The President disallows debate on women’s ordination

23 Apr

Yesterday, at General Synod, the President again imposed his will on the LCA.  He has been true to his word that women’s ordination would not occur on his shift.

After the recommendation coming from General Pastors’ Conference that women’s ordination should be discussed at General Convention, that is exactly what occurred.  Pr Semmler had to allow discussion because of this resolution, but that’s all it was – a discussion.

To begin with, he gave the floor to a couple of men from the Dialogue Group on forming consensus to report on their progress, but they offered nothing to help delegates in their deliberations.  The main thing they reported was that they had to learn to listen to each other.

In the ‘discussion’ conservative pastors knew that they didn’t need to speak. This is also attested to by the fact that a conservative pastor commented to a youth on Sunday at NOVO (youth camp) that they (conservative pastors) had figured out a way to get around the women’s ordination issue.  Around 18 people spoke in favour and 3 or 4 spoke against.

After Pr Semmler distributed one of his epistles to the Church against women’s ordination, the ‘discussion’ was brought to an end with the declaration that Pr John Henderson was the successful candidate for the position of bishop (nomenclature voted on earlier in the afternoon).   (Tues morning, Greg Pietsch was announced as the new Assistant Bishop.)

The following now need to be considered as we discern how the Holy Spirit would have us act:

  • the disregard for laity,
  • the lack of transparency,
  • the refusal to debate St Stephen’s motion,
  • the refusal to allow a vote,
  • the refusal to facilitate the will of delegates,
  • the dishonest claim that “in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”,
  • the duplicitous communication from Pr Semmler,
  • the sly sidelining of an issue that is important to the vast majority of members (not just delegates), and
  • the hypocritical use of Where Love Comes to Life as a General Convention theme.

The manipulation by Pr Semmler is so similar to that of Pres. Robert Preuss in the LCMS who took control of the St Louis seminary that used historical-biblical research to inform their thinking. (You can guess that the conservatives wanted to use Scriptural literalism as their only source of inspiration.)  That piece of history, which led to Seminex (seminary in exile) is reported in Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity by James Burkee.  The following is a review from

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod follows the rise of two Lutheran clergymen – Herman Otten and J. A. O. Preus – who led different wings of a conservative movement that seized control of a theologically conservative but socially and politically moderate church denomination (LCMS) and drove “moderates” from the church in the 1970s. The schism within what was then one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States ultimately reshaped the landscape of American Lutheranism and fostered the polarization that characterizes today’s Lutheran churches.Burkee’s story, supported by personal interviews with key players and church archives sealed for over twenty years, is about more than Lutheranism. The remaking of this one Lutheran denomination reflects a broader movement toward theological and political conservatism in American churches – a movement that began in the 1970s and culminated in the formation of the “Religious Right.”

In closing we note how the resistance to women’s participation in the LCA is dominated by clergy.  The following comment from Burkee about the LCMS equally applies to the LCA, “Through (their) inability to draw lay support to the conservative movement’s delegate- and convention-focussed strategy, the movement’s Pyrrhic victory had little to do with lay support.”

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22 responses to “The President disallows debate on women’s ordination

  1. Wally Schiller

    April 23, 2013 at 11:38 am

    The sad misrepresentation and disregard for the eighth commandment continues.

    • Chris Donges

      April 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      And there is widespread disregard to the third amongst Christians too… 🙂

      • Katie and Martin

        April 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm

        Good point Chris. This is all done in Jesus’ name. (Where Love Comes to Light – yeah, right) Christian people who enforce their understanding on others, rather than living with difference of opinion and diversity of theology. At the very least it is hypocritical and even perhaps blasphemous, akin to the “God bless America” from every American president, regardless of whether they have any faith.

  2. Katie and Martin

    April 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Which of the following are false?

    the disregard for laity,
    the lack of transparency,
    the refusal to debate St Stephen’s motion,
    the refusal to allow a vote,
    the refusal to facilitate the will of delegates,
    the dishonest claim that “in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”,
    the duplicitous communication from Pr Semmler,
    the sly sidelining of an issue that is important to the vast majority of members (not just delegates), and
    the hypocritical use of Where Love Comes to Life as a General Convention theme.

