by Faye Short
"I am grateful that there are bold women, and men, of commitment who will plumb the depth of the gospel in bold new ways...not afraid to break out the edges of theological thinking."
"There are men and women who believe there is only one small, narrow way...one small, narrow way. They build their work by tearing down the work of others."
This evaluation of two varying viewpoints of ministry within the church was offered by Dr. Kathleen S. Hurty, General Director, Church Women United, in the workshop she led, Celebrating the Ecumenical Decade, at the United Methodist Womens Assembly held in Orlando, Florida, May 14-17. In my opinion, Dr. Hurtys statement showed a lack of awareness that the theological edges can be pushed so far they no longer remain within the confines of orthodoxy, and a lack of understanding of those who challenge such expansion into unorthodox territory.
Who are the truly bold women of our day? Are they those who have celebrated the goddess within, bitten the apple in solidarity with Eve or found the "stories of women " to be as sacred as the biblical text? Of course, these outward expressions are mere wrappings for the core theology of radical feminist thought today. At the heart of such theology is the denial of the authority of Scripture and of the necessity of Christs atoning death; the acceptance that all religious roads ultimately lead to God; and the belief that sin is corporate, not personal--therefore concluding, as one speaker did at the last Re-Imagining conference, "in the heart and soul of the dieties..it doesnt matter who were sleeping with."
How would bold women live out such a theology? Social justice and opposing systemic evil become the hallmarks of such a belief system. At our recent UMW Assembly the program purpose was to Make Plain the Vision. While an effort at mainstreaming the Assembly vision through traditional songs, scripture and some litanies was attempted, it was apparent that a new paradigm for an old social construct was actually being proposed.
The projected vision was one of a utopian society free from all social, economic and political injustices, swept in by the untiring efforts of well-meaning Christians. The Litany of Affirmation used in the first evening plenary spoke of "a vision of justice" and reminded us, "We inherit a passion for justice and compassion for the poor and dispossessed."
Women were esteemed as the primary vehicle for bringing in this reign of God. Stories of women doing justice were shared throughout the Assembly program in keeping with the Assemblys theme song reminder, "God who is wisdom in womans own voice calling for freedom from wrong...."
While justice and social reform are indispensable to the Christian faith, a biblical, Christian vision must include facing the true condition of humankind--brought about by individual sin--and offering the ultimate answer for all social and spiritual ills--the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Who are the truly bold women needed for Christs work in the world in this day and time? Perhaps some of their characteristics were embodied in RENEW team members at the UMW Assembly.
A bold woman was the young mother of two who shared her personal testimony with a room of women about her transformation through Christ from a practicing lesbian lifestyle, and who challenged all present to be in effective ministry to homosexuals.
Another bold woman was a young woman who heads the pro-life ministry in the UM Church who told of the death of her young son from a brain tumor, and of three miscarriages, which brought her from her pro-choice position to a position of life. She gives her time and energy in ministry to women with crisis pregnancies, and appeals to the church to love both mother and unborn child.
Two bold women were staff from The Mission Society for United Methodists, where they work long hours to support missionary personnel in the field who are bringing the good news of the gospel of Christ to thousands, while ministering daily to the physical and social needs of the communities in which they serve.
And, I could go on. These and many other renewal ministries were not built by "tearing down the work of others." Instead, they were built by bold Christian men and women who wanted to get on with the work of being the Church in the world, rather than supporting the world in the Church. Many United Methodists have redirected their energy, earnings and focus toward that which represents their hearts.
Ms. Hurty talked about those who believe there is one small narrow way. About that, she was right. We get that attitude from One who said, "...small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life...," and, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." May we never be bold enough to broaden that perspective.
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