The Naked Truth
By David Stein
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21). The truth is “male and female were created in the image of God,” and God blessed them. And everything God made was very good. Three thousand years later the ancestral shepherd boy laments: “You have searched me and known me . . . when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away; you formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:1-2, 13). A thousand years hence an elderly Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed to the virgin Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42).
The vessel of life’s continuity is the crowning creation of God, woman. A part of the mystery of the creator God was revealed in the choice of a woman for the incarnation. God becomes human without surrendering the divine. And so God was humbled and “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
In the publications of the church, catholic and apostolic, mainstream and off-beat, scholarly and those of biased and often unstudied opinion (during my forty plus years of public ministry), the role of woman has been volleyed back and forth like a shuttlecock in a badminton match. Even as I write this piece to meet a late August deadline, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is meeting in assembly. Among many resolutions to be enacted by the largest of the American Lutheran Church bodies are those dealing with gender and human sexuality issues. As I access the hourly progress of this church convention, one news service reports: “Eliminating the Commission for Women through the newly adopted restructuring was the main concern among voting members about the new design [restructured churchwide organization].” Ironically, in the “Assembly Happenings” release for the delegates, attention is called to “Honoring Women in Ministry” – a festive dinner commemorating the 35th anniversary of women’s ordination. What grace of God is channeled through the gifts of women who are set apart for public ministry!
Fifty-one years ago as I was studying Latin, German, Greek and acceptable English in a small academy environment (prep school), my German professor was bringing completion to a significant tome (1160 pages) titled Lutheran Cyclopedia. Erwin Lueker was a gifted scholar who collaborated with persons for whom I have the highest regard and esteem. Paul M. Bretscher, Walter Buszin, Jaroslav Pelikan, Lewis W. Spitz, Emil Weis, Lando Otto, Arthur C. Piepkorn, Walter Wolbrecht, Leonard Wuerffel, Arthur Repp, Richard R. Caemmerer – all listed were my professors at either prep-school or my seminary, Concordia, Saint Louis, Missouri. As I was organizing my thoughts for this assignment, I ventured back to Dr. Lueker’s work of 1954, the year of my prep school graduation, to read what, if anything, was written about women. I found under the heading “Woman in Christian Society” the following:
The New Testament, in common with the revelation of the Old Testament, places woman on a high level and creates the basis for a noble concept of ethical equality with man. It does so by making women equal with man as a shareholder in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by removing sex as a factor in the reception and exercise of the life of God, and by presenting noble illustrations of Christian womanhood.
Hundreds of words later the article is signed by none other than Richard R. Caemmerer, my seminary homiletics professor and mentor of heart, mind and soul for pastoral ministry.
It is not only “the woman” in ministry that is preoccupying some of the journalists of the synod these days. When one sees the WO acronym in an article or editorial comment, we enter another venue, another ball park, another realm of theological debate. Why is women’s ordination such a threat to The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s leadership, administrative, academic and organizational. Why? Again I went to the Cyclopedia looking for informed answers and definitions. Try this on for a fifty-year-old article on the “Ministerial Office.” How about this opening sentence: “The office of the ministry is a divine institution.” Yes! And how divine? I began to recall my pedagogues who were called into the ministries of the synod. I name them in part: Nancy, Irene, Carol, Judy, Mary, Carolyn, Barbara, Joyce, George, Carl, John, et al. I recall how many hundreds of graduates, as a synodical officer and dean of students, I placed into the “ministry” of the church [synod] as teachers, DCEs and many later on as seminary graduates.
Permit me to cite one paragraph from a lengthy Cyclopedic article:
Not the ordination, but the call received from a Christian congregation and accepted makes a man a public servant of the Word, and he ceases to be one when he no longer serves in or for a congregation or group of congregations, e.g., Synod. Ordination is not a divine institution; The Lutheran church in its Confessions has made it the public ratification of the acceptance of a call to a certain congregation or a certain field of Church work sponsored by a congregation or a group of congregations. Ordination and installation do not differ essentially.
