Featured Stories, Lutherans in Minnesota

Transformative Lutheran Theologies

The importance of Lutheran female voices in theological discussions

This flyer for the “Transforming the Reformer” panel at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, demonstrates that St. Olaf alumnae are leaders in the field of reformation studies.

Undergraduate students studying at a Lutheran college may take religion classes due to a curriculum requirement or because of an interest in making good, informed choices based on their faith background. But why does theology matter for them in today’s world? And, more specifically, what does the voice of Lutheran women bring to the theological discussion? In the end, why does religion, which for many is associated with conservative political and social statements, even matter today?

Four alumnae of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, will present a panel discussion on March 14 that will bring forth the importance of Lutheran female voices in theological discussions in today’s world and answer many of these questions.

As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of its religion department, St. Olaf will present “Transforming the Reformer: Lutheran Sisterhood and Brother Martin.” The panel will include Kris Kvam, ’76; Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, ‘76; Deanna Thompson, ‘89; and Marit Trelstad, ’89. A response will be made by Lori Pearson, ’90.

Each of the presenters contributed to the book Transformative Lutheran Theologies: Feminist, Womanist and Mujerista Perspectives, which was released in September 2010 by Augsburg Fortress. (Mujerista theology offers a perspective from the point of view of a Latina.) The book is called a “systematic representation of Lutheran feminist, womanist, and mujerista theologies … (that) focuses on central themes that Luther addressed and that are representative of Lutheranism today. … These Lutheran theologians, like Luther, seek reformation by ‘giving voice to new perspectives in theology that continue to transform the church and the world.’”

The March 14th conversation will be based on work from Transforming Lutheran Theologies and will provide St. Olaf students and guests with an opportunity to take part in this cutting edge conversation from these four St. Olaf alums who are experts in feminist theological perspectives.

The book is said to be the first of its kind from a Lutheran voice. Kvam, associate professor of theology, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City,  said, “There has long been a need among Christian feminists for Lutherans to offer a voice.”

Scholars rooted in real-life experiences

Kvam, who has a strong background in Luther studies, notes that Martin Luther had an interest in, and concern for, the absence of respect for women in the teachings of the church which he, as a reformer, felt was due them.

This addition to the conversation has been well received among Lutheran theologians. Serene Jones, president of the faculty and Roosevelt professor of systematic theology at New York City’s Union Seminary, called the book “a remarkable addition to the rich history of Lutheran theology” and said she has “been waiting 20 years for a text like this.”

Said Jones, “Imagine teaching Luther’s thought and placing it beside these cutting-edge essays. Luther would no doubt be proud — maybe even a bit envious.”

Thompson, who serves as professor of religion at Hamline University, St. Paul, said the book “emerged out of sustained conversations among the more than a dozen women who contributed to the book. “

“All of us who participated are women scholars of religion; at the same time, our work is rooted in our own real-life experiences in the church and the world, and our work has become stronger through its collaborative nature,” she said.

Thompson believes that the conversation will be valuable to teach today’s college students the importance of institutionalized religion. “Many of the students I work with are leery of institutionalized religion. They see the hypocrisy in Christian claims to follow Jesus and the way churches often fall far short of such discipleship,” she said.

“The church and our Lutheran heritage have so much to offer our world, but many of our young people are choosing to move in other directions. The conversation between Luther and feminist thought that we women are having is one that confronts the church’s failings and calls for new, more inclusive visions to move us forward. And I think such visions help inspire our youth to reconsider the church and its mission for today.”

Those interested in taking part in the Lutheran feminist conversation, are welcome to attend “Transforming the Reformer” on March 14th, 7:30 p.m., Tomson Hall 280, St. Olaf College, Northfield. The event is free and open to the public. It will also be live streamed over the Web. More information is available at www.st olaf.edu/calendar.

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