by Heather Dean
Last August the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted (863-26) to adopt a social statement called Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action by a staggering margin.
WHAT IS A SOCIAL STATEMENT?
Social statements are ELCA teaching documents that help people to think about social issues from a Lutheran perspective. They guide the public witness of the church, particularly for all rostered leaders and for the ELCA Advocacy offices. Each social statement is developed by a diverse task force of ELCA members in a process that highlights public feedback. Task force members study the issue, release study materials for the church, and work on a proposed draft statement to be voted upon at churchwide assemblies.
WHY ARE THERE TWO SECTIONS?
The two sections echo the structure of Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms. The first 11 pages state 40 convictions and commitments. Then the document dives more deeply into each conviction or commitment. At the end of the document, implementing resolutions offer ELCA members and ministries direction for how to carry out the statement.
WHAT DOES SEXISM MEAN? WHAT ABOUT PATRIARCHY?
Sexism reinforces prejudice and discrimination against women and girls due to their gender and against people who do not conform to socially accepted gender roles. Human actions and speech can be sexist, as can institutions, policies and practices. In the statement, patriarchy refers to how society is structured to enable men to have more power than (and power over) women and people who do not conform to socially accepted gender roles. Everyone participates in a patriarchal system in different ways. In this context, patriarchy does not refer to how men inherit in families.
WHAT SOCIAL ISSUES DOES THE STATEMENT TALK ABOUT?
The statement urges advocacy and action on issues including:
• Gender-based violence
• Medical research and health care delivery
• Economic policies
• Families and parental support
• Migrants, immigrants and refugees
• Entertainment, media and advertising
• Women’s participation in government
The statement also explores how racism, classism and other forms of oppression intersect to create different experiences and challenges for women and girls.
HOW DOES THE STATEMENT USE THE BIBLE?
The statement is grounded in Scripture, using a Lutheran lens that gives priority to Bible passages about Christ and God’s love for humankind. This Lutheran way of reading the Bible reflects the fundamental biblical revelation that God intends that everyone flourish, rather than focusing on single verses about women being subordinate or literally silent in churches.
WHAT DOES THE STATEMENT SAY ABOUT HUMAN SEXUALITY?
The statement is consistent with Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009). It advocates that everyone deserves to be welcomed and protected from harm and discrimination, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
DOES THE STATEMENT DISCUSS DOMESTIC OR GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE?
The statement does touch on the sinfulness of gender-based violence, but for a deeper look at this topic, see the Social Message on Gender-Based Violence at elca. org/socialmessages.
WHAT DOES THE STATEMENT SAY ABOUT GENDER ROLES?
It states that people of all genders were created equally by God, and that people should be supported to pursue their God-given gifts, regardless of the gender with which those gifts may be associated. For some people this may involve being a stay-at-home parent or working in business or in the church or a mix. Our vocations are valid because they are based in God’s calling, not because of a gender role.
HOW CAN I BE INVOLVED?
Read the statement and implementing resolutions and see what you feel passionate about or called to do. Make a list of what you want to learn more about. Find out what your local government is doing to help, and
give your legislators a call to let them know what is important to you (for resources, visit elca.org/advocacy).
Heather Dean serves on the Theological Discernment Team in the Office of the ELCA Presiding Bishop
This article is excerpted from the July/August 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.