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Article


'OUR BASIS FOR CONCERN
A Brief Recounting of Questionable Actions
on the part of the Women's Division of
the General Board of Global Ministries

A White Paper
Prepared by the RENEW Network

December 2001


Index
Opening Statement
Long Standing Issues
1. The pro-abortion position of the Women's Division;
2. Division actions showing endorsement of homosexual/ lesbian practice;
3. The Women's Division involvement in the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference and continued connection to the Re-Imagining Community;
4. The Division's questionable theological teaching and social justice mission concept;
5. The ongoing support of the Women's Division for a politically left-leaning ideology;
6. The autonomy/ accountability issue as it relates to the Women's Division.
Closing Statement

Opening Statement
United Methodist Women and its predecessor groups have done immeasurable good through works of Christian love and service around the world—and still do.  However, over the years the RENEW Network (the women's program arm of the Good News organization) has observed and documented an underlying philosophy in many of the programs and policies of the Women's Division that fails to represent the theological and political/social views of the majority of United Methodist Women at the local level. 

The immediate catalyst that compelled the preparation of this document was several actions taken by the staff and directors of the Women's Division at its Fall 2001 board meeting.  The opposition to the U.S. "Enduring Freedom" campaign against terrorism and the resurrecting of obvious connections to the Re-Imagining Community expressed at this meeting must not go unchallenged.  At this board meeting:

• A "Resolution on Terrorist Attacks" was passed calling for a halt to the bombing of Afghanistan, favoring negotiation over action against terrorism.  In various committees, invited speakers, directors and staff persons discouraged the displaying of the U.S. flag, expressed disdain for American overtures toward Afghanistan citizens and spoke disparagingly of U.S. policies that supposedly evoked the horrific 9/11 attacks.

• Plans were devised for the implementation of a "Mobilization Against (the Anti-) Terrorism Act."  The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Anti-Terrorism Act by 357-66, the U.S. Senate by 98-1.  Despite this strong showing of bipartisan support by the U.S. Congress, the Women's Division plans to work against this Act, even to challenging it in the courts.

• The directors voted to continue to allow official status for a District Unit of UMW, " Sophia Circle," whose stated purpose is to gather monthly "for an hour's lively discussion on material from the Re-Imagining Newsletter."  (This is the newsletter of the Re-Imagining Community, formed out of the infamous 1993 Re-Imagining Conference which shook the mainlines with its radical feminist theology, worship of "Sophia" and sanctioning of lesbianism.)

• It was announced the Barbara Lundblad has been invited to be a plenary speaker at the upcoming UMW Assembly scheduled for Philadelphia in April of 2002.  Barbara, a speaker at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, boasted: "We did not last night name the name of Jesus.  Nor have we done anything in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (laughter and cheers).  She went on to advocate for the acceptance of lesbian practice, and referred to Jesus as the "child of Sophia" and to God as "Sophia."

According to The Book of Discipline the Women's Division "…shall interpret the purpose of United Methodist Women" (Par. 1317) and is "To serve as the national official policy-making body of United Methodist Women" (Par. 1319).   In addition to this authoritative role, the Discipline also states that the Women's Division "…shall be actively engaged in fulfilling the mission of Christ and the Church" (Par. 1317) and, "…shall engage in activities that foster growth in the Christian faith" (Par. 1317).  

United Methodist Women fund the Women's Division, elect its leadership and pay the salaries of staff.  They, therefore, have the responsibility and capability of assuring that the oversight for purpose, program and policy assigned to the Division faithfully fulfills the mission of Christ and the Church and fosters growth in the Christian faith.

This White Paper provides documented information that supports the need for reform and accountability on the part of the Women's Division.  The issues we have identified expand on two major problems identifiable in the decisions at the Fall Board of Directors meeting—theological misdirection and narrow, partisan, leftist perspectives. 

Long-standing Issues
In this document we will address six long-standing issues that are important for us to revisit.  These include:

1. The pro-abortion position of the Women's Division;

2. Division actions showing endorsement of homosexual/lesbian practice;

3. The Women's Division involvement in the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference and continued connection to the Re-Imagining Community;

4. The Division's questionable theological teaching and social justice mission concept;

5. The ongoing support of the Women's Division for a politically left-leaning ideology;

6. The autonomy/accountability issue as it relates to the Women's Division.

I.   Pro-Abortion Position:
• In October 1972 the Women's Division and Theressa Hoover filed a Friend of the Court brief in support of total freedom for abortion in the Roe v. Wade case (LIFEWATCH 9/30/89).

• The Women's Division was a plaintiff in the court case of McRae v. Califano, which challenged federal law restricting the use of federal funds for abortion (U.S. House of Representatives, March 24, 1976).

• In 1973 the Women's Division helped start the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR).  The name was later changed to Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).  The Division continues active participation in RCRC, and the Women's Division is listed on the RCRC letterhead.

