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Finland: New Phase for Womenâs Ordination Issue Exclusion of Female Pastors Unacceptable
HELSINKI, Finland/GENEVA, 20 July 2007 (LWI) - The 1986 decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) to open pastoral ordination to women has been featuring in recent debate within the Finnish Lutheran church. The church leadership says the situation has now reached a critical phase, with some male pastors in some of the congregations expressing opposition to working with their female colleagues in worship services.
Two incidents are currently under diocesan investigation, concerning a male pastor who did not report for duty when he should have served at the altar with a woman pastor.
ELCF Archbishop Jukka Paarma says he is "deeply disappointed," and notes the situation is deliberately being driven into a kind of stalemate, in which there is no possible way out through consultation and mediation. According to a 2006 survey on church-office holders, about two percent of pastors in the church's 517 congregations were opposed to cooperation with women pastors.
When the ELCF Bishops' Conference had reported on the issue to the September 2006 Synod meeting, it had been proposed that the question should first be dealt with through pastoral discussion and guidance from the respective bishop. Those opposed to working with women pastors were expected to accept the churchâs decisions and commitment to the life of the church.
The Bishopsâ Conference, comprising the heads of the church's nine dioceses, pointed out that the 1986 synod resolution was, according to the law, a guiding recommendation, not a legally binding ordinance.
"The exclusion of female pastors cannot be accepted. It goes against the church's law, which naturally grows out of the Bible concerning principals of love, respect for each other and equality, as well as the laws of our society," Paarma writes in a statement issued last March.
The Bishops' Conference had underscored that church workers were required to carry out all tasks assigned to the position. The bishops had stated that a pastor could not refuse "to work" with another pastor, saying it was wrong for church workers to follow convictions that differed from common legislation or synodal decisions, which were not under the jurisdiction of law.
According to the Bishops' Conference, the gender of the office holder is not central to the churchâs beliefs and teachings. But gender-based discrimination remains judicially unacceptable, with an option that the church can apply sanctions, albeit only as a last resort.
When the ordination was opened to women, the Synod had accepted a resolution stating that church members and office holders with a negative stance toward the opening of the ministry to women should still have the freedom to work and possibility to be ordained and placed into different ELCF offices. But the resolution calls all church members and officers to joint responsibility in overcoming difficulties caused by the change, with the aim to protect the unity of the church.
It was in 1913 that the first Finnish woman earned her theological degree. The ELCF Synod voted on the ordination of women in 1963, 1976 and 1984, attaining the required three-fourths majority vote, in favor, in 1986.
The first 94 women pastors were ordained in March 1988. In 1990, the synod decided that women could be consecrated as bishops.
In 2005, the ELCF included 748 female and 1,449 male pastors, the latter representing 66 percent of all parish pastors. Around 62 percent of all hospital chaplains were women, as were 69.8 percent of family counselors.
The ELCF has some 4.5 million members representing 82.4 percent of the countryâs population. It joined the LWF in 1947. (600 words)
(A contribution of the ELCF Church Information Center.)
* * * (The L WF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of nearly 66.7 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)
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