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When should congregations refuse to play the conservative game? Reflections on Gen.Synod 2006

Martin Luther

Luther worked within the structures of the Catholic Church to convey his understanding of Scriptures, but when continually hitting immovable walls conscience dictated his actions. Perhaps the LCA has operated from fear that conservative congregations would break from the LCA if women’s ordination was approved.  Little thought, however, has been given to the possibility that moderate congregations would break away after suffering the closing down of the discussion.

When is it time to step away from an abusive Church?  How long should congregations suffer the manipulation of democratic processes?

The following is Tanya Wittwer’s reflection after General Synod in 2006.  The despair she expresses from that time is evident again in our Church as we lead up to General Synod in April of 2013.  There is significant expectation of change.  Members and congregations of this Church are not content to forever suffer diversions and stalling.

From the beginning of the proceedings it was apparent that the leadership had decided to keep a tight lid on Synod.  The first woman to speak asked that one of the two nominees for the position of President share his vision for the church, prior to the election; the incumbent had just delivered his report and it seemed reasonable to be able to at least have heard from each of them.  This request (repeated by another woman the following day) was immediately denied.

The ordination question was clearly established as something to be debated from opposing sides, rather than an issue that could be discussed collegially.  On the Monday evening of Synod there was an “information evening” at which two seminary professors had been chosen to speak for 25 minutes – one presenting the position that only men could be ordained, and the other responding.  Unfortunately it was the No position that established the parameters of the “information” presented.  In the format chosen and the time limit given there was no opportunity to address bigger questions of Biblical interpretation, or faithful decision-making.  The chair contributed negatively to the debate, with a long, heavy-handed introduction, and unhelpful remarks.

The chair had been clear in his direction that only Scriptural and theological issues were to be addressed, but this did not prevent some of the anti-lobby using manipulative anecdotes and sweeping statements to support their arguments.  The style of “debate” meant that there was no opportunity to respond to these.  When the chair declared that only those waiting to speak would be given an opportunity, and no more were to go to the microphones, the balance was such that the final five speakers were against the ordination of women.  The chair urged people to abstain from voting if they had any doubts at all, or if they thought the time was not yet right.  Then the votes were cast.

I felt surprisingly free.  I felt free to leave the LCA, and join another denomination.  The reaction surprised me, but it felt as if the part of the race I needed to run was complete, and it was time to hand the baton over.  I was overwhelmed by the people – many of them strangers – who thanked me for my words, and shared their sadness.

When I woke on Wednesday morning, I had moved to a position of feeling free … to stay, at least for a while. To stay and to support others in being the church we believed we needed to be, even if this meant pushing boundaries. The nice, polite, official way of doing things seemed unhelpful; maybe now is the time to forget being “good.” We need to name clearly the legalistic turn in our church. We need to work against the pressure being applied by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). We need to find ways to proclaim more loudly God’s inclusive grace.

via GENERAL LCA SYNOD 2006 — “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) | Women’s Ministry Network – Tanya Wittwer (6 October 2006)


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Hateful Stuff Requires Secrecy

via Making Light: I’ll change your heart into green grass, and all you love into a sheep.

“I think some of the hateful stuff requires secrecy, and that transparency is key to fighting back.”

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Posted by on January 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


Spiritual Abuse Associated with Denying Women Ordination?

The action of Lutheran church authorities of Australia in denying women the opportunity, right and joy of serving as ordained ministers of Christ has wounded many women and is tantamount, in the mind of some, to spiritual abuse.  Why?

Women, like men, have been liberated by the Gospel from the Law and all oppressive expressions of the Law, but the church has exercised a law which prevents women from serving as ordained ministers which means they are denied the opportunity of celebrating fully their liberation by the Gospel.

Many women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ into the ordained ministry, but the regulations of the church authorities have denied women the joy of experiencing and exercising that call as ordained servants of Christ.

Women, like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating those gifts to the full by being denied the opportunity of celebrating the sacrament and preaching the Gospel as ordained ministers.

It is therefore appropriate that the church authorities apologise to those women who have been wounded by the practice of denying them ordination as servants of Christ.

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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Uncategorized


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TIME Photos: A Brief History of Women in Power

TIME magazine reviews female national leaders in recent history

Women have been in leadership much longer than this slide-show indicates, however, it highlights how the LCA dismisses that  women are increasingly respected in the world today for their leadership and intellect .

The article, New Swedish Parliament most gender balanced ever, is likewise, a reminder that there is a decreasing mysogeny in the secular world.

Sadly, the church doesn’t always lead the world on matters of principle and ethics, despite Jesus life-changing revelations, that righteousness was not primarily about religious activities, but justice.  The following reflection, from, on the parable of the sheep and the goats, points out that Jesus was not altogether impressed with religious leaders’ piety.

The sheep at the Father’s right hand will be invited to inherit his kingdom because they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the imprisoned.

