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A woman’s story of leaving the LCA

16 Apr

I was asked to write an article some months ago detailing my experiences with the 2006 Synod and my subsequent decision to leave the Lutheran church in the last year or so. I think one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write this article, has been because of the deep grief I feel over leaving the Lutheran church, the community which first told me of God’s great grace, and the way in which articulating my decision publically gives it a greater sense of “realness”. Here is my story.

When I attended the LCA National Synod in 2006, it was as someone who was encouraged and hopeful. I was encouraged that my congregation of mainly older members had supported me and chosen me, a twenty-something woman as their synod delegate. I took the responsibility very seriously, canvassing the opinions of congregation members regarding woman’s ordination and reading widely, prior to attending. I prayed. I read my Bible. At Synod, I listened carefully to the information evening and the debates prior to the vote. To my mind, there was no theological/scriptural impediment to the ordination of both men and women, in fact the opposite. And, so I voted.

When I voted, I voted with hope. I was hopeful that the LCA would acknowledge the ministry of women throughout the Bible, and the continual pastoral work of women. Hopeful that I could hear more of Huldah, Anna, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene and Priscilla. I was hopeful that the LCA would acknowledge that women are created equally in the image of God, rather than somehow being lesser and unfit to proclaim God’s message in God’s church. I was hopeful that women who I have known, women struggling with body image, eating disorders, sexuality, sexual assault, and grieving abortion, and who had told me that they didn’t feel as if they could discuss these issues with a male pastor, would soon be able to safely speak to a female pastor. I was hopeful that the women in the LCA, who had had God call them to ministry, would be able to exercise their God-given gifts to God’s glory. I was hopeful that the LCA would find a partial solution to its encroaching pastor shortage. I was hopeful that the LCA was to become a church that demonstrated God’s love for all people, of all genders.

However…

From the start, it seemed strange, that something that determined the rights of the women of the LCA was to be determined by mostly men. It appeared that most congregational delegates were men, and, one third of the delegates were pastors, and thus all men, and additionally, any visiting pastors were able to cast a vote. This is not to say that many men were not supportive of the pro-ordination position, but none-the-less, it was not the rights of men that were being debated. This situation of men determining the role of women within the LCA continues, with the appointment of five young male pastors to a ‘consensus building’ taskforce.

I was dismayed at the LCA president’s urging of people to abstain if they were not completely certain of which position to take on the ordination of both men and women. Multiple times. Firstly, wasn’t once enough? Secondly, this was on the Synod agenda for a long time, and people had been given plenty of opportunity to read, to pray and to form an opinion. Thirdly, when an abstention counted against the yes vote, it essentially became a no vote.

And I was hurt by the president’s attempts to silence debate, both at Synod, ending discussion with little warning, and outside of Synod, prohibiting letters to the editor in The Lutheran on the topic.

I was also troubled by the sense that the LCA is so certain of its abilities to determine the correct theological understanding regarding the ordination of women and men, that it does not need to take into account the work, the scholarship and prayer of many other churches in Australia and around the world, including churches we have many similarities or ties to, such as the Anglican Church and the various Lutheran Synods throughout the world.

Ultimately, I have had to question whether I can remain in a denomination that seems unable to fully recognise the image-bearing status (and thus equality) of women and thus continues to act in ways that are unloving towards women. The Biblical principle of social justice is to me the living out of such commands as “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19.18) and “what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. Christ’s heart for those who are marginalised has inspired me to study social work, a profession with social justice as its key tenet. Given my commitment to Christ and the value of social justice, I can no longer continue to identify as a Christian and a future social work professional and at the same time identify as a Lutheran, as long as the LCA continues to discriminate against women through failing to ordain women. It hurts my heart deeply to leave, but it was hurting my head and my heart more to stay.

Angela Drylie

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8 Comments

Posted by on April 16, 2012 in theology

 

8 responses to “A woman’s story of leaving the LCA

  1. lcamyopinion

    April 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I am so sorry for the hurt you feel, Angela. There was so much wrong with the words and actions of the President at that synod. They fell like blows onto the two young women (20 somethings) who were next to me as all of this unfolded. They were in tears as were many others in the auditorium.

