Despite South Australian colonial Lutherans being ‘model citizens’, history records that patriarchy was well entrenched in their tradition.
This post records the exclusion, in the main, of women from higher education and leadership in Lutheran churches and schools in the first 80 years of the Lutheran school system (as recorded in The Patriarchs: A history of Australian Lutheran Schooling, by Richard Hausler, 2009).
Lutheran theology is known internationally for speaking with some clarity about grace and forgiveness. The Lutheran tradition is also known for its reformist origins and breaking with Catholic corruption, conservatism and wealth. It is therefore not immediately apparent why the LCA has chosen a conservative incarnation of the Lutheran tradition when many other synods have a higher level of engagement with society and contemporary values. This post provides historical clues from the first 80 years of Lutheran settlement in Australia.
(p25) “One point that needs to be made is that while Lutheran leaders of the nineteenth century qualified as patriarchs in the sense that they presided over a system which strongly discriminated against females, the same was generally true of the situation which pertained in most of nineteenth century society. There was also common discrimination against women in all education systems of the era. For instance, in Victoria the Public Service Act of 1883 included provisions for excluding women from the principalships of all except the smallest schools in the state system. Their salaries were also set at eighty percent of the male rate. In fact women often served in school positions which attracted a modicum of pay but demanded considerable professional expertise. The term “sewing mistress” depicted such a role which was humbly remunerated but could involve teaching over the whole curriculum up to full time. This situation was echoed in the other states.
However, it must also be pointed out that the Lutheran patriarchs presided over a system, which was even more discriminatory against women than society in general. There was an assumption that leadership in the family, church and society belonged to men. In part it was a result of Christian beliefs. To this extent their discrimination was not motivated by their desire to exercise power. They placed themselves under the authority of the Bible which, they believed, taught that the man should be the head of the house, that wives were subject to their husbands, that women should not speak publicly in the church and that only men could be ordained as pastors. In part it was the traditional practice of their church. Men sat on one side of the congregation while women and children sat on the other, and all positions of leadership from pastor and teacher, to lay reader and elder, as well as voting rights and committee memberships were the domain of men. There was even the unsavoury practice when an unmarried woman became pregnant that she, but not the father, had to appear before the congregation to express repentance.
These patriarchal assumptions spilled over into the schools. There was always a close connection in Lutheran schools between the roles of pastor and principal. …Being a teacher in the Lutheran church was one step away from being a pastor, a role reserved for men. So it was not surprising that men should run the schools as well. Women, in contrast, were often involved in school enterprises, but always in a subsidiary role. …
(p27)From the very beginning girls were automatically enrolled in congregational schools just as the boys were. Significantly, however, it was in the institutions of higher learning that girls had a decidedly lesser place. For instance, for the first five years of Immanuel College (secondary) at Point Pass, only two of the first thirteen students were female. At the rival synod’s college called Concordia there were no female students enrolled at all between 1890 and 1926. This reflected the belief that while female students required a basic Christian education in order to be taught the fundamentals of the faith and to read their Bibles and the confessions of the church, because of their gender they did not qualify for the training to become leaders in the church.
The communities of Prussian, rural, antipodean citizens, who clung to the German language for many years in their schools in Australia, had an exclusive understanding of what was appropriate for females and males in their schools and for leadership at home, school and church. While it was accepted that girls should have compulsory schooling until the age of fourteen, is this because Prussia instituted the very progressive, compulsory schooling for all children in 1763, approximately 100 years before Australian colonies. One wonders what value might have been placed on female education in primary schools if this was not the case.
While some concerned LCA members bemoan the influence of culture in our Church today, they seem to be unaware of the influence of their own culture on their thinking. While stating that their theology is determined purely from Scripture, their blindness to their own historical influences ensures that culture maintains a strong influence on how they interpret Scripture.