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 in 1975 (November 28-30).

Coordinators were Karin Granberg Michaelson, Heidi Frost, and Cheryl Forbes.

The history of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, now known as Christian Feminism Today, starts with a 1973 meeting of evangelicals concerned about social justice issues. This meeting resulted in the creation and release of the historical Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. The meeting was called by Ron Sider, who would go on to found Evangelicals for Social Action (now Christians for Social Action).

Only three women were invited to the meeting. Seven women attended and signed the document. Sharon Gallagher writes briefly about this history in her opening paragraph of the included article you’ll find under the “10 Years Later: Recollections” tab above. Nancy Hardesty looks back at this time in the transcrip of her historically-focused plenary presentation from the 2004 EEWC Conference, “Blessed the Waters That Rise and Fall to Rise Again.”

Though less information is available about this conference than later conferences, we hope we’ve been able to include enough information to give you a taste of the novel excitement shared by the conference attendees. Biblical feminism was new to the world and equality-minded Christian women who had felt isolated and misunderstood finally found themselves a community of like-minded others.

This was an especially important time as the 1979 ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) ratification deadline was fast approaching. Ratification had stalled out three states short of the 38 needed.

Learn more about the conference by clicking on any of the tabs above.

 

Have a memory to share or even an audio recording or transcript? We’re always happy to add your voice to the archive. Please send your information to the Christian Feminism Today office.

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

 

© 1974 by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus

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.  

 

© 1975 by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus

Remembering Washington ’75

Can 10 Years Have Passed?

This article was originally published in volume 9, number 4 EWC Update, Summer (Winter 1985-86), on the 10 year anniversary of the first EWC conference.

Introduction by Sharon Gallagher

In November ’73 I was in Chicago for the Thanksgiving Workshop of Evangelicals for Social Action. I was one of three invited women present out of around 60 participants. At that workshop a small group of about six people were interested in women’s issues. We women had been invited, and we were at least asked to speak up on women’s issues, which made this group more progressive than most evangelical gatherings, but the progress at the point was not dramatic. I remember running into an evangelical leader I’d met the day before who said, “Oh yes, you’re Jim Wallis’s secretary, aren’t you?”(I wasn’t). Only three of us there, and we were still invisible.

When it came time to write out the ” Chicago Declaration,” Nancy Hardesty came up with that still brilliant statement challenging ”men and women to mutual submission and active discipleship.”

By the next ESA conference, at Thanksgiving ’74, there was a large enough group of women actually to consider ourselves a caucus, and plans were made for a conference of our own to be held a year later.

To show up then in Washington, D.C., in November ’75, and see a large group of women from all over the country present at a well-organized conference — EWC’s first such gathering — seemed almost magical to me, coming as it did from a few people and an idea. (I’m sure it seemed less magical to the hard-working committee of women who made it happen.) Now that 10 years have passed since that original conference, it seemed a good  time for Update to print reminiscences of several EWC members who also were in Washington, D.C., that year. Our thanks to each of them for contributing these memories.

Ruth Schmidt (Decatur, GA)

Even though I have attended all EWC’s national conferences since Washington, none has ever given me quite the thrill that that one did. I will never forget my joy and sense of wonder that more than 300 people, mostly women, but some men as well, had similar beliefs about both biblical faith and feminism.

Accustomed to being either a token Christian, asked by agnostic feminist friends to accompany them to church assignments, or a curiosity as a feminist in my own church, it was gloriously liberating to enjoy the company of other feminist believers, joining in worship, celebration, concern, and study.

— And, to think that many of our sisters and brothers out there today have still not experienced that joy. The work of EWC is as important for this next decade as it was for the one just past.

Lorraine Peters (Waterloo, Ont.)

Being present at the Washington ‘75 EWC conference was, for me, akin to falling in love. I wept for joy when I met Nancy Hardesty, Letha Scanzoni, and Virginia Mollenkott, whose writings, based on experience and careful biblical scholarship, awakened me to fresh depths of God’s love for women.

I was 41 years old but was staggered to discover that the Genesis creation accounts affirm that I as a woman am created in God’s image, not subordinate to, but in full partnership with man (male). The warmth and love of the conference organizers and leaders toward me, toward my friend Joyce Gladwell with whom I had come, and toward others, was a gift of God. I was amazed at the openness and trust among us women and a few men, but I was also aware of the resistance of some individuals present to our probings of the conference theme, ”Women in Transition: A Biblical Approach to Feminism.”

