The March of “Sophia”
The March of “Sophia”
If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.
This fall, a Lutheran church in San Francisco hopes to enlist 18 women to go on a “Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete”:
“Feel Her power in the holy mountians [sic], sense Her mysteries in the darkness of the caves, pour libations of milk and honey on Minoan altars. Contact a sacred energy that will transform the way you feel about women, about yourself” (http://www.herchurch.org/id10.html).
Closer to home, the church every year sponsors a “Retreat with She Who Is.” Led in these activities by a Lutheran pastor, participant Jo Ann Heydron describes her experiences on the church’s website:
The pastor “invited us to form our own images in clay of Asherah, the mother goddess of the Canaanites … with a sacred body just like mine” [for a photo, see the website]. There was also a project “to make a mandala, a circular, meditative image of the self” [originally used in Hinduism] and meditative dancing. Finally, “all ten of us prayed the Goddess rosary (some beaded their own Goddess Rosary that afternoon).” Pastor Stacy “called us to remember the sea as the primal water from which life emerged, to think of it as the amniotic fluid of our mothers’ wombs” (ibid.).
Blogger “Athana,” of radical goddess thealogy [sic.], puts it succinctly:
“[T]his weblog is dedicated to the goddess and to saving the planet … by gently replacing god the father with god the mother by the year 2025” (http://godmotherascending.blogspot.com/).
In this series of articles, we shall see that neo-paganism, or goddess worship, has crept into all of America’s mainline Protestant denominations.
But aren’t these just a lot of silly women, playing silly games?
Not so, said Robert Waters, a former Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor from Des Moines, Iowa.
“These silly women,” Waters told Chalcedon, “have subverted the theology of an entire generation of pastors, in every mainline church, for an entire generation of Christians. The people in those churches are no longer being presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
What makes this a serious problem, affecting millions of church members across America, is that the teaching function of their clergy has been compromised. As R.J. Rushdoony wrote in 1982:
The function God requires as the necessary concomitant to a godly law order is teaching … The scattering of Levites throughout Israel, away from the sanctuary, makes clear the importance of their teaching function over sanctuary duties … The Protestant emphasis must thus in essence be educational, and instruction must be the prelude to true worship.[i]
Why is education in the gospel necessary to true worship?
“God reveals Himself in the Bible,” Waters said. “If you’re worshiping somebody, and that somebody is not to be found in Christ or in the revelation [God’s revealed Word, the Bible], then that somebody whom you’re worshiping is not God, but an idol. Any god who is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a false god.”
The History of “Sophia”
How did goddess worship get into the church in the first place?
The history of today’s goddess movement in the mainline churches is told in detail in a long article, “The Church in Bondage,” published online by the Unofficial Confessing Movement of the United Methodist Church (for the complete text, see http://www.cmpage.org/bondage/). Also useful is a description of the 1993 “Re-Imagining” Conference, published online by O Timothy magazine (for relevant excerpts, see http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/sophia.htm).
At the heart of the movement is a figure called “Sophia,” or “Holy Wisdom.” “Sophia” is Greek for “wisdom,” and the neo-pagans take as their starting point Proverbs Chapter 8, “Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?” This feminine personification of God’s wisdom, depending on who’s doing the spinning, is presented as “the feminine face of God,” or “the feminine side of Christ,” or a fourth person of the Trinity, or simply as a goddess to be worshiped in place of God. That Proverbs is written in Hebrew, not Greek, and nowhere contains the word sophia, has not inconvenienced pagan feminists.
Feminist theologians and clergy who would not dare to speak up publicly for the worship or Ishtar or Isis speak freely of their devotion to “Sophia,” as if it were just another euphemism for the God of the Bible.
As the “Timeline of the Sophia/‘goddess’ Theologies” makes clear (http://www.cmpage.org/bondage/appendixd.html), goddess worship in America began to get organized in the 1970s. By 1983 its proponents in some seminaries were altering the Gospels, replacing Christ’s name with “Sophia.” Critical to this development was a 1986 book, Sophia: The Future of Feminist Spirituality, by two United Methodist Church pastors, Hal Taussig and Susan Cady. These two continued working to promote Sophia, undeterred by feeble protests from UMC leaders.
A major theme in the history of the Sophia movement is the inability, or unwillingness, of church leaders to stamp it out. In the mainline denominations that ordained women, feminist clergy and theologians either supported “Sophia theology” or sympathized with it. The UMC, the ELCA, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church USA, and others consistently failed to enforce church discipline. The UMC bishop in their region, Susan Morrison, for years protected Taussig and Cady, deflecting complaints against them, maneuvering politically within the UMC General Assembly and regional conferences to stymie any active defense of orthodoxy.
