From Friedemann Hebart

17 May

Prof. Dr. Friedemann Hebart

The following letter from Friedemann Hebart was written after reading Neal Nuske’s article and coming across John Miller’s comments.

Friedemann HebartMay 17, 2:35 am

Hi, after reading Neal’s superb theological and hermenuetical analysis (at last) I only just stumbled across what John Miller entitles ‘The Blaess/Hebart Misogyny Statement’ and his conviction that ‘Jesus would vote against Blaess, Hebart and Semmler.’ As much as I agree in every detail with his assessment of the rules of synodical procedure and share his anger at the way a President of the church could dare to ignore those rules, the motions submitted by Queensland and Adelaide congregations, and even a point of order that apparently was raised, I think I should nevertheless correct any misapprehension and comment on my father’s role in co-formulating the theses on the office of the ministry 63 years ago (!); it was 15 years later that they were ultimately accepted as part of the Theses of Agreement in 1965:

1. One sees things somewhat differently today than in 1950, and it is good that it is so. In 1950 there was, as far as I can see, only one ordained Lutheran woman pastor in the world, and that was in Denmark (1948). In Germany during the war, pastors (males) were called up for military service and rather than leave their parishes vacant, the churches arranged for trained woman theologians to take over their duties. When the pastors who survived World War II returned, the women had to relinquish their pastoral role; nobody really questioned that. Perhaps they should have, but as far as I know they didn’t. The first ordination of a woman in the Bavarian Lutheran Church (to which I now belong) was 30 years later in 1975. Even Peter Brunner who wrote the essay on the headship of Christ (“The Office of the Ministry and Women”) – a favourite of the opponents of women’s ordination – wrote it in 1959, possibly as a reaction to the ordination of the first woman pastor in Germany in 1958. His own daughter, incidentally was ordained later. I believe it was against his will. The first ordination of a woman in the then Lutheran Church of America was in 1970, possibly as a result of the hermeneutic arguments of Dr. Krister Stendahl (1921 – 2008; Professor Harvard School of Divinity, 1954-84; Bishop of Stockholm, 1984-88; Harvard 1989; more below!).

2 The question of the ordination of women was therefore virtually non-existent everywhere in the Lutheran Church in 1950, and for some time after that. It wasn’t an issue. I don’t know why the theses on the ministry even dealt with it in 1950. There would have been no difference of opinion at least on this matter in the Intersynodical Committee; I can only assume it was mentioned for the sake of systematic completeness. (Luther for example deals with it in his commentary on 1. Peter – and doesn’t entirely exclude it – although it was entirely unrealistic in his time.) At Immanuel Seminary (as at Concordia Seminary) since the 60′s there were regularly prospective deaconesses studying selected theological subjects. I can’t remember any of them at the time arguing for (or – gasp! – seeking) women’s ordination, or anybody even suggesting that women might be ordained.

3. After I succeeded my father in Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary in 1980, we certainly had what were probably the first women students who desired ordination (and were exceptionally qualified in every way). And when the LCA was founded in 1966 the question of the role of women in the church was certainly already being raised elsewhere. Krister Stendahl’s famous essay, ‘The Bible and the Role of Women. A Case Study in Hermeneutics’, was published in Swedish in 1958, but appeared in English in 1966. I discovered it in a reprint when I returned to Australia from my doctoral studies in Germany in 1973 and was virtually converted on the spot. I remember discussing it with my father at the time and later; the hermeneutic arguments were irrefutable. I don’t know what he taught in Dogmatics between 1971 and his retirement in 1979 at the age of 70, but I knew his hermeneutic principles very well and at that time he was certainly no opponent of the ordination of women, as he told me.
In the late ‘seventies or ealry ‘eighties (he died in 1990) he once said to me: There are some things I would change in the Theses today, but we had to make compromises in those days for the sake of the union. Women’s ordination wasn’t a burning issue in the formative period of the LCA ; and in the precarious situation of the newly-formed church with differing hermeneutics between ‘the two sides’ it was very difficult indeed to take a stand on any matter dealt with in the holy and untouchable Theses of Agreement, or even to express theological views in new ways which might be interpreted as questioning the Theses without (as it was generally felt) endangering the whole of the LCA’s existence. I was personally affected by this situation. When I returned from Germany in 1973 after seven years’ absence the SA District Synod was in session. As I entered the plenary session, Dr. Sasse cried out for all to hear: ‘Here comes the great theologian from Germany who supports the ordination of women.’ A marvellous welcome on the part of my former teacher – and (unfortunately) it wasn’t even true, but it did make me think about having to take a stand. Another personal example of the dominance of the Theses and the need to tread warily for fear that the union might collapse: Later I was to be called to Luther Seminary. Although I had been an ordained pastor of the LCA since 1967 they decided I must submit first to a colloquium of the General Church Council. It dealt with two questions both covered by the Theses of Agreement:
(a) What are your views on the ordination of women? My answer (short form): There are only two statements on the role of women in the ministry which pose difficulties, and we need to look at the context in which those texts of Paul were written. But apart from that; we don’t have doctrines in the Lutheran Church based on two passages of the Bible. [By rhe way, that means that he question of women’s ordination is not a doctrinal issue and therefore does not require a two-thirds majority at Synod!].
(b) The other question dealt with my (suspect) treatment of Law and Gospel in ‘One in the Gospel’ which had just appeared as a book. I passed the colloquium, sort of, and it was decided I could lecture at Luther Seminary as head of the Systematics Department, but not in any ‘sensitive’ theological areas: Justification, Law & Gospel, Church and Ministry, Sacraments, Eschatology. These were to be taught by the new Principal Dr Henry Hamann. I was only allowed to teach Creation and Redemption, Ethics and Philosophy. That was the atmosphere in the early 80′s (until…?).

