When an Oasis is Really a Mirage: Why are Evangelicals Ignoring the Pluralistic Agenda of a Denver Women’s Center?

Women need to hear from other women. This is a truth impressed upon us through stories in scripture about women like Ruth & Naomi and Mary & Martha. In scripture, we see that women are called to teach and influence other women about how to live out their lives to the glory of God, and scripture illustrates well the impact of studied woman on other people in her life. The truth is, as women we are called to relationships with a purpose that invites us to a true knowledge of God which both sustains and transcends these relationships. But we might think of these relationships as an oasis, a “place’ to find rest and nourishment through the biblical truths which ground the friendship and all of the joys and other residual benefits that result.

On a larger scale in our contemporary context, women are seeking other women’s voices to speak wisdom and insight into their lives. Though we don’t endorse them, this is why organizations like NOW and other feminist student organizations continue to make such an impact on younger, college-age women. It isn’t necessarily because these women are open to their ideologies from the start, but these organizations present themselves as a resource to fill the emotional, intellectual, and professional needs of women at this particular stage in their life, no matter the faulty philosophy they seek to advance. This is one of the reasons I started The Center for Women of Faith in Culture, and since its founding I’ve had the blessing, from a biblical worldview, to speak into the lives of women across the country on a wide range of issues including marriage, family, and career to questions in bioethics and theology. Recently, however, I’ve been disappointed to learn of a women’s center in Denver that could have a similar influence on the lives of women in their vicinity, being a source for wisdom from a Christian worldview, explicit or implicit. After all, their founder at the helm professes to be a Christian and has earned a Christian studies degree at a top-notch evangelical seminary. However, while receiving endorsements from other evangelical entities, this particular organization has opted for a pluralistic approach in its mission to women.

Allow me to introduce you to Pomegranate Place. Pomegranate Place is located in Denver, Colorado and is self-described as an “oasis for women.” From their website:

Everything we do at Pomegranate Place flows from our core values of compassion, justice, freedom and transcendence. We believe that women who embrace these core values and put into practice the character strengths associated with them, will live happier, more meaningful lives, and ultimately discover and live out the purposes for which they were created. We don’t always have control over what hand we are dealt in life.  We can, however, choose how we respond.  It is in the little choices that we make each day that our character develops and we move toward becoming all that we can be.  We hope to encourage each other to make wise choices.

This doesn’t seem terribly alarming. In fact, Pomegranate Place looks like the kind of organization that could be a healthy resource for women all over the Denver area. Currently, resources available are in the form of classes and events led by professional women with varying backgrounds including those trained in counseling, psychology and religious studies. Beware, however, because looks can be deceiving. What appears to be an oasis for women may actually be a mirage. A closer examination reveals its proactive pluralistic agenda. As stated on their website, this is made abundantly clear—Pomegranate Place seeks to “embrace and honor diversity of views. We will celebrate differences and look with deep curiosity to respect and learn from one another.” [1]

Vaun Swanson is the founder and “catalyst” behind Pomegranate Place. To be clear, a catalyst is an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action. Her biography describes her as having “served in helping professions for the past 30 years” and that she “recognizes both the challenges women face and the potential they have for changing our world for the better.” Swanson was been inspired “by women in history, awakened by sisters in third-world countries, and grateful for awesome mentors” so through Pomegranate Place, “she offers opportunities for women to connect and grow.”

A noble vision, I resonate with the desire to help women flourish in today’s world—spiritually, intellectually and professionally. I believe this same desire may be what motivated FullFill magazine to interview Swanson in their April 2011 issue, promoting Pomegranate Place and Swanson’s work as its leader. If you are unfamiliar with FullFill, this is an evangelical women’s magazine whose alliances include MOPS, Christian Leadership Alliance, Stonecroft Ministries, Moms In Touch International and Synergy. I’m not convinced at this point that Swanson’s work at Pomegranate Place was properly vetted by the editors at FullFill, and if this is indeed the case, that would explain why an organization that so prominently promotes pagan spirituality would be given that kind of real estate in an evangelical women’s publication.  So what did Swanson tell Fullfill? The interview contained very little about Pomegranate Place itself and more about Swanson’s role as a leader, but she was asked “What challenges you as the founder and leader of Pomegranate Place?” She responded:

