The annual Gathering of Christian Feminism Today in St. Louis, Missouri, was amazing beyond my expectations! For three days we celebrated the 40-year history of this organization’s work for justice and equality. For three days we celebrated the Female Divine in story, song, scholarly presentations, and group conversations. It was clear how vital She is to living the words of our theme scripture: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV)
Anne Eggebroten, one of the founding members of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT), wrote this vivid account of the Gathering, published on the EEWC-CFT website.
Yes, We Gathered at the River: EEWC-CFT in St. Louis
by Anne Eggebroten
How do you mark the passing of 40 years? How do you celebrate a mission that began so long ago and outlived so many predictions of its demise?
With laughter, of course. And wonder. And a strong sense of God’s gracious presence.
Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC), now more popularly known as EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, celebrated its 40th anniversary on June 26-29 at the Sheraton Westport Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.
I’ll start with wonder over the changes between then and now: In 1974 that archaic phrase “God the Father” was good enough for us. Our founding mothers, Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, routinely referred to the Creator as “he” and “him” in All We’re Meant to Be. We bravely asserted that Bible-believing Christians could also be feminists—against all the messages of church and culture. Popular culture derided feminists as lesbians—and I for one tried to defend our new organization against accusations of harboring what we then called “homosexuals.”
At our gathering in 2014, language was transformed, biblical feminism was taken for granted, and support for LGBTQ folk was celebrated. The Creator/Redeemer/Comforter was most often called “Christ-Sophia,” “Godde,” “Ruach,” or “She.” Our speakers held degrees in international feminist theology or feminist theory—or they had written the books used by younger ones to earn their degrees. Two women shared news of their legal marriage in a county courthouse a few days earlier—and we all applauded with joy.
Laughter joined wonder at every turn in St. Louis. If a “Most Hilarious Speaker” prize had been awarded, Susan Campbell and Letha Dawson Scanzoni would have tied for it. Susan regaled us with tales of her early life in small-town fundamentalism in Missouri. To read them, see her memoir, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl. She also described accepting an invitation to defend her book at a conference of her childhood denomination, expecting to be dis-fellowshipped, but finding acceptance and reconciliation. In a sober moment Susan recalled her brother’s assessment: “Fundamentalism is like a sword that broke off in us.” After 25 years as a columnist and feature writer for the Hartford Courant, she now co-writes Hot Dogma: The Belief Blog with former AP religion writer Tom Breen.
Letha’s humor began with her reaction in 1963 to an article titled “Women’s Place in the Church” in Eternity magazine. She decided to write a letter to the editor, but the letter became an article and then a decision to invite a complete stranger (Nancy Hardesty) to write a book with her on women’s issues in the church, home, and society. That book led to the founding of EEWC-CFT. After a few hilarious quotes from anti-feminist books—The Total Woman, Fascinating Womanhood, and others—Letha brought down the house by holding up her 1975 centerfold in The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine.As it turned out, Letha and Nancy’s book, All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation, was named by Christianity Today in 2006 as one of the “top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals.”
The Troubadours of Divine Bliss added to the comic-tragic depiction of the good old gospel days with a Saturday evening performance of their folk-bluegrass-gospel songs introduced by personal histories. Aim Me and Renee grew up together in a Pentecostal church in Kentucky led by their fathers. Now they have released six albums and sing all over North America and Europe. Visit their website.
“Let Justice Roll On like a River!” was the recurrent theme at this year’s gathering near the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, echoing the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” 5:24 (NIV).
The river is indeed rolling on: a passel of young biblical feminists showed up and dazzled us with their feminist theory and passion for change. McKenzie Brown, Ashley Cason, and Jacinda Thomas did student presentations with impressive feminist theory and historical research.
In addition, the first Nancy A. Hardesty Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Jennifer Newman, double majoring in politics and in philosophy at George Fox University with a minor in women’s studies.
Professors Kendra Weddle Irons of Texas Wesleyan University and Melanie Springer Mock of George Fox University did the outreach that led to these young feminists connecting with EEWC-CFT. Thank you!
Kendra and Melanie dealt shock and awe by presenting their research on oppressive teachings in fundamentalism today and the ongoing need for healing of binary oppositions based on fear. To deconstruct these erroneous teachings on “women’s role,” they’re working on a book together. In addition to their many publications, check out their joint blog, Ain’t I a Woman.
Another plenary speaker, Dr. Sharon Groves, works for the largest LGBT civil rights organization in the US, the Human Rights Campaign. She shared her personal story. Raised in a nonreligious family, she came to have a longing for God and faith; she also had a passion for justice. Realizing that religion is behind much opposition to gay rights, she quit her tenured academic job to develop the Religion and Faith Program for the HRC. She now has conversations with Southern Baptists and others about pastoral responsibility: “What do you do if a person shows up at your church who is gender-nonconforming?” Of her work, she says, “There’s no more powerful place than right here, right now.” Her advice? Avoid arguments that boil down to “My Leviticus is bigger than your Leviticus.” Her reason to keep going? People like the youth pastor who told a gay young man, “Better if you got a gun and shot yourself than if you corrupt others.”
