30 August 2010


OK, Anonymous from way back when who asked about women's suffrage. If you're even still reading, you'll have to forgive me. It takes me a REALLY LONG TIME to think about something. And to talk to everyone I want to talk to about it. And to decide how I'd put it. And then to type it up. And then to let it sit in my drafts while I think about it some more. And then revise and revise and revise. And then run it by my idiocy checker. And then let it sit in my drafts for a few more months. And then . . . . . . . . . . post.

Now, the Voters' Assembly as we have it in the LCMS today is a made up thing and Americanish and mostly silly. And that's why I've never been too clear on how to respond to the suffrage question because the Bible doesn't say, "Women shouldn't go to (or speak at or vote at) voter's meetings every first Monday of every other month at seven of the clock post meridiem." Suffrage is simply not in Scripture. All I could say was, I don't go and I wouldn't.

But now that I've done the thinking and the talking I'm doing the typing (and maybe even the posting). Here's what I turned up that was helpful. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is about congregational order. To keep order, we do things the Christian ordered way, that is, with men heading families as icons of Christ our Head. At home, the buck stops with Dad. He catechizes and calls the shots because God told him to, which means it's on his head if those things are done poorly.

Family is a microcosm of the local parish. The congregation is a family. So when the family units gather as a greater congregational family, the heads do the heading. They listen, they discuss, they decide what would be best not for themselves individually but for their family. If Mom is concerned about something, she can talk to Dad about it in the mutual love and patience of their own relationship, and he will weigh her concern like he always does, and make the best decision he can see. Mom trusts Dad to represent and care for their family wisely and selflessly at church just as he does at home.

Might I ask why the heck this post so long?

OK, but the hard cases: the moms without dadly care back at our control group, the microcosm, the family. Sometimes families get messed up. They don't have Dad at the head. Mom has to step up. It's not OK, but it happens. Although she is Acting Head, she is not a true Head. We can also factor in at this point the virgins and the widows.

Well, at church we're not so micro. There are numerous heads because there are numerous families, which means: that woman who has to step up at home doesn't have to step up at church. At home she doesn't have anyone to provide for her and protect her and in whom she can put her earthly trust. But at church she does. She has every other Dad looking out for her. She can take a load off and not worry about this world's cares for once in her life (just like the virgins and the widows and the abandoned did in Luther's day and Walther's day and every other day until 1969). If she's concerned about something at the parish, she can do what she can't do at home: take her concern to a man whom she trusts, and trust him to weigh her concern regarding the parish and make the best decision he can see. A woman whose husband or father has failed her is not as a result also failed by her parish family. At church she has the comfort only a woman has the benefit of enjoying, even when she has been robbed of that comfort at home.

Will the men of her church family fail her sometimes? Yup. In some parishes, it might be pretty often or pretty serious. But just as in a family, this is not license for Mom to push back and commandeer. In those hard, terrible cases of unfaithfulness, abuse, or abandonment, it is license for her to leave.

Why are we consummate Americans asking this Voters' Assembly question? Is it because we are concerned about our rights and having our voices heard? Because that's not how Christians think. The way Christians think is, in charity and humility, "My fathers and brothers have my best interests in mind. I know I can trust them because they kneel with me at our Lord's altar every week." It means that sometimes we live with the mistakes of others, even as they live with our mistakes. It also means that sometimes we learn that someone else really did know better, or that something didn't matter as much as we felt it did.

Here's the real money line I got from my favorite consultant: women voting in the Voters' Assembly is as disordered as mothers working outside the home. It's got a lot of problems. There are costs built into it, including a greater danger of slippery slopism into other disorders than in homes where it doesn't happen. But it's pretty far from the worst thing in the world. Every sane person understands that, and Christian charity guides us to put the best construction on any particular case of it happening.

But if it doesn't have to happen--why make it happen? And in the church, it just doesn't have to happen. So I don't go, and I wouldn't, even if I weren't the pastor's wife, even at a parish that "allowed" it. Not because it's wrong for me to go, but because I think it gives a better testimony to God's ordering of human life if I don't. I think it communicates trust and humility and the otherness of the family of God if I say of my parish family, "The dads/husbands will take care of us," even as I am blessed to be able to say that at home.

