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.
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.