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Prayer Vigil for Women’s Ordination at St Stephen’s

PRAYER-VIGILSt Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 152 Wakefield Street, Adelaide, has a prayer vigil on the day of the debate on women’s ordination (Friday 2nd October, 2015).  Sorry for the late notice.  It will be held from 9am until 7pm.  Consider joining the vigil to pray for our Church, for our women, for our leadership and for delegates from around Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to St Stephen’s Working Party on Women’s Ordination for organising the day.

Further news, (thanks, Jeff): Doctor Andrew Pfeiffer has been elected Assistant Bishop.  The politics of that is interesting.  Doctor Pfeiffer went to Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, USA (a seminary of the Lutheran Church – MIssouri Synod), to study for his doctorate.  Ever since, he has strongly opposed women’s ordination.  While at this stage he does not exercise much influence on this matter, in our opinion it is not healthy to sit too close to the LC-MS, which has removed clergy from their role of pastors for publicly supporting the ordination of women. Matthew Becker example  (Type “LCMS” into the search field of this blog – top right – for more on LCMS.)

Then there’s this official tweet today: “ requested that CTICR study the scriptural and theological understanding of subordination and the role of male headship in marriage”.  Sigh!  Male headship?  Are we really that out of touch with our world?   What a huge waste of energy!   CTICR studies its subject matter in fine detail and there will be months and months of discussion and debate.  It would seem more appropriate to be discussing how the LCA might offer leadership against the obscenity of The Coalition and Labor’s common platform of stopping the boats, or on climate change.

Synod has agreed to commit more resources to keeping children safe – a good initiative against domestic violence!   We understand that some people are maintaining that it’s still okay to hit children.  Ah, well!  Change comes slowly, but you knew that, especially if you are a woman in the LCA.

The #lcasynod Twitter feed today has mostly been official updates.  If you are at Synod your perspectives via Twitter would be appreciated.  Just include the following: “#lcasynod”  (without the quotation marks)

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in politics

 

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LC-MS Removes Rev. Dr. (and Prof) Matthew Becker From Its Role of Pastors

Prof Matthew Becker, Valparaiso University

Prof Matthew Becker, Valparaiso University

By now, many have heard the sad news that as of July 15 the Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker will be removed from the roster of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Rev. Becker has been an LCMS pastor for twenty six years, and is currently a Professor at Valparaiso University after having also served several years in the Concordia University System. Rev. Becker has consistently and faithfully spoken out against increasingly narrow interpretations of scripture which in recent years have been embraced by synodical officials as mandatory for any who would consider themselves to be Christian.    Ordain Women Now – an organisation within the LCMS (Read more for further detail)  Read here for Matt Becker’s record of the event.

The expulsion of Matthew Becker is an attempt to homogenise the LC-MS so that it speaks with one narrow theological voice.  However, in these changing multi-cultural and diverse societies it is just not realistic to expect that our theology will be as one.  It is realistic, however, to expect that in our journeying together our theology will grow closer.

We believe that a church should be stable and loving enough to hold differences of theology lightly, and that diversity will bring strength, not weakness.

Joining a church is not a statement that we agree with every theological stance that it may take. Rather, it is a statement that we are willing to journey together as we engage with Christ in our lives and what that might mean for our interaction with society and those around us.

The expulsion of Matthew Becker, rather than being an act of healing, is an act of self-destruction which will most likely lead to further expulsions and departures from the LC-MS.  In the end, the Gospel is not about law, it is about love and forgiving one another in Christ.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in politics

 

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The President disallows debate on women’s ordination

Yesterday, at General Synod, the President again imposed his will on the LCA.  He has been true to his word that women’s ordination would not occur on his shift.

After the recommendation coming from General Pastors’ Conference that women’s ordination should be discussed at General Convention, that is exactly what occurred.  Pr Semmler had to allow discussion because of this resolution, but that’s all it was – a discussion.