One of the most unexpected challenges has been a handful of neighbors and the city’s zoning and building codes. I know that sounds crazy, but it has consumed a tremendous amount of time and energy and the issues are still not resolved. What we are doing here does not fit neatly into any of the categories the city has on its books. We also don’t fit neatly into “faith-based” or “secular” categories. All women are welcome at Pomegranate Place and while Christian faith is not a prerequisite for teaching classes or leading, we hold a Judeo-Christian spirituality in our holistic approach to empowering women and helping them find their purpose in life. Fleshing this out from day to day can be challenging and requires a lot of conversations that go to the heart of women’s worldviews.

What exactly is a Judeo-Christian spirituality? She fails to explain further in the article and the only other specific reference to Pomegranate Place occurs at the end of the piece where she explains how she sees God at work:

There is a warm, calming, welcoming feeling that people get when they walk in the front door. Almost everyone mentions it. I believe it is the Spirit of God in this place. The conversations here are incredible. There are no taboo topics and women readily open up to share their lives and their struggles. I see Christian women laughing with neo-pagan women. Young lesbian women partner with older married women to raise funds for women in the Congo. A 78-year old woman reads her own poetry out loud for the first time. Hearts are softened, hope is renewed, understanding is fostered, hurts are healed and God is definitely at work here!

If a “Judeo-Christian spirituality” implies a Judeo-Christian ethic, then certainly this last paragraph of the interview shows kindness and generosity occurring in a pluralistic environment—as it should—though this version of spirituality is unable to account for the foundations for kindness and generosity. The core of biblical Christianity is what accounts for both the ability and desire to live as Jesus lived, and outside of Christianity individuals are left trying to reconcile the bits and pieces of various worldviews which are ultimately irreconcilable. For Pomegranate Place, there is nothing vague about their spiritual practices including the fact that they lack coherence with biblical Christianity.

No indication is given at the Pomegranate Place website that the women who enter into their presence will ever be presented with the gospel, or at the very least with a worldview outlook consistent with biblical Christianity. How can we know this? As stated in the Fullfill interview, Swanson indicates that the Christian faith “is not a prerequisite for teaching classes or leading.” So who are those that lead? What is their background?

The “Guiding Council” at Pomegranate Place is composed of women from a variety of professional backgrounds and traditions. They include IT professionals, business women, college professors, clergy (of unknown tradition), life coaches, therapists, and those with theological degrees. With all of this collective wisdom, one of the council’s primary responsibilities is the vetting of the “Affiliate Guides.” These Affiliate Guides serve the vision of Pomegranate Place by making their services available to women who seek them out. Who are they? Let’s look at a couple.

“Sue Burdette is a Certified Teacher of the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition.  She was introduced to the Enneagram 16 years ago and has been a student ever since. The Enneagram is a system of nine personality types describing nine distinct ways of viewing and interacting in the world. Sue has a heart felt desire to share the wisdom of the Enneagram so that others might benefit from this dynamic yet practical tool that can have a profound effect on the way we live our lives.”[2]

But the enneagram is certainly not considered part and parcel of traditional biblical Christianity and, in fact, is viewed entirely counter to it.

The roots of the enneagram can be traced to two men: George Gurdjieff and Oscar Ichazo. Both men were involved in occultic pursuits. Guurdjiieff learned of the enneagram from a sect of Sufis (mystical Islam). The Sufis used the enneagram for numerological divination. Oscar Ichazo later developed a personality theory around the enneagram and added it.

Ichazo was deeply involved in psychedelic drugs, shamanismyoga, even studying mysticism in India and Tibet. Ichazo has received instructions from a higher entity called Metatron and members of his group are guided by an interior master, the Green Qu’Tub.

