Monthly Archives: September 2011

Scripture: subjection or liberation

Does God call and empower us in ministry, yet not provide avenues for the use of gifts?  Where are the Scriptural precedents for God lifting up individuals yet not providing the means of ministry?

Such questions don’t seem to sit well within Christianity.  In God’s realm, ministries do not remain unused or theoretical. Ministry is about people.  It’s about responding to call.  It’s about an overwhelming urgent response in love to the conversion brought about in our own lives.  It seems to us, that while life is unpredictable, God calls to every one of us, reminding us that the harvest is great and the labourers are few.

We don’t hear God surmising that perhaps there’ll be work to do, that possibly your gifts will be used.  The conversation with God is not about waiting in line until the time is right, until we all agree that you too can be a labourer in the field. Rather, we read of a sense of urgency, where all people are called for the harvest.

In the LCA, the CTICR (Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relationships) has twice found that there are no theological blocks to the ordination of women, however, we find that some people still attempt to use Scripture to justify the exclusion of women from ministry.  Where there might have been pastoral leadership towards inclusivity,  we find invitations to continue the conversation on whether Scripture empowers women to pastoral leadership.

Blogger Marg Mowczko, from her blog, “New Life,” makes the connection with racism:

I find it difficult to believe that discrimination on the basis of race has been declared immoral and illegal in Australia (and other western-style nations) only in my lifetime. Moreover, it is shocking to me that previous generations often used Scripture to condone ignorant and hateful attitudes of racial prejudice and racial superiority. …

I also find it difficult to believe that in contemporary Church life, women are still discriminated against on the basis of gender. Women are excluded from many ministries that involve public speaking, teaching or leadership. … It bothers me that some Christians use Scripture to condone and support discrimination and prejudice against women in ministry.

via Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church.

In summary, two points.

  1. Jesus was radically inclusive.  Women were in his inner circle.  They were right there in the middle of his story.  He called them to serve. They were instrumental in bringing his good news to the rest of us. In ministry and faith there were no men or women, there were only followers of Jesus.  In Christ there was no east nor west, slave nor free … .  Today, in Christ there is no east nor west, slave nor free …
  2. Scripture has been used to justify putting others in their place, for keeping slaves under subjection and still today for keeping women out of the pulpit.  In contrast, the New Testament makes a big deal of unity, diversity and inclusion. Non-Jews were included as the children of God, including the despised Samaritans; prostitutes and tax-collectors were among the most intimate with Jesus, and Jesus directed his disciples to carry the good news to ‘all nations’.

How might you support women in your congregation?  What network can you build so that the issue gains a higher prominence in your congregation?  What action can you take in your community?

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in history, theology


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A Catholic woman’s open letter to the Pope

A post reprinted in its entirety from Baptist Women for Equality’s Blog | Claiming our equality by Shirley Taylor which reprinted a post from Phyllis Zagano [1] on Apr. 27, 2011


This may not be entirely legal, but I found the words of this blog so important and I want you to see what this Catholic woman has to say, so I have copied her entire blog post which was printed in the National Catholic Reporter.  The words in this post are not mine, but her words are our words.  Her frustration is our frustration. Her anger is our anger.  Her fight is our fight.  I trust she will understand as we connect with each other in righting a wrong.

Following is a letter she wrote to the Pope.  This is a lady who is fed up.  She is speaking up.

By Phyllis Zagano

Created Apr 27, 2011

by Phyllis Zagano [1] on Apr. 27, 2011

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
00120 Vatican City State, Europe

Your Holiness:

Forgive my presumption in addressing you directly, but the matter I bring is both urgent and pressing. Women are no longer walking away from the church. They are running away. They are running toward churches that make it clear women are made in the image and likeness of God.

I am not writing to argue for woman priests. But you told me many years ago in New York women deacons were “under study.” From 1992-2002, the International Theological Commission worked on that question, producing a report essentially repeating what you said: the Magisterium must decide.

When you met with the priests of Rome in 2006, you wondered aloud: could the church open more positions of responsibility to women? Were you then signaling the recovery of the tradition of women deacons?

In 2009, you changed Canon Law to echo the Catechism. Priests are ordained to act in the person of Christ, the head of the church; deacons are ordained to serve the people of God in and through the Word, the liturgy and charity. Since doctrinal statements only forbid women priests, and deacons are not priests, it seems you removed another hurdle.

