Tag Archives: History

Women’s ordination and slavery – It’s easy to spot injustice and oppression in history

Slaves in the hold of a transport ship

It seems unlikely that in a few generations many will support today’s LCA notion that women cannot be called and equipped by God for ministry. The rest of the Church will look back in sadness and regret that women were so poorly treated. They will wonder at the inhumanity of the Church and, most likely, consider that they would never have participated in such systemic oppression of women.

As support for this hypothesis, we want to look at the way scriptural passages were used to support the notion of slavery. It is sad that so few people opposed this theology for hundreds of years, resulting in the dehumanising and deaths of countless thousands of people.

1. Slavery was divinely sanctioned by the patriarchs

Noah’s curse upon Canaan (Gen. 9:24-27) (the first appearance of slavery in the Bible) was a prophesy of the black African’s destiny.

Abraham is our godly example.  He was a great slave-owner. He received, possessed, and willed slaves to his children as property.  The Scripture says that the Lord blessed Abraham by multiplying his slaves (Gen 24:35), and an angel commanded the slave, Hagar, to return to her mistress (Gen 16:1-9), which “clearly support(ed) the fugitive slave law.” Hopkins (1864, 76-77)

Joseph saved many people from starvation because God commanded him to, “buy the people and the land, making them slaves to Pharoah.” (Gen 47: 15-25) (Stringfellow, in Elliot, 472)

2. Slavery was incorporated in Israel’s national constitution

God allowed two categories of slaves:  1. They were allowed to take foreigners as slaves and to will them to their descendants (Lev. 25:44-46).  2. Hebrews could will themselves and their families into slavery for a limited period of time. (Ex. 21 and Lev. 25)

3. Slavery was approved by Jesus and the apostles

Despite living amidst the brutality of slavery in the Roman Empire, Jesus and the apostles were not reported as speaking out against the practice. “It is impossible, therefore, to suppose that slavery is contrary to the will of God. … We accept the Bible terms as the definition of our slavery, and its precepts as the guide of our conduct.” (Pro-slavery Arguments, 1852,107-08)

Amongst other Biblical proof-texts, 1 Cor. 7:20-24 speaks clearly (Stringfellow), “as the Lord has called every one so let him walk”.

4. Slavery is a merciful institution

Through the practise of slavery, “millions of Ham’s descendants,” who otherwise “would have sunk down to eternal ruin,” have been, “brought within the range of the gospel influence.”  Hodge says (in Elliot, 848), “If the … course of abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and the apostles were (sic) wrong.”


The style of hermeneutic is similar to that applied to opposing women’s ordination.

There can be no justification for denying women the opportunity to respond to their call. When Scripture is used to justify an abusive position it reflects poorly on the hermeneutic, the scholar and the Church.


Elliott, E.W., ed (1969) Cotton is King and Pro Slavery Arguments… New York, Negro Universities Press (originally published 1860)

Hopkins, J.W. (1864) A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical and Historical View of Slavery from the Days of the Patriarch Abraham, to the Nineteenth Century, New York, W.I. Polley and Co.

Pro Slavery Arguments: Several Essays (1969) (orig published 1852), New York, Negro Universities Press.

Swartley, W.M. (1983) Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women, Herald Press, Scottsdale PA, USA.

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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Hermeneutics, history, theology


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Why women shouldn’t be “burdened” with the vote: 1915

The arguments against the full participation of women in society are intriguing. This anti-women’s suffrage poster, from 1915,  places full female participation in society in opposition to male participation, as if one will cause the downfall of the other. In fact, ironically, that argument is no more true than within today’s male-only ordination, which has forced many women out of the Church over many years.

The poster’s patronising arguments are not so different to those of today, when women are told that they are not made of the right stuff.

Why women shouldn’t be “burdened” with the vote: 1915 – Boing Boing.

