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In response to Doug

Tanya and others at Synod 2013

Tanya Wittwer (fourth from the left)

Tanya Wittwer writes in reply to Doug, in the last post.

In a comment on a previous posting, Doug asked Karin, “Karen what do you mean God Him/Herself . Where do you get that idea from God is a she (sic). Yes you would like that wouldn’t you.”

None of the names and words we have for God can describe the totality of God, and perhaps none accurately describe any of the characteristics of God. The love of God is surely of a totally different dimension than love we can know as human beings.  The strength of God bears no relation to human strength. So all we have are metaphors.

Just a week or two back, the lectionary Gospel for the day included one of Jesus’ images for a searching God: the woman searching for the lost coin.  The church has had no difficulty in the images either side of this one (Luke 15:3-10 the caring shepherd, Luke 15:11-23 the waiting father), but the image of Luke 15:8-10 is rarely found in artwork, prayer or language for God.

The Hebrew Scripture reinforces the idea that God is beyond gender, with the words for the Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh) and for God’s visible presence (Shekinah) being feminine terms. It is unfortunate that the English language does not make it easy for us to talk about God in language that avoids gendering.

One strong biblical feminine image is that of God the birthing creator.  In Isaiah 42:14, God says, “like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant,” and in Deuteronomy 32:18b “You forgot the God who gave you birth.” Often feminine and masculine images of God are found side by side, as in Job 38:28,29. Other passages portray God as the mother feeding her young, caring for her young children, cleaning us, clothing us, wiping away our tears (Isaiah 66:13). Matthew and Luke report Jesus’ longing to gather God’s people, as a hen gathering her chickens under her wings.

The incarnation was into a male body. But Jesus’ gender does not limit the Word to male embodiment.  The Word became human to save all humanity, and call all humanity into the reality of God’s reign, where we are united as one in Christ regardless of gender (Galatians 3:28).

One of the difficulties of the church having used only male language for God is that it seems many forget that our words reflect only images of God, and instead fall into the idolatry of creating God in the image of man.  Male naming and identification becomes part of legitimating the oppression of women.  Scripture tells us that “God created the earth creature [adam] in God’s own image, in the image of God they were created: male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1:27 – my translation). An important aspect of my pastoral work is inviting women to know clearly that they, too, are created in God’s image.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Hermeneutics, 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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Choosing hell over a misogynist heaven

sense

We would not worship a God who is misogynist.  It doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t matter what verses anyone may provide as proof – it just doesn’t make sense that God is misogynist.

We are not interested in arriving in heaven to find that women somehow have a different role. We would refuse to participate with cliques, patriarchs, theocracies, boys’ or girls’ clubs or tradition.

We are interested in equality before God.

But, you insist, the Bible doesn’t allow leadership from women.  While we disagree, we do concede that there are verses that can be used to sustain an argument to support your thesis. So, how do we arrive at consensus on this divisive issue?  We don’t, for the time being – we should just live with each other, despite the tension. Agree to disagree. Grow together, over the generations.

This issue need not divide us, like the many other issues that we rarely highlight, but on which we disagree.  For instance, we rarely talk about or expect miracle healing, speaking in tongues, the handling of scorpions (Luke.10.19), the drinking of poison and the handling of snakes (Mark 16:18)… and so on.  They are contentious and too strange, too divisive or too confusing.

Then there’s the ‘texts of terror’ in the Old Testament that we can’t attribute to the will of God. We just don’t believe that God condoned the terror in the Old Testament: the slavery, the abuse, the rape, the murder, the racism …  We don’t name the violence for what it is.  We avoid the issue.  It need not divide us.

We have a God who is much larger than we imagine: more loving, more compassionate, more gifting, more affirming, more justice-centred than we might ever imagine.  Let’s not bicker on our understanding, for, by any measure, our understanding will presumably be sadly incomplete.

Whatever the reason, the LCA, in its youthful almost adolescent years, has clung to simplistic Biblical understandings and literal translations.  Increasingly over the years, many of us have confessed certain things but experienced a growing unease with the position of the Church. It is time to bring our beliefs and theology into harmony.  It is time to embrace a larger theology, a larger view of God and a larger view of each other.

