by Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Introduction: In this continued story about the writing of All We’re Meant to Be, I left off in Part 5 with the elation that Nancy Hardesty and I felt when Floyd Thatcher, executive editor at Word Books, expressed interest in seeing our manuscript in August, 1972. I had earlier worked with Floyd Thatcher during his time as an editor at Zondervan, and he had commissioned and published one of my other books; so I had great confidence in his editorial judgment.
Now he was with Word Books and was actually interested in the manuscript for The Christian Woman’s Liberation! It was such fabulous news after having been turned down repeatedly by so many other publishers.
So much was happening during this period of time
We sent off our manuscript immediately and then waited for Word’s decision over the months ahead. We would not hear from them again until April, 1973.
Meanwhile, for both Nancy Hardesty and me, 1973 was turning out to be one of our busiest years yet. I had finished my studies at IU by the end of 1971, but now it was Nancy’s turn to pursue further education. She was preparing to leave her teaching position at Trinity College at the end of the spring semester and to study toward a Ph.D. degree in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago. She would begin in the fall. It was a step of faith, and she was applying for grants and loans. In one letter, she expressed her anxiety about finances because she had heard that gasoline prices might rise to as much as 50 cents a gallon.
Nancy’s activities and the “Chicago Declaration
Nancy was also busy working on a book on singleness (which was never completed); and, as I recall, she was at the same time writing her Eternity magazine series on women in Christian history which eventually served as the basis for her book, Great Women of Faith (Baker, 1980). In addition, she was writing some articles on women and Christianity for religious periodicals, as well as carrying on her teaching duties, fulfilling speaking engagements, serving as a panelist at conferences, and talking with a formation group of progressive evangelicals who were planning a fall gathering in Chicago to discuss the application of their Christian faith to issues of social justice. They wanted to urge evangelicals to be more involved in such concerns as race, poverty, environmentalism, peace, materialism, militarism, and other issues. (The word evangelical did not have the negative connotation it has in the media today.)
In November 1973, as plans from this formative group materialized into the larger meeting they had envisioned, a select group of forty to fifty men and a handful of women gathered in Chicago. Nancy was one of these five or six women and was determined to convince the men that equality for women was a social justice issue, something they had apparently not considered in that way. She drafted a powerful sentence about this to be included in the closing manifesto, “A Declaration of Evangelical Concern. ” The document was signed by all those present. It acknowledged the past failure of evangelical Christians to live out Christ’s compassion and justice, and it challenged the evangelical community to change. This document came to be known as “The Chicago Declaration.”
That meeting resulted in a second much larger gathering a year later, which, through the diligent efforts of Nancy Hardesty as secretary, issued invitations that ensured a much larger representation of women. This second meeting (November, 1974) not only resulted in the formation of an organization called “Evangelicals for Social Action” (ESA); it also formed the basis for a separate organization, the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), later called the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC).
Nancy played the principal role in bringing together the women who attended the 1974 gathering, who in the majority of cases had not known each other before that meeting. (In a plenary speech at the 2004 EEWC Conference in Claremont, California, Nancy recounted fascinating behind-the-scenes details about the 1973 and 1974 social concerns gatherings in Chicago.)
Letha’s activities during those busy years
I, for my part, while waiting to hear from Word Books after their request for the manuscript in August 1972 , found the last months of 1972 and early months of 1973 were continuing to present increased opportunities for writing articles, speaking, teaching in the church, counseling Christian women who often wanted to discuss personal problems related to gendered role expectations, writing the Sunday school materials for Union Gospel Press, and proofreading and indexing the book galleys Regal had sent for my sex education book, Sex Is A Parent Affair, which would be published in 1973. I had been writing that book concurrently with coauthoring the “woman book” with Nancy.
Nancy (left) and Letha (right) take some time out to visit friends at an Indiana farm during those busy years.
An important invitation
Then, as a total surprise in late January, 1973, a letter came addressed to me as “Mrs. John Scanzoni” in care of my husband in the IU sociology department. It was from Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, inviting me to speak at a conference. I had never met Dr. Grounds, nor did I know anything about him. He wrote and enclosed a tentative conference program that he said he had been “projecting in sheer faith.” If his idea worked out, the conference would be held in May and serve as the second in a series of annual conferences on contemporary issues, the previous one having been on theological education.
