1986 EWC Conference: Free Indeed…Empowered for Action

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Free Indeed … Empowered for Action

A blue and white, two-color graphic that shows outlines of three women. One is a side view, one is a view from the front, another is a woman walking. The words say Free Indeed ... Empowered for Action.

The 1986 Evangelical Women’s Caucus International (EWCI) conference, the organization’s seventh, was held July 6–10, 1986, in Fresno, CA, at the Fresno Conference Center, with larger events taking place in the Saroyan Theater.

The conference was produced by the San Joaquin Valley EWCI chapter, and coordinated by Kathryn Klassen Neufeld.

The theme was based on 1 John 3:18 (GNT):

“… our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.”

The EWC national organization officers at the time were, Barbara Gifford and Britt Vanden Eykel, Co-coordinators; Karin Granberg-Michelson, Vice Coordinator (she resigned during the council meeting following the conference); Beth Yost, Financial Officer; and Diane Heath, Secretary. Other council members that year were: Catherine Bailey, Becky Bender, Lillian Grissen (she also resigned during the council meeting), Jeanne Hanson, Ginny Hearn, Catherine Kroeger, Linnea Little, Dorothy Meyer, Mary Miner, Diane Steelsmith, Judith Steinmetz, Susan Vasquez, Anne West Ramirez, Nancy Hardesty, Barbara Gifford, Kathryn Klassen Neufeld, and Juanita Wright Potter.

During the 1986 conference business meeting three resolutions were presented for adoption by the membership. The presentation of any resolutions was in opposition to a stated council decision, made during 1984 and 1985 after extensive consideration including a survey of the membership, that no resolutions be be brought to the floor during business meetings. (The council felt the presentation of resolutions had the potential to cause organizational disruption.) But nevertheless, members brought three resolutions to the floor during the business meeting. They were:

(1)        Recognizing the profound oneness of all women in Christ, we commit ourselves to work for justice and equality for all racial minorities.

(2)        Because we believe that every human being is made in God’s image, we deplore violence against women and children and the misuse of power within the family.

(3)        Whereas homosexual people are children of God, and because of the biblical mandate of Jesus Christ that we are all created equal in God’s sight, and in recognition of the presence of the lesbian minority in the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, International, EWCI takes a firm stand in favor of civil rights protection for homosexual persons.

The first two resolutions were relatively uncontroversial, but the third, affirming that there was a “lesbian minority” in EWCI, and that gay people were deserving of civil rights protection, proved to be extremely controversial. Keep in mind this was 1986!

Despite the controversy, all three resolutions were passed by a majority of the members who attended the business meeting.

Some members were elated. Many members were incensed.

The controversy was such a major event even the LA Times covered it. Christianity Today covered it from an angle talking about Catherine Kroeger’s intention of starting a new, egalitarian organization (here, but you have to have a subscription to access it).

Read more by clicking any the tabs above.

Those interested in this major turning point in the history of Christian feminism, may want to start by reading the information on the 1984 EWC conference web page or Nancy Hardesty’s “More on the Resolutions Debate” article (“Hardesty on Resolutions” tab above) which will set the stage.

Don’t miss Joanne Ross Feldmeth’s excellent conference recap, “Surviving Our Adolescence” (Conference Recap tab).

The last two tabs are reprints of two articles published in the progressive Christian magazine, The Other Side, one written by EWCI members Anne Eggebroten (now Linstatter) and Mark William Olson, also an editor of The Other Side.

 

Have a memory to share or even any of the marketing material? We’re always happy to add your voice to the archive. Please send your information to the Christian Feminism Today office.

Coming Up: EWCl’s 1986 Conference

Free Indeed… Empowered for Action

EWCI is committed to action, to constructive change—in our churches, in the world around us. But personal freedom becomes hollow when others around us are in bondage. The 1986 EWCI conference, to be held in Fresno, CA, July 6-10, 1986, will provide encouragement for growth in our own freedom and will challenge us to be empowered for action.

Freedom. Power. Action. Those are the key words shaping this upcoming biannual conference, EWCI’s seventh such gathering. The theme was taken from 1 John 3:18: “ … Our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.”

Words and talk have their place, of course. They help us clarify basic concepts and values. If we listen as well as speak, they enable us to connect meaningfully with one another, to share with and empower one another. In the final analysis, however, true love is exhibited in action, in changes for the better taking place within us and around us.

Five plenary speakers will develop the conference theme from different perspectives.

Linda Mercadante

Linda Mercadante, from Princeton, NJ, will challenge us with an exegetical and theoretical focus on the “conference verse” (1 John 3: 18). Mercadante is completing a Ph.D. program at Princeton Theological Seminary in the theology and history of doctrine. Her dissertation topic is “The Doctrine of God and Social Change: An Analysis of the Shaker ‘Father-Mother God’ with Reference to Contemporary Theological Reflection on God.”

Linda has been an instructor at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., where she also earned her M.C.S. More recently, she has been a teaching fellow in history and theology at Princeton Seminary. In addition to numerous book reviews and articles, her master’s thesis, “From Hierarchy to Equality: A Comparison of Past and Present Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in Relation to the Changing Status of Women in Society” has been published in paperback.

Scott Bartchy

Scott Bartchy, of Torrance, CA, is a man who has earned the right to be a plenary speaker at an EWCI conference. He has made it a special point to make himself available to speak on occasions where he can provide a biblical basis for the rights and equality of women in the church. His topic for the conference will be “Power and Empowerment within Relationships.”

Bartchy received his Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Harvard. At present he is professor of New Testament at Westwood Christian Foundation and associate professor in historical studies at UCLA. His Chritian affiliation is in a house church, Church of the Good Shepherd, where he also lives in a Christian community. (Three members of that community have been former EWCI executive council members.)

Scott has written many articles for scholarly journals. One of the most recent is “Issues of Power and a Theology of the Family,” prepared for a Consultation on the Theology of the Family sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary. His concern for questions of power, particularly in relation to the powerless, is also evident in his book on slavery in the early Christian centuries. At present he is working on a commentary on the book of Acts for the Word Commentary Series.

Elisabeth Schüessler Fiorenza

Elisabeth Schüessler Fiorenza will be our third plenary speaker. Her topic is “Hermeneutics of Liberation,” a critical theology of liberation focusing on the identification of people “at the bottom.” Schüessler Fiorenza is Talbot professor of New Testament at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. An internationally renowned scholar, lecturer, and teacher she is author of In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, acclaimed both for its originality and for the rigor of its scholarly approach.

Elisabeth has been a member of the department of theology at Notre Dame University since 1970 and has served a Fosdick visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary (NY). Her career began in Germany where she earned an M. Div., a licentiate in pastoral theology, and a doctorate in New Testament studies.

The list of Schuessler Fiorenza’s publications, both in German and English, is too extensive to detail here. Her most recent books, Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Beacon) and The Book of Revelation: Judgment and Justice (Fortress), were published in 1985.

Betty Hanna-Witherspoon Webb

Our fourth plenary speaker will be Betty Hanna-Witherspoon Webb, who is uniquely qualified to speak on “Christian Black Women: A Struggle toward Feminism in the Family, Church, and Community.” She received the master’s degree in community development from Southern Illinois University and has been granted the Deiches Scholarship, the Ford-HUD Fellowship, and other academic awards.

Betty is executive director of the Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley (CA). She has worked for 20 years in urban social planning and is also active in church affairs. A steward at Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church, she is a member of its missionary society and chairs its commission on Christian education. She is proud of having been a founding member of “Room for One More,” that church’s minority adoption recruitment project.

Hanna-Witherspoon Webb is active at both local and national levels: as a participant in community services, and as a lecturer and speaker. She will challenge each of us in the areas of personal growth and social concerns.

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

The final challenge of the 1986 Fresno conference will be a vision for the future presented by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Virginia, who received her Ph.D. from New York University, has been active in EWCI since its beginning. Through her books, articles, and lectures, she has gained respect as one of biblical feminism’s leading thinkers. Mollenkott’s 1977 book, Women, Men and the Bible, has become a manifesto for many biblical feminists. Her books include Speech, Silence, Action! The Cycle of Faith; The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female; and her latest, Views from the Intersection, with Catherine Barry. In 1978 she was co-author with Letha Scanzoni of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?