To begin with, he gave the floor to a couple of men from the Dialogue Group on forming consensus to report on their progress, but they offered nothing to help delegates in their deliberations.  The main thing they reported was that they had to learn to listen to each other.

In the ‘discussion’ conservative pastors knew that they didn’t need to speak. This is also attested to by the fact that a conservative pastor commented to a youth on Sunday at NOVO (youth camp) that they (conservative pastors) had figured out a way to get around the women’s ordination issue.  Around 18 people spoke in favour and 3 or 4 spoke against.

After Pr Semmler distributed one of his epistles to the Church against women’s ordination, the ‘discussion’ was brought to an end with the declaration that Pr John Henderson was the successful candidate for the position of bishop (nomenclature voted on earlier in the afternoon).   (Tues morning, Greg Pietsch was announced as the new Assistant Bishop.)

The following now need to be considered as we discern how the Holy Spirit would have us act:

  • the disregard for laity,
  • the lack of transparency,
  • the refusal to debate St Stephen’s motion,
  • the refusal to allow a vote,
  • the refusal to facilitate the will of delegates,
  • the dishonest claim that “in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”,
  • the duplicitous communication from Pr Semmler,
  • the sly sidelining of an issue that is important to the vast majority of members (not just delegates), and
  • the hypocritical use of Where Love Comes to Life as a General Convention theme.

The manipulation by Pr Semmler is so similar to that of Pres. Robert Preuss in the LCMS who took control of the St Louis seminary that used historical-biblical research to inform their thinking. (You can guess that the conservatives wanted to use Scriptural literalism as their only source of inspiration.)  That piece of history, which led to Seminex (seminary in exile) is reported in Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity by James Burkee.  The following is a review from Amazon.com

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod follows the rise of two Lutheran clergymen – Herman Otten and J. A. O. Preus – who led different wings of a conservative movement that seized control of a theologically conservative but socially and politically moderate church denomination (LCMS) and drove “moderates” from the church in the 1970s. The schism within what was then one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States ultimately reshaped the landscape of American Lutheranism and fostered the polarization that characterizes today’s Lutheran churches.Burkee’s story, supported by personal interviews with key players and church archives sealed for over twenty years, is about more than Lutheranism. The remaking of this one Lutheran denomination reflects a broader movement toward theological and political conservatism in American churches – a movement that began in the 1970s and culminated in the formation of the “Religious Right.”

In closing we note how the resistance to women’s participation in the LCA is dominated by clergy.  The following comment from Burkee about the LCMS equally applies to the LCA, “Through (their) inability to draw lay support to the conservative movement’s delegate- and convention-focussed strategy, the movement’s Pyrrhic victory had little to do with lay support.”
 
 

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Just Sayin’

Just making clear!  The last post required deep commitment to get to the end, so we include William Weiblen’s conclusion again.  His criticism of LCMS (in the previous post) is the same criticism that we make of LCA hierarchy today.   The hierarchy follows a strict father model, similar to the LCMS and pretends that the LCA has one voice.  The ‘strict father’ leadership believes there is only one view of the world and one theology, thereby ignoring the others in the family.

We were going to highlight what is relevant for the LCA today, but we decided it was obvious enough. (Reminder: The ALC was one of the synods that merged to form the ELCA)

Conclusion

Lutheran Self-Criticism

Another area that deserves consideration expressing some of the differences between the ALC and LCMS is that of how we are able to critically look at ourselves.  Each of us legitimately proceeds from our own confessional self-understanding and identification, but ALC people believe there is a sharp divergence either in the willingness or capacity of the LCMS rigorously to be self-critical.

It is the mark of totalitarianism in both religion and politics to insist on monolithic understanding to suppress dissent, to discredit premises which undergirds the lives of others.  to protect constituents from other points of view, to entrust guidance to an oligarchy, and to be fearful of religion.   When ALC teachers use language patterns suggesting that repentance encompasses the whole of life, that means ruing not only moral infidelity but doctrinal inflexibility. ALC  people are not seeking thereby to destroy the truth, they only want to say that all human formulations have a tentativeness within them.  They do not want Christian doctrine to become the occasion for idolatry.  Our trust is in God not in human formulations about God.

