Saturday, September 15, 2012

Women’s Bible Studies and Women’s Ordination: Are They Connected?

    It's no secret that I'm no fan of those sorts of women's Bible studies. You know the ones that I mean, they usually have something to do with chocolate, or clothes, or beauty tips, or shopping, or home decorating, and attempt to use these metaphors to convince us that Jesus died so we could be prettier, or just a better version of ourselves. They seem to bleed a theology of glory, have little use for the crosses in our lives (unless they're talking about motherhood or marriage or a bad hair day, because these are the only real crosses women bear). These Bible studies have basically become a cliché, and I'm a little tired of talking or writing about them, but, yet, here I sit. The truth is they just won't go away, and just when you've finished mocking the last one, a new one pops up on the horizon, condescendingly explaining to us that Jesus loves us and wants to give us a fabulous life! Suddenly I feel less like a Christian, and more like a guest on an episode of What Not to Wear, and hear some all-too-thin, painted, and bejeweled woman say to me "try the empire waist, it's very forgiving to women with actual curves!" Read: a well-dressed woman knows how to hide her flaws effortlessly, and this is what Jesus does for us—hides our flaws. Or something. Anyway, I'm rambling, and taking some cheap shots, I'll admit, but I did have a couple of newish thoughts I wanted to submit for consideration.

    First, I wonder if these sorts of Bible studies, at least in the LCMS, push women closer to accepting women's ordination. Quite simply, it would be very easy for someone struggling with the issue of women's ordination to conclude that these fluffy Bible studies have been published by the Synod's publishing arm because the Synod just doesn't take women seriously, and seems to see them as shallow, mindless divas, incapable of a complete theological thought which cannot be grasped without the aid of a beauty metaphor. Let me be clear, I am not saying this is how the synod views women, that I agree with this explanation, or anything of the sort, but it is a pretty straightforward conclusion to draw, which has the added benefit of killing two birds with one stone: The LCMS doesn't take women seriously, so the LCMS doesn't ordain them. Therefore, if you are a woman who wishes to be taken seriously, then you should either push for women's ordination in the LCMS, or leave for the brighter horizon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or the United Methodist Church (since one thing you have gleaned from these endless Bible studies is that Lutherans and Methodists are basically the same).

    Secondly, I see these Bible studies as basically immodest. That is, if we can disrespect our bodies and our neighbors with our clothing choices, then how much more can we disrespect ourselves and our neighbors (never mind Jesus) by presenting Christianity as little more than a cosmetic life change? This approach fails to take the Scriptures and the baptismal life seriously, as they leave no place for thoughtful exegesis of God's Word, never mind the sacraments, the theology of the cross, or Lutheran doctrine. Instead, we have the theological equivalent of thong on the beach, because everyone knows that woman is always taken seriously and respected for her ideas.

    The LCMS is at a challenging juncture in regards to the role of women. Many of us are young enough to have been trained to think like feminist activists, and as a result tend to either succumb to this mindset, or eschew all things which bear this mark. This leads to confusion about the role of women in the church, as people respond more readily to the question out of fear of women's ordination than out of respect for women and the church's history; with this backdrop, it would be easy to see these sorts Bible studies as a convenient tool to put women in their place. I really wish we could move past the issue of women's ordination, declare it a dead issue in the LCMS, and move on to other things, but I worry that the prevalence of materials, which are embarrassing to thoughtful Lutheran women everywhere, will only fuel the voices of the feminists who continuously attempt to show us women how we are mistreated, disrespected, and marginalized by a patriarchal hierarchy. This may not be truth, it may only be perception, but perception matters.




  1. Thank you for this. I was steaming about the new bible study for women put out by CPH. I felt demeaned and was so upset that this would be considered as a 'good' study for women in the Lutheran church.

  2. I would assume that you are referring to the works of Sharla Fritz. I can gather from your "cheap shots" that you have not truly worked through the studies. If you are not interested in women's Bible study as published by CPH then I would recommend you simply study other things. I respect Sharla. I appreciate her efforts. I find your leap to the issue of ordination of women to be illogical and completely unrelated. I consider myself to be a well educated intelligent Lutheran woman. I am offended by your generalizations. I enjoy Sharla's work. That does not make me a "a shallow mindless diva incapable of a complete theological thought..."

  3. The only cheap shots come from the people who write "how to be a better Christian" materials and claim to be Lutheran! Lutheran women need serious theology--not materials that cheapen the Gospel we have been given. Thank you, Ellie.