Lutheran Churches in Latin America and the Caribbean Form Women and Gender Justice Network

LWF Vice-President for the Latin American and Caribbean region Rev. Dr Gloria Rojas Vargas blesses participants at the founding of the Women and Gender Justice network. © IECLB/Tobias Mathies
LWF Vice-President for the Latin American and Caribbean region Rev. Dr Gloria Rojas Vargas blesses participants at the founding of the Women and Gender Justice network. © IECLB/Tobias Mathies

A Tool to Support Gender Policy in the LWF

Women theologians and leaders from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have formed a network with a goal to promote women leadership with gender justice in all spheres of church work.

The 25 women representing churches in 10 countries said the LAC “Women and Gender Justice” network would, among other priorities, enhance inclusive, sustainable and hospitable communities within the church and in the local settings in which the Lutheran churches are carrying out their work.

The women met in the context of the LWF Latin American Church Leadership Conference (Conferencia de Liderazgo-COL), taking place 23-26 April in the southern Brazilian city of Florianopolis, hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB).

The network’s inauguration on 22 April was a result of a process led by the LWF Women in Church and Society (WICAS) desk focusing on the COL’s theme, “Rereading Our Common and Unique Lutheran Identity in LAC.”

The vision to build up such a network was initiated in 1993 in Chile when women pastors and theologians shared experiences and read the Bible from women’s perspectives, recalled Rev. Dr Gloria Rojas Vargas, LWF Vice-President for the LAC region and the first female president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile (IELCH).

“I remember many years ago when I began studying theology, the difficulties were too big. The bridges were built by women to overcome cultural challenges that do not promote access to education and work,” said Rojas, who was ordained in 1985 and led the IELCH from 2000 to 2011.

Struggle for More Space

The participants in the women’s meeting noted that for more than 40 years, women had struggled to gain more space in decision-making positions and in the different church ministries. When the first women joined seminaries, they started a new chapter in the churches’ history. Over the years, they gained experience and were ordained.

“Today, this network represents the achievements of many women. This date is important for the women in Latin America and [the] Caribbean because it affirms the way they will work in the Lutheran communion. We don’t want to compete with men, but we want to have the same opportunities. We want to help build a united, creative, lively and joyful church,” added Rojas.

“Today, we affirm that we are motivated to continue serving in the church. This empowers us, enables us and gives us more strength to continue with the mission of God. Such initiatives reinforce discussions on the role of women in the church and society,” said Helen Rios Carrillo, a member of the Nicaraguan Lutheran Church of Faith and Hope, who is a young leader in the WICAS regional coordinators’ network.

Theological Education, Ordination

The participants noted that one of the inspiring examples was that all the 16 LWF member churches in the LAC region ordain women. An initial mapping exercise demonstrated that there is an increased number of women pursuing theological studies.

“This reality can be seen with joy because women are developing theological reflections that lead and coordinate important ministries, but on the other side it is an issue to be reflected critically as it shows a tendency of feminization in theological studies and churches. Empowering women to share their visions and to develop their active role as leaders in the church, exercising their ecclesial citizenship is a central task for WICAS programmatic work,” said Rev. Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt, LWF WICAS secretary.

“The agenda of women’s empowerment and gender justice is a concern for the leadership conference space in LAC. It’s an ecclesiological concern, a church issue and not a women’s issue only,” emphasized Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti, the region’s area secretary at the LWF Department for Mission and Development (DMD), which organizes the church leadership conferences.

Neuenfeldt praised the LAC churches for their committed support toward the WICAS initiatives. “I have no doubt that the regional ‘Women and Gender Justice’ network will serve as a tool to support the process of gender policy in the LWF,” she added

To implement the LWF’s decision to have gender justice as a cross-cutting priority, WICAS has been working with an advisory group on drafting a gender policy for the organization. Workshops have also been organized with member churches in the different regions. (742 words)

(By Tobias Mathies, IECLB communications officer)