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Yet again, no hope arising from LCANZ leadership

On Friday 18th October 2019, the General Church Board (GCB) and the College of Bishops (CoB) met “to consider how together they can best lead the church in this contested time” of whether or not to ordain women in the LCANZ.  The letter from Bishop Henderson is copied below and can be found here.  It is not hopeful.

To recap, at the 2018 Convention of Synod, when the required 67% vote for women’s ordination was not achieved, there was public grief and despair.  While some of those resisting women’s ordination publicly celebrated, most women and their supporters were devastated at how a minority on the Synod floor (40%) continue to dictate to the general Church by blocking called and qualified women from being ordained as pastors in the LCA. Synod Leadership at that time acknowledged the depth of pain in the division and promised a response in the new year.  This has not been forthcoming until the meeting on the 18th Oct – let’s say around eight months late, if ‘the new year’ meant February.  Now they promise to keep meeting on the matter in early 2020.

Last week’s meeting declared again that the Bishops and General Church Board have nothing to offer on this matter. Their do-nothing statement is not the response that was promised.

The only pastoral statement seems to be for those whom this is ‘not a particular issue’, with the statement, ‘Hang in there.’ There was no acknowledgement of the existing division, just a pretense of avoiding schism and nothing that acknowledged the despair of so many people.  On the contrary, Bishop Henderson pleads for an understanding of the bishops’ dilemma in regards to the vows they have taken.  While we do have an understanding of their dilemma, we also hoped that the bishops would acknowledge the existing division and offer leadership in this conflict, given that the LCA is caught in a constitutional quagmire due to what is now seen in hindsight as a destructive requirement to achieve a defensive two-thirds supermajority of a Convention of Synod vote on any issue that is deemed a major theological issue. (It is now apparent that, rather than preserving unity, such a supermajority is now the cause of division. Perhaps a revised supermajority of 55% might be considered for future major theological issues. God help us if we are to ever achieve equality of those members who have a gender identity other than binary heterosexuality.)

As a two-thirds majority probably will not be attained any time soon, the only hope for the Church after the last Synod was leadership from the bishops.  However, given that bishops have now committed to a hands-off approach, they have condemned the Church to a degree of despair and chaos for the foreseeable future.  Contributing to that despair is that they have not considered young generations who are hoping that their Church might demonstrate some relevance in our society.

The message of the bishops’ inability to act has been heard heard loud and clear, so now the only option is for Church membership to act, given that “in effect, it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church” .  Congregations historically have the authority to ordain, and given that various congregations have already indicated a new determination to step outside of normal due process on this matter, congregations will presumably forge the way ahead.  It’s been under discussion for two decades or more but now ironically, inaction from leadership will probably bring it about.

Some of us had expected an olive branch from the bishops with small concessions, such as special ministries that allowed some female leadership.  Presumably, these will be offered at some stage but anything less than full participation in the ministry of word and sacrament is sure to arouse deep suspicion.

 

25 October 2019

Post Convention message (3)

Dear members and pastors of the LCA,

Last week I wrote to you about a special joint meeting of the General Church Board (GCB) and the College of Bishops (CoB). Many responded to that message with offers of prayer, and some with advice – thank you. As I write this message after that meeting I know there will be some who will say that despite all that effort we have not made much progress. I guess if leading the LCA was a case of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, that might be the case. But we are not to behave like that (see Matthew 20:26). God brings the LCANZ together as a community of faith. It is not a completed work. We still have much to learn about doing the Lord’s work and about how to love one another with the same unconditional love God shows to each of us. We are a living, dynamic, connected community. Our God-given accountability to one another is through the law of love (see Matthew 22:37, John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:19-21). Therefore, we step down from the constant conviction that only we are ‘right’ and have a true understanding, and therefore others are ‘wrong’ and must have a false understanding. Attentive listening and appreciative enquiry helps us understand so much more than we ever imagined we could. Faith in Christ gives us the confidence and ability to respond to each other with the grace and forgiveness we so desperately need for ourselves (see Matthew 7:1-5). Praise God for being so generous with us!

