Editor’s Introduction: Women’s Ordination August/September 2020

[1] August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of women’s right to vote in the United States. November 20, 2020 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first woman’s ordination in a Lutheran church in the United States.  Despite Lutheran views about two kingdoms and American views about the separation of church and state, these two events and the histories that led to these two events are tangled together.  For centuries, church, society, and political communities debated whether women should have the same rights of leadership that democracy and Lutheranism already extended to men.  To mark these anniversaries and to explore their connection, this issue of JLE focuses on the matter of leadership, especially Lutheran women’s leadership in the United States: in the church, in the state, and in the academy.

[2] As readers will be reminded in this issue, the fight for women’s full inclusion in American political life was fought especially by women preachers in Protestant traditions that allowed women’s ordination. The fight against women’s suffrage was waged especially by male preachers who argued from a hermeneutic lens that suggested Scripture prohibited full equality between men and women.  The history of the women’s suffrage movement is entangled in the history of women’s full inclusion in the church, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton noted in her Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 where she denounced the way men allowed women in both church and state only as subordinates.

[3] The first two essays in this issue explain the history of the connection between suffrage and ordination.  Jessica Crist’s article explains this history in the United States, while Julie Tatlock’s specifically looks at the history as it pertains to Lutherans.  Both essays demand the reader consider their own views anew about the connection between church and state.  Historically, theological views have influenced politics and political changes have altered theological views.  These essays require the reader think deeply about the role of church and state in the fight for women’s equality just at the time the ELCA develops a new social statement on government. Moreover, these essays require the reader think deeply about the role of culture and tolerance.  The ethical question looms, do we have a responsibility to advocate for women in synods and cultures other than our own?

[4] This question comes to the fore in Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar’s brilliant and spiritually moving account of her own journey towards ordination as an Indian woman raised by a deeply faithful Lutheran father in a synod that does not allow women’s ordination. Her article makes a profound theological and spiritual argument for women’s ordination that calls to every reader to support women in whatever vocation the Holy Spirit calls them, despite cultural, synodical, and political pressures to work simply within the system.

[5]  Working to uncover how the system works and does not work to support women clergy in the ELCA, Mindy Makant has interviewed a large number of women pastors.  Her article discusses these interviews and names the challenges and opportunities women pastors face and the challenges and opportunities they give their congregations and the church as a whole.

[6] In both the fight for women’s suffrage and the debate over women’s ordination, a key component has been the education of women.  In places, times, and cultures, that mostly men read and teach Lutheran theology, there is a tendency to ignore the writings that support female authority in both Scripture and Luther’s works.  Luther himself knew how important it was for every individual to read thoughtfully in order to allow Scripture to inform life.  Luther demanded that girls’ schools be created in every town, so that girls, just like boys, could learn to read Scripture for themselves and apply their own hermeneutic to the text.  Yet, in Europe and the United States it has taken a long time for women to find a place in the theological academy.

[7] Specifically, in the United States, the road to women’s leadership in Lutheran higher education has been slow.  On one hand, women were teaching in Lutheran parochial schools as early as 1852, but they were mostly untrained themselves. In 1874, Carthage College, was the first Lutheran college in the U.S. to grant a bachelor’s degree to a woman. In 1892, St. Olaf was the first Lutheran institution in the U.S. to have a female faculty member; she was the chair of the history department.  In 1910, Jennie Bloom Summers was the first woman to serve as faculty at a Lutheran seminary.  She taught Latin at the Divinity School of the West in 1910.

[8] When women read, write, and teach in prominent roles in the academy, their ideas inform the church and state.  Caryn Riswold, DeAne Lagerquist, and Amy Carr discuss in their essays the importance of the vocation of the teaching theologian.  Riswold and Lagerquist remind readers in their short essays that political leaders and clergy are important, but so too are those with academic vocations.  In short, to paraphrase bell hooks, intellectual work is real work, intellectual work is activist work, intellectual work is service to neighbor. With that in mind, Carr’s essay reminds readers of the many Lutheran women (and men) who teach theology outside of the context of ELCA colleges and seminaries.  She asks the church to consider ways to find and recruit these theologians to help with the important work of creative and constructive Lutheran ethics, theology, and philosophy today.

[9] The year 2020 has been a challenging year so far.  The nation has watched the impeachment of Donald Trump, the crisis of a pandemic, an uprising of a hopeful anti-racist movement, and an opposing force of white supremacism.  In such a time of crisis, women’s legal authority to lead in politics, inclusion to teach in higher education, and ecclesial authority to preach in the church are not just rights to be celebrated but obligations and responsibilities.  I am grateful for the authors of the essays in this issue for honoring that obligation, and I am grateful for readers of these essays for considering their responsibilities to women who seek to serve their neighbor and honor their God in their vocations.

Jennifer Hockenbery

Jennifer Hockenbery serves as Editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics .  She is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at St Norbert College. She attends Grace Lutheran Church in Green Bay, WI.