Draft of a Social Statement on Women and Justice
Our Common Foundation
We believe God is the creator of all. We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are, therefore, one with humankind made in the image of God, and one with the whole creation.
We believe God is the Word embodied in Jesus Christ who unites us through baptism with all Christians in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. As Lutherans, we are united in our confession that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and liberated to serve God’s whole creation, seeking peace and justice.
We believe that God the Holy Spirit is always at work, transforming and inspiring new ways of living in this world toward God’s promised, beloved, eternal community.
Grounded in this understanding of the Triune God, we believe God’s intention for humanity is abundant life for all. This calls us to equity and justice for all with respect to issues of gender and sex. We confess that the world is broken
by sin. Relying on God’s promise in the Gospel, we are bold to declare that patriarchy and sexism are both sinful and found within our own faith tradition and our society.
We believe that we are called by the Holy Spirit to raise a faithful prophetic voice that distinguishes the central witness of the Scriptures from the misuses of the Scriptures found within the Christian tradition. We will resist patriarchy and sexism within church and society by relying on God’s gifts of knowledge, reason, and scientific inquiry as we work together with all people of good will.
*Note: Underlined words indicate a glossary reference.
31 Grounded in this unity of faith, in this statement we commit ourselves to
32 the continual work of prayer, learning, reflection, discernment, and action to
33 resist patriarchy and sexism as we live together in community into the promised
34 abundant life God intends for all.
36 I. Core Convictions 37
38 1) We believe God’s intention revealed through the Scriptures is that all people
39 flourish and have life abundantly.
41 2) We believe all people are created equally in the image of God. Every individual
42 is dependent upon God and all share in the God-given vocation to joyfully
43 contribute their gifts to help all of creation flourish. As members of this society,
44 we also affirm that all people are created equal and are endowed with certain
45 inalienable rights.
47 3) We affirm that God’s creation is wonderful in its variety. We believe God
48 creates humanity in diversity, encompassing a wide variety of experiences,
49 identities, and expressions, including sex and gender.
51 4) While we affirm that God’s intention is equity and fullness of life for
52 everyone, we confess that the sins of patriarchy and sexism, like all human
53 sin, disrupt God’s intention. We recognize that the struggle to achieve sex
54 and gender equity is shaped and complicated by factors of race and ethnicity,
55 nationality and immigration status, sexuality, gender identity, economic means,
56 age, abilities, and education.
58 5) We confess that, as God’s people, forgiven in Jesus Christ, we are at the same
59 time liberated and sinful. We are broken, and yet we are made new by grace
60 through faith. This good news is true even as we participate in cultures and
61 societies that are broadly patriarchal and sexist.
62 6) We confess that we are justified by God’s grace through faith. This promise
63 frees us from trying to earn God’s love or justify ourselves, so that we can
64 do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God and our neighbors. A
65 commitment to neighbor justice is key to our understanding of the ministry of
66 Jesus Christ and to our reading of the Scriptures. God’s act of redeeming love
67 evokes love in us for others who need justice in all areas of their lives. This call
68 to justice specifically means that we seek equity and justice for women and girls
69 and others who experience oppression due to sexism and patriarchy.
71 7) We believe that, redeemed and made new, the Church is called to live as the
72 Body of Christ in the world even while we struggle with the realities of patriarchy
73 and sexism. As Lutherans, we recognize that acting justly within the home, the
74 church, society, and civic life for the good of all is one of the vocations to which
75 God calls all people.
77 II. Analysis of Patriarchy and Sexism 78
79 8) We recognize patriarchy and sexism are “a mix of power, privilege, and
80 prejudice.”1 They prevent all human beings from living into the abundant life
81 for which God created them. Patriarchy is a social system dominated by men,
82 identified with men, and centered on men’s actions, voices, and authority. In
83 patriarchal systems, men are typically viewed as better than women, given more
84 power than women, and have more authority than women. This patriarchal
85 worldview harms women and girls. Sexism is the reinforcement of male privilege.
86 It promotes silencing, controlling, and devaluing women, girls, and gender non-
87 conforming people. Everyone intentionally and unintentionally participates in a
88 patriarchal system, and it affects individuals in different ways.
90 9) We recognize that when society and church have spoken about women and
91 girls, the hidden assumption often has been that they are white and heterosexual.
1 Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture (Chicago: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], 1993), 4.
92 However, this statement’s references to women and girls are inclusive of all
93 women—women of color and white women, lesbians, transgender women, women
94 with disabilities, and immigrant women.
96 10) We believe that many individuals who suffer under the weight of patriarchy
97 and sexism also experience intersecting burdens. In addition to sex or gender
98 discrimination, they may also be treated in oppressive ways according to
99 their race, ethnicity, economic status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity,
100 immigration status, or ability, or because of the language they speak.
102 11) We reject patriarchy and sexism as sinful because they deny the truth that
103 all people are created equally in God’s image. Too often behaviors and decisions
104 rooted in patriarchy and sexism cause overt harm, inequities, and degradations.
105 Examples include gender-based violence (including physical and emotional violence
106 and coercion), pay inequality, human trafficking, restricted access to health care
107 and economic resources, inadequate research on health issues affecting women,
108 denial of educational opportunities, objectifying portrayals of women in media, and
109 failure to value and support elderly women, mothers, and children.2
111 12) We recognize that the problems experienced by women and girls are vast.
112 However, patriarchal structures that reinforce and perpetuate rigid sex and
113 gender expectations also harm men and boys, including gay and transgender
114 men. Men and boys are harmed when they are forced to conform to narrow
115 gender stereotypes, such as those that tell men and boys not to have traits or
116 roles that are like those associated with women and girls. People of all genders
117 who do not conform to gender-based roles and stereotypes can be made invisible
118 and oppressed.
120 13) We celebrate that humans are relational beings and that we live in social
121 systems. The dynamics and powers in these systems are greater than any one
2 See ELCA social teaching documents that address many of these topics: ELCA.org/socialstatements and ELCA.org/socialmessages.
122 individual, government, culture, or religious community, even though personal
123 responsibility is involved. Most instances of patriarchal harm flow from and into
124 commonly held beliefs and customs and can be found in specific laws, policies,
125 and practices within secular and church institutions. Our church’s commitment to
126 neighbor justice compels us to expose how patriarchy and sexism are woven into
127 all aspects of individual, social, and religious life, causing harm to all of humanity.
129 III. Resources for Resisting Patriarchy and Sexism 130
131 14) The Scriptures show us a rich texture of justice that is central to God’s
132 intention for human flourishing.3 This church has identified sufficiency,
133 sustainability, solidarity, and participation as the key principles of justice.4 Social
134 structures and institutions, including the ELCA as a human institution, must be
135 assessed and guided by these principles.
137 15) In faith, this church is empowered to confess that Christianity, in certain
138 beliefs, practices, and aspects of its history, is complicit in the sins of patriarchy
139 and sexism. At the same time, we believe God provides resources within the
140 Christian faith and the Lutheran tradition and is at work in human community
141 to bring forth new ways of living that challenge the harmful beliefs and effects of
142 patriarchy and sexism.
144 16) While God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaks through the Scriptures, there
145 are words and images, social patterns, and moral beliefs in them that reflect the
146 patriarchal values of the cultures and societies in which they arose. Their continued
147 misuse contributes to maintaining hierarchies and patterns of inequity and harm.
3 See, e.g., Psalm 33:4-5; Proverbs 28:5; Luke 18:1-8; Galatians 6:1-10; I John 3:11-24.
4 See ELCA social statements Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice (Chicago: ELCA, 1993); Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All (Chicago: ELCA, 1999); and Genetics: Faith and Responsibility (Chicago: ELCA, 2011).
