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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Women Bishops: It’s About the Bible

Tom Wright, a former Bishop of Durham, is research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews.

(via Arise: a weekly exchange from CBE connecting you to the movement for Biblical equality)

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Tom Wright is uncomfortable with the language of rights and progress.  We are not totally convinced as we’re talking about justice. The first extract reflects our take on the matter – from Gaudete Theology.

What I’m thinking of, and what I suspect most other Christian feminists are thinking of, is the progress that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had in mind:

“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Progress along this arc of history is progress towards that very promise, the promise from the Book of Amos to which Rev. King frequently alludes that justice will roll down like a river, the justice that is one of the characteristics of the new creation. Sexism, racism, and all forms of bigotry are sins of injustice. And when they are embodied in societal or institutional structures, they are structural sins of injustice.  Progress or Promise?

However,  Bishop Tom Wright makes a strong case:

Exhorting the Church of England (CoE) to “get with the program” dilutes the argument for women bishops.

“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasps a feckless official in one of C. S. Lewis’s stories. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?”

“I have seen them both in an egg,” replies the young hero. “We call it Going bad in Narnia.”

Lewis nails a lie at the heart of our culture. As long as we repeat it, we shall never understand our world, let alone the Church’s calling. And until proponents of women bishops stop using it, the biblical arguments for women’s ordination will never appear in full strength.

“Now that we live in the 21st century,” begins the interviewer, invoking the calendar to justify a proposed innovation. “In this day and age,” we say, assuming that we all believe the 18th-century doctrine of “progress,” which, allied to a Whig view of history (that history moves toward greater progress and enlightenment), dictates that policies and practices somehow ought to become more “liberal,” whatever that means. Russia and China were on the “wrong side of history,” Hillary Clinton warned recently. But how does she know what “history” will do? And what makes her think that “history” never makes mistakes?

We, of all people, ought to know better. “Progress” gave us modern medicine, liberal democracy, the internet. It also gave us the guillotine, the Gulag and the gas chambers. Western intelligentsia assumed in the 1920s that “history” was moving away from the muddle and mess of democracy towards the brave new world of Russian communism. Many in 1930s Germany regarded Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends as on the wrong side of history. The strong point of postmodernity is that the big stories have let us down. And the biggest of all was the modernist myth of “progress.”

“We call it Going bad in Narnia.” Quite.

It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the program” over women bishops.


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All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an “apostle”called Junia (Romans 16:7). He entrusted that letter to a “deacon” called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman.

The resurrection of Jesus is the only Christian guide to the question of where history is going. Unlike the ambiguous “progress” of the Enlightenment, it is full of promise—especially the promise of transformed gender roles.

The promise of new creation, symbolised by the role of Mary Magdalene in the Easter stories, is the reality. Modern ideas of “progress” are simply a parody. Next time this one comes round, it would be good to forget “progress”—and ministerial “program”—and stick with the promise.

 

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Attempting to end an impasse

WordPress have just updated their “Add Media” button – it took some for these images to load.

In a recent post, “Hey Mate!” one commenter, Pastor Wally, has had extreme frustration with your authors’ Scriptural understanding and the tools used at arriving at that understanding. We also have had extreme frustration when our language and world views seemed to be misunderstood.

We felt that continued dialogue was pointless.  At that stage Cdonges then commented, in a moderator’s role, asking questions of Wally and us. Here’s the recent comments:

As this conversation is wasted at the base of dozens of comments under a post, we have created a full post in order that the Katie and Martin community, might share and participate.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Standing before the forces of power in Alabama

“They told us we wouldn’t get here, there were those who said we would only get here over their dead bodies. All the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in Alabama saying ‘We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!’” – Martin Luther King Jr, Selma to Montgomery, March 1965.

I will never know the names of the people who marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr King and chances are you won’t either.  Nor are you likely to know the names of the people who walked with Gandhi on the Salt March, yet our history and imaginations are caught by the thought of hundreds of ordinary people going to (and walking for) extraordinary lengths to fight for justice.  No matter what came, nothing would move these people, and nobody could turn them around.  Reference

We lose track of how difficult it is to bring about  change.  People understood that civil rights may actually cost them their lives.

Gordon Gibson knew the civil rights movement in the 1960s was serious when a friend said not to leave for Selma unless it was more important for him to go than it was to come back.