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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in politics, sociology


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Sickness and Power in the State and Church

You may have noticed the strange behaviour of many heads of state.  The experience of being in power brings about psychological changes that can lead to grandiosity, narcissism, and irresponsible behavior. A few examples: Bob Hawke’s inability to pass the reigns of leadership to Paul Keating; John Howard’s dispatching the troops without even consulting his cabinet;  Kevin Rudd’s tyrannical attempts to micromanage just about everything; George W’s slash and burn around the world; Tony Blair’s maverick ignoring of his party.

Lord David Owen, a UK ex member of parliament, and neurologist, proposes a “hubris syndrome’, akin to post-traumatic distress, to explain the behaviour.  He discusses the extent to which illness can affect the decision-making of world leaders in his book In Sickness and in Power, and was recently on Radio National.

Leaders suffering from this political hubris syndrome believe that they are capable of great deeds, that great deeds are expected of them, that they know what is best under all circumstances, and that they operate beyond the bounds of ordinary morality.  Lord Owen gives examples of leaders who have lied about their health, had a compromised judgement and made irrational decisions.

Some definitions:

  • hubris – overweening pride, superciliousness (patronizing those considered inferior), arrogance, great belief in your own importance.  It was a crime in ancient greece.
  • ‘Hubris Syndrome’ – an acquired personality disorder that develops in high office, with three characteristics: excessive self-confidence, restlessness and inattention to detail.

Now, consider President Mike Semmler of the LCA.  He is a pleasant character, and pastorally has stood beside many in their time of need. However, when it comes to power, there is a change of character and many boxes can be ticked that might indicate hubris syndrome.  As Vice-President of the LCA, standing for the position of President in 2000, he declined to inform the Church that he was booked into hospital for a heart bypass.  If his use of the Presidential flowing red cloak is any indication, he clearly considers his position and himself as highly important.  Judging from District Presidents’ comments on how meetings of the Council of Presidents are administered, and how General Synod is manipulated he considers that he knows what is best under all circumstances.

Recently it has come to our attention that President Mike Semmler is considering standing again for the position in 2012, after a period of leadership that already spans twelve years.  Like Bob Hawke and many before him, this seems to indicate that he sees himself as being the only suitable person for leadership.

Hubris syndrome may well be an appropriate description for our Church leader, never-the-less, we have to rely on the institutions of democracy and divine inspiration to correct this situation.

“Angelo Roncalli was an Italian peasant who rose to become Pope John XXIII, one of the most beloved figures in Christian history.  During his service as pope, the Roman Catholic church underwent the major upheaval known as Vatican II, a tumultuous and controversial time of reform and change.  It is said that in the midst of this volatile time, Pope John would read his bedtime devotions, say his private prayers, and then, before turning out the light, would say to himself, “But who governs the church? You or the Holy Spirit?  Very well, then.  Go to sleep, Angelo, go to sleep.”

Here is the testimony.  We are all floating in a sea of mercy and grace and providence.  So go to sleep.  In confidence and trust, go to sleep.” (Long, 2004)

Long, Thomas G. Testimony : Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, Practices of Faith Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004, 156.


Posted by on January 10, 2011 in sociology


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A brief history of universal suffrage

Universal suffrage is not as self-evident as we might first think. Manhood suffrage and universal suffrage is a phenomena largely of the last 100 years. Even today women still do not have the vote in some Arab countries, which provides not a little irony for this writer. It is therefore not surprising that some people still haven’t made the mental adjustment that allows equality between female and male.

The earliest democracy was in Athens in 510BC, however, neither Athens nor the nearby Greek city states using democracy granted universal suffrage, for only free adult male citizens, who owned land, could vote. It seems that, as wonderful as democracy was, its virtues were considered too great for certain groups of people: women and slaves in particular. It is surprising to note that in Victoria, in the 1950s, there were still property ownership requirements to qualify as a representative in the Legislative Council.