    • Michael Lockwood

      July 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Dear Katie and Martin,

      I am intrigued. You accuse President Semmler of a lack of transparency, and yet you hide behind a pseudonymn. If you are so keen on openness and honesty, then use your real names, and stand up publicly and openly for what you believe.

      Perhaps I am being unfair, but you give the impression that you are more interested in finding fault with whoever disagrees with you and stops you from getting what you want than you are in understanding and following synodical process. If you took the time to understand our constitution, then you would know that President Semmler was not abusing his synodical powers in any way, but was rather playing things strictly by the book. The by-laws of the church state that once a theological matter has been referred to General Pastors Conference it cannot be discussed or voted on at Synod until Synod receives a recommendation to do so from GPC. What you have referred to as the GCC motion did not simply come from GCC. It originated there, but it was then modified and formally adopted by General Pastors Conference. Therefore it was GPC that ultimately decided that we were not sufficiently prepared to debate and decide this issue at this Synod, and to defer it to next Synod so that we have time for full consultation and discussion in the lead up to Synod. Once GPC made this decision, Semmler’s hands were tied, and he was not constitutionally allowed to bring it to a vote even if he wanted to. So there is no point blaming Semmler for this, no matter how much you may want to vent your spleen at him (unless of course you want to blame him for his leadership at GPC – but that too is questionable, given that he didn’t chair this particular debate at GPC, and the rest of GPC was given the opportunity to vote down this recommendation). If you didn’t like the decision, then there was only one constitutionally legitimate way to get around it, and that was to move a motion to suspend the by-laws.

      People on both sides of this debate are frustrated by the current impasse, so I can understand that you are frustrated. Yet personal attacks on a leader who has followed due process do not advance the debate, but simply lead to further animosity and polarisation.

      Blessings in Christ,

      Michael Lockwood

  3. Karin

    April 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I sometimes wonder whether the time to soar alone, without the conservatives, may be coming for our church. You have the majority being held at ransom by the conservative minority out of fear of a split, and yet, by remaining and putting up with these tactics, are we not ourselves complicit in denying women the freedom to express their calling?

    • Katie and Martin

      April 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Fair point. We need to consider how we are to be true to God’s calling for us. Without showing leadership we are followers of a tradition that has repressed and dismissed women. We will, however, need further people to stand up and be counted.

      • Karin

        April 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        And yet, Pr Semmler et al have made it very clear that no matter how many people stand up, they will not take note of it. Reminds me a bit of a dictatorship.

        This is all so disappointing and depressing…..

        • Katie and Martin

          April 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

          Perhaps the biggest message here is that we cannot leave the cause for others. It is obviously more than we can handle. Everyone must take part in letting the President know how ashamed we feel to be Lutherans at the moment, how disgusted we are at the lack of transparency, and the sly process that had been worked out before General Synod even began. The next Bishop has no history of railroading debate to our knowledge, however, 2/3 is an immense target.

    • John Miller

      April 23, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      NOW WHAT?

      There are two places to go – the Constitution of the LCA and the South Australian Associations Act 1985.

      1. The Church at a convention of the General Synod may amend, alter, add to or repeal any of
      the rules, except Article II. and Article XII. 1, which shall be considered fundamental and
      unalterable in their intent and meaning.

      2. Notice of any such amendment, alteration, addition or repeal shall be given on the agenda of the convention, and any such amendment, alteration, addition or repeal shall require a two thirds majority vote of the delegates registered at the Convention.”

      The President does not have the power to obfuscate, derail or prevent any motion from a congregation being taken to a vote.

      A simple point of order should solve that.

      A vote must be taken.

      Secondly there’s the South Australian Associations Act 1985, under which the LCA is incorporated. You can find a copy online. It’s time Member parishes sought the guidance of the South Australian courts on the matter of: –

      1. Membership. As I’ve said in an earlier post, the Synod is stacked with voters who are not delegates of Member parishes.