148 17) The Christian theological tradition also bears this dual character. In particular,
149 some doctrines affect our understanding about humanity and God more than
150 others. These teachings affect our use of language. The teachings about the
151 image of God, the Body of Christ, and the Trinity have sometimes been misused
152 to support patriarchal beliefs, attitudes, church practices, behaviors, and
153 structures. At the same time, these doctrines also provide liberating resources
154 for healing the effects of the sins of patriarchy and sexism.
156 18) The central Lutheran belief that we are justified by grace through faith
157 empowers this church to challenge the structures of patriarchy and sexism that
158 ascribe value based on human standards.
160 19) We recognize that significant progress has been made in society against
161 patriarchy and sexism; however, evidence demonstrates that more attention
162 is needed. Cultural and religious beliefs, practices, policies, and laws continue
163 to promote inequality and inequity and continue to degrade, lessen, and harm
164 people. We believe that Christians, together with many other partners, are able to
165 understand and advance equity. This happens through beliefs and ideas that are
166 gender-just and through laws and policies that support an equitable common good.
168 IV. Response to God’s Work:
169 Call to Action and New Commitments in Society
171 20) This church teaches that the God who justifies expects all people to seek
172 justice in earthly structures and systems. Human reason and knowledge are
173 necessary here, and this church does not presume to have quick or easy
174 solutions for the deeply rooted and complex problems of patriarchy and sexism
175 that have permeated these structures. Our commitments, however, express this
176 church’s firm hope that social relations can be ordered in better ways so that all
177 people may experience greater equity and justice.
178 The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commits to: 179
180 21) Seek, support, and advocate that diverse, gendered bodies be respected,
181 rather than objectified, abused, denigrated, or marginalized. First steps toward
182 this goal are laws that do not deprive anyone of their human and civil rights.
184 22) Seek, support, and advocate for the eradication of gender-based violence,
185 including rape and sexual assault, by acknowledging both personal responsibility
186 and the systemic aspects of such violence. (See the ELCA’s social messages
187 “Gender-based Violence” and “Commercial Sexual Exploitation.”)
189 23) Seek, support, and advocate for portrayals of people in entertainment, media,
190 and advertising that do not objectify or stereotype but rather show all people as
191 capable of the wide variety of human characteristics and roles.
193 24) Seek, support, and advocate for medical research, health care delivery, and
194 access to health care services, including reproductive health care, that recognize
195 how bodies differ and that eliminate discrimination due to gender or sexuality.
196 (See ELCA social statement Health: Our Common Endeavor.)
198 25) Seek, support, and advocate for economic policies, regulations, and practices
199 that enhance equity and equality for women and girls, with special concern for
200 raising up women who experience intersecting forms of oppression. (See the
201 ELCA’s social statement Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.)
203 26) Seek, support, and advocate for services and legal reforms that attend
204 to the particular needs of women, girls, and boys who are physically and
205 economically vulnerable due to migration and immigration. (See the ELCA’s
206 social message “Immigration.”)
207 27) Seek, support, and advocate for multi-faceted understandings of social and
208 economic roles so that our human traits (such as courage or care) or callings
209 (such as business leader or stay-at-home parent) are not prescribed by gender
210 or sex. Encourage and empower all people to use their gifts for the sake of the
211 social good, whether in the home, at work, or in the public sphere.
213 28) Seek, support, and advocate for resources for families and communities that
214 empower parents, whether single or coupled, to nurture, protect, and provide
215 for their household in ways that do not reinforce gender-based stereotypes. In
216 particular, advocate for men to participate in all family roles associated with the
217 home, caregiving, parenting, and nurturing.
219 29) Seek, support, and advocate for an increase in women’s participation in
220 local, state, and national politics, with special attention to raising up women who
221 experience intersecting forms of oppression.
223 V. Response to God’s Work:
224 Call to Action and New Commitments Regarding the Church
226 30) This church recognizes that the Body of Christ is called to honor and support
227 women, girls, and people with diverse gender identities in ways more consistent
228 with life-giving theology and faith practices. Therefore, as a church, we commit
229 ourselves to celebrating and affirming the gifts and insights that women and girls
230 bring to congregations, institutions, and the church as a whole.
232 The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commits to: 233
234 31) Promote scriptural translation and interpretation that support gender justice,
235 acknowledge the patriarchal context in which the Scriptures were written, and reject
236 the misuse of Scripture to support sexist attitudes and patriarchal structures.
237 32) Promote theological reflection that is attentive to the gender-based needs of
238 the neighbor. Theologians need to be honest about how church teachings have
239 been misused to support patriarchy and sexism. All teachers of the faith should
240 express God’s desire that all persons may thrive.
242 33) Use inclusive language for humankind and inclusive and expansive language
243 for God. Encourage the use of language for God that expands rather than limits
244 our understanding of God’s goodness and mystery. In particular, we support
245 developing liturgies, hymns, prayers, and educational materials that broaden our
246 language beyond primarily male images. This practice follows the Scriptures’
247 witness that God is wholly other and transcends human categories of sex and
248 gender. Therefore, metaphors and images for God should be drawn from the lives
249 of women and men, from nature, and from humanity in all its diversity to speak
250 of the fullness and beauty of God.
252 34) Develop and support more extensive policies and practices within the ELCA
253 that promote the authority and leadership of all women within this church in all
254 its expressions.
256 35) Promote changes that are economically just, including equal pay, for women
257 in all ELCA institutions and organizations, with special attention to the situations
258 of people affected by intersecting forms of discrimination.
260 36) Seek and encourage faithful discernment and, where possible, joint action
261 with other members of the Body of Christ and inter-religious and secular
262 partners on issues of patriarchy and sexism. This includes the affirmation of the
263 Lutheran World Federation’s Gender Justice Policy and continued dialogue with
264 national and global ecumenical and inter-faith partners.
Hope for Justice
We of the ELCA share these convictions and commitments with thanks to the Triune God whose love intends an abundant life for every person. We recognize as God’s gifts the society and the church of which we are part, even while an analysis describes how patriarchy and sexism pervade our lives within them.
We give thanks for God’s gracious promises to break the bonds of sin and to empower our lives of hope to seek neighbor justice.
We rejoice that God is always at work to transform and inspire new ways
of living in human society, ways that lean more fully toward God’s intention. We are grateful that strides have been made in this society against patriarchy and sexism, and we hear the summons to seek even fuller measures of justice and equity for all. We do not presume to have quick, perfect or easy solutions as we work together with all people of good will. We simply recognize that we have both the freedom and the obligation for the neighbor to do much more, as guided by these commitments.
We know that the Church of Christ in every age is beset by change, but as Spirit led, is called to test and claim its heritage.5 We celebrate the Holy Spirit’s work in this church to urge ongoing reformation toward equity and equality for all. Most of all, we live in hope because through Jesus Christ we trust that God’s promises will not fail.
5 See “The Church of Christ in Every Age” by Fred Pratt Green in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), #729.
Fuller Explanation I. Core Convictions
1) We believe God’s intention revealed through the Scriptures is that all people flourish and have life abundantly.
“God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).
The Scriptures reveal God’s intention of abundant and sustainable life for creation, including for human beings. Creation stories tell of the goodness, flourishing, and majestic diversity that flow from God’s creative and sustaining power (e.g., Genesis 1 and 2, Psalms 8 and 104, and Job 38).
Israel’s exodus from Egypt shows God’s persistent action to free people who are shackled by slavery’s bondage of body, mind, and spirit. God’s gift of the Ten Commandments establishes a covenant that expresses how Israel’s new community can thrive.
The judges, like Deborah, and the prophets trumpet God’s demand for justice when communities are threatened or oppressed, and they proclaim hope when all seems lost. God lifts up individuals like Esther who risk everything so that community may thrive.
