TO THE COLLEGE OF PRESIDENTS September 2012
Commit your way to the Lord, Trust Him and he will act..Psalm 37 v5
Thank you for your reply to my letter. I really appreciate your concern in the conversation about ordaining women in God’s mission in the LCA. I sense that you personally feel reluctant to favour ordaining women. I feel that I can add some helpful insights in the journey of women as I am now fairly old (!) and have actually collected anecdotal data on the journey on which God sent me. My experiences may help you younger men understand how some things in our Lutheran Church came to be. May the Holy Spirit give me wisdom and discretion as I write.
It’s interesting to note that ordination is not a mandate of scripture so we are all still commanded to “Go and tell”. We used to do that a lot … women and men. Some still do.
I’ll take you back in time to the early 1960’s. I attended Concordia Seminary, State Teachers’ College and University. After graduating the Lutheran Church called me to New Guinea. I was excited as my Dad had been a missionary in New Guinea and I had had a heart for mission for some years. The church sent me to Melbourne to study Linguistics so I could learn the local language and do translation. Then I would be off to New Guinea, my first job as a teacher! My future Husband also had a call to New Guinea, and we planned to go to New Guinea and get married after a year or two. Teachers were urgently needed in N.G.and the Lutheran Church asked us to consider marrying before we went to N.G. so we could be housed together and teach in schools nearby. So we married, went to New Guinea where we each had a full time teaching position so going to work each day. When pay day arrived my husband was paid and I was not paid. On querying where my pay was I was told, “You are just a wife and we don’t pay wives”. On the one hand I was dumbfounded but on the other hand I was young, I loved my job and believed that God had called me to bring the message of love to people, who only a few years before had been cannibals. I taught full time for two years with no pay and then part time while having a family. The Government of New Guinea paid the Lutheran Church my salary, as they did for all registered expatriate teachers, but the Lutheran church has never passed that money on to me.
I am recounting this to illustrate the status in which women were held in the Lutheran Church. This was the social structure in a culture which coloured the attitude of Lutheran churches before union, and then after union. So women in Australia weren’t ordained. Women were not considered worthy and somehow we didn’t challenge it as we should have. We were all very keen for union to happen and that was our focus. We were sure that after union Women would soon be ordained in Australia. Many of us were carrying out pastoral duties.
My parents were criticized for sending me to Concordia boarding College for a secondary education because, as a girl, I should stay home and help look after my 4 younger brothers. We did not have high schools in the country towns. That was the culture.
God was shaping me. I didn’t rebel against the Lutheran church but perhaps we should have been more questioning. I’ve always trusted God to sort it/us out, but sometimes God expects us to be proactive as we are given wisdom and understanding.
I recall as a child, witnessing a woman being excluded from a Lutheran Church because she did not have a hat to wear. She looked as if she could not afford a hat and, as a child, that impacted on me … I still feel quite uncomfortable when people tell me that was not an isolated incident of women being rejected because they had no hat. I hope other denominations accepted these women. That was our culture, not God’s love.
Another illustration of the status of women was when a friend of mine became pregnant to her fiancé in the early 1960’s. She had to stand up in front of a large city congregation to confess etc. HE didn’t have to even though he was part of it. I still cringe when I recall how women were victimised in our Lutheran culture. Culture drove Theology and Church laws.
Have you read the Deaconess History Book? There are so many sad stories.
We women were made so totally compliant with what men said and did, it’s hard to imagine why. In some cases we were far too compliant as we were much too afraid to report sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviours until recent years. There are some still not reported. That certainly is not God’s will . Just power! I recall the questioning of the validity of a person’s faith if that faith had been nurtured by a woman.
Fortunately, I have a pretty positive attitude,( although at times I did feel “put down”), as well as a fantastic husband who always encouraged me to follow my professional dreams. And God has always been acting for me and in me. The Holy Spirit sustained me and gave me wisdom and Jesus paid the price for me…Praise God.
