The Re-Imagining Conference described below illustrates many of the subtle and seductive strategies now used in the emerging or postmodern church to undermine Biblical faith and values. Be alert to them! The popularity of The Shack fits right in!
A Twist of Faith - Chapter 2
HOLY is His Name
or Sacred and perfect am I
Skip down to Re-Imagining God, Thomas Merton, Sophia, Chi energy, Sacred circle
"I found god in myself, and I loved her, I loved her fiercely." Ntozake Shange quoted at the Re-Imagining conference
"I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all... I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff." Rev. Delores Williams, speaking at the Re-imagining conference
". . . priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy.... I am profaned among them." Ezekiel 22:26
The Feminine Face of God? Stopped by the suggestive title, I pulled the book from the shelf in our local bookstore, and pondered the subtitle: "The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women." What did that mean?
I turned it over and read the endorsement on the back. "This is a book that invites women to define for themselves what is sacred...." Women, not God, would define what is sacred? Then "the sacred" could mean anything! Or could it?
Hoping to learn more about the spiritual quests of women, I brought the book to the sales counter. While waiting, I scanned some the miniature books on display. A tiny book titled Oneness explained that prayer and meditation "will center us...so that we can recognize the divine within ourselves." Page after tiny page emphasized a pantheistic oneness of all beliefs—a unity that assumes that all people are joined to the same "Universal Consciousness" or sacred source of life. No need for the cross if each person is already made sacred through union with a cosmic god, I thought as I put it back.
I picked up another book, Thomas Merton's Ways of the Christian Mystics, and flipped through its miniature pages. Published by Shambala, a prolific producer of occult literature, it told of a "sacred journey" with "origins in prehistoric religious cultures and myths." Myths instead of truth? I felt sad but not surprised. Few spiritual teachers have done more to blend the biblical meaning of sacredness with eastern mysticism than Merton, the popular Catholic author who died in Asia searching the depths of Tibetan Buddhism. Yet thousands of Christian women search his books for simple paths to intimacy with God.
Merton’s little book echoes the theme of universal oneness. "Our pilgrimage," he wrote, is "to the stranger who is Christ, our fellow-pilgrim and our brother." He suggests some of the potential strangers: the Inca, Maya or aborigine who is "no other than ourselves, which is the same as saying that we find Christ in him." No matter which gods he or she worships?
"Yes," cry a chorus of contemporary voices. Respected guides such as Thomas Merton have opened the door to countless spiritual alternatives by tearing down the biblical separation between the holiness of God and the unholy spirits behind pagan religions. It may sound compassionate to blend the two and trust that both paths lead to the same destination, but it’s not true. They are incompatible. God withdrew His presence from His holy temple back in Old Testament days. His people had profaned it by worshipping their Canaanite gods and goddesses inside its walls. Having lost God’s blessing and protection, the nation that had been the envy of its neighbors was soon destroyed by immorality, greed, famine, and war.
Today’s search for meaning is nudging our entire nation along the same self-destructive paths, for human nature hasn’t changed. It still pulls us toward self-made gods that model all the sensual thrills and unrestrained lifestyles we can imagine. So it’s not surprising that the ancient goddesses revived by radical feminists some decades ago once again captivate women around the world.
Those who prefer to keep their Christian identity simply choose deities that sound more biblical. Their best match is Sophia, named after the Greek word for wisdom. To early Gnostics, whose self-focused teaching seeped into first century churches, she symbolized holiness and salvation through mystical knowledge, not through Jesus Christ.
You may remember that Sophia starred at the controversial 1993 Re-Imagining Conference in Minnesota. She also seduces women through more intimate neopagan neighborhood "Circles" that throw the biblical cross to the winds. One such Sophia Circle was advertised in a small newspaper someone sent me. "Women's ritual group drawing from a variety of spiritual traditions welcomes new members for monthly gatherings," it beckoned. "If interested, call Karen."
I called Karen. "Are you connected in any way with the 1993 Re-imagining conference in Minnesota ?" I asked. She assured me they were not. A week later I joined more than a dozen women at a local Catholic retreat center.
The Sacred Circle
Each woman arrived with a gift for her favorite goddess. One by one, they laid their sacrifices on the lovely embroidered cloth serving as an altar. Soon the center of the living room floor sparkled with all kinds of natural and personal treasures: multicolored roses, camellias, cala lilies, a family photograph, a can of Heath candy, a treasured book, a tree branch covered with spring leaves....
"Take off your shoes," someone suggested, "this is holy ground."
Holy ground? I couldn't help but think of Moses at the burning bush. He stood on holy ground because God had touched it with His own presence. This meant the opposite.
The women kicked off their shoes and sandals, and formed a ring around the festive, multicolored offerings. With chants, rattles, and a drum, they "cast a circle", creating a "sacred space" for experiencing the presence and power of the goddess. In turn, they invoked the spirits of the North, East, South and West.