It is with thanks that we celebrate the installation of Bishop John Henderson, who has declared that his ministry will be one of listening. Only in allowing space for voices to be heard is there any possibility that the LCA will be able to respond faithfully to the issues of today, and the concerns of those who come its doors.

Reference and inspiration    Bishop Desmond Tutu

 

 

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“Should the Bible be interpreted literally?”

Fundamentalism

Image from Resurgence: A Ministry of Mars Hill Church

We confess that we are driven to distraction when engaging in conversation with those who claim that they interpret Scripture literally.  A literal interpretation of Scripture demands that every text is interpreted in the same manner.  The following quote highlights the difficulties of this approach:

Over the last several years I have wrestled extensively with what Phyllis Trible memorably called the “texts of terror” in the Bible. Texts that narrate slavery, genocide, assassination, beheading, cannibalism, rape, and many other heinous acts. Some of these texts depict Yahweh commanding, commending, or himself committing violent acts. In other texts the actions are of humans alone but the narrator develops an infuriating neutrality in his narration of them. (Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter [Judges 11:32, 34-40]  is perhaps the paradigm case of problematic narratival neutrality.)

People should be allowed to believe what they wish, however, there’s a certain piety of fundamentalism that’s hard to live with.  It’s a piety that insists we all should all hold the same simple, folksy interpretations that refute scholarly research and confirm church beliefs and customs.  I understand that fundamentalists feel the same frustrations with those of us who long for reform, but the difference is that we are calling for our Church to live with diversity of theology.

This post is largely a re-post of an excerpt of a webpage on the history of how Scripture has been interpreted. We found the origins of Fundamentalism interesting.  Certainly the Copernican theory of the planets orbiting the Sun (which Luther considered idiocy), Darwin’s theory of evolution and Higher Criticism presented major hurdles for the church. It looks like the ripples from these understandings are still impacting us today.

Should the Bible be interpreted literally?

Historical Background

The Middle Ages and earlier
Throughout most of the Christian era, Bible reading and Bible interpretation were confined to religious professionals. Until the fifteenth century, the Bible was available only in Latin. Even when the Bible was translated into other languages, the scarcity and high cost of Bibles kept them out of the hands of ordinary people. Availability of Bibles was also restricted by church officials1.

During this era, the Bible was interpreted according to church beliefs and traditions. There was little or no attempt made to determine the original meanings of the Scripture. Difficult passages “were interpreted as having a figurative meaning, so that they convey, through a kind of code, deeper truths about God, the spiritual life, or the church2.”

Sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
Galileo.
Christians have always believed the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative on spiritual, moral and ethical matters. It wasn’t until science began to develop in the 16th century that questions and arguments arose about whether the Bible is also authoritative on scientific and historical matters.

The first major conflict was between the ancient view of the earth, as reflected in the Bible, and the Copernican theory, which held that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. The astronomer Galileo, using his telescope, found evidence to support the Copernican theory and began publishing his results in 1611. Church officials were alarmed because the Copernican theory seemed to contradict the Bible, and in 1616 Pope Paul V ordered Galileo to abandon the Copernican theory3.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Darwin.
By the nineteenth century, most Christians had come to accept the Copernican theory of the universe because of overwhelming scientific evidence. But a new crisis arose with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin proposed that species of plants and animals evolved through a process of natural selection. Darwin observed that there were variations among individual plants and animals. He proposed that, in the struggle to survive, the better adapted individuals would be more likely to survive and reproduce their characteristics in succeeding generations. Thus, over many generations, species would change by a process of evolution. Further, the process was said to work automatically, seemingly leaving little room for Divine guidance or design.

Darwin’s theory was seen by some Christians as a direct attack on the story of creation in the Bible book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-31). It also spawned a number of atheistic movements both within the natural sciences and the social sciences that saw the universe as created and ruled simply by the impersonal forces of nature. “Darwinism” became associated with atheism in the minds of many Christians, and rejection of all of Darwin’s theories became almost a creed for some Christians.

Higher Criticism. In the late eighteenth century, scholars began studying the Bible as literature rather than as divine revelation. New techniques of literary analysis, archaeology and linguistics were used to study the Bible. Some in this “Higher Criticism” movement asserted that the Bible stories were little more than mythology, and by the end of the nineteenth century these ideas had become quite popular4.

