Paula Schlueter Ross’ article on the Women’s Leadership Institute conference in the May Reporter included a quotation from keynote speaker Jean Garton, who “encouraged women to live lives ‘that matter.'” I find this rather astonishing.
Anyone unsure if my humble life as an at-home mother matters can ask my husband and five children (although the youngest two probably won’t give articulate answers). The same holds true for every mother in human history: good or bad, we matter on a tremendous scale in our tiny fractions of the world.
Furthermore, the fact that I am not employed outside the home frees me for a considerable amount of volunteer work for our parish and Lutheran school.
I am mystified as to why women suddenly need to be told to serve in formal, institutional, visible “leadership” roles.
Christian humility calls us all to the most lowly work in service of our neighbors at home, at church, and in the world (in that order). Christian humility asks not what we are “permitted” to do, but what we are needed to do.
Husbands and children should not be forced to compete with the world or especially the church for the time and attention of the lady of the house. Women who receive the higher gift of celibacy, or in some cases the cross of the widow, are those equipped for more full-time service to the church.
Married women who, like me, are blessed to be able to stay home serve the church primarily by serving their families. I am honored and happy to use the remainder of my energies and my gifts, such as they are, to help at my church.
Reporter asked Jean Garton to respond to Rebekah Curtis’ letter. Garton’s e-mailed response follows. — Ed.
This letter brought to mind a professor at the seminary who admonished his students to never take their theology from a hymn book.
Another admonition might be that a reader ought not form an opinion (or make a judgment) based on a seven-word quote from a 37-page speech.
As a stay-at-home mother of four — and a foster mom to a fifth (all of whom are now in their 40s and 50s), and as a pastor’s wife — not employed outside the home in our 60-year marriage (unless you count a few hours a week for a year as church secretary/teacher), I found the judgment made by the writer to be somewhat uncharitable. It is particularly puzzling since the quote she found so offensive came after the first part of my keynote which was dedicated to encouraging women to put family first and to recognize their home as “the first church, the little church.”
A number of years ago, a national newspaper conducted a survey of its readers by asking them to name a woman in leadership. The majority of males named Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of Great Britain whose leadership was characterized by power and authority. Female readers, on the other hand, overwhelmingly named Mother Teresa, a view of leadership that is characterized by service and sacrifice.
That view — service and sacrifice — was the prevailing view among the women I met at the conference of the Women’s Leadership Institute.
I was left scratching my head when I read the article on the Women’s Leadership Institute conference. A majority of what I’ve read in the last 10-plus years on the topic of men’s and women’s roles has shown that men need to be encouraged to step up and be “men,” i.e., doing their God-ordained duties as fathers, husbands, and lay leaders, which they’ve largely been neglecting. I have never known a congregation where women were not very much involved, usually more than men, or had a shortage of appropriate avenues to exercise their talents. So much current literature out there, Christian and secular, plainly shows the negative consequences of women taking on men’s roles or when women are dominant over men.
This article appears to be in the spirit of the “women’s liberation” movements of past decades which led to much of the strife we see in today’s world on the topic of men’s and women’s roles. Such movements and this article seem to understand “permission,” much like “freedom,” differently than the Scriptures. Biblically, “permission” does not necessarily mean “beneficial.”
As for women being encouraged to read the lection in church, isn’t this what St. Paul speaks against when He says “women should keep silent in the churches … .” (1 Cor. 14)? Of all things, does this not apply to the public reading of the Scriptures? Paul wrote this God-inspired command precisely so there would be a proper display of manhood and womanhood, as our Lord Jesus also affirmed in how He became man, born of the Virgin Mary, and lived among us. This is where a man, as head of the body, should serve the woman. Ancient Gnostic and pagan worship was known for having this order reversed or believing a person’s sex was insignificant. Incidentally, the new Lutheran Study Bible (CPH) has some helpful notes on this topic.
Regardless, reading in corporate worship throughout church history has also been understood as a duty of the pastor, who stands in Christ’s stead, and as a man addresses His bride the Church. I would think a layperson would find it comforting that his or her trained and God-ordained pastor reads the lection. That way someone who is charged to spiritually care for us reads, not someone who has an agenda, seeking to get exposure. Besides, this way we are kept aware that the liturgy is where Christ is serving us, and that it’s not the work of the people.
Rev. Craig Meissner
The 1989 Synod convention adopted Res. 3-14, titled “To address appropriate roles for women and men in worship.”
The final resolved of that resolution states, “That the congregations of the Synod proceed with care and sensitivity in making decisions permitting the lay reading of the Scriptures, recognizing decisions in this regard lie in the area of Christian judgment.” — Ed.
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Posted May 31, 2010