The Theology of Holy Communion Empowers Christians to End Sexual Harassment and Assault

Introduction [1]

[1] Holy Communion matters for Lutherans. It is central to who we understand ourselves to be as Christians. Lutherans believe and teach that the Lord’s Supper is not simply bread and wine eaten in a reenactment of the Last Supper, but, as Martin Luther teaches in The Large Catechism, “it is bread and wine set within God’s word and bound to it.”[2] Through Communion, God feeds us, forgives us, and forms us, meeting us in bread and wine, just as God meets us in the waters of baptism.[3]

[2] Four themes in Luther’s theology of Holy Communion can and should shape our personal and communal imaginations and influence how we treat one another in congregations and families: embodiment, power, unity, and the Christian vocation of love. These themes can shape our imaginations as worshipping communities that create and live out not only liturgical practices, but also community expectations related to sexual harassment.[4]

[3] Why is this necessary? Colleagues and peers, supervisors and professors, strangers and candidacy and call committee members sexually harass ELCA pastors and deacons. The most sobering statistic in a recent study is about congregations.[5] Nearly half of women[6] in ministry report sexual harassment within congregational ministry, and over a tenth of men in ministry report the same. Perhaps over half of ministers who identify as LGBTQIA+ experience sexual harassment in congregational ministry.[7]

[4]  According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is against the law and it includes

unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.[8]

It is illegal to force someone to endure it to become or remain employed or when it interferes with your work performance.[9]

[5] Although ministry is work, persons in ministry do not always have legal recourse when someone sexually harasses them. Due to a US Supreme Court decision, the laws of each state determine whether ministers can file a legal claim regarding sexual harassment. [10] Thus, not all ministers can rely on the law to end the sexual harassment they experience.

[6] However, the ELCA’s problem is not simply legal. It is theological. To be more precise, the sexual harassment of ELCA pastors and deacons within worshipping communities is a theological crisis. Sexual harassment distorts the Lutheran understanding that Holy Communion is an encounter with God’s bounteous love, an encounter that changes us to be God’s love for one another.[11] While Lutheran teaching on Communion affirms that it is, indeed, holy, not everyone comes to the table with this on their mind. Sadly, some misuse the power and intimacy of the table. About ten years ago, Pastor Schmidt[12] told her bishop:

During Communion, one individual would regularly step in a little too close and rest his hand on mine a little too long, so that I had to take a step back.

Even that could be managed. But it was usually the “hungry” look on his face that made my stomach turn. Like he was enjoying the exchange as a chance to be intimate with me.

And Communion is intimate, but with God, not me.[13]

Schmidt’s experience illustrates a problem that is far too common in the ELCA. We have a church problem that stems from a distortion of a central facet of Lutheran faith communities. Sexual harassment is not a reflection of God’s love. What we believe matters for our daily lives as Christians, so this article offers one way for worshipping communities to discuss faith related to sexual harassment so that they are empowered to end it.

[7] This paper is a theological explanation of the four themes in Luther’s theology of Holy Communion.  Each section below discusses a theme and how the theme relates to the perversion, violation, and idolatry that is sexual harassment.  First, I explain Luther’s teaching on these four themes; then I outline how sexual harassment distorts each theme. In the conclusion, I bring together ways that this theological work aims specifically to help worshipping communities recognize, name, and repent of sexual harassment as sinful; to support Christian love of God, others, and ourselves through faith formation; and to strengthen ecclesial practices in liturgy and policy.



Holy Communion is God’s love for embodied whole persons and embodied communities.

[8] Luther came to realize how much God values embodiment and how God works through hearts and mouths to create faith in, redeem, and enliven individuals and communities. First, faith is a relationship of trust, which for Luther is embodied because faith is rooted in the heart. “Only faith can take hold of the heart,” he writes.[14] Christians go to the Lord’s Supper through this faith that is in the heart and of the heart, not out of duty.[15]

[9] Second, real food is necessary to feed us physically and spiritually.[16] Real people need real food, Luther thought. That is, embodied people need embodied experience. We need to be able to take what is given to us, so God gives us bread and wine.[17] From a Lutheran perspective, Communion is not simply a way to remember Jesus. Instead, God feeds embodied persons and nourishes the embodied Christian community spiritually because God’s Word is joined with the physical. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine.[18] Luther tells us that Christians eat and drink spiritually and physically at the same time: “Christ joined both together, the Word and his body, to be eaten spiritually with the heart and bodily with the mouth.”[19] Just like God in Christ joins together the Word of God and the elements of Holy Communion, so are our mouths and hearts joined together to take in Christ physically and spiritually.