Fundamentalism. In 1910, in reaction to Higher Criticism and Darwinism, a group of Presbyterian theologians proposed five essential beliefs of Christianity:

  1. the inerrancy of Scripture,
  2. the virgin birth of Christ,
  3. Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross,
  4. His bodily resurrection,
  5. the objective reality of His miracles.

These became known as the The Fundamentals. They were widely distributed and formed the basis of the Fundamentalist movement within Christianity5.Literal Bible interpretation. Many fundamentalists believed the Holy Spirit dictated the Bible to its human authors word-for-word. They reasoned that “inerrancy of Scripture” meant that everything in the Bible must be absolutely, literally, scientifically and historically true. Anything less would be unworthy of God. According to this view, the Bible, in all its detail, is inerrant on matters of history and science, as well as doctrine. Any apparent conflict between the Bible and another source (science, history, etc.) should be resolved in favor of the Bible because of its Divine origin.

Bible verses such as these are often quoted to support the literal view:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (KJV, 2nd Timothy 3:16)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NAS, 2nd Peter 1:20-21)

However, interpreting the entire Bible as literal divine revelation poses severe problems for serious Bible study. Besides the apparent conflicts with science and history, there is evidence within the Bible itself that it has both human and divine origins. Luke attributed his Gospel to his own research:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (NIV, Luke 1:1-4)

Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, etc.) were originally written as letters to churches he had founded, not as part of Scripture. They dealt not only with divine revelation but also with many mundane matters like disputes among church factions. Paul often stated his own personal opinions:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 7:12)

There is also evidence within the Bible that portions of it are intended to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally (John 16:25, Galatians 4:24, Revelation 1:20, 17:18, etc.)

References
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, pp. 166-176.
2James L. Mays, ed., Harper’s Bible Commentary, Harper, 1988, pp. 8-9.
3Encyclopedia Americana, Americana Corporation, 1971, vol. 12, pp. 240-244
4Karen Armstrong, The Battle of God, Ballantine, 2000, pp. 95, 140.
5ibid., p. 171.               Source

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Hermeneutics, theology

 

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God talks through a burning bush and a donkey

donkey

God speaks through a donkey

It still astonishes me that people who believe that God can speak through a burning bush or a donkey insist he can’t speak through an educated, articulate passionate woman. —Michael Frost

We are astonished that some thinking people insist that a book, or text, written thousands of years ago must be literally true in every phrase and word.

Regardless of divine inspiration, every phrase and word had to be ‘heard’ by humans, interpreted by humans and written on paper by humans.  These were sinful humans, like you and us, who lived in a certain culture, at a certain time, and who had a certain purpose in writing those words down.

Perhaps it would be useful to look into what some of those purposes may have been.  Perhaps we might get an insight into the intent and meaning of the author by understanding who the author was and what the social and political context was.  What were the threats to society?  Who had the power?  What authority did the religious leaders have?  Were there people who were stepping out of line?  Were there people who needed convincing of orthodoxy?  What did the authors have to gain if people accepted the text?   Who stood to win power, and who stood to lose power? Who stood to gain prestige? Answers to everyone one of these might give us insight into the text.

For us, we don’t think that the donkey story holds water. However, we trust that the story underneath does, because it is a part of Scripture.  What is the story underneath?  Let’s look at all those questions and then let’s talk about it.

Now, in regards to women, let’s trust that God is big enough to get past our simple understandings, and lets share God’s word in whatever ways the Spirit moves.

Final word for today in response to the opening quote:

What scares me even more is that they will allow these articulate, passionate, educated women (to) teach little children with innocent impressionable minds but will not engage with them themselves
 

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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 to be debated at General Convention

For today just the bones.

General Pastors’ Conference last week discussed the topic of women’s ordination. There was a small majority vote that Pastors Conference recommends to General Convention that women’s ordination be discussed.

Today, Monday 22nd April, at approximately 3:30pm Adelaide time, women’s ordination will be discussed.

Your prayers are appreciated for a transparent and forward looking debate ‘where loves come to life’.

 

 

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