• The January, February and March 1990 issues of Response magazine carried pro-choice articles with no reference to the pro-life viewpoint.  "Reproductive choice" is a code for "abortion."

• The pro-choice position was strongly endorsed at the 1992 spring meeting of the Women's Division when postcards were provided at each table for attendees to pick up and mail to their senators in support of the Freedom of Choice Act.  (Postcards printed by RCAR.) The Freedom of Choice Act, in the unrevised form endorsed at this meeting, went far beyond Roe v. Wade in lifting restrictions on abortion (RENEW Network Press Report).

• The Women's Division paid the expenses of Anne Thompson Cook, Executive Director of RCAR, to attend the 1992 General Conference to lobby for the maintaining of the RCAR/United Methodist connection threatened by proposed legislative action (LIFEWATCH flyer).

• In April 1996 the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Women's Division endorsed a letter sent to U.S. House of Representative members by RCRC expressing agreement with President Clinton's veto of HR 1833, the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban," and urging Congress not to override the veto. 

II.  Actions showing support for homosexual practice:
§  At the 1988 General Conference a minority report was submitted which read, "We the undersigned move to amend the last paragraph of Petition 501-CS-71-D by deleting 'Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider the practice incompatible with Christian teaching' and substitute the following: 'We find mixed testimony about the practice of homosexuality in Scripture, tradition, and in the human sciences.'"  The first signature was that of Sally Ernst, then national president of United Methodist Women.

• A book on the 1991 reading list, Revolutionary Forgiveness (Orbis Books, 1987), is the travel diary of the Amanecida Collective, a group of thirteen persons from the Harvard Divinity School who went to Nicaragua to fulfill an agenda which was clearly spelled out in the introduction.  "Amanecida is committed to the well-being and human rights of gay men and lesbians in the United States and elsewhere….  Our commitment to the liberation of lesbians and gay men requires that we confront those people and policies which proclaim sexual relationships between men and women, heterosexual marriage, and nuclear family constellations as normative for the health of society."

• In Deputy General Secretary Joyce Sohl's report to the Women's Division, April 12, 1991 , reference was made to a "multicultural community" as defined at an earlier workshop at the style='font-size:12.0pt; color:black'Scarritt-Bennett Center.  "Let me remind you of the definition of multiculturalism that was used: 'The process of recognizing, understanding, and appreciating cultures other than one's own.  It stresses an appreciation for the impact of differences — race, class, age, sex, physical, sexual/affectional orientation, and religious.'  …I have a vision of the Women's Division being a multicultural community where the contribution of each is valued," Mrs. Sohl told the Women's Division directors.  The reference to sexual/affectional orientation cannot be misunderstood.

• Among the gaps to be bridged among women, identified in the new Policy Statement of the Women's Division (March 1993), was the gap between "lesbian women and heterosexual women."

• In the 1993/94 spiritual growth mission study, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: "Who Do You Say That I Am?", by Nancy A. Carter with contributions by Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, frequent references were made to "homophobia" and "heterosexism."  On page 105 Bishop Kelly speaks of her experience of seeing "lesbian Christians" silenced and of receiving a "deluge of homophobic mail" because a conference board of discipleship had funded a retreat for lesbian and gay members of the annual conference.

• An article in the July/August 2001 issue of Response magazine, by J. Ann Craig, Executive Secretary for Spiritual and Theological Development for the Women's Division, identified Christian Fundamentalists as those who "…use terms and beliefs to promote the subservience of women, deny reproductive freedom, label homosexuality as sin, lift up wealth as a sign of God's blessing and undermine the basic welfare rights of children." 

Translated, this means that pro-life Christians, or United Methodists who agree with the church's position on homosexual practice are "fundamentalists," in the most negative sense of the term.  This statement interprets out that financial success is a negative [Is poverty then a blessing?] and that those who hold to the fundamentals of the faith would oppose the welfare rights of children.  These are derogatory, demagogic claims. 

• A program by Inelle Cox Bagwell appears in the 2002 UMW Program Book, Seeking Shalom.  Ms. Bagwell is a former director of the Women's Division and a former vice president of the  Division serving as chairperson of the Section of Christian Social Relations.  Among other board memberships, she serves on the Amarillo (TX) Coalition for Choice and the board of Planned Parenthood.  In the program "Invisible Families in the United States Today," Ms. Bagwell postulates the same perspective on families as the earlier mission study, Family: Drawing the Circle Wide.  She asserts that it is time to "let go of some of our most cherished certainties about families in order to affirm the complexities of the diversity of God's creation."  Ms. Bagwell's program strongly implies that homosexual families are to be affirmed when she postulates that unborn children do not know "whether they will be born female or male, heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual…." 

No substantiated research data is provided to support Ms. Bagwell's claims about the family or being born homosexual.  No other viewpoints are considered.  The strong body of evidence verifying the significance of the nuclear, traditional family and the significant studies discounting the claim that homosexuality is hereditary go unmentioned. 