Already a Highlight: Conference Workshops

The many hours of workshops already planned for the 1986 EWCI conference in Fresno will provide an intensive course in Christian feminism. Young or old, experienced or just beginning to think about it, woman or man: “There’s something for everyone in Fresno”—as the city’s promotional literature claims.

A thorough review of biblical and theological issues will bring further clarification to Christian feminists’ basic concerns. A study of several Old Testament women includes topics like “Victims of Violence in the O.T.” and “The Daughter of Jephthah.” New Testament studies include “Headship: Do Males Have Authority over Females?” and “Is It a Shame for Women to Speak? Perplexing N.T. Texts.”

A series of four workshops will be led by Elisabeth Schüessler Fiorenza on “A Feminist Model of Biblical Interpretation.” These workshops will focus on the four categories formulated earlier by Schüessler Fiorenza: a hermeneutics of suspicion, proclamation, remembrance, and ritualization and celebration.

Women’s personal growth needs will receive special attention in a number of workshops. Dealing with difficulties arising from one’s past are sessions on “Healing Hurtful Memories through Story Telling,” “Overcoming the Sins of Our Parents,” and “Adult Children of Fun­ damentalists.” Current personal needs will be addressed in “Before the Well Runs Dry” and “The Errand, An Expression of One Woman’s Spiritual Story.”

Another workshop, “Meshing Assertiveness and Christian Compassion,” addresses women who see the need to be assertive in the church as well as in the workplace, yet are bothered by conflicts between traditional Christian views of compassion and the assertiveness necessary in some situations. Similar matters will be dealt with in “Power or Peril: You Can’t Be Powerful if You’re Afraid.”

“What about the Wellesley resolutions?” some people may be asking. A survey of the EWCI membership, reported in the Summer ’85 Update, provided significant insights and potential directions, but more are coming. EWCI council members will present workshops on each of the issues raised by the controversial resolutions. Each workshop will attempt to provide in­depth theological and practical perspectives on the different sides of a particular concern. These workshops will deal with peace and militarism, social justice and politics, sexuality, racism/poverty/marginalization, and violence and pornography.

Other workshops will focus on biblical feminist concerns in relation to the local church, since so much of our life is lived in the context of Christian community. These workshops will provide guidelines for that local church “connection.” “Strategies of Change in Conservative Churches” will help women and men to be Christian agents of change on behalf of the full use of women’s gifts in the Christian community. How to “fight fairly” in the local church for women’s equality will be considered in “You or Me or Both.” Another workshop, “Changing Women’s Roles—Self-Esteem and Peacemaking in the Church,” will also attempt to empower individuals for more effective action in the church. Racial issues, especially as they apply to women, are also on the Fresno conference agenda. “The Portrayal of Afro-American Christian Women in Literature” examines two contemporary novels, The Color Purple and The Women of Brewster Street, both 1983 Pulitzer Prize winners. Another workshop, “Focus on Feminist Fringes,” will spotlight groups of women as yet inadequately represented by the mainstream women’s movement: women who, because of race, class, or other variables, have felt that feminism does not address the causes of oppression in their lives.

Part of becoming empowered for Christlike living and working includes shedding one’s racism. “Unraveling Our Racism” will show that both black and white people are bound by racism, just as sexism victimizes both women and men.

Focus on the Third World will be provided by “The Magnificat: Justice and Hope for Women of the Third World.” This workshop will deal with the plight of women in militarized countries who bear the double oppression of being female and being poor.

Still other workshops are scheduled—on feminist therapy, inclusive language, historical studies, singles, parenting, male perception, and eating disorders—to name only a few. It seems clear that there will be something for everyone in Fresno.

 

© 1985 by EWCI. Originally published in the Fall 1985 issue of EWCI Update.

More on the Resolutions Debate

By Nancy Hardesty, on behalf of EWCI’s National Council

A large portion of the following article is reprinted from the Fall 1985 EWCI Update as background for the “resolutions issue” at the Fresno conference. It was published in the EWCI Update again after the contentious Fresno conference business meeting as an accompaniment to Catherine Bailey’s business meeting recap article (“Business Meeting Recap” tab above).

At the 1984 conference at Wellesley, the EWCI executive council proposed three resolutions on issues about which it perceived a consensus among our members (the ERA, peace, and political involvement). The council also solicited written resolutions from members present on issues of concern to them. We received resolutions condemning homophobia, racism, violence against women, and pornography.

The council’s goal was to make explicit some of the implications of a consistent biblical feminist position. We asked for resolution as a vehicle for being more open and responsive to members’ concerns.

During the business meeting at Wellesley the first resolution passed, consistent with our longstanding policy of support for the ERA. The others were turned over to task forces, with instructions to seek input from the membership and to conduct workshops at the next conference in Fresno. That way we all can become more informed about the issues involved and their connectedness with Christian feminism. Thus, the Fresno planning committee has asked plenary speakers to address some of those issues, and the various task forces have scheduled workshops on these topics.

Although the resolutions were meant to promote dialogue and openness, in actuality they resulted in divisiveness, discord, and polarization; in short, they turned out to be counterproductive for our organization. After polling the membership (see the EWCI Update Summer 1985 [issue]) and discussing the process at the June 1985 executive council meeting, we concluded that resolutions are not the way to proceed. Even some people who supported the stance of all the resolutions realized that the resolution process is not appropriate to our group. Various individuals are very opposed to certain resolutions; others are unsure of how particular resolutions relate to biblical feminism and to the goals and purposes of EWCI.

Thus, we will continue to explore these issues and others as they arise, although we will not formulate an “official stance.” Nonetheless, from the beginning, EWCI has been convinced that biblical feminism is a global vision, a unifying perspective for an integrated Christian faith.

Growing out of the Evangelicals for Social Action organization, we have always been aware that justice for all people is central to our faith. Confident in God’s love for us and for all people, we will continue to be a forum where we can express our opinions and our fears, where we can listen to each other and dialogue, and where we can find nourishment and challenge for growth.

 

© 1985 by EWCI. The majority of this article was published in EWCI Update, Fall 1985 issue, and reprinted in the Fall 1986 issue.

Surviving Our Adolescence

by Joanne Ross Feldmeth

The Seventh Plenary Conference of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus International (EWCI) was held July 6-10, 1986, in Fresno, CA. Our San Joaquin Valley chapter, led by Kathryn Klassen Neufeld, was host. In the following account, one participant, Joanne Ross Feldmeth, attempts to describe for Update readers her personal sense of that memorable conference, its highs and lows, its challenges and perplexities.

A black and white photo of the Saroyan Theatre in Fresno, California in 1986.When I first heard about EWCI’s Seventh Plenary Conference, I had one immediate reaction: “Fresno in July?” In my southern Californian arrogance, I would not have chosen California’s Central Valley as a setting for a summer conference. Fresno is a farming community: pleasant, conservative, and blessed with the kind of blistering heat that is perfect for ripening tomatoes and wilting people. I was right about one thing: it was hot. But the outdoor temperatures were almost irrelevant, since we spent our time in the air-conditioned Saroyan Conference Center. The indoor heat, however, was inescapable— at times emotional and intense. Our days in Fresno were packed with excitement, drama, and controversy.

“Free Indeed…Empowered for Action” was the ’86 conference theme. The focus was on action, and the round of scheduled activity was staggering: five major plenary sessions (each preceded by meaningful, though almost hour-long worship services led by various EWCI chapters), five special sessions, and over 80 workshops.

A black and white photo of sculptor Margaret Hudson with her work, "Joy."
Sculptor Margaret Hudson with her work, “Joy.” Photo by Ginny Hearn.

Art and music were a major part of the electric atmosphere. An aura of brooding power came from the presence on the main stage of Margaret Hudson’s large women-statues. Musical director Joy Sherman organized a program for the “Opening Celebration” that was bursting with variety: a classical brass. quartet, dancers, poets, other artists, folk singers, and a hard-working choir composed of EWCI members from around the country. Soloist Merrydean Grant sang “We Are the World” with a voice of such purity and innocence that we believed her, and sang along. Dramatic moments crowded in, one after another. Barbara Graber’s unforgettable presentation of “The Naked Woman” revealed the clothing of the female soul. For one evening, actress Roberta Nobleman became the Reverend Jeannette Piccard in “Solo Flight,” a one-woman play based on the illegal ordination of 79-year-old Piccard into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church.

