Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bullying within the Church

Pastor Semmler’s Christmas message (16th Dec 2011) to pastors, synod delegates and members of the LCA included the following.

What a gift of God it is to use social networking to communicate.

Imagine if the angels used it. A positive message using information technology. Perhaps no one would take it seriously even if the tone of the message was clearly different to that of cyberspace bullies, those hiding behind pseudonyms, misinformation, complaints and unchallenged defamatory comments.

There are some inconsistencies in his Pastor’s Semmler’s distress.  We have a President who is happy, on one hand, to use his position to manipulate the process towards women’s ordination, but, on the other hand, is unhappy when opposition is expressed to his methods. We have a General Synod directive that the LCA should work towards consensus on women’s ordination, yet the President places an embargo on letters to our only national media, The Lutheran, thus gagging the national conversation. How is consensus possible without a conversation? We have a President who decides that five male clergy sitting together should resolve the matter for the Church, and is unconcerned that the body is unrepresentative.  While other churches use established processes for building consensus (ref: here, here and here), Pastor Semmler decides for himself what path the LCA will follow.  There is no Plan B for consensus.

The dynamics of domestic abuse.

It is right and proper that we should have a conversation on bullying within the LCA, for it has sadly long been noted by clergy and laity that our Church has a problem in this matter. We’re not talking about people who simply have disagreements, for sinners have disagreements all the time. We’re talking about the behaviour displayed during disagreements, not dissimilar to that of the illustration above on domestic abuse. We would need to discuss: Who is using power over whom? – for bullying presupposes that one party has significant power over another.  Who has more systemic power? What happens when a powerful figure shouts at a less powerful fugure? In the workplace (for the Church has many employees) we would need to consider: How are decisions made?  What consultation occurs? What level of respect is there in the workplace? Who feels powerless, heartbroken and confused? Are the victims of bullying allowed to tell their story? Do people face a risk when they tell their story?  Do they risk losing their job, their career, their reputation or losing the possibility of another call within the Church?

One of the reasons that women’s ordination is not yet approved within the Church is the level of fear within the Church. As the reigns are tightened towards uniformity, clergy express a concern for their employment or future calls to another parish.  What are the implications for clergy who invite women to lead segments of worship?  Currently we are members of a panopticon-like Church, which has us constantly looking over the shoulder.  It’s not a healthy way to live.  Jesus brings freedom to love, but the church currently brings something less attractive.

As for ‘unchallenged defamatory comments’, it seems that those opposed to women’s ordination in the LCA have chosen not to respond.  ALC faculty members have noted the silence after the publishing of theological papers in support of women’s ordination.  Silence will not bring about consensus.  The way ahead is not forged by muffling women and imposing a false uniformity, for that is abusive and divisive.

The use of social media is a natural response to the lack of democratic process within the LCA.  Without a facilitated national conversation and freedom of expression at all levels within the Church, social media is one of few means that allows the expression of opposition to leadership that shuts down conversation/debate.

A strong LCA is not a uniform LCA.  Within the Confessions we will be a pilgrim people of different cultures and traditions.  Our diversity will be obvious in skin colour, culture, history, worship and theology.  We will be a place of welcome, tolerance and  safety.  Policies will not be the play thing of father figures, but there will be theologians, poets and visionaries who engage in an ongoing conversation about the realm of God..  The term ‘uniformity’ will have no meaning.


Posted by on January 28, 2012 in sociology, theology


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“Customs and regulations of the church change” – Melanchthon

Philip Melanchthon, by Hans Holbein the Younger

This post started as a response to Barney, a regular commenter on this blog.  He takes a conservative line and has no time for those who suggest that the LCA would benefit by ordaining women.  We thought our response was worthy of a full post.

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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Hermeneutics, history


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When should congregations refuse to play the conservative game? Reflections on Gen.Synod 2006

Martin Luther

Luther worked within the structures of the Catholic Church to convey his understanding of Scriptures, but when continually hitting immovable walls conscience dictated his actions. Perhaps the LCA has operated from fear that conservative congregations would break from the LCA if women’s ordination was approved.  Little thought, however, has been given to the possibility that moderate congregations would break away after suffering the closing down of the discussion.

