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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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Richard Rohr: learning from midrash

Richard Rohr reminds us of the ‘yes and no’ approach to Bible study, learned from Jewish tradition, where it was called midrash.  In community we learn from each other and respond to invitations to go in different directions by those in our midst.

Yes, And. by Richard Rohr

Yes, And. by Richard Rohr

Jewish Midrash

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I think we learned the Sic et Non approach in the early Christian period from our Jewish ancestors. They called it midrash. Midrash was a different way of coming to truth. It was simply where you get together and look at Scripture in an open—but faith-filled—way: It could mean this; it could mean that. It might challenge you in this direction; it might invite you in that direction. [1]

Jewish midrash extrapolated from the mere story to find its actual spiritual message. We all do the same when we read anyway, but Jesus and his Jewish people were much more honest and up front about this. Fundamentalists pretend they are giving the text total and literal authority, but then it always ends up looking like what people in that culture would want to believe anyway. (Remember, good Bible Christians in the U.S. Confederacy and in South Africa were quite sure the Scriptures justified oppression and enslavement of black people.)

To take the Scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Serious reading of Scripture will allow you to find an ever-new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition. [2]

[1] From Sic et Non; Yes, And webcast recording (MP3 download)

[2] Adapted from Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations, p. x

Gateway to Silence:
Yes . . . and . . .

Of course, we make the association with women’s ministry (or lack thereof) in the Lutheran Church of Australia, in which this blog’s authors reside.   Decades of Bible study on this matter within our communion surely have given understanding that literal use of Scripture to prove various church position erodes its power to transform people. “Let darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness (be) our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.

We can live with each other. In fact, we must. We are family – a family of diverse experience and world view. We can love each other and not pretend that we are identical. We are, after all, not so different to the sit-coms that have family seated around the Christmas table, rubbing up against each others prejudices and making faux pas to be laughed about in coming years.

By loving each other in our difference, we will grow together toward places yet unimagined.  God’s work is surely not complete – there is more in store for each of us.

 
 

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Why St Stephen’s Congregation Support the Ordination of Women

St Stephen’s has published a document explaining why it supports women’s ordination.

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the late Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball, Suncreek UMC http://www.aglorybe.com/memorial/kathleen_b.html

Why St Stephen’s Support the Ordination of Women

The Bible and Lutheran theology endorse the ordination of women (‘Final report on the ordination of women’, CTICR, 1999), and the overwhelming majority of Lutheran churches in the world ordain women.

Scripture
The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20), and the Bible gives clear evidence that women served in both of these offices, among others (e.g. Ex 15:20; Judg 4:4; 2 Kgs 22:14; Isa 8:3; John 20:17,18; Acts 18:26; 21:9; Rom 16:1,3,7; 1 Cor 11:5). This continued in the early church until the church started to exclude women from the ministry in the fourth century.
Texts used previously in the LCA to exclude women from such activities as leading Bible studies, lay reading, voting at congregational meetings, and chairing congregations (1 Cor 14:33–36 and 1 Tim 2:11–15) are now used only to exclude women from the public ministry. A contextual understanding of these passages shows they have to do with none of these matters. Rather, they express Paul’s sincere concern that worship be conducted decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40), so that people can be built up in faith and love, a priority that has been expressed variously throughout the history of the church.

Pastoral Care
Some people prefer to confide in a woman rather than a man regarding pastoral concerns, or regarding specific pastoral issues. While laity also provide pastoral care, when this care connects with the church’s public worship and witness it has an additional dimension. Ordaining women as well as men enhances and extends access to pastoral care within the context of the means of grace.

Ministry
For Lutherans the heart of the ministry consists of the pure proclamation of the gospel and the right administration of the sacraments, in order to draw people to Christ and to sustain them in faith (Augsburg Confession 5), not the gender of the pastor.
Continuing to insist on an all-male pastorate perpetuates a requirement that is not biblical and undermines and subverts the gospel.
With both men and women as pastors, the ministry as a whole more truly represents and reflects Jesus Christ, the true image of God, who in his humanity has embraced the whole human race.

The members of St Stephen’s long for the day when the LCA joins those churches that have acted on the conviction that ordaining women is a vital part of our being faithful to the Gospel.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in theology, women's ordination

 

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Call me ‘apostate’

We are recently aware that some clergy and ALC students (future clergy) state that they would vote for women’s ordination if homosexuality was not an abomination.   Strange logic indeed, but of course the hope is that by blocking women’s ordination, the ordination of gay and lesbian people can also be blocked.

It is of some concern that pastors function under such reasoning.  The ethical base of such decision making is somewhat dubious. Restricting the giving of justice to one group of people because you are fearful of another group getting ahead would suggest a compromised values base and perhaps reflects a desire to manipulate one group in order to achieve aims with another group.  There is no room for continuing to support patriarchy in the name of impeding the leadership of homosexual people.  That is a debate that the LCA is yet to have, and yes, we do support the ordination of gay and lesbian peopel.  However, to delay justice to women is to deny them justice.

In response to the repeated claim that homosexuality is an abomination, it’s time that our theologically trained leadership showed a little more scholarship and wisdom.   These are people who have spent years studying Scripture.  They can do better than referring to ancient culture-bound phrases to prove their point.

Word Of A Woman reflects on this selective use of Scripture and how other texts are conveniently ignored.  Years of study at ALC should provide pastors with the theological skills to remain consistent in their use of Scripture.  Why is it not so?