“I decided it was more important to go to Alabama, and we wrote our wills,” Gibson said.

He was 26 years old.  Reference

Australia had it’s own Freedom Ride in 1965.  It exposed endemic racism in rural Australia and “punctured Australian smugness, borne of ignorance, that racism did not exist in Australia.” (ref)  While the move towards the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal equality had started shortly after Federation  in 1901, the Freedom Ride must have helped people understand that racism was entrenched, not just in country towns of NSW, but in the Australian Constitution as well.  There was resistance over decades, much of it vitriolic, and some resistance continues today for racism cannot be legislated away.

Change doesn’t come easily, for it threatens some people’s way of being.  It is difficult for some to imagine how they will function under the innovation and so it becomes important to resist, despite understanding why it is important for many.  That resistance is justified by a lifetime of living in a different paradigm.  “It is my experience, don’t take it from me!” When change does come, the new reality is rarely as confronting as was expected.

The road towards women’s ordination has been difficult.  Through hope and despair starting in the 1990s, and now through a growing voice protesting the silencing of debate on women’s ordination, there is an ever-increasing hope that the LCA will yet see women’s ordination.

The difference between civil rights and women’s ordination in the LCA is that while both the US and Australia are democracies and function under freedom of the press, the LCA on this matter, does not.  While Pr Semmler communicates freely with membership when he wishes, the women’s ordination movement cannot even pay for an advertisement in the national magazine.  Repressive regimes use this tactic throughout the world to maintain control on power through controlling communication and the national discussion. As this contravenes the LCA Constitution Pr Semmler needs to be censured.

 

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Hey, mate!

Yesterday, Sunday 25th November was White Ribbon Day in Australia – a campaign to stop violence against women.

One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence from the time they turn 15 years old.

One in five will have experienced sexual violence according to these same figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What is more, a woman living in this country is more likely to be killed in her home by her male partner than anywhere else or by anyone else.

Almost eight out of 10 female murder victims in Australia were killed by someone with whom they shared a domestic relationship.  Reference

Check out further videos in this series

Here is the pledge that Aussie men are encouraged to take:

I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. This is my oath.

This is also the pledge that those clergy, who are the hands and voice opposing women’s equality in the LCA, are encouraged to make.

At some stage in a girl’s life she becomes aware that being a pastor in the LCA is open only to her brothers. This relegation to the ranks of second-best, using the Bible as justification is spiritually abusive.  Girls are judged – without their participation – long before being born.  It’s no different to the Indian caste system – there’s no escaping, just the collusion of those with something to lose.  If you peacefully accept it and trust in good karma perhaps you’ll have a better incarnation next time.

As Christians we are not to trust in the justice of heaven, we are to live the justice of heaven.  We cannot wait.  We cannot expect women and girls to wait for some after-life reward, for that kind of piety is patronising nonsense.

There can be no excuse for violence against women and girls!  It’s that simple!  If you are using Scripture to justify your violence, then you have a choice: 1. discard Scripture or 2. reconsider your interpretation of Scripture.  No, there is a third option, discard your religion, for that is a better choice than using it to oppress your sisters.  Sacrilegious?  Not at all!  Using religion to justify violence is the sacrilege.

Feedback and suggestions are warmly invited.  We’d love to get your comment.

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22 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

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Open

Mike Scott of The Water Boys

There was a time when:

Women were property,
girls were a financial burden,
women could not inherit or own property,
women were considered financially unproductive,

and today in India, foeticide is still evident by the decreasing female:male ratio.

And now, this is time when:

Women are equal but cannot lead at the front of church,
women can lead corporations, but not congregations,
women can speak on behalf of a nation but not on behalf of Jesus,
girls are told to follow their dream, except in pastoral care.

Things have changed but still the hatred of girls and women continues.

It’s time to be open.  Open to the change that is already here.

