Controversy is snowballing over a feminist theology conference held in Minneapolis in November, and a Presbyterian church in Towson has scheduled a public protest meeting Sunday evening to discuss alleged misuse of denominational funds in connection with the event.
Central Presbyterian Church, at 7308 York Road, has invited members of congregations affiliated with the Presbytery of Baltimore "to gather and pray for regeneration, repentance, renewal and revival" at 7 p.m.
The Session -- or governing body -- of the large Towson congregation recently voted unanimously "after much prayer, dialogue and inquiry" to inform its members "that we deplore the fact that Presbyterian money and people were used" to further "pagan rituals" and "aberrant theology" at the conference.
The ecumenical Institute on Religion and Democracy, based in Washington, said similar protests across the country over the use of church funds to pay for the conference have resulted in a decline in contributions to the Presbyterian and United Methodist denominations.
More than 2,200 people attended the "Re-Imagining Conference" Nov. 4-7, held in connection with a "Solidarity with Women" campaign of the World Council of Churches. Announcements at the time said the gathering was intended to answer the question, "How can we together reimagine our churches so that every woman may claim her voice, her gifts, her loves and her wholeness?"
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made an initial grant of $66,000 to the organizers of the event, which cost an estimated $400,000.
The conference was also funded by Church Women United, the United Methodist Church, the Ecumenical Decade Committee, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the American Baptist Church.
The Good News Caucus, a conservative evangelical group within the United Methodist Church, called on its bishops to censure a denominational women's division for using church funds to send 56 staff and board members to the Minneapolis meeting.
The Rev. Parker T. Williamson, editor of The Presbyterian Layman, said the conference participants worshiped a pagan goddess, Sophia, in place of the Christian deity and specifically "rejected the atonement of Jesus Christ, celebrated lesbianism and called for adding books to the Bible that could then be used to justify radical feminist and homosexual activism."
Last month, the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church, responding to growing criticism of staff members' participation in the November meeting, concluded that "no violations of church policy occurred" but did "call for a review of policies that came under question as a result of the controversy surrounding the conference."
The United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women issued a statement defending its role in the conference. "It's a scandal for us to be attacking one another," said United Methodist Bishop Susan Morrison.
Meanwhile, Towson's Central Presbyterian Church has urged its national denominational officers "to take the lead in renouncing the apostasy and heresy which fueled the conference."
For more information about Sunday evening's prayer meeting: 823-6145.
Robert Wuthnow, director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Mary's Seminary and University, 5400 Roland Ave. The subject of the annual John Carroll Lecture, which is free to the public, is "Christianity at the End of the 20th Century: Is Religion Waning?"
Dr. Wuthnow will also conduct an ecumenical workshop for clergy from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday on "The Appeal of Fundamentalism." Admission to the workshop is $20. To register, call 323-3200, Ext. 133.
A free seminar on adolescent sexuality, "Exploding the Safe Sex Myth," will begin at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Timonium Presbyterian Church, 303 W. Timonium Road. Panelists include Bob Arnold, area director of Youth for Christ; Daniel Agley, professor of epidemiology at Towson State University; and Frederica Mathewes-Green, director of Real Choices, a research project of the National Women's Coalition for Life. Information: 252-5663.