Holy Land Lutherans Adopt Gender Justice in Ecclesiastical Court Constitution
Bishop Younan: Women’s Contribution to a Historic Decision
(LWI) – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has adopted a constitution for its Ecclesiastical Court, which henceforth provides for gender equality when dealing with family issues including inheritance.
In this interview, ELCJHL Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, explains the impact of this historic decision by the Lutheran church Synod on 27 February.
In practical terms, how will the gender justice principle be applied in the ELCJHL Ecclesiastical Court?
Similar to other Ecclesiastical Court constitutions in the Holy Land, that of the Lutheran church dates back to the 1850s Ottoman empire jurisdiction, which gave every religious community the right to deal with the organization of its members’ family life. In the event of marriage and inheritance, separation or divorce, these courts did not accord equal recognition to the spouses and children. Women received only 1/8 (one eighth) of the inheritance that men got, and male children were entitled to twice as much as their female siblings. With the new constitution for the ELCJHL court, each spouse has equal responsibility in family life and children are treated equally. In cases of separation or divorce, responsibility for the family and its affairs will be shared equally by the spouses. When it comes to inheritance, each spouse will be entitled to an equal share of the family’s inheritance, and the male and female children would receive an equal proportion.
The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas endorsed the establishment of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court in September 2014, after which the church synod worked on having a constitution for the court. Ecclesiastical court decisions are executed by the Ministry of Interior.
This is a historic decision in a long process of deliberation that the ELCJHL started in 2009. I give thanks to God that we have given justice to both genders, and we have rectified the wrong history towards women. In the Middle East, it is the only ecclesiastical court constitution that incorporates gender justice.
How was the constitution deliberation process?
The general approach was constructive. Credit must be given to over eight years of work that the ELCJHL women’s committee has devoted to the issue of gender justice: organizing conferences among the women, bringing the various interpretations to congregational and national church committees and so on. The pressure of the women’s commitment has created awareness in the church, their work has been remarkable and challenged us all to have a holistic and inclusive constitution for our constitutional court and we have taken their work very seriously.
Of course the process was not without challenges. In the beginning, some members had difficulties understanding why only the Lutheran church needed to change a tradition to which so many people in the Middle East region are accustomed. I have been personally involved not only at synod but in congregational meetings together with fellow pastors. We have been explaining why the theological understanding of all individuals as created equal by God and redeemed on the cross equally by Jesus Christ must be applied in our legal decisions on family matters.
In the end, we have had constructive, positive, discussions. We have learned together that the church has a pastoral influence on legal matters that touch on family life. Our role is to support our members in building family lives that are based on justice and equality for both men and women, and for boys and girls.
The ELCJHL lawyers worked very hard with the synod in establishing a constitution that is in accordance with our Lutheran understanding.
Did the LWF Gender Justice Policy [adopted in 2013] have an impact on the ELCJHL ecclesiastical court process?
The LWF gender justice policy has helped us to understand the theological arguments in a focused way. We are now contextualizing it and translating it into Arabic to help us reflect on our own context with a focus on equality between both men and women, and on domestic violence. It will also help us to participate in contributing to the country’s constitution so that it reflects the holistic approach to gender.
The ELCJHL ecclesiastical court includes four members—two pastors and two lawyers one of who is a woman, all appointed by the church synod. Its court of appeal includes the ELCJHL Bishop, one pastor, and two lawyers one of who is a young woman.
What are the next steps for the ELCJHL church constitutional process?
The ecclesiastical court and church constitutions are intertwined, it’s not either or, they are interdependent. We are restructuring the whole church, and we are now looking at how we can have quotas for men, women and youth.
We come as Arab Christians with distinct Lutheran theology that adds value to the whole ecumenical movement, both regionally and globally.