By Pastor Heike Rödder
Christian Lecture 2015
I have been a woman from birth, but I left the work of women:
baskets and winding yarn, threads made taut on the bits of paper.
The blossoming meadows of the muses give me joy,
the choirs on high Parnassus,
which rises up doubly.
Other women might be happy with other things:
This alone brings me fame, this alone is my happiness!
In my age group, many studied theology because they were attracted by the Protestant Church's commitment to the peace movement and to the Conciliar Process in the 1980s.
It was similar for me. By way of my work with our school group of amnesty international, my attendance of the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Gymnasium, where I learned a lot about the resistance to National Socialism, and my turning away from an evangelical-fundamentalist tinted youth group, I came to my studies. The latter brought me great relief, for I was on the verge of throwing out my interest in religious questions because in those surroundings I felt highly unwell and not understood. In particular regarding their ideas of the role of women.
For I had always been moved by the various paths women took in our society.
Already during my childhood, I was fascinated by women politicians such as Annemarie Renger or Hildegard Hamm-Bücher, whom I saw in news broadcasts that I wasn't really allowed to watch. Later, I was impressed in my German classes by the fact that women such as Bettina von Arnim or Karoline von Günderrode corresponded in their time with great writers.
Of course I had learned in the rural milieu of the 1970s that at the latest aged fifteen, girls have to learn to suppress their joy in reading and to give priority to work on the farm and in the house. I had also learned that men deserve their free evening when they come into the house after doing their work on the farm, but for women the second shift begins then and they have to care for the family. Some of the men in my family liked to quote that “The hands of a woman may never rest”.
But I didn't succeed very well in suppressing my joy in reading. Because for example, in my French classes, we read many texts out of existentialist literature – Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Schwarzer were very present. That awoke my great interest.
Since I grew up in the country, my love of animals and of agricultural work also made things difficult. For I learned fast that women and girls are just as strong and can work just as hard as men, since in agricultural work, we didn't really distinguish much between the genders. So from my youth, I was certainly aware of my physical strengths. And therefore I considered the claim concerning the weak gender to be absurd.
Among three people being examined (along with me two young men had registered that morning), I was the only one to pass the test for a driver's licence for motor cycle and tractor, and that made it possible for me at the age of sixteen to load two horses onto the trailer and to drive to the riding club for training.
Even though at that time I knit children's socks and caps, so executed traditional female handwork in order to sell them for some pocket money, I only really felt free and happy when I could gallop across the fields in through the woods with one of our horses.
My point is not to devalue the caring work that is often done by women. On the contrary, many accomplish top-class things in doing so, without it really being seen and honored. I definitely want to emphasize my esteem! However, I would wish that both genders each do half of this work.
For since my childhood, I have never understood why I, simply because of a biological fact, was supposed to orient my interest towards the household sphere, but as far as possible not develop any interest in the public domain and in scientific work.
Because of the preliminary work of courageous women – and in the Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland, we will celebrate in November forty years of women's ordination – I have been given in my Protestant Church the freedom to study theology and to complete it with full validity. Theoretically, all positions are open to me. But since my studies, I have again and again encountered people who told me, that they find it inappropriate for a woman to practice this profession. Particularly if she is unmarried and has no children and therefore takes on full positions, which many would like to reserve for fathers of families.
My path in the Protestant Church was always also a struggle to belong and to be accepted. Frequently because I am rejected as a single woman.
But my married women colleagues suffer because of various unreasonable demands. These tones have become particularly clear over the past few years: women colleagues who, for example, have applied for part-time positions were given them only if they were married to a man who could show that he had a full position. The reason given by the committees: Then we can cancel your position at any time; after all, you are safeguarded by your husband.
Many congregations as well as Church regions with pastoral positions for a particular task (hospital, prison, etc.) seem to want to make clear through full-time, permanent pastoral positions - and some of them also say this in plain terms: In our milieu, a man should provide for his wife and children.
Beyond all theological issues, it seems that for many this is about defending a way of life which they themselves consider to be the only correct one.
And that perhaps is already no longer being lived by their children.
Which is why the exemplary function of the minister's home becomes ever more important to them. At least there, the world should still be in order.
But since the Enlightenment, the Protestant minister's home represents openness, education and liberal thinking. Moreover, the biblical material in the synoptic gospels reminds us that personal relationships are to be reconsidered ever anew, for example when Jesus of Nazareth asks: “Who is my mother? Who are my siblings?” And comes to the conclusion: “You are my mother and my siblings. Everyone who does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
Anyone who takes these sentences seriously is immune when it comes to rigid ideas and the glorification of family; and in addition, that person knows that within the family, not only happiness can come forth, but also much pain.
In the 18th century, for example, a young theologian by the name of Friedrich Schleiermacher looked at these issues. As an eager visitor to the Berlin salons and a personal friend of Henriette Herz, he had a lively exchange with women who had access to education and therefore also demanded for themselves more rights and fulfillment in life. A very basic right that they demanded was to choose freely the man at their side.
They proceeded to go their own way and took first steps towards their personal emancipation. With time, many others joined them, they read a lot and cultivated friendships in the literary salons. They exchanged by means of extensive correspondence, they looked critically at their own lives, and in so doing made an inestimably great contribution to the path of women towards their personal freedom.
