Egalitarianism, theology

Two “Historical Studies” chapters in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless -a critical review

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. I have decided to critically review the book, chapter-by-chapter, to show that this teaching is mistaken.

Two “Historical Studies” Chapters

“Liberation Theology in the Leading Ladies of Feminist Theology” by Roland Ziegler

Pless and Harrison’s introduction to this section suggest the chapters included will demonstrate certain claims to be true. Ziegler’s chapter could be intended to support the following-

Claim 2: “Fueled by theological movements that set the charismatic distribution of the Spirit in opposition to an established office, the emerging equalitarianism of the feminist movement, historical criticism’s distrust of the biblical text, and in some cases a pragmatism that saw the ordination of women as a way to alleviate the clergy shortage… many Protestant denominations took steps to ordain women.” (Pless and Harrison, Section II introduction, 107)

Ziegler gives but the briefest historical survey of the origins of feminist theology and liberation theology. The point of the recent-ness is important, because Pless and Harrison claim in their historical section introduction that ordaining women is a novelty in the history of the church. As such, the authors must be at pains not to trace the lineage of ordaining women back too far, lest it not be such a novelty. Unfortunately, the author of the previous chapter already falsified that claim, noting that women were ordained in the earliest times of the church. The internal inconsistency of this collection of essays continues to pile up.

Anyway, Ziegler himself notes the origins of feminist theology reach back into 19th century (138), though he fails to cite any specific examples. Nevertheless, he asserts that feminist theology only “became visible” in the 1970s, thus supporting the “novelty” claims of Harrison and Pless. The 19th century is when we can find the origins of the LCMS itself, though. If novelty is such an argument against the truth of something, would these pastors also argue the LCMS is a “novel” development in the history of the church? Doubtful.

Ziegler moves on, dividing feminist theology into a somewhat arbitrary “radical” and “evangelical” segmentation. Then, over the course of two pages, he traces the “method” of feminist theology (notably, all from just one author). Then, he outlines various alleged beliefs from feminist theology, whether about its doctrine of God or Christology. Again, one author’s work looms large here, though a few others are cited.

The conclusion Ziegler offers is basically just that Confessional Lutheranism cannot accept feminist theology. But none of this supports the claim that the ordination of women directly arose out of the streams of feminist theology he traces. No attempt is even made to show that connection. Liberation theology, briefly referenced and defined at the beginning of the chapter, makes no impact on the rest of the chapter. It’s not clear to me at all why the chapter even attempts to cite both liberation and feminist theology, given the focus is entirely upon the latter. Readers looking for support for Harrison and Pless’s theses will find basically nothing here. It’s just a very limited look at (largely one author’s perspective on) feminist theology and then a rejection thereof.

“Forty Years of Female Pastors” in Scandinavia by Fredrik Sidenvall

Sidenvall asserts that because of women pastors, “it is impossible to proclaim any truth based on Scripture in our church” (154). With rhetorical flourish, he refers to women pastors as a form of “spiritual terrorism” (ibid). Most of this chapter is just that: rhetorical flourish. Sidenvall knows his audience will be people who agree with him, so throwing out one-liners to the crowd for applause takes up a great deal of the chapter.

The chapter turns to a short historical overview of how women’s ordination happened in Sweden. It all began, of course, with giving women the right to vote (154). This nefarious practice [my words, but not off tone for the chapter] led to liberalism taking hold. A neo-church movement then arose which led to an orthodox pushback. But then, the state appointed an exegete “who, though far from having any position in the faculties, had the qualifications to produce the answers the politicians wanted” (156). And what did the politicians want!? Women pastors! Or… something. The political pressure put on the church meant the church caved. So goes Sidenvall’s story. The facts he shares speak a slightly different tune, as he complains about the democratic organization of the churches, which thus allowed theology to flow with the times (157).

The rest of this historical survey holds up the tiny confessional remnant as a kind of heroic effort against a liberalizing church, apparently making one of the confessional leaders the “most hated person in Sweden” (162). Again, this rhetorical flourish plays well to those in agreement, but it seems little more than lionizing on the outside. Finally, Sidenvall turns to the impact of ordaining women, which includes stories of “horrifying… psychological torture” happening to those who are against women pastors going to “pastoral institutes of the Church” (165). Sidenvall ends on a hopeful (for him) note: Perhaps there will even come a day when the culture as a whole will find itself in chaos after having experimented with the roles of gender and deconstructing family, and there will be a desperate need for change” (166). This hopeful (he uses the word hope) message is alarming, showing a pastor genuinely hoping for societal chaos, breakdown, and turmoil. Rather than praying for peace, he hopes for destruction.

The chapter, of course, does basically nothing to demonstrate the claims Harrison and Pless said would be shown by the chapters in this section. And this chapter ends the section. My previous post noted how the chapter actually contradicted Harrison and Pless’s claims on a number of points. These two chapters basically do nothing to advance them. And that’s it! There’s nothing left. What we’ve been offered is an oddly terse summary of feminist theology (with the very briefest gloss of liberation theology at the front), and a rhetoric filled look at women pastors in Sweden followed by a hope for societal chaos. How does this support the claim that women pastors aren’t or should not be ordained? I’m unsure. It’s those opposed to them here who are hoping for destruction.


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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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