MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 6 (RNS)--A collision of generations marked the eighth Re-Imagining Gathering late last month in Minneapolis as some 500 Christian feminists met to reassess and renew their efforts to effect change in the church and world.
The Re-Imagining Community, an independent movement of lay and clergy women, mostly middle age and older, deliberately reached beyond the usual boundaries of their mainline denominations and peer groups to hear what organizers called the voices of younger, marginalized, and post-Christian women during the Oct. 26-28 gathering.
One outcome was a public exchange between Mary Daly, author, scholar and one of the mothers of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and Rebecca Walker, 31, founder of Third Wave Direct Action.
"I'm still here," Daly, who has been barred from teaching by Boston College, reminded her audience. "I'm not dead yet."
Daly accused right-wing forces of publishing the notion that feminism is dead and no one in her 20s is interested in feminism. Some younger feminists call themselves "third wave" feminists to distinguish themselves from the movements of the early 20th century and the late 1960s-1970s.
"I disagree with the term `third wave feminism' because it seems to cut off the third from the second," Daly said, arguing the term "third wave" has been co-opted by "right-wing pseudo-feminists" whose agenda is to roll back the achievements of earlier generations of women.
Walker, for her part, sought to clarify her use of the label as "a way of dealing with young women and men's real true turning away from feminism and organizing and social change movement altogether." She said she "tried to come up with a term that not only emphasized some kind of difference that would allow young people to feel it was their own, but also to emphasize connectedness to the second wave."
She also praised Daly as "one of the most important thinkers on the planet today."
"I want the liberal church to be a part of our whole life with others, to work hard at community, caring and inspiring us as freedom workers," said Joern, a member of Judson American Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
"The church does not exist outside our larger cultural problems," she added. "We want to try to address them and we need voices from beyond ourselves. How can the church have an impact on the world? The church is irrelevant to so many people. We want to change that by looking at more challenging issues, like what it means to be human in relationship with God and other people."
Annual Re-Imagining Gatherings have addressed the concerns of feminists in U.S. and international churches since the first, controversial event in 1993.
That gathering sparked a firestorm of controversy in several mainline Protestant denominations that had helped underwite the conference, including the disciplining of some national staff members.
This year's gathering was "less church-y," Joern said. "We want to look at how to keep in community with those who have given up on the church. One of those is Mary Daly," Joern said.
Daly, who taught feminist ethics at Boston College for 25 years, told participants she "left the patriarchal church 30 years ago."
"Radical elemental feminism is the politics and philosophy of the 21st century," she said, inviting what she called "wild women" to "an other-world journey" revealed through quantum physics.
She encouraged participants to have courage--"the courage to leave patriarchal institutions, which all churches are. The courage to sin. To sin is to be--to be ourselves."
"To act locally, to perform small acts, can effect large-systems change," she said. "Every act within a small environment creates change. They share an unbroken wholeness that has united them all along."
"In order to re-imagine, we have to take stock and make peace with our own memories. Then we can move in the direction of true community."
Reading from her new book, "Black, White and Jewish," Walker spoke of the rage she discovered behind "the mask of belonging" she wore while growing up in an interracial family.
"In an a-historical society, to remember is an act of resistance. It is difficult to claim legitimate space in our culture for remembering. We refuse to see our current traumas as past unprocessed blows," she said.
Memories and the way women suppress them "shape our present and define our actions," she said. "By forgetting, I avoided confronting those who were teaching me to hate myself."
Walker is the founder of Third Wave Direct Action Corporation devoted to cultivating young women's leadership and activism.
She described the "spiritual work" of community as "being in touch with the core that transcends the body to understand the deep connections between people."
The Rev. Kim Smith King, co-pastor at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, Wayzata, Minn., took part in the caucus that drew the most participants, "Am I a Christian?"
She said the conversation "recognized a degree of unity among progressive, leftist, feminist women.
"Connecting with what moves and motivates other people takes us out of the numbness that affects those who can no longer affirm the creeds, who are so angered when they go to church that they feel marginalized," she said.