I support several things the Bible calls an abomination and some it just says are wrong. GASP! Say it isn’t so!!! (I bet my friends from the beginning of the article probably also support some of these given I have seen their sideburns). That’s right lovelies, along with fully supporting my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I also support:

  • Eating shellfish
  • Having sex with a woman (you are married to) who is on her period (if she is consenting, OBVIOUSLY)
  • The menswear look for ladies (hello, Diane Keaton)
  • Kilts for the dudes
  • Cutting your sideburns
  • Re-marrying someone you divorced (I have known several couples who have done this)
  • Marrying someone new after you get divorced
  • I am decidedly pro bacon, pepperoni, honeybaked ham, carnitas and pork chops.
  • Wearing clothing with more than one type of fiber
  • I am down with crop rotation (I come from several generations of farmers)
  • There is a bunch of stuff the Bible says you can’t touch, some are kind of gross but I am cool with you touching them (for instance I am for you touching a dead pig for the purposes of playing football)
  • Tattoos, even though I don’t have any
  • Long hair for men and short hair for women
  • Women praying with their heads uncovered
  • Women teaching men and/or boys and/or other women/girls (yes, even in church)
  • Women NOT being property of either father or husband or brother or dead husband’s brother
  • I am cool with it if you don’t want to marry your rapist
  • If your husband is getting mugged and you think you can stop things by grabbing the guys junk really hard…I promise I won’t cut off your hand
  • I won’t be mad if you don’t stone your kid for dishonoring you
  • I am even good with you working on Saturday or Sunday or even paying someone else to work by serving you lunch after church (I know I do)

Here is the thing, these two guys do not follow every instruction given in the Bible. They. Just. Don’t. They interpret. They pick and they choose. And I am sure they use all sorts of things to support their beliefs. So do I. So do I. I don’t know about you but when I read scripture, some things are crystal clear, some are blurry and some are downright opaque. The clearest thing I can find is that I am supposed to love God and love people, ALL PEOPLE. No if. No until. No unless. I just don’t think Jesus gives me another option.

BONUS: DID YOU NOTICE APOSTATE LITERALLY MEANS “RUNAWAY SLAVE” IN THE GREEK. I KIND OF LIKE THAT.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Hermeneutics, theology, women's ordination

 

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Invitation from Pr John Henderson, Bishop

Pr John Henderson invites members to write to The Lutheran

Pr John Henderson, Bishop,  invites members to write to The Lutheran

We have been invited to write to The Lutheran with our views on women’s ordination.  You can imagine the many conservative pastors that will put pen to paper with their distinctive perspective on things religious, so it is useful that the voice of the membership is heard in this discussion.  Without that voice it will seem like the voice of conservative pastors is the only one out there, even though most LCA members are in favour of women’s ordination.

It is the voice of conservative pastors which is loudest against women’s ordination, and it is also that voice which is most strident and most intolerant of diversity within the LCA.

Don’t be a stranger.  Write to the Lutheran.  Express your thoughts on why women’s ordination is vital in your context.  While we don’t wish to compete in a letter writing competition and while letters cannot all be printed, it is vital that local voices are expressed in The Lutheran and heard by our Bishop.

Please be a part of this discussion.  Don’t leave it to others. Express your dreams and longings and leave your imprint on the LCA.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in sociology, theology, women's ordination

 

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It takes two sides to build a bridge

The issues in the LCA are similar to that of UK Anglicans and their debate over women bishops.  Women’s ordination, of course, is inevitable in the LCA, but will Synod have clarity and strength enough to be clear that there cannot be a ‘church within a church’ where women are not recognised. The following article describes how those opposed to women bishops were intent on non-recognition, non-collaboration, non-acceptance, and in some cases non-communion.

One of our challenges is for women to even be included in the coming debate at Pastors’ Conference in 2015, which will discuss the issue and make recommendations to Synod.  It is an absurd situation to be in, equal to male parliamentarians 100 years ago voting on whether women should have the vote.

The presence of women, to ensure accountability, is essential to the integrity of any debate that decides the future of women’s participation in the LCA.  It is far too easy to ‘other’ women (used as a verb) without consulting them.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 9.43.13 PMThe Christian message is at heart about reconciliation. But the church which is supposed to proclaim and live that message has often failed to do so in its own life and example, sometimes spectacularly.

The row over women bishops in the Church of England will be seen by many as another example of this, which is why Archbishop of Canterbury designate Justin Welby – no stranger to conflict zones – was so keen to emphasise at General Synod this afternoon that the vocation of the C of E ought to be “how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates that we can manage diversity of view without division; diversity in amity, not diversity in enmity.”

That is a right, bridge-building note to strike. But it did not work with the hardened minority. For the reality is that it takes two sides to build a bridge, and one of the difficulties of the current situation is that some opponents of full women’s ministry in the Church of England clearly want to be able to maintain a ‘church within a church’ based on non-recognition, non-collaboration, non-acceptance, and in some cases non-communion.

(more)

 
 

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Letter to the Bishop

writing_hand

Dear John,

Now that you are our elected Bishop, there are a few things we expect of you.
We expect you to love God.
We expect you to love the church, and this small part of it, the LCA.
We expect you to know that we are deeply flawed, and deeply deeply loved and forgiven.
We expect you to stay grounded in your faith, your family, your friends, so that you can weather the difficult times we will cause, and know when you need time out, so you do not lose perspective.
We expect you to pray.
We expect you to know that we are praying for you.

Alongside these things we are also hopeful.
We hope you will know (usually) when it’s time to listen and when it’s time to speak.
We hope you will know (usually) when it’s time to wait and when it’s time to act.
We hope you will know much joy in your work with us, enough that when it’s time to leave the work aside, you will be glad you took on this challenge.

With love,
Marsha

 

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in pastoral

 

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