Tag Archives: Mike Semmler
Pr Mike Semmler has just announced that he will not stand again for the position of President of the LCA.
It is difficult to believe that this era of staunch resistance to women’s ordination may be over (2000-2013). While there may always be people who are distressed by the idea of women’s ordination (though other churches’ experience is that concerns fade once people experience the pastoral care of women), there was no more an important position than that of President of the LCA in opposing women’s ordination. The position was used to delay, stifle and ignore discussion in the CTICR and in the national journal, as well as cling to the Church’s ‘current position’, repressing further debate, thereby clinging to the current position. How was change ever going to come unless there was open debate?
Of course, it remains to be seen who will stand for the position, but Synod delegates would presumably be twice shy about who it elects to this position, which, we have learnt, is an incredibly powerful one in guiding or sidelining issues within the Church.
Please include the election of our national president in your prayers.
“They told us we wouldn’t get here, there were those who said we would only get here over their dead bodies. All the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in Alabama saying ‘We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around!’” – Martin Luther King Jr, Selma to Montgomery, March 1965.
I will never know the names of the people who marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr King and chances are you won’t either. Nor are you likely to know the names of the people who walked with Gandhi on the Salt March, yet our history and imaginations are caught by the thought of hundreds of ordinary people going to (and walking for) extraordinary lengths to fight for justice. No matter what came, nothing would move these people, and nobody could turn them around. Reference
We lose track of how difficult it is to bring about change. People understood that civil rights may actually cost them their lives.
Gordon Gibson knew the civil rights movement in the 1960s was serious when a friend said not to leave for Selma unless it was more important for him to go than it was to come back.
“I decided it was more important to go to Alabama, and we wrote our wills,” Gibson said.
He was 26 years old. Reference
Australia had it’s own Freedom Ride in 1965. It exposed endemic racism in rural Australia and “punctured Australian smugness, borne of ignorance, that racism did not exist in Australia.” (ref) While the move towards the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal equality had started shortly after Federation in 1901, the Freedom Ride must have helped people understand that racism was entrenched, not just in country towns of NSW, but in the Australian Constitution as well. There was resistance over decades, much of it vitriolic, and some resistance continues today for racism cannot be legislated away.
Change doesn’t come easily, for it threatens some people’s way of being. It is difficult for some to imagine how they will function under the innovation and so it becomes important to resist, despite understanding why it is important for many. That resistance is justified by a lifetime of living in a different paradigm. “It is my experience, don’t take it from me!” When change does come, the new reality is rarely as confronting as was expected.
The road towards women’s ordination has been difficult. Through hope and despair starting in the 1990s, and now through a growing voice protesting the silencing of debate on women’s ordination, there is an ever-increasing hope that the LCA will yet see women’s ordination.
The difference between civil rights and women’s ordination in the LCA is that while both the US and Australia are democracies and function under freedom of the press, the LCA on this matter, does not. While Pr Semmler communicates freely with membership when he wishes, the women’s ordination movement cannot even pay for an advertisement in the national magazine. Repressive regimes use this tactic throughout the world to maintain control on power through controlling communication and the national discussion. As this contravenes the LCA Constitution Pr Semmler needs to be censured.
The issue of women’s ordination has been bubbling away in the Lutheran Church of Australia for a few decades now. After much theological soul searching the Church’s theological think tanks finally concluded that there is no theological impediment to the ordination of women. Despite this a vote for the ordination of women at the 2006 General Synod, although obtaining a narrow margin in favour of the proposal, did not reach the required 2/3 majority to effect the necessary change.
I was on the floor of Synod on that sad and confusing day. It seemed that we were in a bit of a bind. I remember one pastor giving voice to the problem. He asked the President what should happen now that slightly more than half of the pastors of the church had, by their vote, expressed their disagreement with the public teaching of the Church. I remember that his response went something along the lines of…
The pastors have all sworn to uphold the public teachings of the church!
PHEW! That was a close one. Division in the church narrowly averted.
Problem is… some pesky pastors and lay people were less than convinced by the President’s weighty argument and have continued to campaign against what they see as an anachronistic and unjust stand against women. They met recently to encourage one another and to remind the Church that they and the issue have not gone away.
So the President saw fit to send out a letter of reprimand.
Allow me, reader, to draw your attention to one telling sentence in that recent letter.
The disappointing issue of those wishing to bypass studies of scripture in discussions and who use human understanding, logic, social justice, equal rights and such cultural contexts to further a cause is to be lamented and discouraged.