Another leading figure in the enneagram movement was psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, associated with theNew Age experimental Esalen Institute.

There are many myths associated with the enneagram. One myth has to do with the alleged antiquity of the program when it actually dates in the 1960’s. Another is that it is scientific. Like many New Agepractices, its leaders are always trying to assign scientific credentials, but none exists.[3]

“Lizanne Corbit M.A. Lizanne has been in private practice as a psychotherapist since 1990. She creates tranformative [sic] space and sacred containers for women to be met as individuals or as they gather in community for the purposes of birthing their hidden potential, deepening their journeys, embodying their truth and celebrating their “instatus nascendi” [sic] jewels hidden with in matter. Described as a “midwife to the spirit” Lizanne’s compassionate and creative approaches help women know, own and claim their deepest essential selves and live with their full presence in the world.”

Lizanne’s personal website also indicates that included in her retreat themes is “Altered States & Shamanic Journeying.”[4] To better understand her worldview one needs to better understand what she means by this particular retreat theme. Here is a brief explanation of shamanism and what Corbit is bringing with her to Pomegranate Place.

In shamanism everything has a spirit (animism) and is alive, including rocks, clouds, trees, rivers, as well as animals and people. This means that all things that have spirits are equal with us.  These spirits are everywhere, permeate our world, and can affect our lives.  Shamans use altered states of consciousness to contact spirits which can be either good or bad in order to learn the future, make decisions, or attempt healings of people who might be oppressed by bad spirits.  Shamanism uses spirit guides, contacting these guides in order to have them direct your life.  Shamans use astral projection, where the spirit of a person leaves the body and travels into the spirit world, and various means of predicting the future such as throwing bones.[5]

Either the vetting system of Pomegranate Place has failed or the organization simply chooses to draw no lines in terms of what ought to be offered to women searching for encouragement in this complex world. Unimportant to their vision is consideration for the truth of any particular spiritual path. While this may seem to be a noble, generous approach to engaging the women in their community, it actually has another unintended consequence—the idea that no worldview makes any real difference in the every day lives of women. As Christians, we know this to be patently false.

Ironically, while women who venture through the doors of Pomegranate Place are in search of something, the expectation is that they are actually discerning enough to know what resources at Pomegranate Place they may or may not want to entertain.

Pomegranate Place, while feeling confident about its Affiliate Guides, is not responsible for issues that may arise in fulfilling their obligation to you. We trust in your ability to make wise decisions in choosing services and methods for your development and also in taking responsibility for those choices.

So the women seeking the support of Pomegranate Place need to at least have the means to discern properly whose services they should seek? What role does Pomegranate Place really then have as a resource to the women of Denver?

[kaltura-widget uiconfid=”534″ entryid=”0_0p9ys4n0″ width=”260″ height=”225″ style=”margin: 2px;” addpermission=”” editpermission=”” align=”left” /] Denver Seminary has also lent their support to the work and mission of Pomegranate Place. On their homepage you can view the video featuring Pomegranate Place founder, Vaun Swanson (and Denver Seminary grad), discussing the purposes of Pomegranate Place as it is situated in the heart of Denver. As of today, May 19th, 2011, this video is still posted, but you can also view it here. Why Denver Seminary, historically a solid evangelical academic institution, chooses to give voice to an organization with pluralistic intentions, where the gospel will likely never penetrate the life of a single woman, is beyond all understanding.

At the recent God, Faith & Culture women’s conference, one of the values we discussed is the importance of churches vetting all of the materials being utilized in the context of women’s ministry, because not for one moment do we want to give a platform to teachings that somehow compromises scripture. This is a value we urge every Christian to adopt, and is why today we urge Christians to take another look at any endorsement offered for the work of Pomegranate Place. The Center for Women of Faith in Culture embraces all positive efforts in reaching into women’s lives in both church and culture. But when the line is crossed in embracing other worldview perspectives with eyes wide open, we believe the core of biblical Christianity has been abandoned and no good can come from this.

When an Oasis is Really a Mirage (PDF)