Your two key leadership groups met last week to consider how together they can best lead the church in this contested time. The church faces immense external pressures. We see the statistics, read the press, and are aware of a general tide turning against Christianity. We feel it in our local places, and with it reducing numbers and resources. Society is holding Churches accountable, and deservedly so. The new compliance regime places us under stress, but we know we need to do it. In the LCA we have the added pressure of what has become a deeply divisive theological and practical issue that seems to cut to the core of our identity as Lutheran Christians. And since the Lutheran church bases itself on its theology, and prides itself somewhat on that, this is deeply painful.

As I have written before, the LCA has not changed its public position or practice on male only clergy. Yet since we don’t have internal unanimity on the matter, it is a complex situation. During their meeting your elected leaders read and listened to a range of stories and viewpoints sent in by congregations and individuals. Correspondents expressed their intent to be God pleasing and Scriptural. We are unlikely, however, to be able to reconcile the different positions represented. The leadership believes the right response to this situation is a pastoral one, praying that God will grant us further grace and time to work things through. This does not mean we do nothing. The GCB and CoB will continue to listen and grapple with the best response, and we ask you to do the same, staying within the practice and teaching of the church as you do so. The GCB has the task of ensuring proper synodical processes, and the CoB has the task of spiritual leadership. Within their remits both are working on options and possibilities. We will do our best to communicate these over the coming months, for the wellbeing, peace and order of the church. Please honour your leaders as they undertake this difficult task for our Synod.

Leaders were also conscious of the many people for whom this is not a particular issue, and certainly not a divisive one. We thank you for your faithfulness, service and prayers. Hang in there!

Leaders reminded themselves of the Five Principles of Dialogue which supported our debates through 2015 and 2018:

  • Communion: Because God has gathered us in communion with one another through his word and sacraments, we have freedom to dialogue with one another on contested matters. Strengthening this God-given communion is the goal of dialogue.
  • Trust: Because God has made us brothers and sisters in Christ, we can trust God to use our communion to build us up in love and use our differences to grow us in holiness of life.
  • Listening: Because God gives each of his children a unique perspective, we can listen to each other trusting God that as we listen we will grow in understanding of ourselves, of the other person, and of the communion that God creates.
  • Speaking: Because God gives each of his children a unique perspective, we can speak to each other trusting God that as we speak we will grow in understanding of ourselves, of the other person, and of the communion that God creates.
  • Patience: Because the communion God gives us in Christ is God’s doing and not ours, we can be patient in listening and speaking to each other, trusting that God will deepen the unity he has already given us.

We believe these principles remain useful and can continue to guide us as we seek the way forward*.

We have heard suggestions that the leadership might be trying to work around the decision of the Synod on the ordination of men only, or act unilaterally outside of Synod on this matter. In the installation rite at Convention, each Church Board member made these promises before the church:

  1.  Before God and this assembly, I ask you: Do you promise, with the help of God, to carry out your duties faithfully, in accordance with God’s word as taught and confessed by the Lutheran church? Yes, we do.
  2.  Do you promise to uphold the constitution of the Lutheran Church of Australia and carry out its decisions faithfully? Yes, we do.
  3.  Do you promise to work together in promoting the wellbeing, peace, and order of the church? Yes, we do.

Additionally, at their installation, among other vows, the Bishops made the following promises:

  1. Before God and this assembly of the church I ask you: Do you promise, with the help of God, to carry out the duties of bishop of —– faithfully, in accordance with the holy Scriptures and the confessions of the Lutheran church? Yes, I do.
  2. Do you promise to exercise the spiritual oversight of the church/district in accordance with the constitution of the church? Yes, I do.
  3. Do you promise to uphold and promote the theology and practice of public worship of the Lutheran Church of Australia? Yes, I do.
  4. Do you promise to work together with your fellow leaders in promoting the wellbeing, peace, and order of the church? Yes, I do.

These vows contain essential elements – Scripture, Confession, Constitution, along with wellbeing, peace and order. Each Church Board member, and each Bishop, does everything in their power, under God, to remain faithful to these commitments. They work sacrificially, for long hours, doing the best they can for the people of God who have entrusted them with this responsibility. They do it all under the gospel, surrounded by prayer, in the public gaze, and as transparently as they can and with full accountability.

The General Church Board and the College of Bishops are committed to continue to listen and explore ways of engaging the church on our unity in Christ and our way forward together. They affirm the need for all members of the LCA to reflect God’s love and to respect each other as priceless and cherished children of God, brothers and sisters whom Christ gave his all to redeem.