[10] Third, Luther helps Christians understand how Communion not only feeds embodied individuals, but forms and strengthens embodied Christian community. It is the means of grace to transform Christian life together. The sacraments “awaken and confirm faith.”[20] From a Lutheran perspective, this means that Holy Communion is effective. God changes us. One way God changes us through Holy Communion is by forming Christian community. As Luther writes, “Christ and all saints are one spiritual body.”[21] Being made into the body of Christ implies Christian mutuality and equity in and with Christ and each other. We eat bread and wine, and we become embodied with Christ and all saints.[22] Spiritual-bodily eating “transforms us into itself.” We become “holy, living people.”[23] We receive words, we eat, we drink, we digest—we are changed.[24]

[11] Thus, faith is embodied, the means of grace are embodied, the whole person is embodied, and Christian community is embodied. Lutheran teaching helps worshipping communities remember and support the value of everyone’s physical and spiritual lives. In Holy Communion, Lutherans believe we consume the body of Christ and celebrate that they are the body of Christ one to another. As this united body, there is no place for sexual harassment.



Sexual harassment violates the integrity of embodied whole persons and embodied communities.

[12] In sharp contrast, sexual harassment distorts Luther’s insight that God values embodied whole persons and embodied Christian community. Sexual harassment objectifies persons, and it disrupts mutuality and equity in the body of Christ. To be clear, people in worshipping communities are not sexually harassing pastors and deacons only during Communion. Women in ministry describe men swatting their rear ends and squeezing their breasts, making sexual jokes and comments, and threatening them in sexualized ways. Men in ministry share how they have been groped and their bodies talked about. People in ministry who identify as queer describe inappropriate questions about their bodies and sexual lives. Sexual harassment is a trespass of the embodied integrity of neighbors of all genders and sexes because it treats persons like objects that can be talked about, handled, and controlled.

[13] When people trespass against pastors and deacons with sexual harassment, they fail God, neighbor, and self. They fail God because they are not loving neighbors as Christ does. Someone suffers physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually. For instance, Deacon Green shared that a congregation member threatened her with sexual assault. She felt objectified and physically and emotionally unsafe.[25] He certainly failed to honor and care for Deacon Green as an embodied, whole person.

[14] The perpetrator also fails the community and self because God calls and empowers us to care for others. The embodied integrity of one person is connected to the embodied Christian community. The suffering of this one person ripples through the whole body. The community is also harmed because their pastor or deacon is not able to serve them in their full capacity because sexual harassment can take away confidence, focus, energy, time, trust, and authentic relationship. Everyone loses in this situation, including the perpetrator.

[15] Sometimes the community also fails. A worshipping community fails deacons and pastors as neighbors in embodied communities when it is complicit in creating the conditions for sexual harassment to flourish or when it allows it to continue to occur when they know about it. The community also fails the perpetrator as neighbor when it does not demand accountability. For example, when anyone reports sexual harassment to the congregational council, the council needs to follow an agreed upon process to ensure that the member does not repeat the behavior, that the victim feels safe, and that the community is clear that sexual harassment is not acceptable. Perpetrators need worshipping communities and the institutional church to help them confess their sins and learn new ways of living. A community that does not address sexual harassment also fails itself because it is not taking care of its own embodied integrity and the mutuality and equity of the body of Christ. Lutheran worshipping communities need to strengthen faith formation by revisiting Lutheran teaching on Holy Communion, which will reinforce the Christian value of embodiment.



In Holy Communion, we recognize that power comes from God and is shared equally by persons.

[16] Luther paints a contrast between two types of Communion tables. Christ’s table flows from God’s power. An idolatrous table flows from idealizing and abusing human power. Grasping the difference between Christ’s table and an idolatrous table makes clear that power comes from God to empower persons equally.