When is it time to step away from an abusive Church?  How long should congregations suffer the manipulation of democratic processes?

The following is Tanya Wittwer’s reflection after General Synod in 2006.  The despair she expresses from that time is evident again in our Church as we lead up to General Synod in April of 2013.  There is significant expectation of change.  Members and congregations of this Church are not content to forever suffer diversions and stalling.

From the beginning of the proceedings it was apparent that the leadership had decided to keep a tight lid on Synod.  The first woman to speak asked that one of the two nominees for the position of President share his vision for the church, prior to the election; the incumbent had just delivered his report and it seemed reasonable to be able to at least have heard from each of them.  This request (repeated by another woman the following day) was immediately denied.

The ordination question was clearly established as something to be debated from opposing sides, rather than an issue that could be discussed collegially.  On the Monday evening of Synod there was an “information evening” at which two seminary professors had been chosen to speak for 25 minutes – one presenting the position that only men could be ordained, and the other responding.  Unfortunately it was the No position that established the parameters of the “information” presented.  In the format chosen and the time limit given there was no opportunity to address bigger questions of Biblical interpretation, or faithful decision-making.  The chair contributed negatively to the debate, with a long, heavy-handed introduction, and unhelpful remarks.

The chair had been clear in his direction that only Scriptural and theological issues were to be addressed, but this did not prevent some of the anti-lobby using manipulative anecdotes and sweeping statements to support their arguments.  The style of “debate” meant that there was no opportunity to respond to these.  When the chair declared that only those waiting to speak would be given an opportunity, and no more were to go to the microphones, the balance was such that the final five speakers were against the ordination of women.  The chair urged people to abstain from voting if they had any doubts at all, or if they thought the time was not yet right.  Then the votes were cast.

I felt surprisingly free.  I felt free to leave the LCA, and join another denomination.  The reaction surprised me, but it felt as if the part of the race I needed to run was complete, and it was time to hand the baton over.  I was overwhelmed by the people – many of them strangers – who thanked me for my words, and shared their sadness.

When I woke on Wednesday morning, I had moved to a position of feeling free … to stay, at least for a while. To stay and to support others in being the church we believed we needed to be, even if this meant pushing boundaries. The nice, polite, official way of doing things seemed unhelpful; maybe now is the time to forget being “good.” We need to name clearly the legalistic turn in our church. We need to work against the pressure being applied by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). We need to find ways to proclaim more loudly God’s inclusive grace.

via GENERAL LCA SYNOD 2006 — “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) | Women’s Ministry Network – Tanya Wittwer (6 October 2006)


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The Radical Luther – Basil Schild

Pastor Basil Schild

“He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

So writes Luther in 1523, commenting on Galatians 3:28:

“For things will be as St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28:  ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ There we have the same faith, the same possessions, the same inheritance—everything is equal. One could even say: He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

In a time when some sections of medieval society were still debating whether women had souls, Luther’s understanding, that in Christ women and men were not only equal, but received from Christ the same possessions and the same inheritance, to the extent that before God it doesn’t matter if you are called a man or a woman, was a direct challenge to both the social and religious attitudes of his day. The resulting Lutheran Reformation had a direct impact on raising the status of women in medieval society.

In 1528, commenting on 1 Tim 2:15, Luther declares:

“If the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule, like Huldah”

10 years later, in 1537, commenting on Jesus love for the poor and outcast he notes:

“…He might even select poor harlot Mary Magdalene as a disciple”

And nearly 500 years before modern debates, as he wrestles with his understanding of the role of pastors, what they do,  who they are, and how they relate to his understanding that all believers are actually in reality priests; he speaks of women being able to baptize:

“So when women baptize, they exercise the function of the priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church..”

And he continues:

“…A woman can baptize and administer the Word of life, by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul.”

Luther includes women in what he considers to be the Church’s greatest role:

“…To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, .. it is the greatest office in the church—the proclamation of the Word of God.”

It may be argued that Luther  did not campaign for women’s ordination and that he supported a male pastorate, but his passion, and his challenge of the cultural prejudice against women of medieval times ought to be noted and celebrated. Not only did Luther recognize the way God blesses the world through women, he was even prepared to speak of God with feminine imagery: In the year 1529 he talks of  “The breasts of the Holy Spirit”

Why?  Luther is reflecting on the beautiful imagery in Isaiah, of God as a mother, comforting her children.

