Tag Archives: history of the lutheran church

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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The formation of another Lutheran synod – LCA history – Wikipedia

The LCA has a grand history of division.  Those who resist women’s ordination hold the Confessions as a key reference, while implying that supporters obviously have forsaken the Confessions. The truth is that we all, including Kavel and Fritzsche (below), hold The Confessions as central to Lutheranism.

Sometimes division is the only way to unity.  Some inconsistencies are just too big to tolerate.

This is what division looks like in LCA history.

At the synodical gatherings of 1844, and 1845 the subject of millennialism was discussed. Kavel who had developed millennialistic views, was preaching on the subject. Fritzsche disagreed with millennialism, and had the subject discussed at these gatherings. No resolution was reached by the end of the synod in 1845. This disagreement between the two pastors divided the Lutheran community.

In 1846, Kavel released a proclamation regarding the power of civil government in the church. Kavel specifically pronounced disagreements with the Lutheran Confessions, favoring instead statements made in the new adopted church constitution formulated in 1838. Fritzsche explicitly disagreed with Kavel, affirming the Confessions over the constitution. As a result the divide between the followers of Fritzsche and of Kavel intensified.

At the synodical gathering at Bethany, on 16 and 17 August 1846, the most significant event took place. The subject of millennialism was once again tabled, and as the discussion became heated, Kavel and his followers left the synod. They went to nearby Langmeil and had their own synod gathering there, while the remainder continued with their synod. The followers of Kavel formed the Immanuel Synod, and those of Fritzsche the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia renamed to Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia (ELSA) in 1863.

via History of the Lutheran Church of Australia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in history, sociology, theology


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