Monthly Archives: October 2010

Not on my watch

The President of the LCA, pastor Mike Semmler, has declared on various occasions that women’s ordination will not occur on his watch.  Why does that make me feel just a little uneasy?   What are the implications for the democratic process within the LCA?  What faith should delegates have in the process when voting at General Synod?

It appears that Semmler has immersed himself very successfully in the political adversarial system.  Those who were at the Toowoomba General Synod, 2009, remember vividly how he insisted that those who considered women’s ordination might cause dis-harmony in the Church should vote, ‘No’.  This lines up very well with his, “Not on my watch” attitude. Making it even more difficult to reach the 66% target, those delegates who were not present at the vote had their vote counted with the ‘No’ vote.

Of course, the President has never made his views public on women’s ordination.  You can’t help but love the Church!

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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in politics


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The need for adaptive leaders in the LCA

Photographer: Arvind Balaraman

The LCA has traditionally been loathe to step into the public sphere and become political, forgetting that silence is as political as speaking out. Silence quietly supports things as they are and the noisiest speaker on an issue. The LCA has been lazy on issues of justice, thereby participating in oppressing different groups throughout the years.  Towards the end of the Cold War, we heard little from the Church on the moral imperative for nuclear disarmament, but much on the right to life. Where is the LCA voice on global warming? What does the LCA have to say on the rapid loss of species, environmental degradation and dwindling water supplies? Perhaps the silence in connecting with the world arises from when German immigrants in two world wars were marginalised by the rest of the nation, making us akin to the conservative German Missouri Synod in the US and dis-similar to the progressive Scandinavian based Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

We are a socially conservative Church. This is not healthy for our place in Australian society, for  conservatism becomes our branding.  Sadly, in Australia, it was not pre-union Lutherans who advocated equality for women. It was not the LCA who led the way among Australian Christian churches in encouraging female lay leadership, female delegates at a national level, female lay reading of Scripture, and so on.  Rather, the LCA has usually aligned itself with conservative social politics. We have emphasised a focus on Scripture but we have downplayed our engagement with the world.  By focussing just on what we heard from the voice of Jesus in Palestine we deny the voice of Jesus among the outcasts of today, the addicted and those of other sexualities.  Likewise we perpetuate the crucifixion of Jesus when women are told that their call to ordained ministry is not genuine.

Luther was key in uncovering the astounding grace in the Scriptures: grace that liberates, and grace that inspires discipleship and justice.  The LCA, however, while proudly claiming its birthright has accommodated grace into its own image.

Bonhoeffer, presumably while reflecting on what discipleship meant in the face of a brutal Nazi world-view, reflected on how cheap grace had become.

Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost!

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Bonhoeffer could have been talking about the LCA. Cheap grace is ours to laud and dispense but there is no cross.  Here grace is free with few consequences. In contrast, costly grace, as described by Bonhoeffer,  requires your whole life, discipleship, doing justice, even martyrdom. In short, grace demands a response, a repentance that has us engaging on those fronts where the hurt is greatest.  Mary MacKillop,  famously said, “Never see a need without doing something about it”.   Her revolutionary schooling of poverty-bound children reflected an intuitive understanding of costly grace.

In a Church that has aligned itself with socially conservative values it is not surprising that the LCA is lacking leaders who are able to manage change arising from a progressive society.

John Menadue, a former Australian public servant and diplomat, in a paper on refugees for the Centre for Policy Development, says,

We don’t need charismatic or authoritarian leaders to make the ‘right’ decisions for us. We need adaptive leaders who can help us all support necessary but hard decisions. We need leaders of such quality across our whole community who can appeal to the better angels of our nature.

LCA members do not need managing or manipulating.  Neither does the LCA need its leaders and clergy to decide direction or programmes.  Congregations and members of the LCA need leaders who are gentle, humble, and wise enough to perceive and facilitate the will of the Church.

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Posted by on October 30, 2010 in politics, sociology, theology


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How can people have such different interpretations of Scripture? What is it that has us seeing things through different lenses?

The following is an excerpt from Facing the Proof Text Method by Henry Neufeld.  The article is a useful introduction to the use of how small pieces of text are used in an attempt to have the reader believe exactly what the speaker would have you believe.

I suggest that the use of proof-texts is a manifestation of laziness and the desire to get something for nothing.People do not wish to spend the time firmly grounding their understanding in what various Bible writers actually teach. They would much rather have a short list of texts that support precisely what they have decided to believe anyhow. Thus, the use of proof-texts tends toward hypocrisy. To the uninformed, the purveyor of proof-texts can appear to be wonderfully informed and a deep scholar of the Bible. In fact, the result of reliance on proof-texts is a moral certainty and overbearing arrogance that is not supported by one’s study or learning.

