In preparation for a Commission-convened consultation on Women in
Church and Society, various resource materials were circulated to
participants prior to the meeting in March 1972. One of the items
offered for study was a summary and analysis of the issues in
current discussion, prepared in October 1971 by Karen L.
Bloomquist, a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary,
This summary and analysis so impressed the participants in the
consultation that they recommended its publication as a resource
for wider study and discussion in The American Lutheran Church. The
Commission on Church and Society, to which the recommendation was
addressed, responded positively.
To give opportunity for enlarging the scope of the paper, or of
re-emphasizing points made, the Commission invited commentaries on
Karen Bloomquist's paper. Following her article, then, there appear
the commentaries written by Pastor Barbara L. Andrews, Beulah
Laursen, Evelyn Streng, and Susan Thompson. The Commission
expresses its appreciation to these five persons for their
contributions to a better understanding of an issue likely to
engender lively discussion.
Each is aware of the emotional depths of the topic. Each notes
how the church has influenced attitudes. Each stresses the freedom
for open choice by responsible persons. Each sees the present as a
time of opportunity, particularly for the church under the
liberating influence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Karen Bloomquist's
"A Reassessment of Values" can be the section on which the most
constructive discussion can focus, considering the views of each of
the five writers as these relate thereto.
The Commission on Church and Society publishes Women: A
Questioning of the Past and Present
as its contribution to
fostering the justice, the love, and the truth which should mark
sensitive discussions. Publication does not, however, imply that
the views expressed are those of the Commission or that they
represent the official policy of The American Lutheran Church.
Carl F. Reuss, Director, Commission on Church and Society
July 20, 1972
Challenges to Role Definitions
Few social movements of our time trigger such deep-seated
emotional feelings as do the many facets of the contemporary
women's movement. Few moments are as misunderstood and ridiculed by
non-sympathizers, and yet in its implications none reaches so
deeply into the roots of our way of life. Our focus here is on the
changing of the roles of the white, largely middle-class American
woman, recognizing that somewhat different dynamics affect women of
other races, cultures, and economic levels.
Women and Family
Much of the recent
literature advocates changing or expanding the roles of women. The
usual roles of women in our white American society have been those
of housewife and mother. While some continue to glorify these
roles, and while those women who choose a career instead of
marriage are sometimes still considered to be "not normal," more
and more women are becoming dissatisfied, frustrated, and
unfulfilled in the usual roles accorded women. Motherhood occupies
a smaller proportion of most women's lives, and the relatively
unchallenging housework expands to fill whatever time is left over.
Isolated within her private home, the housewife/mother receives
little contact or stimulation from the outside world, except
through her husband. The "feminine mystique," which directs the
woman towards housework for her fulfillment, results in a
devaluation of human potential and progress.
The controversy arises over the extent to which and the
direction in which these traditional roles should be changed. Some
feel women can and should continue to find fulfillment in the
housewife/mother role, for this is where women "by nature" belong.
Woman's voluntary participation in religious, service, or community
organizations is encouraged, for her influence is needed outside of
the home, yet such participation must not interfere with her
primary responsibilities to her home and family. Such a position is
really no change at all. Others grant the woman more time away from
home, so that she might even hold a full-time job, yet she is still
primarily responsible to the family. Consequently, her job must be
one that "fits in" with her primary role, and with the nurturance
and service traits engendered therein. She should maintain the sex
roles and avoid "masculine" occupations. Although her traditional
role needs to be updated (woman's place is not just within the
home), these "New Masculinists" still want women to do what men
need to have done. Their position is similar to the early
feminists' position, which advocated new freedoms and rights for
women but without disturbing the social order.
For the new feminists, however, sex roles are obsolete and
should not be perpetuated. Women should not have to be primarily
housewives and mothers. They should be free to choose their roles
in society, including entry into "masculine" occupations. Marriage
and motherhood should not be the only standard roles for women.
Nevertheless, it is only a small minority of the most radical
feminists who go so far as to advocate a complete boycott of
marriage and motherhood.
Women and Employment
woman's right to work outside the home, some of the immediate goals
of the contemporary feminists are in the area of employment.
Although illegal, discrimination in the hiring of women continues
and must be abolished. Women too often do not receive pay equal to
that of their male colleagues. They are given less opportunity for
vertical advancement. So-called "protective" legislation for women
in the working force is actually a subtle form of discrimination.
Welfare benefits are reduced when the mother works. Maternity
leaves are usually not provided. Social security and tax laws work
against working women, especially the single, whether men or
In the past, the woman has had to make the adjustments. Now
employers need to make adjustments if women are more fully to enter
the labor market. Work needs to be reorganized. More existing jobs
need to be made part-time, for the sake of both men and women.
Opportunities should be provided for women to reenter the labor
market after raising a family. A substantial need growing out of
the employment of women is that of quality day care centers for
children. More women are qualified to work, more women want to
work, and changing marriage patterns are making it necessary for
more women to work. These and other clusters of issues need to be
analyzed in an over-all social framework of value priorities.
Women and Cultural Systems
women will continue to be in the traditionally "feminine"
occupations unless real changes are brought about in society's
images of women and men, and of "masculinity" and "femininity."
