The Big Issue: Women On The Move

The credit or blame for the most provocative remark to be heard during a church convention so far this year probably goes to Mrs. Harold Walker of Fort Smith, Arkansas. “Most church problems are caused by women!” she told the National Women’s Auxiliary of the American Baptist Association last month. Mrs. Walker, a thirtyish pastor’s wife and mother, made the observation in an address to the auxiliary in which she roundly denounced women’s lib.

“I believe Paul knew what he was talking about when he placed woman in her rightful place in the church,” said Mrs. Walker. “If you have been in church work very long, you know that most church problems are caused by women—women who rebel against fulfilling their God-given position.”

Some 1,000 women were on hand for the auxiliary meeting, which preceded the annual national-messenger of the ABA in Little Rock, Arkansas. The association now comprises 3,336 strongly fundamentalist local churches with an estimated total membership of 955,900. The churches’ historic stress on congregational polity (they are sometimes referred to as Landmarkers) is accompanied by a strongly separatist spirit. ABA churches are concentrated in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, though they are now found in forty-one states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Mrs. Walker called abortion “nothing less than legalized murder of masses of human lives.” She said that “women of our generation promote murder of our babies while they march in protest in the streets of our cities against murder on the battlefield.” She said that the problem of women is not overwork but “rebellion against the will and purpose of God in our lives.”

Problem or no, women and their concerns surfaced as never before at this year’s church conventions. In Pella, Iowa, at the annual General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, women made their legal debut as delegates in a denomination that had its origin with the early settlers. Their presence was made possible by constitutional amendments enacted at last year’s synod. The RCA, which has had a peak membership of nearly 400,000, began in 1628 with a group of Dutch Calvinists.

In St. Louis, a judge from the District of Columbia was elected moderator of the 1,900,000-member United Church of Christ. Judge Margaret A. Haywood is believed to be the first black woman ever to hold the highest elective office in a predominantly white American denomination. She was voted into the office by delegates to the biennial General Synod of the UCC.

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Sensitive to feminist demands, the delegates also amended the pronouns in the church’s constitution and adopted a resolution urging revision of educational and worship materials so that their language will be inclusive in gender. The issue provoked some highly emotional debate. One section of the resolution calls upon the church to work with “related ecumenical agencies to take steps to translate the Bible in a manner … sensitive to the experiences of both women and men.”


Immediately after the United States Supreme Court decision of January 22, 1973, that virtually provided for abortion on demand, steps were taken in both Houses of Congress to amend the United States Constitution.
The House resolution, introduced by Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan (R.-Md.) and seven co-sponsors, would protect all human life “from the moment of conception.” In the Senate, Senator James L. Buckley (C.-N. Y.) and others (including Senators Hatfield and Hughes) have proposed a slightly different amendment, applying the protection of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to “all human beings, including their unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development.” The Senate version has also been presented to the House by Congressman Albert H. Quie (R.-Minn.).
According to Hogan’s legislative assistant, there is little significant difference between the House and Senate versions. Hogan’s proposal would more explicitly forbid euthanasia of the sick, old, and incapacitated; the Buckley amendment would allow the possibility of abortion in case of a “reasonable medical certainty” of the death of the mother were abortion not performed.
Since the Supreme Court decision, at least ten state legislatures have passed resolutions calling for such an amendment to the Constitution, and at least seventeen states have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.
While the National Conference of (Roman) Catholic Bishops endorsed an amendment of the Hogan-Buckley type, disagreement on the abortion issue is threatening the unity of the National Council of Churches, where three Eastern Orthodox communions and the Polish National Catholic Church have come out flatly against legalization of abortion while eleven Protestant denominations wish to see abortion removed completely from the jurisdiction of the law (as the January Supreme Court decision has in effect done).
Methodist C. Stanley Lowell of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, speaking at the Virginia United Methodist Conference in Roanoke in June, maintained that opposition to easy abortion is church [i.e., Roman Catholic] interference in state affairs. The Virginia conference endorsed the Supreme Court decision, but at the same time the West Ohio United Methodist Conference approved a resolution allowing for an abortion only if the mother’s life is really at stake.
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In contrast to the vacillating attitude of many denominational bodies, leading Protestant theologians, such as Barth, Brunner, Bonhoeffer, and more recently Paul Ramsey (Princeton) and George H. Williams (Harvard), have consistently denounced abortion as a moral evil.
Preservers March On