The Gospels underscore God’s desire for abundant life. Jesus Christ, the
Word made flesh, embodies and proclaims God’s desire. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). Through association with social outcasts (Mark 2:15), advocacy for the disadvantaged, marginalized and unjustly treated (Matthew 25:35-40), compassion for and healing of the sick (Matthew 14:14), and criticism of those who neglect justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23), Jesus Christ witnessed to and lived out God’s desire for the well-being of all in the here and now and not only in the promised, future life. The Scriptures teach that the Spirit of God is the source of life (Psalm 104:30) and pours out power for new, fruitful ways of being in the world (Joel 2:28). The Book of Revelation speaks of the healing of the nations and closes with
318 a vision of a new heaven and earth as the ultimate outcome of God’s intention.6
319 This church believes the Triune God intends creation to flourish and is ever at
320 work so that all people may thrive.
322 2) We believe all people are created equally in the image of God. Every
323 individual is dependent upon God, and all share in the God-given vocation
324 to joyfully contribute their gifts to help all of creation flourish. As members
325 of this society, we also affirm that all people are created equal and are
326 endowed with certain inalienable rights.
328 We believe humans are created equal by God, are equally dependent upon
329 God, and are equally loved by God. We believe humans are called to be co-creative
330 creatures with God, caring for the world and serving other humans and the entire
331 creation as God does. As the Scriptures witness, all of creation originates in God,
332 who sustains creation and will ultimately bring creation to its fullness.
333 In Genesis 1, God speaks creation into existence; by a word, humans are
334 created in the image of God. In Genesis 2, God makes humans by forming them
335 from the soil (humus). Humans did not live until God breathed into the first
336 human’s nostrils. We are dependent upon God, the very one who gave us breath.
337 In both creation stories, the first human is neither male nor female but simply
338 human. A translation of the Hebrew text helps to explain this:7
339 “then Yahweh God formed the earth creature [hā- ‘ā dām]
340 dust from the earth [hā- ‘ā dām]
341 and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life,
342 and the earth creature [hā- ‘ā dām] became a living being (nephesh)”
343 (Genesis 2:7).8
6 “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
7 In Genesis 1, God creates “humankind.” In Genesis 2, the original Hebrew states “then Yahweh God formed the earth creature [hā-‘ā dām].” See Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 78. English translations state that “Adam” is formed first and is referred to as a male.
8 Translation from Ibid. The interpretation offered here in general is common in current Lutheran theological teaching.
344 In Hebrew, Adam is not a proper name. This is not a text about a man being
345 created first.
346 We believe all people are created in the image of God (imago Dei). We
347 are made in the image of God, who calls us to use our creativity, freedom,
348 responsibility, and diversity for the fulfillment of creation. God uses wisdom,
349 understanding, and knowledge to create and nourish (Proverbs 3:19-29); humans
350 are to use these same means to serve all of creation. Like God’s action in
351 creation, human use of power is meant to be good for all (Genesis 1:4-25). This
352 careful reading of Genesis 1-3 reminds us that while we are created in the image
353 of God, we are not God. No human is.
354 Human dignity flows from the reality that all humans are made in the image
355 of God. We honor the image of God in others when we do everything in our
356 collective and personal power to meet others’ needs and to empower others
357 to flourish. God calls us to live in creative, life-giving relationships with all of
358 creation. In creation, no human is granted domination over another human.
359 Rather, all humankind is given the responsibility to care for creation (Genesis
360 1:26-31 and Genesis 2:15).9
361 Many Christians, in the past and still today, interpret the Genesis creation
362 stories to support the belief that females are secondary to males and more sinful
363 than males. One respected teacher of the faith (St. Augustine, 354-430) defined
364 women as malformed men. For centuries women were said to be so intellectually
365 and physically inferior that they should not serve as leaders in the faith. Our
366 reading of the biblical texts, however, shows that such patriarchal interpretations
367 of Genesis 1-3 are faulty. The differentiation of humankind into male and female,
368 expressed in Genesis 2, communicates the joy found in humans having true
369 partners, true peers: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”
370 (Genesis 2:23a). God creates community and family, not a hierarchy based on
371 race and ethnicity, ability, social or economic status, or sex (what our bodies look
372 like biologically) or gender (how people express themselves).
9 Care for creation includes the responsibility to address the effects of sin. See Kristen E. Kvam on Luther’s reading of Genesis in “God’s Heart Revealed in Eden: Luther on the Character of God and the Vocation of Humanity” in Transformative Lutheran Theologies, ed. Mary J. Streufert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 57-67.
373 As Lutherans, we also understand that God intends cultures and governments
374 to develop in ways that support cooperative sharing that enable all people to
375 flourish. Given our understanding of God’s desire for human flourishing, together
376 with other members of society, we assert that all people are created equal and
377 are endowed with certain inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
378 happiness. We also hold the belief that all people have the responsibility to
379 safeguard these rights for others, as well as for themselves. Insofar as these
380 assertions are necessary so that everyone may flourish, the ELCA joins others,
381 both religious and non-religious, to advance a universal vision of the full and
382 equitable participation of all people in an equitable society.10
384 3) We affirm that God’s creation is wonderful in its variety. We believe God
385 creates humanity in diversity, encompassing a wide variety of experiences,
386 identities, and expressions, including sex and gender.
388 The Scriptures reveal the diversity and interconnectedness of creation. God
389 creates a teeming universe, filled with plants and animals, the fish of the sea and
390 the birds of the air. Likewise, humans are remarkably diverse. Contemporary
391 science also finds diversity within creation and among humans. Human genes
392 are a given; you are born with what you are born with. However, genetic activity
393 is influenced by what we do, what we think, what we learn, and how we live.
394 Neurological research has shown that humans are not born with brains that are
395 either “girl” or “boy” brains. Instead, humans learn to act, think, and speak in
396 certain ways; people are not “hardwired” to be exclusive opposites based on sex.
397 Studies of human bodies also reveal diversity, showing that they do not neatly
398 fall into two categories of “opposite” differences. In short, people have genetic
399 and physical variety; individual humans are not automatically placed on one end
400 or the other of a physical or psychological spectrum.11
10 The ELCA acknowledges that sin has interfered with the expression of God’s will through human culture and governments and affirms the role of the church to criticize injustice in them. See The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective (Chicago: ELCA, 1991).
11 See Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 176-177; 235-239.
401 4) While we affirm that God’s intention is equity and fullness of life for
402 everyone, we confess that the sins of patriarchy and sexism, like all human
403 sin, disrupt God’s intention. We recognize that the struggle to achieve
404 sex and gender equity is shaped and complicated by factors of race and
405 ethnicity, nationality and immigration status, sexuality, gender identity,
406 economic means, age, abilities, and education.
408 We believe that God creates human beings not just in marvelous diversity but
409 also with the intention of equity, including gender equity. Equity is fairness or
410 justice in the way people are treated according to their needs. For example, an
411 elderly woman with few economic resources who lives with a chronic illness has
412 different needs than a young woman with wealth who is expecting her first child;
413 therefore, they require different laws, policies, and social support to flourish.
414 Within human history, as well as within the Christian tradition, humans have
415 often created hierarchies where one group has power over another because of
416 their differences. The church has often taught there are only two types of people,
417 male and female, dominant and subordinate. Strong and pervasive views remain
418 among Christian communities in this country and around the world that people
419 are naturally opposites with attributes characterized by sex and gender, for
420 example that females are inherently caring and that males are inherently logical.
421 Many Christians continue to teach this sex and gender complementarity; they
422 believe that a person’s identity, self-understanding, vocation, and social roles are
423 fixed at birth--willed by God.
424 These gendered views are further complicated by intersections with other
425 forms of systemic oppression, such as racism, classism, ableism, ageism,
426 heterosexism, and nationalism.
427 Stereotypes about human characteristics, such as skin color and ability, cause
428 harm because they shape our understandings of ourselves and others from a
429 very early age. These stereotypes and biases then shape how we act. Boys learn
430 not to cry in public, and girls learn that they must dress and act a certain way to
431 be accepted. These learned behaviors then reinforce existing stereotypes.