Nondiscriminatory education is crucial in terms of male/female
roles conveyed through textbooks, teacher expectations, and
inner-classroom relationships. Nonstereotyped images of women and
men must include women and men equally on all levels of employment.
We must get rid of old images created and emphasized in the media,
in advertising, through consumerism, and in all our various
cultural and religious expressions.
To speak of these areas of needed change is to shift depth. No
longer are we speaking of immediate goals which can be achieved
relatively easily through the hiring of women, or even by
educational, economic, and political reforms. This is where the
earlier suffrage movement stopped, without actually touching the
sources of inequality. Today's deeper concern is with the habit of
mind of both men and women, with the structures, and with the
culture of our society which have perpetuated a male-dominated
sex-caste system, dictating those roles deemed appropriate for
women and men. We cannot adequately deal with any of the surface
issues of the new feminism without first honestly grappling with a
whole religiously-reinforced cultural system, within which lie the
causes for our present sex role differentiations and for our
resistance to changes in those roles.
Becoming a Woman
One is not born but rather
becomes a woman through various types of social conditioning. The
process begins the moment one is wrapped in the pink blanket. One
is later confined to the Doll Corner in nursery school, although
one may be more fascinated by Tinker Toys. Adults chuckle at one's
genuine desire to be a doctor or pastor, and one "learns" instead
to want to be a mother or a nurse or a parish worker. One likes
math and mechanics a lot, but gets hints that boys and girls are
turned off by smart girls. One tries to make one's body, face, and
dress measure up to the "Miss America" image, only to feel "less a
woman" at one's "imperfections."
Becoming a woman is discovering that doing those things valued
as worthwhile by society are "unfeminine." It is behaving
"feminine," yet feeling somehow unchallenged. It is being told that
the job one wants will make one "less a woman." Becoming a woman is
learning to type so that one can work twice as hard and earn half
as much as one's male colleagues. It is getting married and seeking
to live up to the housewife ideal, yet never quite making it. Or,
staying single and having everyone wonder what's wrong. Being a
woman is feeling responsible for others' lives, but never for one's
What Difference Do the Differences Make?
Every culture has differentiated between the roles of the two
sexes, but not always in the same way. In American society, a male
has been expected to be interested primarily in objects and in work
skills, to be risk-taking, aggressive, dominant, analytical,
competitive, and individualistic. A woman, perceived primarily as
wife and mother, has been expected to complement these qualities
through her passivity, dependency, and interest in human relations.
Her role has generally been seen as inferior to the man's.
Any anatomical and natural bases for these differentiations are
minimal. Countless studies have attempted to demonstrate that
"anatomy is not destiny," in refutation of Freud who assumed a
degradation and inherent deficiency in women. Woman's sexual
autonomy, both physiological and psychological, has been found to
be equal to man's. Some writers still do see sex differentiation as
design, but certainly not as destiny. Yet through myths, symbols,
and traditions, woman's differences have been made into her
Since early times it has been assumed that women have a unique
"nature" in distinction to men, yet it has never been conclusively
demonstrated nor agreed upon in modern times. Woman's special
"nature" is thought by some to be tied to her experience of
childbirth, yet childless women are not without this "nature." Some
have felt self-sacrifice and the renunciation of her individuality
for the sake of the species to be woman's essential quality, but
this has been highly disputed. It seemed plausible to assume that
the meaning of time is uniquely rooted in woman's sexual
physiology, through the cycles of menstruation and menopause. Yet
it is doubtful that these cycles are totally absent in men or that
these cycles in women seriously limit their activity in the working
world. Genetically the female is thought to be stronger than the
male, with less susceptibility to certain illnesses. Most other
qualities thought to be part of woman's fixed "nature" have been
found to vary in cross-cultural studies. Other "real" differences
cannot be discovered until the two sexes are treated equally.
This is not to say that there is no essential nongenital
difference between men and women. The presence of a "Y" makes every
man's cell different from every woman's cell. Sexuality is in the
essence of each person's being, but no commonly accepted
noncultural description of that difference has been developed.
Feminine and Masculine
culturally developed to convey that difference are "femininity" and
"masculinity." "Femininity" cannot be completely separated from
female sexuality because we can only speak of the
physiologically-based difference (i.e., sexuality) in terms of the
cultural distinction (i.e., "femininity"). Yet, "femininity" is not
a constant nor an absolute. Femininity and what it means to be a
woman are socially determined for a given time and culture. There
is no one way to be a woman or to be "feminine." Being born female
need not biologically imply that one will develop "feminine"
characteristics, yet inevitably immersed in a cultural system which
reinforces such traits, it is highly likely that one will.
Consequently, we rely on the changing, the cultural, to convey the
unchanging, the "essential."
"Femininity" and "masculinity" have been applied to such a broad
range of qualities, qualities not physiologically essential to
one's sexuality. The result is that all females are expected to
possess the "feminine" traits of that culture, and all males the
"masculine" traits. This results in social denigration both for
males with "feminine" qualities and for females with "masculine"
qualities. Today these qualities that define femaleness and
maleness are being called into question. A female possessing
"masculine" traits is no less a female. Instead we need to
re-evaluate what is "masculine" and "feminine" in our culture. We
need to recognize and accept the presence of both types of
characteristics within a given individual. For too long, males have
had to repress "feminine" traits in their personality, while women
have been taught to deny their "masculine" tendencies. Each sex
possesses qualities associated with the other gender. There is a
unity of divergent traits within each person.