As well as a culture of shaping me and other women, God was shaping the attitudes of men who witnessed arrogance and were ashamed. Now I notice that many men , including pastors, have been influenced by what they have seen and want to correct the behaviours. So many men have told me of their embarrassment over the bullying of women within the Lutheran culture. With God giving us guidance, we can move away from that behaviour and follow the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 11:11-12….in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
Jesus valued women : at the foot of the cross the men fled and the women stayed to minister: Mary, the first apostle, was told by Jesus to go and tell : Mary, the sister of Martha, was invited by Jesus to study with him in contrast to the culture of the time which had only men studying: the Samaritan woman was valued and went and told.
I was interested to read again what Sasse said back in 1971. Thank you for including it. As well as being a teacher and music teacher I am also a qualified teacher /librarian. I am therefore qualified in research procedures and practices. I have done a search to verify what Sasse says of Pope John and can not find any Primary Sources which would be able to verify the alleged incident with Dr. Gertrude Heizelmann and Pope John. I am at present working for Brisbane Catholic Education so I have access to Catholic Data. The only reference we can find is what Sasse himself wrote which , of course, is a secondary source with no primary credibility. We are wondering if he was perhaps there and heard Pope John say this, but we can’t find any evidence of that. It doesn’t fit Pope John’s profile but that would not rule it out if we could find a primary source. May be Sasse was indulging in some “story telling” embellishing a little to make a point. We find this in research when we have to distinguish Primary from Secondary Sources. It is interesting that Sasse points to the fact that Jesus included women in the order of ministry. I have researched Dr. Gertrude Heizelmann and found her to be an interesting, positive and gifted woman. The ordination of women is a topic of interest in the Catholic church where nearly 200 women have been ordained.
At the moment I find there is SO much work in the LCA in mission in Australia. A few weeks ago I was so happy to praise God when the Catholics asked me to lead a liturgy as no one was available…now isn’t that a miracle! ( I attained Catholic Accreditation some time ago through Australian Catholic University but they also recognised the Concordia Seminary Studies which I did). God is wonderful to find a way for Jesus’ mission to go on regardless of men’s restrictions and the way our culture colours our understanding of what Jesus is telling us to do. God, the source of ALL life and love, has given us his infallible word . I meet so many people who crave God’s love and forgiveness.
In this context, I listen to the voice of God through Scripture as I listen to the pain filled voices of women who hear God’s call to ministry but find their path blocked. I call on the Spirit for wisdom. “Jesus does not crush the weak or quench the smallest hope” Matthew 12:20. The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. How many souls are being kept out of heaven because WE didn’t embrace that call.
I was excited, Mike, to read on your President’s page Sept 5th that you are promoting Social Justice Sunday as the Gender Commission Mandate explores the inclusive ministry in all its forms within all NCCA members.
I have received a copy of John Kleinig’s email of 2006 in which he refers to lobbying retired pastors in and around Adelaide to come to synod to vote against women’s ordination in 2000. Sources indicate that they are again being lobbied for synod 2013. I can only pray to God that we open our hearts to HIS will to have souls with God in heaven and ordain the women and men called to do this in the Lutheran Church.
I’ve had cancer twice (2 different sorts), and golden staph once but God always bounces me back as a new creation to be an ambassador for Christ. The Spirit gives me such joy. I’ve tried twice to retire from teaching but I’m led back to teach children of God’s love. I’m in a Catholic School now after many years in Lutheran Schools. Even though congregations (both Lutheran and Catholic) are depleting, God’s word is being taught in Christian Schools (Lutheran, Catholic and many others). What a huge undertaking. We need social justice for the oppressed who have no hope of hearing and learning about God’s love and Jesus’ atonement unless women and men are allowed to tell them. Thankfully other denominations are growing.
I am including a review of “Half the Sky”, by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn a book I was given by a woman pastor friend. Mike I am sending you a copy of the book. The action research illustrates the urgency of our task here on earth, and concludes the best clue to a church’s growth and development is the status and role of women in the church.