Parts I and II
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.
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):
Since Scripture itself excludes children, l Peter 5:5, and women, 1 Cor. 14: 34-35, 1 Tim. 2: 11-12, from speaking and voting in congregational meetings, only the men of the congregation have the right to take part in the public discussions and the right of suffrage. The reason given in Scripture why women are not permitted to speak in the church and to take an active part in the government of the church is that they "are commanded to be under obedience" and "not usurp authority over the man."
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.
1. St. Louis, 1938
By way of response the issue was referred to a committee consisting of Dr. Frederick Pfotenhauer, Dr. Arthur Brunn, and Mr. John Piepkorn. The report of this committee referred to Dr. Francis Pieper's position in this matter as expressed in his Christliche Dogmatik, I (St. Louis, 1924), pp. 626629, to provide supporting evidence for the accepted position and practice of Synod that women not be granted such voting membership. But these three men did not let the matter rest there. As a committee they offered a resolution asking that the whole matter be restudied. This resolution was adopted. There is no evidence, however, in the official proceedings that any persons were appointed to carry out this resolve. In fact, 15 years elapsed before the question came up again as an item of synodical business.
2. Houston, 1953
The Houston convention of 1953 considered two unprinted memorials. Floor Committee 6 drew up a resolution asking the President of Synod to "appoint a committee of five members to prepare for the next convention a thorough exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2, and all other applicable texts as they relate to the question of woman suffrage in our congregations. " On this whole matter the Proceedings of the Houston convention (1953) carries the following entry (pp. 483484):
Concerning this matter Committee 6 recommended, and Synod resolved:RESOLUTION 27
WHEREAS, It is a general principle of Holy Scripture that woman should not usurp authority over men in the home and in the church; and
WHEREAS, Synod has based its position in the field of woman suffrage in the church on this general principle of the Bible, as expressed in various passages, including 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2: 11, 12; and
WHEREAS, However, there is a sincere difference of opinion among clergy and laity concerning the full and correct application of these texts to the question of woman suffrage in the church, as indicated by Unprinted Memorials 21 and 47; and
WHEREAS, Many women of our Church are eager to be of greatest service to their Lord in the church; therefore be it
Resolved, That the President of Synod appoint a committee of five members to prepare for the next convention a thorough exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2, and all other applicable texts as they relate to the question of woman suffrage in our congregations; and be it further
Resolved, That, in the meantime, our congregations be urged to continue the present practice of our Synod in restricting the privileges of voting membership to qualified male communicants.
Note: Synod by a rising vote expressed its esteem for the women of the Church and their work. This resolution was adopted, and a committee was appointed. It consisted of Professors Victor Bartling, Albert Merkens, Fred Kramer, Pastors Theodore Nickel and Martin Zschoche.
3. St. Paul, 1956
The St. Paul convention of 1956 accepted the report prepared by this committee, which chose to offer not only an exegetical study of the passages involved but also appended a number of applications to specific problems and some recommendations to Synod. On the basis of this document, Floor Committee 3 formulated a set of five resolutions which upheld the previously accepted position and practice despite the fact that the President's committee could find no "express words in the Scriptures" forbidding woman suffrage. Very significantly, 10 members of the convention assembly voted against the adoption of the proposed resolutions and were "encouraged to give the reasons for their negative vote to the Secretary, as a matter of record."
The report of this committee is of such crucial significance that it merits being quoted at some length. The following lengthy excerpts are taken from the Proceedings of the St. Paul convention (1956), pp. 553569. The report first offers a very comprehensive Biblical study of all the pertinent passages. Then it proceeds to an application of the specific problems. Under Section III, E, the committee formulated its best judgment in the matter as follows:
1. Scripture knows of only one type of church members, members of the body of Christ, male and female (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 1:23; 4:4-6; l Peter 2:9, etc.).
2. In the Church Visible these members are bound to "ether in the confession of their common faith (Ps. 116:10-14; 2 Cor. 4: 13; Rom. 10:10).
3. In the performance of the church's work (Matt. 28: 19 20), administration becomes inevitable and organization naturally develops, even becomes mandatory, where property holdings require incorporation.
4. The precise method of administration of congregational affairs in the early church is not ascertainable. We do not know whether rules and regulations were discussed and adopted in connection with the public services, with women present though not allowed to speak, or whether in Christian freedom the congregations placed all these matters into the hands of their elders (bishops, pastors).
5. Every congregation has the right to regulate its own affairs and establish its own polity provided only that God's Word be not disregarded. "All things are yours whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or the present, or the future, all are yours, and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
6. The fathers of our Synod found in America the greatly prized liberty of determining their own polity as a free church in a free country. They established the system of voters' meetings now in vogue among us in order to regulate and administer the congregation's affairs.
