Bullying within the Church

28 Jan

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


Tags: , , , , ,

2 responses to “Bullying within the Church

  1. Dorothea Preis

    January 29, 2012 at 6:45 am

    There is a shortage of pastors in the LCA. Our congregation was for 2 years without pastor and there are many who have been in that situation even longer. I could think of a simple solution to that problem.


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