432 Expectations and stereotypes for men and boys usually socialize them to step
433 into roles with power, means, and visibility. They benefit from male privilege.
434 Expectations and stereotypes for women and girls often socialize them for roles
435 that give them less access to power, agency, and visibility. People who do not
436 comply with these or other stereotypes often become powerless and invisible.
437 Many live on the margins of society and even fear for their lives.
438 Sexist beliefs and patriarchal systems often portray bodies in ways that,
439 intended or not, objectify, regulate, devalue, marginalize, politicize, and dominate
440 some bodies more than others. The Christian Church as an institution,
441 including the Lutheran tradition, has been complicit in these sins. In particular,
442 this church confesses its long complicity in the acceptance of the so-called
443 “natural inferiority” of people who are not of European descent. For example,
444 this devaluing of people is evident in the ELCA’s own failure to encourage and
445 support people of color to pursue ordination. The first woman of color was only
446 ordained in a predecessor church of the ELCA in 1980, 10 years after the first
447 white woman. Society reflects this same sin. In the United States, many women
448 and girls were sterilized against their will because they were considered less
449 valuable than white or able-bodied women.12
450 Social roles and policies are essential for living together in society, but fixed
451 gender roles and the power attached to them are inequitable. Limiting certain
452 roles to people according to gender or other characteristics interferes with the
453 expression of their full humanity and thus limits social communities, as well.
454 The bodies of all people, in their diversity, are gifts of the Creator and are
455 held by God in equal value; indeed, all bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (I
456 Corinthians 6:19). Paul confirmed this when he described how our particularities
457 are, in Christ, no longer a source of division: “There is no longer Jew or Greek,
458 there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of
459 you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Humans are wondrously diverse in
460 character, experiences, joys, sorrows, passions, and vocations and God intends
12 Lisa Ko, “Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States,” Public Broadcasting System, January 29, 2016, pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in- the-united-states/ (accessed September 5, 2017).
461 equity in that diversity. Therefore, people of faith are called to support civil laws
462 and church policies that treat all people equitably.
464 5) We confess that, as God’s people, forgiven in Jesus Christ, we are
465 simultaneously liberated and yet we sin. We are broken, and yet we are
466 made new by grace through faith. This good news is true even as we
467 participate in cultures and societies that are broadly patriarchal and sexist.
469 The Lutheran Confessions explain sin fundamentally as the self-centered
470 failure to fear and trust God.13 As a result of this broken trust in God, human
471 relationships also become broken and distorted. Because God’s law was
472 given to guide human relationships, anything that breaks and distorts human
473 relationships is sinful and unjust.
474 Sexism and patriarchy are sinful because they foster attitudes and actions
475 that distort relationships, violate God’s law, and result in injustice. When we do
476 not ensure the physical and sexual safety of women, girls, and others oppressed
477 by patriarchy, whether in relationships, homes, churches, or anywhere in public,
478 then we sin. When we use derogatory names, we do psychological harm and
479 perpetuate injustice. When we participate in sinful systems of patriarchy and
480 sexism that harm our neighbor, knowingly or unknowingly, we sin.
481 Sin is not just individual acts. Sin is also found and expressed in organizations
482 and institutions. It is a sin that women are not paid an equal wage for the same
483 work or must pay more for health care. It is an injustice to women and girls to
484 demand physical perfection and to portray women and girls as sexual objects,
485 and it is a sin to profit from such expectations. Sexism and patriarchy in church
486 and society prevent women and girls from affirming, celebrating, and expressing
487 their individuality as God’s good creatures.
13 “Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article II” in Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 112.
488 6) We confess that we are justified by God’s grace through faith. This
489 promise frees us from trying to earn God’s love or justify ourselves,
490 so that we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our
491 neighbors. A commitment to neighbor justice is key to our understanding
492 of the ministry of Jesus Christ and to our reading of the Scriptures. God’s
493 act of redeeming love evokes love in us for others who need justice in
494 all areas of their lives. This call to justice specifically means that we
495 seek equity and justice for women and girls and others who experience
496 oppression due to sexism and patriarchy.
498 We believe that we do not have to do anything for God to be gracious to us. The
499 gift of salvation is a divine work, not a human work. God’s justification of us upends
500 both our own attempts to justify ourselves and our own injustice.14 “For we hold that
501 a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28).
502 Although we have been called into the freedom of the Gospel, we remain
503 sinners. We are freed in Christ to love and serve others, but our efforts to live
504 out the righteousness we have received are always imperfect. Nevertheless, we
505 continue to respond to the divine call to love God, self, and neighbor and to the
506 struggle for justice.
507 Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s mercy covers God’s people and
508 serves to renew our weary souls. (See Psalm 103.) God calls us to grant mercies
509 to others: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness
510 and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9). And God’s faithful people hope to
511 be judged by God’s merciful justice. (See Psalm 119.)
512 The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-33) teaches us that our
513 neighbors are not just those who are like us. The call to love the neighbor
514 extends to everyone, even those we might think of as enemies, as Jews in Jesus’
515 time regarded Samaritans. Commenting on this parable, Martin Luther defined
516 the neighbor this way: “Now our neighbor is any human being, especially one
14 See e.g., Ted Peters, God – The World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 433.
517 who needs our help.”15
518 The parable of the good Samaritan also teaches us that love of neighbor
519 requires concrete action on the neighbor’s behalf. Depending on the neighbor’s
520 needs, this may require not only direct service in response to an immediate
521 situation, but also working more broadly for justice.
522 When we read the Scriptures through the lens of neighbor justice, we are
523 empowered to hear and respond to cries for justice, no matter for whom or
524 from where. A neighbor-justice reading of both the biblical text and of our
525 contemporary context compels us to ask: Who is the neighbor? And what does
526 justice look like for the neighbor? Because we are called to love our neighbor
527 as ourselves, we can also ask, who can help me find justice in my life, work,
528 family, and community? A neighbor-justice approach also helps us ask questions
529 about justice not only for individuals, but also for congregations, institutions,
530 governments, and societies.
531 God’s faithfulness, love, and justice are evident when we read the Bible with
532 a neighbor-justice approach. A neighbor-justice reading helps us challenge
533 and uproot sexism and patriarchy. Striving for justice for the neighbor and for
534 ourselves encourages Christians to live, worship, and work in ways that empower
535 all people to live lives of dignity, responsibility, equity, and justice. God in Christ,
536 through the power of the Holy Spirit, frees the Church.
538 7) We believe that, redeemed and made new, the Church is called to live as
539 the Body of Christ in the world even while we struggle with the realities of
540 patriarchy and sexism. As Lutherans, we recognize that acting justly within
541 the home, the church, society, and civic life for the good of all is one of the
542 vocations to which God calls all people.
544 As Christians, we confess that Jesus Christ is the true image of God. Through
545 our baptism, all Christians are unified in Christ and equal members of the
546 Body of Christ. The apostle Paul compared the early Christian community to
15 Martin Luther, “Letters to Galatians, 1535,” Luther’s Works (LW) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955-1986), 27:58.
547 the human body. He wrote that Christians are united in the Body of Christ, that
548 this body has many diverse parts, and that the members of the body need one
549 another. (See Romans 12:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-18.)
550 In the face of ever-present sexism and patriarchy in the church and the
551 world, we look to God’s Word to affirm the goodness of our own bodies, minds,
552 and spirits and those of our neighbors. The Gospels testify to the full, embodied
553 humanity of Jesus, who was born, walked, ate, slept, and wept. Indeed, the
554 Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and the New Testament letters teach that human
555 bodies are a good gift of God.
