Egalitarian Religion: Re-mything the Patriarchy for Gender-Equality in Partnership Spirituality

A. Allen Butcher • The School of Intentioneering • Denver, CO • • Nov. 2019

Any vital social program is possible only if it is the expression of a religion which calls on the whole loyalty of [women and] men … The more adequate the interpretation of life which is provided by a political or economic philosophy, the better foundation does it constitute for a social and economic program … [and that interpretation needs] a religious motive to vitalize the program. —Arthur Morgan, founder of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, wrote this view of the importance of religion in his study of utopian theory, fiction, and practice in: Edward Bellamy: A Biography of the Author of ‘Looking Backward’. (Morgan, 1944, pp. 302-3)


It seems like there’s a new convergence of religious and secular groups that hold the same values and are able to comfortably hold differences in belief. This feels like a new and important development, like everyone did a lot of throwing out babies with bathwater, and now it’s time to bring it back together to help the world see a different vision for humanity living in peaceful, sustainable community. —Sky Blue, Executive Director, Foundation for Intentional Community, In Community, On the Road: Dispatch #7 – Taos Initiative for Life Together, April 17, 2019.


In the first quote above, Arthur Morgan presents the case for making our spiritual or religious identity consistent with our cultural intentions. Extrapolating from this; when people want an egalitarian, feminist culture to replace patriarchal culture, then a religious expression is needed which respects gender equality. In the second quote above, Sky Blue suggests that the ideal of peaceful, sustainable community through the future can be served by reuniting corresponding secular and religious values. Writing 75 years apart from each other, these two leaders of the same network of intentional communities, originally called the Fellowship and now the Foundation, can be interpreted to be saying nearly the same thing; that a society without spiritual expression or religious myth lacks the vitality critical to the alignment of a people’s loyalty to a lifestyle ideal. The challenge today is to transition our culture from the patriarchal Abrahamic faiths to one affirming the equality-of-the-genders, through remaking the foundational Judeo-Christian myths justifying patriarchy to instead affirm the partnership of women and men in an egalitarian religion. As Riane Eisler writes in The Chalice and the Blade that the Garden of Eden story was re-mythed from the earlier story of the Gifts of the Goddess, so again our cultural myths can be re-mythed for a “Partnership Spirituality.” (Eisler, pp. 63-6, 85)



Considering where to start in the creation of a Partnership Spirituality, begin with identifying who is already doing something similar, and the largest such group may be the Unitarian Universalists (UU). Arthur Morgan served a time as the vice-president of the American Unitarian Association (from the back cover of “Edward Bellamy”), before it merged with Universalism in 1960, both originally being liberal Christian denominations.


Arthur Morgan and family founded Community Service, Inc. in 1940 (now Community Solutions), and The Vale community in 1946, both in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and sponsored the founding of the Fellowship of Intentional Communities (FIC) in 1948-9 (Morgan, 1942, p. 9). The FIC changed its name in 1986 to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, then changed it again in mid-2019 to the Foundation for Intentional Community.


Unitarian Universalism in Community


Unitarians and Universalists inspired and supported several intentional communities in America during at least the 19th and 20th centuries. The founder of the famous Brook Farm community, George Ripley, was a Unitarian minister in Boston, Massachusetts. Ripley contributed to transcendental thought, hosting the first meeting of the Transcendental Club in his home in 1836, which later became the organizational theory of Brook Farm (1841-47). Robert Fogarty called Brook Farm, “By far the most well-known of all the ‘utopian’ societies.” (Fogarty, pp. 99, 183; Oved, pp. 142-3)


A member of Brook Farm, John Orvis, became a leader in the Universalist minister John Murray Spear’s Harmonia community (1853-63) in southern New York. In 1858 they sponsored a convention with the theme “Feminine Equality.” (Fogarty, pp.107-8, 197)


The Altruria community in Fountain Grove, California lasted only one year (1894-5). Its founder, Edward Biron Payne, was a Unitarian minister who preached a social gospel, eventually becoming a Christian Socialist advocating gradual change, interdependence, and mutual obligation. Although Altruria attracted many competent people who started several different income projects, the group failed to focus upon any one to scale it up sufficiently to support the community. (Fogarty, p. 127; Hine, pp. 102-4)