One reference cited at the end of this program is Sensuous Spirituality: Out From Fundamentalism by radical feminist Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.  Virginia Mollenkott is self-identified as a lesbian in Sensuous Spirituality (pg. 163).  She says of her sexual preference, "My lesbianism does not make me any worse than anyone else, and neither does it make me better.  It is simply a good gift, as all sexuality is a good gift.  It is intended to be used responsibly, as one way of glorifying God and enjoying Her forever" (pg. 162).

III.  Support for 1993 Re-Imagining Conference and the Re-Imagining Community:
Commitment to a radical religious feminist viewpoint was revealed when the staff and directors of the Women's Division, along with selected Conference UMW officers, were encouraged to attend, at Division expense, the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference.  This conference was the mid-point event for The Ecumenical Decade, Churches in Solidarity with Women.  Re-Imagining focused its worship on Sophia, goddess of wisdom; stood in solidarity with Christian lesbians; denied the necessity of Christ's atoning death; and promoted a syncretism of religions. The total cost for 56 WD staff, directors and conference officers attending came to $35,081, plus $2,500 for scholarships for the Minnesota Conference UMW. 

While the Women's Division has not openly funded or encouraged participation in Re-Imagining Conferences subsequent to the 1993 event, at no time has the Division denounced the deviant theology of Re-imagining or discouraged participation in the Re-Imagining Community on the part of staff, directors or United Methodist Women. 

As a matter of record, the Women's Division was directly connected to an early defense of the theology of Re-Imagining when a document entitled "A Time of Hope — A Time of Threat" was released to the Religious News Service on March 8, 1994.  (The R-I Conference took place in November of 1993.)  The paper was drafted by nine United Methodist women and signed on to by 830 United Methodist women.  Among the drafters of the document was J. Ann Craig, Executive Secretary for Spiritual and Theological Concerns for the Women's Division.

Additionally, the following connection of the Women's Division with the Re-Imagining Community indicates ongoing endorsement:

• Mary Gates, former conference UMW president for the Minnesota Conference, served on the Coordinating Council of the Re-Imagining Community.  While serving on the R-I Council, she became the North Central Jurisdictional President for United Methodist Women and ultimately a director for the Women' Division.  Apparently no conflict of interest was acknowledged.

• Church Women United, heavily funded by the Women's Division with grants of over $30,000 per year, has shown strong support for radical feminist concepts and for the Re-Imagining Community.  The 1998 CWU World Community Day program advocated the celebration of five women theologians, four of whom were speakers at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference. 

The support of CWU for the Re-Imagining Community was confirmed at the 1998 UMW Assembly (sponsored by the Women's Division).  A focus group, Celebrating the Ecumenical Decade, was led by Dr. Kathleen Hurty, then General Director for Church Women United.  At the workshop a Fact Sheet on the 1998 Re-Imagining Revival was handed out.  According to the fact sheet, this event marked "the culmination of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Decade," and "was grounded in the priorities and objectives of the Ecumenical Decade."  This claim showed clear support for the radical feminist theology of Re-Imagining, considering it a part of a major church program.

• A March 2001 Re-Imagining email had the following listed under the "Small Groups" category:  "Soon entering its fourth year, Sophia Circle , a District Unit of United Methodist Women gathers at mid-day for an hour's lively discussion on material from the Re-Imagining Newsletter."

When Joyce Sohl, Deputy General Secretary of the Women's Division, was questioned about the existence of an "official" UMW unit to study Re-Imagining material, the existence of this group was defended.  After further correspondence with Ms. Sohl and the directors of the Division, the matter was referred to the Policy Committee at the October 2001 board of directors' meeting.  The Policy Committee recommended that the official status for Sophia Circle continue.  Their statement to the voting body indicated only that groups were encouraged to use UMW resources, but made no indication that a request would be made for Sophia Circle not to use Re-Imagining materials.  The directors passed this recommendation unanimously.

• At the October 2001 board of directors meeting of the Women's Division it was announced that one of the plenary speakers for the April 2002 UMW Assembly (sponsored by the Division) would be Barbara Lundblad.  Barbara was a speaker at the 1993 and 1998 Re-Imagining conferences.  At the '93 conference she boasted, to cheers and laughter, "We did not last night name the name of Jesus.  Nor have we done anything in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." She went on to advocate the acceptance of lesbian practice, and referred to Jesus as the "child of Sophia" and to God as "Sophia."

IV.  Questionable Theological Teaching and Social Justice Mission Concept:
While the Women's Division's connection to Re-Imagining and the Division's failure to denounce the theology of this radical feminist movement raise serious questions about the Division's ability to provide spiritual oversight for United Methodist Women, other actions intensify this concern. 

