OWAAT November 5: Women in the Midst of: Between Ideals and Reality in the Reformation

As I reflected last week on public lament leading to reformation, and ruminated that with the #metoo campaign regarding sexual assault and harassment that has really taken off in the past couple weeks, I got to thinking about those advocates and proponents of the Reformation who have generally received scant treatment in conventional Reformation narratives – particularly women of the time who worked hard as both proponents and supporters of the Reformation but tend to not be discussed so much in church history. We learn about Martin Luther, but what about the other Luther – Katharina, Martin Luther’s wife? What about the women? What concerns and perspectives did they bring to the Reformation that have often not entered into our conversations and understandings about the Reformation?

In this week’s Bible reading we conclude Book II and begin Book III of the Psalms, which some consider to correspond with the Torah. In this week’s psalms we find more lament. As these psalms are hymns, consider writing one yourself. What thoughts are on your heart to pour out to God? In this transition Robert Cole notes the difference between Psalms 72 and 73: “Psalm 72 envisions a universal and eternal kingdom of peace and justice free from oppression and violence, while 73 brings the reader back to the hard reality of the present, a situation quite the opposite to that just described” (p. 15). Most of us understand that life is like that: we can see and dream of God’s realm at the same time that it’s not quite here yet.


Daily Bible readings:

November 5 Psalm 72
November 6 Psalm 73
November 7 Psalm 74
November 8 Psalm 75
November 9 Psalm 76
November 10 Psalm 77
November 11 Psalm 78

Like the difference between God’s realm and our reality, as we consider the contributions women made to the Reformation, we may consider the Reformation in light of its most lofty aims and aspirations versus the realities that women ran up against. A. Daniel Frankforter’s article provides a frustratingly real overview of the circumstances women at the time would have run into: “Since women were excluded from the universities and formal training in the techniques of scholastic argument, it was virtually impossible for them to develop careers as professional thinkers.” (p. 333) Woman mystics of  the time were allowed free-er reign, while still not allowed unbrokered access to the theologically formation of the Reformation: “The women who contributed most to theology were mystics whose visions derived from inspiration. As passive instruments of God, they produced spiritual raw material for the expository mills of male scholars.” (Ibid.)

In spite of the above-named obstacles, Kirsi Stjerna’s book Women and the Reformation provides an excellent overview of the roles women did take in the Reformation, asking basic (but important and often unasked) questions such as, “Who was this woman? What kind of a Reformer was she? What did she write or do about the issues that mattered to her? How did others receive her? What were her options? What role did her gender have in her life? Why is she important in the larger scope of Protestant history (histories) and theology (theologies)? What has been her place in scholarship, and what, with Luther, Calvin and other ‘great’ reformers, can she teach us?” (p. 12). The book considers whether male reformers putting forth the concept of “the priesthood of all believers” truly meant ALL, or only male believers.

How might the church change if all women of faith felt comfortable and were able to share their truths and life stories with authority? What would the priesthood of all believers look like were women truly serving in unrestrained ways?


As we continue praying with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the month of November, using their monthly Prayer Ventures letter for November 2017, take a look at the themes of the prayers. Are there any particular to ELCA concerns? How do their particular prayer concerns for the denomination affect or fit in with those of the wider church?


What do you see as the differences between God’s realm and our current reality? How will you serve and live out your love for God and neighbor this week, working to close the gap between God’s ideals and our reality as we understand it? If you’re not sure, here are some ideas:

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for things to do.

Find your local faith- or congregation-based community organizing network/organization and participate in their work and actions. Here are links to the major faith-based community organizing networks and their local affiliate organizations:

DART – Direct Action and Research Training Center


IAF – Industrial Areas Foundation

IVP – InterValley Project

PICO – People Improving Communities through Organizing

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

Cole, Robert L. The Shape and Message of Book III (Psalms 73-89). Journal for the study of the Old Testament. Supplement series 307. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Frankforter, A. Daniel. “Elizabeth Bowes and John Knox: A Women and Reformation Theology.” Church History 56, no. 3 (1987): 333–47. doi:10.2307/3166062.

Stjerna, Kirsi Irmeli. Women and the Reformation. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2009.