[17] Luther’s description of God’s power is evocative and joyful. Rather than a description of power over creatures to judge and condemn, Luther understands God’s power as suffusing all creation and empowering all possibilities. The right hand of God, Luther said, is God’s power, which is everywhere, “even in the tiniest leaf.” Christians confess God as the creator and preserver of all.[26] As Luther so eloquently writes: “Therefore, indeed, God must be present in every single creature in its innermost and outermost being, on all sides, through and through, below and above, before and behind, so that nothing can be more truly present and within all creatures than God and God’s power.”[27] At the same time, God is not confined to creation but is “beyond and above the whole creation.”[28] God is in all things, including human hearts, “which indeed is a greater wonder than all others,” he writes.[29] God’s creating and redeeming power is thus joyful and empowering. The forgiving and enlivening power that Christians experience at the table comes from God.[30] It is Christ’s table, and Christ is the meal.[31]

[18] Christ’s words are clear that Christ is the meal, not by magic but through assurance: “’This is my body given for you’.”[32] Luther knows Christ is truly present because he trusts Christ’s words—and he connects them to the scriptural witness that God’s power suffuses and empowers all creation: “[Jesus Christ] is closer to us than any creature is to another.” That God’s power is all in all explains how Christ’s body and blood are truly present for us. Luther teaches “in the Supper we eat and take to ourselves Christ’s body truly and physically.”[33] Christ’s body is in the bread and wine, akin to iron and fire in forging: “every part is both iron and fire.”[34] Every part is both physical food and Christ. This means Christ becomes part of our embodied selves equally.[35] In Holy Communion we receive union with Christ by God’s power, not our own. God’s power through Christ is for everyone equally. No one should misuse their power over another person.



Sexual harassment is an idolatrous abuse of power.

[19] The contrast with Christ’s table is an idolatrous table. Christ’s table flows from God’s joyful and creative power. An idolatrous table flows from idealizing and abusing human power.

One way Christians abuse power is when it is concentrated in only one person or with certain groups of people. This kind of concentrated power is not for others or for all, as Christ’s power is; it is only for making things good for just one person or only for certain groups of people. Luther criticized this misuse of power. He criticized the Christian communities called “brotherhoods” that were all about making things good just for themselves. The brotherhoods were not truly serving others and instead idolizing themselves. [36]

[20] Similarly, people who sexually harass pastors, deacons, and anyone else in worshipping communities are not truly serving others. Their self-centeredness is an abuse of power.  Perpetrators act as though they have all the power, as if they are more important than others. They demonstrate this with their arrogant attempts to control the persons they harass and to appropriate power for themselves. Research on sexual harassment of women in positions of authority and power demonstrates that male sexual harassers are trying to put women in their place.[37] For instance, a bishop said that in the first few years of parish ministry, a man said to her when no one else was around, “I like sheer stockings.  Are they sheer to the waist?” This was moments before worship was about to begin as she prepared to robe in the sacristy. In this and similar examples, harassers treat the other person as an object over whom they have power. Interactions that involve harassment and an abuse of power are the exact opposite of the equitable and loving manifestation of God’s power in Communion.

[21] Many congregational ministers keep silent in similar situations because they fear that their ministries or calls will be threatened if they speak up. Some are uncertain their objections will be believed by others in the community. In this situation, the bishop responded with courage, challenging the man’s comments about her clothing. This bishop rejected the way this person acted—as if he had the power to matter more than she does. She used the power God gives the whole Christian community in the sacraments to hold the perpetrator accountable because sexual harassment seeks “the good” of only one or only some people. Luther’s commitment that Holy Communion is an act of God’s power that empowers all participants equitably helps us see that the sexual harassment occurring in worshipping communities of the ELCA is a sinful abuse of power. The problem is that rather than acknowledging that power is God’s and that they and their ministers are “the free servants of the whole community of Christians,”[38] sexual harassers seek to serve only themselves. Worshipping communities need to remember that power comes from God and to work to share it equally.



The effect of Holy Communion is unity in Christian community.

[22] Luther uses earthy imagery from the Lord’s Supper to explain that the effect of Holy Communion is unity. Participants are made into one loaf. As Luther writes, “This is what it means to be transformed into one another through love, out of many particles to become one bread and drink, to lose one’s own form and take on that which is common to all.”[39] God’s love forms community through Communion.

[23] Luther teaches that Christians become one loaf and one cup because he trusts that Jesus Christ is truly present in bread and wine for us. Here is how Luther makes this connection: “through the Word [Christ] binds his body and blood so that they are also received corporally in the bread and wine.”[40] Just like the bread is made into one loaf out of many kernels and wine is made into one cup out of many grapes, each kernel or grape is there—but have taken on “a common form with the others.” And, Luther concludes, “That is how a Christian acts.”[41] Unity is not about uniform lives, agreement, or personal sameness. Instead, taking on “a common form with the others” is a way of being. We have become something new while not losing our personal selves. This unity is from love, love which we ourselves do not create.