You know it is not just me asking. Thousands of people sent Cardinal William Levada, your successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, e-mails and postcards about women deacons in a campaign organized by the US-based group FutureChurch. Several other organizations including the Canada-based Femmes et Ministères have claimed April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, as an international day of prayer for women deacons.

It is a new-old question. The only person in scripture with the formal job title “deacon” is Phoebe, deacon of the church at Cenchrae (Rom 16:1). Some see the start of the diaconate in Jesus’ washing the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper, but most see it really beginning with the apostles calling the seven to a more formal ministry (Acts 6: 1-6). There were many women deacons in the early church.

The bishops of the world were talking about women deacons at the Second Vatican Council. They are still at it. Most recently, the Swiss Bishop of St. Gall, Markus Bűchel, said women deacons were a good idea. Others before him — even Cardinal Carlo Martini when he was archbishop of Milan — wanted to restore women to the diaconate. Bishops from Australia to Ireland say more women in power would have stemmed the priest sex mess. I think they are correct.

I am told your curia knows women can be ordained as deacons, but does not want women in the clerical structure of the church. That cuts both ways, Holy Father. A lot of women do not want anything to do with clericalism. Some want the whole system to collapse. More say it has collapsed already.

Where is the church without women? I know you are concerned about the fading influence of Christianity in Europe. I write from the United States. Things are pretty bad over here, too. The country is over three-quarters Christian (with 68 million Catholics) but newspapers like The New York Times had no front page Easter story this year. Their ink is used on scandal.

The Christian message is lost in the daily drama of the sex abuse crisis. I fear, Most Holy Father, that bad priests and worse bishops will be your legacy. You will be remembered as the pope who belatedly started a laboring sludge pump to clear the swamp.

I know you love what God loves and hate what God hates, but I also know how bureaucracy can stymie even (maybe especially) the most brilliant person. Is the bureaucracy keeping you from doing the right thing? That goes for the crisis as well as women deacons.

Let me come to the point. The Catholic Church in developed nations is dying out. I am convinced it is dying because of the way it relates to women. Surely you see the numbers — declining membership and eroding donations — but do you have any idea how angry women are? And every woman you alienate extends her influence to several others — to her husband, her children, her friends, her neighbors — until the last person out the parish door closes the lights.

If I may, I think it is time for you to make a decision about women deacons.

It is an opportunity for you to state the Christian message in a way that can be heard. Yes, God is love and all persons are made in the image and likeness of God. But the world will not and cannot hear that until you have a woman deacon standing beside you and proclaiming the Gospel in St. Peter’s.

Again, pardon my presumption, but perhaps no one else will tell you.

Correction: An earlier version of this column gave an incorrect scripture citation for Phoebe, deacon of the church at Cenchrae. The correct citation is Romans 16:1.
[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and author of several books in Catholic Studies. Her book Women & Catholicism will be published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2011.]

Won’t you join me, and this courageous sister in Christ, and speak up for equality by writing, and going to the top earthly person you personally can go to.  We can discuss the subject to death, and never get anywhere.  Now is time for courageous action.

Note to Readers:  Please respect the intent of this post, which is that women in various denominations are speaking up, and we have the same goal.  What we think about a pope or whether priests are the earthly representative of Christ is not relevant to this post.


Posted by on September 24, 2011 in history, theology


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Experiencing gender discrimination in the church

Pastor Rick Mickelson, from the ELCA (USA), who served in the Barossa (SA) and Epping (NSW), once wept that he couldn’t affirm for his daughters that there was nothing they couldn’t do. He was painfully aware that in secular life there are no boundaries for girls. In spiritual life, which connects at a much deeper level, women are told in the LCA that certain things are not for them.  How many women in churches around the world have been told that they don’t really have a call to the ordained ministry because they are women?

“It’s sad, really, that the only place in my entire life that I have experienced gender discrimination is the church,” VanScoy emailed me. “Certainly God never intended to gift a woman to do something she was not intended to do.” source – Soujourners Magazine.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in sociology, theology


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Book Review: “Half the Sky”

I have just completed reading “Half the sky” by Nicholas D Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn (ISBN9871844086825) which is full of inspiring stories of courage and determination which are happening NOW, stories which demonstrate the power and resilience of women and the hope that an authoritarian and patriarchal church can move on to fully utilizing all the talent in the church, not just the male talent. The action research, pursued by the authors in many countries, has demonstrated that the best clue to a church’s growth and development is the status and role of women in the church.

