The Lutheran World Federation has congratulated former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet on her appointment as head of the new United Nations agency, UN Women, saying it gives gender equality a high profile.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, named Bachelet to the post on 14 September 2010. She was the first female president of Chile, and she is well known for her commitment to the pursuit of gender justice.
"The Lutheran World Federation welcomes your appointment, both because it shows what a high profile is being given to this newly-created office, and because we are convinced of the high quality contribution you will bring toward the office's success," said the Rev Martin Junge, LWF acting General Secretary, in a 16 September letter to Bachelet.
UN Women becomes operational in January, merging four offices and agencies: the UN Development Fund for Women; the Division for the Advancement of Women; the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women.
Junge, a Chilean pastor and the LWF General Secretary-elect, reiterated the organisation's support for UN Women's objectives. "Within our own Lutheran theological understanding, enhancing women's role and contribution in decision-making processes including leadership remains a key priority," he said.
He noted that most of the 77-million strong LWF grouping's churches around the world have ordained women as pastors, and many have women serving as bishops or presidents. "Our churches have been immeasurably blessed by our women pastors and leaders," added Junge, who assumes the position of LWF General Secretary on 1 November.
Still, Junge acknowledged the significant challenges Lutherans face in their quest for gender equality, a fact highlighted by the organisation's highest decision making body at its last meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, where its progress on gender equality was criticised by outgoing General Secretary, the Rev Ishmael Noko.
"We believe that in order to be a legitimate and credible voice for gender justice in society, the church must first achieve gender justice within its own structures and practices," said Junge, citing the message of the LWF's 11th assembly, held in Stuttgart in July.
His letter referred to the LWF's commitment to overcoming the "sin of violence against women".
Bachelet has been quoted as saying that she is a religious agnostic. When she was president, however, she signed into law a measure to make 31 October a new annual public holiday called "The National Day of Evangelical and Protestant Churches". The date marks the 1517 posting by Martin Luther of his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany, a turning point in the Protestant Reformation, setting out critical points about Roman Catholicism.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]