Myth and Tradition
Efforts at Explanation
It is in myth and
tradition that we find some of the reasons behind our sexual
differentiations. In prehistoric times women are believed to have
been superior, being the providers, and perpetuators of life. Women
were closer to earth and nature. Then with the beginning of the
Bronze Age, superiority passed from the female life-giver to the
male risk-taker. It is not known whether physical strength or
patriarchy developed first, but the two have reinforced each other
Throughout history men have feared women, first, for their
menstrual flux which was connected with all sorts of "evils." This
fear extended to childbirth, after which mother and child were made
ceremonially clean. Women were thought to be dirty, diseased, and
possessed with evil. Virginity taboos centered around the mythical
danger of the vagina. Mythical female monsters far surpassed male
monsters. The Pandora doctrine associated women with evil, sin, and
there have been real attempts, especially collectively, to break
away from this mystique. Yet so pervasive has been our social
conditioning and so complex the cultural system supporting
antifeminist traditions, that change is slow.
Is change so desirable that its disruptions must be suffered?
What shall be our imperatives for change? With the Christian value
placed so heavily on persons and on humanity, it would seem that
our most persuasive mandate for change of the social order is (a)
the threat to the psychological survival and actualization of women
as persons, and (b) threats to the psychological and even physical
survival of humanity in general.
In countries where survival is seen as a crucial issue, women
have important roles in the survival of society. We do not usually
see the survival of society as being a particularly acute problem.
Our society is strong, with few survival fears. Yet if the quality
of life and of the growth of persons are viewed as an index of our
survival, then the present sex-caste system can be seen to threaten
the survival of more than just women as persons. The rights of
women do not necessarily preclude nor conflict with collective
responsibility. In fact, they may be tied together.
At an often
unconscious level, the psychological harm to women occurs through
their implied exclusion from cultural expressions. The very
language we use continually refers to the person in general terms
as "he" or "man." To contend that this is merely the generic is
beside the point. A language where even the generic is masculine
only more intensely reflects its deep-rooted male-orientation. In
referring to humanity, woman is classified under the male gender.
The burden of woman's differences from man has been made
intolerable by a male-oriented culture, so that women must adhere
to goals, morals, laws, institutions, religion, and a world view
created, motivated, and sustained largely by the masculine
Denial of Uniqueness
according to Gordon Aliport, is an exaggerated belief associated
with a category and whose function is to rationalize others'
conduct in relation to that category. It exists as a fixed mark
upon women and helps to prevent differentiated thinking about them.
Stereotypes stress similarities, leaving out the uniqueness and
dynamism of persons, if not denying the individual's personhood
altogether. Because they are largely derived from collective past
experience, to use stereotypes as a norm for the future development
of individuals is to confer upon stereotypes an adequacy and an
authority which they do not possess. So to use stereotypes is to
take up arms against the dynamic potential of persons.
Loss of Identity
The main role stereotype
women have been caught up in is that of housewife/mother. The
individual defines herself by making choices through the world.
However, the housewife's opportunities for such choices and thus
for attaining her own identity are limited. This is not to deny
that many women find challenge and fulfillment in this traditional
role, nor that they necessarily should, but it is to deny that all
women should be expected to find satisfaction in that role. In
marriage the woman usually loses her last name and for many
purposes her first. Her identity after marriage is to be found in
her husband. She becomes known as "his wife," reflective of earlier
times when the wife was owned as his property. She renounces her
individuality for the sake of her husband and children. Awareness
of this can result in self-hatred and resentment towards others who
are more free. If she accepts being dominated by another,
exploitation and infantilization may occur.
If the woman does not marry, social pressures are likely to make
her feel less than complete. If she can continually rise above such
pressures, she is likely to find the satisfaction and fulfillment
which many married women find to be lacking, yet she remains
conscious of her deviancy from the standard pattern. In addition,
she will be subjected to those stereotyped traits applied to women
no matter what their role.
Fixation on Figure
The woman's "body-image"
is of considerable importance, for it is here that she gains her
sense of belongingness and approval from both men and women. She is
expected to use her body as her "sex capital for security."
Genitality is substituted for her sexuality. She finds her sense of
worth in being able to please men, and her rejection when she fails
to do so (unless she manages to compensate for what her body-image
"lacks"). Living up to another's expectations is not necessarily
being true to one's own self. Woman's bones are forced into
artificial positions and "their curves tied up in the intrigue of
sexual semantics." The female personality is maimed in the process
of creating the "feminine.
Care of Children
When "children first" is
the dictum to women, their social purpose becomes that of
populating the earth, a questionable goal in an age where
reproduction has become a luxury, not a responsibility, and where
our problem is one of too many people. If child-bearing is seen as
women's only real role, then because of the reversal in survival
values today, the value of this role of women is greatly lessened.
Birth control then assumes new importance.