OPEN – Source

Open to the world
open to spirit
open to the changing wind
open to touch
open to nature
open to the world within
open to change
open to adventure
open to the new
open to love
open to miracles
open Beloved to You

Open to learn
open to laughter
open to being blessed
open to joy
open to service
open to saying “Yes !”
open to risk
open to passion
to peace and silence too
open to love
open to beauty
open Beloved to You

Written: Mike Scott, Taos, New Mexico December 1992
Appears: On “Still Burning”

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

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Feminism

“Any woman who says she is not a feminist, but wishes to be treated as more than a piece of seagull poo on the windscreen of life, has simply got the terminology wrong.”  Attributed to Kaz Cooke

Recent events in Australia and around the world – from the accusations of misogyny, to the sad and senseless death of Jill Meagher, to the shooting of young Pakistani girl Malala Yousufzal have sparked a wave of feminist debate about the right of women to be safe and to live their lives without fear of ridicule or harm.  More than 320 000 people have joined Jill Meagher’s Facebook tribute page (unsubstantiated) and almost 30 000 people gathered in Melbourne in her memory.

Feminism is not a dirty word.  It quite literally and simply means insisting that the political, economic, and social rights of women are clearly defined, established and defended as equal to men.  The feminist movement has always sought to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.  In short a feminist is “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women“.

Over the decades, the feminist movement in Australia and indeed many parts of the world have campaigned for and achieved to varying degrees women’s rights when it comes to contract law, property ownership, right to vote and reproductive rights.  Further, feminists have advocated for women’s workplace rights, such as maternity leave and equal pay.

Sadly, the feminist movement has even had to work hard to ensure that women and girls are protected from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  There are many who argue that while feminism has mainly been focused on women’s issues and rights, the very fact that feminists seek overall gender equality, means men’s liberation is a necessary part of feminism, and that indeed men have also benefited from gender equality.

I am confident that almost of my family and friends are 100% in favour of rights and equality for all.  Most of them want to see an end to gender-based discrimination in society, the home and the workplace.  Most, if not all of them, would agree that women should be free and safe to walk our streets and that young girls like Malala should be free to speak up about injustice.  And yet most of them would not call themselves a feminist.  I wonder why?  Reference: To be or not to be a feminist, Tish Champion, in AEU Journal SA, 44(7), Nov 2012, p19

We have every reason to be thankful for feminism.

As most people support the equality of women it can be said that most people are feminist.  However, some people will want to refer to something nasty that individuals have done in the name of feminism but that gives us no reason to dismiss feminism.  Plenty of wars, child abuse and domestic violence are carried out by Christians but that gives us no reason to dismiss Christianity.

Without feminism in the LCA women would still be barred from taking leadership roles in the congregation and from participating at District and National Synod levels.

You may like to review the growing freedom that women have had in the LCA.

 
 

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The gathering of the perfect storm

The church would like to think that it stands for eternal unchanging values. Well, yes … but change is in the air in striking ways, and not just in one or two churches.  The groundswell among laity and (often) clergy is overwhelming but the resistance from those who hold the reigns of power is strikingly alike. Power and authority is a tough thing to give up.

Rome has criticised US Catholic nuns for working too closely with the poor and not speaking loudly enough about birth control and homosexuality. While nuns say that they will not compromise their mission three Catholic bishops are in talks with the nuns in hope to find agreement. Bishops and Nuns hold ‘cordial and open’ meeting

A Maryknoll priest has been dismissed from the priesthood for refusing to recant his call for the ordination of women.  Maryknoll: Vatican has dismissed Roy Bourgeois from order | National Catholic Reporter.

While the Church of England votes against ordaining women bishops, down in Africa Anglicans have ordained their first woman bishop.

Seventh Day Adventists have voted to ordain women at all levels of their organisation except for the General Conference leadership, which focusses simply on organisational unity.  Why women’s ordination in the Seventh Day Adventist churches?

I guess you’ve heard of Sex Abuse in the Catholic Church. This link records convictions against Australian Catholic  priests and religious brothers but we know the abuse has occurred around the world.  Meanwhile the church declares that it has “taken decisive steps in the past 20 years to make child safety a priority and to help the victims of abuse,”  yet, the abuse continues.  Why is it that a supporter of women’s ordination is dismissed while child abusers are not?

The church is in turmoil.  These are pivotal days.  Without engaging with our changing culture we are a lost people and a lost church.