He explained this year’s projected topic. “It seems to me high time for a representative company of evangelical scholars to come to grips with one of the most pivotal and explosive of contemporary issues: what are the role and status of women from a distinctly Biblical perspective,” Wow! I was thrilled beyond measure to read those words. Maybe Nancy and I were not so alone as we had thought! The conference would be called, “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status.”
Dr. Grounds enclosed a complete schedule and list of invited speakers, including the specific topics he was assigning to each of us, not knowing if any of us would accept the invitation or be able to come May 29-31, 1973, just four months away! He said there was just a little bit of donated seed money available for the conference but that they were trying to raise more. He warned, however, that the projected conference would have to be done on a shoestring budget and could only cover our transportation, meals, lodging and a $50 honorarium. Would I be willing to come and speak?
The invited speakers
I glanced over the list of projected speakers as well as assigned respondents to their papers. The list included professors of theology, psychology, sociology, and biblical studies (all men) and two women. I was to be one of the two female speakers. In addition, there would be the honorary chairwoman, who would introduce the speakers, and author Rosalind Rinker, who was invited to lead devotions before each session.
My assigned topic would be “Women’s Role in Christian Ministry.” The other female speaker was assigned the topic, “The Revolt of the Second Sex: An Overview” (later changed on the printed program to “The Revolt of Women: An Overview”). Her name? Virginia R. Mollenkott, Ph.D., professor of English and noted Milton scholar (shown below in a photo I took in 1975).
As soon as I saw her name on the list of invited speakers, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to go to the conference, no matter how pressured my schedule was over the next four months! I had never met Virginia Mollenkott, nor had I heard her speak; but I was a big fan of her writing. I had read some of her articles in Christianity Today, as well as her first book, Adamant and Stone Chips: A Christian Humanist Approach to Knowledge (Word Books,1967), which said on the book jacket flap, “Many people from sheltered evangelical environments suddenly discover that there’s a big wide world to be explored. Often their education has been so unrealistic that the discovery leads them to reject the true with the false.”
I had also enjoyed reading her second book, In Search of Balance (Word, 1967).
I thought of Dr. Mollenkott as an intellectual woman, a deeply committed Christian scholar, and a brilliant thinker and writer. But until seeing Dr. Grounds’s projected conference program, I had no idea she had done any thinking about the woman issue. I was tremendously excited about the idea of meeting her.
I immediately replied to Dr. Grounds, accepting his invitation. I wrote:
I agree with you that it is high time that evangelicals give serious and creative thought to this very important contemporary issue. . . .It concerns me deeply that attitudes, traditions, and biblical interpretations by many Christians have conveyed to the world that Christianity doesn’t liberate women at all. That idea has come through, not only in women’s lib literature, but also through the mass media—such as on TV’s “All in the Family.” Thus, many modern people have been given the impression that Christianity holds women down, and may even turn away from the gospel because of it. (I’ve known of cases where this has been a real stumblingblock.)
Miss Nancy Hardesty (of the English faculty at Trinity College, Deerfield, Illinois) and I have written a book together entitled The Christian Women’s Liberation (over 300 typed pages in which we have tried to be both scholarly and practical), which is under consideration by a publisher at present. I’ll try to remember to enclose an outline. May I suggest that you consider Miss Hardesty as an additional or alternative speaker in the event some of the others are unable to participate in your projected conference? Perhaps you have read her chapter on this subject in the recent book by Clouse, Linder, and Pierard, entitled The Cross and the Flag. I don’t know what her teaching schedule would be in May or if she could come if you would be interested in her participation, but I just thought I’d take the liberty of mentioning her to you as another person who has given a great deal of thought to this subject. (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Vernon Grounds, February 1, 1973)
Nancy registered as a conference participant, and Dr. Grounds kindly arranged for her lodging to be covered by having the two of us stay in the home of one of the friends of the seminary. My plane to Denver connected at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport so Nancy was able to arrange to meet me there and fly out on the same plane.
Shortly before the conference meetings began, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott walked into the room; and as we introduced ourselves, her first words to me were: “You were so smart to write that article as a history piece about past feminists answering their religious critics.” I realized she was referring to my article, “The Feminists and the Bible,” which had been published in Christianity Today a few months earlier (Feb. 2, 1973 issue).