In 1993, some 2,000 feminist clergy and church officials from all the mainline denominations in America flocked to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the first Re-Imagining Conference. Sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the conference showcased all the leaders in the goddess movement.
“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 … [W]e just need to listen to the God within,” Delores Williams of Union Theological Seminary, New York, told the delegates (all quotes from http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/sophia.htm). Other speakers advocated praying to trees, lesbianism, and witchcraft. At the conclusion of the conference, the delegates — including ordained pastors — recited a prayer to “Our maker Sophia … Sophia, creator God … with our warm body fluids we remind the world of its pleasures and sensations.”
After “Re-Imagining,” feminist clergy began to invoke pagan goddesses by name in church services. In a chapel service in 1995 at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, students prayed to Ishtar and Inanna (Babylonian), Isis, Hathor, and Nut (Egyptian), Cybele (Anatolian), and Anath-Astarte and Asherah (Canaanite). Workshops around the country featured Chinese, Hindu, and Native American healing rituals, instruction in Buddhist teachings, and the study of Gnostic texts condemned as heretical by the early Church many centuries ago.
The next major Re-Imagining Conference was in 1998, and 1,000 feminist clergy and church officials attended. At that conference, speakers denied the divinity of Christ and promoted “the god” residing in every human being.
The 2003 conference attracted only 200 delegates, following which the organizers announced that Re-Imagining had achieved its goals and no more conferences would be needed.
This was partly true: by 2003, Sophia worship could be found in almost every mainline denomination. But it was also true that the UMC and the PCUSA, responding to energetic complaints by the laity, stopped funding the conferences.
Still, the damage was done. Unwilling to confront the aggressive feminists, mainline church authorities stood by while their women’s ministries set up Sophia Circles; reading programs featuring pagan, Wicca, and Gnostic books; “interfaith” church services conducted by Wicca members (Wicca is described by its adherents as “white witchcraft”); and innumerable workshops and classes to instruct students in every aspect of goddess worship — on church property.
As widespread as it is, goddess worship has not yet reached every local mainline church in America.
“This can’t survive in the light, because in most churches the laity are a lot more conservative than the church leaders,” Robert Waters said. “The problem is that people absolutely refuse to believe the truth about this. They’re in denial, and that denial allows the heresy to spread.”
Christians, he said, should be alert to “warning signs” that neo-paganism may be seeping into their own congregations.
“It always starts with arguments concerning the Bible’s language about God,” he said. “Once you start substituting for Biblical language, the whole revelation comes into question.”
Church members may not want to fight when feminists agitate for more “inclusive” or “gender-neutral” language in Scripture, hymns, and liturgy. But not to resist is a mistake.
“Tinkering with the language changes the church’s whole attitude toward Scripture,” Waters said. “It raises a question whether God reveals Himself in the Bible at all.” From there, he said, it’s only a small step to deleting some portions of the Scripture and adding to others.
Goddess worship always marches in company with what Waters called “a functionally Marxist ideology, a kind of liberation theology. Be careful when you see that.
“Finally, you find your pastor preaching a universalist worldview — teaching that you don’t need Jesus to be saved.
“Of course, if there’s no Christ, then there’s no forgiveness of sins, no redemption, no personal commitment to Christ. Nothing remains but a culture-driven, mostly sentimental, view of God, based not on Scripture, but on feelings.”
It cannot be said that all liberals are goddess worshipers; but all goddess worshipers do seem to be liberals. They express themselves in grandiose statements — “We are going to abolish poverty; we are going to end war and racism” — that display no glimmer of awareness of the sovereignty of God. It is very much a religion of works, not faith.
It cannot be said that all ordained women are goddess worshipers; there are ordained women who are firmly opposed to it. But a bloc of feminist clergy is indispensable to neo-paganism. Sophia worship is unthinkable without feminist clergy.
In the next article in this series, we shall examine the progress of goddess worship in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and even in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Meanwhile, the reader may want to ponder the overall effect on American life as these historic, influential denominations drift away from the Word of God. At the very least, their theological surrender has neutered them as a moral force for good.
[i] R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books), pp. 115–116.
Lee Duigon is a Christian free-lance writer and contributing editor for Faith for All of Life. He has been a newspaper editor and reporter and is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels.