Questions?

by Elizabeth Goodine (August 2010)

In these weeks since the convention, concerns and questions raised regarding the future direction of the LCMS on a variety of matters have become commonplace.  Particularly prominent has been the question — What will the election of Rev. Matthew Harrison mean for women in the Church? The question itself reveals a general uneasiness in some circles about the perceived conservative theology of the new president and those with whom he surrounds himself politically.

Yet, while it is always easier to anticipate and then blame the leader for that which goes wrong in any system, faithful members of the LCMS can hardly do so with any integrity.  The truth is that the question, What will the election of Rev. Matthew Harrison mean for women in the Church?, is the wrong thing to be asking. Since in the LCMS, synodical presidency is an office of influence rather than one of overt authority, neither the newly elected President Harrison nor the outgoing President Kieschnick possesses the power to single-handedly direct or control the status of women in the LCMS. As a congregationally based church-body, we as pastors, commissioned teachers, and members, must hold ourselves, as well as our elected officials accountable, and we must begin by asking the right questions.

So what are the right questions?

The basic questions that led, after many years, to the document, The Creator’s Tapestry, were, What role should women play in the Church? And secondarily, How is woman understood in the eyes of God?

These basic questions stem from an assumption of fundamental difference between men and women accompanied by an unquestioned assumption that it is the role of the woman, not that of the man, that must be examined and limited.

Both the process and the outcome may have differed, however, if the study had not begun with an assumption of difference, but rather one of similarity. In that case, the second question would not have been, How is womanunderstood in the eyes of God? but rather How is the human being understood in the eyes of God? That change would have entirely eliminated the need for the first question regarding woman’s role, since the group being considered would not be solely women, but rather all human beings, who are as one category in the eyes of God.

The Creator’s Tapestry begins with and focuses on assumed differences between man and woman and frames its questions and answers accordingly. It leads to an assumption of God-given hierarchy in the human family. Based on this assumption the document rationalizes and justifies centuries of patriarchal oppression.

Categories matter. Do we believe and profess that God created and categorized us as human, a species apart from all animals, of which every member is equally precious in his sight? Or, do we believe and profess that God categorized us separately as man and woman and consequently created a hierarchy of favored and less-favored?

The question, How is the human being understood in the eyes of God, is based on the category of human. There is no sub-category. The difference between men and women is one of form, not of kind. A starting question framed in this way (according to category, that is, kind) would level the playing field and preclude the establishment of hierarchy. Indeed there would be no need for hierarchy at all if we were each to see every other person with the eyes of Christ. As Paul says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But of course it is true that if we take Paul’s words seriously, we bind ourselves not only to the recognition that in God’s eyes women are equal to men and thus should be given full rights in the Church, but also to the possibility that in God’s eyes other victims of oppression must also be recognized and treated as he would treat them. In recent years racism in the Church has become unacceptable — there is no black, there is no white. Still, many people worry that the Church might go too far; that if the limits are lifted on women, they might have to be lifted in regard to others as well. And then, Who knows what might come next?

It’s true. We could be in for the slippery slope! But would that be such a bad thing? Jesus, it seems, never worried about the slippery slope. If he had, he surely would not have eaten in the home of a tax collector. He wouldn’t have spoken to a lone woman at a well and he certainly would not have fraternized with the likes of Mary Magdalene — an action that continues to plague his reputation two thousand years later, thanks to Dan Brown. Maybe he should have been more careful. After all, he did get himself killed. Food for thought for those of us who like to play it safe and keep our mouths shut! Maybe Jesus should have just sat back and waited to blame Matthew Harrison!

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