Karen pulled out some matches and lit a foot-long sage wand, the kind neopagans make from sweet-smelling herbs. She turned to the woman on her left, waved the smoldering wand around her body, over her head, down one side, up the other side, enveloping her in the fragrant smoke that soon spread like incense through the room. She did the same with the next woman, and the next... all around the circle.
American Indians use the aromatic smoke from sage or sweetgrass to purify themselves, I thought. Did these women think the smoke would cleanse them spiritually?
No one offered an explanation. The cleansing ritual was obviously familiar to them.
Karen filled a crystal goblet with apple juice and passed it around the ring of women. Each person sipped, wiped the spot with a napkin, and handed it to the next person. When the communion-like cup had completed the circle, a grandmotherly woman led a healing exercise using a blend of visualization and kinesthesiology. "Release the child within," she said. "Rub your forehead. Remember the chakras and rub the third eye in your forehead.... Rub your chest...."
The chakras of Kundalini yoga—a sexual ritual that joins the sacred female force to male force? Watching from a few feet back, I repeated the words Jesus gave His disciples, "Our Father in heaven, holy is your name..."
An "empowering" ritual followed the healing exercise. Clapping hands, tapping their knees, and clicking their fingers to a steady beat, they declared their wants to the unseen goddess. "Strength!" one shouted. Others called for peace, unity, good relationship with daughters, healing.... "Ye-ah, ye-ah, ye-ah, ye-ah," they chanted after each assertion.
The ceremony ended the way it began: with drums, rattles, prayer to Sophia, and a ritual dance to the spirits of the four directions. Liz, one of the leaders, began pulling the greenery off the make-shift altar. "How did this group get started?" I asked her.
"I helped start it four years ago." she answered.
"I wanted to enable women to cope..." She looked at me and smiled. "I wouldn't use that word now. An enabler used to be a good word. Now it's not."
"Strange how words and values change, isn't it? Makes it hard to know how to communicate with people -- unless you know them really well."
"Are many of the women here from traditional churches?"
"Some are, but they come from different backgrounds. Some never went to church. But they all feel a need for spirituality. They just don't feel comfortable in traditional churches."
"Did those churches hurt or disappoint them?"
"They hurt me. I didn't feel I belonged there. They told me that men were made in the image of God, but women were not. Since Jesus was a man, only men could follow in His footsteps. I wasn't allowed to express who I really am."
I wanted to tell her how free I was in Christ, but hesitated. It wasn't the right time, so I changed the subject. "How often do you meet?" I asked.
"Every month. And we try to meet as close to the full moon as possible."
"Why is the full moon so important?" I thought I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it from her.
"The moon represents the face of the goddess," she answered. "When the moon is waxing, we call it the maiden. The full moon is the matron, and the waning moon is the crone."
I almost said, "But isn't that witchcraft?" Just then, she turned to someone waiting to talk.
"O God," I whispered, "These are such empty substitutes for your great power!"
The full face of the moon lit the path as I walked back to my car. It reminded me of Barbra Streisand’s song, "Woman in the Moon," which helped Shawntell Smith win the 1995 Miss America contest. Its words fit these women who loved the goddess. "I was raised in a no-you-don’t world," sang Streisand, dramatizing her disdain for traditional values. But "you and I are changing our tune. We’re learning new rhythms from that woman—I said, the woman in the moon. . . . O ye-ah, ye-ah!"
Women everywhere are learning follow the rhythms of "that woman in the moon." Despising God’s standard for holiness, they create their own. To leading feminist theologian Mary Daly that "involves breaking taboos", being "wicked women," "riding the rhythms of. . . rage," and "seeking sister vibrations." For "sisterhood means revolution" —a rising revolt against biblical beliefs values that is proving the timeless allure of pagan spirituality.
In November 1993, that allure drew over 2000 women from mainline churches in 49 states and 27 countries to Minneapolis, Minnesota. They came together to re-imagine Jesus, themselves, their sexuality, and their world. Like their spiritual sisters in local circles, they wanted a new god with a feminine face. They called "her" Sophia—or any other name that fit their visions. Funded in part by their Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Lutheran denominations, the four-day conference sent shock waves across our nation that are still shaking the Church.
A concerned Christian and a Presbyterian reporter, Susan Cyre, documented what happened and shared her observations with me. The following quotes from her tapes and transcripts show how feminist beliefs are changing our churches and neighborhoods, as well as cultures around the world.
"We invoke Sophia, Divine Wisdom..." prayed over 2000 women and about sixty men at the opening ceremony to the RE-imagining conference in Minneapolis. "Let her speak and bless us throughout these days."
Who is this divine Sophia? To some, she is merely a personified expression of the Greek word for wisdom, but at this conference she could be anything and everything: creator, healer, lover, power, passion, sex, impersonal force, global mind.... The program book simply identified her as "the place in you where the entire universe resides."