[24] Said another way, Communion makes us the communion of saints. God makes us into one embodiment[42] to sustain us because adversity and temptation are always with us. Through faith, we receive what God promises—life, forgiveness, and joy.[43] Christ is for us, to carry us and strengthen us, just as we are called to carry and strengthen each other.

[25] In this sacrament, God gives a sign that an individual is united with Christ and all saints, holding everything in common. Christ’s life and suffering—and our own—are all God’s. “Therefore whoever does injury to such people, does injury to Christ and all the saints.”[44] When even one among the communion of saints hurts someone else in the community, they have harmed everyone. Thus, the unity created at the table implies equity and mutual respect. Our daily lives should be an expression of Communion, [45] through which we have mutual relationships of self, other, and Christ. Love allows us to take a common form in Christ. Because of Christ’s love, we must be willing to take on the suffering of neighbors. Love grows, and “we become one loaf.”[46] Christ becomes one form with us. We thus eat and drink one another. We become God’s love. God’s love becomes us.[47]



Sexual harassment disrupts the equity and mutual respect of Christian unity.

[26] Someone who sexually harasses another person in a worshipping community is not living as one loaf or one cup. Perpetrators of sexual harassment disrupt the equity and mutual respect of Christian unity by acting like individual consumers, saying, taking, and getting what they want. Pastor Martinez,[48] a new associate pastor in a congregation, experienced multiple instances of sexual harassment from another associate pastor, call committee members, and congregational members. She did not feel safe or authentically present because she could not trust members of the community.

[27] She shared that an associate pastor said he was so happy to work with her, having “never really been around female pastors much.” She continued:

However, he said that he had been on a committee once with three female pastors and “They were REALLY smart! . . . AND, they were really WOO-WOO!” making an hour-glass sign with his hands, and raising his eyebrows up and down. “I thought they could come and preach in my pulpit ANYTIME, if you know what I mean.” He laughed.

She described similar experiences from the congregation during the call process and later. This same colleague repeatedly made derogatory comments about women and shared sexualized stories and judgments of congregational members and other pastors. These are obvious examples of actions that disrupt equity and mutual respect.

[28] The perpetrator failed to see Pastor Martinez as an equal member of the body of Christ united together by the love and power that God offers in Holy Communion. Pastor Martinez went to the lead pastor to collaborate on a way to address the situation. She wrote:

The lead pastor . . . did not think there were any sexist feelings in the congregation or from the other associate pastor, and that [she] was being too sensitive and thin-skinned. She needed to stop being so moody and learn how to take a joke. Nothing was meant by these comments and they were just kidding.[49]

The lead pastor also disrupted Christian unity. He did not take her seriously, yet what Pastor Martinez described to him is sexual harassment.

[29] The pastor who made these and other comments about women acted like an individual consumer: only he mattered; he got to say what he wanted; and others allowed him to continue acting as if being made into one loaf and one cup through Communion had no consequence in daily life. The associate pastor who was the perpetrator, the congregation, and the lead pastor all disrupted Christian unity within a worshipping community through their words and actions or their lack of words and actions.


Vocation of love:

The fruit of Holy Communion is love, and the Christian vocation to love means that Christians should treat one another with love and respect.

[30] Holy Communion is about love because God is love. In fact, it produces love. “The fruit of the sacrament . . .” Luther writes, “is nothing other than love.” [50] In a powerful metaphor, Luther explains how we know the fruit of Communion is love: “for God is a glowing furnace of love, reaching even from the earth to the heavens.” [51] God’s love that keeps us alive as heat in winter changes us and forms us into community, creating unity that is not about uniformity but about taking on each other’s joys and sufferings and treating each other with love and respect.

[31] Through Communion, we lose individual form and become a common form in Christ; only love allows such form-taking. “[I]f we use this sacrament properly, Christ with all saints, by his love, takes upon himself our form [Phil.2:7], fights with us against sin, death, and all evil. . . . And through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common.”[52] The community’s vocation is to serve neighbors as God loves us. For Luther, how God loves us is rooted in how God redeems. God through Christ takes on everything we are, and we take on everything Christ is.[53] Because “God is a glowing furnace of love,”[54] we become furnaces of love for others. In more familiar terms, “That is, we should treat our neighbor as God has treated us.”[55]

[32] Although love in the communion of saints is often joyful and doxological, this mutual love is not exclusively about sharing what is happy, but also about taking on the pain of neighbors because Christ is with us in all suffering—“in dungeon, torture, and death.”[56] What Christ suffers on our behalf, we suffer on behalf of each other: “You must feel the pain of all dishonor done to Christ in his Holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. You must fight, work, pray, and—if you cannot do more—have heartfelt sympathy.”[57] There is even more to Christian love, however.

