Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

A NEW ROAD TO TRAVEL: MY WALK ONTO, AND ALONG, THE WOMEN’S ORDINATION HIGHWAY

When asked to write down why I favour women’s ordination, it became clear that it was one of my most difficult assignments. Along the way, my reading has come from both sides of the argument, and there are many good arguments on the negative side. Against this, it was also necessary to weigh up where I was ‘coming from’. What ‘baggage’ in my past life was influencing me, one way or the other? Why, even changing to a female doctor took me quite a few years. Well served by males, there seemed no reason to change. But I did, and haven’t regretted it – and probably wouldn’t change back.

Why should a woman of sixty embark on a new road, after being content with the ‘status quo’ for fifty-three years? What signposts along the way have been worthy of consideration and investigation?

Childhood and teens.
There was nothing from my early life that ever made me think that women could not enter into areas where men work, all things being equal. My family always believed that women should be educated, and my mother particularly felt that women should be able to live independently of men’s income, if necessary. In retrospect, their thinking was ahead of its time. My sisters and I were among a minority who moved from the country to study teaching in the city.

Church life.
Teaching areas within the church were always open to me, including Bible study. In recent years, our church appears to be one of those in the lead, with men on the flower, cleaning and ‘cuppa’ roster, and women serving on church council (including chairperson), reading lessons and assisting with communion distribution. Our congregation is used to seeing women up front in the sanctuary area of the church.

There is often a wide difference between female and male thinking and experience. That’s marvellous. God is the complete example of the very best that could possibly be found in man and woman. He very cleverly divided this into two parts for the whole of creation. Human, animal and plant life depend on the co-operation of these two parts. Long before thinking seriously on the ordination issue, it seemed a pity that we had separate women’s and men’s organisations. Wouldn’t the two, working together, get a better balance?

Back in 1992, the LCA printed the first study booklet, Women in the Ministry. We studied it in our parish immediately. Years later I discovered, to my amazement, that many congregations had not looked at it, or didn’t know it existed. How can people make a choice if two sides of an argument are not considered? Not that the booklet seemed to help anyone. Those who favoured female ordination came out with the same views, and vice versa. But at least they had arguments to back their views!

Then in 1997, a notice appeared in The Lutheran advertising the first Women’s Ministry National Conference. A friend and I decided to go. Perhaps there we would find some answers about the women’s ordination issue. What a conference! A very well organised, creative conference, with a program so original in thought and practice. It included biblical highlights from women’s points of view – ideas we’d never met before. We came away with much food for thought. A vibrant woman pastor spoke, whose call from God had never been questioned by anyone, having German background and living and training in South Africa. Biblically based articles from male clergy added to the impact. We realized that men and women must start talking and LISTENING to each other on the subject.

In our home city of Sydney we soon began such discussions, with our first speaker a woman ordained by the Anglican Church, but not from the Sydney Diocese. They still don’t ordain women. Their fiery debate was reported widely in the local paper, and it was followed with great interest. At around the same time, the Presbyterian Church discontinued its women’s ordination program. Conflicting views abounded. Our speaker told of the gruelling time that women experienced. Incidentally, she has a husband who supports her and helps in the care of their home. They have worked out a satisfactory arrangement.

Choice for women.
As a society, we have made many advances which God has allowed, and which have given women freedom never known before. The most obvious is the Pill. That has its good and bad aspects, as does everything. But think about the difference that has made for women, at least in western countries. With modern household appliances and changing attitudes to work practices as well, women have been freed to pursue their gifts. Here is time that God has made available. Do we want to pursue it to be home-makers, career women, or both? Where has God called us?

Key Bible passages – 1 Corinthians 14:33-381 Corinthians 14:33-38
English: World English Bible - WEB

33 for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the assemblies of the saints, 34 let your wives keep silent in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly. 36 What? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone? 37 If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

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and 1 Timothy 2:11-141 Timothy 2:11-14
English: World English Bible - WEB

11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I don’t permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 Adam wasn’t deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience;

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Despite all the material on these two passages, they remain a central stumbling block for some people. So little is actually explained here, and as Lutherans we are not given to literalistic and fundamentalist views. How on earth can anyone from this century, given the best of historical data, really put themselves into the culture of that day, and know what sort of a situation Paul was talking into? Having been blessed with the experience of overseas travel, it is evident how difficult it is to try to transpose our thinking and understanding of life to any given area of the world, let alone go back some centuries. At that time, Paul was speaking to house churches, and wives were misusing their new-found freedom in Christ. No light is thrown on these passages from anywhere else. Luther acknowledges the difficulty of interpretation where insufficient passages are available to clear things easily.

These are two such passages. The best light is the Light himself, Jesus Christ. This is the Light we must use too.

Jesus made some radical changes in the thought patterns of his day. The world is still trying to catch up. His attitude to women was exemplary. No man could match it today. If we worship in spirit and truth as he expects of us, we will find great benefits in having women join the ordained team. Whom did God send to take the amazing message of the resurrection to the apostles? Women. Can’t we still do that today? Of course.

It’s not as though there will be a take-over of women, or that congregations won’t have a choice. Society appears to have ‘levelled out’. Women are balancing their priorities better. The female doctors in our local surgery all balance their hours with family commitments. There are complaints that they are not available enough. If they were more available, people would complain that they are not caring for their families properly. Either way, they couldn’t win.

Only time will tell if women’s ordination is truly from God. I believe it is. If it is not of God, it will be stopped. He can do that. He will finally resolve it, in his way. In the meantime we do need to talk, read, study, debate, listen and try to come to a consensus. That’s hard. We’re much better at trying to get others to see our point of view and wanting them to take it on. It’s easier. But that’s not consensus. In the time still available to us, let’s travel the road without fear, knowing that Jesus, who is the Light, continues to give light on this road that we all walk together.

Alicia Simpfendorfer

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