OK. 3 things
1. I’m not sure if that is actually a sentence. (But who am I to criticise anyone else’s grammar. Pots and kettles.)
2. I have been involved in the debate on Women’s Ordination in the LCA for nearly 30 years. In that time I have heard no-one in the LCA ever mention, advocated or even hint at bypassing scripture. The place of scripture is not and has never been in question on the matter of women’s ordination just as it has not been in question in our debate on the church’s statement on homosexuality.
3. What the President is doing here is outlining HIS understanding of how one is to interpret scripture. According to the President, human understanding, logic, social justice, equal rights and cultural contexts are to be absent from our study of scripture. More than that, according to the President, the use of these things is to be “lamented and discouraged”.
Correct me if I am wrong but… hasn’t our President just outlined the recipe for the birth of a cult?
On Thursday night I listened to an interview on Radio National with a Western Australian woman who spent a couple of decades as a blindly faithful follower of the Bhagwan Rajneesh. Her uncritical devotion to the master, the absence of human understanding and logic, her complete withdrawal from the cultural context that had previously helped to ground her, her willingness to abandoned her common sense of justice and rights and wrongs left her vulnerable to the will of a narcissistic madman until she was finally ready to kill for him.
Ok Mr President, my logic and human understanding are now disengaged. My sense of justice and my concern for the rights of others has been suppressed. My attempts to apply scripture to our present cultural context have been abandoned…
Is this really the attitude you want us to adopt in interpreting the Bible?
Is this really what you want?
Maybe it IS what the President wants. It is certainly ONE way to maintain unity in the Church.
- Oh No! I Think We Lost Our Lutheran. Part 2 (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- Personal Reflections on the LCA President and the Sacking of a Parliamentary Secretary (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- Four factors behind opposition to women’s ordination (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Lutheran Church of Australia: Church or Cult? (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
This letter from Pastor John Kleinig (emeriti – Luther Seminary, North Adelaide) was originally posted by cyberbrethren. It was taken down when it distressed members of the LCA. To our knowledge it hasn’t been readily available on the web for some time. We post it here to relate how the ‘men-only’ pastors work in the LCA.
More on Australian Lutheran Vote on Women’s Ordination
Here is more detail on the action of the recent convention of the Lutheran church of Australia. It is even more remarkable that this not only did not pass, but was actually pushed back even more firmly this time than last time it came up for a vote. There is much instruction in this account for all of us who are, in our respective churches, resisting those who would wish to undermine and change the historic Biblical and Confessional position of our church bodies. Their tactics are always the same. They attempt to deflect attention from their true agenda, and to keep it hidden. They will be heard to protest that in fact “they take no position” on issues like this. There is no Biblical rationale for ordaining women to the pastoral office. It is a false doctrine. The one thing you can say about those in favor of the practice in Australia: at least they have the integrity to stand up for their position boldly and openly and not try to hide it or cover it up.
We can also learn quite a lot from how the faithful there have handled this matter: with courtesy, tact, manners, integrity, etc. There are earnest and sincere brethren in our Synod who do have a tendency to behave in a boorish manner. Enough of that!
Apologies for not getting to you sooner on the results from the vote on the ordination of women at our convention! I know how anxious you all have been on this and how much we have been in your thoughts and prayers. But I was computerless up there in the deep north. And I was too tired yesterday to do anything coherent.
The Pastors’ Conference ran from Tuesday to Friday last week. One of our younger pastors, Fraser Pearce, put the case against WO most winsomely, with a deep appeal to conscience that did much to commend the case to waverers in the middle. The actual vote was 50.91 for WO and 49.09 against. This was a slight swing in favour of WO since 2000 but that is rather deceptive for two reasons. First, in our polity, all pastors who are present have a vote at Pastors Conference, even if they are not pastor delegates at the convention.
The conference was held at Toowoomba in south east Queensland where most pastors are in favour of WO, whereas in Adelaide in 2000 we had the votes of many retired pastors. So confident was one of the leaders in Qld that he publically trumpeted his judgement that the vote would be at least 80% in favour. Second, there was some stacking of the deck, so that the much maligned local confessional pastors, most of whom work far from this corner of the state, were underrepresented. But some of them countered this by attending in any case at their own expense. Thank God for these fine men, unsung heroes, many of whom have suffered much for their convictions! The tone of the debate was good. It was calm and reasoned. Unlike 2000, there was not a single case of personal ad hominem attack apart from the occasional imputation of fear.
