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High stakes in October 2018 at the LCA General Convention

Women’s ordination is again on the agenda at the LCA national general convention in Sydney (Oct 2018).  It’s been around for generations and has repeatedly been turned down, needing to achieve two-thirds of the vote at General Convention.

While many have already left the LCA in search of a more tolerant and inclusive denomination there may be huge ramifications in October if the LCA again refuses to ordain women.

When Lutheran school teachers from Australia and NZ met in Adelaide (2017), one of the guest speakers was Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber from the ELCA (USA).   She was an inspirational speaker, providing encouragement for those struggling to remain within this denomination that has persisted in excluding women from leadership.

It’s humorous to recount that when she visited Australia on an earlier occasion, certain conservative clergy sneered at the thought that Nadia might have something to offer them in the way of preaching.  After all, she’s just a woman.  No, she’s not just a woman. She is a gifted woman with a powerful story, who brings many gifts because she is a woman.   She is a woman who happens to be clergy and she has a well-honed ability to preach the good news of God coming to live amongst us.  Coming to share God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s justice, God’s compassion  – all for those struggling in life in one way or another.

The response to Nadia Bolz-Weber was remarkable.  Many people were moved to tears and after her presentations the applause persisted and persisted. She answered questions that related some despair on the matter of women’s ordination.  No doubt there were individuals present who didn’t believe that women should be ordained, but we believe the response was an indication of what the people of the LCA think.

Australia’s contentious same-sex marriage survey was acted upon by Parliament in 2017.  Majority approval resulted in new legislation – contentious, yes, but that’s how it has to be to retain social stability. The alternatives are abusive and elitist, where those with power rule over those who have been marginalised.

There must be more evident democratic processes within the Church.  The majority view of the people should be enshrined in Church legislation. Currently an oligarchy and less than 40% of those voting at Synod, and logically (and generally speaking) the oldest and most conservative sector of the Church, have imposed their theology and their world view on the rest of the denomination – a recipe for revolution.  While some might argue that we have a theocracy that rules and protects our constitution, this is a fallacious argument as Church funding and the means for its very existence comes from individuals and congregations which ultimately can choose to withdraw that support.

Assuming no change of the voting proportion at the General Convention this year, these are the results of this theocratic gerrymander:

  • young people, other individuals and families gradually disappear from congregations and committees. (It has been happening for a long time.) Gradually, members, along with children and grand-children see no reason to continue to support a denomination that does not reflect God’s love or Biblical scholarship.
  • some progressive Church leaders leave the LCA, unable to remain in a denomination that pays no heed to God’s word on this matter. No one wants to live the rest of their life in a denomination that has lost its way.
  • with the loss of these individuals and families, the Church inevitably becomes more conservative and more out of touch with society.
  • some progressive congregations choose to break away from the LCA, no longer able to support an institution that continues to deny the need for democratic representation.
  • as the Church continues to lean right and away from social norms, rather than having more influence throughout its supposed faithfulness, the Church has less credibility in the manner it attempts to reveal God’s grace.
  • with the continued absence of women from leadership and reinforced male perspectives on relationships and power, the structures of domestic violence are strengthened.
  • women’s voice is reduced at all personal and committee levels of congregations, districts and national governance.
  • women are increasingly confined to gender-roles within the Church as men are lauded and women are disempowered.
  • the Church experiences a pious subjugation of women, with Scripture being used as a tool of subjugation, not dissimilar to the manner in which slavery was justified. Southern Baptist theologies come to mind.
  • general LCA theology leans further to the right on all matters, further alienating members who are engaged with society and grappling with evolving issues of justice and compassion.
  • the ensuing legalism and entrenched conservatism will have the LCA creeping closer to the sect-like Missouri Synod, and further away from the ELCA.
  • the decline of the LCA increases as congregations close.
  • the voice of the LCA becomes less significant on all matters.
  • the LCA becomes a small, insignificant denomination that retains just members who have been indoctrinated into a socially conservative view of the world, such as the Amish or Mennonites.

Without women’s ordination, without engaging with today’s issues and without something a little closer to democratic representation, the death or torpor of the LCA is assured.

On the other hand the LCA might embrace God’s ongoing creation and revelation, ordain women and have a decent go at speaking and living God’s word.

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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in theology, women's ordination

 

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The bitter truth

Just as in the case of slavery, women’s suffrage or anti-Semitism, those people currently blocking women in the LCA from ordination (or perhaps their descendants) will one day claim that they weren’t to know any better.  They will assert, just as those who apologise for the torture of Galileo in his support for the Copernican understanding of the Solar System, that the level of knowledge in society was insufficient for them to understand how much they had erred.

