Project Wittenberg

Woman Suffrage in the Church

Parts I and II

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

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From the New York convention (1967) the Commission on Theology and Church Relations received the assignment to do a study on the subject of woman suffrage "to establish a policy for congregations of the Synod" (2-05) and to provide guidance in the matter of full membership on the part of women on synodical boards, commissions, and committees (2-06). On the basis of its study this commission submits the following declarations and supporting documentation to the Denver convention (1969) of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

The basic recommendation of the commission is forwarded to the convention on the fundamental assumption that both the exercise of the franchise and the holding of church office, whether by men or women, are to be viewed as opportunities for service rather than occasions for an insistence on individual rights. An interest in the exercise of power as such is a characteristic of unredeemed life. The Lord of the church has asked His followers not to have an interest in the prerogatives of rule and authority (cf. Luke 22:25).

It is well to remember, moreover, that it is not possible in a presentation of this kind to offer solutions for every aspect of the problem before us. The declarations offered herewith, instead, were designed to provide general guidance for a very complex area of church life. They flow from the historical and exegetical materials given in subsequent sections.

In light of a thorough study of the issues involved, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations recommends adoption of the following declarations as guides in the matter of woman suffrage, including both the issue of the franchise and the matter of holding office:



1. We find nothing in Scripture which prohibits women from exercising the franchise in voters' assemblies.

2. Those statements of Scripture which direct women to keep silent in the church, and which prohibit them to teach and to exercise authority over men, we understand to mean that women ought not to hold the pastoral office.

3. Such passages, we hold, indicate that women ought not to hold any other office in the church whose function it is to assist the pastor in the exercise and administration of the Office of the Keys.

4. The principles set forth in such passages, we believe, apply also to holding any other kind of office in the institutional structures of the church which might involve women in a violation of the order of creation.

5. We find no statement in Scripture which prohibits women from holding office on the boards and committees of Synod whether such offices are filled by election or by appointment.

6. We conclude that the Synod itself and the congregations of the Synod are at liberty to alter their constitutions and their practices to conform to these declarations if they believe that such changes are in the best interest of the congregation and of the church at large.

In the discussion which follows, a distinction is made at certain points between the exercise of the franchise and the matter of holding office. The former question has been before the Synod in some form or other for more than a century. The issue of holding office, specifically on synodical boards and committees, was not taken up until the Detroit convention of 1965 (cf. Proceedings, p. 100, Res. 2-24). At New York these two aspects of the suffrage question were covered by the two resolutions cited in the opening paragraph of this document (2-05 and 2-06). In the following sections the two items are dealt with separately wherever the need occurred.


Historical Background

As we have already noted, the question of women voting in voter's assemblies has been before Synod for a long time, even though it did not become a pressing problem until recent decades.

A. Early Pastoral Theologies

Dr. C. F. W. Walther takes cognizance of the question in Die rechte Gestalt einer vom Staate unabhangigen Evangelisch Lutherischen Ortsgemeinde (Saint Louis, 1864). In a discussion of congregational meetings he observes (p. 50):

All the adult male members of the congregation are entitled to active participation in the transactions of such meetings by way of speaking, deliberating, voting and resolving. But women and the young are excluded from such participation.

Dr. Walther quotes 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 as his authority for this observation.

Later on he took up the question of woman suffrage again. This time he discussed it in his Amerikanisch Lutherische Pastoraltheologie (St. Louis, 1872), p. 371: All adult male members (that is, those who can vote in civic matters) ought to have the right to take active part in speaking, deliberating, voting, and passing of resolutions as these occur in the meetings of the congregation, since this right appertains to the whole congregation. Compare Matt. 18:17-18, Acts 1:15, 23-26, 15: 5, 12-13 22-23; 1 Cor. 5:2; 6:2; 10:15; 12:7; 2 Cor. 2: 6-8; 2 Thess. 3:15. Excluded from the exercise of this right are young people (l Peter 5:5) and female members of the congregation (1 Cor. 14: 34-35).

It should be noted that Dr. Walther simply appeals to 1 Cor. 14: 34-35 for his position on the right of women to vote. He does not stop to show how this passage proves his point.

Walther's position was adopted by John H. C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, (St. Louis, 1932). Under the heading "The Congregational Meeting" he has the following statement on "The Right of Suffrage" (p. 315):

Articles espousing the identical position on woman suffrage in the church appeared over the initials of Dr. Georg Stoeckhardt in Der Lutheraner, 1895, pp. 103105, and in Lehre And Wehre, 1897, pp. 6574.

All of the statements quoted appear to have assumed that the passages quoted could be applied directly to the issue of woman suffrage in the church. None of the statements indicate that the writer felt that his use of the passages could be challenged.

In passing it might be noted that woman suffrage had not yet been established in the American way of life. Voting rights were not equalized for men and women until 1928. Not long thereafter the whole question of woman suffrage in the church took on new significance.

B. A Question Before Synod

In time the position espoused by Walther, Stoeckhardt, and Fritz came to be challenged in the Synod. As an official matter the question of woman suffrage came before a synodical convention in 1938. Dr. John Theodore Mueller had read the formal essay for that assembly. In his presentation, Dr. Mueller had made the observation that women must not have the right to vote in the congregation. One delegate objected to this remark.

C. Summary to Date

It is clear from the notices given above that the question of woman suffrage has been with The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod a long time. Moreover, it is evident that through the years a large body of opinion opposed woman suffrage on the basis of certain Scripture passages which, it was assumed, specifically prohibited woman from exercising the franchise in a Christian congregation.

On the other hand, the record also indicates that the official position on this matter was challenged from time to time by persons who were persuaded that the Scripture passages in question did not in fact speak to the subject of woman suffrage directly. Many of these individuals were sure that the matter of franchise was a question of judgment rather than of doctrine.

Finally, the New York convention added the issue of holding office as a matter to be dealt with in the discussion of woman suffrage in the church. What follows is written with the New York resolutions in mind. It consists of a reexamination of the Biblical passages involved and of certain recommendations that follow from a study of these texts in the contemporary situation.

Before proceeding to the exegetical task, it will be useful to insert here a notice on the limitations of the present inquiry. The presentation to follow does not propose to deal with the very complex question of women occupying the office of the public ministry. The New York resolutions (2-05) and 2-06) call for a reexamination of the matter of woman suffrage as it relates to the issue of holding office, particularly on the level of synodical responsibility. Since service on synodical boards, commissions, and committees can hardly be discussed without reference to offices within congregational structures, the present study has included the latter consideration within its purview.


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Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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