Our president Mike Semmler helped in this by insisting that the debate had to be scriptural. On the whole those who advocated WO appealed either to reason or to emotion, while we made an effort to appeal to the conscience.
The vote to ordain women was taken on Tuesday 2 October at 12:30. It was as follows:
Yes 194 50.39%
No 169 43.9%
Abstentions 20 5.19%
The last three categories count as voters against. So practically it was 111 for and 107 against. What a miracle! The yes vote percentage was slightly less than that at the 2000 Conventions (1.13%). This too is deceptive not just from the location of the synod but also because there was some stacking with delegates in favour of WO who represented parishes to which they did not belong.
The issue was introduced in a briefing session on Monday night by two speakers: Andrew Pfeiffer (for the church’s teaching); and Peter Lockwood (against the church’s teaching). They were backed up by a small panel. Andrew was supported by Greg Lockwood and me. The debate at the convention was outstanding in that people stuck to the issues without resorting to any ad hominem rhetoric. The tone was good as people made an effort to reach to each other across the great divide. I was impressed by the presence and conduct of our younger pastors. They spoke winsomely and well, scripturally and theologically. In fact, our side of the argument was put so well by the laity and the other pastors that Andrew Pfeiffer, Greg Lockwood and I did not need to speak at all. As you may imagine, that required some effort from me. We made a determined effort not to play the political game on CTICR where we, quite deliberately, did not press our advantage by taking a vote on the issue when we had a narrow majority, at Pastors’ Conference where we could have quite legitimately tried to prevent the issue from going to the Convention since it did not have the support of the 2/3 of the pastors, and at the Convention by not playing that card. That helped, in part, to get us across the line. But the most significant thing was the prayers of the whole church and many faithful little people. Thank you too for yours!
Another observation! We had a simple clear story to tell, an agreed rationale that focused on the fact that the prohibition was the Lord’s command.
Initially their tactic was one of attack on the traditional case, as if the case would be won, by default, merely by calling the traditional case into question with the exercise of an hermeneutic of suspicion. The assumption was that anything and everything that was not forbidden was permitted. The result of that was that they helped us to sharpen and strengthen our case, while they kept theirs in reserve, since it was difficult for them to agree on why women should be ordained even though they are agreed they should. They therefore had no single story to tell, no agreed scriptural rationale. Instead they came up with a grab bag of arguments, which was most evident in their presentation to the convention in a briefing session on Monday night.
To the very end their case was a work in process. In looking back on the 15 years that I have been part of this debate, it strikes me that as soon as we knocked down on argument they came up with a new one and so on. We were always dealing with a moving target. They still do not have an agreed scriptural theological rationale. I wonder whether it is possible to mount one.
Just before the close of the convention the General Church Council put forward a resolution that the matter could only be put back on the agenda by synod itself. This means that we would have respite at least until 2012. This brought on a desperate rear guard attack from the opposition. They were simply unwilling to submit to the decision of convention. They talked of hurt (as if they had a monopoly on that!) and openness to the Spiriti’s leading in the future (as if we had not invoked his guidance repeatedly at the convention), but it was evident to many that they were playing church politics. It won them little sympathy and disgusted some of their much more moderate and churchly supporters. Thankfully a referral motion was passed for the GCC to have another look at its resolution!
We thank God for your prayers. The result was beyond our expectations (we all thought that it would be much closer). Has anything like this ever happened before in our Lutheran churches? Surely God was merciful to us. Nevertheless we, sadly, are still a house divided. It seems to me that God has given us this narrow margin to keep us from becoming triumphalist, political and complacent, for the issue of the ordination of women masks far deeper and much more important issues, such as our acceptance of the scriptural authority, the doctrine of ministry, the doctrine of the relationship of the Son to the Father, the doctrine of creation, the third use of the law, and sanctification, all of which is a symptom of the rampant gnosticism that we have inherited from the Enlightenment. Yet, I think, we are in much better shape synodically. Theology is back on the agenda. We, and especially a whole generation of young confessional pastors, have learned to speak the truth in love, without rancour and apparent self-righteousness. Nothing has been resolved, but we have been given some breathing space. The battle goes on!
The old gospel reductionists, who interpret all talk about mandate and commandment as loveless legalism, are utterly bewildered by the change of climate. New alliances have been forged. Best of all, for the first time in my ministry, most pastors and lay people have openly acknowledged and accepted importance of a good conscience under the word of God, the reality of spiritual warfare, and the power of prayer. I now feel that I have done my bit in these and many other issues. It’s now up to the young fogies to carry on the cause, which they can do much more disarmingly than I have been able to do so.