      1. The membership of the Church shall consist of congregations of baptised members. Such
      congregations shall
      (a) accept and hold the Confession of the Church;
      (b) accept the Constitution and By-laws of the Church;
      (c) submit a Constitution and By-laws acceptable to the Church; and
      (d) undertake to participate in the work of the Church and to promote its Objects.
      Such member-congregations shall be recorded in the official Roll of Congregations and shall
      exercise their membership rights in accordance with the representation requirements
      outlined in the following Article VII. 3. (1).”

      The members of organisations that are incorporated under the SA Act are usually paid up individuals. In the case of the LCA the Members are the parishes.

      Why then are people voting at Synod who are not delegates of Members parishes? The answer lies in the Constitution that has a list of non-member voters as long as your arm.

      The question of who (under the ACT) should be eligible to vote at Synod needs to be tested. The Member parishes have been dealt a raw deal.

      2. Whether the President was right in disallowing the motion for ordination of women also needs to be tested at Law.

      My own view is that the LCA should be an organisation run by its Members (the parishes). It should not be run by a holier than thou, quasi theocratic pastorate.

      3. Under the SA Act, the LCA should have an annual general meeting. This has not been happening. Several member parishes should seek guidance from the relevant Minister of the Crown with responsibility for the ACT as to what the consequences are for not holding an AGM.

      These moves will promote the cry of ‘disunity’, but only by those who are denying Member parishes and their individual members justice and fairness in the running of the Association (LCA).

      4. Under the SA ACT Members are capable of calling for a mismanaged organisation to be wound up. This is probably a good idea and the only way to muck out of the stable the ancient and dark age theological and theocratic claptrap.

      Having wound it up, the Member parishes can then draft a new charter for a new organisation that can be incorporated under a different Act. The organisation that holds true to a dark age reformation stands in need of its own reformation.

      This reformation will not be led by its theologians. It will be led by the laity that will claim control of the organisation, be elected to its high offices and provide all members with the opportunity serve in the many and varied roles for which they are qualified.

  4. Georgina

    April 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I am so disapointed that wome’s ordination has been postponed again

    • Katie and Martin

      April 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      We’re with you on that Georgina. We are distressed and some of us are despairing. Further people will have left the LCA by the time this is next debated. Sadly, further people will also have died in old age.

      • Georgina

        April 27, 2013 at 6:33 pm

        Yes, 20 years ago I thought it would have all happened by now. Hopefully its only another 3 not 20.

  5. Georgina

    April 28, 2013 at 6:31 am

    A question
    1. What actually happened at Synod? I thought St Stephens had an agenda item that actually proposed womesn ordination go ahead. How did the “discussion on women’s ordination” cause that to not be debated and put to a vote?

  6. Katie and Martin

    April 28, 2013 at 7:49 am

    The GCC motion was brought before the floor subsuming all following motions on women’s ordination.

    • Georgina

      April 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm


  7. observer

    May 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    As a first time Synod observer for one day (Monday), and a foreigner in Australia, I was highly fascinated by the proceedings – and deeply saddened at the same time.

    Fascinated because I could not believe that the LCA President would, in the first place, chair personally a debate of such an emotional relevance to so many church members, given his own strong personal stance. While I can accept such a position if argued well, he did not even attempt to present a balanced argument of his own that would have provided some orientation to the synod members. His leading the debate was a clear, even unmasked, manipulation of the synod floor. It fascinated me that, as an outgoing president, Pastor Semmler risked to be remembered in such a manner, in particular as there was little that could be described as pastoral or episcopal counsel.

    While I was surprised how few opposing statements were presented (other than the repeated position by the President), and how many well prepared statements by WO supporters, it saddened me for the Church and its members to hear afterwards that this debate was a farce and never meant to lead to any serious decision making process, rather the opposite. I felt sad for the synod members, pro and con in this debate, to have to face such treatment, and I am saddened for the President Semmler to be accepted in his role as a chairman of the Synod only, apparently, because it was clear that he was “outgoing”. The vote and applause for his successor, the new Bishop Henderson, indicated this verdict.

