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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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High stakes in October 2018 at the LCA General Convention

Women’s ordination is again on the agenda at the LCA national general convention in Sydney (Oct 2018).  It’s been around for generations and has repeatedly been turned down, needing to achieve two-thirds of the vote at General Convention.

While many have already left the LCA in search of a more tolerant and inclusive denomination there may be huge ramifications in October if the LCA again refuses to ordain women.

When Lutheran school teachers from Australia and NZ met in Adelaide (2017), one of the guest speakers was Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber from the ELCA (USA).   She was an inspirational speaker, providing encouragement for those struggling to remain within this denomination that has persisted in excluding women from leadership.

It’s humorous to recount that when she visited Australia on an earlier occasion, certain conservative clergy sneered at the thought that Nadia might have something to offer them in the way of preaching.  After all, she’s just a woman.  No, she’s not just a woman. She is a gifted woman with a powerful story, who brings many gifts because she is a woman.   She is a woman who happens to be clergy and she has a well-honed ability to preach the good news of God coming to live amongst us.  Coming to share God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s justice, God’s compassion  – all for those struggling in life in one way or another.

The response to Nadia Bolz-Weber was remarkable.  Many people were moved to tears and after her presentations the applause persisted and persisted. She answered questions that related some despair on the matter of women’s ordination.  No doubt there were individuals present who didn’t believe that women should be ordained, but we believe the response was an indication of what the people of the LCA think.

Australia’s contentious same-sex marriage survey was acted upon by Parliament in 2017.  Majority approval resulted in new legislation – contentious, yes, but that’s how it has to be to retain social stability. The alternatives are abusive and elitist, where those with power rule over those who have been marginalised.

There must be more evident democratic processes within the Church.  The majority view of the people should be enshrined in Church legislation. Currently an oligarchy and less than 40% of those voting at Synod, and logically (and generally speaking) the oldest and most conservative sector of the Church, have imposed their theology and their world view on the rest of the denomination – a recipe for revolution.  While some might argue that we have a theocracy that rules and protects our constitution, this is a fallacious argument as Church funding and the means for its very existence comes from individuals and congregations which ultimately can choose to withdraw that support.

Assuming no change of the voting proportion at the General Convention this year, these are the results of this theocratic gerrymander:

  • young people, other individuals and families gradually disappear from congregations and committees. (It has been happening for a long time.) Gradually, members, along with children and grand-children see no reason to continue to support a denomination that does not reflect God’s love or Biblical scholarship.
  • some progressive Church leaders leave the LCA, unable to remain in a denomination that pays no heed to God’s word on this matter. No one wants to live the rest of their life in a denomination that has lost its way.
  • with the loss of these individuals and families, the Church inevitably becomes more conservative and more out of touch with society.
  • some progressive congregations choose to break away from the LCA, no longer able to support an institution that continues to deny the need for democratic representation.
  • as the Church continues to lean right and away from social norms, rather than having more influence throughout its supposed faithfulness, the Church has less credibility in the manner it attempts to reveal God’s grace.
  • with the continued absence of women from leadership and reinforced male perspectives on relationships and power, the structures of domestic violence are strengthened.
  • women’s voice is reduced at all personal and committee levels of congregations, districts and national governance.
  • women are increasingly confined to gender-roles within the Church as men are lauded and women are disempowered.
  • the Church experiences a pious subjugation of women, with Scripture being used as a tool of subjugation, not dissimilar to the manner in which slavery was justified. Southern Baptist theologies come to mind.
  • general LCA theology leans further to the right on all matters, further alienating members who are engaged with society and grappling with evolving issues of justice and compassion.
  • the ensuing legalism and entrenched conservatism will have the LCA creeping closer to the sect-like Missouri Synod, and further away from the ELCA.
  • the decline of the LCA increases as congregations close.
  • the voice of the LCA becomes less significant on all matters.
  • the LCA becomes a small, insignificant denomination that retains just members who have been indoctrinated into a socially conservative view of the world, such as the Amish or Mennonites.