The drama extended far beyond those programmed moments, however, into intense late-night discussions in the central lobby, chats over cups of morning coffee in the cafeteria, and even a few afternoon rap sessions in the jacuzzi. A basic question haunted this conference. Everyone agreed, “Yes, we are empowered for action”—but what kind of action?

For over a decade the Evangelical Women’s Caucus has worked to promote male-female equality and mutual leadership within churches, especially evangelical churches. The organization has been a support to the ministry of women and of ministry to women. It has been a crucial network for women seeking ordination. But now, like most 12-year-olds, EWCI is facing an identity crisis.

This year’s conference dramatically reflected that reality. “Are we going to go on teaching Biblical Feminism 101 forever?” some conferees were asking. “Don’t we need a broader agenda?” But others pointed out, to become more political and/or more specific about theological viewpoints would end our ministry to conservative women. “Who will teach basic biblical feminism if we don’t?” they asked.

Plenary addresses, workshops, and special sessions gave different, sometimes contrasting, views of the purpose and ministry of biblical feminism. Where does, how should, EWCI fit in? Linda Mercadante, who recently earned a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, opened the conference Monday morning with a pragmatic warning to limit our action to our stated calling. Author of From Hierarchy to Equality, Mercadante suggested that the most significant problem for Christian women is “probably not a lack of power but of perspective …Use your power for good, but determine [first] where you will be most effective and where you will be most likely to grow.”

With the needs of the world so overwhelming and the opportunities so endless, are good deeds worth anything? Mercadante used the conference theme verses from 1 John 3 to show that action is, of course, worthwhile. But she added, “We are not being asked to be busier. Especially as women, we need to narrow our sights—and that is against our training as women to meet all needs…We need not to close our eyes but rather to focus down, as in photography.”

That evening, Scott Bartchy gave an appeal for a Christlike—and feminist—approach to power, action, and leadership. Using the “bramble parable” found in Judges 9, Bartchy showed that Old Testament passages demonstrated skepticism about hierarchal relationships. For his own biblical feminist exposition, Bartchy turns basically to the New Testament teachings of Jesus to build an alternate power model.

Dismissing the idea that biblical passages on family roles give males the primary right to decision-making, Bartchy noted: “Jesus did not make his disciples’ decisions for them. In fact, he did not even prevent Peter or Judas from making bad decisions… Where in Ephesians 5 do we read about making decisions? To identify with Jesus is to give up your life.”

Bartchy, who is resident scholar at Westwood Christian Foundation and adjunct associate professor at UCLA, argued that Jesus changed the definition of power from control to responsibility. Rather than a limited amount of power “owned” by people at the top of a chain of command, a Christian view of power provides unlimited opportunities to help and serve others. Admitting that hierarchal terms like lord are used in the Gospels, Bartchy insisted that “Jesus used lordship language to undermine and transform the belief that having power means having control.” Bartchy first proposed that thesis in his book on first-century slavery and then again in a widely read article, “Power, Submission, and Sexual Identity among the Early Chris­ tians.” His hermeneutical approach fit comfortably with EWC’s long-held position that biblical texts, rightly understood, are both authoritative and equalitarian.

A black and white photo of Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza and an unidentified woman at the 1986 EWCI conference.
Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza and an unidentified woman in 1986

The next morning, Episcopal Divinity School professor Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza criticized both of those assumptions. Author of several books (including In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins and Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation), Schüssler Fiorenza took a more critical approach to biblical feminist hermeneutics.

Pointing to patriarchal bias in numerous texts and to the almost consistent exclusion of women’s history and viewpoints from Scripture, she argued for “a new model of biblical interpretation that can explore the oppressive as well as the liberative dynamics of biblical texts.”

Schüssler Fiorenza turned to the story of the bent-over woman and her encounter with Jesus as an example, pointing out that the bent-over woman became “invisible” halfway through the account—when the focus shifted to the synagogue leader and Jesus, who began debating about healing on the sabbath.

In a barely veiled critique of EWCI hermeneutics, she argued, “Christian feminists … who do not question the authority of the biblical texts point to the tension between the action of Jesus and the argument of the synagogue leader. However, they do not question the anti-Jewish tendencies of the controversy dialogue. They continue those tendencies when they proclaim ‘Jesus the feminist’ over and against patriarchal Judaism. Moreover … [the controversy dialogue] eclipses the woman as the subject of the story and … transforms the whole text from a woman-centered, or gynocentric text, to an androcentric, or male-centered sacred text.”

While agreeing that Scripture, correctly understood, is liberating, Schüssler Fiorenza said that such understanding had to be based in a “hermeneutics of suspicion … analyzing the androcentric presuppositions and patriarchal interests of [not only] contemporary interpretations but also those of the biblical writers themselves …”

She proposed a biblical approach that began with women’s experience and history, refusing to take masculine-language texts about women as authoritative until they are evaluated from a feminist perspective.

Following the Tuesday plenary address came a difficult business meeting (see separate [tab]) and the staggering news that the local chapter was $11,000 in debt for conference expenses. Registration had been less than half the number planned for. Conference coordinator Neufeld was facing personal responsibility for that debt. In addition, the national organization was behind in income from membership fees and contributions, with its present debts totaling $5,000.

A black and white photo of Betty Hanna-Witherspoon in 1986
Betty Hanna-Witherspoon in 1986, photo by Ginny Hearn

Wednesday, however, was a day of reconciliation and relief. It began with Betty Hanna-Witherspoon’s “A Struggle toward Feminism.” With the talent of a natural storyteller and preacher, Hanna-Witherspoon’s plenary address picked a theme from each of the two contrasting approaches to Scripture presented on Monday and Tuesday.

She began, as Schüssler Fiorenza had recommended, with the life stories of women—specifically, black Christian women. Her New Testament model for liberation, as Christocentric as Bartchy’s, was a unique product of the language, experience, and theology of the black church.

Active in the civil rights movement for years, Hanna-Witherspoon’s journey toward feminism was gradual. Her feminism, she explained, was born in the struggle “to support the kids: …that is what makes you an existential feminist!”

An active leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she gave a brief rundown of powerful women in the black church, but admitted that feminism receives little support from the black community. The battle over sexual discrimination is seen (especially by black men) as pulling resources away from civil rights work.

Now, however, in a time when many black women and children are facing economic peril, she insisted, “It is not a question of race or sex, but race and sex.” Hanna-Witherspoon is executive director of the Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley; her 20 years in urban planning have helped her make the connection between racism and sexism.

Women, she reminded the audience, head almost half of black families. Black women have the highest rate of American unemployment. The out-of­ wedlock birthrate among black American teenagers is the highest in the world. Black women have a higher median education and a lower median income than black men.

Such issues became spiritual as well as economic for her, however, as she began to examine her Christian faith in the light of her social justice ethics. “Black folk-religion had taught me that I was meant to be free of white oppression … and because I am from the black church, I say that the Holy Spirit led me to believe that the overarching theme of the New Testament is that Christ empowers people to take actions using all their talents.”

Against, that background, Scripture became “the sustaining voice that strengthens me in the struggle.” Hanna-Witherspoon explained to the audience, “I often tell men in the church: ‘It is because I believed all that stuff in Sunday school that I am like this!'” Broadening her theme from the black female experience to the calling of all women, Hanna-Witherspoon turned to 1 Corinthians 1:25-31 as a liberating text: “In Christ we are consecrated and set free …”

The open-mike session that followed was led by Marjory Zoet Bankson, executive director of Faith at Work. It was a chance to air the serious concerns stirred up by the business meeting the day before and to try to move toward a sense of unity. We heard the points of view of many of those present: poignant, passionate—and heart­breakingly polarized. Once again we were confronted with the great diversity of the women (and the few men) who make up EWCI. Once again, we longed for “answers,” for wise direction, and for God’s healing touch.

