Theocracy or Democracy?

04 Feb
Women’s Suffrage League secretary, Mary Lee. National Museum of Australia.

Women’s Suffrage League secretary, Mary Lee – co-founder in South Australia. National Museum of Australia.

The National Museum of Australia reports on the passing of legislation in South Australia granting women the vote and the right to stand for Parliament on 18 December 1894.  That makes it over 122 years that South Australia was the first electorate in the world to give equal political rights to both men and women.  This is even more surprising when remembering that it was only 14 years earlier, in 1880, that women were permitted to undertake degrees ref.  The systemic/structural barriers to women’s participation in colonial Australia are hard to imagine from this vantage point. Sadly we have their echoes in the Lutheran Church of Australia today.

Today the Lutheran Church of Australia (with its historical home in South Australia), is among the last in the world to recognise women as equally gifted and equally capable of pastoral leadership. The following was one of the arguments against women’s suffrage on the Museum’s page.

Many parliamentarians felt that women were not emotionally or intellectually capable of properly participating in politics. Others also felt that women were stepping outside their traditional roles and that giving them the vote would undermine a husband’s position in the family. Ref

The social restrictions on women were broad and central to all existence.  The restrictions were based on a foundational belief that women were incapable of taking part in society on the same basis as men, and were often based on fear that women would compete with men.  Rather than face any competition they chose to legislate against women’s participation.

In the 19th century, Australian women had very few legal rights. Once married, these rights were further limited as they were transferred to her husband. Married women surrendered all property to their husbands and any wages earned. Husbands were the sole legal guardian of any children from a marriage and could remove them from a mother’s care at any time, even bequeathing their care to other people in their will.

Before the 1870s, women were not able to file for a divorce and, even after legislation was changed in the 1880s, it was still difficult. Rates of abandonment were high and deserted women were usually forced to find paid work that paid up to two thirds less than a man for doing the same job.

Without the support of a trade union they often suffered unsafe and unregulated working environments in the sweated clothing trades. Trade unions resisted women’s involvement in the workforce, believing it would drive down rates of pay for men.

This 19th Century reasoning sounds rather like the arguments today against women’s ordination.  However, today in the LCA, we’re not even playing by the same democratic rules of the 19th Century.  It takes much more than 50% of the vote of the people for  women’s ordination and clergy have a disproportionate voice and vote.  Clergy have often proudly asserted that the LCA is not a democracy.  Instead we have to suffer the condescension of the system and its clergy who have deemed that laity should not have an equal voice nor vote at the national Synod.

Isn’t it time that the LCA debate whether it wishes to stay a theocracy (def: a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission) or whether it wishes to work as a democracy, respectfully valuing the voice of the laity?


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One response to “Theocracy or Democracy?

  1. johnmiller318

    March 1, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Dear Katie and Martin

    Now you’re talking.

    The LCA is incorporated under the South Australian incorporation’s Act. I would have thought that under the legislation women had equal rights within an organisation as both ordinary members – committee and executive members and employees.

    I keep harping on about the obligation of the LCA to have an annual general meeting every year under the SA Associations Act. The members, in this case the congregations, and also the members of congregations appear to be too timid to take the Church Council on and demand an AGM.

    The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse highlights the need for better and more democratic governance in those voluntary associations that call themselves religions. While employees are in control of the churches they (the employees) will continue to act like theocrats.

    Until the LCA Constitution is changed to put the organisation into the hands of the members – the congregations and ultimately those who pay a ‘subscription’ – chances of getting more say by the members and women in particular will be difficult.

    The other thing women can do is go out of strike. Within the Catholic church it beggars belief that any women are still going such is the misogyny of the clergy.

    The Royal Commission is showing that the Catholic clergy have been running amok – with senior clerics covering up the criminal acts of priests. How many bishops and archbishops are also criminals is anyone’s guess.

    Whilst the LCA isn’t as bad as the Catholic church – and I know of only one incidence of child abuse, the theocratic rule and the misogyny needs to be dealt with, and soon.

    It’s my view that if people want to run voluntary associations in a pluralist democracy, then those associations must conform, the standard norms of that democracy. There is no exception because an association calls itself a religion.

    The LCA is not good. The Catholics are bad, very bad and the Muslims are worst.

    The clergy cannot be left to run these organisations.

    Good luck with it.

    Regards and best wishes

    John Miller



    senior clergy turning

    On 04-Feb-17 11:23 AM, Katie and Martin’s Blog on the Lutheran Church in Australia wrote: > > Katie and Martin posted: ” The National Museum of Australia reports on > the passing of legislation in South Australia granting women the vote > and the right to stand for Parliament on 18 December 1894. That makes > it over 122 years that South Australia was the first electorate in” >


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