The GCB and the CoB plan to meet together again in early 2020 to continue this task. In the meantime they will listen and pray, explore options, and engage in gentle, caring and bold leadership – this all takes time, and we thank you for your patience. While this may disappoint the hope some of us have for a decisive and speedy resolution, we knew that last week’s meeting could only be a step along the way. Like the people of Israel finding their way to the Promised Land, we confess we still have a way to go.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
Adelaide, 25th October 2019
On behalf of the members of the LCA General Church Board and the College of Bishops.

* For further information you may also reference the LCA’s Standards of Ethical Behaviour

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2019 in politics, theology, women's ordination

 

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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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This woman may have just saved your life

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne in Australia – 26th Sept 2016

Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne just may have altered the course of humanity, having determined how to destroy six superbugs without antibiotics. Superbugs have been described as a fundamental threat to global health.  Currently antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill around 700,000 people each year, “but a recent study suggests that number could rise to around 10 million by 2050.” reference

Shu Lam may have just saved your life, or that of your grandchildren and reduced the suffering of generations.  It is clear that humanity cannot afford to ignore the gifts of women.  Without Shu Lam it is possible that humanity would have been destined to struggle with super bugs for hundreds of years.

Women’s ordination is no longer a theological issue. It is anthropological. Even if the Bible was clear that women could not be ordained, we would have to assert that women’s gifts cannot be ignored, neither in academia nor ecclesia.  Human intelligence and experience of female wisdom, brilliance and compassion already declares that any objection to women’s ordination is a cultural and political phenomena.

Political allegiance is a weird phenomena and reflects poorly on the individual.  Some Trump supporters recently found nothing objectionable to a list of invented moral and criminal breeches on the part of Trump.  Their primary and only concern was that of getting Trump elected.  Similarly, those objecting to women’s ordination are stuck in a vortex of contradictory information on the role of women. While working with women’s leadership in every day life they revert to age-old patterns of male dominance when they walk in the church on Sundays.

Look around your congregation.  Who is missing? What age-group is not there? Given the current age-profile of your congregation what is your prediction for the date of its closure?  Is it more important that you maintain your political stance on women’s ordination, or that you embrace the texts of inclusivity?

Save

Save

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2016 in politics, theology

 

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Prayer Vigil for Women’s Ordination at St Stephen’s

PRAYER-VIGILSt Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 152 Wakefield Street, Adelaide, has a prayer vigil on the day of the debate on women’s ordination (Friday 2nd October, 2015).  Sorry for the late notice.  It will be held from 9am until 7pm.  Consider joining the vigil to pray for our Church, for our women, for our leadership and for delegates from around Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to St Stephen’s Working Party on Women’s Ordination for organising the day.

Further news, (thanks, Jeff): Doctor Andrew Pfeiffer has been elected Assistant Bishop.  The politics of that is interesting.  Doctor Pfeiffer went to Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, USA (a seminary of the Lutheran Church – MIssouri Synod), to study for his doctorate.  Ever since, he has strongly opposed women’s ordination.  While at this stage he does not exercise much influence on this matter, in our opinion it is not healthy to sit too close to the LC-MS, which has removed clergy from their role of pastors for publicly supporting the ordination of women. Matthew Becker example  (Type “LCMS” into the search field of this blog – top right – for more on LCMS.)

Then there’s this official tweet today: “ requested that CTICR study the scriptural and theological understanding of subordination and the role of male headship in marriage”.  Sigh!  Male headship?  Are we really that out of touch with our world?   What a huge waste of energy!   CTICR studies its subject matter in fine detail and there will be months and months of discussion and debate.  It would seem more appropriate to be discussing how the LCA might offer leadership against the obscenity of The Coalition and Labor’s common platform of stopping the boats, or on climate change.

Synod has agreed to commit more resources to keeping children safe – a good initiative against domestic violence!   We understand that some people are maintaining that it’s still okay to hit children.  Ah, well!  Change comes slowly, but you knew that, especially if you are a woman in the LCA.