The last person at the microphone was L.A. businesswoman Margo Goldsmith, who announced that a single donor of her acquaintance had pledged the $15,000 needed to cover EWC’s local and national indebtedness. Stunned relief filled the auditorium. When it was revealed the next day that Goldsmith herself was the donor of that remarkable “one-time gift,” she explained that she wanted to remove an “intolerable burden” from the organization. “The rest,” she told the audience, “is up to you.”

The Reverend Elizabeth Nordquist’s Wednesday evening sermon continued the theme of reconciliation that Bankson had beautifully and gently incorporated into that morning’s open­ mike meeting. “When we encounter walls between us as people of God,” Nordquist said, “they are walls we have built.” Informed people of faith, she emphasized, have different points of view. We are in danger when we consider only our own needs, our own lifestyle, our own paradigms as central.

Nordquist, minister of worship and community life at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, was among the early organizers of EWC on both local and national levels. Her concern for the struggles within the organization was evident. “We think our walls make our peace,” she said, “but Christ can be our peace.”

That note led naturally into the traditional conference communion service. The Reverend Malvina Stephens, an American Baptist minister now an associate pastor at Allen Baptist Temple in Oakland, led dozens of ordained ministers and elders from a variety of denominations in serving the communion elements to conferees.

Nonetheless, on Thursday, the last morning of the conference again reminded all of those present that the question of how EWCI should see its ministry was still under debate. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott presented the final plenary address. A respected pioneer in Christian feminist circles, Mollenkott is professor of English at William Paterson College (NJ).

Mercadante had opened the conference with advice to “focus down” on goals that fit our individual and organizational callings. Mollenkott’s presentation pushed for an expanded vision of EWCI goals. The other plenary speakers had spoken of the importance of social action (including the need for nuclear disarmament, responsible action to help the poor and oppressed, and reproductive freedom); all of them had talked in terms of individual Christian responsibility. Mollenkott recommended an expanded organizational agenda for EWCI’s future.

A black and white photo of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in the 1980s.
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Since its inception, she noted, the organization has “been doing a wonderful job of empowering women and men to mutual submission and active discipleship.” The decision not to be more political was a conscious one. “We have been a kind of oasis within the patriarchal wilderness for those who have just discovered that it is possible to be both Christian and feminist … We have been aware, keenly aware, that many among us are little children as far as awareness of systemic injustice is concerned, so we have hesitated to raise issues that might seem threatening. We didn’t want to tie a millstone around anyone’s neck … [by] asking too much insight too soon.”

Now, however, Mollenkott suggested, the time had come to listen to “advanced feminist Christians who know that feminism involves more than getting a piece of the patriarchal pie.” Pointing out that authentic Christianity “has always been a scandal to surrounding society,” she proposed that we may need to “worry less” about the offense that might be taken by conservative churches.

“Feminism,” she said, “involves opposing the ageist, racist, classist, heterosexist systems of patriarchy … We are feminists and therefore we are political; by definition, political.”

Mollenkott went on to propose specific political/social goals for EWCI to adopt organizationally: advocacy in prison and hospital work, humane laws for AIDS victims, humane policies toward the handicapped, political action on behalf of battered women, reforms of prisons and the legal system, nuclear disarmament. Perhaps the next step for the organization, she suggested, was to make a pro-choice statement on abortion as an issue of women’s “moral agency . . . over that which is developing in their wombs.” “Until our Tuesday business meeting,” she continued, “EWCI’s scorecard [on social action] was poor.” And although the third of three resolutions [all of which were proposed and eventually passed at the business meeting] supported the civil rights of homosexuals, it “has not made a theological judgment concerning homosexuality.” That resolution was an important step, she argued, toward sensitivity to democratic principles and civil rights for all. It was time for biblical feminists to move “beyond privatized morality and privatized notions of salvation.”

Clearly, Mollenkott presented enough suggestions to keep EWCI leadership debating for years. It was a difficult note on which to end.

Were such proposals not only an expanded, but even a redrawn view of EWCI’s primary calling and purpose? To some of the conferees, it seemed that Mollenkott had outlined organizational changes so sweeping that EWCI would hardly be recognizable—or even distinctly “biblical” in its Christian feminism. Yet she also had given an articulate voice to the growing political and social concerns of other participants. She had spoken aloud the central question of the conference: What kind of action is right for us now? The four days in Fresno were an emotional roller coaster. There were moments of inspiration and exultation. There was an announcement of the organization’s vast indebtedness, followed by an equally dramatic announcement that the debts were paid. There was the painful battle over whether EWCI should even be passing resolutions at its conferences, a battle begun at Wellesley in ’84, and now unexpectedly continuing in Fresno. That battle caused some people to join the organization for the first time, others to resign after a decade or more of membership, and the Minnesota conference chairperson to withdraw the invitation to hold the ’88 conference in that area. There was the solemn open­ mike session revealing our differing points of view, the beauty and hope of reconciliation at Wednesday’s communion, followed by a final address proposing further recommendations, at least some of which are highly controversial throughout evangelicalism. As the mother of a young teenager, I sensed odd elements of deja vu. I was watching an organization in the familiar (but always painful) throes of adolescence.

If the Fresno conference did not give us a unified mandate for action, it was at least forcing us to reexamine our purpose and ministry. National and local leaders now face the necessity once again of clarifying our organizational focus.

Who are we now? Who is our intended audience? Whom are we trying to reach with the good news that to know Jesus is to be free indeed? Perhaps the only consensus (an important one) that came from EWCI’s ’86 conference was this: we can survive our adolescence only if we reexamine, and recommit ourselves to, the calling and goals of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus.

 

Joanne Ross Feldmeth is a board member of EWC’s Southwest chapter and also its newsletter editor. A free-lance writer living in Los Angeles, she is currently co-authoring a book about support groups for women who were sexually abused as children.

 

© 1986 by EWCI. Originally published in the EWCI Update, Vol 10, No. 3, Fall 1986.

Not Business as Usual

The 1986 Business Meeting Recap

By Catherine Bailey

“Without turbulence, there is no movement.” So spoke Roberta Nobleman portraying the Rev. Jeannette Piccard, the first woman ordained as an Episcopal priest—and that, at the age of 79. (Piccard also was the first woman to explore the stratosphere in a balloon.)

That theme of turbulence and movement, heard during an evening program at EWCI’s ’86 Fresno conference, undoubtedly has continued to echo in the minds of members and others who attended our biennial business meeting on Tuesday morning, July 8. To attempt to describe the event for any who were not there is an almost overwhelming assignment.

The meeting, chaired by co-coordinators Barbara Gifford and Britt Vanden Eykel, began with traditional business concerns. Britt introduced chapter representatives, at-large reps, contact people, and staff. Karen Berns was cited and thanked for developing the concept of the bright-orange prayer guide sent six weeks before the conference to all EWCI members. Special acknowledgment was given to several persons who have made outstanding contributions to EWCI’s ministry over the past two years: Judith Steinmetz, Nancy Moller, Juanita Wright Potter (and the Chicago chapter), Lillian Grissen (and the Michigan chapter), Dorothy Norbie (and the Denver support group), Dorothy Meyer, who coordinated our ’84 Wellesley conference, and the Fresno Conference Committee members.

Barbara Gifford gave an administrative report and introduced Dawn Swartz, our new administrative secretary (working out of West Newton, MA). Jeanne Hanson, EWCI bookkeeper, reported our year-to-date income as $7,000 and our year-to-date expenses as $12,000. That was sobering.

A black and white photo of Kathryn Klassen Neufield in 1986
Kathryn Klassen Neufield, 1986 conference coordinator. Photo by Ginny Hearn.

Kathryn Neufeld, Fresno conference coordinator, was given a standing ovation for the magnificent conference she and the San Joaquin Valley chapter had put together—after which Kathryn movingly told the group how humbling it was now to find the conference seriously in debt. (The deficit was the result of much-lower-than-anticipated attendance.) That, too, came as a shock.

Then, as a final item of “Old Business,” Nancy Hardesty reported on behalf of the EWCI Council about action taken on the social-justice resolutions that had been presented, and then tabled, at our ’84 conference in Wellesley.