556 Because we are equal members of the Body of Christ, we should not objectify
557 others, diminish their worth, or define them by sex or gender stereotypes. As
558 this church seeks to value the bodies of all people and recognize that we depend
559 upon one another, we will not dominate or politicize other people but respect
560 them, promote their health and well-being, and suffer and rejoice together as we
561 strive for justice for all bodies.
562 As Lutheran Christians, our work to stop the harm that sexism and
563 patriarchy cause to bodies also springs from our understanding of Baptism and
564 Holy Communion. Our heritage teaches that when the water, bread, and wine are
565 combined with God’s word, God is really present: “Baptism is not simply plain
566 water. Instead it is water enclosed in God’s command and connected with God’s
567 Word.”16 When we feel the baptismal water and when we taste the bread and
568 drink the wine, God is present in our diverse individual bodies and in the unity
569 of the Church that is the Body of Christ. Luther taught that the Lord’s Supper
570 unites us together into one body: “[S]o that by this sacrament ... and through this
571 mutual love there is one bread, one drink, one body, one community.”17
572 We must continue the task of embracing our unity and diversity so we
573 welcome and uplift people of every sex and gender—indeed, every body—in our
574 work together as the Body of Christ in the world. God’s love feeds the Body of
575 Christ so that it might live in love.
16 “Small Catechism” in Book of Concord, 359.
17 Martin Luther, “A Treatise Concerning the Blessed Sacrament and Concerning the Brotherhoods,” cited in
A Compendium of Luther’s Theology, ed. Hugh Kerr (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1943), 176.
II. Analysis of Patriarchy and Sexism
8) We recognize patriarchy and sexism are “a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice;”18 they prevent all human beings from living into the abundant life for which God created them. Patriarchy is a social system dominated by men, identified with men, and centered on men’s actions, voices, and authority.
In patriarchal systems, men are typically viewed as better than women,
given more power than women, and have more authority than women. This patriarchal worldview harms women and girls. Sexism is the reinforcement of male privilege. It promotes silencing, controlling, and devaluing women, girls, and gender non-conforming people. Everyone intentionally and unintentionally participates in a patriarchal system, and it affects individuals in different ways.
Looking clearly at women’s and girls’ experiences leads to an analysis of patriarchy and sexism because we believe we need to get to the roots of the problems. An honest assessment of patriarchy can be hard to hear, and it can feel as if people are too easily assigning blame to individuals for what is a complex social reality. Patriarchy does not mean that males are bad and females are good, or that only males support this unfair system. Harm and injustice do not result simply from some individual choices or as the result of a few biased policies and laws. Although the acts of a single individual or group can harm others, injustice is often the result of policies, laws, attitudes, customs, habits, religious beliefs and practices, words, and images that inform and sanction individual and group actions.
As a society, we have fostered patriarchal values that have permeated
and impaired our social organization, the distribution of goods and services,
the application of justice, and the division of labor. The sin of sexism affects understandings of gender, employment, economics, immigration policies, and gender- based violence. It results in human trafficking, the politicization of the female body and health care, including reproductive health care.
18 See the definition of racism in Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture (Chicago: ELCA, 1993), 4.
606 Everyone participates in a patriarchal social system in some measure,
607 sometimes in obvious and intentional ways and sometimes in subtle and
608 unconscious ways. In the language of faith, we have all “fallen short of the glory
609 of God.” Only by naming sin are we boldly able to confess it and, through the
610 grace and strength of God, seek understanding and take wise action.
612 9) We recognize that when society and church have spoken about women
613 and girls, the hidden assumption often has been that they are white and
614 heterosexual. However, this statement’s references to women and girls
615 are inclusive of all women—women of color and white women, lesbians,
616 transgender women, women with disabilities, and immigrant women.
618 The word “women” has generally been used to refer to white women. The
619 life stories, challenges, hopes and gifts of women of color, lesbian women,
620 transgender women, women with disabilities, and immigrant women have
621 been ignored—and sometimes maligned—by government agencies, political
622 organizations, Christian communities, and even by women’s groups.
623 This statement acknowledges both the usefulness and the complexity of the
624 phrase “women and girls.” On one hand, the term “women” can be useful. It
625 names the way that social, cultural, economic, and political groups use the term
626 “women” to describe women’s experiences that differ from the experiences of
627 many men. For example, almost two-thirds of women are considered low-wage
628 earners. Using the category “women” helps name the reality that they are paid
629 less for their work, and it empowers women to demand economic justice.
630 On the other hand, “women and girls” should not be used in ways that
631 ignore the particular experiences and gifts of women of color, lesbian women,
632 transgender women, women with disabilities, elderly women, and immigrant
633 women. For example, the fact that women of different races and ethnicities are
634 often paid differently must not be lost when we refer to women being paid less
635 than men. In this statement, the term “women” is used to help women and girls
636 obtain justice, and it is not assumed that all women have the same experiences,
637 life stories, challenges, hopes and gifts.
638 10) We believe that many individuals who suffer under the weight of
639 patriarchy and sexism also experience intersecting burdens. In addition to
640 sex or gender discrimination, they may also be treated in oppressive ways
641 according to their race, ethnicity, economic status, age, sexual orientation,
642 gender identity, immigration status, or ability, or because of the language
643 they speak.
645 We recognize that each person is uniquely created in God’s image and that
646 every person’s identity is made up of different elements. One individual might be
647 a mother, middle class, an employee, a Christian, able-bodied, a college-graduate,
648 heterosexual, Spanish-speaking, and Latina. Some identities are seen or treated
649 in the dominant culture as ideal (white, able-bodied, and heterosexual). Other
650 identities often carry burdens (person of color, elderly, or lesbian).
651 This statement uses the term intersectionality19 to name the way certain
652 elements of a person’s identity combine and overlap, often causing greater
653 discrimination and burden. The concept of intersectionality helps express the
654 multiple discriminations many women face daily because of the combination of
655 identities they carry.
656 For example, many women face sexism in the workplace, but a woman of
657 color’s experience in the workplace is compounded by racism. If she is also
658 transgender, data show staggering levels of discrimination and violence.20 Such
659 experiences of multiple oppressions are widespread for many women. In one
660 individual, multiple negative experiences can intersect, even if in varied ways.
661 It is important to note that patriarchy and sexism affect women and men
662 within marginalized communities differently. Men within a similar community
663 benefit from male privilege and often fare better than women in the same
664 community. Intersectionality affects people differently.
19 Crenshaw, Kimberlé, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” The University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139-167.
20 See Sandy E. James, Jody L. Herman, Susan Rankin, Mara Keisling, Lisa Mottet, and Ma’ayan Anafi, The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Transgender Equality, 2016).
665 11) We reject patriarchy and sexism as sinful because they deny the truth
666 that all people are created equally in God’s image. Too often behaviors and
667 decisions rooted in patriarchy and sexism cause overt harm, inequities, and
668 degradations. Examples include gender-based violence (including physical
669 and emotional violence and coercion), pay inequality, human trafficking,
670 restricted access to health care and economic resources, inadequate
671 research on health issues affecting women, denial of educational
672 opportunities, objectifying portrayals of women in media, and failure to
673 value and support elderly women, mothers, and children.21
675 The effects of patriarchy and sexism diminish, damage, and often destroy
676 people. Some obvious examples are gender-based violence, economic inequality,
677 and inequitable access to leadership, health care, and education.
678 As a society, we often blame women for what happens to them because
679 of gender-based oppression, and we often excuse their oppressors. A prime
680 example lies in sexual violence and this society’s culture of rape. Rape culture is
681 evident in our society in the media we consume, the games we play, the male role
682 models we idolize, the jokes we tell, our perceptions of sexuality, the prominence
683 of dehumanizing stereotypes, and the hyper-masculinity we tolerate among men
684 and boys. It is further evident in low conviction and penalty rates in rape cases
685 and the high number of untested rape kits across this country.