7. With minor variations of procedure the subjects of deliberation and action in such voters' meetings are still what they were in our fathers' days: "matters of doctrine (Acts 15), election or appointment of church officers (Acts 1:15-26; 6:1-6; 2 Cor. 8:19); church discipline (Matt. 18:17-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 2: 6-11, 1 Tim. 5: 20) public offenses (Acts 21:20-22), quarrels among members (1 Cor. 6:1-8), matters of good order and ceremonial (1 Cor. 14: 26-40; 16:1, 2), and the like. " (Walther and the Church, [St. Louis: CPM], p. 95ff.)
8. In the early church matters of discipline, at any rate, were handled in the full congregational meeting, with only the men speaking. For this reason, and on the general conviction that in the discussion and action with regard to matters so vitally connected with the church's life and welfare as those listed in par. 7 above and which can be disassociated from the church's worship service only with great difficulty, it follows that under these circumstances the Pauline veto of woman's voice in teaching and directing Men applies also here. Consequently it has been the general practice of our congregations to withhold voting privileges from women. This has not precluded asking the opinion of women in the congregation in any matter of the church's program.
9. Our church has prospered under this system. Through participation in the business of the local congregation there has been trained a steady stream of able and enlightened laymen who have become strong leaders in the work of our congregations and Synod. At times indeed, because of sinful human weakness, some meetings have been tumultuous and quarrelsome, below the dignity of Christian gentlemen. But at least the meetings were not an arena for battles between the sexes.
10. Our women generally have not been resentful about their exclusion from this voting membership as it has developed in our congregations. In faith and love they gladly exercise their rights as members of the royal priesthood, in this respect through the natural administrant sex to which the Scripture assigns the ruling function in the church. They, too, have read, and they willingly heed, the Pauline texts. Their Spirit-prompted urge to serve the church has not been wanting in opportunities for activity. There is so much for all to do, and there are things that none can do so well as women.
We believe that Scripture fully sanctions the basic polity set up in our church, and we can foresee only evil results in any change of the polity under which our church has been so signally blessed for more than a century.
After the committee had stated its best judgment under the 10 points just cited, it made the following recommendations to the Synod (Section IV):
A. That Synod, for the sake of peace and order, urge that our congregations continue the Scripture-sanctioned and time-tested policy of administering their affairs through the male voters' meetings;
B. That Synod, for the sake of peace and order, urge congregations which deviate from this policy to conform to the established procedures;
C. That Synod urge all congregations to inform their total membership male and female, on the transactions of the voters' meetings (printed and distributed minutes, Sunday bulletins, annual "state of the church" messages etc.), to provide opportunity to ascertain the opinion of the women on important issues, and to examine and rightfully resolve all conscientious protests that may be lodged against the adoption of certain measures; and
D. That Synod urge our pastors and congregations to make diligent study of the Scriptural teachings concerning both the Order of Redemption and the Order of Creation, that we may ever fervently adore and obediently serve the Triune God, our Creator, as well as our Redeemer and Sanctifier.
This committee report together with the recommendations to the Synod was considered in several sessions. Thereafter the convention accepted the recommendation of Floor Committee 3.
We quote pertinent sections both from the Whereases and from the Resolveds of this somewhat lengthy resolution.
The second Whereas:
WHEREAS, The committee does not state that it finds woman suffrage in our congregations forbidden in express words in the Scriptures, but emphatically warns against any anti-Scriptural practice whereby the headship of man to woman in the affairs of the church would be surrendered;
The last Whereas:
WHEREAS, Above all, the committee urges continued diligent study of the Scriptural teachings relative to these matters, with special reference to the Order of Redemption and the Order of Creation;
The second Resolved:
Resolved, (b) That we recognize the problems involved in applying these texts of Scripture to woman suffrage in our congregations and all the issues involved therein;
The fourth to sixth Resolveds:
Resolved, (d) That all congregations who administer their affairs through the male voters' meeting be urged to continue this policy, but to inform the entire membership on the transactions of the voters meetings, and to impress upon the men the importance of utilizing this blessed privilege of suffrage to the utmost to the glory of God and the welfare of the church; and be it further
Resolved, (e) That we urge any congregation in the membership of Synod now, or applying for membership, which grants woman suffrage, to reconsider this practice in the light of Scripture and the glorious position of woman in marriage and in the home, and also in the light of the consequences of such practice in the history of the church, and to consider the danger of offense to others and to conform to the historic position of Synod in this matter; and be it further
Resolved, (I) That a standing committee of three members be appointed by the Presidium of Synod which will continue to study this entire area of the place of woman in the church and which will provide guidance and direction through pamphlets, brochures, books, correspondence, and direct consultation wherever desired.
This resolution was accepted by the Synod.
4. San Francisco, 1959
Pursuant to the above resolution the President of the Synod appointed a committee of three to continue to study the entire question of the place of woman in the church. This committee reported to the Synod at San Francisco in 1959. Its report indicates that the committee had had personal interviews with both protagonists and opponents of woman suffrage in the church and that they had held a number of committee meetings.