Universal suffrage is still not a reality across the whole world. While it happened in Australia with Federation in 1901, Indigenous people had to wait until 1965. The Arab states are still discovering the concept and

Australia and Australian States:

  • 1854 Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Victoria – gold miners fight for manhood suffrage (amongst other demands) under the banner of, “No taxation without representation”- granted in Victoria within 12 months.
  • 1894 South Australian Women, including Indigenous women, were granted the right to vote. They were also granted the right to stand for Parliament, making SA the first in the world to do so.
  • 1899 Western Australian women could vote in state elections
  • 1902 NSW women were granted the right to vote
  • 1903 Tasmania granted women the right to vote
  • 1902 Australian women (except Aboriginal women) could vote for the new Commonwealth Parliament.
  • 1902 Women could stand Federal Parliament
  • 1905 Qld women were granted the right to vote
  • 1908 Victorian women were granted the right to vote
  • Women eligible for election to the State parliaments: 1915 Qld, 1918 NSW, 1920 WA, 1921 Tas, 1923 Vic.
  • 1962 Indigenous women and men given the vote for Federal elections. The states gave the vote over many different years.

The right to vote around the world – select dates

  • US, Wyoming 1869 – grants women the vote (4 years after the American Civil War), refuses to bend to Congress’ threat to revoke the vote, saying they would remain out of the United States 100 years rather than become a state without women’s suffrage
  • NZ 1892 – grants women the vote (first nation in the world)
  • UK 1918 – universal male suffrage
  • NZ 1919 – women have the right to run for the NZ legislature
  • USA 1920 – the vote was extended to women
  • UK 1928 – universal suffrage – men and women
  • UN 1948 – Provision of “universal and equal suffrage” in Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • USA 1965 – universal suffrage finally enforced and includes African-American citizens.

The LCA has approved women the roles of:

  • 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

While it is true that women already have the vote in the LCA, as yet they don’t have access to the ordained ministry, to Pastors Conferences. They don’t have access to the power to contribute to the work of the Church, both now and in the future.

If you hear someone say that this is not important, because clergy have no more power than lay people in the LCA, rest assured that you are listening to a clergyman, who is unaware of the power he has access to. Power is not the key issue however, rather, it is a matter of equality, being one in the Spirit, being equal in community and being able to serve as one is called.

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Posted by on September 3, 2010 in history


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Women’s Ordination in world Lutheran churches – updated June 16th 2014

World Lutheranism has been moving towards women’s ordination for nigh on a century. High Statistics on Lutheran Women’s Ordination Hide Reality of Marginalisation. 

Around 80 percent of the 145 LWF member churches ordain women. (updated on Katie and Martin on 16th Jan 2012)

The following list is not complete.  I would be grateful for any corrections or updates.

History of women’s ordination in world Lutheranism
1926 Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Nederland ordains female priests
1927 Evangelical Church in Germany accepts Pfarrhelferinnen (Assistants to Priests), 1930s woman Vicars. In Eastern part of  Germany women took more and more over as actual priests during WW2, and remained so after  the war.
1960 Women priests in West Germany and 1978 total equality with male priests.
Before 1938 Lutheran Church in Austria Vicars
1948 Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
1948 The Lutherans in Schlesia
1951 The Lutherans in Slovakia
1960 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden
1961 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Norway
1964 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
2002 Central African Republic
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.

Postscript 16th Jan 2012
2011 The South Andhra Lutheran Church (SALC) in India ordained its first women pastors on 12 January

Postscript 7th August 2012
1975 Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia – but “women’s ordination has been suspended” since 1993

Postscript 16th June 2014
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.
2009 Great Britain – First Bishop of Great Britain Lutheran Church installed.
2011 Hong Kong – Jenny Chan installed as the Head of Lutheran Church, Hong Kong
2012 Cameroon – Evangelical Lutheran Church ordains first women ministers.
2012 Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland installs its first woman bishop. Link1  Link2 (in language)
2014 Lutheran Church in Chile ordains its first woman pastor. Link
2014 Sweden’s first female archbishop sworn in. Link



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