The latest issue of Response magazine illustrates how politics is replacing piety in the United Methodist publication for women. The official “Voice of Women in Mission,” April 2003, focuses on “Religion’s Role in the Backlash Against Women.” The message is hammered home in dozens of ways women are victims of religious “fundamentalism.” Evangelical believers and other orthodox Christians are lumped, indiscriminately, into a broad category, “Religious Right,” along with “fundamentalists” like the Taliban, Muslim terrorists and other extremists. It is inexcusable for editors of a church publication to be ignorant of theological distinctions; it is even worse if such rhetorical devices were used deliberately to mislead the magazine’s readers and to imply guilt by association.
The April issue of Response illustrates how far the UMW has departed from it’s emphases when both my grandmothers were active in the organization! Then, it was known as The Women’s Society for Christian Service (WSCS). Methodist women’s spiritual lives were shaped by the challenge of reaching the world for Jesus Christ and they were inspired by missionary accounts in the monthly magazine. The lives of both my grandmothers revolved around their small town Methodist churches, especially the women’s circles. These two women, who never had the opportunity to travel abroad, had their horizons expanded by reading about missionaries who were committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world. I grew up hearing about two, strong, accomplished women who were local heroines. Mary Culler White was a veteran Methodist missionary in China. Layona Glenn, from our hometown, served over 50 years in Brazil. The official Methodist publications used by the WSCS groups contained stories about missionaries like those women, mission “fields,” and how women served Christ and needy people both here in the U.S. and in foreign nations.
Visually, the magazine is designed to convey a positive, conservative and historical image. The cover picture is of a glowing middle-aged woman who exemplifies a typical United Methodist woman exuding warmth and vitality. The first story is an essay, “Called by Name,” written by Joyce D. Sohl, Deputy General Secretary of the Women’s Division. Ms. Sohl taps into the current women’s fad about the importance of “naming.” However, instead of presenting the religious feminists’ usual interpretation of the concept, Ms. Sohl’s article gives the concept a traditional slant. Her article is an excellent piece about Jesus calling us in the midst of our tumult and ease and the importance of spreading the Easter message. There is only one jarring line and it is softly coded, but nevertheless contains liberal jargon expressing an incomplete truth Jesus came to bring “love,” “liberation” and “justice;” there is no mention of personal salvation, redemption or transformation. Otherwise, the article is biblically solid. By beginning with Ms. Sohl’s essay, with its traditional theological language and its use of the beloved and familiar words of an old hymn, the reader is softened and lulled into believing that this issue of the magazine, in spite of its cover headline, presents traditional Christianity, after all. There is even a picture of a baby being baptized.
In fact, many of the pictures create an image that contradicts the content and are obvious attempts to appear conservative and traditional there is a mother and her children, Indian women in colorful saris, a beautifully backlit blond pregnant woman, a picture of pro-life demonstrators, a picture of women at a Women of Faith conference, children getting on a school bus, Afghan women, and girls jogging. Lovely minority women illustrate the article, “Feminism Today,” and teens are pictured marching for “no sex before marriage.” As already stated, these pictures do not conform to the messages within the text.
Other pictures send a different message some editor had to search hard for such awful pictures of Phyllis Schlafly, President Bush, a CWA state leader, a Catholic nun and Elizabeth Dole. And, of course, there are the requisite pictures of Dan Quayle and Promise Keeper men to illustrate chauvinist attitudes toward women.
There is no escaping the fact that the Response magazine has a subtle and not-so-subtle “ax to grind.” This issue of the magazine is a political screed. Just scan the contents page.
Ann Craig defines fundamentalism and then describes anyone who opposes abortion or homosexuality as fundamentalist. She then subtly describes what she considers more appropriate “fundamentals:” believing that (emphasis mine) “Christ is OUR way to truth and salvation,” and “The Bible is inspired and sufficient FOR CHRISTIANS.” There is an article blaming the “Religious Right” for a backlash against women.
Jean Hardisty, whose career is based on discrediting the “Religious Right” challenges the President’s marriage initiative by portraying it erroneously as the Religious Right’s cure for poverty and as a bad idea that will force women to stay in abusive marriages. Ms. Hardisty makes fun of the President’s marriage initiative by distorting its purpose and making it seem that those who support marriage as the foundation of a strong civil society believe that marriage is the sole goal of women and that marriage is a cure all for women’s problems. Official government data clearly shows that married women are safer than other women across all categories and ages, nevertheless, Ms. Hardisty and other feminists persist in implying that marriage is harmful to women and that women face significant risk of spousal abuse.