• As early as 1972, the Women's Division gave $10,000 to eight women's liberation action groups around the country ("Women's Activities in the Major Denominations," GRAPEVINE, Vol. 4, No.2, editor Sheila Collins).  A Women's Division Policy Statement, adopted in March, 1976, stated that the overall Women's Division program would have as one of its results, "to bridge gaps between church women and the women's movement" (Women's Division: A Policy Statement, 1976). This goal was restated in the new policy statement that was adopted in March 1993 (Ministries with Women and Ministries with Children and Youth).

• Radical feminist authors have been featured through the reading program and mission studies and in Response magazine over the years.  A 1975 mission study book carried the following quote in support of feminist theology: "A new perspective in theology is being articulated by women like Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Letty Russell and Sheila Collins.  …The cumulative effect of the women's movement can infuse society with new perspectives, new values, ethics and worldview, new style of living….  There is no more important issue" (United States: People Questions, Judith Leaming-Elmer and Nancy Grissom Self, Friendship Press, 1975).  All of these individuals listed are recognized as proponents of radical feminist theology.

In her book The Feminist Gospel Mary Kassian explains how the teaching of radical feminists alters the historical Christian understanding of Scripture, God, Jesus, Sin, Salvation, Church and Eschatology (the study of end times).  Regarding the topic of Biblical revelation Kassian states, "Reuther and Russell adopted Mary Daly's presupposition regarding the dynamic nature of revelation. They believed that liberation occurred as a result of human reflection on, and interaction with, the Biblical message of freedom.  In other words, the Bible was not regarded as a guidebook full of directives for all time, but rather as a tool that assisted people to understand how God had worked throughout history to free the oppressed.  According to Reuther, only the Biblical texts that spoke to women's contemporary quest for liberation were valid" (pg. 90). 

• At the 1982 UMW Assembly, Dr. Hazel Henderson invoked Gaia, the Greek earth goddess who "managed the biosphere very well by herself" before human beings came along (CANDLE, Vol. 5, No. 1, September 1982).

• An article in the February 1991 issue of Response magazine entitled "Was Jesus Born to Die?" answered its own title with "no."  The death of Jesus was not seen by author John Baron as pre-planned by God and necessary for the provision of salvation of humankind.  Rather, Mr. Baron said, "He (Jesus) did all these things because there was no way of being God's love in our world except by being caught in the web of accidental encounters….  Jesus did not get himself executed.  …There was no 'must' about it, except the compulsion of divine love to be true to itself whatever happens…."

• The 1992/93 mission study We Belong Together: Churches in Solidarity with Women expressed high regard for the work of the feminist movement without identifying any of its excesses.  This book lifted up Rosemary Radford Reuther's book Women-Church, as a favorable guide for women.  An examination of some of the ceremonies and rituals recommended in this book show them to be neo-pagan and devoid of sound Christian theology.

• In the 1993/94 mission study book Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew author Nancy A. Carter takes the opportunity to tell about "Christa," the bronze sculpture created by Edwina Sandys which portrays an unclothed female Christ with outstretched arms upon a cross.  Ms. Carter concludes, "It is not unusual today for women to speak of 'Christa' or Sophia (the Greek word for Wisdom) and image her not just on the cross, but in other arenas…" (pg. 108).

• In support of religious syncretism, J. Ann Craig, Executive Secretary for Theological Development for the Women's Division, presented an apology for the New Age movement and chided groups who oppose this movement in her article "Fear of New Age Dismantled," Response, October 1993.  Ms. Craig acknowledged, "the New Age movement is such a mix of popular religion in the style='font-size: 12.0pt;color:black'United States.  New Age expressions include practices from Eastern religions, healing practices, meditation, gurus, shamans, music, mystics, tarot cards, astrology, physics and virtually anything creative."  Still, Ms. Craig issued this challenge to Christians in her closing paragraphs, "In a world where diverse religions increasingly rub elbows, each must struggle with how to relate to other faiths….  Before condemning New Age people, find out if they are loving God and serving their neighbor."

• An equality of all religions and an understanding that one exemplifies a knowledge of God by doing justice was conveyed in an address by Deputy General Secretary Joyce Sohl at the Spring 1998 board of directors meeting.  Ms. Sohl spoke on the topic, "They Have Known God: Women and Justice."  She gave examples of Christian, Jewish and Muslim women who have done justice work, and said of each individual, she "knew God and did God's work of justice."  No distinction was made between the various faiths, and no mention was made of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, as the one true way.

• The concept of a mission mandate driven by "justice" permeated the 1998 UMW Assembly.  The pre-Assembly Bible studies in Response magazine set the tone for the "justice" focus of the Assembly.  Justice issues, the stories and struggles of women and a sense of being a prophetic voice for a new world order were pervasive in the handbook and in Assembly presentations.  Bible study leaders, plenary speakers and various guests shared their interpretation of the vision that United Methodist Women need to embrace and make plain.  They all concurred that this vision makes justice its chief component.  In her closing speech, Joyce Sohl, Deputy General Secretary, Women's Division, told her audience, "As change agents for God's vision, we must have a passionate conviction for justice…." 