Signed by none other than my father’s seminary dean, John H. C. Fritz, a mentor to all of us who have ever been graced with an appointment as dean of students on a university or seminary campus of synod.
The above paragraph makes me wonder whether, as a pastor emeritus, I am still a “public servant of the Word.” I have to think about that. As I dwelt on what Fritz wrote, I began to search what the confessions have to say about human sexuality and the issues so often meted out against the woman in ministry. The only index reference to the word sex appears on page 763 of the Book of Concord (Kolb-Wengert edition). The subject index reads “Sexual Drive” with a cross reference to “Natural Affection.” In Article XXIII: The Marriage of Priests (Apology of the Augsburg Confession) we read: “Genesis 1:28 teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful and that one sex should desire the other sex in a proper way” (p. 249). St. Paul says: “But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife” (1 Cor. 7:2). “Now this is an express command pertaining to anyone who is not fit for celibacy” (p. 250). The fourth point made regarding the marriage of priests ends with this interesting observation: “This law concerning perpetual celibacy is unique to this new pontifical tyranny, and for good reason. For Daniel (11:37) attributes to the kingdom of the Antichrist this mark, namely, the contempt for women” (p. 251). In the catholic tradition of the apostolic church we in Missouri are not compelled to deal with ecclesiastical matters of priestly celibacy. However, I submit we are still confronted with the issues of “contempt” for women even without specific reference to the various offices of public ministry “approved” by the synod, i.e., deaconesses, teachers, directors of Christian education, ministers of youth and family etc. There is blatant contempt for many women caused in fact by the attitudes and misappropriated authority of certain ordained male clergy and tenured and un-tenured faculty on some campuses of higher learning. There are still (in the 21st century) Missouri Synod congregations which do not permit women to vote in the public assembly, nor can they set foot in the “sacred” spaces of the sanctuary. Women must cover their heads, neither may they serve as officers of the church council, board of directors or of the congregation. And that is the naked truth!
It was Whittier, I believe, who wrote: “For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”
If you do not believe that gender and sex are priorities for theological discussion and debate in light of contemporary culture psychologically, anthropologically and sociologically, I suggest you solicit a copy of the July 2005 Concordia Journal (Vol. 31, No. 3), copyright by Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis. The article titles on page 213 tell the story: “The Challenge of Homosexuality: What is at Stake?” “Christian Responses to the Culture’s Normalization of Homosexuality,” “The Local Congregation Approaches the Issues: Lutheran Responses – Sin, Sex, and Civil Silence,” “Where is the Holy Family Today? Marriage a Holy Covenant before God – The Biblical Role of Man and Woman.” This last article title introduces us to Louis A. Brighton, professor emeritus, who observes:
Of all the families mentioned in the Bible which can be presented as models to be emulated, perhaps the one that could best be held up as such a model and example for a Christian marriage today is that of the holy family – Joseph and Mary and the Christ child. Perhaps Paul had this example in mind, without actually mentioning Joseph and Mary, when he encourages Christian wives to be submissive to their husbands.
And she (the wife who subjects herself to her husband) will be saved through childbearing, if she should remain in the faith and love and holiness of life (1 Tim. 2:12-15).
A random thought or two in response to the early stages of Dr. Brighton’s essay. The marriage of Mary and Joseph has ever and always been to this writer a divine mystery. I have always considered Joseph submissive to God and Mary submissive to the will of God whose plan of salvation was announced by an angel. Joseph had to heed the word of an angel of the Lord who appeared in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The miracle and mystery of God interacting in the human family transcends my understanding of human nature and divine sexuality “begotten of the Holy Spirit.” Both Mary and Joseph were submissive to the will of the creator God. This was an out-of-wedlock event, premarital condition of the virgin, embarrassing, and so Joseph “being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19-20). Jesus was born without sin to sinful Mary and Joseph. I do not find a parallel model in modern marriage, nor have I ever counseled engaged couples that there is anything else than a holy family when God gives life to the union of man and women in procreative sexual relationships. But let’s take a step closer to the reality of today’s marriage and family. What about a birth without a married father present. Who is head of the household when a woman is the only parent of the child or children born out of wedlock? Does God, the Father become the human surrogate. He surely does not descend to change the dirty diapers.