    Furthermore, as an outside observer it appears to me that this whole debate is an issue not only between genders but between church members and leaders. Interestingly, most of the speakers were men, which is not really surprising in a church that is dominated by its male clergy/leadership. Amongst the few women who spoke, the most challenging in terms of procedure, it seemed to me, was the delegate questioning Semmlers demand to vote on the GCC proposal only: What would happen, if it was voted down? Apparently, nobody had considered this outcome, and she was basically ignores. This questions the status of the congregations in their synod representation – and Semmler made this quite clear when he bluntly rejected the two congregational proposals brought forward by seasoned pastors and delegates. No vote …

    Hardly any of the church members I had a chance to discuss with the underlying issues of the Women’s Ordination (and for that matter the non-membership with the Lutheran World Federation) could explain to me the reasoning for this LCA doctrine. In many cases people point at the demise of the churches overseas after having accepted Women’s Ordination — even Lutherans I consider well read –, an argument that simply ignores the major challenges faced since the onslaught of Neo-Liberalism since the 1970s by most historical churches, including the LCA. More importantly, many people point at the fear factor “split” of the church as a key element for not wanting to touch it. The Synod procedures and personal comments by Synod members to me corroborate this “fear” — people openly told me repeatedly that they were afraid of being publicly (or even personally) relegated by church authorities.

    As far as I can see, and if LFS publications are an indicator, hardly any of the younger LCA church members have an understanding of the underlying history (i.e. the many splits in Australian Lutheranism since the walking-out of Pastor August Kavel in the Synod of 1846) nor the apparent theological issue, i.e. how to interpret the Biblical text systematically in the 21st century (hermeneutics). It appears that the older generation and the leaders of the LCA reject a responsible dialogue with those whom they want to carry the Luther banner into the Luther Year 2017 and beyond.

    After a debate of more than 30 years, and all theological issues examined by the highest LCA authorities, the leadership of the Lutheran Church of Australia seems to have failed to facilitate a serious discussion about the future of its church amongst its members. The final discussions at the ALIVE!175 “celebrations”, about walls and money (the redevelopment of the North Adelaide precinct), emphasise this apparent lack of vision. The Synod debate on WO and its manipulation was an expression of this failure.

    I hope, wish and pray that the new “Bishop” and subsequently the LCA church council will open their doors to people who are not familiar with its rigid traditions and traumatic history, and will invite the other half of its church members, the women, to contribute fully to its life through preaching and the sharing of Communion. By all accounts, most church members seem to accept it anyway … The key challenge for Bishop Henderson in the next few years will be the unity in a diversity that the church is living already anyway.

  8. Richard Schmidt

    May 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    What happened to the St Stephens proposal?
    Why was it a late nomination?
    Presumably, it came out of the Women’s Ministry conference held there 18 moths ago?
    That should have left ample time to get it into the Book of Reports, in time for the synod?

    • Katie and Martin

      May 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

      St Stephen’s proposal was in the Book of Reports, but it was subsumed under the GCC motion on women’s ordination. The President never wanted it to see the light of day.
      There was a discussion on women’s ordination which was not linked to any motion.

      • Richard Schmidt

        May 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm

        Please tone down the bit about what Mike Semmler was able to do, or not.
        If it looked like the floor was going to vote 90-95% one way or the other, I believe he would have been quite happy to allow a vote.
        However, given the time available, and the possibility (or, more likely, the probability) that if it looked like it was going to be put to a vote, there would have been an endless string of pastors (and wannabe pastors) jumping up to the microphones to stall it, or in any way possible to wreck the vote.
        What he should have done (in my opinion) was to test the feeling of the floor, as to whether we would have been happy to come together again in a year’s time or so for a special synod gathering to debate the motion again. However, this would carry its own risks, as we might have seen the same result as we saw at the 2003 synod, where we got all sort of arguments about anything and everything even remotely connected to the issue at hand, in order to defeat the motion by any means possible.
        I guess all we can do now, is to keep asking for progress reports, and in any way possible, to let the heir-achy know we don’t want the issue buried for another three years, with the probability of another impasse at the next synod!


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