Lutherans have freely criticized others. They have postured themselves as ‘guardians’ of the truth – but they err on two counts; they have been loveless in their relationships and they have used truth as a dividing rather than a uniting tool.

Criticism from without will always have some effect.  It may reinforce prejudices already in control or it can generate honest review which eventuates in change.  But the desired condition is that critical self-analysis emerge from within.  To have that, a church must not only obey believe in the Reformation, but carry through the continuing reformation of the body of Christ.  Without this, churches becomes sects. While conscious of our own flaws, we would charitably suggest that the LCMS has much to learn in this respect.  The best of both worlds would bear much fruit if we would have vigorous evangelical, academically rigorous self-analysis as a natural part of each church.

 

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Toward understanding the LC-MS

Under the leadership of Pr Semmler, the LCA has snuggled closer to LCMS, but records of this evolution, to our knowledge, will not be found in committee minutes or official policy.

Should be we be strengthening ties with with LCMS, or should we take another route? Bill Weiblen, a pastor, chaplain, professor and president of Wartburg Theological College, Iowa, attempts to answer these questions for the ALC in 1980, some 8 years before the ELCA officially came into existence on January 1, 1988.  He writes on the differences between the ALC  and the ELCA. The American Lutheran Church (ALC) was one of three church that united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).  A brief timeline and flowchart of both churches is listed at the end of this post.

The post is lengthy and possibly imposing.  May I suggest you read the conclusion at the end of the quoted article.  To whet your appetite the following is an extract from that paragraph, “It is the mark of totalitarianism in both religion and politics to insist on monolithic understanding to suppress dissent.”

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Love Builds Up

Megan Greulich

Megan Greulich is the editor of Mutuality magazine and the membership coordinator for CBE. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she bakes special occasion cakes and volunteers with her church’s youth group.

“But 1 Corinthians 14 says that women should be silent in churches…right?” It was a shy question from a high school student, in the middle of a church fundraising supper. I had been chatting with this student and his family, and his father mentioned how the Bible passage had come up in discussion at their home a few days earlier. “I believe that women can be preachers. In fact, a woman pastor performed my wife’s and my wedding ceremony more than twenty years ago,” the father said to me as the mother nodded in agreement. “But we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and I didn’t know what to say to my son when he read those verses. Maybe you can help us understand.” The father, mother, and son all looked at me with tentative but curious faces.

We launched into a great discussion about the cultural context of the Corinthian church, about the surrounding verses in the letter, and about Paul’s approval of women leaders in other sections of his writings (check out these resources on 1 Corinthians 14 for more information). I love these kinds of conversations. I was so inspired by this family’s honesty, humility, and willingness to ask tough questions.

As we chatted, I watched the mother. While she said very little, I noticed how her eyes began to brighten. She even gently leaned forward in her chair—a sure sign, in our understated Minnesotan subculture, that she was getting excited. I recognized it because it matched my own response when I first heard egalitarian Bible interpretations. It was hope. And relief.

But then another young man at our table decided to jump into the conversation. Interrupting me, he very assertively declared, “All I know is that God will use women leaders only when the men aren’t doing their job and stepping up.”

His words, delivered in such stark contrast to the kind and gracious manner of our conversation up to that point, surprised me. And they stung. I looked across the table at the mother. “Wait…what?” She said under her breath. She slumped back into her chair. “Where does the Bible teach that?” I tried pressing the man. But he had no interest in dialoguing. “It’s there,” he responded gruffly, authoritatively.

“There is no teaching anywhere in the Bible that women are God’s second choice.” I said this more to the mother than to the young man. Yet the damage had been done, and the conversation was effectively over.