But first let me define what I mean by proof-texting. By proof-texting I mean the use of individual scripture texts to produce apparent support for a doctrinal position without adequate regard for the contexts of the individual texts which may indicate differences and nuances.

Read the full article here.

At the risk of using my own proof-texting, I have included the following excerpt from Pr Greg Lockwood’s rebuttal of women’s ordination,which is an interesting appeal to common sense to read the ‘specific text’ (proof-text).

8.  If we want to settle a doctrinal issue, we go to the specific texts that deal with the issue. This is only common sense.  If we want to know how to change the wheel on our car, we don’t open the manual to the pages dealing with the electrical system.  We cannot just appeal to “the Gospel” while ignoring its clear statements on a woman’s role in the church.

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Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Hermeneutics


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Why women should be ordained: one reason for each day of the week

It is widely acknowledged that the Bible and Lutheran theology stand firmly on the side of women’s ordination. The LCA’s theology commission has twice voted in favour of women’s ordination by a two thirds majority. However, long-standing church tradition, notions of male headship, and two texts (1 Cor 14:34,35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15), read without regard to context, have persuaded many that women’s ordination is contrary to the will of God. Others are opposed for fear that the move to ordaining women may unsettle the church, or even split it. Of the many arguments that may be summoned in favour of women’s ordination, seven are given here that could be regarded as uppermost, one for each day of the week.

1. Creation. Men and women are created with equal status and dignity before God, as creatures made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). They are made as helpers to each other, as complementary partners (Gen 2:18-25), equally tasked with the responsibilities of dominion within creation and the perpetuation of the human race (1:26-28). No differentiation in the standing of women and men before God arises from the doctrine of creation.

2. New creation. Included among the systemic evils that comprise the fallen human condition are racial prejudice, slavery, and the power that men have wielded over women from time immemorial. By baptism into Christ the harmony of creation has been restored for Christians, and thereby the divisions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female, have been dismantled (Gal 3:27-29). The upheaval in the life of the church has been slow and painful as the Spirit leads people ‘into all the truth’ concerning the renewal of creation through Christ (2 Cor 5:17; John 16:13). The movement for the ordination of women belongs to a long historical trajectory with roots deeply embedded in the New Testament era.

3. Ministry. Lutherans teach that God established the public ministry for no other purpose than to proclaim the gospel purely and celebrate the sacraments according to Christ’s institution, so that people may come to and be nurtured in the saving faith (Augsburg Confession 5). Among the impediments to that purpose in more recent times is the church’s withholding ordination from women, a stumbling block to the faith of countless men and women, young and old alike. Jesus announces dire consequences for those who create scandals of such proportions (Matt 18:6-9). In the same vein, St Paul speaks of his own willingness to do whatever is needed so that the gospel may continue on its course unhindered (1 Cor 9:19-23).

4. Women as models of discipleship. In Mark’s gospel only women are shown fulfilling the roles to which Jesus called his disciples. The others failed to understand that discipleship means taking up the cross, following in Jesus’ steps, and losing one’s life (Mark 8:34-38). The widow in the temple, on the other hand, gave her last mite, which Jesus describes as ‘her whole life’ (Mark 12:44), usually translated as ‘all she had to live on’. Again, unlike the men, the woman who anointed Jesus on the head understood that his ministry led to death and burial for the sins of the world (14:3-9). In Reformation terms, this unnamed woman was immersed in the theology of the cross. Also, she was the only person who stood by Jesus in his hour of deepest need, with physical, emotional and spiritual support. The men’s eyes were fixed solely on the glory they hoped was coming their way as Jesus’ followers (8:32; 9:34; 10:35-37).

After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to (served) him, preparing him for his life of sacrificial service (Mark 1:13). Jesus’ ministry (service) culminated as he gave his life for the world (10:45). Again, in Mark only women are shown exercising a ministry that reflects Jesus’ ministry (1:31; 15:41). The word used for the ministry of angels and of Jesus is applied only to women in Mark, not to the 12 disciples.

5. The highest offices in the New Testament church are assigned to women.

(a) Apostles. The highest office in the NT church is that of an apostle (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20), one who has seen the risen Lord and been called and sent to proclaim the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1). Mary Magdalene fits the description better than anyone (John 20:18). And St Paul describes Junia as ‘pre-eminent among the apostles’ (Rom 16:7).

(b) Prophets. The second highest office is that of prophet, and as in the OT era women prophesied in the early church (1 Cor 11:5; see Acts 2:16-21; 2 Kgs 22:14; Isa 8:3).