4. In the light of the above situation in which from 1939 till 1965 it was uncertain what the ultimate outcome of the Intersynodical discussions might be, and from 1966 until (…?) few were prepared to rock the boat for fear that the union might collapse. It is unhistorical and offensive for John Miller to speak of a mysoginistic Blaess/Hebart/Semmler triumvirate; and for him to add that ‘Jesus would vote against Blaess, Hebart and Semmler’ is utterly unacceptable. Statements like this do not serve the cause of WMN in any useful way that I can see. – I can’t speak for the Drs. Blaess and Semmler, but my father was anything but a misogynist. Some of the WMN people may remember that my wife initiated some of the first moves towards women’s ordination in Adelaide in the early 1980s (30 years after the Theses on the Ministry and 15 years after the union of 1965) with e.g. Margaret Mayer, Anne Bartsch and John Sabel and wrote articles e.g. for the student paper of the LSF. There were also meetings in our home first in Highgate, later in Malvern. My father (in retirement) looked benignly on these efforts, my outspoken mother greeted them. In his retirement my father was no longer allowed (!) as emeritus to teach at Luther Seminary: Henry Hamann had the Seminary Council change the rules; he said my father had had a good run and he didn’t want to be Principal in my father’s shadow. So my father taught Dogmatics at the Adelaide College of Divinity for some years and had absolutely no problem training women as pastors for other denominations… So much for his mysoginism.

As for Dr. Blaess: my father always spoke most positively of him as one who in his quiet way together with Henry Hamann was instrumental in convincing the more conservative members of the Intersynodical Committee not to look for a heretic under every stone. But in 1950 – 1965 Blaess like the others was a product of his time, and women’s ordination was about as relevant to Australian Lutherans as beaming oneself to the moon. Dr Fred Blaess a mysoginist? We don’t call people bigotted either, simply because they are not actively involved in promoting interreligious dialogue.

I cannot and will not speak for Mike Semmler. If what has come to my ears about his handling of the women’s ordination motions is true, he has behaved irresponsibly and brought the office of President into disrepute. I hope John Henderson will not suffer under the actions of the outgoing President, particularly as the latter apparently still has the power with the GCC to fill vacant positions until his actual retirement in July (?). Here in Bavaria, if it interests anyone, the Bishop takes up office as soon as he or she is elected (our regional bishop for North Bavaria here is a woman) and is at liberty to seek the advice also of the predecessor…

Sorry this has got a bit long for a blog – but didn’t someone write that it might be interesting to follow up what those naughty people Blaess and Hebart actually did?

I hope and pray that John Henderson will find a way to solve the ordination issue as soon as possible. It is for me unthinkable and utterly irresponsible to exclude half of the world’s population from the formal proclamation of the gospel.




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8 responses to “From Friedemann Hebart

  1. Sandra

    May 18, 2013 at 1:45 am

    It would be good if the Constitutions Committee could get their legal heads onto checking the legality of the majority resolution that wasn’t a two thirds majority resolution to see whether the LCA has, in fact, already resolved to have women as well as men ordained as pastors. That would save having a Special General Convention next year to resolve the same thing.
    Thanks, also, for shedding some light on the time of writing the Theses of Agreement. I’m not sure I’m thinking of the same statement, but the brief Constitutional reference to ministers being men read as descriptive rather than prescriptive, to me. I think you are saying the same thing, that there wasn’t much weight attached to the statement in the first place.

  2. Barney

    May 18, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Let it all be based on the Word of God and not decided on the flavour of the month in the secular [the accuser’s] world.