I was delighted beyond measure to learn that she, a scholar whom I esteemed so highly, had read and liked my article! I told her I had recently appreciated a new article she had written, too, for The Christian Herald—which I believe was her first one to address the woman issue directly.
Another name on the conference program had also become familiar to me. Dr. Paul Jewett, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and I had begun corresponding shortly before the conference because he, too, had read my article,“The Feminists in the Bible,” and had written to me in care of Christianity Today to express appreciation. In his first letter to me he had said:
I had to smile at the way in which you maneuvered your way through some of the Pauline materials, alluding to the questions raised by feminists of another generation. I understand, of course, that you really had to do this if you wanted your manuscript to get into print but I would be curious to know what further thoughts you might have on these matters. (Paul Jewett, letter to Letha Scanzoni, February 21, 1973).
I had responded with one of my lengthy letters, describing my biblical and theological understanding; and now, to my great delight,I had a chance to meet him in person!
Virginia and Nancy were also happy to meet him. It was the beginning of a warm friendship among the four of us, all of whom within the next few years would become known as authors of books on gender equality within the Christian faith. Paul Jewett’s MAN as Male and Female was published in 1975, with a foreword by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Virginia’s own book on the topic, Women, Men, and the Bible was published in 1977.
( An aside here: In 1978, the book Virginia Mollenkott and I coauthored, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, was published; and that book’s backstory is told in the preface of our 1992 revised and expanded edition.)
More about the “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status” conference in Denver
Since Roz Rinker was unable to attend the Denver conference, Vernon Grounds wrote again to Virginia and me on March 16, asking each of us if (in addition to our major speeches) we would be willing to lead the opening devotions that began each day’s session. “I think our program will be enhanced if we have women performing a spiritual function while the men in the audience listen!” he wrote.
I was assigned to give my brief devotional talk right before Virginia’s speech, which was scheduled as the first speech of the conference. I felt honored, having been in awe of Virginia’s scholarship for so long. (In today’s terms, if Virginia were a rock star—which she was in my mind—I was the “opening act.” And I felt privileged indeed.)
I still have the notes from my devotional talk, scribbled in outline form on a 3×5 card. Realizing there were going to different beliefs and likely disagreements about women’s roles represented at the conference, I was quite sure our egalitarian point of view would be considered unbiblical by traditionalists who would stress male headship and female subordination. And I perceived that the discussion could get tense or heated during those three days. (It did. Strong, opposing opinions were held and voiced, but the discourse was for the most part courteous.)
Mining the Scriptures
I therefore decided to build my brief devotional talk around hermeneutics and the need to recognize principles for interpreting the Bible. I used the analogy of mining for precious gems. (I later wrote up those notes as an article for The Other Side magazine, May/June, 1976).
For my Scripture text on mining, I used the 28th chapter of Job in the Today’s English Version (also known as the Good News Bible). I emphasized the loneliness of the task (v.4), and the hard work and risks of digging for truth in new veins of the mine. But then come the rewards: “They discover precious stones. . .and bring to light what is hidden” (vv.10-11). I talked about Jesus’ words about bringing out treasures both old and new.
The Job 28 passage goes on to say that ultimately the search must be for wisdom, because “the value of wisdom is more than coral or crystal or rubies, the finest topaz and the purest gold” and that “God alone knows the way, knows the place where wisdom is found” (v. 23). I used that verse to emphasize that “we know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:12), and only God sees the whole picture. Therefore, humility is important as we go about the task of interpreting Scripture.
I was well aware of the fear of disorder that many traditionalists feel when long-held interpretations are questioned or challenged—even though surface appearances may not reveal the extent of the anxiety. “Food grows out of the earth, but underneath the same earth, all is torn up and crushed” (Job 28:5). I said that the security of settled beliefs disappears when different interpretations are considered, and the cosmos may even seem to turn into chaos for a time. What had always been considered certainty may seem to be “torn up and crushed.”
Setting a tone
I was hoping that such an emphasis, showing an awareness of possible disagreements among the conference group and how unsettling they can be, would set in advance a tone of Christian love, congeniality, and openness to one another as we discussed what I knew would be controversial ideas about women’s roles and gender equality.