[33] Christ loves and values this communion of saints and wants us to “properly exercise our fellowship with one another.”[58] Being justified by grace through faith does not mean that sin is no longer alive in us or that it no longer tempts us. Christians are called to exercise ourselves to avoid hurting others. In peace and all controversies, Luther exhorts, “Love is captain.”[59] It steers all we do.

[34] Being one loaf and one cup with all God’s saints means Christians are active in love. God desires “doers” of love, not simply “repeaters of words.”[60] Luther elsewhere writes, “[Christians] make no distinction, but help everyone with body and life, goods and honor, as much as they can. . . .  Thus this sacrament is a taskmaster by which we order our lives and learn so long as we live.”[61] While God creates Christian unity through Holy Communion and transforms us by producing the fruit of love in Christian community, living as Christians takes practice. In other words, being God’s glowing furnace of love for others takes intention.


Vocation of love:

Sexual harassment is a failure of the community’s vocation to love one another as equals, because it prioritizes the desires of the perpetrator.

[35] Individuals who sexually harass pastors and deacons in worshipping communities fail to love them as God loves us. Each story shared here demonstrates this judgment. These stories are examples of the ways that people misuse their power over others and fail to treat others as equal members of the body of Christ. They ignored the needs of others.

[36] Worshipping communities also fail to love neighbors as God loves. Recall that Pastor Martinez experienced sexual harassment from multiple people in the congregation and that the lead pastor dismissed her distress. Not taking someone’s experience of sexual harassment seriously and not understanding it as a problem for the whole communion of saints is a failure to love. Luther links Christian failure to love with the problem of exclusively personal piety in Communion:

You are willing to take all of God’s goods in the sacrament, but you are not willing to pour them out again in love. Nobody extends a helping hand to another, nobody seriously considers the other person, but everyone looks out for themselves and their own gain, insists on their own way, and lets everything else go hang.[62]

Luther is describing the opposite of Christian love.

[37] Luther emphasized the Christian vocation of love in the communion of saints in the Lord’s Supper. It is much more than personal piety. Christians who mistreat others or look down on them he called “slanderers” because “they do not care for others as they themselves desire to be cared for by Christ.”[63] In other words, slanderers lose the significance of Communion because they think it is all about their own personal devotion or piety. Wanting the benefit of Communion only for oneself is a true loss of the community of love.

[38] Sexual harassment fits right into Luther’s description of a loss of the vocation of love in Christian community. He describes individuals who try to stand outside of God’s transformation of community:

But they are unwilling in their turn to belong to this fellowship. They do not want to help the poor, to put up with sinners, to care for the sorrowing, to suffer with the suffering, to intercede for others, to defend the truth or, risking life, property, and honor, to seek the betterment of the church and of all Christians.[64]

Similarly, perpetrators of sexual harassment are not caring, defending the truth, or seeking the betterment of others.

[39] Further, Luther’s indictment against the improper use of Communion can apply to perpetrators of sexual harassment. Luther criticized such people by saying “they think they have done their whole duty [by performing Communion]. But Christ has given his holy body for this purpose that the thing signified by the sacrament—the fellowship, the transformation wrought by love—may be put into practice.”[65] Slanderers, he thought, not only obscure the good news that Christians become one body and one loaf in Communion. They fall into thinking that Communion is largely about performing the Lord’s Supper for their personal experience of forgiveness. They miss its significance.

[40] Remember, we take on “all the sufferings and sins” of all the saints and all “infirmities and needs of others, as if they were [our]own.”[66] Everyone might not personally experience sexual harassment, yet communities can still take on what someone else experiences. Christian communities are called to take seriously, to carry, and to respond to what others suffer, including sexual harassment.


[41] Luther’s writings on Holy Communion allow worshipping communities to recognize sexual harassment for the theological crisis it is. As I have outlined, Communion from a Lutheran perspective demonstrates God’s love for embodied whole persons and communities. Through Communion, we acknowledge that God empowers the communion of saints in equity and mutuality and that God creates unity, which is different from agreement or sameness. And finally, we recognize that the Lord’s Supper empowers Christians in the vocation to love.

