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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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The growing list of Lutheran churches ordaining women

In 2012, we first posted the incomplete list of Lutheran Churches which ordain women. We have now updated the list but it is still a long way from being complete. Can you help us?

 

1926 The Netherlands – Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Nederland ordains female priests
1927 Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany accepts Pfarrhelferinnen (Assistants to Priests), 1930s woman Vicars. In Eastern part of  Germany women took over more and more as actual priests during WW2, and remained so after  the war.
1930(estimation) Germany – Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Hanover
1960 Women priests in West Germany and 1978 total equality with male priests.
Before 1938 Lutheran Church in Austria Vicars
1948 Denmark – Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
1948 The Lutherans in Schlesia
1951 Slovakia — The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession
1960 Sweden – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden
1961 Norway – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norway
1964 Belgium – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium
1970’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
1974 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland
1986/88 Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
1988 Indonesian Lutheran Church
2000 The Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons. It is a united church which dates back to the 1970 local merger of Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and other Protestants
2000 USA (South Carolina) – ordained women at its inception
2001 Ethiopia – Ethiopian Lutheran Church ordains women
2002 Central African Republic
2004 Taiwan – Lutheran Church of Taiwan ordains first women pastors
2005 Zambia – Zambian Lutheran Church ordains first female pastors.
2006 Norway – Evangelical Free Church of Norway (a nationwide Lutheran Church) ordains its first female pastors.
2008 – The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church.  15 out of the 16 LWF member churches in the Latin American and Caribbean region now ordain women – dates yet to be determined
2009 Mexican Lutheran Church
2009 Cameroon Lutheran Church.
2011 The South Andhra Lutheran Church (SALC) in India ordained its first women pastors on 12 January
2012 Cameroon – Evangelical Lutheran Church ordains first women ministers.
2014 Lutheran Church in Chile ordains its first woman pastor. Link Link2

It is our understanding that in 2000 over 90 Lutheran Churches worldwide ordained women.  We are waiting confirmation of details.

Women Bishops (some of them)
1993 Church of Norway – First woman bishop Link
1997 Church of Sweden – Christina Odenberg
2001 Evangelical Church of Bremen – Margot Käßmann
2003: The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church (GCEPC) USA — Nancy K. Drew
2007: Evangelical Lutheran Church in CanadaSusan Johnson
2009 Great Britain – First woman bishop of Lutheran Church of Great Britain is consecrated
2009: Evangelical Church in Central GermanyIlse Junkermann
2010: Evangelical Lutheran Church of FinlandIrja Askola
2011 Hong Kong – Jenny Chan installed as Bishop of Lutheran Church of Hong Kong
2011: North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran ChurchKirsten Fehrs
2011: Evangelical Church of WestphaliaAnnette Kurschus, titled praeses
2012: Church of IcelandAgnes M. Sigurðardóttir. Link1  Link2 (in language)
2012: Church of DenmarkTine Lindhardt
2012 ELCA Alaska Synod installs first woman bishop
2013: Evangelical Lutheran Church of AmericaElizabeth Eaton

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in theology

 

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Jimmy Carter: Women’s Plight Perpetuated By World Religions

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter as shown in The Huffington Post 28th June 2013

While it may seem harsh that Jimmy Carter blames religious leaders for mistreatment of women across the world, blame needs to be allocated amongst those who carry the power – blame for complicity, whether it’s active or passive.

Through discerning the times, leadership has the potential for prophetic leadership, to provide new direction guided by compassion and justice, to reflect on the best way to prepare membership for change.  If that opportunity is not taken up then leadership becomes part of the problem.

NewsATLANTA — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says religious leaders, including those in Christianity and Islam, share the blame for mistreatment of women across the world.The human rights activist said Friday religious authorities perpetuate misguided doctrines of male superiority, from the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to some African cultures mutilating the genitals of young girls.Carter said the doctrines, which he described as theologically indefensible, contribute to a political, social and economic structure where political leaders passively accept violence against women, a worldwide sex slave trade and inequality in the workplace and classroom.

via Jimmy Carter: Women’s Plight Perpetuated By World Religions.

Half the Sky is a sober reminder of the brutal treatment of women and girls all around the world – a highly recommended read!

Times have changed. Just a few decades ago women in the LCA were treated as children.  They could serve in no public way (Sunday School seemed to be acceptable), could take no representative role, nor could they take any role of leadership.

Before 1966 women experienced virtually total inequality in the Church, even though all members presumably would have accepted that “in Christ there is no East nor West.”

