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Theocracy or Democracy?

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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Free But Not Free

What if women’s ordination gets up at the coming LCA National Convention in Rochedale?

After the celebrations the next phase will be the delay before ordination.

To our knowledge there has been negligible preparation for a positive vote.  Bishop Henderson however has issued a warning that it will take some time for the LCA to prepare for WO – despite the generations of discussion.  Despite a potential positive vote women will still be in the wilderness, presumably for a number of years.

The delay will be akin to the granting of freedom to British slaves in 1833.  It took five extra years until 1838 for for “enslaved men, women, and children in the British Empire to finally became fully free after a period of forced apprenticeship following the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.” link  Despite it being a huge moral victory, 46 000 British slave owners, mainly in the West Indies, still had to be paid off for losing their slaves. link   Why is it that the oppressed are forced to pay for the institutions’ lethargy in facing issues of justice?

Ironically, the ELCA this year celebrates 45 years of women’s ordination.  Other protestant churches have also been ordaining women for many years.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in history, women's ordination

 

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The un-civil rights of Christians

bWe

(From bWe Baptist Women for Equality’s Blog)

Today in church, I felt like I was the “N” word. I am a woman. I don’t live in the First Century, but what happened then still rules my church culture today.

My soul cried out. Tears came to my eyes. I wanted to kick, scream and throw something.

(Read More)

Today the church badly needs a Christian Civil Rights Act. But don’t hold your breath. As long as Christians think they can continue to keep women from preaching and in submission to all males, they will do so.

But don’t hold your breath. As long as Christians think they can continue to keep women in submission to all males, they will do so.

 
 

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Lutheran Church in Chile makes it a LWF full house in South America and the Caribean

There is reason to celebrate when all Lutheran World Federation (LWF) churches in Latin America and the Caribbean now ordain women.
We were listening to RN (ABC Radio) this afternoon which was reflecting on soldiers returning from WW1. It was around the time that workers were agitating for a 40 hour week.  It related how the media labelled the workers as traitors when striking for a reasonable length to the working week. There wouldn’t be many today who would begrudge workers a 40 hours week, but for the wealthy and the wielders of power it was a threat.
While freedom of speech is a necessity for a democracy, you have to wonder at the freedom of the Murdochs of that time to spread their fear and conservatism that angrily opposed the workers who were doing their best to eek out a living in tough times.
We continue to long for recognition of women in the Lutheran Church of Australia, knowing that, women’s ordination will quickly be forgotten as a divisive issue.
Roll on General Synod 2015.
All LWF Member Churches in Region Now Welcoming Women as Ministers – See more at: http://www.lutheranworld.org//news/lutheran-church-chile-ordains-first-woman-pastor#sthash.QcIMVk1V.dpuf
All LWF Member Churches in Region Now Welcoming Women as Ministers – See more at: http://www.lutheranworld.org//news/lutheran-church-chile-ordains-first-woman-pastor#sthash.QcIMVk1V.dpuf
 

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Today, SA women get the vote – 119 years ago

One hundred and nineteen years since South Australian women could vote in state elections!  One hundred and nineteen years since women were considered equal with men in public life.   source: Australian Geographic

It’s ironic, wouldn’t you agree, that women in the LCA so many years afterwards still cannot be pastoral leaders of congregations?

Mary Lee was one of the driving forces behind the South Australian suffragette movement. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Lee was one of the driving forces behind the South Australian suffragette movement. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

ON TUESDAY MORNING, 18 December 1894, the division bells tolled 29… 30… 31. At 31 triumphant cries and applause echoed out of the South Australian parliament as tired campaigners celebrated. They had done it. South Australian women had won the right to vote by 31 votes to 14.

The bill had been debated until after midnight the previous evening. And, as with nearly every debate on the issue, women packed into the public gallery of SA’s parliament building to observe the proceedings.

South Australia among first in the world to grant women the vote

South Australia would be the first Australian colony to give women the vote, and only the fourth place in the world to do so, following New Zealand 18 months earlier. The bill that was passed also made South Australia the first place in the world where women could stand for elections. The right to stand for parliament and other liberal privileges was a clause that was attached to the Act by a councillor who had supposed that these additions would make the bill too radical for it to ever be passed.   (more)

When women are finally ordained, this last sentence highlights that there should be no compromises over women bishops.  If there are no barriers to women’s ordination, then there should be no barriers to women bishops.

 

 
 

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What good ole days?

While conservatives insist that the Bible would have women remain silent, (except for Sunday School and serving men), we suggest that the origins of that notion may be a little less clear.

At the same time as the following two newspapers clips (1950s) two Australian synods were negotiating very slowly towards union.   Is it surprising that the two synods did not include in their discussion the possibility of women’s ordination?  The clips demonstrate how women were treated as children at best.

The New York Mirror from the 1950s

The New York Mirror from the 1950s

The politics of the oppression of the female gender are vast and insidious.  In the first centuries after Christ women had a seat at the table of church leadership.  Christians remembered the relationships that Jesus had with women and they knew that it was not for them to keep women from pastoral leadership. 