Without women’s ordination, without engaging with today’s issues and without something a little closer to democratic representation, the death or torpor of the LCA is assured.

On the other hand the LCA might embrace God’s ongoing creation and revelation, ordain women and have a decent go at speaking and living God’s word.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in theology, women's ordination

 

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St Andrews, Brisbane, requests information from women seeking to serve the LCA as ordained ministers

From a letter from St Andrew’s, Brisbane. 12th Jan 2018

Hello, and happy new year.

I’m forwarding a request from Shiron Dixon, chair of St Andrews congregation in Brisbane. Since 2015, St Andrews has graciously hosted Brisbane meet-ups for supporters of women’s ordination. St Andrews is about to enter a period of Pastoral vacancy.

The congregation is prayerfully considering whether it may delay its call process pending the outcome of the General Synod, in the hope that they could then consider both female and male candidates in this process. To help them make this decision they are gathering information about women who may apply for entry into the clergy of the LCA should the 2018 General Synod adopt this change of practice.

Could you please either respond yourself by completing the linked Questionnaire below, or forward this email to a woman you know who has, or has had, a sense of call to ordained ministry in the LCA? Shiron requests responses to secretary.standrewsbne@gmail.com by 25 January 2018 if possible. CVs are also welcome but not required at this stage.

Yours in Christ,
Kathy Matuschka
Coordinator
Altogether In Ministry (AIM)
Please use this link to complete a questionnaire.
 
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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in theology

 

CTICR consultations on the doctrinal statement for the ordination of both women and men.

The CTICR is now working with the request of the last Convention to prepare a doctrinal statement supporting the ordination of both women and men. They are currently running ‘consultation’s’ around Australia and New Zealand to move beyond their first draft. This last weekend there was a consultation at Blair Athol and Glenelg in South Australia. Many clergy were present, some of whom wanted to argue down women’s ordination or the process, despite facilitation stating that it was not a forum for argument.
The statement was limited because of the need for diplomacy within the CTICR and did not clearly reflect the Convention request. Rather, it appeared to provide fodder for further debate, starting from the current theological position.
One would have thought that the Convention request required the CTICR to present the clear gospel mandate for equality amongst God’s children. There is rich material that those supporting women’s ordination might have drawn on. If CTICR is compromised because of its membership, then a sub-committee or another body should be given the task to provide the necessary material for the LCA to journey into a rich future.

While the rhetoric of having patience is used, that is from the lethargic perspective of the comfortable.  It is not the perspective of those who are distressed and/or have left the LCA.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in 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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Bishop Shelby Spong on prejudice

Bishop John Shelby Spong

The time has come for all Christians to decide whether a person can follow Christ and still maintain his or her homophobic prejudices. I do not believe that is possible. Deep down all of us know this to be true. The decision is not both/and; it is either/or. We can either follow Christ or maintain our prejudices. There can be no compromise. The contending positions are mutually exclusive. There must be no wavering. Leviticus 18 and 20 cannot be allowed to remain in the lexicon of Christian behavior. It is also no longer a morally defensible argument for hierarchical figures to protect the destructive homophobia of some leaders and church members in order ‘to preserve the unity of the church.’ A church unified in prejudice cannot possibly be the Body of Christ. Can anyone imagine a church preserving its unity by tolerating slavery in its midst? Is there any difference between that situation and tolerating homophobia? Any prejudice based on who a person is, his or her very being as a child of God, cannot be a part of the church’s life. Quoting Leviticus to justify our prejudices is no longer an option. ref

Having looked at Lev 18 and 20 again we are horrified at the death sentences handed out for charge after charge. Such barbarity is not what Christianity is founded on. Christianity is founded on Jesus’ love and sacrifice. One cannot decide to focus on select Old Testament verses and then ignore the rest.  If you choose to focus on verses of death, then your religion is one of death and is to be regarded as abhorrent.

Bishop Shelby Spong’s Facebook post might equally apply to women in the church. “Any prejudice based on who a person is, his or her very being as a child of God, cannot be a part of the church’s life.”  There is no option but embracing all as children of God, with no qualifying clauses.

