Misogyny in the Lutheran Church

I used to believe in God.

At least, I think I did. I probably believed about as much as any young child can, which isn’t much. I believed God was real only because the trustworthy sources in my life told me he was real. But when I was around ten, I shed my faith, and it was replaced with doubts, which ultimately won over when I was about twenty.

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Noah’s Ark is just a little too far-fetched to be true, or to think that you really can’t make a baby with just a “holy spirit”. But there were a few things that I was taught in church and throughout my conservative Lutheran upbringing that took a lot longer to get rid of.

Even when I didn’t explicitly believe in “sin,” I thought that being gay was kind of unnatural. More-so, and for a much longer time, I thought abortion was murder and that you didn’t have to believe in God to think so. Thankfully, I now believe in both marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose. I believe in equality as a human right, to the furthest extent in which I believe that human rights exist.

In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, women have never been allowed to be pastors. They never have been, and they probably never will be. I’ve always been so used to the fact that I’ve barely noticed it, either before or after I left the church (mentally and then physically). This tradition, specifically, was so ingrained in my mind that years ago (I was already an atheist), when my husband first told me that his old United Methodist Church’s pastor was a “she,” I had the entirely subconscious thought of: “Oh… well then… they must not be as ‘True’ and ‘Biblical’ a church as the LCMS.”

That’s the scariest part about indoctrination. Half of your beliefs are subconscious. You don’t even know you have them until you catch yourself unintentionally thinking vile things. I had never truly given this idea the light of day until I saw this run-of-the-mill tweet from the LCMS last week:

A tweet saying that because Taiwanese churches have twice as many women as men, they struggle to find pastors.

It stopped me in my tracks. For some reason, this tweet was what finally got me to shed that last layer of apathy in regards to the teachings of my former religion.

Allow me to say again what I’d always—always—heard, but never questioned until literally last week:

Women are not allowed to be pastors.

In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, women are not allowed the same opportunities as men. There is a job—one of the highest jobs one can hold—that can only be held by a man.

In my experience in the church, I never witnessed any kind of huge revolt or even unrest about this from women. I don’t know of anyone who had a burning desire to become a pastor but who was prohibited because she happened to have been born with a different set of gametes. I believe that this is because it’s so deeply rooted in their culture that it just sounds insane to even see it as unfair. And I know that anyone who’s lived this way their entire life would agree. But I don’t care.

It’s baseless discrimination. The injustice is self-evident.

After my epiphany of how revolting and archaic this rule is, I went on a quest. I wanted to know what possible reason this church could put forth that justifies this style of governance. I knew it probably wouldn’t satisfy me, but I wanted to know under what circumstances did these men think this was a normal or ethical way to run a church in the twenty-first century.

I found a variety of sources from the church and its members, but this document seems to be the most official record of their beliefs on women’s ordination. It’s from the LCMS’s official page on their beliefs, and specifically from their “What About?” series.

Primarily, the document uses the following Bible verses to tell us “What God says about women serving in the pastoral office”:

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says …what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:33–34, 37).

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim. 2:11–12).

“The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Now an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim. 3:1–2).

“This is why I left you in Crete … that you might appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife…” (Titus 1:5–6).

Personally, I think it’s hilarious that they used these verses to justify their position. That’s because these are the kinds of verses that I always see atheists using to try to win an argument with a Christian, especially a female one. It’s the kind of verse you see on a Girl Defined video along with a comment saying, “See? The bible says you’re not supposed to talk! Or haven’t you read it?” Then the Christians say something about how you ought to interpret it in such a way that you don’t need to follow it.

But the LCMS, in all its misogynistic glory, will shamelessly exclaim “Women should keep silent!” from the rooftops. The rest of the article is essentially the cop-out that “We do not tell God that His gift is not good enough for us, or that we don’t like the form in which He has given the gift,” and “We must leave the answers to these questions to God. We remain with what has been given to us by God in His Word.”

This article, fifty pages longer than the first, does have a lot more details on the “role” of women in the bible and within the LCMS. On page 32, the interpretation of the aforementioned verses comes up. It makes sense that the writer(s) had a hard time understanding 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says”) in light of 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved”), as Chapter 11 seems to permit women to pray and prophesy, and Chapter 14 commands her to keep silent.

