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Feminist conference under fire

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BY THORKELSON

Some conservative Presbyterians throughout the nation blame Mary Ann Lundy, a Presbyterian from Minnesota, for a highly controversial feminist theological conference in Minneapolis last November.

They want her to resign or be fired from her position at the denomination's national offices in Louisville, Ky., where she is associate executive director of the church's General Assembly Council.

It was in an earlier position as director of the denomination's women's unit that Lundy helped plan the ``Re-imagining conference'' and arranged for its initial grant of $66,000 from the Presbyterian Church's Bicentennial Fund.

The conference, which drew 2,100 women and 83 men from several denominations, was planned to mark the midpoint of the ``Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity With Women,'' a 1988-1998 program of the World Council of Churches. It was sponsored by a committee of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Church Commission and the Greater Minneapolis, St. Paul Area and Minnesota councils of chuuches. Another Presbyterian, the Rev. Sally Hill, director of the commission which is an agency of the three councils of churches, helped plan the conference and was staff coordinator. Conference co-chairs were the Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle, a United Methodist minister, and Mary K. Sauter, a United Church of Christ seminarian.

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Lundy, a seminary-trained lay person who was co-chair of the U.S. Ecumenical Decade Committee, used her contacts to promote the conference, recruit speakers and help secure financial support. In December, conservatives in the Presbyterian and United Methodist churches began attacking the conference, charging it had been dominated by heresy and paganism and accusing participants of workshipping the ancient Greek goddess Sophia and of endorsing lesbianism. Use of church funds to send delegates was criticized.

The Presbyterian attack on the conference was led by the Presbyterian Layman, an independent journal. By the time the General Assembly Council met in Dallas in February, more than 1,000 letters about the conference had been received, two judicial complaints had been lodged and more than 100 local church councils had sent resolutions demanding investigation of the conference.

Evangelical groups within the United Methodist Church also denounced the conference. Retired United Methodist Bishop Earl Hunt called the Sophia worship the ``worst heresy in 1,500 years.''

Seeking to counteract the criticism, two top leaders of United Methodist Women sent 600 copies of a ``video letter'' to presidents of United Methodist Women defending the right of the church's women's division to send represenatives to ecumenical meetings.

Some 800 United Methodist Women, including Minnesota Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher, signed a statement of support for the conference. A woman theologian insisted that Sophia is not a goddess but rather ``an attribute of god'' symbolized by feminine imagery.

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, at a meeting in Rochester, Minn., in November, voted to thank and commend planners and supporters of the Re-imagining conference, especially Hill and Lundy, ``for giving the church an opportunity to explore and re-imagine the church and its relationship to women.'' At its February meeting at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, the presbytery asked the General Assembly Council and its executive direcor, to:

``Unequivocally refuse to dismiss Mary Ann Lundy from her position ... in retaliation for her role in supporting the Re-imagining conference or to dismiss any other person who attended.''

``Condemn the manner in which the demands of the Presbyterian Lay Committee have been placed before the executive director and the General Assembly Council.

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``Reaffirm the right of all persons and organizations associated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) to dissent with people, policies and actions as long as that dissent is presented in a manner that is neither derogatory or injurious to people nor can be construed as coercion or extortion.'' Lundy also has received strong support from her former husband, the Rev. Dick Lundy, senior minister of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Minnetona, and from synod and presbytery executives.

In a telephone interview, Mary Ann Lundy said she is ``under great pressure to resign.'' She said an unknown number of presbyteries, acting at the urging of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, have submitted overtures (petitions) to the church's General Assembly in June in Wichita calling for her removal or repudiation and censure of other staff members who attened the Re-imagining conference. Lundy said attacks on her have focused on women's issues, but the ``larger agenda'' of her opponents is political and is to gain control of the church's leadership. There is suspicion of national offices and ``a lot of fear'' about proposals to ordain homosexuals, she said.

Most of the criticism of the Re-imagining conference has come from people who were not there. Evaluation forms filled out by 1,247 of the conference participants found them overwhelmingly favorable. @et

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