For the first time in our nearly parallel histories, Dr. Mary E. Hunt of Women-Church and WATER (the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) gave a plenary speech at EEWC-CFT. Her talk partially filled the intellectual gap left by the first-ever absence of her friend Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, another of our founding members, from an EEWC conference (for health reasons). Mary gave us an overview of 1) the “feminist-ization” of religion, 2) backlash, and 3) next strategies. As a Roman Catholic theologian, she is not too impressed with Pope Francis: “He hasn’t changed one thing structurally.” She’s also not too focused on women’s ordination. “Women are entering ministry in record numbers in mainline denominations,” she notes, “but those denominations are shrinking.” Women have low pay and low stature; they do “mop up tasks as churches decline and decay.” Fight “kyriarchy,” Mary urged us, by saying “we—not they” with Catholic and Protestant women, with Jewish and Muslim women, with women in cultures around the world. “Together we’re a genius.”
God’s gracious gifts were evident not only in the presence of “the young ‘uns” but in the many other new-to-EEWC women. Old timers had 25-30 new names and faces to learn; the stories and talents of these women and men gave an exciting energy to the weekend. Thank you to Marg Herder, who made contacts at other conferences; to Letha and others, who brought friends; and to God working through search engines, which brought many to www.eewc.com.
Here’s a sampling of the newcomers:
Susan Cottrell, who wrote “Mom, I’m Gay”–Loving Your LGBTQ Child without Sacrificing Your Faith. She introduced us to her healing ministry with LGBTQ kids, with their parents, and with churches—called to embrace all who are marginalized or oppressed. Her husband Robert also joined us. Visit FreedHearts Ministries on the web.
Deb Vaughn, who gave a workshop on current grieving therapies. Visit her blog.
Peg Conway, whose workshop was on bringing theology to the experience of childbirth to empower women; see her website.
Paula Trimble-Familetti, who wrote Prostitutes, Virgins, and Mothers: Questioning Teachings about Biblical Women and presented a workshop giving voice to these women; read her blog.
Esther Emery from rural Idaho on finding our most authentic voice; she too gave a workshop and blogs at Church in the Canyon and writes for A Deeper Story.
Criselda Marquez, blogger and photographer. Visit her blog.
Besides an abundance of bloggers, EEWC-CFT has so many ordained women—another big change since 1974. Four of our women pastors brought their talents to the Sunday morning worship service: the Reverends Jan Clark (North Carolina, Baptist), Leslie Harrison (New Jersey, African Methodist Episcopal), Shawna R. B. Atteberry (Illinois, Episcopal), and Jann Aldredge-Clanton (Texas, Baptist). There was also music performed by Vickie Bragg of Oklahoma, The Troubadours of Divine Bliss, and Marg Herder. See Marg’s blog on the EEWC-CFT website.
God’s gracious presence shone in the hymns with inclusive-language lyrics by Aldredge-Clanton, which we sang on Sunday morning, in other plenary singing, and in her workshop. Jan Clark led the singing with Janice Pope on the piano. I bought the CDs and can testify that these songs sure transform Los Angeles traffic jams. Imagine hearing “Come unto me, you weary ones, and I will give you rest…” to the tune of “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Read more about Jann Aldredge-Clanton’s inclusive language hymns here.
Back to the laughter: Reta Halteman Finger’s workshop on violence against women in the Bible produced howls of laughter, as those of us in adjoining workshops can attest. It turns out that Reta had divided her group into clusters assigned to examine a list of passages with either violence or patriarchal attitudes. When Jacinda Thomas, Margaret Arighi, and Barbara Branum tackled Sirach 25:13 through 26:18, they found descriptions of “an evil wife” and “a good wife,” culminating in what really counts: “shapely legs.” Ah, the jewels in God’s Holy Word. Formerly a professor at Messiah College, Reta now writes books and teaches part time at Eastern Mennonite University and Theological Seminary; her Reta’s Reflections blog of Bible studies from a Christian feminist perspective is on the EEWC-CFT website.
More wonder: EEWC-CFT doing yoga first thing in the morning instead of more traditional devotions? Led by Lisa DeWeese, this time was very peaceful and meditative—I tried it (my first yoga ever). Visit Lisa’s website, Mama Lisa Yoga.
Over the past 40 years, there have been many predictions that EEWC would not survive. Usually the problem was financial, but our 1986 decision to support civil rights for gay people also caused some problems that seemed to point to collapse.
God’s grace and sustenance are the only reasons we are still carrying on and celebrating 40 years. Once again, however, our budget is in the red. Some of us have less income and are not as able to give as in the past. Please help out by making an online donation or a monthly pledge.
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Originally published on Christian Feminism Today: http://www.eewc.com/Conferences/2014#anne Reposted with permission. Photos by Criselda Marquez, Anne Eggebroten, Marg Herder, and Abigail Pope.