[42]  As I said above, Luther refers to the discipline of love. Loving neighbors often takes intention and practice; it takes working together and individually. In working to end sexual harassment, Luther’s writings on Communion clarify at least the four values I have laid out here. First, because God loves us as embodied whole persons, we work to support and protect each person. No one should be objectified, hurt, or put into physical or emotional danger. Second, because God empowers everyone equally through Communion, worshipping communities and individuals use power that belongs to the whole community because of God to respond to harm and to prevent harm by supporting equity and mutuality. Worshipping communities do not let individuals or groups sexually harass someone or allow the conditions for it to happen. Third, because the communion of saints becomes one loaf and one cup through Communion, we act as if the injury to one among us should be corrected and healed. We become Christ’s love to each other. We do not allow perpetrators to act like they want. Lastly, because Communion creates and empowers the vocation to love, Christians feel others’ suffering and respond with God’s glowing furnace of love. Love calls perpetrators and communities to account.

[43]  Worshipping communities can live out these values that flow from Luther’s writings on Communion because God has promised to be with us. While some communities will want to discern what to say and do on their own, here are four specific suggestions to be God’s love in response to sexual harassment within worshipping communities. 1) Incorporate study, discussion, and discernment on Holy Communion, both by itself and in relation to sexual harassment, into faith formation and education. 2) Together evaluate liturgical practices of the Lord’s Supper. For example, do people receive Communion one-by-one or as a group? Think about what effect physical practices have on people. What accommodations are there for people who cannot walk or kneel well? How are your community’s accommodations expressing love? 3) Consult with experts and create policies and processes to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Help everyone to know about them and make them part of meetings and gatherings. Act on the policies and processes together. 4) Advocate with your congregational ministry team, your synod, and others in your community for education and policies on sexual harassment. There is no one solution to ending sexual harassment within ELCA worshipping communities, yet God has promised to be with us and to transform us by the power of Holy Communion to be Christ’s love for each other. Ending sexual harassment in worshipping communities is one way to be Christ’s love, for as Christians, we avail ourselves to the discipline of God’s love for the sake of each other.



[1] This article springs from a research presentation and conversations held at the 14th International Congress for Luther Research in 2022. My thanks to the participants of the “Luther and Religion” seminar, as well as to Dr. Mary E. Lowe for her editorial support.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism,” The Annotated Luther (TAL) 2:404.

[3] For Lutherans, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the two sacraments, means of God’s grace with the Word.

[4] Luther is a conversation partner because his struggles to reform Christianity clarify central values of faith, not because he has the right answer on every issue for every era or because he is always full of truth.

[5] “50th Anniversary of the Church’s Decision to Ordain Women” (Chicago: ELCA, 2022),  50th_Anniversary_Ordination_of_Women_Survey_Report.pdf (, Accessed June 29, 2023. While surveys indicate ELCA pastors and deacons experience sexual harassment in all places and stages of ministry, this article focuses on worshipping communities because it is within them that we celebrate and Word and sacrament.

[6] “Women” refers to anyone who identifies as a woman. See Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2019), 26-27. Faith_Sexism_Justice_Social_Statement_Adopted.pdf (, Accessed June 29, 2023.

[7] The survey for this report did not elicit more than a few responses from persons in ministry who identify as queer or non-binary. However, a Harvard study indicates over half of persons who identify as LGBT experience sexual harassment. See “Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of LGBT Americans,” T.H. Chan (Boston: Harvard University, 2017), 8 and 29, Microsoft Word – LGBTQ report draft 5 – current.docx (, Accessed June 15, 2023. Reconciling Works and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hold qualitative data that ELCA rostered ministers who identify as LGBTQIA+ are sexually harassed in ministry. Future research requires increased institutional relationships of safety to have a quantifiable statistic.

[8] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Sexual Harassment | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (, Accessed May 21, 2022.

[9] Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute, Sexual harassment | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (, Accessed May 21, 2022.

[10] Although this may seem inconsistent with federal rulings that protect workers from workplace harassment, this divided legal reality across the states is called the ministerial exception, which is rooted in the basic idea that the government cannot say who ministers will be. For instance, religious bodies can decide to ordain only people who are men, and no one can sue the religious body for discrimination. Sexual harassment falls within the contested zone of the separation of church and state. Tom Cunniff, personal emails, August 22-23, 2022.