Jesus help us, is the simple but passionate prayer I find myself silently saying whenever I think about this encounter. For whatever reason, our conversation made that assertive man very uncomfortable. So he merely repeated—unquestioningly regurgitated, actually—an unbiblical teaching he had heard at church all his life. In his effort to silence the dialogue, he held no concern for what his words communicated to that mother, or to me, the only other woman involved. His lack of empathy, his lack of love, deflated the mother at our table that night, inflicting a subtle but very real wound on a sister in Christ.

Why is it that so often in our conversations about God we are the most unlike God? It is a humbling realization that we are all susceptible to this lack of empathy in our interactions with one another. I could recount many times in which I responded to a complementarian out of pride and anger, more in an effort to silence a conversation, or be right, than to come alongside and support a brother or sister in Christ who is on a journey. But Paul, over and over, warns about this. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” he writes in 1 Corinthians 8. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” he insists in Galatians 5:6 emphasis added. And, just one chapter before those tricky verses in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul so beautifully contends that even if he possesses spiritual gifts, all knowledge and wisdom, and faith that can move mountains, without love he is nothing. These are familiar verses to us, and yet sometimes the most familiar ones are the most difficult to live out.

Jesus help us. Jesus help me. May our conversations, as egalitarians and complementarians alike, be marked by love.

via.

What are your thoughts on paying attention to a few verses in order to understand what Jesus is saying to us today?

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First president of the LCMS – addendum to earlier post

CFW Walther - First President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

This photo of an elderly CFW Walther is an addendum to an earlier post.  We find it useful to put a face to a name. In this case, an unforgetable one. This is apparently one of four extant photos of him.

CFW Walther (1811-1887), the first president of LCMS argued in support of slavery. His behaviour and ethics will wait for another post.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in sociology, theology

 

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LCA walking close to LCMS

It is of concern that current LCA leadership underscores links with LCMS.  The emphasis on doctrinal rigidity at the cost of pastoral care and inclusion is a corrosive and anti-evangelical feature of our churches.

While the LCMS may seem monolithic in its closed-mindedness and views on ‘sinful unionism’, that is not the complete truth.  As the quote below, from The Daystar Journal, shows, the LCMS has other approaches to theology and pastoral care.

Sometimes the LCMS itself has seemed a rather dark place. Too often compassion and decency have been absent in the synod, where chauvinism has frequently been confused for synodical loyalty and meanness of spirit has been mistaken for contending for the faith. The Daystar Journal – essays, editorials, and book reviews by teachers, laity, pastors, professors, missionaries, deaconesses, directors of Christian education, chaplains, seminary professors, seminarians, and others.

The Daystar Journal is a significant gathering of LCMS theologians.  The Daystar Journal …

…began in 1999 as a small online network of individuals in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) who were concerned about theological issues and problems in and beyond their church body. Organized by Professor Robert Schmidt and the author (Dr. Matthew L. Becker – an associate professor of theology at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana.), along with the help of two other LCMS members, the network grew to include a wide assortment of people: a past synodical president, current and former district presidents, synodical officials, seminary professors, university professors, teachers, directors of Christian education, deaconesses, missionaries, licensed deacons, seminary students, military chaplains, leaders in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) and the Lutheran Laymen’s League (LLL), and other lay leaders. All have shared an abiding concern about the direction of the synod, which over the past forty years has been oriented partly toward the enforcement of “Old Missouri” doctrinal rigidity, … and partly toward a form of American Evangelicalism that takes many of its cues from Protestant Fundamentalism. Ref.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in sociology, theology

 

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Harriet Beecher Stowe and C.F.W. Walther (1st LC-MS Pres)

Harriet Beecher-Stowe - author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, whose 160th anniversary will be celebrated next year, became the most politically significant literary creation in nineteenth-century America. It is one of those books that must be read to understand the depths of inhumanity to which those in the slave trade descended.  Beecher-Stowe’s novel was significant in revealing to a nation just how complicit it had become in the torture and death of slaves.  This Christian, prophetic woman, through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, changed the course of a nation yet her church deemed women unsuitable to be pastoral leaders.