This committee appropriated the first seven points from Section III, E of the report of the previous committee verbatim and added points 811, which we quote in full from Reports and Memorials of the San Francisco convention (1959), pp. 496497:
8. Scripture teaches that for the administration of these matters two principles must not be violated: (a) women must not engage in preaching or in publicly teaching men in the church; (b)whatever participation of women in congregational affairs is granted, the principle must be upheld that women do not usurp authority over men, 1 Cor. 11: 2-16; 14: 34-36; 1 Tim. 2:11-15.
9. Recognizing this situation, attention is called to the necessity of a constant process of education directed to both men and women: (a) men should not relinquish to women their rights and obligations in the work of the church because of their own lack of stewardship consciousness; (b) women should not preempt areas of activities in which the principles stated above are violated, but should be directed into, and led to find opportunity for, service in the church where their potential of talent is fully utilized in harmony with Scriptural principles.
10. Meanwhile all congregations who administer their affairs through the male voters' meeting are urged to continue this policy, but are also urged to inform the entire membership of the transactions of the voters' meetings, and to impress upon the men the importance of utilizing this blessed privilege of suffrage to the utmost to the glory of God and the welfare of the church.
11. Any congregation in the membership of Synod now or applying for membership which grants woman suffrage is urged to reconsider this practice in the light of Scripture and the glorious position of woman in marriage and in the home, and also in the light of the consequences of such practice in the history of the church, and to consider the danger of offense to others and to conform to the historic position of Synod in this matter.
Floor Committee 3, which studied this committee report, recommended approval by the Synod in Resolution 8, Proceedings, 1959, pp. 190191:
Resolved, That we reaffirm the position of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod on the place of woman in the church as indicated in the theses prepared by the committee and recorded in the book of Reports arid Memorials, pages 495 and 496.
This resolution was adopted.
The Proceedings of the 1962 convention of the Synod do not indicate that the matter of woman suffrage was discussed in Cleveland.
5. Detroit, 1965
The Detroit convention in 1965 had received four overtures concerning woman suffrage in the church. Committee 2 considered the overtures and submitted a resolution under the title "A Statement on Woman Suffrage in the Church." It was adopted by the convention in the following form (Proceedings, p. 103, Res 2-36):
Resolved, That we adopt the following statement for guidance in this matter:
1. On the basis of 1 Cor. 14: 34, 35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15 we hold that God forbids women publicly to preach and teach the Word to men and to hold any office or vote in the church where this involves exercising authority over men with respect to the public administration of the Office of the Keys. We regard this principle as of binding force also today because 1 Tim. 2:11-15 refers to what God established at creation.
2. As stated at the St. Paul convention in 1956 and at the San Francisco convention in 1959, we consider woman suffrage in the church as contrary to Scripture only when it violates the above-mentioned Scriptural principles.
3. In Gal. 3:28 St. Paul speaks of the redeemed children of God and their blessed relationship with Christ and with one another. This blessed relationship through faith does not cancel the order God has established at the time of creation but sanctifies and hallows it.
This resolution may be regarded as expressing an awareness which had not explicitly come to the surface in previous synodical statements. When point 2 of the Detroit resolution says:
... we consider woman suffrage in the church as contrary to Scripture only when it violates the above-mentioned Scriptural principles,
it leaves open the possibility that there may be a use of woman suffrage in the church which is not antiscriptural and therefore permissible, namely, when it does not involve publicly teaching the Word to men and exercising authority over men with respect to the public administration of the Office of the Keys. The Detroit "Statement" revealed a feeling that the passages usually cited to support the prohibition of woman suffrage (1 Cor. 14:33-35; 1 Tim. 2: 11-15) do not really address themselves to the question of the vote but set forth the more general principle of not putting or having a woman in the position of exercising authority over men. It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that three memorials were submitted to the New York convention on this subject. One called on the convention to confirm Synod's previous Scriptural position; another asked the Synod to authorize woman suffrage; and a third suggested that our church body discourage any action that would restrict woman suffrage.
In view of the fact that the President of the Synod had meanwhile requested the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations to study the question of woman suffrage in the church, the floor committee recommended, and the Synod resolved, to await the report of that commission.
6. New York, 1967
The Detroit convention, however, had passed another resolution which appears to have some significance in the matter of woman suffrage. At the direction of this convention a special committee had undertaken a study of the question of the eligibility of women for service on synodical boards, commissions, and committees. Floor Committee 2 recommended and the Synod accepted the following (Proceedings, 1967, p. 89, Res. 2-06):
Resolved, That we reemphasize the wisdom of using men for service on synodical boards, commissions, and committees and that we urge all men to fulfill the full stewardship of their responsibility in the church; and be it further
Resolved That the Synod declare women eligible to serve as advisory on synodical boards, commissions, and committees within the framework of Scriptural principles; and be it further
Resolved That women be granted such membership ... by appointment only; and be it finally
Resolved, That the matter of full membership of women on synodical boards, commissions, and committees be referred to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations for further study since this involves broader issues beyond the purview of the assignment given to this committee.
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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