686 Dominant social and religious beliefs, ideas, and attitudes reinforce a
687 patriarchal reality and are themselves reinforced through laws, policies, and
688 rules. Male-oriented language in religion and in society more broadly promotes
689 bias against females and protects male privilege. As a result, people not
690 only suffer the direct effects of patriarchy and sexism but may suffer from
691 internalized self-hatred fostered by patriarchal and sexist views, particularly in
692 the entertainment industry, the beauty industry, and the media.
21 Various ELCA social teaching documents address many of these topics: ELCA.org/socialstatements and ELCA.org/socialmessages.
693 12) We recognize that the problems experienced by women and girls are
694 vast. However, patriarchal structures that reinforce and perpetuate rigid
695 sex and gender expectations also harm men and boys, including gay and
696 transgender men. Men and boys are harmed when they are forced to
697 conform to narrow gender stereotypes, such as those that tell men and
698 boys not to have traits or roles that are like those associated with women
699 and girls. People of all genders who do not conform to gender-based roles
700 and stereotypes can be made invisible and oppressed.
702 Men and boys suffer when swept up in this tide of dehumanization that
703 sexism and patriarchy foster. They live in the falsehood of superiority when
704 they participate, and they are often punished when they try to resist. If they
705 do not match the ideal model of masculinity, they can be targets of hatred,
706 harassment, bullying, and violence. Cut off from emotions, activities, and
707 careers stereotyped as “feminine,” men and boys are also unable to experience
708 the fullness of life that is a gift from God.
710 13) We celebrate that humans are relational beings and that we live in
711 social systems. The dynamics and powers in these systems are greater
712 than any one individual, government, culture, or religious community,
713 even though personal responsibility is involved. Most instances of
714 patriarchal harm flow from and into commonly held beliefs and customs
715 and can be found in specific laws, policies, and practices within secular
716 and church institutions. Our church’s commitment to neighbor justice
717 compels us to expose how patriarchy and sexism are woven into all
718 aspects of individual, social, and religious life, causing harm to all
719 of humanity.
721 Social systems are necessary because we are relational beings. When
722 social systems are detrimental to well-being, the Scriptures refer to them as
723 evil “powers.” (See Ephesians 6:12 and Romans 8:38.) These powers are forces
724 greater than any one individual, community, government, or culture, and they
725 distort human flourishing. In our liturgy, we name this systemic reality in the
726 confession: “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
727 Every instance of harm, violation,
728 coercion, or cruelty, by groups
729 or individuals, is supported by
730 commonly held beliefs and customs
731 and plays out according to laws,
732 policies, and practices.
733 Scriptural references to sin
734 illuminate how the power of a
735 patriarchal social system can be largely
736 invisible. It is so invisible that everyone
737 contributes in some measure. We may
738 even hold attitudes and beliefs, and
739 we may support laws, policies, and
740 practices that harm ourselves. This is
741 how powerful sin is.
742 This church recognizes the systemic
743 character of patriarchy as linking social
744 ideas and attitudes, religious beliefs,
745 laws, policies, and practices that lead to the injustice individuals and groups of
746 people experience. (The connections are depicted in the adjacent graphic and
747 explained in greater detail in the sidebar.)
748 The underlying theme is that many social ideas and religious beliefs share
749 the basic view that men and boys are the intellectual, emotional, and physical
750 opposites of women and girls and are “ordered” higher.22 Current laws, policies,
751 and practices continue to reflect this view insofar as women and girls do not
752 experience sustainability, sufficiency, solidarity, and participation equitably with
753 men and boys. (See Thesis 14)
22 This view is an ancient problem rooted in philosophical ideas and in some religious teachings. On this point, see David Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Codes in 1 Peter (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981).
POLICIES: LEGAL AND ECONOMIC
Starting at the top, right, the first arrow represents social attitudes about sex and gender.
The second arrow represents religious beliefs about sex and gender.
The third arrow illustrates the policies, laws, and practices that reflect and support sexist social and religious attitudes and beliefs.
Finally, the fourth arrow shows the discrimination and violence some people experience when social attitudes and religious beliefs and laws, policies, and practices work together to hurt people because of sex or gender.
754 A graphic cannot fully depict the complexities of sexism and patriarchy,
755 but it offers a basis for discerning the actual interconnections that contribute
756 to harm and injustice. Many factors weave together into a patriarchal system,
757 creating the problems affecting women, girls, and people who do not conform to
758 the expectations of the familiar gender binary of masculine and feminine. Our
759 church’s faith and a commitment to justice require that the discussion about
760 and explanation of patriarchy and sexism address each element of this circle
761 in order that we might understand the problems and seek renewed, life-giving
762 partnerships and approaches to an equitable society.
764 III. Resources for Resisting Patriarchy and Sexism 765
766 14) The Scriptures show us a rich texture of justice that is central to God’s
767 intention for human flourishing.23 This church has identified sufficiency,
768 sustainability, solidarity, and participation as the key principles of justice.
769 Social structures and institutions, including the ELCA as a human
770 institution, must be assessed and guided by these principles.
772 While we recognize that perfect worldly justice is not possible, this church
773 holds that efforts toward justice should be focused through the principles of
774 sufficiency, sustainability, solidarity, and participation.24 These principles guide
775 the movement from injustices against women and girls, to justice for all those
776 affected by patriarchy.
777 Sufficiency The principle of sufficiency addresses the basic needs (physical,
778 emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual) of women, girls, and those hurt
779 by sexism. Sufficiency as a principle of justice means the basic needs of all
780 women and those who depend on them should be met. It means society must
781 work to ensure, for example, safety from gender-based violence and equitable
782 opportunities in education and employment. The principle of sufficiency
23 See, e.g., Psalm 33:4-5; Proverbs 28:5; Luke 18:1-8; Galatians 6:1-10; I John 3:11-24.
24 These principles are present throughout ELCA social teaching and policy. Examples include Caring for
Creation, Economic Life, and Genetics, but are found in others as well.
783 supports not only passive respect, but also advocacy in matters of health care,
784 immigration, violence, sexuality, human trafficking, and the workplace.
785 Sustainability The principle of sustainability compels society to provide an
786 acceptable quality of life for all generations of women. This principle applies to
787 both the emotional and material aspects of life. Both church and society should
788 evaluate how their structures ensure—or do not ensure—that livelihood and the
789 means for well-being actually sustain all people.
790 Solidarity Solidarity is a commitment with others and a way of seeing, being,
791 and acting. Solidarity means seeing and experiencing one’s own well-being
792 as connected to the well-being of others and the communities to which they
793 belong. It often involves people aligning themselves with others who do not have
794 the same experiences. The principle of solidarity compels respect for the lived
795 experience of women and girls and encourages people to share not only in their
796 suffering but also to participate in their liberation.25
797 Participation This principle endorses the idea that communities should be
798 structured so that women participate equitably in the decisions that affect their
799 lives in the personal, local, and governmental spheres. All people need to be
800 involved in what affects their lives. The range of decisions to which anyone has
801 access should not be limited by gender.
803 15) In faith, this church is empowered to confess that Christianity in
804 certain beliefs, practices, and aspects of its history is complicit in the
805 sins of patriarchy and sexism. At the same time, we believe God provides
806 resources within the Christian faith and the Lutheran tradition and is at
807 work in human community to bring forth new ways of living that challenge
808 the harmful beliefs and effects of patriarchy and sexism.
810 In our corporate confession, we recognize that we sin individually and
811 collectively, in word and in deed, by what we have done and by what we have
25 Martin Luther in “An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants, 1525,” LW 46:78 writes
“[Y]ou must share the community’s burdens, dangers, and injuries, even though not you, but your neighbor has caused them. You must do this in the same way that you enjoy the peace, profit ... and security of the community, even though you have not won them or brought them into being.”