At Wellesley, it was decided to form task forces on the issues raised, study them, and consider whether consensus was possible on any of the resolutions. A Fall ’84 survey of EWCI membership asked for task force participants and raised the question of whether or not resolutions were appropriate for EWCI. The survey results were reported in the Summer ’85 issue of Update and the results of the task forces were then to be presented at workshops or forums at the ’86 Fresno conference. The Fall ’85 Update reported the Council’s position at that time to the membership.

Because of the inherent diversity of our membership, it had been concluded at the Summer ’85 Council meeting that it was not appropriate for our organization to take an official position on any of the issues presented at the Wellesley conference. Thus, provisions were not made by the EWCI Executive Council to deal with future resolution proposals. There was agreement to continue to study and explore the resolution issues; however, as matters developed, the end result of consensus desired by the Council was not achieved within the two years between the Wellesley and Fresno conferences.

Then, at the 1986 business meeting in Fresno, a group of members still concerned about proposing similar resolutions again brought forth three issues. Those resolutions were:

(1)        Recognizing the profound oneness of all women in Christ, we commit ourselves to work for justice and equality for all racial minorities.

(2)        Because we believe that every human being is made in God’s image, we deplore violence against women and children and the misuse of power within the family.

(3)        Whereas homosexual people are children of God, and because of the biblical mandate of Jesus Christ that we are all created equal in God’s sight, and in recognition of the presence of the lesbian minority in the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, International, EWCI takes a firm stand in favor of civil rights protection for homosexual persons.

Not surprisingly, the result was confusion, conflict, and hurt for many. After lengthy discussion, however, all three resolutions were voted on and approved by a majority of members present. In particular, the third resolution was of great concern to many members, who felt that to affirm civil rights for homosexuals would give the appearance of approval of that lifestyle. If we are trying to reach women from conservative origins who are presently in very conservative churches, it was argued, resolutions on controversial political/social issues would surely exclude them from membership.

In addition, a number of EWCI members working in those more conservative Christian circles felt that their ministry, and for some, their jobs, would be threatened, were such a readily misinterpreted resolution to be passed by EWCI. It was stressed that acceptance of a statement of affirming civil rights was only that; it was not intended to be a theological statement on the acceptability of homosexual practice.

The roots of our faith, our desire for justice for all human persons, and our unity as biblical feminists in EWCI were shaken as the group wrestled with these issues. Not only were members concerned with the effect of passing these resolutions, but many expressed equal concern at the process by which the issues were brought forth and voted upon, seemingly contrary to the Council’s opinion last year [see “Hardesty on Resolutions” in another tab]. Because there was no advance notice of the proposed resolutions and no mechanism established for formal discussion, many felt that they had to vote affirmatively. Even though they genuinely believed in the issues, many did not believe they should be addressed by EWCI in this manner or at this time.

On the other hand, many members attending the business meeting expressed joy in spite of the struggle to deal with such difficult issues. A special open-mike session the next day provided opportunity for dozens of members to express their opinions and for our organization to move toward necessary healing.

Certainly, that can never happen if we are unwilling to listen to one another.

Important tasks were laid before EWCI’s new Executive Council to deal with at their post-conference meeting: how to determine the “legality” or appropriateness of the resolution vote; how to reestablish unity among our membership in order to move forward together; how to establish our organization on a more-sound financial base. Given our many diversities, how does EWCI as an organization move into the next ten years under our central theme of biblical equality?

 

© 1986 by EWCI. Originally published in the EWCI Update, Vol. 10, No. 3, Fall 1986.

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Summer Council Meeting Summary

By Catherine Bailey

A group black and white photograph of some members of the 1986 EWCI Exceutive Council.
Council members at Summer ’86 meeting (bottom, l to r): Anne West Ramirez, Britt Vanden Eykel, Juanita Wright Potter, Becky Bender, Ginny Hearn, Dawn Swartz; (top) Diane Steelsmith, Dorothy Meyer, Nancy Hardesty, Barbara Gifford, Mary Miner, Kathryn Klassen Neufeld, Catherine Bailey, Lillian Grissen, Beth Yost.

FOR THREE DAYS after the Fresno ’86 conference, EWCI’s Executive Council tackled the many issues currently facing our organization. Because of the most recent revelation of membership disunity, which became dramatically evident at the Tuesday morning business meeting, the previously established Council agenda was replaced with one that focused on those immediate concerns.

The resulting discussion centered around several themes: our ”identity crisis” as a 12-year-old organization; the question of whether EWCI should allow resolutions at its conferences; how future business meetings should be conducted; our organizational growth and serious financial needs; what format is workable for future conferences; ”homophobia” along with our spoken and unspoken fears of being called a “lesbian support group” (a specific designation that immediately appeared in the local Fresno newspaper).

Officers for the coming year were elected: Britt Vanden Eykel, coordinator; Juanita Wright Potter, vice-­coordinator; Beth Yost, financial officer; and Catherine Bailey, secretary. Decisions at the Council meeting were at times painful, yet EWCI was reaffirmed as a vital organization. Enthusiasm was high for a year of hard work ahead. We are struggling, most assuredly, yet our faith remains central-in Jesus Christ as healer and in each other as sisters and brothers under God’s love.

The three resolutions will stand as actions passed by a majority in attendance at the business meeting. Within a year, a new procedure will be proposed as a bylaw change in order to deal with future resolution proposals. The proposed change will include a provision that would allow the membership as a whole to have voice in any such future decisions. The entire membership will have opportunity to vote on these proposed bylaw changes. Whatever errors in procedure did or did not occur before or at the Fresno conference, the voices of the oppressed within our EWCI family were clearly heard at the conference through the surfacing of the three resolutions.

EWCI remains committed to outreach to our sisters and brothers in conservative churches, yet we must also formally reach out to include our sisters of color, abused women and children, and Christians with a homosexual orientation. Such steps are frequently out of our “comfort zone” and may create much conflict within us. Yet we recognize that without change, or ”turbulence,” there is no movement.

We are now more aware of the needs in EWCI, and we have therefore been called, as a group, to work toward reconciliation and our future ministry.

 

©1986 by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, International, originally published in EWCI Update, Vol. 10, No. 3, Fall 1986.

Text from the cover of An Inclusive-Language Lectionary.Merits and Demerits of An Inclusive-Language Lectionary

This is a transcript of a workshop presentation given by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott during the 1986 Fresno EWCI Conference (). It has been lightly edited for clarity. Virginia was a member of the committee that created An Inclusive Language Lectionary.

Click to read.

Handling Power: Unchristian, Unfeminine, Unkind?

by Anne Linstatter

“Thine is the power…”

Many Christians, perhaps remembering the words of the Lord’s Prayer, feel uncomfortable dealing with power, especially in groups larger than the family. If we attend a church in which most of the power rests in the hands of a pastor or priest, we don’t often go against that person’s leadership. If our church makes decisions by vote of a board of elders or deacons, we try to pass most motions unanimously, keeping any debate to a minimum. Strong divisions of opinion, especially among Christians, seem un-Christlike.

Many of us even belong to churches in which decisions are made by consensus. Whenever a question or an issue comes up, we continue discussing it until everyone comes to an agreement. Acting on something when a portion of the group disagrees makes us deeply uncomfortable.

Handling power is especially difficult for women, particularly in organized groups. We don’t like to disagree with others. And we don’t like to make a decision for a group when we know a minority of the group is opposed to the decision.

This social conditioning is evident by our preadolescent years. In her book, In a Different Voice (Harvard University Press), Carol Gilligan documents some of the effects of this conditioning: “The boys enjoyed the legal debates as much as they did the game itself…. In contrast, the eruption of disputes among girls tended to end the game.”

When we Christian women gather in an organization, we have double trouble handling power. Two deeply ingrained kinds of conditioning lead us to be uncomfortable. As Christians, we want outsiders to “recognize us by our love.” And as women we feel ourselves to be the devoted custodians of interpersonal relationships. We don’t like being a part of any decision or action that goes against the wishes of a minority. In fact, to use the words of a flyer for a recent conference on Christian women and power, we “suspect that using power is unfeminine, unchristian, or unkind.”

Given this context, I’d like to examine two recent uses of power: one by evangelical Christian women, one by secular men. In comparing them, we may be better able to define what kinds of group processes are Christian and appropriate for Christian women—and which are unchristian and wrong.

