Faye Short served as president for the RENEW Network, a network for evangelical women within The United Methodist Church, for nearly twenty years and is the co-author of Reclaiming the Wesleyan Social Witness: Offering Christ.
As the president of the Renew Network for almost twenty years, I appreciated [Chelsen Vicari’s] recent articles on the declining membership of United Methodist Women, and the companion piece on the orthodox alternative—the Renew Network. It seemed to me, however, that the prologue and the epilogue were reversed, and the story and characters needed visibility.
In truth, Renew came first, and the loss of membership for United Methodist Women escalated as a result. Over a thirty year period, thousands of women who chose to be a part of the Renew Network invested countless hours of their time and energy, and paid a huge price for this accomplishment.
Renew was formed as a two-pronged ministry calling for spiritual renewal for the women of the UMC and accountability on the part of the Women’s Division (now called UMW National). It was Renew’s relentless exposure of the programs, policies and spending patterns of the Women’s Division that equipped local evangelical women to share their concerns with the women of their churches—causing conservative and moderates to realize they wanted no part of an organization that endorsed unlimited abortion, championed radical socialist regimes, embraced extreme feminist theology, believed in religious pluralism, sanctioned alternative lifestyles, wanted no part of evangelism and considered orthodox views of Scripture to be outdated and irrelevant.
The drama of Renew tells a remarkable story of consistent prayer, representation at Women’s Division events, reviews of program resources and mission studies, analysis of financial records and exposure of radical Women’s Division legislation at General Conference. Renew members had a face-to-face “conversation” with the staff of the Women’s Division regarding the issues that divided their radical worldview from that of the majority of the women of the church. Yet, parallel to this accountability effort, Renew produced alternative program resources, held workshops and retreats and encouraged thousands of United Methodist Women to be faithful to their heritage and hopeful for their future.
The Renew Network cast of characters, drawn together by God, has been equally amazing. Renew’s founding president (myself) came up through the ranks of United Methodist Women at the local, district and conference level—gaining knowledge of the good and bad of the organization first-hand. Consultants like Diane Knippers of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Helen Rhea Stumbo of Good News Julia McLean Williams and Ruth Burgner of the Mission Society and Dr. Janice Shaw Couse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute backed Renew with their expertise.
Representatives of Lifewatch (Cindy Evans), Bristol House (Sara Anderson) and Transforming Congregations (Karen Booth) offered their services. Women from across the nation were a part of the Renew Steering Committee, Support Team and Prayer Team. Peg Snyder of Ohio served as Prayer Coordinator for many years. Marilyn Anderes of Maryland, Mildred Dillion of North Carolina, Kris Key of Georgia and Andrea Yates of New York, spoke at Renew Retreats. Carolyn Elias of Arkansas, Liza Kittle of Georgia, Katy Kiser of Texas, Ginny Chase of Texas and Robin Lawson of Ohio attended Women’s Division meetings as very unwelcome guests. Mary Holsomback and Ellen Mooneyham, long-time Renew office staff, were tireless in their determination to provide information and viable alternative resources to Renew members. The faces and names that come to mind are too numerous to list and forever valued.
The final act of the Renew story is played out at the local level where penetrating the loyalty of women to the UMW organization, and getting the women to separate the local, district and conference from the national organization is hard, thankless, painful work. There is a loyalty that is nothing less than deceptive because of the various avenues of access and penetration the Women’s Division has to the local women. The local UMW group is not accountable to the local church, and does not come under the program ministry of the church—but under the National UMW. The recognition and perks are many, and the pride in mission advocacy, although misdirected by a social justice focus, is hard to break. The thousands of women who have networked with Renew over the years have been courageous and willing to stand in the face of resentment and opposition by the sisters they love. It has been the commitment of Renew leaders and members alike that caused loss of membership and revenue.
As for future chapters of Renew’s story in relation to the current crisis within the United Methodist Church, a word of caution is in order. Yes, there are many larger evangelical churches that have their own women’s ministries. Yes, there are many groups that withdrew from UMW as a result of their association with Renew. Yes, there is a new generation of women who do not have the long-established loyalty to UMW. Even so, by the best estimate, there remain at least 500,000 members of United Methodist Women within our churches, who are strong leaders, loyal to UMW and influential in the life of the local church. Should the UMC split, it is most probable the National UMW would, by claiming their independence from the larger church structure, attempt to maintain its influence over UMW members in both factions. The National UMW is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, moving among the sheep with stealth. It is the epitome of the radical, liberal element within our denomination. It will not go quietly.
The Renew Network, and its predecessors, the Good News Women’s Taskforce and Esther Action Council have written an amazing story thus far. What an effective influence against the National UMW and within the life of the UMC! What an incredible group of Christian women, counting the cost and standing true to Jesus Christ and Scripture—for the sake of their sisters.