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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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Women’s ordination resolution rewritten

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Ah, don’t you love the intrigue!

The president’s newsletter just received advice that the GCC resolution on the ordination of women has been changed:

(from the President’s Page 10th April)
It has been noted that a draft proposal for Synod agenda item 2.4 Report from the Consensus on Women’s Ordination Dialogue Group was incorrectly printed on pg 28 of the Book of Reports. Please replace this with the correct proposal as follows:

2.4 BE IT RESOLVED that the Church:

  • receive the progress report of the Ordination Dialogue Group;
  • supports continued study of the matter of hermeneutics (the interpretation of scripture) arising from the October 2011 symposium on this topic;
  • supports study of what consensus means, for the sake of unity in the LCA as a confessional church
  • request GCC to ensure that a report with recommendations be presented to both GPC and the next Synod

Here is what the earlier version said:

2.4 BE IT RESOLVED that the church adopt the following approach to the question of the ordination of both genders:

  • Receive the interim report of the Dialogue Group studying consensus on this issue
  • Request the Dialogue Group continue their work
  • Address the hermeneutic question arising from the a symposium convened by the Church in October 2011
  • Study and present to the Church what ‘consensus’ means in our confessional church.
  • On completion of the above, place the matter before either the Commission on Theology and Inter-church Relations, or another group of theologians of the Church as appointed by the College of Presidents in agreement with the General Church Council, for study by the pastorate and the laity of the church and as per the Syndocal process place it back on the agenda of synod if that is the wish of the Church.

The revised motion seems to indicate, amongst other things, that the Dialogue Group is to be terminated and that the side-stepping of CTICR is to end. Note how the reference to CTICR or another group of theologians has been deleted.  Pr Mike Semmler for some years has side-lined CTICR when it does not bring down recommendations that he supports.  He has therefore done his best to minimise their impact.

It seems to us that the President’s advisors have pulled him into line.  Perhaps the time has come for them when enough is enough.   Who knows?

 

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Responding to the Easter epistle from the President

Pastor Mike Semmler, President of the LCA

Pastor Mike Semmler, President of the LCA

It is seemingly not enough that the President has banned any mention of women’s ordination in The Lutheran for the last ten years, but now it seems that congregations should have no voice at all.

In the last post it was presumed that the intention of the  last letter from the President was to intimidate Synod delegates into complying with his direction from the Synod Chair.  It may seem that such a comment might be a little extreme, however, Pr Semmler knows that controlling Synod is essential to controlling the LCA.  Synod always remains a little unpredictable, so nothing can be taken for granted.   He has learnt well from LCMS conservatives who coined the aphorism: “Control the delegates and you control the synod” (Burkee, 2011, p87).

While we respect that Pr Mike Semmler has his point of view on women’s ordination, the reality is that the LCA has shown clearly that it is looking for change in this matter.  For the President to actively work against the will of the Synod suggests that he has abrogated his role of facilitating the will of the Church.

The President considers those who object to his manner of governance as unruly and as people who don’t understand process.  Mr President, we do understand process, which is why we are concerned with how you are running the debate.  The following reasons are integral to the discussion:

  • You have shown that you are against women’s ordination;
  • You have shown that you don’t wish the matter discussed (ex. Lutheran ban, sundry grumpy epistles to the Church);
  • Your understanding of ‘consensus’ bears no similarity to that of other major bodies who have conducted similar processes;
  • At Synod’s direction to “establish a dialogue group with balanced representation” you delayed in appointing a ‘consensus’ committee until 15/18 months after Synod (now numbering four (4) members) with 3 of the 4 against women’s ordination;
  • You have created distractions and establish processes that you intend to consume  six years or more;
  • You have indicated that a motion duly submitted by St Stephen’s will not be considered at General Synod;
  • At the Toowoomba Synod you indicated that absentee delegates would have their vote counted as being against women’s ordination;
  • In your letters to the Church you continue to harangue those who wish to nurture the debate on women’s ordination in the LCA;
  • You conduct selective, contradictory conversations with different individuals and groups. This manner of operating bears similarity to the manner in which LCMS President Jack Preus manipulated friend and foe to ensure support for his Presidency and the repression of foes. (Burkee, 2011, pp9-10 and other pages)
    • You have apologised to St Stephen’s representatives in your office for your previous letter to the Church but show no intention of making that apology public.  An apology given in private is no apology when the initial offense was to the whole Church;
    • You indicated to WA Pastors’ Conference that women’s ordination will not be discussed at General Synod but asserted to Pr Peter Bowmer that motions from St Peter’s, Indooroopilly and St Stephen’s will be discussed.
    • You choose to sidestep deliberations of CTICR and CSBQ by setting up further processes;
    • On the one hand you include in your statement, representing the LCA, to the Australian government on same sex marriage, “In nations that have legalised gay marriage… there has been pressure to allow group marriage, polygamy and incest between consenting adults and even in extreme cases marriage to consenting animals” but on the other hand you distance yourself from the statement holding that they were the words of a key advisor (Dr Rob Pollnitz).