When the inevitability and terms of merger between the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ became evident in the mid-1950s, a small group of churches and ministers established the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (1955). These churches, though they differed in theology, were all determined to preserve the “Congregational way,” with its emphasis on the autonomy of the local congregation. At the NACCC’s nineteenth annual meeting in Minneapolis June 25–28, it was evident that the independence-minded Congregationalists are not merely carrying on but growing in numbers (currently 85,000 members) and strength; in addition, there are signs of spiritual revival and increasing participation by evangelicals.

Although the keynote address by Dr. Hubert G. Locke concentrated on social and political issues—Watergate, racial tensions, poverty, and others—the delegates showed more interest in spiritual matters and in their traditional preoccupation, local church autonomy. The Commission on Spiritual Resources was the best attended, especially a “sharing and healing” service conducted by the Reverend Arthur A. Rouner, Jr., of Edina, Minnesota. Personal testimonies, free prayer, and openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit made that service reminiscent of meetings of the Catholic Pentecostals.

The opening business session June 26 revealed that the NACCC Executive Committee, concerned with the need for another permanent staff member, had decided in March to call the Reverend Richard P. Buchman of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, to be a fourth member of the permanent staff. Buchman was to replace Dr. John H. Alexander as executive secretary, while Alexander would take over other staff duties.

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A letter-writing campaign by the Reverend Malcolm K. Burton of Otis, Massachusetts, alerted member churches to what Burton and others considered a threat to the NACCC’s principles of local church initiative in the committee-decreed realignment, and Buchman was moved to withdraw his candidacy before the June meeting. Alexander received a standing ovation after he presented his annual report. Attorney Edward W. Adams of Marshalltown, Iowa, was elected moderator.

One distinctive of the NACCC is the Congregational Foundation for Theological Studies, with the Reverend George W. Brown, Jr., as dean. Rather than establish its own seminary, the NACCC organized the foundation to aid prospective ministerial students with advice and financial support so they could pursue individually tailored programs at various seminaries, often combining seminary work with independent study and field work. Approximately fifty ministerial candidates have gone through the CFTS program in the last ten years, many of them attending evangelical seminaries such as Trinity and Gordon-Conwell.


For Men Only?

When the subject of women’s liberation arises in evangelical circles, two very distinct types of scriptural interpretations appear (see also page 44). Both were much in evidence at the recent second annual Conference on Contemporary Issues at Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver, Colorado. Discussion centered on “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status.”

On the one hand are the traditionalists whose rallying cry is “Submission!” Speaking for them, Professor Gleason Archer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School expounded the subjection of woman to the authority of man, whether husband or father. In marriage the husband is responsible for “captaincy in the family team” because he is the “head,” which Archer interpreted to mean “overlordship” or “authority.” In the Church, say traditionalists, women cannot represent God because he is masculine, and they are to remain silent because New Testament teaching is seen as based not on cultural expedients but on the theological “chain of command” rooted in Genesis two and First Corinthians 11:3.

On the other hand are those who stress Genesis 1:26–28, where men and women are given the same commission, and Galatians 3:28, where cultural polarities are overcome in Christ. They stress submission as a trait of all Spirit-filled Christians and interpret “head” more as “source” or “beginning.” And they see woman in a much broader perspective than simply wife and mother.

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Paul Jewett, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Seminary, pointed out how freely and totally women were integrated into Jesus’ travels, teaching, ministry, and daily life-style—something the Church for the most part has been unwilling to imitate, charge women’s-equality advocates.

Virginia Mollenkott, professor of English at William Paterson College, Wayne, New Jersey, noted that God chose to reveal the resurrection first to women but that only two male disciples believed them enough to check. Observing an empty hole in the ground, they went away scientifically satisfied, but the women lovingly lingered and were rewarded not only with a visit by angels but also with a revelation by Christ himself, she noted. Jewett declared it might be judged an accident of history that women were first to see the empty tomb, but the appearances of the angels and Christ were deliberate and must have some implications for women’s role in ministry.