The LCA has been able to ignore certain abhorrent statements from Luther – it now has to declare unequivocally and urgently that women should be at the centre of its very being.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2016 in theology

 

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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Mixed news on women’s ordination in the Lutheran church around the world

While 80 % of LWF member churches ordain women, the Lutheran Church in Latvia decides to rescind it’s practice of ordaining women. This sounds surprisingly like the Australian Presbyterian Church some decades back.  The opening sentences of two separate articles are listed below.

Namibian Lutheran pastor Rev. Lyauvika Nashuuta distributes the sacrament at the closing worship of the 2015 international Global Young Reformers’ Network workshop in Wittenberg, Germany. Photo: LWF/Marko Schoeneberg

Namibian Lutheran pastor Rev. Lyauvika Nashuuta distributes the sacrament at the closing worship of the 2015 international Global Young Reformers’ Network workshop in Wittenberg, Germany. Photo: LWF/Marko Schoeneberg

“Survey affirms move towards a more inclusive ministry

“(LWI) – More than 80 percent of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches ordain women to the ministry of word and sacrament, a recent survey shows.

“The findings indicate that 119 of the 145 LWF member churches or 82 percent across the seven regions ordain women, compared to 77 percent in 2012. In four of the seven regions—Central Western Europe, Nordic countries, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America—all of the churches ordain women. … (more)

The Lutheran Church of Australia, which excludes women from ordained ministry, has chosen not to become a member of the LWF.

Latvian Synod rescinds its inclusion of women in ministry

“On 3 June the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) voted in favor of a motion to change its constitution, restricting service in the ordained ministry to men only. … (more)

No information is given on the background to the decision.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2016 in theology

 

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Bishop Rimbo’s address to the ACCEPTS Conference

Bishop Rimbo, from the New York Metropolitan Synod of the ELCA, was invited to address the ACCEPTS (supportive of GLBTIQ members of the LCA) conference, held at Immanuel Lutheran College, Novar Gardens, South Australia. The address was an hour long so the following text is a huge document.  You will find, however, that the theology is sensible, caring and profound.  Such theology is long overdue in the LCA.

While women’s ordination in the LCA is inevitable, the acceptance and embrace of GLBTIQ members will be slower.  This conference was an important first public step towards that goal.

Bishop Rimbo, from the Metropolitan New York Synod, ELCA

The Radical Acceptance of the Gospel

Introduction and Assumption

I am humbled by and grateful for your invitation and for the gracious words of introduction. I am particularly thankful for Kristine Gebbie and Lester Wright, dear friends, who were extraordinarily faithful worshippers at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City where I was pastor for an all-too-brief time before being elected Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod.

I want, also, to introduce my dear spouse Lois whom I had to force to come with me to Australia. We’ve been obsessing on you, reading about you, and delighting in this country and continent. Lois has been a faithful companion and partner for over forty years and I hope you have the opportunity to meet her today.

I want to speak to you today about four things, get you a bit agitated about the Radical Acceptance of the Gospel and perhaps allow some time for questions and reactions. If that doesn’t happen in this hour-or-so, be assured that I will be available to you all day and into this evening. Since Lois and I are relying on Kristine and Les for transportation!

Under the Theme: The Radical Acceptance of the Gospel I will first, briefly, describe what I mean by that word “radical.” Then, I will outline my understanding of Lutheran Hermeneutics – that is, how Lutherans read the Bible. Third, I will share some experience from my own life and that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which led to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly votes to be radically welcoming – at least officially; you must know that it is not universally true for us – New York City is not Fargo. And then I want to share a particular passage from Scripture which I think should have great, radical meaning for all of us.

Let me share an assumption which you may reject but you are stuck with because I’ve already written my paper.