Ah, but with the passage of time, time-worn traditions kicked in and women were once again relegated to lower status, and in some cases a status even lower than animals.

Thankfully in recent decades there is a new awareness about bullying in schools and workplace.  There is a new awareness of domestic violence, but it would be naive to say that women are given equal respect and access to power in our society.  Julia Gillard can vouch for that. 

Some time ago, at a domestic violence workshop an older man related the advice that was given to him on the day of his first marriage.  He was told by a respected elder that early in the marriage he was to give his wife a good thrashing.  When she asked what it was for he was to say, “Just so you know”.   Blood runs deep. It’s the stuff of tradition, power and even culture.  It’s the stuff of gender oppression. It is passed on easily from generation to generation.

That was just how it happened in those days.  Don’t believe it?  Talk to your elders and hear how people knew who were the wife beaters in their churches and social groups, how they didn’t talk about such things, how they couldn’t report it to the police because nothing would happen, how they thought it was somehow the woman’s fault and how “That was how it was in those days”.

Of course, misogyny is much more than wife beating – libraries have been written about the politics of gender oppression.The physical violence that was meted out towards women is for some only a few decades ago and for others it has never stopped. 

Violence against women persists today in many forms.  In our church, the Lutheran Church of Australia, misogyny is still observed in how men meet together in groups called Pastors’ Conferences, with many not even stopping to think that something is awry.  It persists in how Pastors’ Conferences will discuss women’s ordination in this current Synodical term without women even being present to provide some sort of accountability. It persists in those clergy and laity who can only read the Bible through the eyes of Law rather than Grace. It persists in how women don’t qualify for the same education at our Australian Lutheran College. It persists in how women cannot be pastors in an ailing church. It persists despite women being the backbone of our Lutheran Education system. 

It is shameful that our institutional Church, so proudly proclaiming grace as central to its creed and doctrines, manages to shield God’s grace from women when it comes to pastoral leadership.  

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in history, sociology, women's ordination

 

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Jimmy Carter: Women’s Plight Perpetuated By World Religions

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter as shown in The Huffington Post 28th June 2013

While it may seem harsh that Jimmy Carter blames religious leaders for mistreatment of women across the world, blame needs to be allocated amongst those who carry the power – blame for complicity, whether it’s active or passive.

Through discerning the times, leadership has the potential for prophetic leadership, to provide new direction guided by compassion and justice, to reflect on the best way to prepare membership for change.  If that opportunity is not taken up then leadership becomes part of the problem.

NewsATLANTA — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says religious leaders, including those in Christianity and Islam, share the blame for mistreatment of women across the world.The human rights activist said Friday religious authorities perpetuate misguided doctrines of male superiority, from the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to some African cultures mutilating the genitals of young girls.Carter said the doctrines, which he described as theologically indefensible, contribute to a political, social and economic structure where political leaders passively accept violence against women, a worldwide sex slave trade and inequality in the workplace and classroom.

via Jimmy Carter: Women’s Plight Perpetuated By World Religions.

Half the Sky is a sober reminder of the brutal treatment of women and girls all around the world – a highly recommended read!

Times have changed. Just a few decades ago women in the LCA were treated as children.  They could serve in no public way (Sunday School seemed to be acceptable), could take no representative role, nor could they take any role of leadership.

Before 1966 women experienced virtually total inequality in the Church, even though all members presumably would have accepted that “in Christ there is no East nor West.”

Note how recently women were granted various responsibilities in the LCA (a post from this blog)

  • 1966 voting at congregational meetings
  • 1981 being delegates at Synod
  • 1984 being a member of church boards and committees
  • 1984 included in the guidelines for reading lessons in worship
  • 1989 assisting in the distributing of Holy Communion
  • 1990 being lay assistant as an alternative to elder
  • 1990 being chairperson of a congregation
  • 1998 being synodical chairperson
  • 2003 lay-reading

Times have changed but women are still denied full inclusion.

The doctrine of the LCA has contributed to a political and social structure where presidents have passively accepted the inequality of women.  This is ironic in a system that values education so deeply and where girls are clearly taught, through Bible study and role-modelling, that they are equal in all ways with boys.  One cannot educate the young with values of equality and integrity and honestly expect them to fore-go their equality and calling later in life.

We suggest that religious leaders at all levels carry blame for the decades since union it has taken to recognise women thus far.  There will need to be a time of apology to women. The LCA will need to apologise, living emeritus presidents will need to apologise and congregations will need to apologise for having ignored women for so long.

We have learnt that the personal is political – a feminist phrase during the late 60s and 70s where ‘political’ refers to any power relationship – but the spiritual is also political, for spirituality can be used to repress or lift up.  Jimmy Carter is referring to the former. It’s worth noting that Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were once members of the Southern Baptist Church.

The couple recently disassociated from Southern Baptists, citing its prohibition on ordaining women or allowing them to serve as deacons or in other leadership posts in local congregations. Ref

 

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