Participation of women and men is a theological issue

Advocating for equal participation of women and men in the church: (from left) Judith VanOsdol, LWF program executive for gender justice and women’s empowerment; Kathrin Wallrabe, ELCS equal opportunities officer and WICAS regional coordinator for Central Western Europe; Bettina Westfeld, LWF Council member and vice-president of the ELCS synod. Photo: LWF/A. Danielsson

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony takes up message of Twelfth Assembly

(LWI) – For the first time, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony (ELCS) has passed a law to recognize the fundamental issue of gender justice in the composition of church governing bodies.

“That is a most important step, in my view,” remarks s Bettina Westfeld with respect to a decision by the autumn synod of the ELCS. Westfeld is a Council member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and vice-president of the Saxony church synod.

The amendment to the law reads: “Attention must be paid to a gender-just nomination of persons standing for election and likewise of those appointed or co-opted.” As reason for this change the motion states: “It was decided at the LWF Twelfth Assembly in Windhoek in May 2017 that, when it comes to the composition of church-governing bodies, a fundamental aim is gender equality in participation. As a member church of the LWF, the ELCS has committed itself to implementing this.”

A framework for practical action

During its spring session earlier this year, the ELCS synod had resolved to establish a working group to draw up an action plan on the “participation of women and men in church ministries and functions.” Kathrin Wallrabe explains: “Dealing with this issue on a Christian and theological basis is important to us.” She is the equal opportunities officer of her church and regional coordinator for the Central Western Europe region of the LWF Women in Church and Society (WICAS) network.

The working group consists of three men and four women, coming from the volunteer training academy, theological policy desk, ELCS synod, youth desk, congregational pedagogy, law department and the equal opportunities office.

“The message of the Twelfth LWF Assembly calls for full participation of all people in their many different contexts. We find it very encouraging and are keen to implement it in the ELCS,” states Wallrabe.

“So far, the working group has been looking at ways in which the purpose might be defined and implemented as church policy,” Wallrabe says. “Sifting through the rules in other EKD member churches and the LWF was the first step. This revealed that some churches have enshrined the goal in their constitution or basic order and have passed church laws to implement it.” There are already laws on how to achieve gender equality on committees and governing bodies, and they provide a framework for practical action. As a second step, Wallrabe says, the working group is studying methods of ensuring that equal opportunity guidelines are acted on, for example,  in committee appointments, personnel development and educational activity.

The aim is to draw up a draft action plan to promote the participation of women and men in church ministries and functions, and to present it to the ELCS executive board on 8 March 2019.

LWF gender quota since 1984

The LWF has been advocating the equal participation of women and men since 1952 and introduced a 40 percent gender quota in 1984, which applies to all its committees and governing bodies. Speaking on what has changed because of this approach and how she sees LWF’s work, Westfeld says: “When care is taken that women and men join together in taking decisions affecting a global communion of churches, that impacts on the decisions – from the very fact that the voices of women are heard and play a definite part in decision-making processes.”

Rev. Judith VanOsdol, LWF program executive for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment, is encouraged by  the current processes in the Saxonian church. She points to a resolution, also adopted at the Twelfth Assembly, which urges  the member churches to implement the actions set out in the LWF Gender Justice Policy.

The new LWF Strategy for 2019 to 2024 also takes up the question of gender justice. “We plan to hold a WICAS Europe conference in 2019 that will present the new LWF Strategy and work on it from the WICAS perspective,” says VanOsdol. “In doing so, we will be mindful of the new populist movements in Europe, which may want to restrict the progress already made in terms of gender justice.”

The next substantive steps in the ELCS will also be taken in 2019. To mark the 100th anniversary of the first time that German women exercised their right to vote, the church’s  women’s desk, in cooperation with the equal opportunities officer, is planning a seminar under the theme, “Wanted! Women candidates for church governing bodies,” with the witty subtitle, “ladies’ choice”.