Even if women are to continue bearing children (a prediction few
would doubt), this is not irreconcilable with their employment
outside of the home. This of course is contingent on the rise of
day care centers. It is the mother's attitude and personality which
is important, not the time spent with the children. Child neglect
is not necessarily connected with the employment of the mother. If
a mother feels frustrated and unfulfilled because she has no role
outside the home, this is likely to have detrimental effects on her
children. The permanent, stable devotion of one person toward the
child is perhaps important, but this need not be the mother. After
weaning, there is no reason why this could not be another person,
including the father if he were to choose to stay at home. As
evidenced by the number of "feminized" over-protected males in our
society, accentuation of the mother-child tie is not desirable for
normal maturation. It is good for the mother, her family, and her
community, that she emancipate herself from her children, at least
by the time they reach adolescence.
Freeing of Men
It is popularly said today
that "liberating women will liberate men." Men are at least as much
caught up in and victimized by the sex-caste system as are women.
They are socially pressured into the opposite, equally dehumanizing
stereotypes. The masculine/feminine polarity separates both men and
women from their humanity. The issue thus becomes the survival of
men as persons. The male has been caught up in a process of
self-destruction. He is doomed to frustration if he cannot find in
the woman an authentic, self-activated person, with precisely those
qualities stunted by the imposition of stereotyped roles and
traits. Male/female relationships might be on a far healthier basis
if each were seen as a person possessing unique qualities of both a
masculine and feminine variety, so that there might be a
qualitative development of relations between the sexes.
Shifting of Qualities in Public Life
survival of society in general is dependent on making public those
qualities which women have represented privately. Some suggest that
what American society needs is a dose of "feminine" qualities,
having become overdosed with "masculinity." Such qualities as
aggression, dominance, and power are valued in our society, whereas
the "feminine" qualities of receptivity, relatedness, and
inwardness are frowned upon. The life-destroying qualities are
generally "masculine," in contrast to the "feminine"
life-preserving qualities. In looking at our institutions and
national policies, it is not difficult to see that our values lie
on the side of aggression, dominance, and power, rather than on the
"feminine" side of wholeness, cooperation, and sensitivity to human
If our institutions,
including the church, are to survive, they badly need an
alternative to the masculine mind-set which has so strongly
determined them. Women have been called the humanizing force in
society, yet generally they have been excluded from positions which
might influence the future of those institutions, and instead have
tended to adopt the male-developed style within these institutions.
Hierarchical relationships are based on the theme of
dominance/submission. Bureaucratic institutions, which incorporate
this relationship, have been found to hinder the effective care of
those they seek to serve. In the case of the church, there is
reason to believe that it has not been good for women and men to
have organizational structures, theological interpretations, and
liturgical expressions reflecting only the male mode of cultural
experience. It is "not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) — in
any sphere of life, including church leadership.
A Reassessment of Values
Risks We Face
Conflicting values need to be
assessed as to which values we are willing to risk for the sake of
change. Capitalism, incorporating values of competition, dominance,
and power, is said to be largely responsible for the oppression of
women. Are we willing to risk it? The nuclear family, a fairly
recent historical development, confines women to the traditional
roles in the home. Are we willing to risk it for other familial
arrangements? Are we willing to give up the security found in
marriage and in fixed roles for the sake of new challenges and
fulfillments? Is motherhood of greater value than a woman's
satisfaction in that role? Is the reproduction role more important
than the sexual role? Is self-sacrifice more important than
self-actualization? Is the maintenance of complementary roles more
important than new forms of partnership? Is predictability more
important than freedom and choice? Is one's sex more important than
one's humanity? These and other value conflicts need to be honestly
Bi-Sexual Approaches to Reality
So many of
our values as men and as women are based on a masculine way of
viewing and dealing with reality. If we were to place more
importance on the "feminine" mode of apprehension (recognizing that
it can reside in either sex), many of our values might be
reshuffled. We presently place little value on intuition or on the
interior reality, and much on the analytical and exterior. We value
aggression towards reality rather than appreciating the erotic
sense of reality. We tend to see parts and specialize in spatial
skills rather than seeing functional wholes. In our scientific
approach we focus in, like a spotlight, instead of having a
floodlight awareness or consciousness. Our technological sense
makes us specialists in things rather than in people, in dominance
rather than love, in the man-made rather than the natural, in the
manipulative rather than the organismic. We value rationality so
much above emotionality that we often do not know or are afraid of
dealing with our emotions. We are so detachedly objective that the
subjective passion is absent. We are exploitative without being
sensitive. What if men and women were to place more value on the
mode of viewing and dealing with reality which has been repressed
in our masculinized culture?
Striving, With a Vision
Such will not occur
easily. The individual and the values carried thereby are not
easily transferred to the societal. Women will not necessarily be
the "saviors" of our society, for even if they were to overcome the
overwhelming social realities determining their present roles,
there is no guarantee that the release of their influence in new
ways on society will create the desired effects. When any group has
for so long been forced to find its identity in relation to a more
dominant group, its identification with the values of that group is
Yet that does not excuse us from concerted efforts both
individually and collectively to bring the necessary social changes
in so many areas, on so many levels, if men and women are to begin
to set their pride beyond the sexual differentiation toward their
vision of their full participation as persons in the wholeness of
the human community.
A Selected List of Basic References
Commentary by the Rev. Barbara L. Andrews
Now assistant pastor of Community Lutheran Church of Edina,
Minnesota, Pastor Andrews, on the occasion of her ordination on
December 20, 1970, became the first woman ordained into the
ministry of The American Lutheran Church. She has her B.A. degree
from Gustavus Adolphus College, her B.D. from Luther Theological
Seminary, and has completed three quarters of clinical
- Bird, Caroline, Born Female (David McKay, 1968) (p.) The social,
moral, and personal costs of limiting woman's role to the home.