In the intervening years I have gone through intense testings. I am learning the balance between being “called to freedom” and not misusing that freedom. My love for God, people, and the Scriptures, grows. In 1982, at the EWC conference in Saratoga Springs, NY my husband John and I were able to co-lead two workshops, “Mutual Growth in Marriage in the Middle Years” and “Creative Parenting.” This spring I hope to complete a Master of Theological Studies degree at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. I am uncertain of my future steps following seminary. Resting in God’s love, which was kindled at “Washington ’75,” I look forward to discovering creative ways to continue living that love.

Susie Stanley (Portland, OR)

What did the first EWC conference mean to me? Memories flood my mind:

  • trying to do the motions to the Magnificat in the cramped space
  • wondering if Elisabeth Elliot really was there (she was)
  • meeting other Church of God women
  • appreciating a husband spending our fifth anniversary at home with two infants
  • singing “We’re on Our Way”
  • realizing I wasn’t the only one trying to reconcile feminism and Christianity
  • receiving a call to ministry.

That conference was a milestone in my spiritual experience. I made several major decisions during those days there at the 4-H Center.

Although my dad insists I always was a feminist, my conscious journey toward feminism began in 1974 with Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father. Her critique of the church was compelling. I began reading everything I could get my hands on, including the Bible, to see if the situation was as hopeless as Daly claimed. I came to the conclusion that there was potentially a positive connection between feminism and religion and attending that first EWC conference confirmed that conviction. There, I decided to call myself a feminist. I also decided to speak of God using inclusive language. Congregational singing was a new experience.

The testimonies of 19th century women, recalled for us by Nancy Hardesty, inspired me to take up their struggle. I was called to minister to women’s needs and decided to challenge the church to realize the vision of Galatians 3:28. My church recognized my calling and ordained me in 1983.

Currently I teach inclusive church history at the seminary level, and am completing a dissertation on Alma White, a Christian feminist who was the first woman bishop in the U.S.

EWC and biblical feminism have been a significant part of my life ever since those days in 1975. Some would say that EWC and biblical feminism are my life. EWC was there when I needed it. My commitment has persisted because I want our organization to be there for others when they too need it on their own journey.

Pat Ward (Glen Ellyn, IL)

My participation in the first EWC conference was part of a long redemptive experience that was to culminate with the book Christian Women at Work six years later. For reasons unknown to me, I had been invited to the 1974 meeting of Evangelicals for Social Action; at the caucus of women there, I was among those who suggested the name of Evangelical Women’s Caucus, based on my acquaintance with the women’s caucus of the State University of New York at Albany when I was teaching at that institution.

In the months between the Chicago meeting and the Washington ’75 conference, I did a few jobs for EWC such as finding a logo and getting stationery. Others planned the program. Little did they know when they asked me to do a workshop on “Establishing a Career in a Man’s World” that I had spent several years processing and recovering from a bitter first-job experience in Albany, having by that time moved on to a position at Penn State. In leading the workshop, I was asked about my own work experience, and I replied briefly. An editor from His magazine who was present then asked me if I would write an article about work.

As a result, the conference workshop became transformed into “But Can She Make Coffee?” which eventually appeared in His. I was writing to college women entering the job market but used some of my own experience about that Albany job —      in which I felt powerless, imprisoned, and threatened because of all the assaults on my identity and goals. For the first time I was able to articulate some of the positive ways of coping and for asserting my own identity, which that painful experience had allowed me to grow to discover.

Next, a publishing house editor who read the His article contacted me about doing a book for women about work. Martha Stout agreed to assist me in the project, and we traveled in various parts of the country conducting interviews with all the wonderful women whose lives now form the core of Christian Women at Work (Zondervan).

The insights that allowed me to put the book together make the book my own autobiography as well, told across the lives of other women. Pain, transformed, reflects a healing process in which that first EWC conference played a providential part.

 

© 1986 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus

Please request written permission before reprinting any part of the pieces included in this conference archive.

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.

Editors
The Christian Feminism Today website addresses topics of interest to Christian feminists. It features articles, opinion pieces, reviews of books and recordings (audio and video), interviews with Christian women and men who live according to Christian feminist principles and promote gender equality, love, and social justice among all people. We welcome submissions for consideration. Writer's guidelines are here.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you! I appreciate this description of the the historical first eew conference! Wow! Our founders of this group were so progressive right from the start!

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