The #lcasynod Twitter feed today has mostly been official updates.  If you are at Synod your perspectives via Twitter would be appreciated.  Just include the following: “#lcasynod”  (without the quotation marks)

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in politics

 

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LCA Synod kicks off

twitter

The LCA Synod has begun in Rochedale, Qld.  We have just checked the Twitter feed and found only a little activity. The two main hashtags are #lcasynod and #wherelovecomestolife  It seems that the only live-feed from the convention is from worship services. This is difficult to understand. In these days of connectivity it would have been very helpful for the nation to be able to observe the key discussions and debates.

If you are at the convention those of us at home would all appreciate it if you would share your experiences via Twitter.  These may include information on the events, quotes from speakers and developments on the women’s ordination discussion and debate.  We understand at the moment that the only vote on the matter may be in regards to getting a consensus on Scriptural interpretation.  This seems to imply that Bishop John Henderson has decided that a vote would still be too divisive.  Correct us if we are wrong.  *** ADDITION*** (1st Oct, 2015) Jeff, in comments below, indicates that this is incorrect.  In his comment he also indicates that there may be a move from the floor asserting the debate on WO is unconstitutional.  Pastor John will give his understanding if the issue is raised. (Thanks, Jeff.)

For those of you who are present in Rochedale may the Holy Spirit guide your deliberations.

We wait with bated breath in hope for something constructive to come from our national convention.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2015 in politics

 

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LC-MS Removes Rev. Dr. (and Prof) Matthew Becker From Its Role of Pastors

Prof Matthew Becker, Valparaiso University

Prof Matthew Becker, Valparaiso University

By now, many have heard the sad news that as of July 15 the Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker will be removed from the roster of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Rev. Becker has been an LCMS pastor for twenty six years, and is currently a Professor at Valparaiso University after having also served several years in the Concordia University System. Rev. Becker has consistently and faithfully spoken out against increasingly narrow interpretations of scripture which in recent years have been embraced by synodical officials as mandatory for any who would consider themselves to be Christian.    Ordain Women Now – an organisation within the LCMS (Read more for further detail)  Read here for Matt Becker’s record of the event.

The expulsion of Matthew Becker is an attempt to homogenise the LC-MS so that it speaks with one narrow theological voice.  However, in these changing multi-cultural and diverse societies it is just not realistic to expect that our theology will be as one.  It is realistic, however, to expect that in our journeying together our theology will grow closer.

We believe that a church should be stable and loving enough to hold differences of theology lightly, and that diversity will bring strength, not weakness.

Joining a church is not a statement that we agree with every theological stance that it may take. Rather, it is a statement that we are willing to journey together as we engage with Christ in our lives and what that might mean for our interaction with society and those around us.

The expulsion of Matthew Becker, rather than being an act of healing, is an act of self-destruction which will most likely lead to further expulsions and departures from the LC-MS.  In the end, the Gospel is not about law, it is about love and forgiving one another in Christ.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in politics

 

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Female archbishop of Sweden announced

How often does conversation in Australian Lutheran circles turn to personal ancestry in Germany, Sweden and other northern European countries?  These connections seem to be revealed with sincere pride.

It is one more point of irony in the LCA, when countries of origin have, in the main, moved ahead many years ago with women’s ordination. Note the final sentence in the article from AsiaOne News below:

Sweden follows in the footsteps of other Lutheran churches in the US, Canada, Germany and Norway which have appointed female leaders.

Source – AsiaOne News

Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013

STOCKHOLM – The Church of Sweden announced on Tuesday that it had elected a woman as its leader for the first time in the institution’s history.

The Bishop of Lund, Antje Jackelen, won 55.9 per cent of the votes from the 324-strong ecclesiastical college and will replace the current archbishop Anders Wejryd.

“I’m a little dazed and grateful for the support I got,” she told news agency TT.

The 58-year-old bishop is married to a priest and has two children.

Jackelen, who was ordained in 1980, said it was not so strange for the church to choose a woman leader.

“It doesn’t come as such a surprise,” Jackelen said. “We have had female priests for over 50 years.”

About two thirds of Swedes are members of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, which separated from the state in the year 2000.

Sweden follows in the footsteps of other Lutheran churches in the US, Canada, Germany and Norway which have appointed female leaders.

“It was about time,” Anders Wejryd told TT.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in politics, women's ordination

 

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