- Daly, Mary, The Church and the Second Sex (Harper & Row,
1968). An articulate Roman Catholic philosopher/theologian, with
concern for the transformation of the whole church, explores the
historical and theological oppression of women by the church.
- deBeauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex (Bantam, 1949, 1952) (p.).
The voluminous classic describing the ways women come to occupy a
secondary place to men.
- Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique (Dell, 1963) (p.) The
"feminine mystique" says that the only value and commitment for
women is the fulfillment of their "femininity"; it must be
- Greer, Germaine, The Female Eunuch (McGraw-Hill, 1970). A
clever, articulate analysis of how female sexuality has been masked
- Hobbs, Lisa, Love and Liberation (McGraw-Hill, 1970). A hopeful,
well-written analysis of the revolutionary humanizing changes being
brought by the "new woman." Excellent!
- Lederer, Wolfgang, M.D., The Fear of Women (Grune and Stratton,
1968) (p.) An excellent study of the myths about women, with a less
- Millett, Kate, Sexual Politics (Doubleday, 1970) (p). The
relationship between the sexes is and always has been political, as
seen particularly in literature.
- Morgan, Robin, ed., Sisterhood Is Powerful (Random, 1970) (p).
Anthology, sampling what women think what they want, and how they
plan to get it.
- Myrdal, Alva and Klein, Viola, Women's Two Roles: Home and Work
(London: Cutledge & Kegan Paul, 1956). A thorough
exploration of the sociological and psychological issues.
"Today's deeper concern is with the habit of mind of both men
and women, with the structures, and with the cultures of our
society which have perpetuated a male-dominated sex-caste system,
dictating those roles deemed appropriate for men and women." (page
5). With the preceding statement, Miss Bloomquist has identified
what I consider to be the main focus of attention to which we must
all address ourselves if we, as representatives of the church, are
committed to supporting the dignity of each of God's children. How
such a goal is achieved is a complicated and monolithic task. Here
too, Miss Bloomquist does an admirable job of pointing to some of
the inter-related and other-related aspects of the topic. She gives
the reader an excellent overview of her subject, and herein lies
the greatest value of her work.
The essay touches just enough related issues to give the reader
a good idea of the depth and breadth of the discrimination which
the author attempts to describe. This overview is necessary I feel,
since it is wrong to assume that all people know everything there
is to be said on a particular issue. Miss Bloomquist has a gift for
communicating with the reader, who may not have thought much about
the subject before, but without being insensitive, angry, or
"talking down" to that person. The essay has particular strength as
it discusses the terms "masculinity" and "femininity" and how those
terms have been used inappropriately in our vocabulary. I also
identify strongly with the comments on a theology which has been
conditioned by a masculine culture, and the psychological effects
which result from such a position.
The essay is difficult to criticize because had the assignment
been given to me, I would have had the tendency, like Miss
Bloomquist, "to get it all said at once." I think this is a
possible pit-fall of anyone who finds himself on the frontier of
change, regardless of what the subject might be. Miss Bloomquist's
overview, which provides basic information for the less informed
person, also suffers because of its broadness. Almost every subject
relating to the topic of women's rights is touched upon or implied
except for the standard arguments from Scriptures (thank
goodness!). But herein lies the greatest weakness of the essay. In
an attempt to cover the subject matter, a number of broad
generalizations are made with almost no factual evidence presented
to back the author's claim. Also, it would have been helpful if
Miss Bloomquist had attempted to offer some examples of typical
discriminatory policies, i.e. the field of employment. Because both
facts and examples are conspicuous by their absence, the essay has
a vague tone about it; under such conditions, it might be described
as an interesting piece of philosophy, not practical enough for
discussion, but rather good filler for wastebaskets in churches
across the country. That would be a great injustice, for there are
any number of topics under the main heading which deserve further
examination and action.
It is at this point, however, that I become confused as to Miss
Bloomquist's intent in writing the article. It might be received
with greater interest, and used more widely, if a list of study
questions were included, or if she chose to develop the essay
around a particular point, i.e. the "masculinity-femininity" issue.
As the essay currently stands, it is difficult to read because it
tries to include too much in broad and sweeping statements which
must often be re-read to determine their meaning.
I have one final comment to make with regard to the essay's
suggestions regarding traditional roles for women. I do not believe
that Miss Bloomquist in any way belittles the estate of marriage,
but I do believe that if one begins the argument for equality for
women by spending too much time looking at history on questioning
traditional roles, the reader may begin to feel that she has been
miserably tricked. I believe that being a good wife and mother, if
one truly enjoys that, is among the holiest callings. But
unfortunately, in most of the literature I have read or the
lectures I have heard, there often times is a subtle suggestion
that the woman who is married and has a family (not having
experienced deep self-examination) has been cheated or is cheating
herself. Miss Bloomquist speaks of the freedom to choose roles. I
assume she also would support the freedom to choose marriage.