I didn’t want the Christians gathered to be afraid of new ways of looking at Scripture passages. I referred to an article that had appeared in the highly trusted evangelical magazine Christianity Today a few years earlier. Theologian G. C. Berkouwer had written” “The moment the Church loses interest in working the mines of the Word because it thinks it has seen all there is to see, that moment the Church loses its power and its credibility in the world. When the Church thinks it knows all there is to know, the opportunity for surprising discovery is closed (from G.C. Berkouwer, “Understanding Scripture,” Christianity Today, May 22, 1970).
(Virginia later told me she thought I may have also disarmed any potentially hostile attendees through some of my opening personal remarks about having had to fly out to the conference on my older son’s 16th birthday and assuring the audience I had first baked his favorite cake before I had left.
I may also have told the story of his second birthday many years earlier when I had asked him what kind of birthday cake he wanted me to bake for him. With a big grin, Stevie had shouted out, “Pink icing!”
Who cared about the cake? It was the icing that mattered! And so a family tradition had been born.)
The “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status” conference in Denver provided an extra bonus for Nancy Hardesty and me: it gave us new opportunities to publicize our forthcoming book, which had at last been accepted for publication by Word Books exactly one month before the conference.
Nancy and I, along with sociologist David Moberg, another conference speaker, were interviewed about the conference by the Denver Post religion editor, Virginia Culver. The article appeared at the top of the religion page on June 1, 1973 under the bold headline” “Churchwomen’s Lib Proposed—More than Meatloaves.” The article mentioned our forthcoming book.
Throughout the conference, Nancy conversed with attendees and took detailed notes of both formal and informal comments during the discussions as well as the contents of the speeches themselves. She wrote a news report about it for Christianity Today and another article for the July-August, 1973 issue of the Reformed Journal.
The Reformed Journal article was announced on the cover and printed as the main feature for the magazine. It was five pages long and described the proceedings of the conference in great detail. Titled, “The Status of Evangelical Women,” it had the tag line, “Dollmakers for the church nursery?” (The phrase was based on an true incident that I had described during my conference speech.)
There were some people who only learned about the conference later by reading Nancy’s two powerful articles describing the different opinions expressed at the gathering. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the controversy that surrounded women’s roles at the time, the seminary (and especially its president) took considerable flak from some seminary supporters who worried that the seminary might “be advocating the women’s liberation movement.”
Jewett correspondence and a summary of Nancy’s and my publishing journey
Paul Jewett had to leave the conference in a hurry to attend another commitment, and wrote me a letter on June 15, 1973, to express regret that he had not had a chance to say goodbye and that we had not had more time to discuss some parts of our earlier correspondence. He enclosed his class materials for a course he was teaching (that would later be incorporated into his book, MAN as Male and Female) and requested that I share the materials with Nancy so that she could read them, too.
Since he was trying to catch up on some parts of our earlier correspondence, he had written:
I am distressed to see the problem you are having over publication. I surely hope that you are able to somehow or other overcome it. I wish that I had a word of advice but I do not. The problem you mention of wanting something briefer and less scholarly in order to increase their sales is one which I obviously will face to an even greater degree when and if I attempt publication. (Paul K. Jewett, letter to Letha Scanzoni, June 15, 1973)
My response included a long summary of what Nancy and I had gone through in our search for a publisher. I am going to include that section below, because it can also serve as an overview or review for readers who might have found themselves “lost” in all the details in my previous post (March 21). (In looking over my retelling of our publishing adventures, I see the only publisher I forgot to mention was our brief contact with Fortress.)
Here then is part of my reply to Paul Jewett’s June 15, 1973 letter:
. . .I appreciate your concern about publication of the book Nancy and I wrote, but I guess I forgot to tell you while in Denver that Word accepted our book and plans to publish it shortly after the first of the year. Essentially they want us to keep the book pretty much as is (with regard to both the scholarly and practical aspects) but to cut down on excess verbiage and the repetition that inevitably occurred with two persons working on the book, each doing separate chapters for the most part, with about 280 miles between us.
