Women in Transition: The First Evangelical Women’s Caucus Conference (1975)

The first Evangelical Women’s Caucus Conference was held in Washington, D.C. over the Thanksgiving weekend (November 28-30,  1975)

Here is the December 2, 1975 press release describing the conference, and underneath that is the invitation organizers sent out announcing the conference.

Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.

An unprecedented gathering of 360 women who are both feminists and conservative Christians took place here during Thanksgiving weekend.

Fired by mutual support and the conviction that “Jesus is a feminist,” they returned to 36 states and a broad spectrum of denominations, determined to spread the word, work for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and combat the popular “Total Woman” ideology.

The Conference on Biblical Feminism was the first demonstration of national solidarity among church women discontented with the tradition of male leadership in churches and homes.

Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), a loosely organized one-year-old group, sponsored the conference and discovered overwhelming demand for an incorporated national organization, regional and local chapters, and continued advocacy of biblical feminism.

Over $4500 in cash and pledges was given to get the proposed actions and incorporation underway.

A temporary national office was established in Minneapolis under the leadership of Evon Bachaus, a prominent Christian feminist and head of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Task Force on Religion in Minnesota.

Providing organized opposition to Total Woman, Inc., is an immediate goal of the EWC.

Keynote speaker Dr. Virginia Mollenkott denounced the misuse of the Bible by Total Woman and other groups which attempt to justify female submission through selected quotation of biblical texts.

Mollenkott is a Christian author and Professor of English at William Paterson College in New Jersey.

A resolution was passed supporting the Equal Rights Amendment as: “consistent with Christian convictions” and calling for active work to bring about its passage.

A second resolution expressed solidarity with the 2,000 Roman Catholic women meeting simultaneously in Detroit on the ordination of women.

Sharing of personal struggles through open testimony and small groups formed the heart of the conference. Many women told of isolation and ostracism, finding mutual support for the first time.

“I had no one else to turn to. My church and family told me I was a troublemaker and mentally sick for wanting equality,” said one woman.

Another confessed with tears, “I thought I was alone and that I was wrong in what I was feeling, and now I find that I am not.”

Two of the speakers, Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, are co-authors of All We’re Meant To Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation (Word Books, Waco, Texas, $4.95), recently selected as book of the year by Eternity magazine.

Scanzoni discussed the need for compassionate affirmation of various lifestyles: marriage, singleness, parenthood, and childlessness.

A hard-hitting, radical exposition of biblical feminism and its scrip­tural basis, Mollenkott’s address was received skeptically by some women. However, intense communication and love throughout the weekend conquered the potential for divisiveness.

“‘The historical roots of Christian feminism (and all modern feminism) in the evangelical churches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were presented by Lucille Sider Dayton, Donald Dayton, and Nancy Hardesty, who are working on a book to be published soon.

Lucille Sider Dayton is also the coordinator of Daughters of Sarah, a bimonthly national newsletter for the Christian feminist community featuring articles, news and resources.

Twenty-five different workshops covered five major areas: political activity, marriage and singleness, work in and out of the home, the feminist experience, and intellectual and theological concerns.

Including some minority women, the 360 participants represented a wide variety of denominations, ages, professions, geographical locations, and feminist backgrounds. In addition, about 20 of those taking part were men.

“The men at the conference all felt loved and accepted,” said Dr. Rufus Jones, white-haired General Director of the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society. He led the men’s workshop and said the conference was the most significant he has ever attended.

A minority of the women attending were members of NOW and other secular feminist organizations. Some had had contact with secular feminism and had been alienated from it.

Another small number had worked on women’s task forces in their own denominations.

A larger group had read feminist books, either the basic secular texts or the recently published Christian ones, such as All We’re Meant To Be. Many came to meet the authors.

A surprising number of the women attending, perhaps half, were new to feminism. They came out of interest and out of a sense of alienation from their churches; for the first time this weekend they began to identify themselves as feminists.

Others included a representative to Congress from Kansas and a woman who had done extensive work for the ERA in the New York referendum through the League of Women Voters.

To many people the terms “feminist” and “Christian” seem mutually exclusive. EWC hopes to show them that feminism is not only consistent with the Bible, but a natural outgrowth of the Scriptures rightly interpreted.

“The demon of sexism must be exorcised from the biblical community,” asserted Mollenkott.

After reading passages which tell women to “revere” and to “worship” their husbands in The Total Woman and other books, she demanded, “‘Where are the prophets in the Christian community? Why aren’t they thundering against such idolatry?”

Hardesty provided a provisional working definition of biblical feminism.

There is no party line on this. It seems to me that biblical feminists are:

Christians who believe, first of all, that it is essential for salvation to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord, and who accept the Bible as the inspired and authoritative word of God.

We are also concerned for love and justice between the sexes, and we are committed to find the whole counsel of God on this matter.  

Invitation to the Conference

1 September 1975

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Two and a half years ago a group of young evangelicals representing a broad range of denominations met in Chicago for the purpose of drafting a document which could adequately express their growing social concern. The result was the now well known “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.

A year later, Thanksgiving of 1974, many of the same people met again and at this meeting an Evangelical Women’s Caucus was formed. One of the directives of that caucus was to put together during International Women’s Year a national conference on Biblical feminism. A planning committee was elected and plans have begun to unfold.

The purposes of the conference which will be held over Thanksgiving weekend in Washington, D.C. are multiple:

  • to put Christian women who are struggling with the Scriptures, church tradition, and the present realities of the 1970’s in touch with each other for mutual support, enlivenment, and challenge;
  • to facilitate communication between different voices within the evangelical communities on the question of interpretation of the Scriptures, traditional versus emerging roles for women and men, the legitimate place of authority and submission within marriage and the church;
  • to work toward re-affirming singleness, marriage, parenthood, childlessness;
  • to help women become aware of skills in assertiveness, negotiation, and creative conflict;
  • to explore ways of using more fully one’s gifts in the market place and in the church, as well as in the home;
  • to explore ways of identifying with women in poverty or other bondages due to enduring social and/or economic realities;
  • to provide an opportunity for the Evangelical Women’s Caucus to report on status of the Action Proposals from the Thanksgiving Workshop, 1974, Evangelicals for Social Concern;
  • to provide women with the multiple resources for further growth in these areas, including resources from denominations long at work in these areas (various ecumenical women’s centers, Daughters of Sarah, women’s advocates in the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., and the United Methodist Church, Lutheran Women’s Caucus, Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Religion Task of N.O.W.).

We are sending you these flyers about the conference because we know that you have already expressed interest in biblical feminism. We trust that you may be in contact with others actively engaged or potentially involved in these issues. Therefore, we are asking each one of you to share these flyers with friends you have, and we hope that you will be able to be with us Thanksgiving weekend for the conference, which is entitled, “Women in Transition.”

on behalf of the Planning Committee

Sincerely yours,

Karin Granberg Michaelson, Cheryl Forbes, Heidi Frost, and Judy Brown Hull

 

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