The Message of EWC’s 1980 Saratoga Conference: Love + Justice = Reconciliation

By Ann Ramsey Moor
Update Editor (1980)*

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott speaking at an EWC conference in 1980
Mollenkott’s powerful message: “I am convinced from both the Old and New Testaments that the central sign from the Holy Spirit’s anointing is being willing to struggle for justice by bringing good news to the poor.”

Attenders of EWC’s fourth plenary conference, “Women and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” heard a strong, repeated challenge to demonstrate their Christian faith by working for justice in a world filled with injustices.

The conference, held June 25-28 in Sarato¬ga Springs, N.Y., drew some 450 women and men from at least thirty denominations and from all over the United States and Canada.

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Women, Men, & the Bible, set the tone for the conference in her keynote address Thursday morning by challenging conventional notions about reconciliation.

“It would be easy,” stated Mollenkott, “for us to conclude that being ministers of reconciliation means encouraging people to forget about justice and simply bury the hatchet in order to achieve peace at any price. But the concept of peace at any price, involving as it does a law and order that just shoves human suffering out of sight, is not peace. It’s repression. The price of genuine peace in this world is the doing of just systems and empowering the poor and oppressed.”

To show that reconciliation means more than having “sentimental good feelings about one another,” Mollenkott turned to the conference text (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and pointed out that the Greek word translated “to reconcile” connotes thorough change.

Building on the biblical feminist understanding that being new creations in Christ rules out domination and makes mutuality a must in inter-personal relationships, Mollenkott urged her audience to go a step further and press for mutuality on the national and international levels.
“Love and justice,” she concluded, “are not opposites. Love and justice are the complements of each other.”

Motlalepula Chabaku’s keynote address Friday morning brought conferees face to face with the systemic injustice of apartheid. Chabaku, a black South African who got an M.Div. last year from Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary and presently works in the United States, spoke forcefully but guardedly about conditions in her motherland.

As a minor for life (the legal status of all black women in South Africa), she cannot vote or own property. She cannot even lodge a complaint with the police or sign her own documents (she must get a sixteen-year-old boy to do these things). If she talks freely about how South African businesses exploit blacks, she could be charged with economic sabotage — which is punishable by death.

Chabaku’s reaction to such outrages at the hands of an ostensibly Christian government was straightforward: “It is we human beings who have made pigmentation to be a leprosy in our lives instead of a gift that God has given us. We create the agonies… God never creates agonies.”

Her comments on battling such odds — for her own sake and that of others — were just as direct: “I had to struggle all the way, but I have never taken ‘no’ for an answer.” Her family, she explained, taught her that her name, which means “one who comes with the rain,” empowers her to “always come with rain.”

Chabaku went on to tell women that they could be world-changers if they were willing to learn from Christ’s example. “Jesus Christ was not strong, not powerful,” she said. “There was power in his powerlessness, so we as women must move away from despising ourselves. We must begin to shout!”

At a feminist historical program and banquet Thursday night, ninety¬year-old Victoria Booth Demarest, granddaughter of Salvation Army cofounders Catherine and William Booth, regaled conferees with stories of her experiences during a lifetime of ministry.

Alluding to her own name (originally Victoire) as something that had primed her to face difficult situations squarely, Demarest declared, “I thank my mother that that name ‘Victory’ did not allow me to be a quitter, did not allow me to be a coward, did not allow me to run away no matter what.”

While spurring women on to use their gifts in ministry, Demarest cautioned that “it is not what you can do, though you can do a great deal… but it is what God does through you that counts most.”

Catholic theologian and alcoholism counselor Susan B. Anthony II told how her great-aunt’s Quaker upbringing had influenced her commitment to justice for women. In Aunt Susan, she asserted, there was a “reconciliation of the mystical and the prophetic.” The great suffragist, she said, used to state that “I pray every single second of my life — not on my knees, but with my work.”

Marchiene Vroon Rienstra, pastor of the Port Sheldon (Mich.) Presbyterian Church and a featured EWC conference speaker for the second year in a row, wrapped things up at Friday night’s Communion service by comparing the world’s paradigm for women (and the church’s modification of same) with God’s paradigm. She cited Deborah, Mary, and Priscilla as examples of the various aspects of this paradigm.

Referring to Deborah, Rienstra said, “God needs women who are willing to be voices of God’s will —women who are willing to step forward when no one else is and call the people of God to fight against oppression.”

A wide variety of workshops and informal sessions and the profoundly moving music of singer/composer/pianist Ken Medema pulled the conference together into a unified whole.

 

* “Update” was the newsletter of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus for many years.  The name was later changed to Christian Feminism Today, and later became this web magazine.

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