I think there are people in this room in deep need of the Gospel. In fact, I know it because we all are, all the time, the insiders and the outsiders. So I want to say at the outset, as a card-carrying, creed-believing, confessional Lutheran who is an insider par excellence – a bishop, for heaven’s sake – I want to say how thankful to God I am for you and for your continuing, unfailing witness to the Church and your deep desire to be accepting of all people.. The Church and by that word I mean the whole thing with an upper-case C, has developed a bad habit of talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender people as if they are a problem. So let me say that they are not. Quite the opposite: they have provided the Church with enlightenment, with eye-opening and life-changing examples of Christian courage and grace, and with models of how to live the Christian life under adverse conditions. The Church’s policies and practice – and again, be clear, I’m talking about the capital-C-Church – have been restrictive and exclusive to the point of cruelty. We have told many people who want to give their lives to Christ and the witness of the Church, including the willingness to devote their lives to service as ordained pastors, that they cannot. Their choices or their lifestyle or even the way God has made them are so wrong that we’ve had to erect special barriers to keep them from serving.

The Church’s teaching has downright perverse effects. In my experience, the more LGBTQ people conform to the practices the Church blesses and honors for heterosexuals – like public pledges of fidelity to another person, family commitment to the nurture of children – the less likely it is that they will be gladly invited to work out their discipleship in many Christian congregations.

Yet, here they are, active or eager-to-be-active in the full life of the Church, if only we were a welcome place, if only we were really accepting. They keep on witnessing to the truth of Christ in their lives. They keep on offering help that the Church desperately needs but is too proud or too stubborn to accept. They keep on ministering, with us, to people who have the approval and the privileges that have been denied to them. We can learn to be accepting. So that’s my goal for this address.

Radical

First, that troublesome word “radical.” At least it is troublesome to some folks. I was born in 1950. I’ll give you a few moments to do the math on that. I grew up in the State of Illinois in the flat middle of the United States. We defined ourselves – perhaps you know what I mean – we defined ourselves by what we were not. Not Black, not Mexican, not queer, not Catholic (heaven forbid), not…well, you know what I mean. And certainly not radical. We were good, decent folks there in Lemont, Illinois.

Now that you’ve done your math, you must realize that I grew up in the turbulent 60s. Were they turbulent here, too? And it was in the 60s that I came to know that the word radical has a deeper meaning, from the Latin word for root – which makes it a very good word for us when talking about the foundation of our faith, the root of our tree of beliefs as Christians, the Good News of God reconciling the world through Jesus, the Gospel.

So now I turn to talking about that radical Gospel and how it drives our efforts to be accepting of all people, especially as Lutherans.

Lutheran Hermeneutics

How you read the Bible is always glued to how you think people “get saved.” I think this is a most Luther-an understanding. There are many quotes from Martin Luther to this effect, of which I share only two:

From one of his famous Table Talks: “When I discovered the difference, that God’s Law is one thing and God’s Gospel something else – that was the breakthrough.”

And from his Commentary on Galatians: “I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me not what I must do but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me.”

This radical, fundamental understanding of truth, where the Gospel, the Good News of God’s rescuing all of us through Jesus Christ, is the lens through which we read all of Scripture. It is what gives authority to the Bible because the first and most important definition of the term Word of God is Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen.

So, I want, now, to speak a bit about how Lutherans interpret the Scriptures. What is our hermeneutic.

Lutherans interpret scripture contextually.

We ask about the literary context of the book in which any Scripture passage is found. We ask about the historical context of the situation the passages were intended to address. The biblical perspective on sexuality is decidedly heterosexual. That is not arguable. But how is that perspective to be viewed given our modern understanding of homosexuality?

Lutherans interpret scripture by principle of analogy.

We ask whether situations in the modern world are analogous to those in the biblical world – even if they are not exactly the same. Old and New Testament passages focus on questionable sexual practices which scripture describes as “unnatural.” Given a growing consensus on the nature of sexual orientation, are such practices to be considered “unnatural” for other orientations? Do prescriptive passages apply to these two orientations in the same way? Can they? Should they?

Lutherans interpret scripture in light of scripture.

We try to reconcile what is said in one part of scripture with wat is said in other parts of scripture, so that we can be faithful to the entire Bible.

Lutherans believe in “a canon within the canon.”