[11] This article is not about ministers who abuse their power by hurting others, including by sexually harassing them. Much ELCA policy, education, and communal discourse is all about this problem, which is real and terrible.

[12] The persons whose stories I tell have given permission to share them and chose to use pseudonyms.

[13] Conversation with former Bishop James Arends and personal email with Pastor Schmidt, April 29, 2022.

[14] Luther, “Eight Sermons,” (1522), 6th Sermon, Luther’s Works (LW) 51:93.

[15] See e.g., “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” (1520), TAL 3:49.

[16] See Dirk G. Lange in TAL 1:229.

[17] See “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” TAL 1:230. The physical for Luther is the sign, the first part of the sacrament.

[18] This is the significance of Holy Communion, which Luther describes as the second part of the sacrament. See Ibid.

[19] “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:229.

[20] “Augsburg Confession,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Theodore G. Tappert, Latin text (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 35.

[21] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:233.

[22] See Luther, “The Bless Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:233. Luther’s German uses the word “embodiment,” while the English translation is “incorporation.” See 233, note t. For my purposes, I have reverted to the literal meaning of Luther’s German word.

[23] See “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:235, 240-243. Quotation from 241.

[24] See, e.g., “Against Heavenly,” (1525), TAL 2:104, in which Luther argues that God works from the external (the Word of preaching and the sacraments) to the internal—“inwardly.”

[25] This example is a compilation of experiences people have shared verbally and in writing with me.

[26] “That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” (1527), TAL 3:205.

[27] “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:205.

[28] “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:206.

[29] “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:211. Theologians often refer to this description of God’s power as ubiquitous.

[30] For an analysis and critique of Luther’s understanding of power, see Mary Elise Lowe, “Queering Kenosis: Luther and Foucault on Power and Identity,” in The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition, ed. Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 163-170.

[31] See, e.g., Dirk G. Lange, Introduction to “The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism,” (1519), TAL 1:204. When Luther argued against Karlstadt, he made clear whose table it was. Thinking that Communion is simply a remembrance puts the power with humans, not with God.

[32] “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:341.

[33] “That These Words of Christ,” (1527), TAL 3:183.

[34] “Babylonian Captivity,” (1520), TAL 3:35.

[35] See, e.g., “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:341.

[36] “The Blessed Sacrament . . . and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:251.

[37] Wendy L. Patrick, “Target at the Top: Why Powerful Women Are Sexually Harassed,” Psychology Today, May

16, 2020,, Accessed May 25, 2023.

[38] “The Blessed Sacrament . . . and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:253.

[39] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:233, 240.

[40] “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:343.

[41] “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:353.

[42] Luther uses the German word eyngeleybt to talk about the Communion of Saints. See n. 21 above.

[43] This exchange of Christ taking on all we are and we take on all that Christ is—life, forgiveness, joy—is often referred to as “the Happy Exchange.” It is one way to understand how God through Christ redeems people.

[44] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:234.

[45] See, e.g., Lange, TAL 1:227. Luther writes that “love is ignited through love and unites.” TAL 1:234.

[46] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:240.

[47] Faith makes certain that Christ’s body and blood become ours. See TAL 1:242-243.

[48] “Pastor Martinez” is a pseudonym for stories three new pastors tell.

[49] “Women’s Things,” Bonnie Pene, in “Our Voices, Our Stories,” ed. Mary J. Streufert (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011), 29-30.

[50] “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:352.

[51] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:95.

[52] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:240.

[53] This explanation of redemption is often referred to as the Happy Exchange and was important for Luther.

[54] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:95.

[55] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:95.

[56] “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:343.

[57] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:236.

[58] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:245.

[59] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:84.

[60] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:71.

[61] “Against the Fanatics,” (1526), LW 36:353. This passage is modified to refer to Christians in the plural, as opposed to a single Christian with a masculine pronoun.

[62] “Eight Sermons,” (1522), LW 51:96.

[63] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:244.

[64] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:239-240.

[65] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:244.

[66] “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” (1519), TAL 1:234, 240.

Mary Streufert

Streufert holds a doctorate in philosophy of religion and theology from Claremont Graduate University and serves as director for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her publications include feminist systematic theology; sex, gender, and sexuality theories; Luther scholarship—and most recently, Language for God: A Lutheran Perspective (Fortress Press, 2022).