Author Letha Scanzoni raised some pertinent practical questions about women in the Church: Do we really believe that the Spirit gives gifts “to each one individually as he will” or is that “for men only”? What does the “priesthood of all believers” mean when we exclude women from any active ministry? Why do we constantly degrade women’s contribution to the missionary effort by saying God used them only because no men volunteered? If women are “unsafe repositories for doctrine,” why do we let them teach other women and children, write Sunday-school materials, or sing solos in church?

Psychiatrist E. Mansell Pattison gave the 150 conferees a provocative analysis of why anatomy is not destiny for human beings. He asserted that neither instincts, physical make-up, nor hormones really determines whether one is labeled “male” or “female.” The determining factors are role assignment by parents and subsequent socialization, he explained.

Anthropologist James Oliver Buswell III and sociologist David Moberg concurred. From their particular perspective both said that while certain groups think their definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” are “natural” and “God-ordained,” such definitions actually differ considerably from culture to culture and are purely the result of the enculturation process.

In the end the question seemed to be: Just how much of what we as Christians say about women is God’s word, and how much is the result of our own cultural biases?


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Brethren Back In The Black

Although the Church of the Brethren lost 1,200 members last year, congregations and districts within the 180,000-member denomination that have emphasized evangelism have grown. “If they have deliberately set out to do evangelism, they have made gains. I’m excited about areas where there is new life,” exclaimed Dr. Matthew Meyer, consultant for evangelism at the Church of the Brethren headquarters in Elgin, Illinois, during the church’s 187th annual convention in Fresno, California, this month.

Some congregations in the ecumenical, pacifist-tradition Church of the Brethren are indeed growing fast. An example is Broad Fording Church near Hagerstown, Maryland, where a fleet of buses picks up churchgoers and, according to Meyer, the minister emphasizes “saving souls.” Other congregations, emphasizing social action at the expense of evangelism, have declined, he added.

There are signs that the slide may be bottoming out, noted officials in an optimistic mood in the Fresno convention center while 110-degree heat sizzled outside in the raisin capital of the world. The 1972 membership loss was the smallest since 1963, when membership peaked at 202,257. Giving for local programs shot up about $4 million during 1972 to top $18 million for the first time; a $250,000 deficit that accumulated last year, resulting in the termination of five national staff workers, has been erased and a $750,000 “minimum” undesignated reserve fund has been banked.

Dr. A. G. Breidenstine of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who is in charge of setting goals and budget for the next two years, observed that fifteen “listening conferences” involving a sampling of congregations revealed general satisfaction with the church’s programs. “There was opposition to over-emphasis on social-action programs,” Breidenstine said, “but at the same time there was recognition that race and poverty programs cannot be ignored.”

At the convention, position statements were presented recommending unconditional amnesty by the U. S. government toward draft evaders, and recognizing the right of Brethren to withhold taxes due the government for war and military purposes. Like the United Church of Christ, meeting the week before in St. Louis (see following story), the Brethren sent a delegation to check out grape picketing operations in southern California, where Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union is battling it out with the Teamsters for grower contracts.

Commenting in an interview about the effects that the Jesus and charismatic movements have had on the denomination, Meyer declared he sees “a willingness to receive and affirm persons with a variety of stances.”

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Donald E. Rowe, executive secretary of the Mid-Atlantic District, was named moderator-elect to assume the duties of the present moderator, Wayne F. Geisert (president of Bridgewater College, Virginia), at the close of the 1974 convention.



The Scottish Tourist Board has reason to be grateful to the Loch Ness monster, and local inhabitants look indulgently even on earnest scientists who in ingenious ways try to solve the riddle of the waters. An English clergyman is now determined to put an end to the mysterious money-spinner once for all, and last month went to Loch Ness to “cleanse it of its phantom.” A well known exorcist, the Reverend Dr. Donald Omand of Devon, a retired vicar, said that Nessie had the power to cause people who have spotted her to suffer mental deterioration in later years. “It may seem nonsense to a lot of people,” he said, as he carried out his religious ceremony. No one was arguing with him.


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