Journal of Lutheran Ethics Issue Index August/September 2020: Women’s Leadership in the Church, State, and Academy

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Editor's Introduction


Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth, Editor

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

Congregational Discussion Questions:

1. Women preachers used the pulpit to argue for abolition and women’s suffrage. Some male preachers also used the pulpit in this way, while others preached to argue for slavery and women’s subordination to men.  Given this history, what do you think is the role of the preacher in discussing ethical and political issues today?  How does “virtual” church limit or expand that role? 

2. What responsibilities come with the right to vote?

3. What are the responsibilities of the university professor to the church and to the nation?

4. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he speaks about how all the parts of the body are necessary for the body to function.  Using this metaphor, consider drawing a picture of the body of your community.  In that community how do you see the intersection of leadership of the academy, church, and state?  How do these work together best?

5.  Finally, this issue celebrated the inclusion of women’s voices in church, state, and academy.  Whose voices are still marginalized? What do we lose by not hearing those voices? How can you support the bodies and voices of the marginalized?



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"We Are Determined:" Suffrage, Ordination, and Coeducation by Jessica Crist

Just as coeducation in universities has not solved all gender issues, and universal suffrage has not solved all justice issues, the church's decision in 1970 did not immediately change the relationship between women and men in the church. But it was a bold start, just as suffrage was a century ago. More than a century before the 19th amendment was ratified, there were states who permitted women to vote. In each case, that vote was rescinded. In the early days of women's ordination there was fear that it, too, might be rescinded, that women would be sacrificed for ecumenical harmony. But the threats did not change the trajectory of the church. And we move forward, proclaiming, reforming, lamenting and celebrating.

The Original Order of Things by Julie Tatlock

Lutheran churches in America lagged well behind social movements that gave women more access to positions of authority. From suffrage to ordination, different Lutheran synods have continued to embrace different interpretations of the Bible’s stance on women’s roles. And, surely the debate is not yet over. While women can vote and preach in the ELCA, other Lutheran church bodies refuse to bend, preferring to uphold what they consider the original order of things.

I was raised in a Lutheran family, with a father and a grandfather who were pastors in a Lutheran church that was a sister/daughter church of the LCMS. My Dad encouraged us children to go for theological studies, all eight of us – six daughters and two sons. For Dad, the ordination question was irrelevant. He wanted all the children to be theologically equipped to discern God’s call in each of our lives. He saw the potential of theological education as a tool for empowerment of self and identity. I am amazed at this vision and understanding of the scope of theological education as a tool for gender justice, women’s empowerment, and discovering of new self-identity and so on, when the social location, social experience, education and environment of my Dad was that of a typical patriarchal household with even more conservative patriarchal values. 

In the five years leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of women’s ordination in the ELCA’s predecessor bodies I interviewed eighty-five ELCA female pastors serving in congregations across the Southeast.  It was an honor to receive their stories – stories of amazing grace and devastating heartbreak.  By the end of that project I could see that there are concrete ways that we, as church, are called to respond to the stories of our female rostered leaders. We must do this for the sake of the world God so loves.

Thank God for the academic vocation. Without it, I have no idea when I would meet, know, and eventually become a female leader in the Lutheran church. Insofar as colleges and universities continue to exist as expressions of the church in the world, female faculty have a wide-ranging influence on the church as well as the communities in which they and the church exist.

What are the limits and possibilities of having a theological vocation that serves the church, when that vocation is not embodied in an ELCA teaching institution? The nature of our scholarly vocation will inevitably be shaped by the type of institution in which we find ourselves. To a significant degree, a perception of whether or not one is a Lutheran theologian who is serving the church is shaped by whether or not teaches at a Lutheran institution. ELCA lay theologians at secular institutions are rarely invited to write for The Lutheran, or to speak at synod assemblies, or even to be part of a synod’s informal or formal theological programs for clergy or laity.

Book Reviews



Book Review Introduction

Nancy Arnison, Book Review Editor

As we consider the status of women in church and society, we commemorate milestones and celebrate advances, while simultaneously lamenting the lack of progress.  In commitment to building a better future in which the gifts of women are recognized and honored, we examine resources that can enrich our understanding and perspectives on these issues.  Starting biblically and theologically, Rhiannon Graybill reviews The Hebrew Bible: Feminist and Intersectional Perspectives edited by Gale Yee.  Next, Denise Rector covers Passionate for Justice: Ida B. Wells as Prophet for Our Times, a text that weaves biography with historical and personal insights about the intersections of racism, sexism and class oppression in the lives of black women, highlighting the work of Ida B. Wells as important for our times. Finally, Kristin Johnston Largen reviews Mindy Makant's Holy Mischief: In Honor and Celebration of Women in Ministry which looks specifically at the lives of ordained women in the ELCA, shining a light on the striking stories of oppression they experience while offering a call for transformation. In addition to these book reviews, we note here several on-line resources: provides historical information about Lutheran women's ordination.

contains a variety of resources relevant to the ordination of women, including a multi-part adult forum, Bible study, liturgy, videos, historical information, and stories from rostered women of color.



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The Hebrew Bible: Feminist and Intersectional Perspectives edited by Gale A. Yee

Review by Rhiannon Graybill

The Hebrew Bible: Feminist and Intersectional Perspectives offers a feminist introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The book consists of an introduction (written by editor Gale A. Yee) followed by four chapters, each addressing a different section of the biblical text and written by a different contributor or contributors. Thus Carolyn J. Sharp covers the Torah/Pentateuch, Vanessa Lovelace focuses on the Deuteronomistic History, Corinne L. Carvalho takes up the Latter Prophets and Lamentations, and Judy Fentress-Williams and Melody D. Knowles respond to the Writings (including several non-canonical texts of wisdom literature). All six scholars are well-established as feminist and intersectional biblical scholars, and they bring a wealth of expertise to the project.

Passionate for Justice: Ida B. Wells as Prophet for Our Time by Catherine Meeks and Nib Stroupe

Review by Denise Rector

Threat of danger is the traumatic, collective history and memory (and, too often, direct experience) that Black [1] and Brown people just know. To wit, Passionate for Justice co-author Meeks, who is Black, says: “As I think back on it now, I understood that white people were dangerous.” (24)  As a Black person, I may not be able to articulate it, how I know it, or when I learned this any more than one is able to articulate other types of culturally-transmitted knowledge. I just know, and have always known. This is how the threat of violence registers in the psyches of Black and Brown people, meaning that a “time like this” – a time of heightened racial awareness for some – is just everyday life for others.

Holy Mischief: In Honor and Celebration of Women in Ministry by Mindy Makant

Review by Kristin Johnston Largen

Holy Mischief is a timely book that witnesses to the painful and difficult reality of women’s oppression and discrimination in the church.  Her book talks specifically about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but the situation there is not unique. Many people seem to think that because women have been ordained in this Church for 50 years, and now the church even has a female Presiding Bishop, surely there must be equality and equity in leadership. However, if you are a woman in public ministry, or if you are friends with a woman in public ministry, you know well that this is not yet the case.

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© August/September 2020
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 20, Issue 5 



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