812 left undone. We do not always live and act as God intends. The recognition of
813 our sin leads us to confession. When we confess, we give up trying to justify
814 ourselves and our actions. By grace, God forgives us and frees us from the sin
815 that alienates us from God, neighbors, and ourselves.
816 Patriarchy and sexism in the Christian Church have a long history. Although
817 women were followers of Jesus and leaders both in Jesus’ lifetime and in the very
818 early church, women were excluded and vilified as Christianity grew in status
819 and wealth. Early church theologians were often misogynistic; they repeated
820 the idea that women were “the devil’s gateway” and rebuked women as “a feeble
821 race, untrustworthy and of mediocre intelligence.”26 Throughout much of the
822 history of the Christian Church, women were therefore excluded from Christian
823 leadership, including ordained leadership; taught to be submissive in marriage,
824 church, and society; and coerced to endure violence.
825 Similar interpretation and teaching continues within global Christianity.
826 Many Christian churches continue to support the subservience and obedience
827 of women and girls to men. And Christian leaders and members worldwide
828 continue to use ill-gotten power and authority to violate women and girls and to
829 suppress their cries for justice.
830 The traditions of this church have also incarnated the sin of patriarchy and
831 sexism into the Body of Christ. For example, although there have been women
832 in ordained Lutheran ministry in the United States since 1970, there remains
833 a deep-seated assumption that leadership and the organization of the church
834 should be male-oriented.27
835 We confess that our actions often reflect Christian theology and faith that
836 portray women as subservient and inferior to men. As a church, we confess our
837 complicity in the exclusion, exploitation, and oppression of those who are not
838 male. We confess not only overt complicity, but also the complicity of silence and
839 passive acceptance of patriarchal and sexist beliefs and practices.
26 Tertullian, De Cultu Feminarum, Book 1, Chapter 1, and Epiphanius, Panarion, sect 79.1, respectively.
27 For up-to-date information in recurring church studies on these issues, see the website for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To date, reports exist from the 25th, 35th, and 45th anniversaries of the ordination of women.
840 16) While God’s Word of Law and Gospel speaks through the Scriptures,
841 there are words and images, social patterns, and moral beliefs in them that
842 reflect the patriarchal values of the cultures and societies in which they
843 arose. Their continued misuse contributes to maintaining hierarchies and
844 patterns of inequity and harm.
846 Within the ELCA, we read the Bible in ways that are grounded in our
847 heritage and that can reform sexist uses of the Scriptures. The Word of God is
848 first and foremost Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Secondarily, we encounter the
849 Word as Law and Gospel in preaching and teaching. The Canonical Scriptures
850 are the written Word of God, which proclaims God’s grace and sustains faith in
851 Jesus Christ.28
852 The Word of God is living and active, and we take the written form of the
853 Word of God as the authoritative source and norm for faith. In its use as Law, it
854 provides guidance and reveals human brokenness. In its use as Gospel, it reveals
855 God’s love and promise. Christians treasure the Scriptures because in them we
856 hear the message of God’s wondrous, saving acts—especially the liberation of
857 God’s people from slavery in Egypt and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—
858 and God’s promise of new creation in Christ.
859 We recognize that many biblical texts originated in patriarchal cultures and
860 say things about women and girls that are problematic. In Genesis 3:16, God
861 is pictured as telling Eve: “[A]nd he shall rule over you.” Other Old Testament
862 texts illustrate chilling actions such as a host offering his unmarried daughter
863 to a mob of men who wanted to rape a Levite (Judges 19). Many Christian
864 communities struggle with how to interpret such texts.29
865 The New Testament also reflects a thorough-going patriarchal culture
866 through its rules and ideals about women. “[Women] will be saved through
867 bearing children, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with
868 modesty” (1 Timothy 2:15). (See also 1 Corinthians 11:6.)
28 The Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2.02.
29 See Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Overtures to Biblical Theology) by Phyllis Trible, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).
869 We recognize that the Scriptures have been interpreted within our own
870 tradition in ways that accept such legalistic limits on women and girls and
871 sanction relationships of power and domination. Likewise, these interpretations
872 grant men roles that afford them agency, decision-making power, leadership, and
873 prominence in communities and societies while denying such roles to women.
874 Our tradition’s complicity in patriarchy and sexism is connected to such
875 biblical interpretation and to the nature and focus of some of the Lutheran
876 theological tradition. We confess that there are problems within the Scriptures
877 themselves and that our theological tradition has led to a theological
878 understanding of humankind that is overly male-identified. These problems even
879 become idolatrous as deeply rooted but false beliefs.
880 Today this misuse of the Scriptures continues to deny equity among people
881 based on gender, as well as race and sexuality, and subverts the abundant life
882 God intends. In this sense, Christian complicity in patriarchy and sexism has
883 unhealthy roots in the misuse of the Scriptures.
884 For instance, even today some interpret it to be scripturally authoritative and
885 “natural” to deny positions of leadership in the church or in society to women.
886 They appeal to the Scriptures: “[W]omen should be silent in the churches. For
887 they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate ... . For it is shameful
888 for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
889 However, we believe God calls Christians into a different vision of unity. Jesus
890 Christ has fulfilled God’s Law for us and called us to a new kind of freedom in
891 service to God and neighbor. This is not a revision of the Lutheran tradition
892 but a reaffirmation of its core emphasis. Out of the Gospel promise, we in this
893 church interpret Scripture.30 This emphasis on the Gospel as God’s promise and
894 the recognition of the importance of context distinguish a Lutheran reading of
895 Scripture from a literal, legalistic view that insists all passages in the Bible apply
896 to all people in all times and places.
897 When scriptural passages are unclear or even in conflict, this Lutheran
898 reading suggests that Christ, as God’s gift of forgiveness, reconciliation, and new
30 “The Gospel itself is our guide and instructor in the Scriptures.” Martin Luther, “A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels, 1522,” LW 35:123.
899 life, is the lens through which such passages are to be read. Our church, for
900 instance, places more weight on Galatians 3:28 (“[T]here is no longer male and
901 female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”) than on 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I permit
902 no woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”)
903 We recognize that some passages were given to God’s faithful people in
904 specific historical contexts that are quite different from our own.31 This is why,
905 for example, Christians no longer feel bound by certain Old Testament laws,
906 such as kosher dietary principles, or by New Testament instructions concerning
907 women’s hairstyles, jewelry, and clothing (1Timothy 2:9). The fact that many
908 passages in the Scriptures reflect the patriarchal structures and values of their
909 time does not mean that God has prescribed patriarchal structures and values,
910 and has done so for all time.
911 We seek to read the written Word guided by Christ the living Word speaking
912 today. We do so for the sake of proclaiming a life-giving word for all people. This
913 approach interprets the Scriptures with an emphasis on what the Word does and
914 frees us to read them in such a way that God’s Word can be known as genuinely
915 “good news.”
917 17) The Christian theological tradition also bears this dual character. In
918 particular, some doctrines affect our understanding about humanity and God
919 more than others. These teachings affect our use of language. The teachings
920 about the image of God, the Body of Christ, and the Trinity have sometimes
921 been misused to support patriarchal beliefs, attitudes, church practices,
922 behaviors, and structures. At the same time, these doctrines also provide
923 liberating resources for healing the effects of the sins of patriarchy and sexism.
925 We confess that God is infinite mystery beyond human comprehension.
926 To insist on male language can make an idol of maleness. It restricts words
927 about God, who is beyond gender, to one human category. This insistence may
928 be rooted in a false understanding of human beings as existing in a hierarchy
31 See “How Christians Should Regard Moses, 1525,” LW 35:170-172.
929 of gender opposites. This church commends all Christians to retrieve and
930 reform theological language, images, and themes so that they support faithful
931 proclamations of God’s grace in Jesus Christ that are inclusive of all persons.