Both uses of power in group decision-making occurred in California last July. The first took place on July 8 at the business meeting of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus International during a biennial conference in Fresno. The second occurred at the July 18 meeting of the regents of the University of California in Santa Cruz. EWCI decided to take positions against racism, against domestic violence, and in favor of civil rights for homosexual persons. The regents decided to begin divesting UC funds from firms that continue to do business in South Africa. The decisions were remarkably similar in some ways. Both groups took stands on moral issues completely unrelated co their own goals and tasks. Both decided that the proper use of their organizational power was to take a stand in favor of the civil rights of a persecuted group.

In their decisions, both groups undertook substantial risks. For the regents, the risk was financial. For EWCI, the risk was in splitting the young organization and in losing credibility in conservative churches where the group is trying to promote equality between women and men.

The two examples are useful, not only because of their similarities but because of their differences. One was a group of women; the other was a group of men. One involved an explicitly Christian organization; the other, a secular institution. Looking at the two together is especially useful because after the EWCI decision, some members of that organization suggested that those behind the vote had used “male manipulative politics.”

In both groups. the general decision-making process was similar. Each decision involved four steps: 1) a business meeting at which the proposed action was voted down; 2) a change of heart on the part of one or more persons; 3) back-room meetings to discuss the issue; 4) a subsequent business meeting at which the matters were reintroduced.

About a year prior to this July’s meeting, the University of California regents had refused a five-year divestiture plan advocated by black legislators and activist Democrats. They had instead adopted the go-slow policy of minimal divestiture supported by Gov. George Deukmejian. But this last June, the governor, an Armenian, had a sudden change of heart. The South African government’s increasing repression brought back the horror he had long felt over the genocide of his own people in the early part of this century. The governor met with three of his staff, quietly drawing up plans for full divestiture in four years. In these back-room meetings, they counted how many votes they could expect on July 18: six from those who had supported the earlier plan, maybe four from the governor’s recent appointees, one from a student, and two from alumni representatives, and Deukmejian’s own vote.

A few days before the meeting, feeling their motion had a fair chance of passing, the governor and his aides called the recent appointees to inform them of the plan. Frank Hope, Jr., one of the appointees, later told reporters that when the governor called, “I was somewhat negative. He said, ‘Vote any way you want.'” The motion passed.

The process at EWCI was similar. Members attending a business meeting at the organization’s 1984 conference in Wellesley, Massachusetts, heard resolutions presented by their executive council on the Equal Rights Amendment, peacemaking, and political involvement for justice. Resolutions were introduced from the floor on racism, pornography, and homosexual oppression. The reaffirmation of support for the ERA passed. However, perhaps because of fear of the homosexual issue, a motion was passed to send all other resolutions into committees for two years.

Simultaneously, a decision was made to poll the entire membership (roughly seven hundred people) on whether EWCI should take further stands on political issues. (In 1975, the group had passed resolutions in favor of the ERA and in support of eleven Episcopal women priests whose ordination at that time was considered invalid.) The poll would guide the council in whether to plan any vote on such resolutions, either at future meetings or by mail.

The poll showed 48 percent in favor of resolutions, 46 percent against. Four percent didn’t feel strongly either way. Two percent of the responses were unclear. Reviewing these results, EWCI’s executive council decided that the resolution process resulted in “divisiveness, discord, and polarization” and was counterproductive for the organization. “Thus, we will continue to explore these issues and others as they arise, although we will not formulate an ‘official stance,'” wrote Nancy Hardesty (a member of the council) in an official report.

Meanwhile, important changes of heart were taking place among some EWCI members and leaders with regard to how homosexual persons ought to be treated in our society and in our churches. The initial raising of the issue at the conference in Wellesley resulted in people thinking, studying, and praying. Some came to the Fresno conference hoping this resolution and others would again be presented or that some kind of friendly gesture toward EWCI members who are lesbian would be made by the group as a whole. Others, of course, came fearing such a resolution.

Many of those opposed to a statement on homosexual persons were confident that the business meeting would not include any resolutions; after all, the executive council had decided against it. In fact, the council had met just prior to the conference and the question of whether resolutions would be permitted at the business meeting came up. It was discussed for an hour.

One of those present privately counted six council members who felt that resolutions should be permitted—and six who felt they should not. The council as a whole did not resolve the question. Nancy Hardesty, one of those who favored resolutions, volunteered to chair the “open-mic” portion of the conference business meeting. The council agreed that she would do it—but asked her to preface the open mike with a reading of the 1985 council statement against resolutions.

After the conference was underway, an informal meeting of lesbians and friends was announced. (Similar groups had gathered at the last two EWCI conferences.) A small group gathered, both heterosexual and homosexual, and chatted in twos and threes for more than an hour. Finally, someone new to the group asked whether the gathering was going to have any format other than personal conversations. Could we go around in a circle and share our personal stories? Could we discuss the business meeting scheduled for the next day?

Nancy Hardesty, who was present, said she had no agenda for the gathering. Continued personal conversation was fine with her. Someone expressed hope that a resolution would be passed or at least introduced. For some fifteen minutes, private conversations continued amid comments on resolutions directed toward the whole group.

I said I would like to see a resolution introduced, even if it failed. Somehow the group finally jelled, and the executive council’s statement against resolutions was discussed. Did it apply only to the council and its power to send out mail ballots? Did it apply to the biennial business meeting? For how many years would it apply to the business meeting? Did the council have the power to muzzle the assembled membership?

The issue of how to handle power faced these assembled Christian women. Partly because of a sense of powerlessness—the feeling that we could make a gesture but would not succeed in passing anything—the group decided to go ahead and try introducing some resolutions.

Among us were a black woman and some women who had been victims of violent abuse as children or wives. We decided that the three issues closest to our hearts were racism, family violence, and civil rights for homosexual persons. We would try to introduce those subjects, in that order. If no resolutions were allowed, well, at least we had tried. If the first one passed, that would be a victory. If by some miracle all three passed, we would introduce one against nuclear armaments. Probably we would have to reintroduce the one on homosexual civil rights two years hence at the next EWCI conference—and at the one after that—but at least we would be raising the issue.

Four people volunteered to introduce the motions. The back-room meeting was over. Unlike the regents, we didn’t count how many votes we could expect before deciding whether to proceed. Nor did we contact others and ask them to vote with us. With the business meeting ten hours away, we didn’t even notify anyone of our plans. We just went to bed and prayed.

The next day, when the open mike began, Michelle Borba of Oakland came to the mike and said, “I move that, recognizing the profound oneness of all women in Christ, we commit ourselves to work for justice and equality for all racial minorities.”

Immediately, the issue of whether EWCI would permit any resolutions came up. Nancy Hardesty, chairing the meeting, expressed her opinion that the council’s statement (which she had just read) was not binding on this meeting. She pointed out that the ballot had been 48 percent in favor of resolutions.

Cathy Kroeger of Minnesota moved to amend the motion to forbid any further resolutions. That amendment was not accepted by the motion’s author. An attempt was made to table. People spoke on both sides. Then Joyce Williams of Kansas City, who had worked hard to get more black women to come to the Fresno conference, stood up and said words to the effect of, “If this organization can’t even take a verbal stand against racism, I guess we might as well all pack up our Bibles and go home.” The tabling was defeated; the motion passed.

Moments later, Cathy [Kroeger] and Jeanne Baly of Chicago were vying for attention at different microphones. Nancy recognized Jeanne, who presented the second motion, which was against domestic violence. It passed with little debate.

I came to the microphone and presented the third motion: “I move that, whereas homosexual people are children of God, and because of the biblical mandate of Jesus Christ that we are all created equal in God’s sight, and in recognition of the presence of the lesbian minority in Evangelical Women’s Caucus International, EWCI takes a firm stand in favor of civil-rights protection for homosexual persons.”

It was debated. A move was made to table it “indefinitely.” The motion to table failed. Debate continued. A mother of a gay man spoke for it, as did the daughter of a lesbian mother. Others spoke against it. Several people pointed out that the resolution did not make any theological statement; it simply asked for housing, jobs, and other civil rights for gay people. When the vote came, the motion passed. Eighty were in favor; sixteen were opposed; twenty-five abstained.

The two votes—by the UC regents and by EWCI—were very difficult, even painful.