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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in history, theology


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Ratifying the ministry – a woman’s comment

Jesus blesses a pastor, who is aware of the church's existence as a ship sailing through stormy seas.

I painted this as a farewell gift to a pastor who, last year, painted himself up a step-ladder to reach Jesus on the cross – “Pray with me”.  In the painting, Jesus, from our altar’s gilt crucifix, embraces him for his ministry.

The gospel of St Matthew was written for the early Christian church, aware of its existence as a ship sailing through stormy seas.  The ceiling of the Nave of our St Matthews church has timbers accentuating this nautical reference, especially when turned upside-down as in the painting.

The upturned nave of St Matthew's Church.
The song I found myself singing as I prepared this farewell gift is “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  … Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?”  [TiS #658]  Obviously this pastor answered, as did Isaiah [ch6], “Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I will hold your people in my heart.”

But would not this painting be as valid with a woman also being supported, encouraged and commissioned by our Lord Jesus?
Why would it suddenly be just the ministry of men, not women, that God supports, commands and encourages?

Genesis 1:27-31 puts responsibility squarely on the shoulders of men and women together.  Matthew 28:16-20 is our Christian commissioning.

The Thesis of the Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions of the Lutheran Church of Australia make beautiful reading until no. 11.  And the only reason no. 11 is there is as an explanation of the way we used to do things.  It isn’t right.

Theses on the Office of Ministry – DSTO, 1950


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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in theology, women's ordination


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The Gospel Principle and Women’s Ordination – Dr Norm Habel

Norm Habel - Professorial Fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a pastor of The Lutheran Church.

We are Lutheran!   Our church and church leaders are Lutheran, a tradition of which we can be proud.  We are not Roman Catholic, Reformed or Fundamentalists.  We are Lutheran and that means we are guided by the Gospel principle.

The Gospel principle is that criterion by which we discern whether a teaching, a tradition, an interpretation, a course of action or a form of ministry is consistent with the message of the Gospel, the message that by the grace of God and faith in Christ, not obedience to the law or human works, we are liberated from our sins and born anew as children of God.

In popular terms the Gospel principle is encapsulated in the idiom, ‘Was Christum treibet!’  Whatever directs us to Christ, the message of Christ and the way of Christ, is to be our guiding principle.  Christ is our compass not Moses.  The Gospel is our guide not the law.

The Gospel announces the revelation that all human beings, both men and women, have been liberated from sin, from death and from the law as a way of salvation or of bonding with God. Both men and women are free from obedience to the law as a way of salvation and a binding relationship with God. To introduce a ‘law’ limiting the role of women in the church, is to limit the freedom they know in the Gospel and is a violation of the Gospel principle.

The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God, both men and women, are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in both word and sacrament.  Any human ‘law’ which prevents women from proclaiming the Gospel, in whatever form, is a violation of the Gospel principle!  Women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ to serve as his ministers. Preventing women from serving in the ordained ministry is a denial of a role to which Christ calls them.

The Gospel affirms the truth that Christ supersedes Moses, the Gospel supersedes the law.  Any human institution that reverts back to those Mosaic laws which limit the ministry of women is not only regressive but also violates an essential dimension of the Gospel principle. Through Christ, women like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating these gifts to the full by being denied, as were the women under Mosaic law,  from celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Gospel as ordained women.

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 through an ecclesiastical ‘law’ that is in conflict with the very Gospel principle we celebrate as Lutherans.

In 1955, when I graduated from Concordia Seminary and planned to study in America, I asked Henry Hamann senior whether I could be ordained even though I had no parish.  ‘Yes, indeed!’ he said.  ‘The rite of ordination as such’ he continued, ‘is a human institution.’

If ordination is not a rite specified by Christ but only a human institution, how can we possibly persist in denying women the privilege of ordination, an institution that violates the Gospel principle we uphold as Lutherans,  and still call ourselves Lutheran?

Norman Habel


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Ordaining Women Goes to the Heart of the Gospel – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr Karen Bloomquist - Director of the Department for Theology and Studies of The Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland.