The terms "freedom" and "liberation" are extremely broad and
open-ended, but as they are often used today, they cannot be
applied effectively by everyone. They suggest the need for an
educated public. Miss Bloomquist's essay helps in the educational
process. I trust she is able to add some depth to the breadth of
Commentary by Beulah Laursen
Wife of an institutional chaplain, and mother of four children,
Mrs. Laursen lives in San Bruno, California. She has a B.A. degree
from Concordia College, has been an adult leader in Boy Scouts and
Girl Scouts, been active in the PTA, served as ALCW district
president, and currently serves as the lay delegate of the South
Pacific District to the Church Council of The American Lutheran
In my view this objective analysis of the situation today in
white middle-class America is both accurate and eloquent. As a
reactor, I would comment in a somewhat more subjective way
regarding inconsistencies and attitudes which I have
Inherent in every human being is the sense of autonomy and
personhood which instinctively resents being classified as inferior
or subordinate when this classification is based on race, gender,
age, or other artificial criteria. For many women of my generation
(over 50) the current literature regarding the status of women
produces an immediate identification with the feelings we have
lived with over the years. There is an exhilaration in reading or
hearing for the first time an articulate statement which expresses
this familiar, though often sub-conscious, sense of anger and
To have become aware of this stratification in the community of
the redeemed is especially galling. It is evident that the church
has not only supported society in this process but has reinforced
it by asserting that God intended women to be subordinate in all
Much of what has been acceptable practice in this country just
doesn't make sense. For example, both American culture and the
religious institutions which are a part of it have supported and
encouraged educational opportunities for all its members; then, in
a weird inconsistency, they have denied full participation in the
life of the church and community to more than half of those skilled
and educated persons.
In the sixth century an ecclesiastical conference of 80 bishops
debated for three days the topic, "Does woman have a soul?" In this
decade of the twentieth century individual congregations and entire
church structures maintain constitutional and de facto
discrimination which denies their women members full participation
in the life of the church. Traditionally in America the women of
the church have been segregated into auxiliaries, boxed into a
Martha role of housekeeping and hospitality, while unheeded go the
words of Christ, "Mary has chosen the right thing and it shall not
be taken away from her."
The secondary status of women in church and community has been
balanced, in effect, by her primary status in the home. Not only
the physical care of the young, but Christian nurture as well, has
come to be exclusively the responsibility of the female parent.
Again the inconsistencies are glaring: First, a woman should devote
herself to her family; Secondly, this devotion becomes labeled
neurotic `momism' and takes the blame for personality disorders in
her offspring. Certainly there is contradiction in the idea that
God's will for a woman is fulfillment of the sexual role of wife
and mother, while in fact, according to the Census Bureau, only 71%
of adult women in the U.S. are married.
This prevailing attitude implies that the very existence of the
female is validated by the male, not only in marriage but in casual
relationships. It is a mark of social success for a man to enjoy
the company of other males — sports, fishing and poker games are
manly pursuits. But there is no such approval for friendly women's
activities. The implication is that such all-women gatherings are
only a substitute for male companionship. This general put-down of
women's need for friendship is quite common among women themselves!
Organized women's groups are belittled as outlets for trivial
enterprises, or regarded as formidable alliances to be tolerated
lest they `take over'!
Cultural attitudes toward women are inextricably related to
attitudes toward sexuality and this is especially true in the
Judeo-Christian tradition. This concept of sex as sin and woman as
temptress has resulted in a guilt reaction of repression and
Parallel with the movement for recognition of women as persons
has been the growing acknowledgment that sexuality is a part of
God's good creation designed as a life function for reproduction,
release of tension, and for communication. This latter aspect is
evident in scriptural use of the word `knowing' as a synonym for
The ancient purification rites, the restriction of women from
the sanctuary, and the present opposition to the ordination of
women all derive in some degree from this myth of separating that
which is holy (spiritual) from that which is unholy (physical).
The women's liberation movement of the 1960's has been a secular
drive for legal, economic and civil rights which are due any
citizen. In the Christian community the motivation should come from
a deeper source. The value of each individual in God's sight is not
a debatable matter. The rights and privileges of every human being
must be that which is just and right. Anything which diminishes any
part of humanity diminishes us all.
The core of the problem is justice. This argument undercuts
every other argument. Either it is right or it isn't. Justice is
never qualified. And if it is just and right then all discussion on
the nature of woman or her various roles are beside the point. I
really feel that The American Lutheran Church in approving the
ordination of women has reaffirmed the priesthood of all believers
and the fact that God calls each of us in his own way. The church
has officially recognized the justice of full participation for all
its members. The problem now is to help one another to identify the
inconsistencies and to deal with the cultural lag which interferes
with wholeness in the Christian community.
Commentary by Evelyn Streng
Mrs. Streng is Associate Professor of Science at Texas Lutheran
College, Seguin; first vice-president, ALCW, 1966-1972; delegate to
LWF's International Consultation of Lutheran Women in Bdstad,
Sweden, 1969; wife of Dr. Adolph C. Streng and mother of Paul
Stephen Streng. She also served as a member of the ALC ad hoc
committee on the ordination of women.
When a social movement such as "women's liberation" makes
persons uncomfortable or uneasy, one defense is to associate the
movement with alien influences. Karen Bloomquist's summary is too
brief for more than a glimpse into the history of the changing role
of women, but we must note that the American developments appear to
come from the "grass roots" even though the movement is world-wide.