Note how recently women were granted various responsibilities in the LCA (a post from this blog)

  • 1966 voting at congregational meetings
  • 1981 being delegates at Synod
  • 1984 being a member of church boards and committees
  • 1984 included in the guidelines for reading lessons in worship
  • 1989 assisting in the distributing of Holy Communion
  • 1990 being lay assistant as an alternative to elder
  • 1990 being chairperson of a congregation
  • 1998 being synodical chairperson
  • 2003 lay-reading

Times have changed but women are still denied full inclusion.

The doctrine of the LCA has contributed to a political and social structure where presidents have passively accepted the inequality of women.  This is ironic in a system that values education so deeply and where girls are clearly taught, through Bible study and role-modelling, that they are equal in all ways with boys.  One cannot educate the young with values of equality and integrity and honestly expect them to fore-go their equality and calling later in life.

We suggest that religious leaders at all levels carry blame for the decades since union it has taken to recognise women thus far.  There will need to be a time of apology to women. The LCA will need to apologise, living emeritus presidents will need to apologise and congregations will need to apologise for having ignored women for so long.

We have learnt that the personal is political – a feminist phrase during the late 60s and 70s where ‘political’ refers to any power relationship – but the spiritual is also political, for spirituality can be used to repress or lift up.  Jimmy Carter is referring to the former. It’s worth noting that Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were once members of the Southern Baptist Church.

The couple recently disassociated from Southern Baptists, citing its prohibition on ordaining women or allowing them to serve as deacons or in other leadership posts in local congregations. Ref

 

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Women’s Ministry Network page – Version 2

Women's Ministry Network image

Women’s Ministry Network image

The Women’s Ministry Network webpage has been redesigned, thanks to Isabel Mason and Tanya Wittwer.  The site, is still a work in progress but, as a webpage is an evolving thing, additions will continue over coming months. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that it corresponds roughly with International Women’s Day, a day that seems to go mostly unnoticed in the LCA.

There are significant resources on the new website that provide the theology and history of the debate on women’s ordination in the LCA.  There are study-guides, conference galleries and women’s stories from Biblical days and today, as well as current news.  These stories need to be heard for us all to understand the importance of acknowledging women’s faith and spirituality, as well as their leadership and wisdom.  The days are gone when women are seen simply as an adjunct to men.

It’s a great resource and worth coming back to.  Bookmarking the site may be the way to go.

Here’s the site, one more time.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in women's ordination

 

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Civil Rights

Black college student Dorothy Bell, 19, of Birmingham, Alabama, waits at a downtown Birmingham lunch counter for service that never came, April 4, 1963. She was later arrested with 20 others in sit-in attempts. (AP Photo) From The Atlantic

This chilling photo records the racism that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks (amongst many others) were fighting against in the USA.  It is from a series entitled: 50 Years Ago: The World in 1963.

We were not so different in Australia.  In Queensland, South Sea Islanders were blackbirded (perhaps ‘kidnapping’ and ‘press-ganged’ will be understood by more people) into enforced labour in the Qld canefields during the mid to late 19th Century.  They were repatriated in 1906-08 by the Australian government.  Ref: Wikipedia.  It was slavery by another name.   Australians grew wealthy on enforced labour and on stolen land from Aboriginal people.

It’s always interesting to note the religious justifications for racism and slavery, and any injustice.  Women’s marginalisation is no different.

Those of us who work with gifted women, who have sat under the scholarship of women theologians and who have experienced the pastoral care of female chaplains and pastors, are dismayed at the continuing dismissal of women’s ordination in the LCA.  It is every woman’s civil right to be given the same respect as men.  It is difficult to believe that 50 years after the US civil rights movement, and 45 years after Aborigines were granted full Federal citizenship, that LCA women are still deemed lacking for ordained ministry.

What is it that you might do to raise awareness of the lack of recognition of women in the LCA?

Please leave your comment and suggest what people might do to bring about change.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in history, women's ordination

 

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Patriarchy in SA colonial Lutheran schooling

Despite South Australian colonial Lutherans being ‘model citizens’, history records that patriarchy was well entrenched in their tradition.

This post records the exclusion, in the main, of women from higher education and leadership in Lutheran  churches and schools in the first 80 years of the Lutheran school system (as recorded in The Patriarchs: A history of Australian Lutheran Schooling, by Richard Hausler, 2009).