The new theology would be grounded in personal experience, not the Bible. Women would finally be free to express their feelings. They would "name" their "own truth," "imagine" their own god, and "dream wildly about" their own sacred identity. No one would tell them what to believe -- though they would be exposed to plenty of choices. The inspiration would come from within — that sacred part of self where the goddess, who is "the entire universe," resides.
Like most neopagan celebrations, the conference began by "Making Holy Space" to the beat of Native American drums. "The drum is feminine," explained the program, "and the drumbeat is the heartbeat of the earth . . . The heart of mother earth indeed beats with our own as one."
"As one we sing to her our sacred song," sang the women over and over, affirming their interfaith oneness. "As one we touch her, as one we heal her, her heart beats with our own as one."
Seated in intimate Native American "talking circles" around the tables, the assembly imagined the faces of god. "What does your god sound like, taste like, look like?" they asked each other, while the sounds of a water drum throbbed in the air. "Tell each other.... Re-imagine your God. Name! Tell! Image!"
To help the women visualize their own goddess, the leaders suggested a medley of exotic images. Sophia might be her "Christian" name, but the options were boundless: Mystery, Lover, Earth Mother, Spirit Woman, She Who Is, Cosmic Maxim, Transforming Laughter, Womb of Creation, Yin Yang, Unknown God....
"Bring every name, overlooking none...." sang the assembly.
"They would move from the familiar to the bizarre," said Susan Cyre. "They would start with traditional names like Adonai and Father, and pretty soon they would be into Yin and Yang and Joyful Darkness, using the familiar as a spring board, then just changing one or two words and moving into the unfamiliar. There was enough of the familiar to disarm them, but it was twisted..."
Each speaker brought new images that fed the imagination. "If we cannot imagine Jesus as a tree, as a river, as wind, and as rain, we are doomed together," warned Kwok Pui-Lan, a Chinese theologian.
"The three goddesses I want to share with you are Kali [Hindu], Kwan-in [Buddhist], and Enna [Phillipines]. . . my new trinity," said Chung Hyun Kyung, a Korean theologian educated at Union Theological Seminary. She explained why:
"I came from... a Shamanist, Buddhist and Confucian and Taoist and Christian tradition.... When I look at our history of religion, we have more than 5000 years of Shamanism, more than 2000 years of Taoism, and almost 2000 years of Buddhism, and 700 years of Confucianism and only 100 years of Protestantism in Korea. Therefore, whenever I go to temples... and look at Buddha, I feel so young... Buddha died in his 80s and Jesus died when he was 33. Maybe... Jesus should be called, 'Too young to understand'".
Her mockery sent ripples of laughter through the room
"I'm not just doing inter-religious dialogue with Buddhist, Confucionists, and Taoist," Kyung continued, "because all of them are within me. As my friend introduced me, I feel like my bowel is Shamanist, my heart is Buddhist, my right brain is Confucianist, and my left brain is Christian.... I call it a family of gods and... they are together."
This kind of spiritual compromise is anything but new. Back in Old Testament days, God’s people would burn incense to their idols in "sacred groves" one day, then worship God the next. He often warned them to shun "other gods", for He knew fear and oppression would follow occult worship. But the people refused to listen.
To speed the shift from the biblical God to new feminist images, the conference organizers had planned rituals that would clash with Christianity and support neopaganism. The women prayed Native American prayers, used ritual tobacco, blessed "rainsticks", and joined in Hawaiian chants and Zulu songs. Led by Indian feminist Aruna Gnanadason, they anointed themselves with red dots on the forehead to celebrate "the divine in each other" and to protest the oppression brought to India by Christian missionaries.
Any spiritual expression was welcomed -- except biblical Christianity. "In a global context where violence and the use of force have become the norm," said Aruna Gnanadason, "the violence that the cross symbolizes and the patriarchal image of an almighty invincible Father God needs to be challenged and reconstructed."
Out of the ashes of the old ways would spring the new holistic church that worships "god herself," gives "honor to every world religion," and agrees that "everything that lives is holy." So said Virginia Mollenkott, a lesbian feminist who helped the National Council of Churches write an inclusive language lectionary. She suggested three models for this new church: the "Women-church within the Roman Catholic communion, the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches [which] includes Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Mormons, Charismatic, and Wiccans [witches]." This new church would be formed by a "liberated minority in every denominations."
Women liberated to what? Would this new church really offer the freedom women want? Or would they be forced to submit to new uncompromising guidelines and social controls?
Kathy Kersten, a Lutheran lawyer and reporter, wondered. Like many others who have observed the rise of feminism, she had noticed a harsh militancy that seemed more inflexible than anything she had seen in the traditional church. For example, the leaders of the Re-Imagining conference had stationed fifty monitors to stand guard at all times to make sure each attendee participated in every New Age ritual and consciousness-raising exercise with proper enthusiasm.
