Searching for treasures of Lutheran tradition

Participants in the Global Consultation of Women doing Theology gather outside the Warsaw conference center where they are reflecting on biblical texts and relate them to the challenges they face in their churches today. Photo: LWF/P. Hitchen

Women doing theology ask: What does the gospel say about gender in the church today?

(LWI) How did Jesus interact with women in his time? How do the gospel texts challenge us today? How can the treasures of the Lutheran theological tradition influence the call to justice in our churches? These questions are at the heart of a four-day global consultation that opened in Warsaw on Wednesday, hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, bringing together women doing theology in a wide variety of vocations. 

Facilitated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the goal of the meeting is to find creative ways of putting liberating theologies at the service of men and women in all member churches. By analyzing key texts and shedding new light on their contemporary relevance, delegates aim to draw up practical guidelines to help churches implement the principles of the LWF’s Gender Justice Policy and the resolutions of its 2017 Assembly in Namibia.  

Promoting women’s rights and dignity 

The policy, which the LWF Council approved in 2013, promotes women’s rights and dignity by challenging structures and practices that hamper their full participation at all levels of church life and leadership. It also supports women’s empowerment in wider society as a key to tackling poverty and ending gender-based violence.  

Many churches have adapted the policy to their respective national or local contexts, drawing up their own documents based on its ten principles and accompanying methodology. However, much work remains to be done and its content is often unknown, both at leadership and grassroots level.  

Dr Mary Streufert, director for Justice for Women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said a survey published in 2016 by her church showed that “women serving as pastors and deacons still earn around 80 percent of what men earn, while over one third of them reported experiencing sexual harassment within their congregations.” 

The consultation participants noted that a large majority of LWF member churches already ordain women, while others are in the process of discerning and moving towards this position. At the same time, there are churches in different regions that have ordained women in ministry for many years but are now questioning or even overturning previous governing body decisions. Such actions leave existing women in ministry vulnerable to discrimination and marginalization. 

Politicization of religion 

Participants from Europe and Latin America described ways in which populist political leaders are increasingly courting religious groups with the aim of rolling back progress on ordination, as well as on women’s human rights, particularly regarding sexuality and family life. Pastors from other regions pointed to antiquated ideas of purity laws that still consider women to be ‘impure’ during menstruation, barring them from receiving or distributing Holy Communion.  

In light of these concerns, participants discussed the way Jesus treated women considered to be impure in his time. They looked at theological anthropology and the doctrine of the incarnation, reflecting on men and women’s equality through the Lutheran lens of justification by grace through faith. They described as “a Christian vocation” the call to challenge unequal views of women’s humanity and dismantle structures, which place unjust expectations on them, whether at home, in the workplace or in the public space. 

Ongoing Reformation 

Where patriarchal mentalities, practices and structures persist, participants said, women are made to feel shame, doubt, or unworthy if they fail to conform to traditional gender stereotypes. This can lead victims of rape, harassment and domestic violence to blame themselves and not report their abusers, in the belief that they deserve such treatment because of their appearance or behavior. 

Today, 500 years after the Reformation, delegates stressed that Lutherans have a responsibility to name such sinful attitudes which distort the gospel message of freedom for all people. Working in parishes, seminaries, universities or other professional spheres of influence, they pledged to step up efforts to denounce discrimination and injustice, showcasing instead the principles of inclusiveness and mutual accountability that value the equal dignity of every person created in the image and likeness of God.