The manuscript at the time Word accepted it, was 342 pp. long and includes approximately 318 footnotes! To our surprise and delight, Word wants us to retain all the references (in the back of the book) to indicate thoroughness in research and to aid interested readers who want to pursue the study further. However, the editors want us to shorten the book by about 100 pp., and it is this revising and editing that Nancy and I are working on at present. . . .I’ll try to enclose the outline of the book to give you some idea of how we treated the subject.
. . . .Since you mentioned the problems you might also run into with regard to publication, perhaps you’ll be interested in some of our experiences. (Although I would think a publisher like Westminster or Fortress would quickly grab your book without any problems.) The first publisher to see our outline was Holman of Lippincott. They had asked to see it after they got wind of our project through an article Nancy wrote for Eternity. But they were disappointed that it was so scholarly and said it would not sell to the traditional “women’s market” because “the titles women buy tend to be inspirational, sentimental, or worse. Witness the big sales of Genie Price,” and they didn’t want to risk poor sales. That there are intelligent, thoughtful, searching women, not to mention interested men, somehow escaped them.
Next we tried Holt, Rinehart and Winston and ran into some of the most courteous, kind, empathic concern we have come across among publishers. Joseph Cunneen, the senior editor, has taken great personal interest from the beginning. He is also the editor of Cross Currents, as you probably know, and wants a review copy sent there so the journal can carry a review. He liked the book, gave us much practical advice in letters to both Nancy and I, invited us to call him collect for any additional advice even after he knew Holt wouldn’t be publishing it, and offered to let us use his name as a reference with other publishers.
Yet, he couldn’t talk his firm’s management into publishing the book—mainly because they had published Elsie Gibson’s When the Minister is a Woman a year or two earlier and it hadn’t sold well. In advising on other publishers, Mr. Cunneen suggested first-rate Protestant publishers and denominational houses, such as Eerdmans, Fortress, Abingdon, and Westminster. He assumed, he said, that we had already tried conservative presses such as Revell and Zondervan and that they had turned us down. (Actually, we had not tried them, even though I’ve had book published by both of them, because we wanted to reach a wider audience and this book had a different image in our minds.)
One sentence in Cunneen’s latest letter amuses me now, because he had no idea we would even try Word: “There is no guarantee that Harper or Holt would sell more copies than Abingdon or Westminster; if Word took it—which I doubt—they would undoubtedly outsell us, because they do know and market well to their own audience.”
To continue the saga—we next tried Harper & Row. They took an inordinately long time to make up their minds, kept the manuscript nearly a year (including the time they first looked at the outline, gave us the go ahead, then saw the complete ms.). During that time they had a change of editors which may account for part of the difficulty. At one point, they suggested cutting out most of the biblical and scholarly material and keeping the practical parts. When we expressed hesitation about chopping out the things about our book that we felt were unique, they decided not to accept it.
I think it was Creation House that next looked at the book. Their suggestion was just the opposite. They wanted the Biblical parts but wanted all the “practical” parts (on marriage, singleness, etc.) omitted. For many reasons, we decided not to go with them.
Then Eerdmans looked at the book and turned it down without any explanation (other than maybe something general like “they had a full schedule of publication” or something). Interestingly, while it was being considered by them, Nancy ran into James Sire of I.V. Press one day on the Trinity campus. He has often disagreed with her on the subject of female equality but knew about our book so asked how it was coming. She said, “Eerdmans has it now,” to which he replied, “Oh, they’ll never take it. They’re a bunch of male chauvinists, too.” Then she asked, “When will Inter-Varsity ever come out with a book on liberated women?” She said Sire replied that it would never happen as long as he’s editor. (It hurts to see the way some men joke about these things in a way they’d never dare do if the matter under discussion was something like rights for blacks. But somehow women just aren’t taken seriously. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be too harsh. Both Eerdmans and I.V. issued editions of that Dorothy Sayers book you read from[Are Women Human?].)
Anyway, next we tried Word, and they were very much enthused and offered a contract right away. [Well, actually not right away, but it might have seemed that way when I wrote that letter in 1973, after that long wait with Harper!] So that’s how the project stands at present. Revising is going well, and I do think the book will be all the better for the cutting. (Excerpted from Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Paul King Jewett, July 3, 1973).
Watch for the next installment of this series. Part 7 will be titled, “Published at last!”
Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni