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Yet again, no hope arising from LCANZ leadership

On Friday 18th October 2019, the General Church Board (GCB) and the College of Bishops (CoB) met “to consider how together they can best lead the church in this contested time” of whether or not to ordain women in the LCANZ.  The letter from Bishop Henderson is copied below and can be found here.  It is not hopeful.

To recap, at the 2018 Convention of Synod, when the required 67% vote for women’s ordination was not achieved, there was public grief and despair.  While some of those resisting women’s ordination publicly celebrated, most women and their supporters were devastated at how a minority on the Synod floor (40%) continue to dictate to the general Church by blocking called and qualified women from being ordained as pastors in the LCA. Synod Leadership at that time acknowledged the depth of pain in the division and promised a response in the new year.  This has not been forthcoming until the meeting on the 18th Oct – let’s say around eight months late, if ‘the new year’ meant February.  Now they promise to keep meeting on the matter in early 2020.

Last week’s meeting declared again that the Bishops and General Church Board have nothing to offer on this matter. Their do-nothing statement is not the response that was promised.

The only pastoral statement seems to be for those whom this is ‘not a particular issue’, with the statement, ‘Hang in there.’ There was no acknowledgement of the existing division, just a pretense of avoiding schism and nothing that acknowledged the despair of so many people.  On the contrary, Bishop Henderson pleads for an understanding of the bishops’ dilemma in regards to the vows they have taken.  While we do have an understanding of their dilemma, we also hoped that the bishops would acknowledge the existing division and offer leadership in this conflict, given that the LCA is caught in a constitutional quagmire due to what is now seen in hindsight as a destructive requirement to achieve a defensive two-thirds supermajority of a Convention of Synod vote on any issue that is deemed a major theological issue. (It is now apparent that, rather than preserving unity, such a supermajority is now the cause of division. Perhaps a revised supermajority of 55% might be considered for future major theological issues. God help us if we are to ever achieve equality of those members who have a gender identity other than binary heterosexuality.)

As a two-thirds majority probably will not be attained any time soon, the only hope for the Church after the last Synod was leadership from the bishops.  However, given that bishops have now committed to a hands-off approach, they have condemned the Church to a degree of despair and chaos for the foreseeable future.  Contributing to that despair is that they have not considered young generations who are hoping that their Church might demonstrate some relevance in our society.

The message of the bishops’ inability to act has been heard heard loud and clear, so now the only option is for Church membership to act, given that “in effect, it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church” .  Congregations historically have the authority to ordain, and given that various congregations have already indicated a new determination to step outside of normal due process on this matter, congregations will presumably forge the way ahead.  It’s been under discussion for two decades or more but now ironically, inaction from leadership will probably bring it about.

Some of us had expected an olive branch from the bishops with small concessions, such as special ministries that allowed some female leadership.  Presumably, these will be offered at some stage but anything less than full participation in the ministry of word and sacrament is sure to arouse deep suspicion.

 

25 October 2019

Post Convention message (3)

Dear members and pastors of the LCA,

Last week I wrote to you about a special joint meeting of the General Church Board (GCB) and the College of Bishops (CoB). Many responded to that message with offers of prayer, and some with advice – thank you. As I write this message after that meeting I know there will be some who will say that despite all that effort we have not made much progress. I guess if leading the LCA was a case of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, that might be the case. But we are not to behave like that (see Matthew 20:26). God brings the LCANZ together as a community of faith. It is not a completed work. We still have much to learn about doing the Lord’s work and about how to love one another with the same unconditional love God shows to each of us. We are a living, dynamic, connected community. Our God-given accountability to one another is through the law of love (see Matthew 22:37, John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:19-21). Therefore, we step down from the constant conviction that only we are ‘right’ and have a true understanding, and therefore others are ‘wrong’ and must have a false understanding. Attentive listening and appreciative enquiry helps us understand so much more than we ever imagined we could. Faith in Christ gives us the confidence and ability to respond to each other with the grace and forgiveness we so desperately need for ourselves (see Matthew 7:1-5). Praise God for being so generous with us!

Your two key leadership groups met last week to consider how together they can best lead the church in this contested time. The church faces immense external pressures. We see the statistics, read the press, and are aware of a general tide turning against Christianity. We feel it in our local places, and with it reducing numbers and resources. Society is holding Churches accountable, and deservedly so. The new compliance regime places us under stress, but we know we need to do it. In the LCA we have the added pressure of what has become a deeply divisive theological and practical issue that seems to cut to the core of our identity as Lutheran Christians. And since the Lutheran church bases itself on its theology, and prides itself somewhat on that, this is deeply painful.