Mr President, the LCA requires your role and Chair of Synod to possess an integrity and transparency that facilitates the will of membership.  While we appreciate your leadership in many respects, your legacy of resisting the leadership of women within the LCA, despite understanding the will of Synod and membership, does little to endear you to Synod or congregations.

We cannot remain silent in the face of justice delayed (and justice denied) for women, and the manipulation of structures and democratic processes within the LCA.

Reference
Burkee, J.C. (2011) Power, Politics and the Missouri Synod

 
 

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President distressed with ‘unauthorised communication’

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 11.04.48 AMOn Maundy Thursday of this Easter season, the following epistle arrived from Pr Mike Semmler, the President of the LCA.  Despite having apologised to representatives from St Stephen’s for his previous epistle, the reprimanding continues.   One can presume that this letter is intended to intimidate Synod delegates into submitting to Pr Mike’s direction from the Synod Chair.

We wonder what his reference to “have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) would look like in a democratic Church?  For us, it would look like respect, tolerance of diversity, understanding, and lifting each other up in our difference.

Further comments will follow in a later post.

Dear Pastors, Parishioners and Synod Delegates,

At the instigation of the College of Presidents I communicate this pre-convention letter to you.

Our Synod meets in Convention under the theme ‘Where Love Comes to Life’. ‘Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart’ (1 Peter 1:22)

We have the best news ever to tell the world. It is the gospel of salvation. It is the love of God in Christ.

God in Christ who has enacted our redemption has also in his abundant graciousness given us means to spread this good news. We have communication media not dreamed of 175 years ago when Lutherans first organized worship and mission in Australia. As an example our Media Ministry now reaches a million people each week with the gospel.

It is to be regretted that unauthorised communication using the same God given technology has given rise to false expectation in regards to matters on the Convention of Synod agenda. Groundless expectation can only lead to disappointment and even anger. I refer both to the matters themselves and the constitutional process in place for synod to maintain its unity while difficult issues are under discussion.

The status of the Thesis of Agreement, the ordination of both genders and the standing of the LCA in the Lutheran World Federation will all be processed according to the ways of the Church, which accepts that Scripture is the only norm for its teaching and upon which its unity is drawn.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is a community of God’s children, not an entity reliant on legal argumentation, culture, electioneering, politics, or populist pressure, which if used to settle issues of teaching may demean the very issue being addressed. We fear God rather than people. Our unity is a gift to be celebrated. The Church studies Scripture and the pastors who are called to speak to and for the Church need to be able to give guidance to the synod on matters of theology. This is how the Thesis of Agreement came into being to bring us together. What brought us together keeps us together.

Our commitment and accountability to each other in Synod shows through in our respect, understanding and compassion for each other especially when we recognize hurt. Loving each other is a witness to our culture and society. The apostle Paul spoke to the people of Ephesus and said (Eph 1:15, 16) ‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers’.

For a change of teaching the synod, seeking to preserve its integrity, points us toward finding consensus. Biblical studies are required for the constitutional requirement that pastors guide delegates, in decision making. Our previous papers for the study on the ordination of male and female have not satisfied the Church. The Church has put in place an Ordination Dialogue Group which will report to the convention. The General Church Council will offer a proposal to the Synod to progress what has already begun with the Dialogue Group.

There is every reason to be positive about all serious study of the inspired Word of God.

We are charged to speak into the culture in every era, as culture does not determine the interpreting of God’s Word. It is a matter of fearing God rather than culture (1st Commandment).

The importance of how we hear God’s Word is being addressed with a beginning at a symposium (Oct 2011) with presentations from across the Lutheran world. One booklet to help understand our Lutheran approach to interpretation has been produced. Interpretation itself is not a gender issue. We have also looked at what consensus means for the LCA which for pragmatic reasons uses the minimalist constitutional requirement of at least a two thirds majority vote at synod but which does not itself guarantee consensus. What is our understanding of consensus in a confessional church? Both the matters of ‘interpretation’ and ‘consensus’ need further study and discussion. These are vital in establishing teaching in the Church.