Early in the 20th century two community projects were started by Unitarian ministers in Massachusetts, one in 1900 in Montague by Edward Pearson Pressey called New Clairvaux, and the second in 1908 in Haverhill by George Littlefield called Fellowship Farm. Both of these groups were homesteading communities focused upon rural self-sufficiency and cottage businesses, taking inspiration from the arts and crafts movement which decried urbanization and industrial mass production. New Clairvaux had a printing press, a school, and up to twenty-nine residents, yet dissolved by 1909 due to financial problems. (Miller, pp. 54-5)


Fellowship Farm had about forty members, a printing press and craft businesses, although it is unclear how long it lasted. Littlefield’s community idea inspired several other groups, including homesteader/arts and crafts communities in Norwood, MA, Kansas City and Independence, MO, and in Los Angeles, CA where twenty families comprised the LA Fellowship Farm from 1912-27. In all about three-hundred families lived in Fellowship Farms. (Fogarty, pp. 228, 230; Miller, pp. 107-8)


Later in the 20th century three intentional communities in central Virginia were associated with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Universalist in Charlottesville, Virginia: Twin Oaks (1967-present), Springtree (1971-to present), and Shannon Farm (1972 -to present). Springtree and Shannon both started after their founders attended a summer Communities Conference at Twin Oaks Community. Early on, Twin Oaks had its own UU Fellowship, which carried on exchanges with the UU Church in Charlottesville, members of which helped Twin Oaks build a UU meeting hall with labor and money donations, called the Ta’chai Living Room. Over the decades various Twin Oaks members have attended UU services and other events in Charlottesville and at various UU churches in the Washington D.C. area.


Partnering an Egalitarian Christianity with Women’s Spirituality


Notice in the timeline above of intentional communities that the Unitarian Universalist influence has been a significant part of the communities movement, now evolved into the Foundation for Intentional Community. There are as well many other religious and spiritual organizations comprising aspects of the communities movement, with the Quakers having the longest association with communitarianism. While in the past people founded utopian societies or intentional communities for expressing their religious ideals, in the case of Partnership Spirituality the communities expressing feminist values have existed prior to the creation of an egalitarian religion consistent with feminist culture and lifestyle. Various forms of intentional community today express equality-of-the-genders, not just some communal societies. The list generally includes cohousing and ecovillage communities, and may even include some religious and spiritual traditions, although usually without overtly presenting feminist egalitarianism as a primary value as does identifying with Partnership Spirituality.


Unitarian Universalism is likely to be friendly to the idea of developing a Partnership Spirituality movement since it has already an earth-based, women’s spirituality affirmation in its independent affiliate called the “Covenant of UU Pagans” or CUUPS. The origin of this affiliation is said to be in 1977 when the UU Association passed at its General Assembly a “Women and Religion Resolution.” In 1988 the UUA General Assembly granted CUUPS an affiliate status, “honoring goddess-based, earth-centered, tribal and pagan spiritual paths.” CUUPS provides a theological orientation and a liturgical tradition (i.e., the rites of public worship) consistent with the idea of combining the spiritual traditions of transcendence and immanence, Goddess and God, male and female. (See: Traditionally, God is associated with love, and Goddess with wisdom.



Merging an egalitarian expression of Christianity with women’s spirituality may not be considered polytheistic when it affirms a “binarian monotheism.” In the same way that Trinitarian Christianity (i.e.: Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is considered to be monotheist, so also may Binarian Partnership Spirituality of male and female (or any other genders) be considered monotheist when affirmed as one entity. That is, we say it is so, then for us, so it is! Such is the malleable nature of spiritual and religious beliefs.


Creating a Binarian Partnership Spirituality will involve extensive dialogue and deliberation, and so Unitarian Universalists are the perfect group to carry out the vision, not only because their tradition is one of careful thought and inclusive discourse, yet also because they have woven into their tradition the values of peace through social and economic justice, sustainable ecological stewardship of the environment, and the shared leadership of women and men.


Partnership Spirituality and the Internal Revenue Service


In particular, it would be well that Twin Oaks Community and other groups utilizing the 501(d) tax status for what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) calls “Religious and Apostolic Associations,” consider taking their primary organizational tenant of feminist egalitarianism to an affirmation of a religious belief, because having a spiritual or religious orientation is a requirement of that favorable tax status. We know that the IRS and conservative government in general has a bias against communalism, and any time these forces desire to do so they can challenge again Twin Oaks’ or other community’s claim to meet the requirements of the 501(d) tax status, as they did in the late 1970s.


