . . . To insist on imposing the divinity of Jesus as the only true and relevant expression of the divine on people who because of cultural factors either believe differently or for whom such claim is irrelevant, shows a lack of respect for a people whose religion includes other claims. . . .47
Chung teaches systematic theology at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Korea, and at Union Theological Seminary in New York. At the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, she said, “I feel like my bowel is Shamanist; my heart is Buddhist; my right brain is Confucianist and my left brain is Christian.” In her book, Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology, Chung speaks of God as a “life-giving spirit [people] can encounter within themselves and in everything that fosters life. . . . [Her focus is on] the immanence of God . . . an image of God which is all-embracing.” She also insists that the Church must “move away from Christo-centrism” and embrace “survival-liberation centered syncretism.” Her religion, she says, “revolves around the rhythm of the cosmos, the here and now on earth.” She rejects the “sacrality” of the Bible and denies the Canon as “a guarantee of truth.”48 At the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, she shared her trinity of goddesses—Kali, Kwan In and Ina—which she has fused with her Christian tradition along with the concepts of yin and yang and chi (the universal life force).
Re-Imagining Church Women
While CWU appears to be increasing its efforts to infuse its materials with radical feminist theology, it also appears to be solidifying its ties with the Re-Imagining Community.
Churchwoman, the official magazine of CWU, published a notice inviting its readers to attend the 1998 Re-Imagining Conference and described as “highly recommended,” a Re-Imagining–produced “Bible” study entitled, “Made in Her Image: Exploring New Perspectives in the Bible and Christian History.” (This “resource” actually denigrates the Bible and celebrates gnosticism and the goddesses of Crete, Egypt, Canaan and Sumer.)49
Diane Saliba, outgoing Chairperson of CWU’s Ecumenical Celebrations Committee (charged with producing and editing the organization’s service materials), was a very visible participant at the most recent (1998) Re-Imagining Conference, serving as a dancer in one of the dramatic presentations. The conference bulletin also carried a notice inviting re-imaginers to a CWU caucus and asserting that “members of the [CWU] national board and staff want to explore ways to make connections with re-imaginers in prayer, celebrations and action.”50 Sally Hill, who serves on Re-Imagining’s editorial board and coordinating council, co-authored the 1993 CWU World Community Day materials.
Then there is this year’s honoring of the five “sacred storytellers,” four of whom have been featured speakers at Re-Imagining. Most recently, CWU’s National President Susan Shank Mix and General Director Kathleen Hurty came to the defense of Re-Imagining in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, seeking to counter a negative report on Re-Imagining’s 1998 conference written by Diane Knippers of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
In that letter, the two women wrote: “As an ecumenical movement, we do not presume to endorse any one individual’s theological perspectives. We do believe wholeheartedly that the Holy Spirit alone equips Christian women with the wisdom to discern that which is helpful in their lives even if such revelation comes in unexpected places.”51
The Reverend Martha Cruz, CWU Deputy General Director for Administration and Communication, in a telephone interview, said, “We, as a movement, represent a broad spectrum of women in Christianity. Because of that diversity—the number of traditions, policies and polities—we have tried to find where our common ground is. We don’t endorse one theology over another.” Nor, she said, is CWU trying to align itself particularly with the Re-Imagining movement.
Cruz also said CWU would not use the label “radical feminist” to describe itself. “Our materials have been cutting edge in whatever decade we’ve been involved in. We do believe there is a biblical basis [to the CWU materials] and that layers have been given to the interpretation of those materials that exceed our intention. There has been a great deal of misinformation, misinterpretation—perhaps unwitting, perhaps not. We are working with our denominational partners to define our intentions rather than having them defined for us. [As for the materials], people can pull out what is beneficial spiritually and disregard the rest.”
For many years, some local church women aware of the problem have been doing just that: using the materials only after having removed offensive sections. Now, it appears the materials are so permeated with radical theology that, as Jean Williams concluded, “you might as well just disregard the whole program.”
1. “Preserving the Fruits of God’s Labor,” World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, November 3, 1995, 8.
2. “Gathering Seed from a Medieval Motheroot,” World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, November 7, 1997, 6–7.
3. In “The World Within Our Neighborhoods,” the World Community Day Worship Bulletin and Leaders’ Guide, five theologians are honored: Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Dorothee Soelle, Chung Hyun Kyung and Jose Hobday. Church Women United does not detail the beliefs of these women in the service materials. One has to turn to their writings in order to understand what CWU is celebrating. This praise of Eve is found in Dorothee Soelle’s The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, trans. Robert and Rita Kimber (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 126.
4. See Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990), pp. 112–113. Chung presented her trinity of Asian goddesses at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at the 1991 World Council of Churches Assembly in Canberra, Australia.