As I have written before, the LCA has not changed its public position or practice on male only clergy. Yet since we don’t have internal unanimity on the matter, it is a complex situation. During their meeting your elected leaders read and listened to a range of stories and viewpoints sent in by congregations and individuals. Correspondents expressed their intent to be God pleasing and Scriptural. We are unlikely, however, to be able to reconcile the different positions represented. The leadership believes the right response to this situation is a pastoral one, praying that God will grant us further grace and time to work things through. This does not mean we do nothing. The GCB and CoB will continue to listen and grapple with the best response, and we ask you to do the same, staying within the practice and teaching of the church as you do so. The GCB has the task of ensuring proper synodical processes, and the CoB has the task of spiritual leadership. Within their remits both are working on options and possibilities. We will do our best to communicate these over the coming months, for the wellbeing, peace and order of the church. Please honour your leaders as they undertake this difficult task for our Synod.

Leaders were also conscious of the many people for whom this is not a particular issue, and certainly not a divisive one. We thank you for your faithfulness, service and prayers. Hang in there!

Leaders reminded themselves of the Five Principles of Dialogue which supported our debates through 2015 and 2018:

  • Communion: Because God has gathered us in communion with one another through his word and sacraments, we have freedom to dialogue with one another on contested matters. Strengthening this God-given communion is the goal of dialogue.
  • Trust: Because God has made us brothers and sisters in Christ, we can trust God to use our communion to build us up in love and use our differences to grow us in holiness of life.
  • Listening: Because God gives each of his children a unique perspective, we can listen to each other trusting God that as we listen we will grow in understanding of ourselves, of the other person, and of the communion that God creates.
  • Speaking: Because God gives each of his children a unique perspective, we can speak to each other trusting God that as we speak we will grow in understanding of ourselves, of the other person, and of the communion that God creates.
  • Patience: Because the communion God gives us in Christ is God’s doing and not ours, we can be patient in listening and speaking to each other, trusting that God will deepen the unity he has already given us.

We believe these principles remain useful and can continue to guide us as we seek the way forward*.

We have heard suggestions that the leadership might be trying to work around the decision of the Synod on the ordination of men only, or act unilaterally outside of Synod on this matter. In the installation rite at Convention, each Church Board member made these promises before the church:

  1.  Before God and this assembly, I ask you: Do you promise, with the help of God, to carry out your duties faithfully, in accordance with God’s word as taught and confessed by the Lutheran church? Yes, we do.
  2.  Do you promise to uphold the constitution of the Lutheran Church of Australia and carry out its decisions faithfully? Yes, we do.
  3.  Do you promise to work together in promoting the wellbeing, peace, and order of the church? Yes, we do.

Additionally, at their installation, among other vows, the Bishops made the following promises:

  1. Before God and this assembly of the church I ask you: Do you promise, with the help of God, to carry out the duties of bishop of —– faithfully, in accordance with the holy Scriptures and the confessions of the Lutheran church? Yes, I do.
  2. Do you promise to exercise the spiritual oversight of the church/district in accordance with the constitution of the church? Yes, I do.
  3. Do you promise to uphold and promote the theology and practice of public worship of the Lutheran Church of Australia? Yes, I do.
  4. Do you promise to work together with your fellow leaders in promoting the wellbeing, peace, and order of the church? Yes, I do.

These vows contain essential elements – Scripture, Confession, Constitution, along with wellbeing, peace and order. Each Church Board member, and each Bishop, does everything in their power, under God, to remain faithful to these commitments. They work sacrificially, for long hours, doing the best they can for the people of God who have entrusted them with this responsibility. They do it all under the gospel, surrounded by prayer, in the public gaze, and as transparently as they can and with full accountability.

The General Church Board and the College of Bishops are committed to continue to listen and explore ways of engaging the church on our unity in Christ and our way forward together. They affirm the need for all members of the LCA to reflect God’s love and to respect each other as priceless and cherished children of God, brothers and sisters whom Christ gave his all to redeem.

