In August of 2009 the delegates to the biennial convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, approved a resolution that urged all denominational leaders not to discipline sexually active homosexual clergy in “faithful committed same-gender relationships,” thus making this mainline group, in the words of one observer, “just another Sodomite sect.”  In a Mere Comments posting that same month, I said “people who anticipate a large harvest for the Missouri Synod, [a much more conservative Lutheran group] don’t understand the dynamics of American Lutheranism.” Some of the respondents to the posting didn’t see why the LCMS would not show significant growth as a result of the ELCA’s cloacal thrust.

It is now seven years later and the statistics of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod show twelve-percent decline in membership between 2005 and 2015. I will not repeat my reasons for what turned out to be an accurate prediction, but will note that there was indeed no harvest in this for the LCMS.  Dr. William Tighe, a Touchstone contributing editor and close observer of the Lutheran and Anglican communions, said in his comment to the posting,

My experience of ELCA Lutherans (which is not inconsiderable) is that even the deeply conservative among them, whether “socially” conservative or “theologically” conservative, or both, have a deep and even aggressive devotion to women’s ordination. This can be seen particularly glaringly among the leaders and adherents of the “Evangelical Catholic” movement in the ELCA, such as Carl Braaten, Paul Hinlicky and Frank Senn, who for all of their purported “Catholicity” as regards liturgy, sacraments, church order and (sometimes) vaguely “Romish” aspirations, have always taken the line of “Rome is wrong and will have to recognize that it is wrong” as regards women’s ordination.

The conservatism of which Dr. Tighe writes here was expressed in August, 2010 in the formation of a new Lutheran denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), under the leadership of, among  others, the men he names, which rejects homosexuality, but endorses women’s ordination—and it is here the immediate membership surge occurred, primarily in direct subtraction from the congregations of the ELCA. At this writing the NALC has 140,400 members in more than 400 churches.

It is my intention to report in Mere Comments, if possible, follow-ups to denominational goings-on which I think will be of interest to our readers, actions that span the course of years, and in which some may see a personal summons to action at one point or another. If I am able, I will be reporting here on the continuing result of Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA’s) appointment this year, over hot debate, of a committee to study women’s ordination—the rejection of which was one of the principal reasons for its churches’ departure from the PCUSA in the first place–and the ongoing work of the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) that has been given the job of “leading the college of bishops” (what kind of bishops are these that need to be “led” by a task force on theological matters?) on the question of their approach to women’s ordination. This task force is scheduled to report to the bishops in January, and I anxiously await its highly predictable conclusion–that to preserve unity in their denomination women’s ordination should be tolerated, despite the personal opposition of a majority of its bishops.  Well, we’ll see what the fearless and learned House of Bishops does with that!  If I’m still functioning, I’ll let you know.

The ordination of women to the presbyterate in churches that accept it but do not force it is probably a self-limiting phenomenon.  This is because in denominations where congregations have the freedom to call their own pastors, whether or not they have much concern for orthodoxy, they usually choose men over women if they can–the “stained glass ceiling” so frequently complained of by women formally qualified for the ministry.  The reasons for this are not peculiar to churches and can be found in the universal intuition described by Steven Goldberg in The Inevitability of Patriarchy.  Women who seek to share leadership offices with men should consider that the force opposing them is greater than mere conservatism, as old as the human race, and unlikely to change, ever.