Four other reasons to rejoice! Mike Semmler was re-elected by a clear majority. The Church Council is much the same as it was; the two main vacancies were filled by a fine confessional pastor in Stephen Schulz and a sound lay woman, Jillian Heintze. In the CTICR Peter Kriewaldt, an unsung hero in the battle, was replaced by Dr Adam Cooper, a fine young confessional scholar. Best of all, we have been driven away from politicking and argument to repentance and prayer.
I am, as you may well imagine, exhausted and yet deeply relieved.
Please share this with whoever else may be interested.
Thank you, most of all, for your intercessions for us in the battle.
We’re not convinced that the authority of Scripture is the sacred cow it is held up to be.
Lets just imagine that theologians and church hierarchy spoke with one voice around the globe, deciding that Scripture did not allow the ordination for women. In the context of a world where women are in virtually all work places and are increasingly in leadership, the response from many would be to find that Scripture was simply inadequate to deal with our experience of God, or our experience of the world of today. On the other hand the response may simply be to walk away from the church.
Returning from the theoretical to the actual – the LCA – and assume the same conditions (universal agreement by theologians and Church hierarchy that women’s ordination is disallowed by Scripture) we would have two options, division or death. On the one hand (division), under intolerable conditions, individuals and congregations would be forced to form other communities, while on the other hand (death), people would walk away from the LCA and perhaps faith. In either case, the Church as we know it would be gone, leaving it to another generation to attempt to rebuild a tradition from the ruins of a disconnected, inward-looking, pious Australian Lutheran Church.
For too long the church used the authority of Scripture in its support of slavery. Human compassion decreed a higher standard and calling.
Today, any discussion on whether slavery should be tolerated would be abhorent. Similarly, the time is past when there can be any consideration of that world view where women are somehow less than men in the sacred or secular context.
What about the potential for a split in the Church? Isn’t it right that unity should be preserved until a solution can be found? It is our view that through lack of pastoral leadership the damage has already been done. Objective, careful leadership would have allowed the LCA to discuss and find its course towards women’s ordination. As it stands today, however, the matter has been politicised, the discussion stymied, the debate manipulated, and women have been isolated and alienated. Pr Semmler has distanced the national Church from St Stephens’ sponsored Time to Soar conference on women’s ordination and he continues to attempt to control the debate rather than to facilitate it. Sad to say, but we don’t believe that continued unity is either possible or desirable. It is not possible to expect congregations to continue to suppress their women at official levels when women are already providing significant leadership. It is difficult to gauge but some would add that patience with poor national leadership is running low. In addition, it is not desirable to maintain unity when that unity requires the continual abuse of women in the LCA.
For those who support women’s ordination the debate is over. Scriptural passages supporting slavery or the subjugation of women are simply reverberations of history. They offer nothing for our future. Our future is in an ever-adapting Church that responds to an ever-changing society.
- Time to Soar (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Getting along with each other (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Time to Soar – registration information (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Australian Women Continue to Press for Ordination (thepersistentvoice.wordpress.com)
- The President distances himself from St Stephen’s conference on women’s ordination (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- A woman’s story of leaving the LCA (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Female priest says the Church is like ‘abusive husband’ (independent.co.uk)
- No Theological Explanation for Women Not Being Ordained into Catholic Priesthood (barefootbarn.wordpress.com)
- Female bishops legislation must not be compromised out of existence | Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (guardian.co.uk)
We thought you might be interested in the following letter from Pr Mike Semmler to pastors around Australia and New Zealand.
To: LCA/LCNZ NSW District, QLD District, SA/NT District, Vic/Tas District, WA District Pastors
You may have received an invitation to advertise a conference convened by a parish on the matter of the ordination of both genders. You will receive a guidance from the College of Presidents in due time.
Questions have arisen. For now it is sufficient to know that this is not an official conference of the Church. ALC is the venue not the convenor. …
We wait in anticipation for further guidance to pastors. In the mean time, it seems that the Pope has similar reasons for distancing himself from elements within the Church: Pope Denounces Priests Who Question Catholic Teachings On Celibacy And Women Ordination
You might also have some sympathy for our Muslim sisters who suffer misogyny to a much greater extent: A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear YouP
- Further Censorship of The Lutheran (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Time to Soar (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)
- Time to Soar – registration information (katieandmartin.wordpress.com)