932 Theological images and themes are used in multiple ways. The same concept
933 can be understood and applied in ways that either reinforce a patriarchal status
934 quo or in ways that support gender justice.
935 The concept of “the image of God” has often been used problematically.
936 Sometimes it has been used to describe males as a “fuller” image of God and
937 women as a “lesser” image of God. Understandings like this have led to and still
938 reinforce actions that devalue women.
939 It is more fruitful to read the creation stories as focusing on relationality.
940 God says, “Let us make humanity in our own image.” There is relationality
941 within God’s own self, there is relationality between the first humans God
942 creates, and there is relationality between God and the humans. This provides
943 a more generous and more fluid image that is not limited by either binary or
944 hierarchical views of gender.32
945 The maleness of Jesus has also been used as a warrant for sexism, particularly
946 in the church. Many Christian traditions have claimed that women cannot be
947 ministers because ministers represent Jesus, and Jesus was male. Sometimes the
948 description of the church as the bride of Christ has contributed to this line of
949 thinking: Since the church is imaged as female, gender complementarity reinforces
950 the idea that those representing Christ must be male.
951 We must reject the idea that the maleness of Jesus is somehow related to
952 redemption. In the original Greek, the Nicene Creed makes clear that God the
953 Son became human (anthropos), not male (aner), “for us and for our salvation.”
954 The long-time “generic” use of the word “man” in English translations has
955 obscured the original meaning of the Nicene Creed and has fed patriarchal biases
956 and assumptions stemming from Jesus’ maleness.
957 This church’s understanding of the Body of Christ goes beyond the literal,
958 physical body of Jesus. As Galatians 3:28 reminds us, the Body of Christ is
32 See Thesis 2 for more discussion on the meaning of Genesis.
959 inclusive; identity markers that we have regarded as opposites, in Christ no
960 longer hold meanings that divide us. Just as “Jew or Greek” are not the only ethnic
961 identities joined to and in Christ, so “male and female” do not limit the gender
962 identity of those joined to and in Christ. Understanding the unity in Christ of
963 persons of various identities frees us from an idolatry of the maleness of Christ.
964 Maleness has also been wrongly assigned to the persons of the Triune God.
965 While the Scriptures often refer to God as Father, and while Jesus was historically
966 male, God as such is beyond gender. When Christians rely almost exclusively
967 on male images and language for God, the images and language become literal
968 understandings of God. This is poor theology because God always exceeds
969 human understanding. Taking male images of God literally can also lead to
970 idolatry, meaning we idolize or hold onto only the male images. Our impressions
971 of God are thus limited by patriarchal ideas, for God in the Scriptures is also a
972 woman searching for a coin and a mother in labor, while also a rock, a hen, and a
973 bear.33 Yet God is not literally any of these, either.
974 The use of almost exclusively male-identified language and images is not
975 only theologically problematic but also pastorally harmful. Taking God literally
976 as male cultivates the unwarranted idea that maleness has more in common
977 with God than femaleness and that women and girls are farther away from God
978 than men and boys are. And where does this leave people who are not male or
979 female? This is poor theology about humans.
980 Using predominantly male images of God also affects how we live together in
981 human community. If God is male, and women are less than men, then patriarchy
982 and sexism must be God’s will. But Scripture tells of something entirely different.
983 Although most Christian liturgy uses predominantly androcentric language
984 and imagery, expansive language and imagery are both scripturally rooted and
985 theologically faithful. The paradoxes and multiplicity of language and images
986 about God communicate the mystery and intimacy of the Triune God.
987 Just as we read the Scriptures within their historical contexts, we also need
988 to read Luther and the Lutheran Confessions within their historical contexts.
33 See, e.g., Luke 15:8-10, Isaiah 42:14, Psalm 89:26, Matthew 23:37, and Hosea 13:8.
989 Some of Luther’s writings, as well as his personal interactions with women, were
990 more progressive than his peers, but he remains a product of his 16th-century
991 hierarchical context. Just as our fidelity to the Scriptures does not require us to
992 conform to the social practices of the ancient Near East, being faithful Lutherans
993 does not require us to imitate 16th-century social practices.
995 18) The central Lutheran belief that we are justified by grace through faith
996 empowers this church to challenge the structures of patriarchy and sexism
997 that ascribe value based on human standards.
999 A robust understanding of justification by grace enriches a Christian
1000 commitment to gender justice. We remember that justification motivates us
1001 toward justice.34 Faith, active in the form of love of neighbor, is not our own doing
1002 but God’s gift. We respond to and exercise God’s gift by loving others. Responsive
1003 love in the world means we listen to neighbors. In society, this responsive love
1004 takes the form of justice for the neighbor in an unjust world.35 Justice, then, is
1005 bound to faith because it flows from justification and is itself an expression of
1006 love of neighbor in society. This love includes gender justice.36
1007 There are three aspects of a Lutheran expression of the doctrine of
1008 justification that underscore gender justice as a concern of faith.
1009 First, justification is wholly God’s work through Christ. No particular group of
1010 humans is superior. Justification as God’s act challenges the self-centeredness of
1011 self-justification, including self-justifying notions of male privilege. No particular
1012 group of humans is superior.
1013 Second, justification frees us from bondage. Being freed in Christ involves
1014 being freed from all that tries to replace Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives,
1015 including systems of patriarchy. Instead, we are freed to recognize God’s work
1016 in creation through human variation, human imagination, and human expression
34 See ELCA Church in Society (Chicago: ELCA, 1991), 2.
35 Ted Peters, Sin Boldly! Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress),
404. See Carl Braaten, Principles of Lutheran Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 132-133.
36 See also The Lutheran World Federation Gender Justice Policy (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation,
2013), which expresses a Lutheran global faith-based commitment to gender justice.
1017 through gender. We are enabled to see that humans are not simply gender-based
1018 opposites and that we are not created in a hierarchy.
1019 Third, justification reminds Christians of our collective human brokenness
1020 and that God’s righteousness comes to us from outside ourselves. Before God, we
1021 are all imperfect, yet God’s love covers us. Remembering that this is how we are
1022 with God can affect how we see ourselves and others. We can hear and see what
1023 others need. We can be more concerned with seeing each other in all our variety
1024 and less concerned with following gender-based rules. Justification helps us to
1025 see gender justice from the perspective of faith.
1027 19) We recognize that significant progress has been made in society
1028 against patriarchy and sexism; however, evidence demonstrates that more
1029 attention is needed. Cultural and religious beliefs, practices, policies, and
1030 laws continue to promote inequality and inequity and continue to degrade,
1031 lessen, and harm people. We believe that Christians, together with many
1032 other partners, are able to understand and advance equity. This happens
1033 through beliefs and ideas that are gender just and through laws and
1034 policies that support an equitable common good.
1036 Significant progress has been made in U.S. society despite the continuing
1037 prevalence of patriarchy and sexism. Changes in laws have positively affected
1038 social and religious views. Contrary to cultural and Christian beliefs that women
1039 are intellectually weak and need to follow male leadership, during the 20th
1040 century, women increasingly gained rights as citizens.
1041 History also shows that positive social and religious views about gender
1042 influence laws. For example, the women’s movement argued that women should
1043 not be raped within marriage. Finally, in 1993, it was illegal in all states for a
1044 spouse to rape a spouse.
1045 This country and this church have seen and supported many positive changes
1046 in attitudes and laws that have helped women and girls to thrive, but there is still
1047 more work to be done to support neighbor justice.
1048 The circle of attitudes, beliefs,
1049 and policies indicates that change is
1050 possible and offers a strategy for this
1051 church’s commitments to and actions
1052 toward justice. Working together, we
1053 can begin to transform the circle of
1054 injustice into a circle of justice.
1055 Individuals and groups can
1056 challenge harmful social assumptions
1057 and practices, reject sexist religious
1058 beliefs, and work to change laws and