    I remember when the question was honestly asked by a Pastor who saw the pain and was genuinely confused as to what should happen now that over 50% of the pastors had publicly voted that they no longer agreed with the LCA’s teaching on a male only pastorate. The response from the President?…the “pastor to the pastors”…”You have our statements which you are sworn to uphold” I felt sick as i heard the words. I went to the microphone to express my dismay at the hurt i was seeing all over the auditorium.

    Then I returned home to find a leaked email from Dr John Kleinig a senior statesman and teacher of the church, who had campaigned hard against women’s ordination, written to some private little conservative email group that he was corresponding with…which said…in effect…”Our detractors speak of hurt…what about OUR hurt!” Good God! How would he have responded if they had lost??? What on earth did he have to be hurt about? So much for compassion for you and the other women who continue to bear the brunt of the injustice in our church.

    I still feel sad about the great wound the 2006 synod and the conduct of our president and others caused to our church and to you. I think your course of action is wise. Better to leave and heal than to be continually confronted with the same attitudes that caused the hurt in the first place.

    We were a different church 20 years ago. Maybe, one day, we can become a church that you will want to come home to again. God bless your studies, your ministry, your journey and your new spiritual home Angela.

     
  2. lcamyopinion

    April 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I’m listening to the waves crash on the shore near my home. there is a peacefulness to the sound. Thankyou God…You are in that sound and that peace. For a minute there i was feeling swamped by a tidal wave of emotion as a remember that synod again. Breathe…in…out…listen to the waves….breath..

    May it never happen like that again.