We are discussing here primarily the effect of the movement on
women of our own church. At the outset I want to state my thesis
that any "restless stirrings" of women within the church do not
come primarily from "outside" secular influences. Concurrent with
wider societal movements are factors within the church forcing us
to re-examine the role of women. Two of these are (1) Bible study
and (2) Christian education!
A new, open approach to
Scripture and the search for authentic meanings has led to the
questioning of teachings which have accumulated in the name of
"tradition." Just as it has been recognized that Scripture has been
used in the past to justify practices such as "holy wars" and
slavery, Bible scholars of this generation have discovered that
attitudes about women which had been equated with "God's will for
all times" simply do not stand the test of Biblical research and
scholarship, nor are they in the spirit of Christ's teachings. So,
from theological seminaries there have come courageous statements
pointing out mistaken church practices of the past. This is the
"religiously reinforced cultural system" of which Karen Bloomquist
Bible study by the laity has been one of the most phenomenal
happenings in the church for the past two decades. Instead of
passive listening to the Word on Sunday, men but mostly women have
explored the Scriptures, dug into commentaries, and discussed in
thousands and thousands of Bible classes and circles the relevance
of God's word for life. Here women particularly have grown in
confidence in their ability to interpret the Word as they were
guided by the Spirit, and to express their aspirations in prayer.
The liberating power of the Gospel has come through! God's call to
personhood — to full being in Christ — somehow is not defined in
Scripture in terms of being saved by bearing children or making
sandwiches for the church supper. Women have discovered for
themselves that Paul's comments about women "keeping silence," for
example, must be seen in the context of the Corinthian situation.
If women in the church are restless for further involvement in
church responsibility, it may be the stirrings of the Spirit who
has spoken to them in their study of the Bible.
Education in the parish
and particularly also higher education have equipped women for more
than their "stereotype" roles and opened their thinking to the
search for meaning in life beyond filling a "Miss America" image.
As churches have called their members to teach the children, visit
the sick and shut-ins, or witness to the Gospel around the world,
it has often been the women who first caught the vision of needs
beyond their own family circles. The church itself has taught its
women that it is simply not enough to keep one's own home beautiful
and spotless and one's own family well-fed and well-clothed. The
leadership abilities of women in Sunday school teaching, in world
mission promotion, or in community service have been recognized and
respected, and some congregations have moved ahead to select women
for other leadership roles also. The church has profited much by
the stewardship example of its women's auxiliary. In Proverbs long
ago it was also pointed out that a woman is not to be evaluated in
terms of her physical beauty, and many sermons have been preached
on this topic. It has been within the church that the "feminine"
preoccupations of Martha were put into perspective by the example
of Mary, a "theological student" at Jesus' feet. The church's women
have been listening to its teachings! There is not much new in the
"women's liberation" negation of "fixation on figure" or domestic
tasks as ultimate concerns.
The attendance of more and more women at the nation's colleges
in this century has expanded horizons and "shaken up" role
stereotypes. Also in the church colleges — some of which originated
as male bastions for pre-seminary preparation — it has been shown
again and again that talents and abilities in any one field are not
apportioned by sex. One veteran professor of theology in a Lutheran
college observed decades ago that many women in his classes were
much better students and more effective speakers than some of the
men who as "pre-theos" went on to fill pulpits from which the women
were then barred. Christian higher education in the "liberal arts"
with its emphasis on persons
rather than trades has freed
many women from restricted visions of their life calling.
Paradoxically, the best educated women may feel the most "trapped"
by nets of domestic chores which seem trivial and Unfulfilling, or
by cultural practices which limit their professional
Since the church has helped
to develop the feminist
movement, these are some implications we must face in the
- We shall take for granted the principle of equality in
Christ, "neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). Whether there
are then genuine differences between men and women beyond the
anatomical is still being debated. Karen Bloomquist recognizes
masculine or feminine qualities. How can the church really make use
of the Christian "feminine qualities," not only as separate
entities, but in complementary ministries? Is "sexism" so much a
part of femininity or masculinity that we cannot deal with each
other freely? Can men and women really work together in the "full
partnership" of the Gospel without "threatening" each other? We
have a long way to go here in men and women relating to and really
understanding each other; if real equality is possible anywhere,
should it not be so in the body of Christ?
- Home and family life seem the area of particular
vulnerability to unwelcome change as the role of women changes.
Change, however, comes inevitably. Because of advances in medicine
and technology, even the woman who has been devoted to the
wife/mother role by her own choice will have some long, unfulfilled
years after the "nest empties," as Karen Bloomquist has well
recognized. Instead of bemoaning change, should not the church call
for continuing study of family life and child care, recognition of
"new" life styles (although extended families were an Old Testament
custom!), and renewed emphasis also on the neglected role of the
father. Surely the responsibilities of parenthood need to be
undergirded, and help given in human relations. Our stance here
would best be a positive, forward-looking one rather than mere
support of the status quo.
A crucial question has been raised in "is self-sacrifice more
important than self-actualization"? The Christian life is often
described as self-denial: "not I who live, but Christ who lives in
me." Does this mean that the Holy Spirit would keep us from
developing God-given potentialities? The emphasis on personhood,
speaking up for one's "rights," seems to some women — and men as
well — as a negation of humility. To what extent does a Christian
submit herself to being "used" by others? There needs to be
clarification as to the point at which self-actualization for the
Christian may become selfishness or aggrandizement. Until that
point is made clear, deliberate self-projection of women into
spheres of influence in the church may do more harm than good.
