16 August 2012
My homegirl Phoebs
I finally caved and bought Cheryl Naumann's LCMS deaconess history on Kindle. It has a lot of primary documents, so thumbs up there.
The Lutheran deaconesses back in Germany were nurses. Later, people in the LCMS made an argument that there should be LCMS deaconess nurses because sick Lutherans should have Lutheran nurses. This is interesting. Sick people are vulnerable. I've heard of pastors having trouble with theologically stupid things nurses say to patients, and I myself have had theologically stupid things said to me by dear and loving nurses who wished to comfort my in my trouble. There's no doubt that a well-catechized nurse population would be a nice thing to have available.
But it turned out that the LCMS girls didn't want to be nurses, just deaconesses.
The Lutheran deaconesses back in Germany were also celibate, either virgins or widows. They were free to marry, but then they weren't deaconesses any more. OBVIOUSLY. OK, I hate it when people get snotty about obviouslies so here is why marriage and deaconessing were considered incompatible: when a woman marries, her job is to care for her family. Deaconesses are people who, since they are free of family constraints, may care for those whose only family is the Church. Speculation is of limited value, but I have a hard time imagining that Loehe and other champions of the deaconess concept would have responded favorably to the notion that a woman should leave her children and husband each morning to go and work as a deaconess. She would have failed in her service the minute she walked out the door (and if it is necessary for her to work--wouldn't it make sense for her to pursue employment that pays better? :P)
It is clear that some people, especially Loehe, really wanted there to be deaconesses. But I don't think their motive is clear. Was it because the church needed Lutheran nurses and other caregivers? Or was it because the unmarried woman (especially the unmarried young woman) was as big a practical problem back in old timey times as it is now? Probably some of both.
I found this quotation from Loehe astonishing:
"From the outset the deaconesshood is joined to the preaching office as Eve is to Adam, and a church which does God's work among the Gentiles without deacony [sic] seems to me like a one-legged man."
I respectfully (and nervously given my total lack of qualifications) disagree. I am curious about the word "deaconesshood." I do not know German. I don't know if the word used by Loehe is somehow distinct from that which might normally be translated "diaconate," or how either of these word[s] compare[s] with what comes out later in the sentence as "deacony," or if this is a translator's rendering of the same word, whatever that might be. Either way, the expression as it comes across in English suggests that deaconesses are a female counterpart to pastors. They are not. The parish is the feminine counterpart to the masculine pastor as the Church is to Christ.
Deaconesses are made up. The best way I can think to describe them is as a distillation of the Church which has occasionally been considered beneficial to have. It would help a lot if we called them something other than deaconesses since there is a New Testament OFFICE of deacon and the two can't help getting tangled up with each other when discussed. Deacon is a technical term in Scripture with specific requirements. There is simply no New Testament OFFICE of deaconess. There is only an itsy-bitsy reference to a woman named Phoebe who serves, end of Phoebe story. I could name 15 women off the top of my head from my own little parish about whom the exact same bio could be written. I could be completely wrong here, but I contend that it is hard to make a case for Phoebe's service as an OFFICIAL one. It's the exact same problem we run into today with "ministry."
Also interesting: the same idiotic arguments for everything are old news. Even back in the bad old LCMS days of women on one side, men on the other, people were boohooing about Galatians 3:28 and the horrific prospect of women's talents being wasted. I'd make a crabby comment about women being considered too stupid to figure out that they should use their talents; on the other hand, there is a bit of a problem with talentolatry conflated with hobbyism on the part of women, the novelty of which I also doubt. Golly, maybe everybody has always been pandering and/or self-obsessed! I wouldn't know, naturally . . . .
That's as far as I've gotten. It's a really long book.