     
  3. Sharyn Hensel

    April 16, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I’m over it.
    I am no longer a ’20 something’ young professional- but a 47 year old health professional, who has separated(with great respect) from her Lutheran husband, As a teenager, and really believing the words and promises and feeling all were equal, respected- I went through the process of becoming a ‘Lutheran’, so as to be (suitable) able to, without any differences (apparently religion, in particular the special truth of Lutheran belief over my Anglican, which of course must be ‘proclaimed’ . Lutheran church wished for me to ‘denounce’ my Anglican, Anglican church ministers were quite okay- said there was very little difference betn Anglicans/Lutherans etc viewpoint- and that all were in process of finding mutuality not divison.. I fail to understand -why do the Lutherans , here in Australia particular- find that process such an ‘enormous’ one, that must deem and become ‘specially inclusive enough just for Lutherans- they want to plan and execute enormous chuch celebrations for any advances that occur too no doubt..)
    But I digress- I didnt just ‘change’ my religion -in Lutheran church eyes- had to be total understanding, do like a total ‘course’- equivalent to redoing my Confirmation.. only I was a 4th year dental student, studying 3 hrs away in Brisbane, we had 5 day a week days from 8am-5pm in the city.. and i had to drive out to rural country town on roads way lesser than todays, in a little car way lesser than todays with a hole in the floor, during the middle of winter to do a selected series course with our Pastor who going to marry us, over about 8 Tues nights. I think my husband bothered to get there one time- but he didnt sit through the course or anything- just met me to hand me over to the pastor (bit like outside an elders meeting:)
    I did this, got through the course, and naturally as a 22 year old proudly ready, something I had had to ‘do’ for key importance my husband’s family- so could marry him in the Lutheran church. Involved me having to stand up solo, as separate special part in a church service (also mid semester, driven up from Bris) proclaim and ‘become’ recognised member Lutheran Church Australia.
    So I mean- me , alone, proclaiming this, standing up in front entire congregation, like almost a solo Confirmation(which had already undertaken years earlier in Anglican church) – and I am and say i am still a ‘Lutheran’ today.
    A few of the main elders, one who i enormously respected- questioned the pastor later outside (The Pastor, who is now well-known, also at the time was younger man) These men did this at LENGTH, for quite a long time (1/2 hr) outside amongst the congregation after church- milling women and children and chatting groups men- about what/how/whether ‘enough’ was the teachings and understanding I would have gained to ‘become’ a member the church. I had been an attendee for several years by this stage. I was a local girl- not an unknown to them,I had known several of them all of my life, they were happy I was marrying my husband but just wasn’t Lutheran by birth basically..
    This only part long saga- which mostly do not overthink any more- but recently reared its head over easter. I seem to have NO say in what my children do on a Sunday, no thought that there should be a plan for what to do as a family- if husband decides , can attend- it is church, church church. He is now an elder- as you correctly assess- by male birthright.
    These people are all lovely people, I really respect them, know them- but I am way way over it. Do I have any ‘resentments’– oh yeah, clearly. I dont think I do in other ways- I have forgiven my husband everything, over. But I do NOT want to spend anymore years, ever- having to ‘live’ this anymore.
    i am NOT a spiritual dessert. I DO now swear a bit 🙂
    What do I think? IF and when I do now think about all this-( I think the church as is will simply ‘die out”- leave the people to it, discussing and worshiping as they will- leave them alone, live their lives )
    I do wish in way , that I could just have a more normal and simple, usual lovely respect for religion, as more than 1/2 my friends are christian in persuasion likely do.
    But with the experiences I have had, and seen over last 28 years- I am more sworn away, I just don’t want nor would recommend church involvement to others, though wish all each to their own and if makes them happy and makes sense- whatever.
    Like anything you get so close to- humans are very flawed and when they have their ‘way’ – can be selfish creatures. ‘Little boys want to be allowed to do as they want to do’- not grown men supposedly. BUt as many (loving women) too will attest, and we have to live , work and serve men/all people extensively and closely every single day in our work and family lives(huge situations, most people less fortunate, realities world we live in confronted with again and again).. why also acquiesce(and often more so than outside world environment) in our free time & go through this for an artificial , made up entity such as a church religion ?
    I really think- feel very much- it needs to be about “love’ centrally, intrinsically.
    It has been said- “change is slow and can be hard..”
    True. But, this is also BS- these theological ‘dissertations’ have been going on for decades & decades now-literally!!
    Actually- why shouldn’t these people also be made to study up on the left hippocampus- how unchanging and inalterable it can be rendered, esp for male of our species, by decades of certain practices/whole of life for many.
    Especially men – really struggle to ‘change’- and if not having been made to be very flexible, see and learn other viewpoints and learnings throughout their adult lives- many cannot/or rather do NOT make changes. By at least the 20 year mark- our brains alone, are ‘semi-programmed’ to respond automatically, ‘patterned’, ‘feel’ a certain way more habitually in response to even subtle ‘cues’ and behaviour , let alone spoken words and church services.
    So- it is hopeless to believe this can occur- instead Lutheran church particularly, exhibits also a particular insularity- (by birth- those being ‘born in’ second generation and more) as well as by those who find the overall “? feel, subtle and not so subtle characteristics” of this more traditional church not only acceptable but who commit their time & lives to be actively involved in it and its committees..staying rather than going- obviously, it is more unchanging as a result by virtue people who are still within it.
    Sorry- I have not proof -read this, and wish i hadn’t taken all this time in a way to type this–
    But I am still astounded by methodologies and ways this church!
    It has been a big factor in my marriage (over) and I would class myself as ‘damaged’ by religion. I also fully acknowledge that I fell in love with and married my husband(albiet at a very young and insecure age as a teenager)- and that this came with the territory of ‘him’. He still has never discussed “his faith” with me personally in the entire time i have known him. He certainly does support women to be ordained though, very naturally & has absolutely no issue with women and their essential roles in our world- and he does seriously respect me and my role now as a health professional, having had direct involvement life for over a quarter century obviously.
    Take care, please- I usually hope people can ‘grow’ as they will, and learn to look outside themselves. I guess I mostly have given up, don’t want to try influence anyone much anymore, but try instead to be my best, LOVE others (this my main thing) and possibly be some example to others- but that is not what i seek to do anymore.

     
  4. Katie and Martin

    April 18, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Thanks for sharing your story Sharyn. These events are material for fiction but obviously real and all too painful. Certainly, face to face, there are many stories told. Wouldn’t it be good to collate them? It would be a shocking document.
    We know that we’re all human and sinful, but we don’t think it’s too much for us to expect to be able to live in diversity, despite a different ‘take’ on theology and life. We long for the time when leadership values and embraces difference so that the LCA can be a safe home for all of us.

     

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