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A Response to Joyce D. Sohl’s refutation of statements in the Report on the Doctrinal Integrity of the United Methodist Church

prepared by L. Faye Short, President, RENEW Network at the request of Mr. Bucky Smith, Select Committee, Marietta First United Methodist Church.


This response seeks to bring further clarification and support to the charges made in the Doctrinal Integrity paper which was prepared by an Ad Hoc Committee of Laity at the Marietta First United Methodist Church. My careful review did not identify any factual errors in this document. A few additional footnotes may be in order, but beyond that, Ms. Sohl’s comments just included additional information that did not contradict the evidence in the report, or was an attempt to explain away the scriptural and/or doctrinal violations cited. The significance of the relationship of the Women’s Division to the General Board of Global Ministries, and the potential impact of Ms. Sohl’s comments on the church at large, necessitates a detailed response to her refutation of the Report on the Doctrinal Integrity of the United Methodist Church.

(Each issue addressed is identified by the item number and page number in the report, and in the subsequent rebuttal by Ms. Sohl.)

Item #3, page 5

Joyce Sohl disclaims the Women’s Division’s recommendation of the book by Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power, stating that it was one of many books listed in an extensive bibliography at the back of the 1993-94 Spiritual Growth book, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Journeys by Heart was part of a "Selected Bibliography, Books and Material on Christology," which was part of a major UMW Spiritual Growth study book. Recommending reading materials to the women of the United Methodist Church in a major study book is an endorsement. Ms. Brock is well known for her radical theology, and recommending her books to the women of the church through any medium is inappropriate.

Beyond that, the overall theological assertions in Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew were in harmony with many of Ms. Brock’s views. This book postulates that God the Father did not require a blood sacrifice on the part of Christ (pgs. 82-85). David R. Bauer, Associate Beeson Professor of English Bible, Asbury Theological Seminary, reviewed this study book for the RENEW Network. He concluded: "These authors are modern secularists in that they tend to see all of life in terms of social and political realities of the present order. ...to these authors sin is to be found primarily, if not exclusively, in social structures, especially those dominated by white males; and salvation involves forgiveness for complicity in social injustice and liberation from societal oppression and its consequences." Dr. Bauer was also troubled by the Christology of the authors of this textbook. He summarizes their Christological view, "...they contend, Matthew’s christology arose out of his own cultural context, and surely we must accept a christology that reflects our own cultural and personal experiences, whether that be native American, African-American, feminist, or lesbian"(pgs. 94-110). This book was published by the Women’s Division.

Ms. Sohl overlooked the primary reason Ms. Brock was included in this report. As stated in the report, Rita Nakashima Brock was a professor at UM-related Hamline University, and a keynote speaker at Celebration, an ecumenical gathering for college students which was supported financially by the UM Board on Higher Education.

Item #4, page 6

Ms. Sohl confirms that Ada Isasi-Diaz spoke at the National Seminar of the Women’s Division in 1991, and that the quotes of her speech which appeared in the January 1992 issue of Response were indeed correct. She says however, that the quotes were out of context. The quote is definitely not out of context (see complete article). Also, the Ad Hoc committee reviewed other writings by Isasi-Diaz and watched her interviews on Questions of Faith to confirm, in advance of the report’s writing, that the quote was also "in context" with her theology. Ms. Sohl’s own quote regarding Ms. Isasi-Diaz’s early comments only serve to reinforce the point made in the Doctrinal Integrity document. "The woman was important in Jesus’ understanding of himself and his mission" further substantiates Ms. Isasi-Diaz’s claim that Jesus did not have that clear understanding, and had to have this revealed to him by this woman. The denial of Christ’s diety is indeed a hallmark of radical feminist thought, and is no doubt true of other liberal theological perspectives, which may have been voiced in the 1951 Interpreter’s Bible, as cited by Ms. Sohl.

Item #5, page 7 and Item #3, page 23-24

No claim was made in the Doctrinal Integrity document that the Women’s Division sponsored or funded the Re-Imagining Conference. However, at the 1993 spring meeting of the Women’s Division, the Section of Mission and Membership Development put forward a report which cancelled a scheduled theology workshop, and in its place, directors and staff were encouraged to attend the Re-Imagining Conference. Part of the rationale for this decision included, "...the RE-imagining workshop has drawn an excellent list of women theologians."

A preliminary brochure was distributed about the Re-Imagining conference at this meeting. Many of the presenters listed were well known as radical feminist theologians. A listing of proposed option groups identified topical content which seemed questionable. It was this brochure which prompted the RENEW Network and other mainline women’s groups to send press observers to this meeting.