I’m not a scholar, but I don’t think that Chapter 11 is explicitly saying anything about a woman’s permission to speak, especially about her permission to be a pastor, but rather whether or not her head should be covered. (The author’s response to the head-covering rules are, by the way, essentially “We don’t do that anymore.”) Either way, it somehow throws a wrench into the idea that women should always be silent.

The article spends some time trying to translate which version of the word “speak” was originally used, but they eventually come to the conclusion that “Full clarity perhaps is not possible,” and all we know for sure is that women are not being commanded “absolute, unqualified silence,” only that “they [should] not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching-learning aspects of the service.”

It just seems way too convenient to me that even when there is some contradiction and fuzzy interpretation of these verses, and when women can sometimes speak and sometimes not, the only thing that God Almighty Himself made absolutely clear to us is that women cannot be pastors. At least that’s what we, the male writers of all of these documents, and we, the male pastors, made of the writing from the bible’s male authors. It only makes sense that we, the men, should have every position of real power within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We’re sure the women agree.

8 Replies to “Misogyny in the Lutheran Church”

  1. A fascinating topic. During my last meeting with my Lutheran friends, I broached the subject of sexism in the Bible and was hooted down for even mentioning such a thing. Then I mentioned, Asherah, the female deity that ancient Israelites worshipped alongside Yahweh. Well, the outcry was instantaneous. “Whoa, what have you been reading? No, no, no…a fertility cult. Nothing to do with God!” They refused to broach the topic.
    Just as the Bible was used to justify and defend slavery in the nineteenth century south, it is still used to justify and defend sexism in the millennium. During the presidential election of 2016, preachers down here practically chanted the verse out of Timothy that woman should not have “authority” over man, which of course meant–don’t vote for Hilary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this article and thought it might be worth sharing on this blog. She writes about the Carl Sagan book “The Demon Haunted World” and points to the chapter; The Fine Art of Baloney Detection. I’ll throw it in here and maybe it doesn’t have much to do with your topic of misogyny or maybe it does??

    https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan-s-rules-for-bullshit-busting-and-critical-thinking?utm_source=pocket-newtab

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first experience with a female pastor was in a friend’s Episcopalian church. Since I was Catholic, I have an even more firm past in such things.
    What I found most interesting in this post was your comment about not being aware of our past programming. It alerts me to try to be aware of old beliefs that I may still unknowingly carry. It is like disagreeing with my own thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yep, that childhood indoctrination stays with you. It’s surprising just how much we really believed, and even after you see the differences, a part of you still wants the dubious comfort of the ‘old way.”

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m afraid the misogyny you speak if is minor compared to the kind that would prevent woman to do what they deem is right for their own bodies. And this is not just within the church you speak about.

    As for your last sentence, I don’t believe the Bible is even the first word on morality.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “It’s baseless discrimination.”
    Indeed, it is.

    “The injustice is self-evident.”
    No, sorry. It is not at all evident to many people. So it cannot be self-evident.

    I suppose we could blame it all on Paul, since it is usually supported by reference to his epistles. But, to be fair to Paul, he was just going by the common cultural practice of his time.

    That’s conservatism. Insist on living by ancient tradition, and consider those traditions to be absolute truth rather than cultural traditions. By contrast, liberal Christianity (that’s theologically liberal) recognizes that traditions come from culture, and is willing to change them.

    This is the absurdity that we see in Christianity. Most churches are conservative. Christianity ought to be a liberal religion. Christianity had its beginnings with the throwing out of many Judaic traditions. But now they have gone all conservative (and all absurd).

    Like

  6. Really interesting post Rebekah!

    I am from a family of Churches called New Frontiers. They believe that Eldership (defined as fathering the church) is a male only role. They use all the same verses as you mention here and also bring it back to Genesis where man is before women and is called to ‘lead’ in being first.

    The New Frontiers family of churches is currently going through a massive crisis as there is an entire generation of females missing from their churches, because they were unable to fulfil the calling that they believe God has given them and left.

    These days New Frontiers churches are setting up ‘Leadership Groups’ which consist of Male and Female leaders within the church, as well as the male eldership, and together they lead the church.

    But it still come down to the male eldership to discipline, oversee and protect the flock.

    Can people not see that the Bible is set within a completely different time to the one we find ourselves in now? Can they not see that the Biblical standards and morals have gone and that we need to live today in light of what we know today, rather than in the shadow of what we knew yesterday?

    If we don’t move, we stagnate. I hate to say it, but the Bible simply isn’t the final word on standards and morality.

    Liked by 2 people

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