5. See Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, En La Lucha (In the Struggle): A Hispanic Women’s Liberation Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 50.
6. Soelle, 97.
7. For more information, see the Church Women United website at www.churchwomen.org. Note: In the Annual Report for 1996–1997, the number of local units was given as 1,350. See: “Annual Report 1996–1997—Ecumenical Celebrations,” Churchwoman, 64 (1998), 5.
8. According to an information sheet, written by Diane Saliba, Celebrations Committee Chairman, when this group last met it included more than 55 countries.
9. According to Piecing Together, a brochure produced by Church Women United.
10. According to the CWU website.
11. See, for example, “The Earth is a House for All People,” 1995 World Day of Prayer Bible Study, n.p.
12. “Like a Seed Which Grows Into a Tree,” 1997 World Day of Prayer Worship Bulletin, 7.
13. “Like a Seed Which Grows Into a Tree,” 1997 World Day of Prayer Leaders’ Guide.
14. “Like a Seed Which Grows Into a Tree,” 1997 World Day of Prayer Bible Study, n.p.
15. “Like A Seed Which Grows Into a Tree,” 1997 World Day of Prayer Worship Bulletin, 8–9.
16. “Growing Seeds in Prepared Soil,” 1997 May Fellowship Day Worship Bulletin, 7–8. Note: the author of this responsive reading is Miriam Therese Winter, whose writings appear elsewhere in CWU materials. The book from which this, “A Psalm of Bringing to Birth,” is taken also contains “A Psalm to the Cosmic Christa.” See: WomanWord (New York: Crossroad, 1995), 251. Another of Winter’s publications—WomanWisdom (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 299—contains “A Psalm in Search of the Goddess,” a litany honoring such “deities” as Ishtar; Inanna; Sophia; Isis and Gaia, Earth Mother/Goddess of the Earth.
17. “Gathering Seed From A Medieval Motheroot,” 1997 World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, 1.
18. Ibid., 6–8.
19. Ibid., 18–20.
20. Ibid., 4
21. Ibid., 8.
22. Ibid., 9.
23. “Gathering Seed From A Medieval Motheroot,” 1997 World Community Day Poster.
24. William Anderson, Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth (London: HarperCollins, 1990), 14.
26. 1997 Leaders’ Guide, 1.
27. Ibid., 23.
28. See, for example, “Living Wisely With Creation,” 1992 World Day of Prayer Leaders’ Guide, 1, 13.
29. “A Better Tomorrow—Justice for All,” 1990 World Day of Prayer Worship Bulletin, 5–6.
30. “Who Is My Neighbor?” 1998 World Day of Prayer Bible Study, n.p.
31. “Human Touch, Divine Healing,” 1993 May Fellowship Day Worship Bulletin, 2.
32. Ibid., 2.
33. “Loving Our Neighbor in a Broken World,” 1996 May Fellowship Day Worship Bulletin, 8–9.
34. Ibid., 4.
35. “Preserving the Fruits of God’s Labor,” 1995 World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, 8–9.
36. Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 90.
37. “Discovering the Sacred Circle,” 1992 World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, 4.
38. “Discovering the Sacred Circle,” 1992 World Community Day Worship Bulletin, 5.
39. Ibid., 10–11.
40. “Widening the Circle of Hospitality,” 1998 May Fellowship Day Leaders’ Guide, n.p.
41. Walker, 12–13.
42. “Widening the Circle of Hospitality,” 1998 May Fellowship Day Leaders’ Guide, 20–23.
43. “The World Within Our Neighborhoods,” 1998 World Community Day Leaders’ Guide, 1–4, 6.
44. Ibid., 1.
45. “The World Within Our Neighborhoods,” 1998 World Community Day Education Action Guide, n.p.
46. See Dorothee Soelle, The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, trans. Robert and Rita Kimber (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984).
47. See Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, En La Lucha (In the Struggle): A Hispanic Women’s Liberation Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
48. See Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1990).
49. “Re-Imagining Revival,” Churchwoman, 64 (1998), 25.
50. The Reverend Martha Cruz, CWU Deputy General Director for Administration and Communication, said the notice was not placed by CWU leadership and she has no idea who was responsible for putting it in the bulletin.
51. “Alarmist View of a Christian Movement,” Wall Street Journal, 29 May 1998, A15.
Donna F. G. Hailson currently serves as visiting professor in evangelism and missions at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is on the board of directors for the American Baptist Evangelicals. She coauthored The Goddess Revival (a 1996 Christianity Today Book of the Year) and has written a new book about radical spiritual feminism, From Truth to Myth: The Trojan Horse of Unsound Doctrine, to be released by Bristol House this winter. Her article “Re-Imagining Revisited” appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of Touchstone.
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