The Church has not been preparing for the major theological issues mentioned above. What is presented for possible discussion and direction does not make it ready for decision on the subject itself.

There has been no study before the Church in this synodical period for decision on ordination. The last Convention of Synod requested the following, ‘… the General Church Council to establish a dialogue group with balanced representation from all sides of the issue, to work toward consensus within the group itself and across the Church…’. To shortcut the process would adversely affect the integrity of the Church and set an unwanted precedent for the handling of future sensitive issues.

It is recognized that divided opinion on the ordination matter is a reality and that some particularly with entrenched stances feel threatened, upset and even intimidated when addressing this teaching of our Church. In Synod we understand and have compassion for deep feelings as we continue to pray for and support each other. No-one likes protracted discussion, but it takes patience to achieve consensus across a diverse church.

We have looked to a newer generation of pastors to give their attention to this matter so that the unity of the Church may be strengthened and we can walk together informed by God’s will. That involves consensus in the Church and most importantly how we are hearing and therefore interpreting Scripture.

To demand God’s will according to us, to be enacted on our time schedule, is an approach which finds a better home in sectarianism, rather than synod. Our Synod guards against that. Lobbying also falls short of the ideals of synod as it does not provide the substance of reformation and renewal.

The Church has a teaching on the issue of ordination (Thesis of Agreement: Thesis on the Office of the Ministry VI.II) and we are studying if there is biblical permission for a change with regard to gender.

The Christian church on earth has a future. A future which waits on the Lord and his will. All things are according to his timeline. Patience finds its home in trusting him. Let Scripture teach us the patience we need to move forward together.

Looking to God’s Word when facing these issues provides an opportunity to strengthen our unity. It is not that the inspired Scriptures are unclear, but rather it is we who suffer from unclear understanding.

As we celebrate this Easter we will see once more that Love comes to life in the sacrifice of Christ. We live under his cross with his open tomb providing our path to life eternal.

 

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President continues to dismiss congregations’ motions

President Semmler at the WA District Synod this last weekend announced that there would be no debate on women’s ordination at the coming General Synod.

At General Synod General Pastors’ Conference fifteen minutes has been allowed for the “Consensus Task Force” on women’s ordination to report, which allows no time for discussion. On the other hand, 30 minutes has been allowed for the presentation of “Title of President/Bishop”.  A pastor comments,

“The former business belongs to a synodical mandate while the latter was never requested by the church.  What is one to think?”

The key issue is that the President long ago overstepped his authority in stamping his personal opinion on the women’s ordination debate.  While it is true that an agenda needs to be drawn up from motions submitted from the Church general, the authority of the congregation remains central in this synodical organisation. The Church’s homepage states:

Every three years representatives of the LCA’s congregations meet for the Convention of Synod, which is our church’s primary decision-making body. Pastors provide input regarding theological matters, but in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church. Ref

Pr Semmler (President of the LCA) seeks to have it both ways.  He likes being able to declare that we have a synodical structure (“in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”) while also maintaining a tight control over the working of the Church, in particular in how the debate on women’s ordination is carried out.  To do this he has stepped somewhat firmly on the motions submitted from St Stephen’s, Adelaide and St Peter’s, Indooroopilly.

Perhaps a more diplomatic approach would have been to announce that the responsible committee for the agenda has not listed the motions on Synod agenda and therefore a motion from Synod floor will be needed to reinstate them.  He has, however, no interest in encouraging the membership’s desire to have the motions reinstated.  Consequently, delegates will need to make sure, in the opening stages of General Synod, when the Chair (Pr Semmler) announces a motion seeking approval for the proposed agenda, that they quickly respond by moving an amendment to reinstate the women’s ordination motions. You will only have a moment or two to respond.

Delegates, be aware that your active presence is required at General Synod.  Please add your voice to the objections on how the Church is governed.  To do this, you will need to network and seek out those who can give the appropriate background information.

What are you doing to raise the profile of women’s ordination? Remember that each conversation raises the profile of women’s ordination in the LCA.

It is a sobering thought that even Baptists in Australia ordain women.

 

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Pr Mike Semmler announces his retirement

LCA-mike

President Rev 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.

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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in politics, women's ordination

 

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