It seems to us that no-one can know all things and so ignorance should not be condemned.  However, in Jesus we have the principle of love, which guides who we are, what we say and how we act.  This principle guides us in how we interact with our loved ones and adversaries.  It is a principle that would have us embracing each other in our hurts and disagreements.  It is a principle that would have us working to respect and build up our adversaries, while clinging to our own beliefs.  If we cannot do this what can we take from Jesus, apart from personal piety?  If that’s what it is to be Christian, we shall be called shallow indeed.

The small clip from Intelligence Squared makes the point succinctly.

Here is the full debate on whether the Catholic Church is a force for good.  Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry argue passionately that the Catholic Church is not a force for good.  They are both atheists and argue convincingly that the Catholic Church has much to answer for.  We’ll leave it to the reader to find relevance for the LCA

If the Church is to be a force for good it needs to be leading the way, reconciling adversaries, living with difference, living with tension, accepting contradictions, embracing multiculturalism, embracing different metaphors for the Creator God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and living with different perspectives on the place of women within the LCA.

We cannot hope that this issue will disappear.  It’s not going to happen.  Would Jesus tell his sisters to be silent?  There is only one option.

Equality will continue to be an issue until it is so complete that it ceases to be an issue.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in politics, sociology, women's ordination

 

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Complacency is over

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Gordon Brown – UN Special Envoy for Global Education

Gordon Brown blogged at the Huffington Post today, “Girl Rising: Adult Complacency Is Over“.  He speaks about the attempted murder of Malala in Pakistan by the Taliban, and he speaks about the recent gang rape and murder of the medical student in India.  He suggests that these atrocities should not be just further examples of terrible violence but that they should mark the end of tolerating such violence.

The forces against girls and women are  structural, often subtle and often culturally and religiously ingrained.  You will hear endless rationalisation for how girls and women are treated – until your gut turns and you realise that the human condition historically has objectified or ‘othered’ girls and women.

Our sexism is not planned, it just is, at least until we can name it and vow to move on from it.  It’s like superstition – avoiding walking under ladders, or saying “touch wood”.  We have inherited a  lot of nonsense!  Overcoming sexism is not an intellectual decision however.  We were surprised some years ago, when travelling interstate, when an attractive woman walked towards a semi-trailer from a petrol station and entered the cabin from the driver’s side. She was the driver but our upbringing and conditioning had told us that she would be the passenger. There are countless examples where we detect our sexism.  (Does sexism become misogyny when we start to justify our negative attitudes towards women?)

The Church, in all of its self-congratulatory pats on the back about grace, Scripture alone, etc, needs a moment of confession and seeking of repentance.   We need to start listening to women and hearing their stories of abuse experienced.  As history is often told by the winners of conflict and oppressors, the quiet voices take some time to be heard.

It is time that male complacency towards women’s position in the Church was let go.  As Christians, who are highly adept at acknowledging our sin through the liturgy and general faith, it should not be a major step to acknowledge that we have dishonoured our women.  It is time that we lifted up women in the LCA, and in doing so, were able to benefit from their pastoral skills honed in relationships and raising families.  Anything else is immaturity and vindictive.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2013 in sociology, women's ordination

 

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Rounds and Squares

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From the NakedPastor – Jan 4th 2013

We have had recently had some immigrants join our congregation.  We feel blessed to have them amongst us and look forward to learning from, and sharing with them in many ways.

Perhaps in another generation, when Australia was largely monocultural, we may not have been so welcoming.  Perhaps we may have felt uncomfortable with their food, their clothing, their grammatical mistakes.  Perhaps we may have been fearful if our children began to socialise with them, or even fell in love with them and wanted to marry.  How would we deal with the grandchildren?  Would they be Australian or would they feel foreign?

Today, we could be resentful, perhaps, about the jobs they have found, perhaps thinking that they are making it more difficult for Australians to find jobs.  However, we are not resentful and we wish them every success as they adapt to their chosen nation and worship community. We have embraced them and will do our best to assist them in any way we can, in order that they surmount the hurdles that a new, complex setting provides.

Is it not ironic that we can embrace people from a foreign culture, that we can take them into the heart of our Lutheran congregation, that our church building is theirs to explore and ask questions of, and yet we cannot take women into the heart of spiritual and pastoral care of our Church?  We hold that we are a welcoming Church, our street notice-boards present wise and loving statements, but underneath it all there are hidden rules that exclude the majority of our members from leadership.