  3. Wally Schiller

    May 18, 2013 at 8:10 am

    There is no issue in regard to resolutions passed on this matter in the past. As the secretary of the Constitutions Committee for many years now, I can assure you of that. Friedemann’s assertion here that it is not a doctrinal issue is quite wrong, as is also his assessment of what John Miller has said in relation to the rules of Synodical processes. The fact that he dares to pronounce on this issue demonstrates his lack of knowledge of such processes and his failure to understand the Constitution of the Church. People should not take any heart from it.
    In reference to Sandra’s suggestion of a special General Convention next year – not going to happen. A process is in train and at best the issue will be on the agenda in two and a half years time.

  4. observer

    May 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    As a lay person and outside observer of the LCA, I don’t know Wally Schiller and the role of a “secretary of the Constitutions Committee for many years now”, but his authoritative statement puzzles me.

    A “secretary”, I would think, reflects decisions by his/her committee, but this statement assumes that Mr Schiller is a man of authority within the LCA hierarchy.

    Therefore, I would like to ask this question:
    If Friedemann Hebart, having been involved in the drafting of the documents of Union, can say that WO was no issue at the time of drafting in the first place and is not a doctrinal issue for theological reasons, which seems to have been confirmed by the LCA Commission on Theological Concerns — how then did the LCA Constitutions Committee represented by Mr Schiller, or the LCA leaders, reach this position? In other words, what makes an issue “doctrinal”, and what are other examples?

    Furthermore, I felt sad to read Mr Schiller’s final response to “Sandra”, suggesting a special General Convention. Firstly, the answer is very blunt, even arrogant, and secondly: Would a church not want to facilitate and foster a broad dialogue, involving all church members, in particular regarding an issue so controversial that it threatens to “split” this church? More to the point, is Mr Schiller, or the LCA Church Council, overruling the rights of congregations requesting a Special Convention?

    • Wally Schiller

      September 16, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      Two things: 1) It has taken near four months for this reply to arrive in my inbox – and that is probably a good thing. 2) I don’t believe Friedemann Hebart is suggesting or claiming he was involved in drafting the documents of union. Given that many of them were drafted in the ’50’s and before, they in fact may well have been done prior to his ordination.
      Oh, and I will add a third: If you are worried about the “secretary” bit, I am a pastor member of the Constitutions Committee, and, not only have I served under the previous Chairperson who had an immense record of service, I have also learned much of my knowledge from the esteemed father of constitutions in the LCA and before, Dr Henry Proeve, who actually WROTE the constitution for the LCA. So, I have it from the “horse’s mouth” which some others don’t.

  5. martin beach

    May 20, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Wow, age has not wearied your sharp mind, honed or kept in tune no doubt by an occasional dalliance on a pipe organ in Bayreuth. I was priveliged to study under both you & your father, & my father also studied under yours. I really appreciate the clarity with thich you outlined some of the history of the issue. My only hope & prayer from the remote (in terms of where it’s at for world Lutheranismus) S Korea, is that Lca advocates for women’s ordination will respect due process (albeit after a frustrating 30 yrs of waiting & “prick” teasing from opponents), & that both the opponenys & advocates of ordination have ears to hear what God is trying to say to us in all this….. May all concerned have the patience born of the amazing for giveness that is available to both sides of the argument, as they painfully learn to forgive & trust each other as brothers & sisters in the faith & sacraments that unite us.

  6. martin beach

    September 1, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I just reread this more carefully, and have to say it reminds me of the clear and systematic approach of SP HEbart under whose tutelage I studied systematic theology at the Sem. Even though Friedemann didn’t mention it, I think it should be noted clearly that Maria’s (F’s wife’s) strong and public stance in favour of the ordination of women in the early 80’s probly; one could almost say most assuredly; (but one dare not), contributed to his early demise from his Seminary tenure in 1985 or so. I’d also like to draw attention of the reader to the restraint Friedemann shows in spite of the deep hurt he must’ve felt at his summary ‘execution’.

    It’s a great example of the loving & forgiving spirit which is required for a peaceful resolution to this issue in the LCA. I feel a bit remote here in KOrea, and being involved with a Missouri affiliated congregation here, I’ve found a new respect for some of their pastors who really understand the Gospel well. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t allow the spirit of secular feminism to override our fervor for the Gospel & for our primary purpose of letting our light shine (Matt 5).

    I was chuffed to hear that my sister led a layreading service at St Andrew’s Brisbane last week. I never could’ve imagined it. But as my mother Claire was fond of saying, “The good Lord’s a joker”, meaning he has many a pleasant surprise in store for us. Let’s live in that faith! In the FULLNESS of time, it will happen!


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