I don't think women who participate in Voters' Assemblies are bad people. I do think this is a very muddled topic for the American mind, which is steeped in the language of rights, individualism, populism, and feminism, and for the legalistic Protestant mind which thinks in terms of strict chapter and verse permission or prohibition rather than Christian prudence. I am not on a campaign to end women's suffrage by Synodical resolution, that most powerful catholic force, any more than I'm on a campaign to get people to eat more spinach. But I do think in my own private mind that eating spinach is good for most people, and I eat it myself, and if someone asked for my opinion on spinach I'd say I'm for it.


HappyFox said...

I eat spinach because it's good for me, not because I like it (I mix it with stuff that actually tastes good.) :) But I think you make good points on Voters' Assemblies. I was raised in an LCA church (which had monthly church council and annual congregational meetings); spent some years at Church of Christ while I was in the Army & away from good Lutheran churches; then finally found the LCMS in TX six years ago. Our current LCMS church has....monthly church council meetings & bi-annual congregational meetings. What's a "Voters' Assembly"? :)

MooreMama said...

Thank you for giving me something to mull in my head.
It's one of the reasons I keep coming back here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this.

Rebekah said...

Anon, you're starting to freak me out, unless you are a detractor and making fun of me, in which case I feel really famous. :D

Thursday's Child said...

I like your explanation. I'm from the ELCA and I'm used to participating and voting in our congregational meetings. One annual and others as needed. If I make the switch and join the LCMS church we've been visiting, I'm going to have to get used to biting my tongue...or just going to eat after church on *those* Sundays. ;)

Gayle Wilson said...

I think my biggest problem with this isn't my caring and concerned husband, but that he can't provide a proper report with the attendant detail after a meeting :)

Reb. Mary said...

Thinking time and processes are pretty minimal around here lately, so here's how I think through it: If I am going to get myself organized enough to get out, and cough up a chunk of change for a sitter (an occasion that I can almost believe might at some point occur, although I cannot in fact remember it occurring), I am not going to use that precious time to park my unnecessary rear in a fellowship hall folding chair for the purpose of discussing a new furnace. :D

Reb. Mary said...

Gayle, I know what you mean. My husband has spent 10 years learning the strange importance of details to housebound wifely creatures, and has against all odds become rather more better at sorting and reporting daily minutiae that may be of interest to me. ;)

Cheryl said...

Rebekah, just wondering if you would also say women should also not serve on boards? Just wondering where that would fit in, or if it's a totally different issue.

HappyFox said...

No, really - what's a Voters' Assembly? I've heard of them but have no experience w/them.


Rebekah said...

Gayle Wilson!! I'm making pot stickers and blessing your name next month. Anyway, at most meetings, minutes are taken, no?

Cheryl, my solution to that problem is disbanding all the boards. Boards are even more made up than Voters' Assemblies.

HF, call it what you will. The congregation in convention. The meetings where the decisions are made. I'd never heard of a VA as such until a bunch of clowns got riled about it a while back; at the church where I grew up they were just called voters' meetings.

Untamed Shrew said...

I must slightly revise my comment from last November. At the risk of counting my chicks before they hatch...

I now have 4 perfect excuses to bow out of voter's meetings, and I'm ever so grateful.

Cheryl said...

"Cheryl, my solution to that problem is disbanding all the boards."

Hmmm, I think there's an avoiding the issue falllacy hiding in there somewhere. :-)

As for women voting, for the record, the women in our congregation can do so and this women does, cantor's wife or no cantor's wife. And when my daughter was confirmed she started attending voters' meetings and voting, too. If our congregation were to change or we were to move to a congregation that didn't allow women to vote, I would be fine with that. But since our congregation does allow it, I have decided to abide by that system because I think it will work best if when and where women are allowed to vote, they do so. Otherwise I worry about things getting all out of whack. I think political structures work best when the majority of people function within them as they have been given to do.

For the record, our Voters' Assembly is called what it is because not every member of the congregation is a voter. You can't just show up and vote. You have to have established a pattern of attending meetings and investing yourself in the business of the congregation before being granted that privilege. This is the result of a voters' meeting we had a few years back that 600 people attended. They came out of the woordwork because the issue was so explosive. Some of them hadn't been at a voters' meeting in years. But they showed up for this one and brought their cousins and uncles and more. It revealed a problem in our Constitution that has since been addressed.

BTW, our Elders are only men, and they are the spiritual overseers of the congregation. The Voters' Assembly deals with temporal matters, not spiritual ones.

And I guess that's what I struggle with a bit. I think a lot of the business that our Voters' Assembly considers is well served by including the perspective of women in the congregation. It's not a question of their having the "right" to vote but of their having so much to offer. I suppose, though, they could offer that wisdom and counsel without having a vote.