The usual positive treatment is given CEDAW, the UN treaty that purportedly eliminates discrimination against women. The U.S. has not ratified CEDAW because the treaty’s provisions are already in effect in the U.S. and, among other things, ratifying the treaty would give enforcement power to a United Nation’s committee composed of representatives from nations not known for exemplary human rights, such as China and Cuba.
Treatment of politically hot topics like Pro-Family policies, Title IX, and domestic violence is biased and slanted to make the Religious Right look like the bad guys. Response constructs “straw men” (a rhetorical device where a caricature is described that is easier to attack than an honest, straightforward portrayal of reality) and then easily tears them down.
There is a bitter little piece about President Bush’s delegates to UN conferences. For years, radical feminist organizations have dominated UN meetings. Under the Bush Administration, they are no longer in control and it is hard for them to cede ground to the Bush appointees who have different values. Having been a U.S. Delegate appointed by President Bush at both the UN’s Children’s summit and the Commission on the Status of Women and having been an NGO (non-government organization) observer at numerous other UN meetings, I can authoritatively contest many of the assertions and conclusions in Response’s article about the U.N..
Ironically, in an article about Afghan women, there is a litany of efforts being made by the U.S. to help Afghan women. Since I have been closely involved with the United States’ efforts to assist the Afghan women, I was astounded at the partisan tone of the article. It is not until the 4th paragraph that President Bush is mentioned, incidentally, rather than acknowledged as the architect of these programs to help Afghan women. Instead, Senator Barbara Boxer’s minor amendment is heralded in a long tribute to her efforts.
A graduate student wrote the article on CEDAW; it is full of generalizations and errors. Only Democrats and former Clinton appointees are cited.
PETTY LANGUAGE, EXAGGERATION AND ILLOGICAL LINKAGES
In her editor’s introduction to the issue, Dana Jones claims that Title IX is threatened and grossly generalizes and exaggerates by writing that the threat “is the tip of the iceberg of growing anti-women rhetoric and policy in our nation and the world.” By linking rhetoric and policy, she is able to cite disparate examples as though they are a unified policy. By using the term “Religious Right” to refer to BOTH conservative, orthodox Christians AND Muslim extremists, she creates the impression that Christians who believe in living out Biblical principles have the same irrational attitudes and use the same violent means as the terrorists.
In addition the author lumps together the two groups in adhering to the tenet of “women’s subservience.” Such implications are unconscionable because they are so obviously untrue and so blatantly distort to make a point that is completely erroneousthat these two movements are “converging to overturn women’s progress.”
Ms. Jones chooses her words carefully when she refers to the “factions within the United Methodist Church” that she claims are seeking to change “denominational guidelines” that “would end more than 100 years of women shaping and leading mission outreach to women, children and youth.” Those “factions”in which I am pleased to be a leader are not seeking to end mission outreach, nor are they seeking to change 100+ years of history. The truth of the matter is that the Women’s Division is seeking to change the mission and reverse the direction of United Methodist Women, who for 80 or so of those 100+ years had a clear Biblical purpose and direction. The leadership of the Women’s Division is now using every means at their disposal to change that purpose. If they are successful, THEY will be responsible for ending mission outreaches for the sake of “interpreting” their purpose and “strengthening the organization.”
The written description about the cover laments that even though John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, included women in leadership, “IT WASN’T (emphasis mine) until 1956 that the Methodist church approved ordination of women in full connection.” Of course this sentence could have been phrased more appropriately to reflect the leadership of the United Methodist Church in respecting women’s leadership and in ordaining women for pulpit ministry “The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, included women in leadership and as early as 1956, the United Methodist Church approved ordination of women in full connection.”
Ann Craig, in her article about the status and role of women, consistently uses loaded language and repeats the word, “rigid”: “love and forgiveness” are pitted against “rigidity that prioritizes doctrine over humanity.” Jesus condemned rigid, self-righteous leaders, writes Craig as she portrays the Religious Right as rigid and self-righteous. If people are rigid and punitive, “the result is fundamentalism.” Christian fundamentalists, according to Craig, believe that Scripture supports “women’s subservience” and the “subordination of women” (which is a complete mischaracterization of “submissiveness”). All of her arguments are culminated in a persuasive appeal for “inclusive language” for God and the Trinity. She poses the question, “Are fundamentalist critics blocking conversation out of dogma based on cultural sexism?” Ms. Craig advocates having each new generation sort out such perplexities through discussion and interaction but of course, “doctrinal debates” have no place in such discussions.