The regents’ main job is to be financially responsible for the thousands of people whose education, jobs, and pension checks depend on the UC system. The trustees themselves could be personally liable if major losses reduce the $9.6 billion investment portfolio.

The vote at the EWCI business meeting was also painful. Most of those present had not expected a vote. And debate over the motion exposed underlying divisions in the group, divisions that for many are painful to acknowledge. (Those divisions were made all the more evident when people were asked to stand to be counted, a voice vote and even a hand count having proven confusing.)

In the aftermath of the regents’ meeting, the governor said, “I’ve done what I think is right, and we’ll see what happens. Some people may like it, and some may not.”

His position is about the same as that taken by those in EWCI who planned and introduced the three motions. (The fourth never made it to the floor.) Among those who did not like EWCl’s action were some in the Minneapolis chapter who had offered to host the next biennial conference. They withdrew their offer, saying that Bethel College of St. Paul would probably withdraw as a proposed site. Other chapters, such as the one in Boston, were considering whether to withdraw from the organization. Other people congratulated EWCI on its courage and pledged to join or give money.

Both for the regents and for EWCI, the future probably holds business as usual without any of the great disasters that are possible but not probable. The risk factor in both cases is maybe ten percent. But the risk has been taken; the boat has been rocked. In both cases, a persecuted group has been supported, and the regents and EWCI will probably continue to pursue their courses without too much damage.

Nevertheless, for EWCI members the question of how power was used still lies heavily on many hearts. Was “male manipulative politics” used? Was the process unchristian, un­ feminine, and unkind?

The word politics comes from the Greek politikos, meaning “of a citizen.” The word is rooted in the governing of a city by its citizens rather than by a dictator or a king. Thus, it has come to refer to the process of decision-making by the members of a group through voting and accepting the decision of the majority or plurality. In a nutshell, politics means people jointly sharing power.

Manipulate is a verb that means handling. Manipulative politics is a pejorative way of referring to the handling of power in group decision-making processes. It is a way of saying that one group, possibly smaller, forced its will on another group.

Was the vote of the regents manipulative politics? A small group planned the motion that was introduced, but they did not force the outcome. Likewise, at EWCI, a small group planned the motions (albeit in a rather impromptu fashion). But the larger group could have voted differently. No one forced people to vote as they did, and all resolutions could have been tabled, as happened two years earlier. In neither case do I see any wrong handling of power. Resolutions were introduced in a spirit of trust, with full openness to whatever would result.

But when all three EWCI resolutions passed, those presenting them suddenly appeared to be very powerful people. To some who were there, we appeared to have abused that power, to have “railroaded” the decision, forcing the group to adopt our positions.

In hindsight, aside from months of planning to clarify the status of resolutions and to allow adequate time for debate, I can see three steps we could have taken on the morning of July 8 to share power. One, we could have reported our intended resolutions to the council. Two, we could have withdrawn Nancy Hardesty from chairing the [open-mic portion of the session]. And, three, we could have begun with a motion to permit resolutions.

If we had foreseen success, we probably would have been much more careful about our use of power. Expecting only to raise issues—and to raise them again and again over the years before obtaining the ratification of the group, we took no precautions to limit our power. This was a mistake—though not an abuse of power.

A more fundamental question is whether this general method of handling group power—making motions, voting, using Roberts’ Rules of Order, abiding by majority rule, and engaging in back-room planning—is male.

In one sense, of course, it is. For centuries, women—whether in Greece or Rome or the United States—did not have access to that kind of group decision-making. And it’s a manner of operation that many of us still don’t feel comfortable with. Little girls are trained to tend relationships and to care about the pain of others. As women, we are less comfortable than men with divisiveness. We want consensus, agreement, and everyone feeling happy (at least on the surface).

What our socialization and the Western world’s social history would suggest, then, is that all politics is male. The handling of power in groups is something that men feel more comfortable about than women. (It’s no coincidence that the UC regents are mostly male; with $9.6 billion at stake, California has gone for the pros.)

We can concede that all politics is “male and manipulative.” We can say that handling disagreements by vote is a male way of doing things. But that will leave us with traditionally female ways of handling power. We will have to come to consensus on every decision we make-or make no decisions.

The decision at the earlier Wellesley conference to send all resolutions to committees was a traditionally “female” way of handling power. We will make no one unhappy; we will think about it longer; we will avoid divisiveness. When the ballot on whether to have resolutions was 48 percent in favor to 46 percent opposed, the executive council sided with the 46 percent in a seemingly “female” attempt to erase clear divisions within the group. For the sake of organizational unity, no resolutions would be voted on. I see a problem in this “female” approach to power. A tremendous amount of power was mustered to keep the resolution on homosexuality off the floor of any EWCI meeting. First at Wellesley, then in the executive council’s statement contradicting the mail ballot, then in Fresno before and during the business meeting, power was used to keep any resolutions at all from being presented. (For example, only four minutes were left for the open mike before the announced lunch hour.) The power expended in trying to keep this issue from a vote was at least as great as the power expended in trying to bring it to the floor.

For two years, Christian women in EWCI have been deeply embroiled in debates over how to handle power. Some, in pressing for a vote on resolutions important to them, have used tactics similar to those used by Governor Deukmejian and the UC regents. Others, in seeking to implement such a vote, have used very similar tactics. In fact, the strategy through which all the resolutions at Wellesley were sent to committees was planned the night before and the morning of the June 22, 1984, business meeting in a secret gathering of a handful of women. Their purpose was to prevent the debate and voting that they felt would be detrimental to EWCI. This kind of attempt to bury disagreements could be called “female manipulative politics.”

It is not tactics, then, but goals that distinguish the two styles of handling power. One group’s goal is the avoidance of conflict and divisiveness. The other’s goal is the peaceful arbitration of apparent divisions by an agreement to abide by the will of the majority. Neither goal, then, is inherently “male” or “female.” I would hope mature persons of both sexes would choose the best ways of using power in given situations, even if it meant going against their gender-based training.

And that brings us back to our initial question: what is the best way for Christians to handle power? Is the avoidance of conflict and the achievement of consensus the only truly Christian goal? Or can the peaceful arbitration of apparent divisions by debate and voting also serve Christian ends?

In choosing between consensus or majority vote, we need to pay more heed to Christian humility. It is often pride that impels us toward consensus. We don’t want to admit our brokenness as a group; we want to reach for perfection, perfect wholeness and unity.

In a small group, consensus may be a realistic goal. But in a group as diverse as EWCI or the UC regents (whose decisions affect half the people in California), Christian decision­making is shown by a group’s willingness to admit divisions and to submit to the views of the majority. I personally find God speaking to me and adjusting my daily agenda through the words and needs of others. Debating and voting together, if undertaken in the right spirit, can be a way of listening to others; whether or not we agree with the outcome, it can be a valuable way of uncovering more of God’s will for our lives.

In choosing between consensus or majority vote, we must also heed the Parable of the Talents. In Jesus’ story, the returning master punishes the servant who, out of fear, did nothing. He rewards those who took what they had and acted with it, even imperfectly.

When a large organization has the goal of consensus, it all too often leads to inaction. In his parable, Jesus counsels us to action and risk-taking, even when our efforts are flawed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer counseled us to “sin boldly.” We should not fail to act just because our action might be imperfect. We must not waste our organization’s power to do good because of a fear of handling power.

I applaud the UC regents and the members of EWCI for their courage in decision-making and risk-taking on behalf of others. The decision-making process in each group was Christ­like—governed by humility and a real concern for the oppressed.

Self-interest for the regents was to keep UC’s blue-chip stocks; the action they took will cost the system millions of dollars. Self-interest for EWCI was to distance itself from the position of homosexual-acceptance taken by a few of its prominent members; the step EWCI took will limit its ability to reach women and men in conservative churches with the message of biblical feminism. It may enhance EWCI’s ability to reach women in feminist circles with the gospel, but right now the organization is mostly feeling the loss. Yet this kind of self-sacrifice is the core of Jesus’ life and message: “You who save your life will lose it; and you who lose your life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). Basilea Schlink. founder of a twentieth-century Protestant order of nuns, has written, “Give away that which your heart clings to, and you will be granted fullness of God’s love and blessings.” Abbe Huvelin, another monastic leader, put it more simply: “You will never do much for people except by suffering for them.”