An extract from a presentation given by Dr. Karen Bloomquist for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon taken from the Journal for Lutheran Ethics, 2009.  Dr. Karen Bloomquist is the director of the Department for Theology and Studies, The Lutheran World Federation, Geneva Switzerland.


[1] Since 1984 the clear official position of the Lutheran World Federation has been in favor of the ordination of women. Now, approximately 63 million, out of a total of 68 million members, belong to LWF member churches that do ordain women. Some Lutheran churches have been doing so for as far back as 80, 50 or 40 years, but many have only begun doing so in the past 20 years.

[2] Now there are several thousand Lutheran women who are ordained pastors (the estimated total in just Germany and the USA is over 10,000), including about 30 who serve as bishops or church presidents. In many Lutheran-related theological institutions today, about half of the students are women. The increasing number of women in the ordained ministry is one of the most dramatic shifts globally in Lutheran churches in the past few decades. It no longer is an abstract issue but a living reality throughout the Lutheran communion, which is the starting point for the communiqué affirmed earlier this year by the LWF Council: “The Ongoing Reformation of the Church: The Witness of Ordained Women Today.”

[3] Where there is hesitation or opposition to ordaining women, four factors typically are involved:

1. HISTORICAL LEGACIES from churches and mission societies that first established and continue to support churches here in Africa. This especially includes interpretations of the Bible and ways of being church that they have passed on, sometimes in opposition to positions of their own churches. Such interpretations deeply affect how we read Scripture to legitimize positions that may have been arrived on other grounds. As Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro has written:

Whether or not to ordain woman has depended largely on the practices, visions and wish of the ‘mother church,’ as well as the local perception of leadership in society, access to theological education, and interpretation of received traditions.

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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in theology


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HowToMake: Ribbons for women’s ordination – Update on colours used

Ribbons and card to support women's ordination in the LCA

Further to our earlier post, Wearing ribbons in support of women’s ordination,  We have received requests to describe the ribbons and to give instructions to make them.

As you can see in the accompanying photo the concept is simple:

  1. Cut about 6cm of thin purple (Lupin) and thin green (Parakeet) ribbon. (the examples are 3mm satin ribbon)
  2. Fold them into shape and put a couple of small stitches on each side.
  3.  Attach a small safety-pin so that users can attach them to their clothing.
  4. You may wish to attach a small card to explain the purpose of the green and purple ribbons.  An attached card might read something like this:

Each year further men are ordained into the Lutheran Church of Australia. While we celebrate these ordinations, there is sadness that women cannot yet be ordained. We invite you to wear this ribbon to Church gatherings as a gentle way of showing your support for women’s ordination.

Comment from the woman who made them for the Ordinations:  “This is just my method – if your method works better, share it.”

If you’re interested in making some of these ribbons may we suggest that you work with a group of friends so that you create a level of interest. One person wearing the ribbons may go unnoticed.

The idea is that supporters of women’s ordination wear the double thin ribbons to Church gatherings at all levels.   Wearing ribbons will arouse interest, spark conversations and have the potential to grow into something significant.

Please pass this idea to interested friends and contacts.  One way to do this is to give them the details of this post via Facebook of Twitter.


Posted by on January 15, 2012 in politics, women's ordination


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Wearing ribbons in support of women’s ordination

Please consider subscribing to this blog via an RSS feed or through email notifications (add your email address in the top right hand corner).  Thanks for helping to build the women’s ordination network.

November 2011 saw the ordination of several men from ALC at Concordia Chapel, Highgate, S.A.   Small ribbons in support of women, who were not deemed suitable to join the men, were offered to those attending.   A large number of people were happy to wear the ribbons, including faculty from ALC and parish clergy.  A small card was also given to people stating:

As we celebrate this occasion with the church and the ordinands, there is sadness that, yet again, no women will be ordained.  We invite you to wear this ribbon to the service and other celebrations as a gentle way of showing your support for the ordination of women.

Pastor Semmler laments the low number of men graduating from ALC, however, he demonstrates an intolerance for one obvious solution to the dilemma – the ordination of women.

The wearing of ribbons has been received enthusiastically by some. Perhaps they should become a permanent thing until women are finally ordained.


Posted by on January 10, 2012 in politics, women's ordination


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