SUBTLE AND NOT-SO-SUBTLE ATTACKS ON BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY
The article about the Religious Right’s supposed backlash against women features a photo of Afghan women and begins with a discussion of the Taliban’s oppression of women and argues that the U.S. “invasion” of Afghanistan to “eradicate terrorism” and “liberate Afghan Muslim women” was comparable to the colonial powers who “used the same argument to legitimize their presence in many countries.” Such spurious arguments have no place in a magazine meant for intelligent, well-informed women.
The author, Azza Karom, adds further insult when she argues that so-named Religious Right movements are “usually radical and literal in their interpretation of holy texts.” A key criteria of the Religious Right’s agenda, she claims is “a return to (her emphasis) or striving toward a fundamental set of values.” Her arguments become even more ridiculous as she writes about women’s bodies becoming “signposts” because they bear the babies. The author develops a concept she calls, “political motherhood” arguing that women who become leaders in pro-life or pro-family movements are extending their motherhood to entire neighborhoods, countries, political parties or governments. To be a “right-wing” woman, she claims, is to be close to the centers of power in today’s world. Don’t we wish she were right? She, alone, apparently truly understands our motivation; it is to “be agents of God” in a mission or vocation that requires public service. And, Ms. Karom has determined that right wing rhetoric is electorally lucrative; her evidence is “the current drums of war that threaten all of us.”
Azza Karom’s most egregious argument, however, is at the end of her piece where she waxes sanctimoniously about how not all “right-wing” women are alike; therefore, a constructive approach is to work together in serving women. She has the gall, then, to assert that a “constructive approach” informs her network of liberal women’s alliances that are “working to move women of faith to the center.” Isn’t it noble that in the midst of us there are women like the author with superior motivation who are willing to work to move US (my emphasis) more toward the center!
Marilyn Clement, executive secretary for economic justice for the Women’s Division, offers up dozens of groups where United Methodist women can work on issues of importance. There is not a single moderate or conservative group among those on her list. It is a roll call of the Leftist women’s organizations.
Samantha Smoot, author of the article about the “Pro-Family Agenda” is described as a “mainstream” non-partisan author of an article about groups “claiming to represent a Christian perspective.” Ms. Smoot asserts without equivocation that the pro-family agenda “strikes at the heart of U.S. families, hitting women and children hardest and disproportionately hurting women and families of color.” She adds that the pro-family agenda “helps only one kind of family: a two-parent, middle-to-upper class family with one wage-earner and traditional gender roles.” She characterizes this as a “danger” because the Religious Rights supposedly wants to limit women’s access to health care services and limit children’s exposure to sex education. The author slings around erroneous information with abandon: for instance, the Religious Right is opposed to “child nutrition, immunization and child abuse prevention programs such as ‘Healthy Start” which phrase, by the way, I coined when I wrote speeches for former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Louis Sullivan. The Religious Right is really dangerous if you believe Ms. Smoot’s propaganda it wants to “keep marriages intact even if this traps [women] in abusive unions.” Here is her final volley: The Religious Right seeks to “impose a set of religious, social, political and economic beliefs on the entire nation.”
Dana Jones’ article about Title IX is based on comments by Leftist advocacy groups and is full of phrases that give away the tenuousness of her argument. For instance, she adds the cautionary phrase, “if implemented” and acknowledges that the President has the authority to act without Congressional approval something previous presidents have done repeatedly.
The managing editor of Response, Yvette Moore, a beautiful and vivacious young Black woman, explores the definition of “feminism” from the perspective of the Barnard College Center for Research for Women and other women’s studies programs where feminism is admittedly more than concern about women’s equality; where, instead, it moves into social justice, sexuality, race and class issues. Sadly, the author sugarcoats the “womanist” movement feminism through the eyes of women of color, which capitalizes on class, issues and focuses on gender and racial oppression by glorifying vicimhood. Ms. Moore quotes a woman who asserts that the Religious Right has “built a lot of its power on confrontation with feminism.” The woman quoted continued a false argument that the Religious Right “promotes a worldview in which all is well if authoritarian male figures make the decisions and tell families, nations and the world what to do.”