Those of us involved in the presentation of resolutions at the EWCI conference could have done a better job of handling the decision-making process. But given our discomfort as Christians and as women with handling power, we did pretty well. Certainly, all of us who were involved learned a great deal. One other thing is evident: the Holy Spirit brooded over us—and over the UC regents. Nothing else I know of adequately explains the many individual contributions that caused the decisions to be made.

Both the UC regents and EWCI may temporarily suffer for their commitments to the cause of others. But if that be the case, both—whether women or men—can turn in confidence and hope to the One whose power, in its justice and grace, is the model for all that we seek, the model for all that we dream.

 

© 1986 by Anne Linstatter (Anne Eggebroten in 1986). Published in The Other Side magazine, December 1986.

Handling Conflict: The Fallout from Fresno

By Mark William Olson

A women's sign line drawing with a descending dove inside. An early logo of the Evangelical Women's Caucus.The official logo of Evangelical Women’s Caucus International shows the image of a dove encircled by the familiar women’s symbol. The dove, of course, is the traditional biblical representation of the Holy Spirit—the source of inspiration, our Advocate and Empowerer, the One to reveal new things. It is also a traditional image of peace.

The events last July in Fresno, California, described in the article by Anne Eggebroten, have left many EWCI members divided on the actions or absence of the Holy Spirit at their biennial conference. For some, the passage of resolutions against racism and domestic violence and for civil rights for homosexual persons was cause for celebration—a courageous moral and political stand emerging out of and integral to EWCI’s biblical feminism. Other members were left reeling from the resolutions, which they felt were unexpected, undemocratically pushed through, and fiercely divisive.

The fallout from Fresno leaves many women groping for the meaning of the Spirit’s peace and inspiration.

Did the events at the EWCI conference represent the Christian use of power that Anne Eggebroten suggests? Not all members agree. Alvera Mickelsen, who heads the Minnesota chapter of EWCI and was strongly opposed to the resolutions, argues that “true democracy never had a chance” because the majority of EWCI members were not given the opportunity to vote. Further, she claims, nobody was aware of the pending resolutions except their promoters. ‘”The minority used their power skillfully to achieve their will over the majority.”

Anne West Ramirez, an EWCI member who attended the conference, explains that for many women, the point of contention was the appropriateness of the resolutions and the nature of EWCI. “Many members personally favored the substance of all three resolutions but did not believe EWCI as an organization should take any official stands on issues other than the equality of the sexes.” Nancy Hardesty, an EWCI national council member and author of All We’re Meant to Be disagrees. With these resolutions, she feels the organization is being true to “the total vision of feminism. These resolutions affirm the full equality of all men and women, not just some.”

A graphic of a descending dove with a women's sign inscribed within it.Undeniably—and unavoidably—the issue of homosexuality was at the bean of much of the “power struggle.” Advocates of that specific resolution were careful to formulate it in terms of civil rights—thus providing a shared concern which could accommodate differing biblical perspectives on homosexuality. Not careful enough, said some members. Explains Alvera Mickelsen, “EWCI members, even those who voted against the resolution, are in favor of civil rights for everyone, even criminals. The issue was not in the ‘civil rights’ phrase but rather in the clause: ‘in recognition of lesbians in EWCI.’ That wording, she and others contend, implied an acceptance of homosexuality as a biblically sanctioned life style—a stance unacceptable to them.

Nancy Hardesty feels that is a misconstruing of the meaning of the resolution—a reflection of “a lot of homophobia in our society.” Britt Vanden Eykel, EWCI’s national coordinator, also believes “that is not what the resolution said, and it is not what was approved by a majority of those attending the business meeting. The people who stood up to be counted in favor of this amendment looked to Christ’s example when he went in and broke bread with the outcasts of society and was severely criticized by the religious leaders for it.”

In retrospect, Vanden Eykel is convinced that the gay-rights resolution has had a positive effect. “The anger and judgment that have surfaced have convinced me that it is good that we are discussing this issue. The strength of these negative sentiments has made me wonder if some of the reaction is not based more on personal prejudice than on fear of thwarting the will of God.”

Anne Eggebroten, who cosponsored the resolution, echoes those sentiments: “The anger and emotion raised both within EWCI and in the larger evangelical world reveal how deeply important it is to us to believe that homosexuals are not children of God, are not equal, and do not deserve any protection, even in the areas of civil rights.” “Perhaps,” Vanden Eykel reflects, “our resolution serves an important purpose in calling many of us in the Christian community to face our own personal need to control and judge the behavior of others in the guise of theological interpretation.”

A more severe knot of contention for other members is the impact of that controversial resolution on the unity and witness of EWCI. Catherine Kroeger, a scholar of New Testament, argues that EWCI women who work and serve in conservative circles are in effect disbarred from the organization because they could not continue in it without damaging the rest of their ministry. She points out that some American and third-world women, because of their culture and conservative Christian heritage, would be—and in some cases have been—compromised by EWCI’s stance on homosexuality.

This amounts, she argues, to a betrayal of those members as well as a weakening of their capacity to witness to biblical feminism. “The caucus forgot its original mission statement and its commitment to women around the world. How tragic that the women who need the message most are the least articulate, the least able to confront controversy.” Anne West Ramirez acknowledges the same bind for some members: “Should the women [in conservative churches] leave EWCI or sacrifice their own ministry and perhaps that of their relatives as well?”

Hardesty responds that dozens of gay persons and other minorities in our society have lost their jobs. Stressing the civil-rights aspect, she argues, “If an organization fires someone who stands up for civil rights, I would have to question how Christian that organization is.” Eggebroten acknowledges the “anguish” of many EWCI members, but she believes “the larger purpose of justice for an extremely persecuted group is worth all the suffering.”

EWCI member Dawn Schwartz and Britt Vanden Eykel both wonder if proponents of the resolutions adequately considered the scriptural exhortation to unity (Eph. 4:2, Phil. 1:27, 1 Cor. 1:10). “Unity is not necessarily equated with perfect wholeness,” Vanden Eykel says. “But we are instructed by Scripture to do all things in an orderly manner and to be considerate of the feelings of those we think are not quite as mature, progressive, or astute as ourselves. Any action that is taken with such force that it breaks the body of believers apart should be suspect.”

“There is a tension,” Hardesty responds, “between trying to maintain unity by settling for the lowest common denominator and trying to be prophetic.” EWCI, she contends, has always opted for the prophetic.

For now, the division is painful and confusing. For some, the actions of last July’s conference represent a new opening of hope; for others, a sense of betrayal, the feeling of being somehow “battered and bruised.” For all members, there are wounds from a difficult process of discernment.

Perhaps, though, this very painful juncture strikes at a deeply biblical vein: our Lord brought a mysterious, powerful redemption through batterings and bruises, through contention and misunderstanding. Christ’s followers are called to that same way of the cross—which often means standing with the world’s casualties, those battered and bruised by violence and discrimination, even—we humbly acknowledge—by the tyranny of aJl forms of religious righteousness.

The question lingers: what is the future of EWCI and of all women committed to biblical feminism? Where, sisters, does the Spirit lead you? To new things revealed? To the peace of biblical unity? To the rocky path of prophetic challenge?

Perhaps the Spirit is already communicating. Anne West Ramirez, for instance, is concerned that the controversy about the Fresno resolutions diverts attention from “many splendid aspects of the conference.” Workshops on racial justice, domestic violence, sexuality, peace, abortion, and other issues, she feels, may accomplish more than simple resolutions.

The task of witnessing to biblical feminism goes on-with the Spirit’s empowerment. Members of EWCI—both those who supported and those who opposed the resolutions—can probably concur with Nancy Hardesty. who subtly echoes Gamaliel (Acts 5:38-39): “The future of any organization is in God’s hands. If it is blessed by God, it will go forward.”

 

© 1986 by Mark William Olson. Published in The Other Side magazine, December 1986.

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CFT 50th Anniversary logo (CFT regular logo in gold)In honor of CFT’s 50th anniversary, contributions from CFT members have made it possible to publish some important historical reflections, articles, reviews, and other pieces which were previously unavailable online. See more from this series here.

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