Author(s): Aivita Putniņa, Dace Balode
Subject(s): Christian Theology and Religion, Gender Studies, Other Christian Denominations, Sociology of Religion
Published by: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts
Keywords: ordination of women; gender; Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church; masculinity; theology;

Summary/Abstract: The paper addresses the change in the leadership role of women in Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church (LELC). While being open to the ordination of women, the Church overruled its decision to ordinate women in 2016. We look at the perception of gender and sex in the Lutheran Church in relation to wider societal processes. Latvia occupied the 18th position in the European Gender Equality index in 2020, mostly lagging behind in the areas of power, knowledge and finances. The post-socialist legacy has had its impact on gender regimes, and reproductive policies allow women to be perceived as different political actors. Discussion of women and their role in societal reproduction also serves as a coded debate on national morality and political legitimacy. The LELC, alongside other traditional denominations, also directly participate in gender equality-related politics supporting a conservative position. Simultaneously, the LELC has not openly engaged in discussing gender in its theological teachings. The paper is based on twelve ethnographic interviews with women serving or having served in a position of ministry in either the LELC or the Latvian Lutheran Evangelical Church Abroad (LELCA). Participants were chosen to reflect on a wider range of experiences and included women who had become pastors or deaconesses during the period of National Awakening in the late 1980s and later. Also included were women who had left their ministry and those who continued to serve, or had left the LELC and had joined the LELCA (which still ordains women). We look at women’s ministry as a phenomenon, which requires not only theological but also wider cultural resources from women themselves, congregations and church leadership. Following Pierre Bourdieu, masculine domination is perceived as neutral and does not require self-legitimization. Therefore, instead of seeking to establish a unified female position, we look at the repertoire, resources and frames which allow women to express their ministry experience. Our research confirms that the Church mostly maintains a tradition division of labour inside the congregations, and women mostly have entered the ministry due to practical but not theological reasons: a shortage of male pastors and the need for hands to support physical maintenance of the church property. At the same time, the position of women has remained obscure and vulnerable. While women’s experience in the ministry allows for the exposition and questioning of the masculine order inside the Church, it mostly becomes silenced as individual and subjective. Objections to women’s ministry are not voiced and substantiated openly and include not only theological preferences but sometimes the aesthetic and customary. The authors have also examined the problems in co-working, especially when women are more experienced and better educated. Women themselves often choose a strategy to neutralise their gender identity, claiming its irrelevance to God, or used a gender complementarity argument allowing the ministry to be seen as a continuation of traditional familial gendered division of labour. None of these strategies is able to strengthen the position of women in the Church and create solidarity in resisting the masculine order. Further, an explicit association with gender has endangered individual ministry of women. A lack of discussions and women’s increasing marginalization in the Church have had a broader impact on the life of congregations. Current processes inside the LELC strengthen traditional masculinisation, increasing the significance of power relations and politicising the Church. Our study confirms the necessity to use theology as an instrument with which to reflect upon the Church in a particular material and limited world. Ignoring gender as a ‘silent default’ weakens both theology and the Church alike.

  • Issue Year: XXIX/2021
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 176-202
  • Page Count: 27
  • Language: Latvian