The GCB and the CoB plan to meet together again in early 2020 to continue this task. In the meantime they will listen and pray, explore options, and engage in gentle, caring and bold leadership – this all takes time, and we thank you for your patience. While this may disappoint the hope some of us have for a decisive and speedy resolution, we knew that last week’s meeting could only be a step along the way. Like the people of Israel finding their way to the Promised Land, we confess we still have a way to go.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
Adelaide, 25th October 2019
On behalf of the members of the LCA General Church Board and the College of Bishops.

* For further information you may also reference the LCA’s Standards of Ethical Behaviour

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2019 in politics, theology, women's ordination

 

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High stakes in October 2018 at the LCA General Convention

Women’s ordination is again on the agenda at the LCA national general convention in Sydney (Oct 2018).  It’s been around for generations and has repeatedly been turned down, needing to achieve two-thirds of the vote at General Convention.

While many have already left the LCA in search of a more tolerant and inclusive denomination there may be huge ramifications in October if the LCA again refuses to ordain women.

When Lutheran school teachers from Australia and NZ met in Adelaide (2017), one of the guest speakers was Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber from the ELCA (USA).   She was an inspirational speaker, providing encouragement for those struggling to remain within this denomination that has persisted in excluding women from leadership.

It’s humorous to recount that when she visited Australia on an earlier occasion, certain conservative clergy sneered at the thought that Nadia might have something to offer them in the way of preaching.  After all, she’s just a woman.  No, she’s not just a woman. She is a gifted woman with a powerful story, who brings many gifts because she is a woman.   She is a woman who happens to be clergy and she has a well-honed ability to preach the good news of God coming to live amongst us.  Coming to share God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s justice, God’s compassion  – all for those struggling in life in one way or another.

The response to Nadia Bolz-Weber was remarkable.  Many people were moved to tears and after her presentations the applause persisted and persisted. She answered questions that related some despair on the matter of women’s ordination.  No doubt there were individuals present who didn’t believe that women should be ordained, but we believe the response was an indication of what the people of the LCA think.

Australia’s contentious same-sex marriage survey was acted upon by Parliament in 2017.  Majority approval resulted in new legislation – contentious, yes, but that’s how it has to be to retain social stability. The alternatives are abusive and elitist, where those with power rule over those who have been marginalised.

There must be more evident democratic processes within the Church.  The majority view of the people should be enshrined in Church legislation. Currently an oligarchy and less than 40% of those voting at Synod, and logically (and generally speaking) the oldest and most conservative sector of the Church, have imposed their theology and their world view on the rest of the denomination – a recipe for revolution.  While some might argue that we have a theocracy that rules and protects our constitution, this is a fallacious argument as Church funding and the means for its very existence comes from individuals and congregations which ultimately can choose to withdraw that support.

Assuming no change of the voting proportion at the General Convention this year, these are the results of this theocratic gerrymander:

  • young people, other individuals and families gradually disappear from congregations and committees. (It has been happening for a long time.) Gradually, members, along with children and grand-children see no reason to continue to support a denomination that does not reflect God’s love or Biblical scholarship.
  • some progressive Church leaders leave the LCA, unable to remain in a denomination that pays no heed to God’s word on this matter. No one wants to live the rest of their life in a denomination that has lost its way.
  • with the loss of these individuals and families, the Church inevitably becomes more conservative and more out of touch with society.
  • some progressive congregations choose to break away from the LCA, no longer able to support an institution that continues to deny the need for democratic representation.
  • as the Church continues to lean right and away from social norms, rather than having more influence throughout its supposed faithfulness, the Church has less credibility in the manner it attempts to reveal God’s grace.
  • with the continued absence of women from leadership and reinforced male perspectives on relationships and power, the structures of domestic violence are strengthened.
  • women’s voice is reduced at all personal and committee levels of congregations, districts and national governance.
  • women are increasingly confined to gender-roles within the Church as men are lauded and women are disempowered.
  • the Church experiences a pious subjugation of women, with Scripture being used as a tool of subjugation, not dissimilar to the manner in which slavery was justified. Southern Baptist theologies come to mind.
  • general LCA theology leans further to the right on all matters, further alienating members who are engaged with society and grappling with evolving issues of justice and compassion.
  • the ensuing legalism and entrenched conservatism will have the LCA creeping closer to the sect-like Missouri Synod, and further away from the ELCA.
  • the decline of the LCA increases as congregations close.
  • the voice of the LCA becomes less significant on all matters.
  • the LCA becomes a small, insignificant denomination that retains just members who have been indoctrinated into a socially conservative view of the world, such as the Amish or Mennonites.

