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Work Group to Review College Women's Network Meets
PCUSA NEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
30 Oct 1998 20:06:23
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Work Group to Review College Women's Network Meets ,
Schedules Full Day of Hearings in January
by Jerry L. Van Marter
LOUISVILLE, Ky.-A work group charged by the recent General Assembly to
review the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) National Network of Presbyterian
College Women (NNPCW) began sifting through reams of background material at
its first meeting here Oct. 27-28.
The intense but cordial meeting set the stage for a showdown between
critics and supporters of the network when work group members scheduled
nearly a full day of hearings when they meet next in January.
The NNPCW, a joint ministry of several offices within the National
Ministries Division (NMD), came under fire in Charlotte when critics of the
group objected to some its resources. They particularly attacked a 1992
publication titled "Young Women Speak: Issues for Study by College Women,"
charging that it violates provisions of the "Book of Order" by stating that
homosexuality is an appropriate Christian lifestyle. They also said it
does not square with biblical teachings on issues of sexuality and
In a highly contentious series of actions, the Assembly first withdrew
funding and official sponsorship of the NNPCW. Then, following a public
demonstration by supporters of the network on the floor of the Assembly,
commissioners reversed themselves and voted to continue funding for one
more year while the work group reviews "the resources, publications and
programs" of the NNPCW.
The work group was instructed to report the findings of its review to
next summer's General Assembly and make recommendations about future
funding of the network.
Established in 1991 as a pilot project funded by a Bicentennial Fund
grant, the NNPCW was adopted by the NMD as an ongoing ministry in 1994
after the pilot project received a positive evaluation. In 1998 it
received a total of $50,000 from the women's ministries, higher education,
evangelism and social justice offices of NMD.
The work group spent this two-day meeting reviewing a brief history of
the NNPCW --written by current NNPCW intern Gusti Newquist -- and the
network's by-laws. The group also reviewed the original Bicentennial Fund
proposal, the 1994 documents recording the NMD actions and a staff report
evaluating the network that was prepared for the NMD in 1998.
NMD associate for corporate witness the Rev. Vernon Broyles, who is
staffing the work group, also handed out packets containing some 200
letters that have been received to date about the NNPCW. He said "at least
90 percent" of them appear to be supportive of the network.
All seven work group members agreed to review "Young Women Speak" in
detail between now and Dec. 15 and to report to the whole group any
departures from "The Book of Order" or the Bible that they find in
preparation for the next meeting, Jan. 11-12 here.
Work group members shared their initial reactions to "Young Women
Speak," which addresses issues such as sexuality, rape, time management,
feminist/womanist theologies, discrimination against women, the
environment, eating disorders and inclusive language. The resource was
written by Presbyterian college women and edited by staff interns in the
former Women's Ministries Unit in Louisville.
The Rev. Jeff Bridgeman of Solvang, Calif., said that while he found
some of the sections, particularly the one on rape, "terrific," overall "I
was sad." Bridgeman faulted the editors, not the writers. "I found an
overemphasis on victimization without any word on the healing power of
Christ," he explained. "There were great places for biblical
interpretation of these issues that missed the mark."
General Assembly moderator the Rev. Douglas Oldenburg agreed that the
resource needs to be rewritten "but not scrapped - a lot of it is very
Oldenburg's plea for more a more solid theological and biblical base
under the resource was echoed by several others. Calling "Young Women
Speak" NNPCW's "defining resource," Assembly vice-moderator the Rev. Jim
Mead said, "...it has to be balanced and in-bounds and within the
Presbyterian Church there's gobs of room for that."
Miriam Pride, president of PC(USA)-related Blackburn College in
Carlinville, Ill., defended the resource. "From my experience, this is the
only document that could keep me in the room, because the church was
horrendous on these issues for so long," she said. "The document you're
talking about creating wouldn't have done it for me when I was a student,
because the church's theologies on these issues were no help."
The issue now, Pride added, "is the relationship between `Young Women
Speak' and church policy. I look forward to our answers about what it is
in here that violates [church policy]."
Oldenburg put it another way. "We want the material to be faithful but
also accessible to folk who are turned off by `God-talk.'"
"And not everyone is turned off by `God-talk,'" quickly added Diane
Wright, an educator on the staff of New Harmony Presbytery in Florence,
Mead sounded a cautionary note. "You know, all this comes at a time
when we've pretty much abandoned our ministry to college students. We
desperately need a ministry here ... to all college women, to all college
Ironically, "Young Women Speak" is "no longer in stock," according to
the Rev. Barbara Dua, associate director for women's ministries in NMD and
staff to the network. "We were already planning to revise the resource
before the Assembly and there was quite a run on it in Charlotte, so we
have no more copies left," Dua said.
Newquist expressed the frustration she said is felt by NNPCW's
12-member Coordinating Council (CoCo), all of whom are Presbyterian college
women. "CoCo is asking the same questions you are," she said. "CoCo
decided last February to revise the resource, but our energies have been
diverted elsewhere, obviously, and now they're asking, `Why should we go to
all this time and effort if we're going to be eliminated next summer
The work group agreed to invite the two organizations most critical of
the NNPCW - the Presbyterian Lay Committee and Voices of Orthodox Women -
to present their case for a total of one hour Jan. 11 during the next work
group meeting. As yet unnamed groups supporting the network will also have
a total of one hour to speak to the work group, which has also scheduled 30
minutes each to question the opponents and advocates of the network.
The work group has also allotted 90 minutes for "open hearings," in
which individuals will have five minutes each to express their opinions on
whether the NNPCW should continue to receive denominational sponsorship and
funding. Requests for time to speak during the hearings will be received
by the work group later in November by mail only. A means for random
selection from among those requesting time will be devised.
A PresbyNet meeting will also soon be established to receive comments
on NNPCW from those who wish to communicate electronically.
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