This issue seems to be about the fear of offending God by doing the wrong thing.  Fear causes us to do strange things and affects our life for the worse.

When it’s fear of people, it’s complex.  Some societies, when dealing with fear of each other, specialise in institutionalising their fears into levels of class, rank or race.  These structures develop complicated philosophical justifications for their fears, which encases them into permanency.  We Australians are somewhat bemused by the English class system, and are distressed at the caste system of India and Apartheid South Africa, which are/were designed to justify the dehumanisation of lower castes.

In addition, we find that rank is used against women.  In these past few weeks since the brutal rape and murder of a young Indian medical student by six young men, we have learnt how women have been ‘othered’ in that country.   It seems that many in India had minimised the impact of rape on women, including whole communities, police and government.  It has taken this atrocity to (presumably) get action.

The Old Testament regulations reveals many fears around women, unmarried women, rape, veils, marriage, talking to strangers, appearing in public, testifying in court, walking in public, ownership of women … Is it a surprise that women were not allowed to become a priest? Today, for some reason, conservatives have chosen to focus on certain Old Testament practices, yet pay no attention to the many other rules that surrounded women.

It is simply absurd to hold that there is a fundamental difference between women and men in regards to ordination.  At this time, when we acknowledge that women are just as capable as men, the LCA looks increasingly mediaeval in its attitude to women.  What originated in ages past, perhaps in more violent tribal settings, can no longer be justified.

Taking action?
What is it that you might do?  Would you subscribe to and share this blog? Facebook? Twitter?   Would you write a letter?  Would you volunteer to be a delegate at General Convention? Would you write your own blog?  Would you form a discussion group in your own congregation to discuss what your congregation might do? (or you may just invite a friend for coffee to talk about possibilities)  Would you seek out others? Would you consider donating to a woman’s scholarship at ALC? (we are so numerous that every woman student there could receive a scholarship)

Share your suggestions for action as a comment below.

 
 

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Nothing compassionate about conservatism – it’s about certainty

Women’s ability to vote in society, and thus be recognised as more competent than children, is a relatively new phenomena (table below), but still incomplete.  The dates are inaccurate when it comes to indigenous peoples of some of these countries.

  • 1893 New Zealand
  • 1902 Australia
  • 1906 Finland
  • 1913 Norway
  • 1915 Denmark
  • 1917 Canada
  • 1918 Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia
  • 1919 Netherlands
  • 1920 United States
  • 1921 Sweden
  • 1928 Britain, Ireland
  • 1931 Spain
  • 1944 France
  • 1945 Italy
  • 1947 Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan
  • 1949 China
  • 1950 India
  • 1954 Colombia
  • 1957 Malaysia, Zimbabwe
  • 1962 Algeria
  • 1963 Iran, Morocco
  • 1964 Libya
  • 1967 Ecuador
  • 1971 Switzerland
  • 1972 Bangladesh
  • 1974 Jordan
  • 1976 Portugal
  • 1989 Namibia
  • 1990 Western Samoa
  • 1993 Kazakhstan, Moldova
  • 1994 South Africa
  • 2005 Kuwait
  • 2006 United Arab Emirates
  • 2011 Saudi Arabia
We live in heady days! The recognition of women has made great progress over the last century.  We might be excused for thinking that full recognition of women will soon be realised, but another perspective is that the lingering abuse of women, the ownership of women, their lack of legal status and their enforced submissiveness has persevered for far too long.
Conservatives resist changes to the status quo. They call it tradition and endow it with reverence. They defend tradition, despite the inequities that it delivers. They resist every new position of leadership for women, including women’s ordination, but then you’ll hear the term ‘compassionate conservatism’ – a misleading framing.  Rather than indicating that conservatives are compassionate, it indicates a strategic surrender to irreversible advancements that once were strenuously resisted.  Conveniently they forget about each of the lost battles.  It’s been a long time since a conservative reminisced about the glory days of slavery, or the halcyon days when women couldn’t vote in the LCA.  In that way they aim to bolster their credibility for resisting the next step towards equality.  Their current cause is to resist women’s ordination, but they have resisted:
  • women voting at congregational meetings (1966)
  •  women being delegates at Synod (1981)
  • women being a member of church boards and committees (1984)
  • women being included in the guidelines for reading lessons in worship (1984)
  • women assisting in the distributing of Holy Communion (1989)
  • women being lay assistant as an alternative to elder (1990)
  • being chairperson of a congregation (1990)
  • women being synodical chairperson (1998)
  • women lay-reading (2003)
Conservatives are forced to give ground again and again, their causes being transient and ethereal, vapourising as society realises that for 10 000 years of civilisation women have been denied fair treatment.  There is nothing compassionate about conservatism.   Its focus is resistance – resistance to mutuality, to questioning, to open two-way conversations.  It’s about absolute certainty while retreating to the next fortress to be defended.  It’s about fear and sometimes even hatred.  You cannot embrace women in one context and fear and hate them in another.  Consider the women-hating theology of Jack Schaap in his fundamentalist Baptist church in Indiana.  Not surprisingly he has been dismissed from his parish because of his affair with an underage girl who came to him for abuse counseling.
If we are simply products of our past, it might be understandable that so many men (and women) relegate women to subservience. There’s so much that supports a theology of domination. Consider the Danvers Statement (1987) which forms the basis of the fundamentalist renewal of misogyny in U.S. Christian churches. Consider the long history of violence towards women, justified and maintained by our legal systems. Consider the hatred shown towards women in the witch trials throughout Europe and the USA around the 15th century. Consider the theologians that formed the foundation of our theology (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther):