Without women’s ordination, without engaging with today’s issues and without something a little closer to democratic representation, the death or torpor of the LCA is assured.

On the other hand the LCA might embrace God’s ongoing creation and revelation, ordain women and have a decent go at speaking and living God’s word.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in theology, women's ordination

 

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St Andrews, Brisbane, requests information from women seeking to serve the LCA as ordained ministers

From a letter from St Andrew’s, Brisbane. 12th Jan 2018

Hello, and happy new year.

I’m forwarding a request from Shiron Dixon, chair of St Andrews congregation in Brisbane. Since 2015, St Andrews has graciously hosted Brisbane meet-ups for supporters of women’s ordination. St Andrews is about to enter a period of Pastoral vacancy.

The congregation is prayerfully considering whether it may delay its call process pending the outcome of the General Synod, in the hope that they could then consider both female and male candidates in this process. To help them make this decision they are gathering information about women who may apply for entry into the clergy of the LCA should the 2018 General Synod adopt this change of practice.

Could you please either respond yourself by completing the linked Questionnaire below, or forward this email to a woman you know who has, or has had, a sense of call to ordained ministry in the LCA? Shiron requests responses to secretary.standrewsbne@gmail.com by 25 January 2018 if possible. CVs are also welcome but not required at this stage.

Yours in Christ,
Kathy Matuschka
Coordinator
Altogether In Ministry (AIM)
Please use this link to complete a questionnaire.
 
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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in theology

 

CTICR consultations on the doctrinal statement for the ordination of both women and men.

The CTICR is now working with the request of the last Convention to prepare a doctrinal statement supporting the ordination of both women and men. They are currently running ‘consultation’s’ around Australia and New Zealand to move beyond their first draft. This last weekend there was a consultation at Blair Athol and Glenelg in South Australia. Many clergy were present, some of whom wanted to argue down women’s ordination or the process, despite facilitation stating that it was not a forum for argument.
The statement was limited because of the need for diplomacy within the CTICR and did not clearly reflect the Convention request. Rather, it appeared to provide fodder for further debate, starting from the current theological position.
One would have thought that the Convention request required the CTICR to present the clear gospel mandate for equality amongst God’s children. There is rich material that those supporting women’s ordination might have drawn on. If CTICR is compromised because of its membership, then a sub-committee or another body should be given the task to provide the necessary material for the LCA to journey into a rich future.

While the rhetoric of having patience is used, that is from the lethargic perspective of the comfortable.  It is not the perspective of those who are distressed and/or have left the LCA.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in theology, women's ordination

 

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Theocracy or Democracy?

Women’s Suffrage League secretary, Mary Lee. National Museum of Australia.

Women’s Suffrage League secretary, Mary Lee – co-founder in South Australia. National Museum of Australia.

The National Museum of Australia reports on the passing of legislation in South Australia granting women the vote and the right to stand for Parliament on 18 December 1894.  That makes it over 122 years that South Australia was the first electorate in the world to give equal political rights to both men and women.  This is even more surprising when remembering that it was only 14 years earlier, in 1880, that women were permitted to undertake degrees ref.  The systemic/structural barriers to women’s participation in colonial Australia are hard to imagine from this vantage point. Sadly we have their echoes in the Lutheran Church of Australia today.

Today the Lutheran Church of Australia (with its historical home in South Australia), is among the last in the world to recognise women as equally gifted and equally capable of pastoral leadership. The following was one of the arguments against women’s suffrage on the Museum’s page.

Many parliamentarians felt that women were not emotionally or intellectually capable of properly participating in politics. Others also felt that women were stepping outside their traditional roles and that giving them the vote would undermine a husband’s position in the family. Ref

The social restrictions on women were broad and central to all existence.  The restrictions were based on a foundational belief that women were incapable of taking part in society on the same basis as men, and were often based on fear that women would compete with men.  Rather than face any competition they chose to legislate against women’s participation.

In the 19th century, Australian women had very few legal rights. Once married, these rights were further limited as they were transferred to her husband. Married women surrendered all property to their husbands and any wages earned. Husbands were the sole legal guardian of any children from a marriage and could remove them from a mother’s care at any time, even bequeathing their care to other people in their will.