"Participants had initially been told that joining in was voluntary," said Kathy Kersten, "but the conference newsletter advised: 'Participation is intended for ALL in the gathering -- rituals are not spectator events." . . . We thank you all for your full, active, conscious participation. May Sophia continue to bless your pilgrimage.'"
Though the women were told to discover "their own truth" and god, their spiritual mentors had already written the guidelines. Naturally, some traits of the re-imagined gods were open to individual preference. The new deities could be personal and loving (like Jesus) or be impersonal but empowering (like the cosmic force or chi energy). But they had to be immanent (everywhere and in all) like the Native American Great Spirit and other pantheistic deities. They could not be transcendent (higher and greater than they) or selective (choosing to save some and not others) like the biblical God. They had to mirror each woman's own self, not some higher revelation. In other words, Jesus Christ was ruled out.
"New gods arise when they are needed," the women were told. Since the need seemed urgent, Chung Hyun Kyung suggested one of her favorite images as an option:
"...we believe that this life-giving energy came from god and it is everywhere. It is in the sun, in the ocean, it is from the ground, and it is from the trees.... If you feel very tired and you feel you don't have any energy to give, what you do is sit in silence, maybe you go to big tree and ask... "give me some of your life energy." Or you ask the sun to give you some life energy."
Spiritual energy in the sun, ocean, ground and trees? If you watched Disney's box-office hit Pocahontas or read The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield's top-selling manual for spiritual evolution toward universal peace and oneness, you have already been exposed to this spirituality. It's all around us. We see it in martial arts, yoga, holistic massages, and the slow-moving Tai Chi exercises.
The same pantheistic message echoes through popular books, magazines, television, the media, schools.... Everything is sacred, because everything is connected to the life of the goddess or universal force. Therefore everything must be good — except the old biblical views of holiness.
To establish the new beliefs, Chung Hyun Kyung encouraged daily practice. She taught the women to lift their arms, feel the sacred energy that permeates everything, and receive it into themselves. ""If you practice it very, very much every day," she said, "you can really start to feel the energy of people so you just intuitive[ly] know what you need to do for your neighbor."
The leaders of the Re-Imagining conference knew that biblical truth could not co-exist with this seductive blend of Eastern and Western mysticism. Faith in a sacred self, spirit-filled trees, or a cosmic energy source tends to nullify any conscious need for the cross. As Delores Williams, professor at Union Theological Seminary told the group, "I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff."
She simply didn’t understand. Having immersed her mind in feminist theology, she had lost sight both of God’s goodness and humanity’s deepest need....
Cuban theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz showed the way to communicate this distorted vision. She called for “a new Pentecost” — a new
way of seeing reality. “We need to develop.., a lens. . . to understand that the way things are is not natural,” she explained, “[so that] we can change them radically.. . . We have to move from being liberals to being radicals.”32
Two Opposing Paradigms
Ms. Isasi-Diaz was talking about a paradigm shift. Her “lens” is like a mental filter that narrows her vision of the world to fit her new convictions. Like the popular Native American fetish called a dream-catcher, it permits only ideas that support the “right” beliefs to settle in the mind. It rules
out all contrary ideas. This new view of “reality” looks something like this:
• Everything is connected to the same sacred source, goddess, or universal mind.
• Therefore everything is naturally sacred and good.
• Therefore insights from my “inner self’ are true and the biblical view of sin is merely a patriarchal club for controlling women.
• Therefore the Church, the cross, and male authority obstruct the vision of a sacred oneness.
To establish this new paradigm, the old biblical “lens” must be dropped or altered. You saw two of the strategies for change: re-imagine God and mix biblical words with pagan beliefs until Christianity loses its uniqueness. Both lead to a seductive blend that sounds Christian but is nothing like Christianity.
The paradigm you choose determines what you will see, for the filter works both ways. Those who wear the feminist lens cannot understand why Christians love their God. Nor can they understand why Jesus had to die to save us from bondage to sin. Such love makes no sense! It can’t, for only those who are part of His family can understand the depths of His love. As He told us long ago:
"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God....
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God... . But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:9-15).
If you have received God’s Spirit, He will show you things others can’t see. You will understand the difference between His holiness and unholy counterfeits. You will see the greatness of God’s compassion, and you will shudder at the natural consquences of today's popular deceptions. You will see, wherever you turn, why the words written by the prophet Isaiah over 2000 years ago still today:
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness....
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!" Isaiah 5:20-21
I have not yet added the ending or the endnotes, and I may not have time to do it later. We seem to have too much new information each week to add the time-consuming details that we have in our books. But you can email me if you need them -- or read the documentation in Chapter 2 of A Twist of Faith.
To order the whole book, click on A Twist of Faith
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