The more I seek answers to the many dilemmas and questions of male and female differences, the more convinced I am that the biological differences between man and woman have nothing to do with the equality of the sexes regarding the use of gifts or the setting apart for ministry[ies] in and of the church catholic and apostolic. We are one and holy, male and female, as we confess our belief in the one holy church and in the communion of saints. “We acknowledge one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”
Why are we afraid or hesitant to affirm the universal nature of the sexes and the giving of the gifts by the Spirit to women and men equally and without restrictions? Many faith traditions have answered that question decades ago. I have had the blessed privilege of working in multi-religious, multi-denominational ministries with ordained women of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Adventist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran and Anglican traditions and have never once questioned their authenticity or authority for public ministry. I firmly believe it is high time to wake out of sleep, to give recognition and authorization to women who are called by the Spirit to serve in pastoral ministries including the office of shepherd and bishop of our souls.
Here I stand, father of children all “born in Missouri,” all now served by gifted pastors whose genders are both female and male, nurturing and caring persons who have been divinely called to the office of pastoral ministry. That’s the naked truth, strongly affirmed by this writer who was privileged to serve the synod as a pastor for more than forty years.
The Book of Concord: The Confession of the Evangelical Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Concordia Journal 31:3 (July 2005). Quentin F. Wesselschmidt, Chairman. Copyright Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
Lutheran Cyclopedia, ed. Erwin Lueker. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1954.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
All Crossed Up
It fits nicely on the lapel of a pin-striped suit. It hangs with glistening beauty around the neck as an ornament of “the” Christian faith. As jewelry of the finest design it goes well with tank-tops, low-buttoned blouses, baseball and basketball jerseys. It dangles with charm and sweat from the ear lobes of professional athletes and Hollywood stars. It is an appropriate gift at the time of baptism or its reaffirmation. It may be marked on the forehead and signed on the heart. It comes in gold and silver, platinum and pewter, stainless steel and terra cotta, in wire and wood, in paper and plastic and endless fabrications. We call it a cross. We wear it.
It is easy to acquire. There is always a buyer’s market for artistic jewelry. The cross is universally attractive in pristine and elaborate designs. Even the old rugged cross sells in shapes and song. It is so theatrical when suspended above an altar or mounted in the chancel, carved into a pulpit, adorning the font of baptism, displayed during the season of passion, draped in purple or white, processed down the sanctuary aisle. We wear it and we bear it.
It seems so “costumey,” so ornamental, so wearer friendly, this instrument of human torture. We have become comfortable with its symbolic meaning. Empowered by the call to lift it high, we still get all crossed up by distractions and digressions and daily desert the decision to pick it up. Cross bearing, not wearing, involves choices. You can say yes or you can say no when the call comes. “Whoever would save her life will lose it; and whoever would lose his life, for my sake and the gospel’s, shall find it.”
Katrina arrived as one great big cross for people to comprehend and endure. Even those called to do public ministry are overwhelmed by the scope of the task to save lives, hydrate thousands of displaced citizens, feed the hungry, house the homeless, render human services and provide care for the critically ill and dying. No cross is too difficult to bear; God picked it up for us and thus calls us to follow the example by the choice that says, yes, I will. I will go to help the poor and the outcast, and I will lift their crosses from their shoulders and share their burdens. The service of caring is a matter of choice, a deliberate choice awaiting an answer. Those of us who live in the Gulf States need your prayers and hands to help the homeless regain their dignity and find hope in the face of catastrophic disaster, while we provide a cup of water, food and clothing and the bare necessities to sustain life.
David T. Stein, Ph.D., Emeritus