We quote a senior pastor of the church. He responds to a number of issues raised.
Those supporting women’s ordination have been accused of impatience, that their protests have been untimely and that they should wait for the process to play itself out. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebhuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that equality is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in any action that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from lack of equality. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of women with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I had also hoped that those between the poles of the debate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for women’s ordination. I have just received a letter saying, “All Lutherans know that the Church will ordain women eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of equality and transform our pending LCA elegy into a creative psalm of gender equality. Now is the time to lift our Church policy from the quicksand of gender injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
I have talked to several people who have said that they believe women should be ordained. However, they don’t want to fight the issue because it’s merely a distraction and there are more pressing matters such as saving the lost. Others say they don’t want to risk offending Lutherans in other parts of the world. Even others add that we should let the consensus process play itself out. They always end with their belief that the church will eventually ordain women so let’s just not worry about it now.
You will see certain church leaders trying to paint those, who wish for women’s ordination to happen now, as taking an extreme position that is out of harmony with the rest of Lutheranism. However, though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Perhaps the LCA is in dire need of creative extremists.
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of many, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for this century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than equality, I beg God to forgive me.
Adapted from Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail.
With thanks to Trevan Osborn, pastor for young adults at the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace, California who considered the sermons and writing of Martin Luther King in his post as a reflection to the debate over the ordination of women in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.