Some of these women friends freed themselves from husbands in marriages that had been arranged by their parents, and they married men with whom they felt a connection in passionate love (e.g. Brendel Mendelssohn, whose married name had been Veit, Dorothea Schlegel – Friedrich Schlegel).
Of course I am far from being an expert on Berlin's literary salons in the 18th century. But as I see it, from these Jewish women came forth a force of emancipation that in the course of time had a liberating effect on the whole of society and beyond all religions, just as the Enlightenment had intended.
This radiated at least into the Protestant Church, as becomes visible in the person of Friedrich Schleiermacher and his work.
He explicitly supported the liberation of women from their unhappy marriages through divorce, and in his “Vertrauten Briefen über Friedrich Schlegels Lucinde”, [Intimate Letters about Friedrich Schlegels Lucinde] for example, he made a plea in favor of the love relationship.
Thus he contributed towards replacing the economically motivated connection of two influential houses through the children's marriage, and he made it possible for the principle of a love marriage to enter Protestantism. For us today that sounds obvious, but at that time it was disputed.
That is why in my opinion, the women of the Christian majority society cannot thank the Jewish women enough who, stimulated by the ideas of Romanticism, took first courageous steps on this path of emancipation.
It seems to me that both in secular society and in Germany's Protestant Churches, the principle of love as the foundation for a relationship seems to be taken for granted. Including its breakdown.
- That is why many forms of family life have established themselves in our society. First of all, the single parents. Above all women after a separation – or in rare cases after the death of the children's father – continue to bring up their children alone. They are exposed to many burdens and urgently need more support in our society and Church.
- Or the patchwork families. In which after a separation or widowhood, these people come together and form a new family distinct from those that already exist. Many children have two mothers and two fathers – both biological and social.
- The rainbow families are gaining ground. Lesbian women and gay men at times form a common family network in which together they bring children into the world and bring them up. In some parts of society, they are still struggling for acceptance, and they therefore need the support of all social and Church groups so that as soon as possible all rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples and families will be given to them.
For I consider it to be important that all human beings can develop their private life free of every discrimination, that in so doing they are accepted and supported by society and the Church.
The Rat der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland [Council of the Protestant Church in Germany] recognized this need, and it thus published the guideline, “Zwischen Autonomie und Angewiesenheit” [Between Autonomy and Dependence].
This emphasizes that over the centuries, society in its development has brought forth ever new ways of life. Thus in the same way, the latest developments should be given the esteem and acknowledgment that were accorded civil marriage and family, which we have known since the 19th century.
I was only marginally aware of this publication, for I considered its contents to be obvious in the 21st century – both in the religious context and in secular society.
Therefore I was very surprised at the sharpness of the reaction of others. After all, the council of the EKD (Protestant Church in Germany) wanted inclusion and acceptance; with it, debates on exclusion were to be definitively a thing of the past. I had thought that there was a consensus about this in our Church. I had thought that discrimination regarding ways of life had been overcome within our Church.
But: arguments that I thought had long ago gone to the “Past” file were suddenly brought out again.
The small bourgeois family of the last 150 years suddenly became once again the measure of all things.
And all other ways of life were qualified as deficient. In such discourses, unmarried, childless women were easily called selfish, seen as people who thought only of their professional advancement and who refused to contribute to society's reproduction.
But in actual fact, at the latest since Friedrich Schleiermacher, we also know in the Church that romantic love cannot be organized or commanded. It comes and goes, as it likes.
And even in the second half of the 20th century, it seems to come rarely to women who, after completing a university degree, want to share both the care for a household and the public sphere in equal parts with a man whom they love. For particularly this group of women often lives alone in our society and Church.
With astonishment over the never ending discussion at the grass roots level of the Church, I also perceive that the debates about feminist achievements, which should enable women and men to share in equal parts both the housework and the public world, are suddenly again being carried out with a certain bitterness, like old graves opening up, which I thought had long been covered over.
Therefore I shall end here more with a question: I had thought it went without saying that I would work together with a Church for the universal implementation of justice, peace and the preservation of creation, in which everyone is welcome, whatever the lifestyle and experience they might bring with them.
Implementing love of neighbor for me means the same thing as creating space that is free of discrimination – in the Church as well as in society.
Was I naïve, because I thought we had come further? How do people in the other religions see this?
Apparently there is still more to do than I thought until a while ago. Many thanks!
 (Ferrara 1526-1555 Heidelberg) Probably in 1554, she held a teaching position in philosophy or Greek and Latin in Heidelberg; cf. Sonja Domröse, Frauen der Reformation. Gelehrt, mutig, glaubensfest, Göttingen 2010.
 Carola Stern, Ich möchte mir Flügel wünschen. Das Leben der Dorothea Schlegel, Hamburg 1996.
The same: Der Text meines Herzens. Das Leben der Rahel Varnhagen, Hamburg 1996.
 Zwischen Autonomie und Angewiesenheit. Familie als verlässliche Gemeinschaft stärken. Eine Orientierungshilfe des Rates der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland, Gütersloh 2013.