"Justice" issues are no doubt of great importance, and ministering to human need a significant element in Christian discipleship.  However, it is unfortunate that not a single speaker at the UMW Assembly put forward Jesus Christ's atoning death on behalf of sinful humankind as the most powerful change agent in all of history—nor promoted the fact that proclaiming Christ remains God's chief mandate for us today.  Neither did Ms. Sohl's report to the board of directors reflect this understanding.

• UMW Mission Studies, produced in the past by Friendship Press, and now by the Women's Division, are often vehicles for a highly questionable theology regarding the Bible, salvation through Jesus Christ and the role of evangelism in missions. 

The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia, Part One and Part Two, 1998/99 & 1999/2000, undermined Biblical authority with an undeclared, but clear underlying, liberal bias.  Part One was dismissive of everything from the biblical worldview to the divine inspiration of the Word.  While Part Two was not as egregious, it still showed a strong bias.  This is revealed, for example, in the author's assessment of the historical-critical method of interpretation which, she says, brought to light "errors and contradictions in Scripture" thus undermining "the inerrancy claimed by Protestants and Catholics."  A clearer effort to discount the authority of Scripture appeared in the youth material  (The Bible: The Book that Bridges the Millennia, Part One & Two, adult and youth studies, reviewed by Donna F.G. Hailson).

In the 2001/2002 mission study New Life on the MeKong, Buddhism is not regarded as a stumbling block.  The author would have us see it as an alternate religion and Buddhists as "companion pilgrims."  While the study book places great emphasis upon the need for human reconciliation, nothing is said regarding the need for reconciliation between God and humanity.  Everyone, we are to conclude—whatever her or his faith—would get along if we would just give understanding, help and caring during the difficult times described in this study.

• The November 2000 issue of Response was devoted to "Interfaith Challenge—Interfaith Response."  The articles in this issue of the magazine went far beyond love and respect for those of different religious persuasions.  It also exceeded the legitimate call for Christians to understand other religions.  This issue conveyed the concept that all religions are equally redemptive, and, as one article put it, "Christian faith must see itself as one of the religious options for the Peoples of the world."

Nowhere in the magazine copy is the supremacy of Christ uplifted nor the uniqueness of Christianity defined.  When the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned, it is in the context of His "good works and examplary life."  Mission and evangelism are defined so that the Great Commission, "Go and make disciples of all nations…" is inappropriate.  The highest achievement advocated by this issue of Response is to accept other faith communities as equally valid, and to work with them to build a "peaceful, just society." 

This kind of religious syncretism is what prompted a young woman attending a  missions training camp sponsored by the Women's Division in August of 1999 to stand and read the first stated goal of the General Board of Global Ministries, "to witness to the Gospel for initial decision to follow Jesus Christ."  And, to then ask, "If this is a missions conference, and this is your number one goal, then why hasn't it even been mentioned?"

V.  Left-leaning Political/Social Actions:
• As early as 1978, the China mission study (China: Search for Community, Friendship press, 1978) voiced strong support for Maoism, despite its culpability for mass killings and brutal repression.  This book lauded Chinese Marxism in the statement, "I think China is the only truly Christian country in the world in the present day, in spite of its absolute rejection of all religion" (p. 55) .

Subsequent regional studies have expressed an almost knee-jerk reaction against the policies of the U.S.— opposition to democratic capitalism and endorsement of the socialist/Marxist elements within the systems of those countries studied (i.e., Korea, the Caribbean, South Africa, Central America, Brazil).

• A major source of support for socialism was exhibited in the Economic Primer, which was offered as a resource book for United Methodist Women for 1981-1984 and used in numerous workshops across the country.  This resource promoted one economic view which Dr. Gustav Papanek, himself a socialist, called "a type of socialism so narrow that most socialists living outside of nations with communist governments would disagree with it" (Beck, United Methodist Reporter, October 22, 1982).

• In the same vein as the Economic Primer, the 1993/94 mission study, Global Economics: Seeking A Christian Ethic, while moderating blatant pro-Marxism in the light of the collapse of the Soviet Union, continued to express distrust of free market economies and continued a romance of sorts with "command" (socialist/communist) economies.

• UMW Assemblies have provided platforms for the expressing of anti-free market, anti-U.S. sentiment.  The 1986 Assembly was rife with accusations against the U.S., placing blame at its feet for aggression and world domination, for apartheid in South Africa , for militaristic pillage and rape in Central America and the Philippines and for world health problems (Good News, July/August 1986).

