Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oh, Joy!

I volunteered myself to be St. Anonymous UMW secretary this year. I have a poor attention span and even worse handwriting, but no one else wanted the job, and at the time of nominations, I had a migraine and was afraid I would never get to go home if someone didn’t step up. Besides, we have two or so general meetings a year and I don’t think there’s a fixed schedule for executive board meetings, so how hard could it be?

One of my first chores as secretary was to attend a district wide meeting back in November where we had break out sessions to train us for our positions and a wonderful speaker. She spoke about the missions that are supported by UMW, one of which is opposition to human trafficking. Of course, everyone thinks forced prostitution when they hear “human trafficking”, but it also can mean the transport of legal or illegal immigrants to work under slave like conditions in any form of commerce, not just the sex trade. Our speaker told us of a situation in which an employer brought legal immigrants into the country, but held onto their papers, forcing them to work for subsistence wages in hopes of getting them back. UMW members were able to reach out to the workers and eventually testify in a court case on their behalf.

“My girls,” I thought. Unfortunately, I did not follow up by looking online to see what else the UMW is doing about human trafficking, thereby missing information about this upcoming event until today.

Our first general meeting was supposed to have been earlier in the month, but it was postponed due to tornado warnings. So we met yesterday.

Which gets us, in my rambling fashion, to the title of this post. One of the items on the agenda was about an upcoming Women of Joy Conference, held by Phil Waldrep Ministries. Some members have suggested we get a group together to attend the conference in San Antonio next fall. One member who had been to a previous conference spoke of how much she benefited and told us that women were signing up at the end of the conference she attended for the one the next year.

So I googled the conference, and Phil Waldrep Ministries, when I got home. Almost all the hits I got went directly to Phil Waldrep Ministries or the sites for the conference itself, and a few to blogs which gave the conference rave reviews. The only criticism I found was directed at one of the speakers, for taking time away from his high paying job to attend another Waldrep organized conference as a highly paid speaker. So as far as I know, in terms of what it provides, Waldrep Ministries is on the up and up and leaves many satisfied customers in its wake.

It also seems probable to me that Phil Waldrep Ministries is a Baptist ministry. Waldrep got his start “[leading] over 1,000 revivals, speaking at some of America's leading churches like Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, Virginia; First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida; First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Tennessee . . .” While I am not trying to take a tribal view of Baptists versus Methodists, they do have different views of women’s role in the church and home. (I’ll explain why I think Waldrep falls on the complementarian side of the divide further along.) The Methodist Church falls on the egalitarian side of the spectrum, with regard to relations between men and women:

We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage.*
So why do I think the Women of Joy Conference is going to sell a complementarian perspective? Well, here is the trailer for the 2013 conference. The phrase “absolute surrender” is used frequently and linked with “absolute peace”, “absolute acceptance”, and of course, “absolute joy”. Past speakers at the conferences have included Sarah Palin, Pam Tebow (Christian missionary and mother to Tim Tebow, although past video trailers simply refer to her as “mother to Tim Tebow”), and Kay Warren (“wife to Rick Warren”). Men appear on the podium as entertainers and worship leaders.  
Contrast this with the trailer for the Gridiron men’s conference. The theme of the 2013 conference is “Stand”. Speakers include Dan Cathy, Josh McDowell, and Tim Tebow. There are no women speakers or worship leaders, at least in this year’s conference and the conferences going back to 2010, which is as far back as I could find. So I think I know where PWM stands. 
I don’t begrudge the group its right to hold these conferences and attract large crowds. I just don’t plan to be there when they do. Not because the organizers are Baptist: if St. Anonymous wanted to organize a trip to a Baptist conference on ending malaria or addressing hunger or promoting literacy, I’d consider going, especially if past attendees were as enthusiastic as the ones whose blog posts I read today. 
It’s because I became a United Methodist Woman 40 something years ago because we stand. We are strong women who stand for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and each other. We stand against the exploiters and for the exploited. A list of our action issues includes: human trafficking, domestic violence, women’s rights, immigration, health care, environment, economic justice, racial justice, public education, child advocacy, and global justice.
If I had only bothered to do the research I’m doing today two days ago, I could have proposed at our meeting yesterday that we participate in the Intercept the Traffickers Photo Campaign. That I did not is solely on me. Fortunately, I have the program for our March meeting. I have lots of time to find program materials on the human trafficking issue. 
When my sisters at St. Anonymous go to the Women of Joy Conference, I will wish them godspeed. I’d hate to see what the world would look like if everyone had to confine themselves to doing what I think is best for them.
I just hope that when next year rolls around, we will also be standing at the side of I-12, which leads to I-59 and then on to New Jersey, taking a picture, as just one of our steps in standing for people in bondage. Because, Mr. Waldrep, women, too, can stand.

*Unfortunately, the sentence that follows is "We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman." I reject that idea and am unhappy that the Methodist Church hasn't also, but it would be dishonest not to admit to the entire paragraph.  

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