Here’s a review from

“If you have always wondered whether you can change the world, read this book.  Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have written a brilliant call to arms that describes one of the transcendent injustices in the world today—the brutal treatment of women.  They take you to many countries, introduce you to extraordinary women, and tell you their moving tales.  Throughout, the tone is practical not preachy and the book’s suggestions as to how you can make a difference are simple, sensible, and yet powerful.  The authors vividly describe a terrible reality about the world we live in but they also provide light and hope that we can, in fact, change it.”
—Fareed Zakaria, author, The Post-American World

Other Reading

creatingreciprocity – Half the Sky



Posted by on September 13, 2011 in sociology


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Harriet Beecher Stowe and C.F.W. Walther (1st LC-MS Pres)

Harriet Beecher-Stowe - author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, whose 160th anniversary will be celebrated next year, became the most politically significant literary creation in nineteenth-century America. It is one of those books that must be read to understand the depths of inhumanity to which those in the slave trade descended.  Beecher-Stowe’s novel was significant in revealing to a nation just how complicit it had become in the torture and death of slaves.  This Christian, prophetic woman, through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, changed the course of a nation yet her church deemed women unsuitable to be pastoral leaders.

At a time when people like the first president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, C. F. W. Walther, who was born in the same year as Stowe, argued that slavery was ordained by God and a positive, biblically-grounded good, Stowe set forth a minority position that was also biblically-grounded: slavery is contradicted by the Bible’s teachings about human equality and dignity, about human freedom and responsibility, about Christ’s love for “the lowliest members of society.”

via Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes.

… Already as a young woman, Harriet was judged to be an intellectual cut above the rest of her siblings. Because the pastoral office was off-limits to her because of her gender (both she and her father wished that she had been born a male, since she had the intellectual and physical gifts to be a pastor), she channeled her creaturely gifts in the one public direction that was then open to women: writing. She described her calling as  a “vocation to preach on paper.” The mother of seven children, Harriet always found time to write, in between her responsibilities as mother and home-maker.

Later, she told those who would listen that her most famous novel came to her as a series of heavenly “visions,” not unlike the fulfillment of Joel’s famous prophecy, quoted by St. Peter in Acts chapter two. Such “revelations” have long been a feminine experience within the Christian tradition. One thinks immediately of Julian of Norwich’s Showings, but there have been many others. The recent work by historian David S. Reynolds, Mightier Than the Sword: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America (New York: Norton, 2011), which received a very favorable review in last week’s New Yorker, explains that Stowe’s visions began in 1851. While she was taking Holy Communion, she “saw four figures: an old slave being whipped to death by two fellow slaves, who were goaded on by a brutal white man.” Uncle Tom was the beaten slave and Simon Legree the white man.
Today, perhaps we can forgive the 19th century President of LC-MS, C. F. W. Walther, for his support of the position that slavery was ordained by God.  We might suggest that he was a product of his age, that without 21st century hindsight and awareness of 20th century attrocities his ability to interpret Scripture was fundamentally crippled.
What academic contortions must we undergo today to understand LC-MS theology on women’s ordination?  When clergy are removed from the role for supporting women’s ordination and when a pastor is examined for communing with his ELCA wife, how are we to tolerate this Synod?
While Walther supported slavery,  Beecher Stowe was vehemently against it.  The gospel turns things on their head.  The logic is surprising. Jesus would appear to be often discontent with the status quo.
Why is it that, under Pastor Semmler, the LCA incrementally steps closer to the LC-MS, independent of our theological advisory body, the CTICR? Why does it distance itself from the more diverse and tolerant ELCA in the US?  How can we embrace and forgive the increasingly sect-like LC-MS and the LCA when women continue to be discounted, minimised and marginalised – all at a time when there are not enough pastors to serve the Church?  There is no logic.
The surprising logic we have is that from the God of slaves, the God of women, the God of the oppressed, the God who stares us down in the face of our self-righteous piety.
God, please reveal to us when we are a part of the problem.

Posted by on September 10, 2011 in history, sociology, theology


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