• At no time was the Women's Division's partisan political position more obvious than when the power shifted in Congress to a Republican majority.  At the Spring 1995 board of director's meeting there was an almost frenzied attempt to oppose virtually everything Congress recommended.  There was opposition to the "Contract With America."  A presentation was given by the Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry opposing the Balanced Budget Amendment.  Anna Rhee, Executive Secretary for Public Policy, called the proposals making their way through the Congress "mean-spirited" and "negative."  In her report, Ms. Rhee expressed grave concern about the proposals being made regarding welfare reform, cuts in human services and changes in the affirmative action program.  Steps were taken to enlist United Methodist Women in the Division's campaign to hinder the passage of legislation including a National UMW Call-in and the encouragement of post-card campaigns at various UMW events.  Unfortunately, United Methodist Women were educated from a singular perspective by the Women's Division—a very partisan position. 

"The Partisan Temptation" was an article that appeared in the Spring 1995 issue of Partnership Briefing, a publication of The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).  This article shared an important perspective on the Church's political witness. "Within the evangelical community, many leaders have worried about excessive partisanship—not because it undermines democracy, but because it may damage the Church.  The Rev. Don Argue, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, warned, 'To wrap ourselves in the flag of any one political party is very dangerous.'  Conservative columnist Cal Thomas charged that the mission of the Church is compromised 'when the Gospel is politicized, when the pulpit becomes a tool of political organization.'"

• Schools of Christian Mission, UMW Assemblies and other UMW gatherings are often used to encourage action on political issues from a partisan viewpoint.  Two examples: 

(1)   During Dessert Storm, the Women's Division orchestrated a campaign in opposition to the Gulf War, asking United Methodist Women to write letters of protest.  Thousands of letters were delivered to Capitol Hill two weeks after the war was successfully over.

(2)  At the 1998 UMW Assembly, officials distributed among the over 10,000 women there a single-page fact sheet advocating support for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  Each woman was given sample letters, a chart indicating each Senator's position on CEDAW and paper for writing letters.  Following a brief supportive speech (less than five minutes), program time was dedicated to the letter-writing campaign.  Boxes were placed at the door so that staff members could collect and deliver the letters to the offices of the senators. 

CEDAW is a complex issue that has not been addressed recently in the public arena.  Serious and valid criticisms have been raised regarding CEDAW, but none of these were mentioned, nor was cause given as to why the treaty has not been approved already by the U.S., despite the fact that it was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979.

• The February 1999 issue of Response magazine covered the topic of Hate Crimes.  In this issue, the leap was made from legitimate hate crimes concern to accusations that many Christian organizations and even churches are instigators of hate crimes because of their belief that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching, and their acceptance of benevolent male headship.  James Dobson and a group of Promise Keepers were pictured along with John King and Lawrence Brewer, two of the men charged with the heinous murder of James Byrd, as representative of those who perpetrate hate crimes.  Official church positions were likened by one author to Travis Brin and Aaron McKinney, who beat homosexual Matthew Shepherd to death, "when they put the question of human community up for a denominational vote."

• One of the 2001/2002 mission studies, New Life on the MeKong—Vietnam—Cambodia—Laos, fails to present the true picture of what God is doing in this area and spends a good deal of time railing against the U.S. for interfering in the political affairs of these countries, with particular reference to the Vietnam war.

• Another 2001/2002 mission study, Abundant Living: Global Health and Christian Response-Ability, devotes four chapters to issues of global health and then turns to advocacy for a wide variety of policies regarding income redistribution, to treatment of women, to socialized medicine.  A major weakness is the scatter shot and anecdotal description of global health problems.  The notion postulated by the text that socialized health care will provide an answer is not supported by evidence.  Other advocacy statements and positions on economic issues are also problematic in the studies.  The notion that third world poverty results from colonialism is untenable, as is the notion that the free market system has failed.  This study shows the one-sided presentation often made on social issues about which Christians may legitimately disagree.  In the case of this study, many of the answers postulated seemed biased and poorly researched.

• As referenced at the beginning of this document, The Women's Division opposed the war on terrorism at its Fall 2001 board of directors meeting and passed a "Resolution on Terrorist Attacks" urging President Bush to "end the bombing of Afghanistan."  In various committees, invited speakers, directors and staff persons discouraged the display of the U.S. flag, expressed disdain for American overtures toward Afghanistan citizens and spoke disparagingly of U.S. policy that supposedly evoked the horrific 9/11 attacks.

• Also, at this same 2001 Fall board meeting, the Women's Division approved plans to implement a "Mobilization Against (the Anti-) Terrorism Act."  The Division voted to oppose The Anti-Terrorism Act despite the fact that it was passed by the U.S. House (357-66), and the Senate  (98-1) in an overwhelming show of bipartisan support. 

VI.  Autonomy/Accountability Issue:
Prior to 1964 the Methodist women's organization was an autonomous mission agency maintaining its own institutions and programs.  In light of historic restrictions against women in mission and against the representation of women in the general church structure, women formed their own missionary sending agency and established many prayer and bible study groups, hospitals, schools and other institutions to share the Gospel and to aid women and children worldwide.  Ultimately, their outreach efforts, born out of a genuine desire to share Christ and be in ministry, surpassed those of the general church.  Perhaps even because of this success, they were invited to integrate into the church structure as part of the church's national and international mission ministry.