The Women’s Division paid for 36 directors, 9 staff members and 11 UMW conference vice presidents to attend at a cost of $35,081.00, plus an additional grant of $2,500 was given to the Minnesota Conference UMW for scholarships.

The connection of the Re-Imagining event to the World Council of Churches was spelled out in the 1993 Re-Imagining handbook. The Re-Imagining meeting of 1993 was clearly billed as the mid-point event for the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women program. The Re-Imagining handbook stated, "The Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998) was initiated by the World Council of Churches as a response by the religious community to address the unfinished agenda of the United Nations Decade for Women."

When reports of the Re-Imagining event began to emerge, the Women’s Division took a defensive stance. Rather than dealing with the serious nature of the heresies promoted at this event or facing responsibility for involvement, arguments were put forward in a "Fact Sheet" and accompanying letter to defend participation. The Fact Sheet focused upon minor points, with some misrepresentation. It was claimed that there was not a full knowledge of the contents of this conference in advance. This conference was four years in the making, with United Methodist involvement in the planning process. Advance publicity gave enough adequate information about speakers and content to evoke concern. To support this event with endorsement and attendance, whether with little knowledge or full knowledge, demonstrates a lack of responsibility on the part of leadership.

The greatest disappointment regarding the Women’s Division response is the failure to clearly condemn the theology presented at the Re-Imagining Conference and the failure to aggressively defend the person and work of Jesus Christ which came under strong attack at the Re-Imagining Conference. Stating a belief in "a living God incarnate in Jesus Christ" does not go far enough in countering the attack made by conference speakers upon the need for substitutionary atonement.

RENEW has at no time implied that the Decade Festival is another Re-Imagining Conference. We did point out that the Re-Imagining Revival which is scheduled for April 17-19 bills itself as part of the Ecumenical Decade program. We question this on the basis that The Re-Imagining Community is now a separate non-profit organization, supposedly no longer related to this program. One of our reporters to the fall Women’s Division meeting did express in her report her personal question as to what direction the Decade Festival event will take. We fully understand the composition of the Festival, its sponsorship and funding.

Item #6, page 8

The recommendation of Rosemary Radford Reuther’s book Women-Church occurred in the 1992-93 mission study book, We Belong Together: Churches in Solidarity with Women. While this is not a direct recommendation from the Women’s Division, the promotion of the mission studies through United Methodist Women can certainly be construed as agreement with the content of such resources. This study book highly praised the feminist movement within society without any critical analysis of radical elements within this movement. Churches in Solidarity with Women quotes from feminist scholar Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and highly reommends Rosemary Radford Reuther’s book, Women Church. Both of these women promote a counterculture movement that interacts with, but is not controlled by, traditional religion. Reuther makes it clear that she sees feminism in dialogue with many groups outside the mainstream of Christian tradition, and many of the rituals in Women Church encompass non-Christian elements. There was no disclaimer by the Division regarding this resource.

Item #3, page 11

The Doctrinal Integrity claim was not that the quotes attributed to Letty M. Russell came from the 1984 spiritual growth study Imitators of God, but simply that she had written a study for UMW. The quotes cited and attributed to Russell were, according to The Feminist Gospel from which the quotes were obtained, taken from Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, pgs. 17 and 138.

Appreciating the importance of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in shaping our theology does not eclipse the primacy of Scripture. Our Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task clearly states, "Our forebears in the faith reaffirmed the ancient Christian message as found in the apostolic witness even as they applied it anew in their own circumstances. Their preaching and teaching were grounded in Scripture, informed by Christian tradition, enlivened in experience, and tested by reason." (Book of Discipline, pg. 39)

The listing of the statment in front of the annual Reading Program brochure does not excuse the promotion of a book as radical in its content as Chung Hyun Kyung’s book, Struggle to be the Sun Again, which appeared on the 1994 Reading Program list. The Women’s Division has a responsibility to assure that books of this genre which are contrary to sound Christian doctrine are not recommended for reading by the women of the United Methodist Church, and that women theologians of this ilk are not promoted.

Item #10, page 20

For those women within the United Methodist Church who hold a pro-life position, the consistent pro-choice position of the Women’s Division is highly offensive. It is well known and clearly documented that the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice does not represent nor respect the pro-life position of church women. This organization has been a strong advocate for late-term abortions, even to the point of organizing the presentation of a statement by religious leaders to President Clinton on April 29, 1997 defending his veto of legislation which would have haulted the controversial and inhumane practice of partial-birth abortion.