At a time when people like the first president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, C. F. W. Walther, who was born in the same year as Stowe, argued that slavery was ordained by God and a positive, biblically-grounded good, Stowe set forth a minority position that was also biblically-grounded: slavery is contradicted by the Bible’s teachings about human equality and dignity, about human freedom and responsibility, about Christ’s love for “the lowliest members of society.”

via Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes.

… Already as a young woman, Harriet was judged to be an intellectual cut above the rest of her siblings. Because the pastoral office was off-limits to her because of her gender (both she and her father wished that she had been born a male, since she had the intellectual and physical gifts to be a pastor), she channeled her creaturely gifts in the one public direction that was then open to women: writing. She described her calling as  a “vocation to preach on paper.” The mother of seven children, Harriet always found time to write, in between her responsibilities as mother and home-maker.

Later, she told those who would listen that her most famous novel came to her as a series of heavenly “visions,” not unlike the fulfillment of Joel’s famous prophecy, quoted by St. Peter in Acts chapter two. Such “revelations” have long been a feminine experience within the Christian tradition. One thinks immediately of Julian of Norwich’s Showings, but there have been many others. The recent work by historian David S. Reynolds, Mightier Than the Sword: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America (New York: Norton, 2011), which received a very favorable review in last week’s New Yorker, explains that Stowe’s visions began in 1851. While she was taking Holy Communion, she “saw four figures: an old slave being whipped to death by two fellow slaves, who were goaded on by a brutal white man.” Uncle Tom was the beaten slave and Simon Legree the white man.
Today, perhaps we can forgive the 19th century President of LC-MS, C. F. W. Walther, for his support of the position that slavery was ordained by God.  We might suggest that he was a product of his age, that without 21st century hindsight and awareness of 20th century attrocities his ability to interpret Scripture was fundamentally crippled.
What academic contortions must we undergo today to understand LC-MS theology on women’s ordination?  When clergy are removed from the role for supporting women’s ordination and when a pastor is examined for communing with his ELCA wife, how are we to tolerate this Synod?
While Walther supported slavery,  Beecher Stowe was vehemently against it.  The gospel turns things on their head.  The logic is surprising. Jesus would appear to be often discontent with the status quo.
Why is it that, under Pastor Semmler, the LCA incrementally steps closer to the LC-MS, independent of our theological advisory body, the CTICR? Why does it distance itself from the more diverse and tolerant ELCA in the US?  How can we embrace and forgive the increasingly sect-like LC-MS and the LCA when women continue to be discounted, minimised and marginalised – all at a time when there are not enough pastors to serve the Church?  There is no logic.
The surprising logic we have is that from the God of slaves, the God of women, the God of the oppressed, the God who stares us down in the face of our self-righteous piety.
God, please reveal to us when we are a part of the problem.
 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in history, sociology, theology

 

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Imagine That – from Matthew Becker’s blog, Transverse Markings

LCMS church logo

from: Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes: Imagine That.

Imagine that you are the young daughter of a female slave who lives in Colossae in the year 450. Unlike some other religious traditions that do not allow slaves to be members, the Christian churches accept slaves into their fellowship. You worship Jesus, in part, because he “had taken the form of a slave” and was beaten and crucified, as so many rebellious slaves had also been… Read more.

Imagine that you are a young adult, the Lutheran daughter of a former slave owner who lives in South Carolina in the year 1868. Read more.

Imagine that you are the high-school-aged daughter of an LCMS pastor in 2011 and you think that God may be calling you to become a pastor Read more.

_______________

Consider following Matthew Becker’s (an LCMS pro-women’s ordination pastor/associate professor of theology) blog, Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in history, theology

 

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