While Twin Oaks had been filing its taxes for many years under the 501(d) subsection of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code they did not formally request the status. When the IRS discovered in 1977 that Twin Oaks did not have the formal 501(d) designation they said that the community was not tax-exempt and had to pay a quarter-million dollars in back taxes. Because Twin Oaks does not have a vow-of-poverty, meaning surrendering all personal assets to the organization upon joining and receiving none back upon leaving like churches and monasteries filing under the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status, the IRS made the spurious statement that in 1936 when the U.S. Congress created the 501(d) status they intended to include a vow-of-poverty requirement like that of the  501(c)(3) churches and monasteries. To challenge this contrived argument Twin Oaks appealed the IRS ruling in Tax Court and won the case! (Twin Oaks Community, Inc., versus Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 87th Tax Court, No. 71, Docket No. 26160-82, Filed 12-3-86)


Given that such a spurious legal challenge happened once, it could happen again to any Federation or other community using the 501(d) tax status, and the obvious charge next time could be that the community is not actually a religious organization, instead it is secular. In the past it has been argued that since “religion” is not or cannot be defined by the IRS, any statement-of-religious-belief will suffice. Yet the United States Post Office made an adverse determination against East Wind Community in 1979 when the community applied for the non-profit bulk rate mailing permit. The USPO St. Louis Office denied East Wind’s request saying, “The bylaws submitted by the East Wind Community makes no mention of any religious worship or religious activities.” (Postmaster, USPO Mail Classification Center, St. Louis, MO, January 4, 1979 to the Postmaster, Tecumseh, MO 65760)


In another case, East Wind Community was attempting to set up an “Earned Leaving Fund” (ELF) to enable members to leave the community by letting them work in the community businesses to earn personal funds for resettlement costs in the outside world. This is clearly contrary to 501(d) requirements, so the community retained a legal firm, which responded saying that the ELF be “treated as an outside employee both for accounting and tax purposes. One way to do this would be to set up a separate bank account  … into which the Earned Leaving Fund is deposited as earned.” (Collins Denny, III, letter of 9-4-87, Mays & Valentine, Richmond, Virginia)


This separate bank account plan could and perhaps should be used especially by new communal groups that have a significant amount of income from outside jobs as opposed to community-owned businesses. While the community business income is exempt under 501(d) outside job income is not, and so the two need to be separated. Having two separate community bank accounts, one tax-exempt for community-business income and the other non-exempt for outside-work income, with the two taxed differently, would likely facilitate a new community’s application for 501(d) status, since the problem of establishing community-owned businesses has prevented some groups from adopting the 501(d) communal structure.


Collins Denny wrote in his concluding remarks to East Wind that, “I believe that the Internal Revenue Service still maintains an internal bias against 501(d) organizations which do not have a vow-of-poverty. In saying this, however, I must point out that I have not made any inquiries or seen any IRS publications which support my feelings that a bias exists.” (Collins Denny, III, letter of 9-4-87, Mays & Valentine, Richmond, Virginia)


There may come a time when Federation communities will want or need to dust off their statements of religious belief which they have filed with the IRS and make witness of their lifestyle as justification for their claim that they are indeed religious organizations. Both East Wind and Twin Oaks include in their statements-of-religious-belief filed with the IRS the quote from the Book of Acts in the Bible about all believers holding property in common, along with various ideals about sharing and oneness. Yet the most prominent aspect of their existence and structure is egalitarianism, and so adding the equality of women and men as a central aspect of their stated religious beliefs could make Partnership Spirituality their saving grace.



The 2027 Convergence of Religious and Secular Community


As there are in existence examples of egalitarian lifestyle and culture in various types of community, not just communal, affirming a religious or spiritual expression of egalitarianism builds upon the ideals and experience of women and men in partnership. Sky Blue called for such an egalitarian religion when he was inspired to write, “there’s a new convergence of religious and secular groups that hold the same values . . .” This is a “New Age” level of transformation of our culture through which we may anticipate many rippling affects, among these being the congruence of religious and secular expressions of egalitarian partnership culture in the year 2027. This date will be the bi-centennial of the first printing of the term “socialist,” in the London Cooperative Magazine of 1827 (v. 2), and is roughly the bi-millennial of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the exact date of which, like everything else in his life or myth, is contested. Celebrating the concern for peace through social justice in Jesus’ ministry earlier gave rise to the 19th century community movement of Christian Socialism (Fogarty, pp. xxiv, 5, 91, 134, 220), while today the concern for egalitarian religion inspires Partnership Spirituality.


