Revisiting Re-Imagining

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by Sherry Jordon

Re-Imagining Community Logo
Re-Imagining Community Logo

In November 1993, more than 2,000 Christians from around the globe gathered in Minneapolis to celebrate the World Council of Churches “Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women.” The gathering was simply titled “Re-Imagining.”

What might “solidarity with women” mean for churches?  What questions needed to be raised, and what ideas and practices invited re-examination? Those attending the Minneapolis gathering— clergy, laity, theologians, academics—were unafraid to use their imaginations in exploring such matters creatively. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call the Re-Imagining Conference a watershed event in the history of Christian feminism. Along with so many others who attended the event, I found the experience nothing less than transformative.

Since that 1993 conference, three things have happened. First, the conference was followed by charges of heresy against many of the participants and organizers. Second, the Re-Imagining Community formed in response. And third, after having been inactive for a time, Re-Imagining has recently returned!

Re-visiting the 1993 Event

The 1993 Re-Imagining Gathering featured Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and Asian Feminist theologians from around the globe, including Mary Hunt, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Delores Williams, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Hyun Kyung Chung, Kwok Pui Lan, Beverly Harrison, and Elizabeth Bettenhausen.  These speakers re-imagined God, Jesus, Church, Sexuality, Language, and Ethics from a variety of feminist perspectives. We sat at round tables to discuss their inspiring presentations, we drew on the paper tablecloths, we sang, we danced, we laughed and cried. We worshiped as feminists, sharing rituals grounded in women’s experiences and using feminine language for God. These rituals included a milk and honey ritual that celebrated the goodness of women’s bodies and a song that affirmed the wisdom of women as created in the image of God:

Bless Sophia
Dream the Vision,
Share the Wisdom,
Dwelling Deep Within

Most of us left the conference encouraged, challenged, and inspired.

The Backlash

The backlash was swift and powerful. Concerns were angrily raised about many aspects of the gathering, with special ire directed toward the centrality of Sophia, the use of feminine language and imagery for God, the milk and honey ritual, and the positive acceptance of homosexuality, including the participation of lesbians in attendance.

The conference had received some denominational support and funding, especially from the United Methodist and Presbyterian (PCUSA) Churches. Conservative groups within those denominations, allied with the Institute for Religion and Democracy, charged participants in the Re-Imagining conference with heresy, demanded that they resign from church positions, and threatened to withhold funds from the denominations that supported the conference.

Unintended Consequences

This backlash had two unintended consequences: it made Christian feminism part of the national conversation, and it led to the formation of the Re-Imagining Community. During the ten years it was in existence, this community sponsored six more conferences, published a quarterly journal and several books, taught classes on feminist theology at churches, and organized small groups to discuss feminist theology. The Re-Imagining Community dissolved in 2003, however, because it could no longer sustain itself as a grassroots, volunteer organization.

Alive and Active Once Again—Preserving History

Almost twenty-five years later, the Re-Imagining Community has re-incorporated. Its intention is both to preserve its history and to continue to “re-imagine” Christianity.

Women’s history has often been lost or distorted, and the backlash against Re-Imagining in 1993 threatened to do that yet again. In order to preserve the stories of those involved, I conducted sixty-five oral interviews with founding members of the Re-Imagining Community, leading feminist theologians who presented at the conferences, people who were on the national staff of the women’s units in the Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist churches, and authors who have written books related to Christian feminism and/or Re-Imagining. These interviews are filled with laughter and tears, stories of accusations of heresy as well as accounts of support and community. They will be added to the Re-Imagining collections found in several archives (including Duke University, Union Theological Seminary, the Minnesota Historical Society, and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities) and will inspire future generations with their examples of courage and wisdom. Duke is in the process of making these interviews accessible via their website. I will be presenting my research based on these interviews at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in a paper titled “Re-Imagining Re-visited: Conference, Controversy, and Community.”

Alive and Active Once Again—Continuing to Re-Imagine

The Re-Imagining Community is not only trying to preserve its history, however, but to continue “re-imagining” in this time of backlash against women, people of color, immigrants, and persons of various sexual orientations and gender identities. It is planning several events in 2018 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1993 Conference. Information about these events will be posted on The Re-Imagining Community website and Facebook page when the details are finalized. In the meantime, please visit them for digital versions of the speakers and rituals from past conferences as well as links to resources and other organizations (including Christian Feminism Today).

Our Organizations Have Much in Common

I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering and I was very impressed by the warm welcome my sister and I received, the thought-provoking speakers, and the inclusive worship. Christian Feminism Today’s inclusion of younger scholars, its web resources, and its strong sense of community are remarkable. The Re-Imagining Community shares and celebrates Christian Feminism Today’s commitment to feminist theology, expansive images for God, social justice, and the equality and inclusion of all people in church and society.

The Re-Imagining Community defines itself as: “an ecumenical, radical, Christian movement. Together we pursue creative and relevant ways of understanding Womanist, Feminist, Mujerista, and Asian Feminist theologies, opening space for dialogue with the church, diverse religious communities, and the world. We are impassioned to participate in Re-Imagining by our love and search for God, justice, and a challenging, empowering, and inclusive church.”

I hope that our two communities will find ways to encourage and support one another in the years ahead. I am deeply grateful for all that you have done and continue to do.

 

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Dr. Sherry Jordon
Dr. Sherry Jordon was awarded her Ph.D in Theology from Yale in 1995 and is currently Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. She specializes in historical theology, particularly the Reformation period, and Women’s Studies. Jordon served on the Coordinating Council of the Re-Imagining Community from 1998-2003, spoke at the 2003 Re-Imagining Gathering, and wrote an essay on feminist theology for Bless Sophia: Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual of the Re-Imagining Community.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I am looking for the book, Reimagining which was a collection of interviews, etd of how people were impacted by the Conference in Minneapolis. Please tell me how to find it.

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