Under the "1964 agreements" the women's program was included in the general church missions board, with certain clear stipulations.  The women's group turned over its international and domestic programs to the World and National Divisions, but continued to fund those programs. 

In return, it was determined that one half of the World and National Division boards must be women (excluding bishops) and 40% of the general board staff must be women, with additional guarantees for representation of women in the top staff positions. These agreements have been upheld through the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren, the 1972 restructure of all of the UM church agencies and the 1983 restructure of the General Board of Global Ministries.

The Women's Division receives its funding directly through United Methodist Women, not through general church apportionments.  United Methodist Women give over 20 million dollars annually through Undesignated Pledge to Mission.  Other designated gifts and investment income have averaged between 38 to 53 million per year over the past five years.  The total reported assets of the Division range from 90 to over 100 million dollars (not including the market value of real estate assets).  The Women's Division has historically allocated around 5 million dollars a year to National missions and the same to International missions of the General Board of Global Ministries.  The 2001 and 2002 appropriations to National and International ministries was reduced by almost a million dollars.

The Women's Division is a very wealthy and powerful agency with enormous influence in both voting strength and funding.   The Division comes under the authority of the General Conference and is supposedly bound by The Book of Discipline.  It does not come under other church authority at the national or local level. Even the local UMW unit is autonomous from the local pastor or the church's administrative council. 

Some would question why these facts should concern us.  They might ask, "Isn't the present system a just correction to earlier exclusions?"  If the women's ministry of the church were continuing its original intent of proclaiming Christ and providing a balanced ministry of mercy and justice, this might be so.  Sadly, the liberal ideology and theology identified in this paper affects program, policy and spending patterns so that United Methodist Women at the local level find themselves subjected to and paying for resources and projects that are foreign to their own.  Beyond that, perhaps it is time to ask why United Methodist Women should not be integrated into the total ministry of the United Methodist Church locally, nationally and internationally. 

Learning of this total autonomy of the Women's Division, and consequently local United Methodist Women, is disconcerting for many women who believe that the ministry of the Church should integrate ministry to men, women, youth and children. 

Verification of local UMW autonomy was given when a local member of UMW asked her conference UMW president and the Women's Division to verify whether or not a statement made by a district UMW president was accurate.  The district president had stated in a letter: "Your unit is a distinct group of disciples, separate from the local church in administration, programming and accountability.  You are in a covenant of mutual accountability with the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.  You are partners in mission with your local church, but not under the authority of the Church Council (or any other arm of the local church)."  The conference president responded, "All of the hard facts that were given are stated in the Discipline.  It is true that we are not under the authority of the local church…we will make every effort to work in harmony with the Church Council.  …We often take the risk of being in the middle of mission action; it may be that there are those who do not always agree with our response."  The Women's Division staff representative responded, "I would like to verify that (your district president) presented accurate information regarding the relationship of the local unit of United Methodist Women to the local church according to the policies of the United Methodist Church found in The Book of Discipline."

Giving the Women's Division the sole power to determine the program and policy of United Methodist Women and to determine how funds will be spent prevents the Division from coming under examination when needed.  The Division has taken this authority to restrict the flow of information to United Methodist Women, to subject them to narrowly-interpreted viewpoints on important issues and to fund groups, programs and resources incompatible with local women's beliefs.  Following are some examples of the results of the autonomy and authority of the Women's Division.

• At its spring 1991 meeting, the Women's Division reaffirmed and updated a policy statement on "official" and "unofficial" sources of information.  Those listed under "official" are those that are publications of the GBGM.  "Unofficial" sources include: Good News, The Mission Society for United Methodists, The Institute on Religion & Democracy, the Evangelical Coalition for United Methodist Women [previous name for RENEW Network] secular newspapers, Reader's Digest, Esther Action Council [no longer existing], Challenge newsletter, and even The United Methodist Reporter

It is noteworthy that these restricted sources are evangelical, conservative, or more fairly represent both sides of issues.  Yet, the Women's Division has refused to discourage the use of Re-Imagining resources (as done by Sophia Circle in the California/Nevada Conference) and also has refused to avoid using or praising Re-Imagining speakers (as in the CWU resources and the invitation to Barbara Lundblad).  This is surely a failure to provide spiritual oversight and to "foster growth in the Christian faith."

This tight control discourages United Methodist Women from being informed from a broad perspective, and is demeaning of their ability to consider a variety of views and come to appropriate conclusions.  In addition, it shows a bias against evangelicals and a favor toward a more liberal, radical theology.