We believe that some things in scripture are more important than other things. Jesus gives us principles for determining what is the most important. We believe that Jesus has given the Church the authority to determine which commandments in the Bible apply to us today and which do not. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19) and it’s similar passage in Matthew 18:18 – “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

We exercise this authority responsibly when we follow the guidelines Jesus has given: God prefers mercy to sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:6). The greatest commandment is to love God with one’s whole being, and the second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:24-40). We are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12). The weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

There are very few references to homosexual behavior in the Bible; and no references to homosexuality. The Bible speaks nine times more frequently about how we relate to money than on how we relate to sexuality. As an issue or practice it was of minor concern.

What does our being reconciled to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit mean for us? How radical is that gospel? As I have indicated before, it is interesting, in the context of our society and in a church which is rightfully concerned about the state of marriage, we hardly spend any time talking about the much more strenuous Jesus-of-the-gospel strictures against divorce. I hear people in the homosexual community weep when they talk about the portrayals that demean the quality of their covenanted relationships.

I hear pastors and congregational leaders rejoice in the exemplary grace-filled lives you live. I hear people say that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered people are exactly the kind of folks they would like to have serve as their pastors.

I hear gay and lesbian people speak with far more clarity about their life in Christ than do those who do not have to defend their very identity.

Let me be clear and bold: I have discovered that there is nothing in the Bible that speaks clearly and directly to this set of issues. There’s some stuff about prostitution, pedophilia, abusive relationships, but there is nothing about homosexuality or about the faithful, committed relationships in which many confessors of Christ find themselves today. I have struggled with our Lutheran confessional writings and have dug deep into Luther’s works and learned that there is great freedom in our communion and that we are called to err on the side of grace at any cost. I have heard the voices of Christians in other parts of the Church. But most importantly, I have spoken with scores of gay and lesbian people and more recently with transgender and bisexual people and I have found them to be, first, followers of Christ. And I would say to you that it was in these conversations that I discovered the broad, high, and deep meaning of what I claim is the theological bottom line of the radical acceptance of the Gospel.

There are theological issues that I believe Lutherans have a particular, God­

given vocation to address.

Marriage: I believe we need to look very carefully and thoroughly at the institution of marriage. Our churchly involvement in this practice is very fascinating. Lutherans believe that marriage is not a sacrament, though many in our churches treat it as such. In Lutheran understanding, it is a function of the state which has been imposed on our pastors to carry out.

But I believe we also need to address the state of marriage in the Church today. For example, the Bible makes it very clear that divorce is unnatural and contrary to the design of God. Jesus stridently says much about it. Heterosexuals who think gay couples are undermining their marriages should seek help, as nearly half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce.

A review of Lutheran history and the current practice in many European countries where Lutheranism has been central will indicate that the legal agreement is carried out first, outside the church building, and then the newly-arranged covenant is blessed inside the church building.

When Lois and I were married 42 years ago and again when our son and his wife were married, the wonderful part was not the signing of a legal document, but the thanksgiving to God in which all of us engaged. The church should offer that kind of event to every couple, homosexual or heterosexual, and get out of what is, in the opinion of many, the practice of marrying only some and extending a thousand-plus benefits to those elect heterosexuals. I’m still working on this, so let me pursue this a bit by talking about “Blessing.”

I think the Church, led by Lutherans, should reclaim the word “blessing” as it has been used by God’s People throughout time. But I want to be very clear about this: the blessing the Church does is, first, a blessing of God; that is, a giving of thanks to God for the gifts God has given us. This is the ancient pattern of the Hebrew berakha, blessing God for the gifts God has given including the gift of godly relationships of grace and commitment. As a confirmation class student said to me once, “With all the hate in the world, if two people are in love with each other I think we ought to thank God for it.”

Another theological problem is Forced Celibacy: I believe that policies which force people who are homosexual in their self-understanding to live a life of forced celibacy, are in fact contrary to Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions. 1 Corinthians 7 declares that celibacy is a gift, not a curse, and it should always be voluntary, never forced. Likewise, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, one of our Lutheran documents, says, in Article 23, that it is “not possible to remain chaste outside of marriage” apart from “a high supernatural gift of God.” All of which is to say: those who require celibacy of any one do not have the Bible or the Lutheran Confessions on their side. While the Bible does not prohibit homosexuality anywhere, ever, it does prohibit celibacy requirements.