Before the 1870s, women were not able to file for a divorce and, even after legislation was changed in the 1880s, it was still difficult. Rates of abandonment were high and deserted women were usually forced to find paid work that paid up to two thirds less than a man for doing the same job.

Without the support of a trade union they often suffered unsafe and unregulated working environments in the sweated clothing trades. Trade unions resisted women’s involvement in the workforce, believing it would drive down rates of pay for men.

This 19th Century reasoning sounds rather like the arguments today against women’s ordination.  However, today in the LCA, we’re not even playing by the same democratic rules of the 19th Century.  It takes much more than 50% of the vote of the people for  women’s ordination and clergy have a disproportionate voice and vote.  Clergy have often proudly asserted that the LCA is not a democracy.  Instead we have to suffer the condescension of the system and its clergy who have deemed that laity should not have an equal voice nor vote at the national Synod.

Isn’t it time that the LCA debate whether it wishes to stay a theocracy (def: a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission) or whether it wishes to work as a democracy, respectfully valuing the voice of the laity?

 

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Bishop Shelby Spong on prejudice

Bishop John Shelby Spong

The time has come for all Christians to decide whether a person can follow Christ and still maintain his or her homophobic prejudices. I do not believe that is possible. Deep down all of us know this to be true. The decision is not both/and; it is either/or. We can either follow Christ or maintain our prejudices. There can be no compromise. The contending positions are mutually exclusive. There must be no wavering. Leviticus 18 and 20 cannot be allowed to remain in the lexicon of Christian behavior. It is also no longer a morally defensible argument for hierarchical figures to protect the destructive homophobia of some leaders and church members in order ‘to preserve the unity of the church.’ A church unified in prejudice cannot possibly be the Body of Christ. Can anyone imagine a church preserving its unity by tolerating slavery in its midst? Is there any difference between that situation and tolerating homophobia? Any prejudice based on who a person is, his or her very being as a child of God, cannot be a part of the church’s life. Quoting Leviticus to justify our prejudices is no longer an option. ref

Having looked at Lev 18 and 20 again we are horrified at the death sentences handed out for charge after charge. Such barbarity is not what Christianity is founded on. Christianity is founded on Jesus’ love and sacrifice. One cannot decide to focus on select Old Testament verses and then ignore the rest.  If you choose to focus on verses of death, then your religion is one of death and is to be regarded as abhorrent.

Bishop Shelby Spong’s Facebook post might equally apply to women in the church. “Any prejudice based on who a person is, his or her very being as a child of God, cannot be a part of the church’s life.”  There is no option but embracing all as children of God, with no qualifying clauses.

The LCA has been able to ignore certain abhorrent statements from Luther – it now has to declare unequivocally and urgently that women should be at the centre of its very being.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2016 in theology

 

This woman may have just saved your life

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia – 26th Sept 2016

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne just may have altered the course of humanity, having determined how to destroy six superbugs without antibiotics. Superbugs have been described as a fundamental threat to global health.  Currently antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill around 700,000 people each year, “but a recent study suggests that number could rise to around 10 million by 2050.” reference

Shu Lam may have just saved your life, or that of your grandchildren and reduced the suffering of generations.  It is clear that humanity cannot afford to ignore the gifts of women.  Without Shu Lam it is possible that humanity would have been destined to struggle with super bugs for hundreds of years.

Women’s ordination is no longer a theological issue. It is anthropological. Even if the Bible was clear that women could not be ordained, we would have to assert that women’s gifts cannot be ignored, neither in academia nor ecclesia.  Human intelligence and experience of female wisdom, brilliance and compassion already declares that any objection to women’s ordination is a cultural and political phenomena.

Political allegiance is a weird phenomena and reflects poorly on the individual.  Some Trump supporters recently found nothing objectionable to a list of invented moral and criminal breeches on the part of Trump.  Their primary and only concern was that of getting Trump elected.  Similarly, those objecting to women’s ordination are stuck in a vortex of contradictory information on the role of women. While working with women’s leadership in every day life they revert to age-old patterns of male dominance when they walk in the church on Sundays.

Look around your congregation.  Who is missing? What age-group is not there? Given the current age-profile of your congregation what is your prediction for the date of its closure?  Is it more important that you maintain your political stance on women’s ordination, or that you embrace the texts of inclusivity?

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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in politics, theology

 

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