As you may or may not know, I serve the national Lutheran church on the advisory committee called "Justice for Women in the ELCA." I serve in this capacity because I believe women and men to be equal by design, and I have been asked to work for change from within patriarchy itself. Since I am not a woman, my work will always come with an asterisk, always from a position of oppression and power. So I ask for your voice, your help, and your power to be put toward the direction of female/male equality. For too long, the church has been the sacred foothold for gender inequality. While some of the best education I received in seminary was from female professors, many of them were not even allowed to seek ordination because they were part of the Catholic church. Their brilliance was always slightly dimmed because it seemed improbable that a woman could have developed such rich theologies.
I use this example because it is an easy target. It is far more slippery to nail down sexism in the ELCA, where women are ordained, and yet, still make less money than their male counterparts. Women clergy still fight prejudice and harassment, and still create a stir in congregations that don't exactly know what to do with a woman pastor. I have heard of female pastors be called "lady pastors" or sometimes "Mother" from ex-Catholics, but even calling someone "a female pastor" seeks to qualify the person in a pejorative sense.
For those of you who want to continue to fight for equality in the church, the cause could use you, and for the moment, so could I.
Over the next six years, the special task force of the ELCA will produce a study and social statement regarding the topic of justice for women. I have been asked to be an adviser to this task force. Next month I will go to Chicago to lead a discussion of the documentary MISSREPRESENTATION which is about how women are negatively portrayed in the media.
I will also be answering questions regarding the letter (below) that I wrote on behalf of the JfW advisory committee to aid the JfW task force in their study. I submit it to you for thoughts and feedback. You are encouraged to post comments and considerations. In what ways have you seen the church oppress women? How are we going to work against the stain-glass ceiling for women in the church?
To the social statement task force of the ELCA,
We, the advising committee for Justice for Women in the ELCA, are grateful that you have agreed to serve the larger church in this way. We believe that the work that you will do is in the name of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, whose own life and teachings affirm inclusivity and justice for all people in the kingdom of God. And, in many ways, a social statement for justice for women is long overdue.
Women everywhere suffer from injustice. Sexism and patriarchy continue to rule every sector of American society. It is prudent then that we prayerfully acknowledge that the pervasive dominant culture involves, and is in some ways is rooted in the church. As we continue to heal the wounds of sexism and patriarchy that have ruled Christendom for over two millennia, we can plainly see that women receive unfair treatment in the ELCA even today. While it is true that women have been able to seek ordination for decades, it is also true that the progress is slow for equality at the highest positions; including only six female bishops and one female seminary president.
Women in our congregations feel the effects of sexism too. Institutionalized patriarchy, church polity, and gender stereotypes are all contributing factors to the inequalities that exist. But perhaps the biggest reason that women have been mistreated in the church is due to the use and misuse of patriarchal theology. This area must be addressed if we desire to seek justice for women.
The mission statement of the Justice for Women advisory committee is, “the church is visibly engaged in the world for gender justice because the church understands sexism as a theological issue.” While Feminist, Womanist, and Mujerista theologies have been adopted by many in the ELCA as legitimate Lutheran traditions, they are viewed as marginal theologies. It is our fervent hope that the ELCA will accept them as normative, gender-inclusive, and intrinsically consistent with the heart of Lutheran theology.
It also bears mentioning that we acknowledge that injustice of women is one global problem among many. The problems of human inequality are woven together in the sticky web of society. We, as God’s hands, must do God's work to dissolve this web of oppression. As Reverend King would say, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is worth noting that women are affected disproportionately to men in economic, racial, and age discrimination. Thus, we must realize that working for justice for women is also a fight against global oppression.
We offer the following suggestions to you that have come out of our meetings on February 10th and 11th, 2012. We hope that they will be useful to you as you begin on this journey.
We have identified the following as ideas for your meetings and the process:
(1) That gender-inclusive language be used at all times, including referring to God.
(2) While there is much anticipation, the project need not be rushed.
(3) Identify synodical leaders for active listening conversations.*
(4) That a model is adopted for listening to voices along the spectrums of female and male; intra-ethnic and interethnic; various racial and biracial backgrounds; sexual orientation; classism; education; and age.
(5) That differentiation and distinction be made between gender justice or justice for women.
(6) That the task force build on the work of the Justice for Women advisory committee, as well as part of the required reading include Transformative Lutheran Theologies as well as Justice for women program materials and monologues.
(7) That stories, case-studies, and anecdotes be deemed as pertinent to the study alongside statistical and sociological data.
(8) That there be a process in place for the role of staff (including those who answer the phones) to respond to criticisms and answer questions.
Regarding the published study and social statement:
(1) That gender inclusive language be used at all times, including referring to God.
(2) Study does not have to be so academic, but should be readable and approachable.
(3) That the process and statement be multi-layered and multi-pedagogical.
(4) That the planning of the timeline include the implementation of curriculum in a timely way to congregations. Since most educational planning in congregations happens in the spring or early summer, you may plan accordingly.
We are in a vital part of the Church’s history as we lay groundwork and create precedent for the 21st century. As God beacons us into the future, we, the advisory committee for justice for women, are praying for you and the very important work you are doing.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
Rev. Daniel Pugh on behalf of the advisory committee of Justice for Women in the ELCA