Lutheran congregation votes to keep limits on women

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

NOKOMIS, Ill. (AP) -- The men of Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church have decided to keep a policy that bars women from voting on church business, a decision that counters the trend within their denomination.

Almost all other congregations in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have given women a vote in church business.

Officials say 90 percent of churches in the synod's southern Illinois district let women vote. A nationwide survey in the 1980s found that 80 percent of the synod's churches let women vote, and officials say the figure undoubtedly has climbed.

"The number of congregations that don't let women vote is very small," said Lynda Carter, a spokeswoman for the 6,250-church synod. "It's just up to the individual congregations. That's not something that, theologically, we mandate."

From the founding of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1847 until 1969, women were not allowed to vote. In 1969, church leaders let congregations decide for themselves. Women cannot serve as pastors in the Missouri Synod.

Trinity Lutheran's voters assembly decided Sunday not to give women a bigger say in church business. Fourteen men supported a change, and 21 opposed it, said the Rev. Bert Eickhoff.

Although he believes Scripture prohibits women from voting in the church, Eickhoff said he "did not feel a sense of elation" over the amendment's failure because of his concern for disappointed parishioners.

"Whether it will cause anybody to become embittered, that remains to be seen," he said.

Both men and women spoke in favor of the amendment during a discussion before the vote, Eickhoff said. Some men spoke against the measure and, he said, some women privately told him they oppose letting women vote.

Although women may not vote on church business, many are active teaching Sunday school, serving as ushers or working on committees.

An attempt in the 1980s to let women vote also failed.

Vickie Detmers has attended the church in Nokomis, about 50 miles south of Springfield, all of her life. But because she was a woman and her husband was not a member until recently, no one in her family could vote on church business.

"I and some of the other women whose husbands were not members would like to have a voice in the church," Detmers said last week, as do "some of the widows who do so much for the church and don't have a say."

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