I will say that a few years ago when a confused element of our congregation tried to run out a faithhful pastor (the aforementioned 600+ voters' meeting), I was glad for all the women who turned out to vote to repudiate that misguided action. Maybe the vote would have turned out the same if it had been all men. I don't know.

But I completely understand your argument, and again, if I found myself in a congregation in which only male heads of household could vote, I would submit with no objection. Hey, I'm married to a man who thinks we would have a much better country if only property owning heads of households were allowed to vote!

Anonymous said...

"Anon, you're starting to freak me out,"

Sorry. I have just believed these things for so long and sat quietly through the absurd pandering to women as though we all vainly relish one more dog gone thing to do. I don't seek to share in Adam's curse. He ain't sharing mine. I just want the guys to do their part and not try to pass it to me with a bunch of flattery and catering to my ego about how I am smart and should, blah, blah, blah. Smart enough to know it takes more effort to do the man's job and mine, than to just do mine.

It is just a relief to read someone thinking some of the same things.

Rebekah said...

Cheryl, I understand what you're saying, and like I said, I don't think it's terrible or anything for women to attend/speak/vote at what are for many churches just discussions of oikonomy. It is the made-upery of it that makes it difficult to quantify. Boards are even worse, which is why I don't have anything to say to that question.

>>He ain't sharing mine.

Anon, AMEN. He can keep the headaches, I have plenty of my own aches.

Rebekah said...

Cheryl, one more thing about boards and all that nonsense--it's hard for me to think about because I'm in denial. The church shouldn't look like the world. There was a time when, at God's discretion, most families were large and mothers were busy with young children for many years such that questions like this wouldn't come up. There was a time when it would have seemed disrespectful to families to ask women for large and rigid time commitments. There was a time when the primary female workers in the church were the widows and virgins, who saw their proper work as acts of service and mercy to the weak and infirm (especially other women), which meant yucky stuff like wiping brows and emptying bedpans. My brain is stuck then. This whole silly mess we've got now I don't even know how to think about.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl- an issue I have with women at voter's meetings is that they do sometimes vote about things pertaining to the ministry of the congregation, and they also vote about the pastor's salary.
Voting about the furnace? Doesn't bother me. Voting on whether or not to do outreach or raise pastoral pay seems inappropriate.

Melrose said...

I like this post. We have our first voter's meeting since arriving in our town in a couple months and I was feeling weird about it. Now I can say, "I didnt go because Rebekah told me not to." To all the feminists in my church ;D

Untamed Shrew said...

Anon, "...whether or not to do outreach...."

I reach out to my husband, and 9 months later the church grows. Boo-yah!

Leah said...

Thank you Rebekah.

Untamed Shrew - that sounds a lot like our "Church Growth Program".
(you've got my vote with that comment :P )

Gayle Wilson said...

Weirdo blogger who comes to dinner in pjs - how the heck are you?!

Our baby Alyssa has just matriculated to that far far away place, Seward (art major - perhaps liturgical).

Is Basil still amongst us?

lisa said...

>>There was a time... My brain is stuck then.

Yeh. This seems to be my problem as well.

Now off to work on that charity and humility bit. It just won't take.

Rebekah said...

Melrose, I'm no authority on this or anything other than who in my house pooped today.

Gayle, how the heck are YOU? Hard to believe the Christmas buffalo is off to learn how to install TVs in altars. :D And only last night I had use for one of the best kid quotes ever, which we got from your son: "How do you make it fun?" Basil thrives, though more slowly than he used to. This comment typed from within my pjs.

Gayle Wilson said...

You know about the tv in the altar? :)

You know we still haven't been to Long John Silvers (but we can cross runza off our list!).

Um, Christmas buffalo?

We're great. I'm a crappy pastor's wife since I don't speak Chinese anymore, but I play piano for the guy.

Rebekah said...

We came over on a Sunday afternoon and she was wearing a set of paper horns. You explained that she had been the buffalo in the Christmas program that morning (technically an American bison, I believe--not to be confused with the water buffalo in your creche). We've marvelled over it ever since.

I'm still trying to make the piano thing go. Chinese is right out, but also doesn't come up much in these parts.

wilsonpop said...

You have quite the memory! I think it's hilarious what our respective families remember about the other. And good times cramming in the i.c., eh?

We got a duplicate creche from a Hong Kong friend, so Alyssa took it along to Seward with her.