Item #3, last paragraph p. 25

Due to the extreme theological deviation from historic Christian doctrine on the part of the women who spoke at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference, some form of denouncement was in order. Since the Re-Imagining Conference, the Women’s Division has continued to utilize speakers and supporters of this event (J. Ann Craig, executive secretary for spiritual and theological development for the WD helped draft A Time of Hope--A Time of Threat, in defense of the Re-Imagining Conference. At the 1994 UMW Assembly in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jean Audrey Powers and Beryl Ingram-Ward led a workshop on Creative Liturgy & Ritual. Some items introduced mirrored the Re-Imagining content. Jean Audrey Powers has been on the Coordinating Council of Re-Imagining since its inception, and Beryl Ingram-Ward has voiced strong support for it. An article by Ms. Ingram-Ward questioning the necessity of Christ’s death was later circulated at UMW events. More recently, the Women’s Division had Aruna Gnanadason, a 1993 Re-Imagining speaker, as a presenter at the Women’s Division fall 1997 meeting. Ms. Gnanadason’s presentation at Re-Imagining questioned the "violent death of Christ on the cross.")

The nine authors cited in this section as having been published by or whose works were recommended by the Women’s Division were documented in an earlier study put together for the women of the First Methodist Church of Marietta. The following six Re-Imagining speakers have appeared on Women’s Division Reading Program lists or in Response magazine: Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Chung Hyun Kyung, Aruna Gnanadason, Johanna W.H. Box, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, and Mercy Oduyoye. At least two of these have appeared as recently as the 1997 and 1998 Reading Program lists. Three others--Rita Nakashima Brock, Jacquelyn Grant, and Susan Thistlewaite--were recommended for additional reading in the "Selected Bibliography, Books with Material on Christology," Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which was the Women’s Division’s 1993-94 Spiritual Growth Study. Jacqualine Grant was also recommended in the Bibliography of We Belong Together: Churches in Solidarity with Women, the Women’s Division 1992-93 Mission Study book.

Page 32, RENEW

RENEW is a network for evangelical, theologically orthodox women within the United Methodist Church. Our literature clearly states that we are not a separate organization. RENEW is the women’s program arm of the Good News organization, and we work in coalition with the Mission Society for United Methodists and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. We do not have a separate prayer calendar (we do have an internal prayer calendar for our 43 member steering committee and support team). We do publish supplemental program resources for our network members. We have prepared a supplemental reading program list in the past, but no longer do this (we do recommend good books on a periodic basis). We call for a responsible, informed approach to stewardship. We do encourage the women of the church to give to worthy projects through United Methodist Women and the general church. We have suggested support for renewal groups which represent the views of our constiuents. We do recommend the mission projects which come under program of the Mission Society for United Methodists.

RENEW has never claimed to be a part of the official organization of United Methodist Women, although almost all of the people who network with us are members of UMW. Many are local, district and conference officers for UMW. We document everything we publish and are always willing to give a retraction if we are shown to be in error. When we prepared our Financial File, an analysis of Women’s Division spending patterns and theological perspectives on what we considered key issues, we sent a copy to the Treasurer and Deputy General Secretary of the Women’s Division and requested that they notify us of any information which was in error. We did not receive a response to this request, nor have we heard a rebuttal of what was written. We do not disguise the perspective from which we come. We clearly stated in the Financial File, "We want to be forthright about our own presuppositions. We bring to our evaluation our commitments to orthodox Christian theology and an evangelical and biblically-based understanding of the faith." We call the Women’s Division to this same level of doctrinal faithfulness.

Page 32, The Mission Society

The Mission Society for United Methodists was formed in January, 1984, as a voluntary association of United Methodist pastors and laity seeking to expand the missions outreach of our churches and to enable qualified United Methodists to answer God’s call to serve Him. In countries where an official Methodist Church already exists, the Mission Society sends missionaries to those countries only when they have been invited by the resident bishop or president of that country. The Mission Society has 115 full-time missionaries in 27 countries (currently assigned or preparing to go). These mission personnel are supported by 23 staff persons.

In a world where two billion people have never heard the Gospel, there is ample room for the General Board of Global Ministries, the Mission Society for United Methodists and a hundred other groups like them, if God would raise them up.


I trust that this response will be read and transmitted to all who received the Women’s Division rebuttal to the Report on the Doctrinal Integrity of the United Methodist Church. This document, prepared by the Ad Hoc committee of laity at Marietta First United Methodist Church, represents an honest assessment of where our church stands on critical doctrinal issues, citing but a few examples of the many which could have been used. It also represents a sincere call to faithfulness to the doctrinal standards of the United Methodist Church and the teachings of Scripture. I pray our leadership will hear and heed that call.


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