(c) Deacons. Phoebe was a deacon of the church (Rom 16:1), the word ‘deacon’ reflecting the term used for Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice on the cross (Mk 10:45). We also learn that Prisca was Paul’s co-worker (Rom 16:3; see Acts 18:26), the term indicating that she shared in his ministry equally, in terms of status and role. At Acts 18:26, where she is called Priscialla, it is apparent that she led her husband Aquila in taking Apollos aside and explaining ‘the Way of God to him more accurately’. The names of other female co-ministers of Paul are given at Romans 16:12 (Tryphaena and Tryphosa) and Romans 16:15 (Julia and the unnamed sister of Nereus).

(d) Presbyters (elders, pastors). The two texts in the New Testament that could be said to describe most accurately the role of today’s LCA pastors are Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:7. Pastors are called to keep watch over themselves and their flock by proclaiming the gospel and protecting their people from ravenous wolves. Among their tasks, presbyters, a synonym for pastors and elders, are called by God to offer the holy things of God to God’s holy people. The Angel Gabriel called Mary to bear in her womb and give birth to the holiest of all things, our Lord Jesus Christ. The so-called Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) has the hallmarks of a traditional call narrative. Nobody has been called to celebrate the mysteries of God in such a complete and intimate manner as Mary, the mother of God, and then offer them–Jesus’ body and blood–to the world for the life of the world. The central function of the Church’s eucharistic ministry derives its precedence from the central role played by Mary in the history of salvation. Those who serve as pastors and priests in the church draw inspiration from none other than the Lord’s mother.

6. Folly. One cannot help but cringe at the folly of the church in failing to draw fully on the ministry gifts of women. It is unnecessary to enumerate the many ways that women’s gifts for ministry have been seen to complement those of men. Some gifts are found more frequently in women than in men, and it goes without saying that some are found more frequently in men than in women. Wherever the pastoral office is closed to women, there God’s people are being denied the rich interplay of all God’s gifts for ministry, and the church is the poorer for it.

7. Cruelty. Countless women in our church have received the inner call to serve as pastors. Who but they can tell what cruel injustice is felt when they are told that they must be mistaken? ‘God does not call women to the office of the ministry’.

Can the LCA in good conscience continue to be so hard-hearted in its dealings with such women? Admittedly, together with many family members and friends, most have left our ranks and sought refuge in safer havens. But a faithful remnant remains, unwilling to see the church hijacked by fear, literal readings of two biblical texts and a tradition that has long passed its use-by date? Surely, the time has come for the church to make a stand and vote for the ordination of women.

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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in theology


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Spiritual Abuse Associated with Denying Women Ordination?

The action of Lutheran church authorities of Australia in denying women the opportunity, right and joy of serving as ordained ministers of Christ has wounded many women and is tantamount, in the mind of some, to spiritual abuse.  Why?

Women, like men, have been liberated by the Gospel from the Law and all oppressive expressions of the Law, but the church has exercised a law which prevents women from serving as ordained ministers which means they are denied the opportunity of celebrating fully their liberation by the Gospel.

Many women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ into the ordained ministry, but the regulations of the church authorities have denied women the joy of experiencing and exercising that call as ordained servants of Christ.

Women, like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating those gifts to the full by being denied the opportunity of celebrating the sacrament and preaching the Gospel as ordained ministers.

It is therefore appropriate that the church authorities apologise to those women who have been wounded by the practice of denying them ordination as servants of Christ.

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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Eternal Fascism – the attempt to build a dissent-free LCA

I’m not the first person to wonder if I’m part of cult as a member of the LCA.  The following article helped me bring my personal concerns to the surface.  It helped me to understand the masochistic behaviour that I experience and witness in the LCA and our fixation with creating a fictitious, sentimentally nostalgic (confessionally traditional), xenophobic, dissent free culture.  Point number 11 particularly resonated.  It’s the first time that I’ve heard something put this way. I can’t help feel that sometimes our pastors see themselves as “Little Luthers”, which articulates itself through a cult of heroism.  We start to hear sloganistic “Here I stand” rhetoric.


Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt

Eternal Fascism:

Fourteen Ways of Looking at a


Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
By Umberto Eco
Writing in New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995, pp.12-15. Excerpted in Utne Reader, November-December 1995, pp. 57-59.

The following version follows the text and formatting of the Utne Reader article, and in addition, makes the first sentence of each numbered point a statement in bold type. Italics are in the original.

For the full article, consult the New York Review of Books, purchase the full article online; or purchase Eco’s new collection of essays: Five Moral Pieces.

In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
* * *

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages — in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice;” such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge — that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.

Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake.

Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering’s fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play (“When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals”, “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” and “universities are nests of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.

In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.

Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.

That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.

This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.

Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such “final solutions” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.

Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.

In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte (“Long Live Death!”). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.

This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.

In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view — one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

* * *
Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

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Posted by on October 1, 2010 in sociology


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