Possessing a Female Body is a Liability in the ELCA

I love my feminine, female body. I love my curves and muscles and hair. It took me a while to get to this point, but I love that my body is a living, breathing example of the dying and rising that Christ endured for all of humanity. I love it all. But I’m not sure how much the ELCA loves my body.

I spent this past year working for an ELCA church body that does tremendous work for the sake of God’s mission. I got to learn from strong women leaders and see the spirit move through the mundane tasks of administration.

But I also witnessed explicit sexism and discrimination for the sake of maintaining the status quo that the female body is still “other” to the ELCA. The female body that bleeds and brings life is too controversial in its natural God-given state, compared to the male, hetero-centric normal.

At first it was hushed stories, heresy, of women who’d become pregnant outside of marriage and subsequently lost their rostered status. I remembered shaking my head at the thought that leaders in our church were more concerned about a “less than typical” new life than they were about actual injustice facing our people. The idea seemed below us. I scoffed.

Until it happened within one degree of separation from me. And I was furious. I called my dad and fumed. “So the mother of JESUS can be an unmarried pregnant woman but our leaders in the church can’t?! What kind of hypocrisy is that?!” ur congregations were just “not ready for it,” as I was told.

And then the feeling developed beyond anger and into fear. I obsessed about what this could mean for me. If I became pregnant without getting married first, I could not only lose my job but also my status as an ordained minister in this church I loved so much. It began to consume me and boiled down to this:

Possessing a female body is a liability in the ELCA.

And then, more recently, I had an annual physical exam, and the doctor discovered that it would be very unlikely for me to conceive and carry a child to full term.

So I took a few deep breaths, swallowed this news, and walked back to the train station to head home. In a slight daze, my head went over the conversation I’d had with the doctor. I probably couldn’t get pregnant. And if I could, I would probably miscarry.

“But at least I won’t lose my job from getting pregnant?” I joked to a friend after I told her about the visit.

And with a terribly sad revelation, I learned that my inability to become pregnant was a safety net for me as an ELCA leader. My inability to bring a new life into this world, after parts of my own body died regularly, would help secure my salary.

And that, my dear reader, is fucked up.

This should have been devastating news. I should have been able to weep with grief over this loss of the potential. And instead, I shrugged my shoulders, because this meant I would be one less scandal. I couldn’t mourn this news.

And where in the hell is the grace in that?

When we don’t celebrate new life, we also don’t mourn its loss.

We celebrate a pregnant woman only if she’s checked all our boxes of suitability for child bearing. And we shame her, fire her, shun her, when she doesn’t meet our laughably inaccurate “biblically informed” standards. We strip away all the wonders and pains of creating a new life simply to the fact that she had sex before marriage. No celebration.

I’m calling for a reform, not just of Visions and Expectations, but also of our attitudes toward the creation of new life and the heartbreaking effects of knowing it will not come.

Our church has embraced women leaders for decades, and yet women’s bodies are packaged with what’s acceptable. Our sex is subdued and washed away when we wear the collar. We can’t celebrate new life, because it would be celebrating the sexual act that created it.

And when we don’t celebrate new life, we don’t mourn its loss.

2 Comments

  1. I remember having a dream after my only child was born that I was pregnant again, and was forced by my church to have an abortion because they were so angry that their priest would be off on maternity leave again. (Married. To a man. And yet.)

    Like

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