The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has opened conversations between the church and academia on feminist theologies, hoping to develop insight on how the Church can live out its commitment to combat sexism in the church and society and to advocate justice for women.
Although Lutheran feminist theologians have been writing and working in Lutheran and non-Lutheran institutions for a long time, the church and academia have rarely come together to discuss their work, says Dr. Mary Streufert, director of the Justice for Women program, part of the denomination's Church in Society arm.
Until now, the discussion on feminist theologies has been mainly confined to some ELCA universities and seminaries, said Streufert.
"Open dialogue between church and academy on feminist theologies is pretty radical," she noted, according to ELCA News Service.
But last month, the ELCA did something it has never done.
From Jan. 23-25, the denomination hosted its first-ever forum on exploring Lutheran theology from the perspectives of Asian, black, Latina and white women.
"Women from different cultural and ethnic contexts breathe new insight into Lutheran theology today," said Streufert.
Held in Chicago, Ill., "Transformative Lutheran Theologies Conference: Feminist, Womanist and Mujerista Perspectives," brought together about 160 women and men pastors, college and seminary students, professors and lay people, among others.
ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson called on attendees to think strategically how the church can "confront the scandalous realities" of sexism, racism and other systems of oppression, and live out its commitment to becoming an anti-racist, anti-sexist church, reported the denomination's news service.
Invited speakers presented a series of papers on four theological topics: ethics, theological anthropology, Christology and theology of the Trinity.
"We've acknowledged that, from a feminist, womanist or mujerista perspective, there are serious questions to wrestle with in the theological tradition, whether Lutheran or, more broadly, Christian," Streufert said.
Those questions include: "What might women theologians contribute constructively about that for the sake of the church?" and "What is life-giving from these perspectives that can help transform the world for the sake of the gospel?"
The conference received a positive response from participants.
"This is the kind of event that I have been dying to do in Canada," said Catherine Pate, program editor of Evangelical Lutheran Women in Winnipeg, Manitoba, according to ELCA News Service. "To be a church on the side of justice, then the church must name and unmask the truth about its own culpability in oppression."
Hanson said the conference occurs "at a crossroad" in the church.
"We can retreat in fear and isolation to the church we once were, or we can move boldly to the church God wants us to become," he said, according to the denomination's news service.
According to the Justice for Women program, justice for women occurs when the ways in which women and girls are objectified are rejected and the image of God of women and girls is affirmed through both theology and policy, in church and in society.
In a meeting last November, the Church Council of the ELCA recommended that the 2009 Churchwide Assembly call for development of a social statement on the topic of "justice for women in church and society" for presentation to the 2015 Churchwide Assembly.
The 11th ELCA Churchwide Assembly will take place Aug. 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.