Partnership Spirituality may be considered a gender-equal form of Christian Socialism, emphasizing the caring and loving message of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5:3-7:27) through advocating all of the forms of intentional community lived today. During Jesus’ ministry, it is said that both he and his audience knew of the communal counterculture of the time, called the Essenes, although mention of the sect is conspicuously omitted from the Judeo-Christian Bible. Only the class-harmony of rich and poor practicing mutual aid was emphasized in Jesus’ ministry. Today, Partnership Spirituality advocates all non-violent forms of the gifting and sharing counterculture through an educational initiative called the “School of Intentioneering,” with the newest terms for describing particular forms of community being “class-harmony” and “cofamily.”


The School of Intentioneering teaches that class-harmony community involves sharing privately-owned property among people with different levels of income and ownership in either large or small communities, while cofamilies are small communities of three-to-nine adults with or without children. The cofamily extends the number of standard types of “family” to include intentional families comprised of non-related adults choosing to live together. Along with single-parent, nuclear, extended, blended, and same-gendered families, add the cofamily. Cofamilies have shared ideals, goals, or affinities binding people to each other, unlike the other forms of family based upon blood-relations or marriage. One of those binding commitments may be children, with the cofamily formed as a small-group-support collective around each child, reducing the need for women to resort to abortion or to giving their child up for adoption as friends commit to helping to raise a child or children in community. When such a collective forms within or joins a larger intentional community, like cohousing, an ecovillage, a land trust, or a communal society, the result is a “nested cofamily.”


The convergence of secular and religious concerns for social justice and ecological sustainability in the year 2027 encourages an assessment of the patriarchal era, toward an affirmation of a new era of partnership-of-the-genders. A good ally in that assessment and projection is the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS) created in 1987 by the author Riane Eisler. The CPS website states that it serves as a, “catalyst for cultural, economic, and personal transformation—from domination to partnership, from control to care, from power-over to empowerment. CPS’s programs provide new knowledge, insights, interventions, and practical tools for this urgently needed shift.” (See:


The identification of the partnership model and the domination model as two underlying social configurations requires a new analytical approach that includes social features that are currently ignored or marginalized, such as the social construction of human/nature connections, parent/child relations, gender roles and relations, and the way we assess the value of the work of caring for people and nature. (, Riane Eisler, Partnership and Domination Models)


Riane Eisler’s Partnership Center would likely be an excellent resource for Unitarian Universalists and others in the creation of new stories of partnership culture and spirituality. A New Age of Partnership, however, will require more, it will need a new Bible and new forms of liturgy and ritual. For a new Bible I offer an alternative history of gifting and sharing societies through the ages, focusing upon women’s stories within tribal and communitarian cultures, currently available as an ebook titled, The Intentioneer’s Bible: Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity, with a revised second edition to appear in print. For egalitarian liturgy and rituals see the teachings of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft and of the Covenant of UU Pagans.


Egalitarian religion arose with the Early Christian Church as women comprised a second apostolic group following Jesus, with his partner Mary Magdalene becoming a leader of the Christian sect in his stead. Many women leaders followed until the movement institutionalized under patriarchal, orthodox Catholicism, making women second-class to men as proscribed by the patriarchal laws of the Old Testament or Hebrew Torah and carried into the Christian New Testament, especially in Saint Paul’s writings. Partnership Spirituality reclaims and resumes the momentum of egalitarian religion and culture, furthering the inclusive nature of the syncretic Christian religion comprised of Judaism, Persian dualism, Stoicism, and Paganism, now to emphasize women’s spirituality. For discussion on the re-mything for the egalitarian religion of “Partnership Spirituality” see the Facebook page with that name. As patriarchy is justified through religion, so partnership may be affirmed in spirituality: When we say it is so, then for us, so it is!



Eisler, Riane. (1987). The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.


Fogarty, Robert. (1980). Dictionary of American communal and utopian history. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.


Hine, Robert. (1953). California’s utopian colonies. New York: Norton & Company.


Miller, Timothy. (1998). The quest for utopia in twentieth-century America, volume 1: 1900-1960. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.


Morgan, Arthur. (1942). The small community: Foundation of democratic life. Yellow Springs, OH: Community Service, Inc.


Morgan, Arthur. (1944). Edward Bellamy: A biography of the author of “Looking backward.” New York: Columbia University Press.


Oved, Yaacov. (1988). Two Hundred Years of American Communes. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Inc.



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