Despite their General Synod (Church parliament) voting against Women’s Ordination five times, the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand is working on a proposal that could mean they become one church with two ordination practices in 2024 to 2027.
At the end of the last General Synod, a motion was passed that the Lutheran Bishops and their general church board produce “a detailed framework” for the pastors’ network and the 2024 General Synod.
A “Way Forward” team have come up with three proposals.
• A geographical or non-geographical district resolves to ordain women, opening up the roles of pastor, bishop, assistant bishop, and special ministry pastor. Pastors who have a complementarian view could apply to be re-assigned.
• Churches could decide:”calling communities have the freedom to include qualified and approved women on their call list when a pastoral vacancy arises.”
• “Confessional communities” Pastors and laymembers could join societies with different viepoints. General and District Synods would reflect the numbers in each confessional community.
The motion at General Synod was passed as a ordinary motion, which only required a simple majority. Motions to introduce womens ordination have needed a higher two thirds vote threshold, and have failed despite recieving more than 50 per cent of votes at General Synod.
Using this method has angered some conservatives who believe Women’s Ordination is being forced on the church. The committee overseeing the “Way Forward” process of forming the proposals is dominated by people in favour of Womens ordination.
Some people opposed to women’s ordination have left the Lutheran Church, some to join “micro Synods” of dissident Lutherans.
The debate we all know has been long, painful and debilitating, and the consensus was that to continue to debate is likely to further fracture the church,” Pastor David Altus, Bishop Emeritus of the South Australian Northern Territory District, a member of the Way Forward team told the Laudio podcast.
” So in an attempt to find a way forward that preserves the unity of our Church General Senate, ask the General Church Board and the College of Bishops to work towards a framework that allows two practises of ordination, one being men only and the other both men and women. In essence, this proposal concedes that we will agree to disagree on the matter of ordination, but it also hopes that this disagreement isn’t sufficient to divide us.”
A recent paper by John Kleinig, formerly a long-serving Biblical Studies academic at the Australian Lutheran College in North Adelaide, now lecturing at Concordia Theological Seminary in Indiana strongly criticises the Way Forward process. “It rests on a flimsy foundation that was snuck in at the last moment after the last synodical convention had just for the fifth time rejected the ordination of women,” Kleinig writes in a widely circulated paper. ” “This was passed without any proper consideration of its actual purpose and its proper use. On the one hand the resolution to consider how to operate as ‘one church’ with ‘two practices’ assumes that this is theologically uncontentious and practically possible. It rejects the established teaching of the church and discounts our theological differences as merely human without providing an agreed Biblical, theological basis for doing this.”
The theology needs to be worked out first, Kleinig argues. “Worst of all, it assumes that this theological issue can be managed politically, constitutionally and organisationally without first reaching a clear, theological consensus. This project is, at best, unclear in its design or, at worst, misleading in its execution. It wrongly assumes that we can and should decide how to implement the ordination of women before we decide whether we should do it, and why. Only then can and should we decide how to implement that decision. In fact any discussion on these three proposals would be a waste of time if both the pastors’ conference and the convention failed to reach at least a two thirds majority with a decision to ordain women as is required for matters of doctrine.”
By contrast the Way Forward team believes the process is going well. “More than 300 people from across the LCANZ attended Way Forward webinars [in October] in which three ‘one church, two practices of ordination’ frameworks were introduced.” their webpage reported
“Thank you to everyone who attended and those who raised questions. There were so many great questions, that some couldn’t be answered at the time. We are working through responding and updating our Frequently Asked Questions section on the website.
‘We are so pleased with the level of engagement overall, which increased steeply with the release of Bishop Paul’s call to prayer video in late September, which to date has had almost 2000 individual views.
‘Thank you so much for your participation. It’s not the project team who will find the best way forward; it’s the collective insights and feedback from the people across our church – people like you.
‘We want every member of the church to know what is happening, so they can consider the options and contribute to the project.”
The answers on the website’s FAQs reveal that only one framwoek will be put forward at the 2024 Synod, but that there may need to be a back-up. Another question asks why a district by district approach is put forward rather than two Synods. “No. General Synod expressly asked the General Church Board and College of Bishops to present a proposal for ‘one church with two different practices of ordination’, not two synods or two churches. To consider two synods as an option would contravene General Synod’s direction.”
This leads naturally to the question about “pastors and congregations who, in good conscience can’t stay with a church that ordains women.” The Answer: “The project team is working very hard to develop a model, based on the suggestions received from across the church, that will allow pastors, congregations and members to stay in the LCANZ regardless of the position they hold on ordination.”
However, Kleinig believes two ordination practices in one church will divide the LCANZ. “I, for one, cannot go along with any of the three proposals because they separate what God has joined together. They separate the ‘districts’ of the LCA from the church at large as a confessional community in the one holy catholic Church, confessional congregations from the church at large, and confessional pastors as lone rangers from both of these. All three are equally impossible theologically and practically. None of them will work. All are equally messy. Each, if implemented, will most likely lead to the disintegration of the LCA as a confessional denomination in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
In a separate development, the Australian Lutheran College is moving to a model with part time staff and distance education. Several staff have had their positions reduced to part time, some leaving as a result. This week Pastor Tim Stringer from Melbouerne was announced as the new college prinipal replacing Pastor James Winderlich, one of several staff who are returning to parish ministry. A college property used for student housing has been advertised for sale, and the future of the whole North Adelaide campus is under review as previously reported in The Other Cheek.