Biblicism: We Lutherans need to announce to the world and ourselves that the real issue is not one of biblical authority. When, guided by the Holy Spirit, we enter into a deep and committed study of the texts the Church has misunderstood and used as weapons, we will realize that the Bible’s purpose is not to exclude but to include, not to condemn but to save, not to heap on Victorian moralisms some claim to be divinely-imposed moral absolutes but to proclaim the amazing grace of God, not to reject but to accept. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness when God’s people, individually or corporately, fail to live up to the expectations that God has set forth. That love and forgiveness is the Gospel. I believe, for example, that the Bible sets forth standards of life and behavior, but I do not believe that the Bible is fundamentally a rule book. It is, instead, the story of God and God’s people. Its primary character is not “I” and the story line is not principally about how “I” should behave. The primary character is God, and the story line is primarily about how God has behaved, how God has responded, how God has been made incarnate in Jesus Christ, and how that risen and living Jesus continues today to lead us into all truth by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Those who seek biblical warrant for such inclusiveness need only look, for example, to the encounter between Jesus and the Woman at the Well in John 4, where he breaks all kinds of rules in order to offer her new life, or at the amazing story of Jesus’s healing the man born blind in John 9, a wonderful text that asks the important question “What glorifies God?” It’s a great reading for us. I also think the raising of Lazarus is splendid. In John 11 well, you know the story: Jesus raises his stinky friend from the dead and then turns to the crowd and says, “You unbind him.” I think that’s a great model for us: when God raises people from the dead through the wonderful mystery of Holy Baptism then it’s up to the church to unbind them. And that Lazarus story brings me to the bottom line for me, theologically.

Holy Baptism is the most radical acceptance we offer, especially the practice of baptizing infants. This is, in my opinion and I believe in Lutheranism’s confessional understanding, the theological bottom line. It’s the riskiest, most radical thing the Church does: baptize.

People in both or all camps write and read lengthy biblical, theological, and psychological papers that cancel each other out. We set up all kinds of wars in the Church, including derogatory attacks on other Christians, other people for whom Christ died. The set of issues before us is far more important, far more foundational than any agenda.

I regularly look into the faces, the eyes, of candidates for ministry, people who have a consuming desire to serve the Church. And I am puzzled by the theological claim that we are all ordained in Holy Baptism – the wonderful, sometimes-misunderstood and often-ignored Lutheran gift of the priesthood of all believers – yet we set standards for membership that exclude certain people from the church even though they have been ordained already in the water and the word at the font.

4. Clear and Challenging Words from the Gospel

A Church that engages in the risky business of baptizing infants, a Church that rejoices in the claim that this is a means of grace, a Church that welcomes all is called by God to remove the double standard and open its arms to all people.

If you are seeking clear words from God about what it means to engage in this Radical Acceptance, let me suggest the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus invites us, urges us, to stand on our heads and see the world, our society, individual lives and the Church from that Christ-like perspective. I think of the amazing words of the Beatitudes as both challenge and opportunity for those of us who are privileged to stand-with-Jesus-on- our–heads, for all of us who have been gathered here today and for the thousands we represent. And as I think of these words I also want to see them clearly as challenges to us, invitations for this day and for a lifetime, to continue to stand on our heads, to continue this risky business of being the Church.

Blessed are the poor in spirit; yours is the kingdom of heaven! What could

the Church do, not just say, that would make the poor in spirit belie..v..e. that?

Blessed are the mourners; they shall be comforted! How will the mourners believe that if we are not God’s agents in bringing that comfort?

Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the earth. How will the meek ever believe such nonsense if the Church does not stand up for their rights against the rich and the powerful in the name of the crucified Messiah who had no place to lay his head?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s justice; how will that message get through unless we are prepared to stand alongside those who are denied justice and go-on-making-a-fuss until they get it?