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 CE). He wrote to a friend:
“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman……I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

Martin Luther (1483 to 1546) (this link leads to other misogynist quotes):
“If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274 CE):
“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

We are not, however, simply products of our past.  We have the God-given intellect to analyse cultural traditions and decide what is helpful or destructive.  We have a wealth of scriptural scholarship that allows us to go beyond a fundamentalist proof-texting.  We have the ability to listen and to learn from the stories of women denied access to ordained ministry. We can jointly envision and mould a future where women are empowered to share in the leadership and create the welcoming, embracing church that we want it to be.

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What then must we do?

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Oil on c...

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

We start with a quote.

‘What then must we do?’ That is the question that Leo Tolstoy, having surveyed the misery of the ordinary Russian people, tried to answer in 1886. It is also the question that people pose – often somewhat resentfully – when confronted by the … social and psychological status quo … ‘It’s all very well to criticize, but have you got any better ideas…?’

As Christians we have compassion, that’s just the way it is.  Compassion, however, is not just a feeling – it is action.  Compassion is speaking for those who have no voice. Compassion is standing with those who are invisible. Compassion is taking on the structures of power in their systemic abuse of individuals and groups. Compassion is refusing to abide by unethical or alienating by-laws and governances. Compassion is being the Christ figure to those who society forgets.

What would happen if a thousand people wrote to the College of Presidents (email) this week to complain about the lack of due process in dealing with the call for women’s ordination?  What might happen if a thousand people stopped their subscription to “The Lutheran” (email), citing the President’s ban of the discussion of women’s ordination as the reason? Your voice is significant!

There is much that might be done. Alone you may be feeling fragile, so create a group and strengthen each other. You never know what might arise from your group.  Use Facebook, network with larger groups like Women’s Ministry Network and find out what’s happening on the national scene.   Share this blog and others that support women in any domain. Make a difference!

You are not alone in your hope for equality under God.  We thank God for the many who have contacted us from around the world offering encouragement.

How might your voice be heard this week?

Please share your ideas for bringing about change. What has worked for you in any cause that you are part of?

 
 

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Ancient Athens and the LCA – the similarity between women and slaves

Women washing clothes in Athens

The similarity in attitude towards slaves and women in ancient Greece is uncanny.   Despite incremental recognition for women since that time, it seems similar ancient misogynist values still apply in the Church.

Their father controlled them before they were married

Their spouse controlled them once they were married… Ref

Women had very little influence, or power in Greek society and were not highly regarded until they could produce a child…

There was a disdainful attitude to women:

Euripides from his book ‘ Meda’ writes; ‘If only children could be got some other way without the female sex! If women didn’t exist, human life would be rid of all its miseries’   Ref

… and this was congruent to the attitude towards slaves:

Most ancient writers considered slavery not only natural but necessary. Ref

It is surprising that the birthplace of democracy was so inequitable towards women. Perhaps it created the structures for millenia of misogyny and racism, or perhaps it simply bolstered attitudes that were there in pre-Grecian society.

While this astounding, prophetic, self-congratulatory society was flawed at the core, we see the same flaw in the LCA with a despicable attitude towards women. While Lutheran theology has provided a significant contribution to the modern church, the chauvinist attitude of key LCA figures will be a thing of shame in the annals of history.

 
 

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