One of the most egregious articles in a magazine of unbelievably egregious articles is the one that links domestic violence to fundamentalism. As a person who has worked for over a decade on issues of violence against women, I can say without fear of contradiction that domestic violence is not limited to ideology or social class. Susana Fried, the author, asserts without a shred of evidence, that “Fundamentalism, often considered synonymous with the Islamic faith, actually originated in U.S.-based Christian movements in the early 20th century.” That a United Methodist publication would print such a blatantly untrue statement is reprehensible. The American so-called Religious Right has been in the leadership in efforts to combat the Taliban’s oppression of women and many of the traditional evidences of violence against women that are culturally based female genital mutilation, honor killings, etc., though you’d never know that from Ms. Fried’s article that only cites far left organizations. These groups, she says in her conclusion, are “opposing the use of religion to condone domestic violence.” Ms. Fried shows ignorance if she is unaware of the significant role the Christian Right groups are playing in that effort. If she knows and distorted the story, that is just as reprehensible. Either way, this article should never have been published.
Jennifer Butler’s account of the Religious Right at the UN was particularly interesting to me, since as I mentioned previously, I have been at most UN meetings related to women/family issues over the past decade and have been an official United States delegate at the past two major conferences. It is amusing that this author views women’s status as “under attack” from the Religious Right. Actually, the radical left groups have had control for so long that they think they own the UN and have a right to dominate the agenda. The article is hopelessly ill informed and biased. It complains about groups and actions where I played a central role so I am aware first-hand of her errors and exaggerations. The so-called Religious Right DID NOT try to block efforts combating violence against women as she claimed; instead, the Religious Right has been at the forefront of the battle. The U.S. delegation DID NOT opposed the term “child rights” because we had not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We opposed the term because it negates parental authority and grants children the right to make life-altering decisions without parental knowledge or consent. The U.S. has not signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child for numerous reasons including the provisions for “children’s rights.” UN delegates have specifically acknowledged that the term “health services” is code for “abortion on demand” and this author shows her ignorance when she denies that UN negotiations center on the ramifications of language. Her lack of information about UNFPA is astounding how did this article get accepted for publication, except as a propaganda piece against the so-called Religious Right? The author proudly proclaims that the Women’s Division is a member of the group, Ecumenical Women 2000+, a Leftist organization that propagates misinformation similar to this article.
One of the last articles in the magazine examines U.S. policy on women and girls accusing “political shifts” of endangering women and girls in the U.S. The article focuses on welfare reform, which has been an unqualified success in cutting welfare rolls in half and providing hope for women previously caught in a welfare trap. The Administration’s marriage initiative also comes under attack especially because these authors accuse the initiative of putting women in danger of domestic abuse. Yet the data clearly show that married women are FAR safer than any other group or demographic of women. The article echoes the bogus arguments previously used regarding CEDAW and “health services.”
Jean Hardisty, who has studied “right-wing” Christian organizations for years, once told me that of all the groups that she has visited or been part of, she was made to feel most welcomed and treated most warmly by Concerned Women for America when she attended their annual convention. Ms. Hardisty’s major complaint in this article is that the Religious Right defines “family” too narrowly heterosexual, two-parents and “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman. Hardisty believes that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals ought to be acknowledged and laments that legally sanctioned marriage is not available to them. Unfortunately, she makes assertions that simply cannot be backed by the data. For instance, she declares that marriage does not help women out of poverty when the data is unequivocal that married women are better off financially than unmarried ones. Again, Jean repeats the canard that the marriage initiative dooms a woman from escaping an abusive relationship; this is a red herring argument unworthy of addressing.
The April 2003 issue of Response magazine is 48 pages of political propaganda, full of ill-informed opinion, erroneous facts and distorted perceptions. It is an embarrassing publication from a professional standpoint fact checking is an essential part of writing and editorial responsibilities. Any time a publication lets its special agenda get in the way of its basic editorial quality, it is in trouble (just ask the New York Times). This issue of Response magazine has degenerated into nothing more than a mouthpiece for the far left extremists aligned with the Women’s Division. It’s time the Women’s Division makes some reforms before it loses thousands of women who want something more than jargon and a focus on special interest agendas that are out of step with mainstream United Methodist women.