Commentary by Susan Thompson
Miss Thompson is Assistant Director of the Lutheran Council's
Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of
St. Olaf College, former Peace Corps Volunteer and has worked for
Lutheran agencies since 1964. She currently serves as chairwoman of
the Washington Interreligious Staff Council.
In summary, I see the present concern with the role of women as
growing legitimately out of what the church has been called to do.
I see it not so much as a problem but as a challenge laid on us by
the Spirit himself!
Recently I had an unsettling experience in introducing myself by
name and occupation to a woman of national prominence in the
women's liberation movement. Her response was quick and
"I was a Lutheran — once." And I knew what she meant. I knew
that although Christ offered freedom and wholeness to humanity,
throughout most of its history the church of Christ has perpetrated
limiting and dehumanizing stereotypes based on sex. As Karen
Bloomquist said in the paper which has generated my comments below:
"Perhaps no one institution has done so much to reinforce and
justify the sex-caste system as has the church."
We do know this, we're beginning to acknowledge the wrong in it,
and to recognize how it happened. In using God's word as guidelines
for belief and living, Christians too often have failed to
adequately distinguish the theological truths it contains from the
sociological and cultural attitudes it reflects or has been used to
undergird. Perhaps in no area has this confusion done more damage
or been more unfaithful to the Gospel's freeing message than in its
effect on the status of half of God's human creation, women.
This certainly is not because God's concept of and will for all
humanity does not emerge in the Bible. In creation, the concepts
are clear: "male and female he created them." So is God's ultimate
will for the condition of humanity, in the act of redemption: "in
Christ there is neither ... male nor female."
Unfortunately, these facts were evaluated in a world of "myths
and traditions," as Karen Bloomquist puts it. Thus, in the
evolution of Christian attitudes about women, the theological
truths of creation and redemption had to compete with the Hebrew
cultural input. In a society where the morning prayer for men
included the phrase "I thank God that I was not born a woman," this
resulted in rules (women shall be subject to men in the church) and
imagery (Christ is head of the church as the husband is head of the
wife) that were unfaithful to Christ's involvement with the whole
of humanity. This tendency was subsequently reinforced by early
Christian theologians who, in their efforts to explain the
existence of sin in God's good creation, stressed the damning evil
of Eve, the lustful, the guilty. As sexual descendants of the woman
who brought sin into the world, women's only acceptable roles were
then defined by men to be emulation of the woman who brought
salvation into it — purity, motherhood, subservience to the will of
others. Thus human judgments about the proper role of women came to
be considered the "natural" state of things, ordained by God. As a
result, on through history, the Christian church served not to
liberate women from second-class status — in religious life, in
family life, legally and socially — but to institutionalize that
status even deeper.
The depth of these roots is one reason the women's movement
greets statements like "On the other hand, I'm all for equal pay
for equal work" with less than the gratitude it sometimes seems
expected to show. Its real target is the causes of unequal pay,
expectations and opportunities. And Christians need to recognize
that those causes are not only residual stereotypes from the days
of man, the strong hunter and fighter, and woman, the weak
hometender. They are also the theology/sociology confusion of the
early church, and the later "woman as Eve or Mary" theory.
Perhaps this is why many contemporary women theologians call for
a reconsideration of theological formulations about women. For
example, the outline of desirable human characteristics which
Christ enumerated in the Beatitudes was an attack on the false
pride and arrogance he saw around him. But it seems to be largely
upon women that the burden for meekness, mercy and self-sacrifice
fell — to the point that some say a theology of sin as pride is
almost irrelevant to women. It may be that what most women need is
not less pride, but more, particularly in the form of a more
positive self-image. In my opinion, development of this "new pride"
will begin with a more accurate understanding of stewardship. Both
men and women need to recognize that expecting all women to find
their basic personal fulfillment as wives and mothers, whereas men
are not expected to find theirs as husbands and fathers, denies the
fact that God endows women, as well as men with unique individual
abilities and with corresponding responsibilities to utilize them.
Some women may indeed be best suited for and happiest in a
home-centered vocation, others for parenthood as well as vocational
lives outside the home, and others primarily for vocational lives
(and, in the latter two cases, not necessarily in the service roles
traditional to working women). But all women should have freedom to
make basic decisions about their own lives, with responsible
consideration for others but without predetermined,
socially-imposed role stereotypes based exclusively on sex. Only in
this freedom can women be released from what has been their
potential source of false pride — extreme other orientation and
self-sacrifice — for a justifiable pride in the faithful
stewardship of their individual abilities, whatever they may
At the outset of her excellent analysis of past and present
questioning about women, Karen Bloomquist points out that few
social movements of our time have evoked the strong emotional
response of the contemporary women's movement in America. Perhaps,
just as no single institution may have been as heavily involved in
the development of the sex-caste system as was the church, no
single institution is as well equipped to serve in the present
period of frustration, anxiety and uncertainty. In the freeing
confidence that God is the Lord of history, we, the church, can
help society work out a future that holds many challenges and
risks — as well as the greatest potential there may ever have been
for both men and women to become fully responsible stewards of
their own special God-given talents.