Blessed are the merciful; how are people to believe that, in a world where mercy is weakness, unless we welcome the estranged?

Blessed are the pure in heart; how will people believe that, in a world where

impurity is big business, unless we ourselves are worshiping the living God until our hearts are set on fire and scorched with God’s purity?

Blessed are the peacemakers; how will we ever learn that, in a world where war in one country means business for another, unless the Church stands in the middle and says that there is a different way of being human, a different way of ordering our common life?

Blessed are those who are persecuted and insulted for the sake of Jesus; how will that message ever get across if the Church is so anxious not to court bad publicity, that it refuses ever to say or do anything that might get it into trouble either with the authorities for being so radical and subversive or with the revolutionaries for insisting that the true revolution begins at the foot of the cross?

I wish I could say that I knew of a Church somewhere in the world that had fully grasped this strange agenda of Jesus and was living by it. No parish I have served has, nor has the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, nor have I, nor have you. But there are signs to give us hope. There are moments when I think the Reign of God is nearer than when we first believed. And I rejoice to say that the efforts being engaged by Accept and organizations such as this have been models of this kind of spiritual life, this new life in the new creation of the new humanity worked through Jesus Christ. We are not what God wants us to be, yet. But we are on the way. So I am, once again, most grateful for your trust toward me and for your invitation. And while I cannot speak for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or for its Conference of Bishops, or for the Metropolitan New York Synod of which I am bishop, I can speak for myself about my hope for all of us, for this new creation in Christ. I want to invite you to strive for accepting all people and to remain faithful and diligent in engaging The Radical Welcome of the Gospel.

Closure

In closing I want to say again how grateful I am for your faithfulness, your strength, your gracefilled living. As a Lutheran I feel compelled to offer at least a small word from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans as a kind of summary of what God is calling us to do; “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15)

Friends in Christ, may God fill us and all God’s People, always with the welcoming love of Christ, The Radical Acceptance of the Gospel.

Thank you.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

28 March 2016

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in theology

 

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Defeat

269 yes, 145 no.  423 were registered.  That comes to around 63.6% – 4% short of the 67%.  The motion to allow both the ordination of women and men was defeated.  (67% being needed as this was deemed to a significant theological matter.)  Someone calculated that it failed by 13 votes.

We are now in the position where 37% of the church (extrapolating from the number of delegates) have authority over the other 63%. The LCA has shot itself in the foot.  Further women and men will be unable to remain in this Church, the pain being too great to continue.  Reports are that laity voted strongly in favour of women’s ordination while the clergy were not as supportive.  The clergy (many of them) are the problem in our Church.

Ex-President Mike Semmler, broke with convention and spoke from the floor, against women’s ordination.  Well, there’s no surprises there, despite his statement from previous years that people will be surprised when they learn his position.  He wanted speakers to be given more time to speak, to be able to speak again and he questioned the authority of the Chair, Bishop John Henderson.  His proposals, though time consuming, were roundly dismissed.

Thus far, there have been no initiatives from Bishop John Henderson to resolve this impasse.   (The following may contradict this earlier statement if the initiative has come from the Bishop. ) Ironically he is versed in the process of consensus making.  A motion was passed asking CTICR to prepare a theological case for the ordination of women (strange – they’ve done it twice before haven’t they?) for the 2018 Synod.  Can you believe it?  2018!  Another three years?  Already too many women and men have passed away waiting for women’s ordination.  This has been on the agenda of Synod since 2000 and another three years is unreasonable for many.

The following was tweeted by the #lcasynod folk:

We resolved to enter into a period of careful theological reflection and pastoral work to assist in maintaining unity and harmony”.

We have had generations to work on this and certainly since ‘Ordination, We’re Listening’ was established after Bishop Henderson’s installation.  Unity and harmony cannot be maintained when the minority have sway – thjs is aptly described as oppression.  Such lack of preparation is disappointing, given the open conversation we have all been encouraged to enter into.

Life in our Church does not continue as usual.  We must all consider our response.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2015 in theology

 

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