 
 

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Learning to love the questions

exorcising the question cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

I don’t think the important thing is to be certain about answers nearly as much as being serious about the questions.
When we hold spiritual questions, we meet and reckon with our contradictions, with our own dilemmas; and we invariably arrive at a turning point where we either evade God or meet God. Mere answers close down the necessary struggle too quickly, too glibly, and too easily.
When we hang on the horns of dilemmas with Christ—between perfect consistency and necessary contradictions—we find ourself in the unique place I call “liminal space.” Reality has a cruciform shape to it then—and we are taught best at the intersection of order and disorder, where God alone can make sense out of the situation and we must surrender. All real transformation of persons takes place when we’re inside of such liminal space – with plenty of questions that are open to God and grace and growth.
Richard Rohr

The following is from the 1956 (and still current) LCA  Thesis on the Office of Ministry VI:II

Though women prophets were used by the Spirit of God in the Old as well as in the New Testament, 1 Cor 14:34,35 (exegesis) and 1 Tim. 2:11-14 (exegesis) prohibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry from the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.  This apostolic rule is binding on all Christendom..

No room for doubt, no questions allowed – there is absolute certainty!  Really? These ‘answers’ have really closed down ‘the necessary struggle too quickly, too glibly, and too easily.’ Rohr (above)

The LCA was finally formed in 1966 from two synods after decades of deliberations, arguments and compromises. Ten years earlier in 1956 the two synods agreed on the Theses of Agreement as a basis for union.  Note the post-war confidence with which the authors bind not only the LCA but “… all Christendom.”  It is unlikely that any theological commission would be so bold today, given the new position, expertise, respect and authority that women hold in society today, and given the wealth of research since that time into the sociology of gender, power and violence, as well as other new fields like postmodernism and post-colonialism.

The absolute certainty of adolescence is rarely something that mature individuals are proud of in later life.  Just as the LCA was mature enough to rescind its adolescent thesis that the Pope was the anti-Christ, and just as the LCA was mature enough to acknowledge that women could vote in congregations and synods, it’s now time to acknowledge the centrality of women to the mission of the Church.  Without doing so, the LCA is bound for irrelevance.

 
 

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Greenland Lutherans chronic shortage of male clergy

“Greenland has a chronic shortage of male pastors, says Inuit Bishop Sofie Petersen. There ordained women outnumber men in the church nearly three to one.

“In Greenland there are only 56,000 inhabitants. Most of them are Lutherans,” says the bishop. “In my church there are 25 pastors, but only nine of them are males. What’s more there are three deans in our church and two of them are women.”

(more)

Reference: An Indigenous Communion: Greenland Lutherans Need More Male Pastors Says Female Bishop.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on November 18, 2012 in sociology, women's ordination

 

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What if Jesus had a wife?

Jesus wife papyrus

Jesus wife papyrus

We in the LCA place great emphasis on scholarly reference to Scripture, so it is surprising that, amongst some, there is a resistance to the outcomes of scholarly research on Scripture.  Some weeks ago in the news was the announcement of a Coptic ancient papyrus that includes Jesus referring to “my wife”, with another section of the fragment, containing the phrase “she will be able to be my disciple”.  The Vatican declares it a fake (more a statement of faith than rigour of research) but what if it’s not?  Scholars are constantly researching those books that didn’t make it into the canon for clues to how we might interpret the Scriptures, so isn’t this new source at least worthy of consideration?

If we insist that Jesus was not married, why is that so important to us?  Would it rock our faith if it turned out to be true?  If perhaps Jesus was married would that change our theology?   What might it mean for how we viewed women in the church?   The whole of Christendom is influenced by Augustine and Aquinas who had a very limited understanding of gender, but what might their theology of gender have been if they knew that Jesus had a wife?  How would that have affected us?

Whether Jesus had a wife seems less than central to our Christian faith, but it would certainly give cause for reflection on our current relegation of women to the margins of the church.

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 Added 13th Nov – From the work of Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who presented the findings at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. Reference

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her so...

Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her sons Daniel and Henry, 1848.

Early Christians didn’t agree about whether they should marry or remain celibate, and the earliest claim Jesus didn’t marry is from 200 A.D., King said.

“One of the things we do know is that very rarely in ancient literature was the marital status of men discussed,” King said in a conference call with reporters. “Silence in marital status is normal.”

Only women were identified in terms of family relationships, as someone’s sister, mother, or wife, King said. The question of whether Jesus married came up later when people wanted to use him as a model for their lives, she said.

Added 13th Nov –  Further reference to Augustine’s understanding of gender – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman… I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion/ Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? You Christian women look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women, and wonder how they can be held in such bondage…

Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century–Augustine’s idea–that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood? ―

 
16 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2012 in sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

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