Witchcraft has become one of the most divi­sive issues to strike the 9.1 million-member United Methodist church.

It started last February during a “Women’s Week” conference at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. There, as part of a Perkins School of Theology-sponsored seminar, Linda Finnell — a practicing witch — conducted a ceremony in which she led 25 women and three men in a number of occult practices including a tarot card reading, building an altar to the goddess Diana, channeling energy, and attempting to communicate with a personal spirit guide.

“As I entered the crowded room,” wrote Russ Wise of Probe Ministries of Dallas, “I noticed the lights were turned off and that an altar stood in the front of the class. The glow of four white candles enhanced the image of the goddess, Diana, in the center of the altar. Around the image lay several offerings to the goddess.”

Wise also noted that Finnell’s session lasted an hour and a half and projected “a positive affirmation of witchcraft.”

At press time charges that it was promoting practices incom­patible with Christianity were filed against the Perkins Semi­nary by the leaders of the First United Methodist Church of Ketchum, Oklahoma. They asked the denomination’s Uni­versity Senate to decertify the seminary and place reprimands in the files of professors who approved of the ritual.

Actually, the related issues of witchcraft, feminism, and goddess worship have been raging inside the Methodist church for some time, according to Methodist James Heidinger II, leader of the Wilmore, Kentucky-based Good News evan­gelical caucus. According to the August 27, 1990 National and international Religion Report, Heidinger said that some Methodist seminarians are adopting nontraditional refer­ences to God as “Mother God” or “Mother-Father God.”

The Religion Report article added that “two United Methodist pastors, Susan Cady and Hal Taussig, published a book on goddess worship in 1989 that contains prayers to a deity named Sophia and litur­gies for a communion service — including an endorsement of witchcraft and New Age practices. (See page 23 in the Fall 1987 Christian Research Journal.) At press time, Matthew Fox was set to give a two-day workshop on November 18-19 at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Hazier, New Jersey. The workshop was endorsed by the com­mittees on church and society of both the Northern and Southern New Jersey annual conferences, according to the Septem­ber 1 990 United Methodist Relay.

In late 1988 Fox was silenced by the Vatican for hold­ing views condemned by church officials as “both dangerous and deviant.”