Frustration over the global impasse on the issue of women’s ordination has finally led to an amendment of the constitution of the Northern German Union, as the delegates voted on April 23 in Geseke/Westfalia to accord equal rights in ordination regardless of gender. An individual’s motion to ordain women was successfully passed through the administrative levels in order to qualify for the agenda. It would be an overstatement to say that discussions were controversial. There was not one speaker on the microphone who spoke against the ordination of women. Some obviously tended towards rating global unity over equality as everyone knew a positive vote would lead to a clash with the General Conference’s Working Policy.
The call for unity and patience in regard to the next General Conference session in 2015 came from the Euro-Africa Division as expected. They tried illustrate the dilemma with an ill-chosen German metaphor: If one of the sixteen states constituting the Federal Republic of Germany voted to limit the speed on the Autobahn to 20km/h, the regulation would be meaningless since German highways are property of the federation, not the states and changes would require national legislation, not regional. The responses to the metaphor gave insight into the thinking on the floor. One delegate (female) said that the comparison should be made global and that while the roads in Africa are probably not fit for speeding like those in Germany, that wouldn’t warrant a global speedlimit. Another delegate somewhat jokingly said: If they brought us down to 20, we would run at 100 anyway, as long as there is no police around.
All in all the final vote of 160 to 47 (taken electronically for the first time) mirrored the unanimity on the topic. While some insisted on their conscience for a “Yes” vote and others mentioned terms like revolution or reformation, it became clear that the floor had made up its mind that on the issue of the equality of female with male pastors playing for time is no more an option. Patience has yielded to resolution.
While the decision is in contradiction to global regulation, it should be noted that it was emphasized more than once that this is not to be considered as an act of disloyalty towards the world church, but as an act of conscience toward the gospel, albeit with a flavor of civil disobedience.
Dennis Meier is pastor of the Grindelberg church in Hamburg, Germany.
Image: The headquarters of the Northern German Union.