Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Having Authority Without Having Authority

Pretend your congregation needs a new treasurer. There is a retired CPA in the congregation willing to serve and fully competent for the task. No one else is qualified or remotely interested. The retired CPA should get the position easily, right? Ah, no. Because your congregation is WELS and the position of treasurer is a member of the church council, and, unfortunately, the retired CPA is a woman. For those not familiar with WELS teaching on the roles of man and woman, no woman can have authority over any man. They extend this authority to voting both in the church and in secular elections (though this varies depending on who you talk to-it’s fun to watch the tap-dancing when this question is asked).

So, what to do in the case of the treasurer? You create a new position in the church! Well, of course! Problem solved. The retired CPA is now your Financial Secretary. She gets the privilege of doing all the work of the church treasurer without the title! The title of Treasurer goes to a man, who will do nothing related to the finances of the congregation but attend council meetings.

This is nothing new. For years, female WELS teachers of one-room schools were not principals of those schools because that would involve authority (Over whom? Good question. Some will say over the 8th-grade men-students, others will say over the fathers of the students, others just shrug when asked). Sure, they did all the work of the principal, but the title went to the pastor.

The same situation is now seen in WELS early childhood education centers. Many times the pastor is named the head of the ECE facility, even though he has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the titles. So, yes, as a woman in the WELS, you can do important work in the church; just don’t expect a title that describes what you are actually doing. Expect that to go to a male person who likely has nothing to do with what his title implies.


Anonymous said...

I actually do not see a problem with this.

Angry Lutherans said...


Many women do. It is inconsistent to say that a woman can do all the work of a certain position, say school principal, but just not have the title. If a woman, by her doing the work, is the de facto principal, it's dishonest to give the title to someone else. If a woman shouldn't be in a position of authority, then don't let her do the work. On the other hand, if it is ok for her to do all the work of the school principal, then give her the title that describes to parents and students what she actually does.

Angry Lutherans said...

I see another AL already responded, but here's some background. This situation came to ALs from a male layperson whose congregation had just done something similar. He and a contingent of men are hopping mad over what they see as a credibility issue for their congregation. If the WELS can teach their Scriptural principles when it suits them, but then with a wink and a nudge work around them when that's more convenient, it creates questions about whether we really believe what we are teaching.

Also, what is more important, the substance of a position or the title? If it is the substance of the position of treasurer, principal, or pastor that a woman should not have, then she should not do the work of those positions, regardless of what her title is. Astute laypeople are seeing that this is the way the WELS can sneak in female pastors. They can do the work of pastors (usually by ministering to other women), as long as they don't have the title.

RevFisk said...

I completely agree that giving mouth-verbage to the doctrine while working around it in practice/principle is inane. Go get yourself a Talmud if you like that kind of piety.

But it is consistent with the Bible to understand Paul's word about "authority over a man" to be based in and applicable to natural law - hence, not "limited" to the office of the Ministry. However, how doing the math for the budget (which is submitted to the Council at which the Treasurer has no authority OVER anyone) and writing checks on behalf of the congregation would fall into this category is rather obscure. And if the eighth grade boys are "men" then why are they in Sunday school, or school, and not at work?

I also find it so very sad how often the biblical teaching of headship, and the Scripture's understanding of the goodness authority delegation to the men, is so often misrepresented and straw-manned aside. It ever amazes me how willingly we are to let the abuses and inconsistencies of a sinful world override the use of beautiful doctrine. So the congregation invalidates headship by having a woman president because there are no males with enough backbone/nerve to do the job? Is this a matter of the Athanasian Creed? Is this a matter of faith in the resurrection of Christ himself? Is it damning?

It is like (can't remember his name) wrote in the wonderful little book, "The Office of Woman in the Church," when addressing the issue of a woman being ordained and preaching. Paraphrasing: "Of course she COULD preach. It would simply be to the shame and dishonor of every man in the room who did not have the balls to do it himself for the sake of the Church. And it would be her duty to preach precisely that to them (from the appropriate texts) until they repented and took their pants back from the '60s."

There's also the anectdote of the woman missionary to a small African village who taught them the Bible every Sunday, straight from the NT, until they came to 1 Corinthians 14. After reading the text, the headman took her aside and said, "Now it is time for you to teach me in private, and I will teach my people."