Conspicuously absent from the list are supposedly religious activities, such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. Jesus insists that those five deeds and others like them are religious activities. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40b).

Jesus never emphasised rituals, dogma or religiosity, but he was always strong on human relationships.

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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Gen Y and the LCA

It’s interesting to note that Generation Y is labelled as wanting to ‘pick and choose beliefs’.  Eureka Street’s article, Gen Y free for anything except belonging, report on a survey where around 75 per cent of young Catholics believe it’s OK to “pick and choose” beliefs without accepting the teachings of their religion as a whole.  My guess is that there’s no reason to think that young Lutherans are any different.

In the article, a Catholic researcher says that faith-based traditions have been replaced by, “a skeptical, cynical and narrowly empirical view of life”.  As a teacher of literacy, I would rephrase that to say, individuals are thinking critically for themselves, reading church practice critically and deciding for themselves on what they believe.  No longer does church dogma dictate what the individual believes.

Critical Literacy is a component of education these days.  Students are required to think beyond the superficial layer, to look at power structures, to look at what is implicit, what is unspoken in the text, to look at who is exercising power, who has no voice, whose agenda is being served, who is being oppressed, how the reader is being persuaded by non-textual components of images, colours, movement etc.  Readers are encouraged to form an opinion, to disagree with authors, and to view things from another perspective.  Viewing things from other perspectives is common-place in primary school today.

We are people who are trained to think critically and progressively.  Faith is no longer a matter of accepting or rejecting our parents’ faith.  There are other nuances.  Where do I sit on the fundamentalist / progressive spectrum? How much am I driven by law / grace?  How much am I motivated by authority / freedom in Christ, and tradition / change?  Eventually the big question that we all have is, “How much do I feel a part of this congregation, faith community or denomination?”

Generation Y (born ’77-’91) answers these questions differently to Gen X (born ’62 – ’76), Baby Boomers (born ’42 – 61) and The Builders (born before ’42).   This paper, from the 2006 National Church Life Survey (NCLS), provides a brief introduction to some of the generational differences among church attenders.  The main differences focus on opinions of how they think church ‘should be done’.

Older generations are more likely to:

  • attend worship services weekly
  • prefer traditional styles of music in worship services
  • spend regular time in private devotional activity
  • have a strong sense of belonging to their denomination
  • be involved in church-based community service, justice or welfare activities
  • be involved in community-based service, care or welfare activities

Younger generations are more likely to:

  • be involved in small groups
  • prefer contemporary styles of music in worship services
  • feel that their gifts and skills are encouraged
  • have helped others in a range of informal ways
  • value outreach, be involved in evangelistic activities, and actually invite others to church
  • be newcomers to church life, have switched denominations or transferred congregations in the previous five years

Is any of this relevant to women’s ordination in the LCA?  Certainly!  We are dealing with generations which have fundamentally different outlooks on life.  Gen Y is immersed in electronica: iPods, DVDs, internet, social networks, mobile phones, sms etc.  They have a myriad options in their life.  They are not compliant consumers of tradition and old methods of doing things.  I predict, in the same vein, that young Lutherans are not passive acceptors of Lutheran exclusivity.  Older readers will be painfully aware of how isolationist the LCA has historically been, as demonstrated by its reticence to embrace ecumenism.   While conservative theologians may still propose that we should preserve Lutheran purity in this manner, Gen Y especially will scoff at such an approach.

The NLCS asks the question of Gen Y, “Will they change as they age? Not likely… Some may hope that as younger attenders age, their preferences will change, to become more like those born pre WWII, who currently make up the majority of church attenders. While time will tell, the trends to date do not support the idea that younger generations will, en masse, decide that they like traditional worship or music. Even if the volume gets turned down, do not expect they will take up these styles of music.”

It is plain that Gen Y will make up their own mind.  They will vote with their feet and their wallet to create a different social and Church world.  While young women may not talk about women’s liberation, they argue strongly for the same opportunities in leadership as any of their male friends and colleagues.

The implications for the LCA in 2010 are clear. We can ordain women now and risk offending some older generational members or we can postpone women’s ordination indefinitely, and risk losing Gen Y and many other groups who decide to find a setting that better meets their needs.

As our budgets grow smaller and smaller I suggest that the accountants of the LCA may eventually provide the final push that has the LCA re-examining its options.

The old Australian slogan, ‘populate or perish’ may still be relevant for the LCA as we determine what level of membership we are willing to live with.  Might that be, ‘ordain or perish’?

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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Uncategorized


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When churches represent hate, hang in there

I’ve come across a very down-to-earth woman’s blog from corn-country in Illinois, US.  The blog, Halfway to Normal, by Kristin Tennant, gives a hint that life hasn’t turned out like she thought it would and that life is messy and complicated.