Lutheran theology is known internationally for speaking with some clarity about grace and forgiveness.  The Lutheran tradition is also known for its reformist origins and breaking with Catholic corruption, conservatism and wealth.  It is therefore not immediately apparent why the LCA has chosen a conservative incarnation of the Lutheran tradition when many other synods have a higher level of engagement with society and contemporary values.  This post provides historical clues from the first 80 years of Lutheran settlement in Australia.

(p25) “One point that needs to be made is that while Lutheran leaders of the nineteenth century qualified as patriarchs in the sense that they presided over a system which strongly discriminated against females, the same was generally true of the situation which pertained in most of nineteenth century society.  There was also common discrimination against women in all education systems of the era.  For instance, in Victoria the Public Service Act of 1883 included provisions for excluding women from the principalships of all except the smallest schools in the state system. Their salaries were also set at eighty percent of the male rate.  In fact women often served in school positions which attracted a modicum of pay but demanded considerable professional expertise.  The term “sewing mistress” depicted such a role which was humbly remunerated but could involve teaching over the whole curriculum up to full time.  This situation was echoed in the other states.

However, it must also be pointed out that the Lutheran patriarchs presided over a system, which was even more discriminatory against women than society in general.  There was an assumption that leadership in the family, church and society belonged to men.  In part it was a result of Christian beliefs.  To this extent their discrimination was not motivated by their desire to exercise power.  They placed themselves under the authority of the Bible which, they believed, taught that the man should be the head of the house, that wives were subject to their husbands, that women should not speak publicly in the church and that only men could be ordained as pastors.  In part it was the traditional practice of their church.  Men sat on one side of the congregation while women and children sat on the other, and all positions of leadership from pastor and teacher, to lay reader and elder, as well as voting rights and committee memberships were the domain of men.  There was even the unsavoury practice when an unmarried woman became pregnant that she, but not the father, had to appear before the congregation to express repentance.

These patriarchal assumptions spilled over into the schools.  There was always a close connection in Lutheran schools between the roles of pastor and principal. …Being a teacher  in the Lutheran church was one step away from being a pastor, a role reserved for men.  So it was not surprising that men should run the schools as well.  Women, in contrast, were often involved in school enterprises, but always in a subsidiary role.  …

(p27)From the very beginning girls were automatically enrolled in congregational schools just as the boys were.  Significantly, however, it was in the institutions of higher learning that girls had a decidedly lesser place.  For instance,  for the first five years of Immanuel College (secondary) at Point Pass, only two of the first thirteen students were female. At the rival synod’s college called Concordia there were no female students enrolled at all between 1890 and 1926.  This reflected the belief that while female students required a basic Christian education in order to be taught the fundamentals of the faith and to read their Bibles and the confessions of the church, because of their gender they did not qualify for the training to become leaders in the church.

The communities of Prussian, rural, antipodean citizens, who clung to the German language for many years in their schools in Australia, had an exclusive understanding of what was appropriate for females and males in their schools and for leadership at home, school and church.  While it was accepted that girls should have compulsory schooling until the age of fourteen, is this because Prussia instituted the very progressive, compulsory schooling for all children in 1763, approximately 100 years before Australian colonies.  One wonders what value might have been placed on female education in primary schools if this was not the case.

While some concerned LCA members bemoan the influence of culture in our Church today, they seem to be unaware of the influence of their own culture on their thinking.  While stating that their theology is determined purely from Scripture, their blindness to their own historical influences ensures that culture maintains a strong influence on how they interpret Scripture.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in history, sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

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Ancient Athens and the LCA – the similarity between women and slaves

Women washing clothes in Athens

The similarity in attitude towards slaves and women in ancient Greece is uncanny.   Despite incremental recognition for women since that time, it seems similar ancient misogynist values still apply in the Church.

Their father controlled them before they were married

Their spouse controlled them once they were married… Ref

Women had very little influence, or power in Greek society and were not highly regarded until they could produce a child…

There was a disdainful attitude to women:

Euripides from his book ‘ Meda’ writes; ‘If only children could be got some other way without the female sex! If women didn’t exist, human life would be rid of all its miseries’   Ref

… and this was congruent to the attitude towards slaves:

Most ancient writers considered slavery not only natural but necessary. Ref

It is surprising that the birthplace of democracy was so inequitable towards women. Perhaps it created the structures for millenia of misogyny and racism, or perhaps it simply bolstered attitudes that were there in pre-Grecian society.

While this astounding, prophetic, self-congratulatory society was flawed at the core, we see the same flaw in the LCA with a despicable attitude towards women. While Lutheran theology has provided a significant contribution to the modern church, the chauvinist attitude of key LCA figures will be a thing of shame in the annals of history.

 
 

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