• Another approved policy pertained to the display and sale of literature at United Methodist Women's events.  This policy revised and affirmed a 1956 statement and allows only for the display and sale of materials obtained through Service Center for any meeting sponsored in whole or in part by the Women's Division or the organization of United Methodist Women from the district level up. Even resources from other official UMC sources, such as Cokesbury, are prohibited.

Again, this policy prevents women from having resources readily available at these events to provide a balanced perspective on issues of concern.  Materials from Service Center support the theological/philosophical viewpoint of the Women's Division and requiring use of these materials alone is yet another attempt to control the flow of information. 

• The Women's Division marginalized the voices of evangelical women at the United Methodist Women's Assembly in 1998.  Among the gathering of over 10,000 women in Orlando, Florida were 12 women associated with the RENEW Network.  Two of these individuals were registered as press, the other ten as full participants in the Assembly.  The RENEW members were prevented by security guards from distributing literature on convention center property.  The guards indicated that they were acting on instructions from Women's Division organizers that specifically barred RENEW activities.  As a result, the RENEW team had to stand on public sidewalks removed from the convention center to distribute their literature.  Then, on Saturday evening, a disclaimer was projected on the convention screens: "Materials being circulated outside the convention center do not represent United Methodist Women and are not a part of the organization."

United Methodist Women should be disappointed to know that RENEW materials, which expressed views in conformity with the church Discipline and in conformity with historic Christian thought, were considered dangerous by the Women's Division.  (By contrast, Re-Imagining resources must not be considered dangerous.) This exclusion on the part of the Division was equally demeaning to the women it claimed to protect.  United Methodist Women are capable of reading material from varying perspectives and reaching their own informed conclusions, guided by their Christian convictions.

• By far the most egregious act of control and autonomy on the part of the Women's Division occurred when it closed the December 28-31, 2000 National Gathering of Teens and College/University Women (Young Woman, Rise Up!) to any independent reporters or observers.

The closing of this event to press and public drew severe criticism from leading United Methodist publications, including The United Methodist News Service and The United Methodist Reporter, because of its obvious violation of the church's open meeting policy (Par. 721, The Book of Discipline).  Thomas S. McAnally, director of United Methodist News Service said, "For the Women's Division to close their December meeting is a violation of both the spirit and letter of the law as found in our Book of Discipline."  McAnally continued, "Church members expect their governmental organizations to operate openly.  Why shouldn't their church be expected to do the same?  The 'sunshine rule' in our Book of Discipline provides some specific instances when meetings can legitimately be closed.  The reasons given for closing the Women's Division event clearly do not fit any of those exceptions."

RENEW conveyed its concern about this closed gathering of young women in a letter to the Women's Division.  The letter stated, "If Young Woman, Rise Up! intends to be faithful to the mission and ministry standards of the United Methodist Church as defined in The Book of Discipline, then, there would seem to be no reason to exclude press.  If, on the other hand, excluding press is a means of influencing United Methodist teens (12-17) and university and college women (18-25) without a means of outside observance and accountability, then United Methodist Women have cause for concern."

During the time of questioning the closed meeting, the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) was contacted regarding accountability for funds spent for a closed event in violation of the policy in the Discipline.  GCFA responded, "GCFA has responsibility under Par. 806.10 of the Discipline to approve plans for financing all international or national conferences and convocations to be held under the auspices of any general agency receiving general Church funds.  The United Methodist Women's Division does not receive any general Church funds, so we do not approve its financing plans for its events."  This reveals that there is no mechanism to hold the Women's Division accountable, even to the Discipline

Closing Statement
It is understandable that United Methodist Women want to trust the Women's Division to represent them well.  Their confidence has been rooted in the history of the organization to which, in many cases, their mothers and grandmothers belonged.  Their generous gifts have kept the organization financially strong.  However, God calls us as Christian women to remain faithful to Scriptural Christianity and to a mission vision that includes proclaiming Christ to the world.  The Women's Division's current priorities and programs are a betrayal of that historic trust and an impediment to God's call today.

Most United Methodist Women understand missions to mean reaching men and women, boys and girls with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and ministering to the real needs of those individuals in whatever ways possible.  They are not adverse to engaging spiritual, social or political structures in order to achieve that goal.

The Women's Division, on the other hand, rallies to the cry of social justice as interpreted by a liberal, radical feminist theology and a narrow, left-leaning political/social witness.  The Division has been able to further its ideological agenda with funding from the women of the church and with their quiet acquiescence.  The women of the church have not seen the promotion of their understanding of biblical mission.

While this report is not exhaustive, readers will find it deeply troubling.  The Women's Division claims fidelity to the doctrinal standards of the United Methodist Church, but what comes through in this documented study is much different.  The theological misdirection, coupled with a narrow, partisan perspective on most political and social issues, should leave the women of the church very concerned about the leadership the staff and directors of the Women's Division currently provide for the organization of United Methodist Women.  Now is the time for action—a time for the women of the church to insist upon accountability and reform.

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