Her post, ‘ “Why church?” is the wrong question‘, ponders what happens for many people when church doesn’t measure up to their hopes, when people need to leave church for their own health, their own sanity. She tells the story of people dropping their church attendance because of, “bad worship songs and fake people, hypocrisy and often more evidence of hate than love”.

She says, “Sometimes I still wonder ‘Why church? Why do any of us bother?’ When I hear news stories about pastors who are doing all in their power to spread hate, like the pastor in Florida who has plans to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, I’m tempted to distance myself as far as possible from all pastors and churches. If churches represent hate to more people in the world than they do love, I want to find another way.” (Halfway to Normal’s emphasis)

Those of us alienated by men-only ordination in the LCA so easily experience Church as hateful.  When women are excluded generation after generation, yet are unhindered in public life, when the institution belittles a woman’s call, yet cannot fill parish vacancies, the implications are clear.  It is not surprising that Church can be experienced as hateful.

Fortunately Kristin Tennant found a welcoming, embracing church community where the pastor reminded her in a sermon, “I need to be with brothers and sisters in Christ so I don’t forget what I’m about—what God wants to do through me.”

If you are growing weary of the LCA’s disconnectedness and current direction, please hang-in there.  Don’t walk away from this Church. We need you so that we “don’t forget what (we) are about.” Do what you must to change the Church.   Who do you need to connect to?  Who should you write to?  Talk about it in your congregation.   What can your congregation do about it?  If your pastor isn’t interested in supporting you, find those who will. Connect with this blog, with Women’s Ministry Network or with the Facebook page, Women’s Ordination in the Lutheran Church of Australia.

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Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Uncategorized


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The President wishes women’s ordination delayed

The President of the LCA, Pr Mike Semmler, claims that he has never made his views on women’s ordination public, however, his actions speak loudly.

This came from the President’s Page on 23rd June, 2010:

At the General Convention of Synod in 2009 the General Church Council was asked to establish a dialogue group to work toward consensus both within the group and across the group and across the Church on the question of the ordination of both men and women with reference to the published findings of CTICR and a focus on biblical interpretation.  At the recent General Church Council meeting draft terms of reference for this dialogue group were presented.  Council determined that some fine tuning of the terms needed to be done by the College of Presidents with a view to approving the terms of reference and beginning to appoint members to the group by the end of 2010.
The president has also commissioned a study on what ‘consensus’ means for the LCA, on the basis of its confession as a Lutheran Church, and a synod which is the result of two former churches coming together.
(all text in bold has been highlighted by the author of this blog)

It is apparent that the President:

  • doesn’t wish women’s ordination to happen on his watch, and
  • wishes it to be delayed, possibly indefinitely

The 2006 General Synod of the LCA approved that a committee should be established to consider how a split in the Church could be avoided over the issue.  At the 2009 General Synod, effectively the same motion was passed again.

It now looks like we might start to get a committee by the end of 2010 (read 2011) and as the next General Synod is 2012 the committee can hardly be expected to achieve anything of substance.  Oops, sorry about that!  Ah, well!  We’ll have just have to aim towards 2015.

Taking such a long time to establish a committee, in response to a General Synod directive, is hardly acting in good faith or showing good process.  Creating extra time delays (approving the terms of reference, commissioning a study on what ‘consensus’ means), when 2/3 of LWF churches already ordain women, will lead to further frustration and eventually an outpouring of emotion, which may impact the Church in unexpected ways.  The President should be aware that he is creating the split that he says he wishes to avoid.  It has long been happening with individuals quietly leaving the Church (as per declining statistics nation-wide), but in addition there will come a time when congregations finally lose faith in the national process and decide to take action of their own.

Note that the wording of the motion from General Synod implicitly indicates that women’s ordination will eventually be approved, however, Pr Semmler’s actions give the impression that women’s ordination is a radical matter. This is not the case.  CTICR has ruled that there are no theological roadblocks to women’s ordination. If the LCA is as faithful as it hopes to be, it is imperative that the LCA acts promptly to fulfil God’s reign of love in this place, in this time.  Of course it will be unsettling for some, but no congregation is ever going to be forced to call a female.  As it stands many are forced to call males.

It’s worth noting the revisionist clause inclused in the motion,  “…and a focus on biblical interpretation”.  Strange!  CTICR spent many years on that one, but now we’re pretending that the report never happened.   Still, the President says that he’s never made his views public on women’s ordination.

The following comment, which came across my desk, is a pertinent observation on how strange the process is.

It’s going to take the next three years to set up Lance’s task group and agree on its terms of reference.  Just to make sure of it we’re going to be sidelined by discussing what “consensus” might mean in the LCA.  My hunch is that someone will state that it’s not a confessional term and should never be used because it doesn’t faithfully represented the meaning in the original Latin and German.  Then we’ll spend a synodical term trying to find the right word.  By which time English will have changed so much that the “right word” will have become redundant too.  I sense that Josef Heller is writing this entire script.

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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in Uncategorized


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