Latvia: Lutheran Church Abolishes Women’s Ordination

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) has officially abolished women’s ordination, after a 282-201 synod vote on Friday.

The president of the International Conference of Confessing Christians, Pastor Ulrich Rüß of Hamburg, welcomed the move and said that the synod has withstood “the enormous pressure of the zeitgeist and gender ideology.”

Representatives of other Lutheran churches, such as in northern Germany, had sought to prevent the vote by stating that women’s ordination is an “irrevocable element of the reformed [Protestant] church.” They are planning to cut relations with the Latvian Lutheran church.

Since the establishment of the Republic of Latvia in 1918, the church has accepted consecrations by the Church of Sweden, and so it claims full apostolic succession. The church began ordaining women in 1975, but this was halted in 1993 under the leadership of Archbishop Jānis Vanags. He believes that an exclusively all-male ministry corresponds to biblical and apostolic tradition. Vanags is 58, and following Latvian church practice he will be in office until he dies or retires.

The ELCL is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. It is in full fellowship with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) of the U.S. It has experienced massive growth since the fall of communism.


  1. This might seem like a decision from the Baltic periphery, BUT: with this move, the BEM argument that no church that has begun to ordained women has ever seen fit to revoke that decision, or changed its mind on women’s ordination has just been proven wrong…

  2. First lesson: don’t make anyone an archbishop before the age of 35. You can imagine how he got there, though. A young zealot rising quickly, immediately after the collapse of communism.

    It’s not a large church in absolute numbers, despite recent “massive growth.” The total number of adherents is 708,773, says Wikipedia. Of course, it’s a small country, of only about 2 million people, so the number is significant for Latvia. There are about 80 million Lutherans worldwide (again, my source is Wikipedia).

    One wonders a bit about Pastor Ulrich Rüß of Hamburg, who applauded the move. Will he try to do the same?

    1. @Rita Ferrone:

      Sorry, that “young conservative” category, though convenient, is a little too convenient and a bit tired. I am not quite comfortable with the insinuation that had he been older (and presumably wiser) the theology would have been different. It’s the other side of the coin to dismissing the opinions of older people because they were “poorly catechized”. Why is it so hard to accept that just as some people of a certain age reach a particular conclusion, there can be others who reach a different one?

      And sorry, imagination aside, disagreeing with views on ordained ministry does not make one a “young [conservative] zealot” any more than voting to change a more restrictive praxis to a less restrictive one makes one a “progressive visionary”. There has to be, IMO, more to that package.

      1. @Joshua Vas:
        Joshua, Joshua, keep your shirt on! I am not talking about *you.* You weren’t named an archbishop while still in your early 30’s were you?

        I am speaking about a generalization, but it’s not a meme, it’s founded on historical fact. I am talking about the immediate post-Soviet period after the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. My point is simple. Under communism, religion was suppressed. Anyone who rose to authority in the churches under the old regime had to cooperate with the regime. Show me a religious leader zealous for independent action and obedience to the pure and holy Word of God and I’ll show you someone splitting logs in Siberia.

        This history created a near vacuum of credible leadership, once communism fell. I very strongly suspect that’s why this man got to be an archbishop before he hit the age of 35. If he wasn’t zealous, he wouldn’t have been noticed. If he were older, he would have been tainted.

        And yes, I think when people are older they take more time to make decisions that will have ramifications beyond themselves; they learn prudence. I know I have. Even Pope Francis said he made poor decisions when he was put in charge of the Jesuit community too early.

  3. Max’s comment got me looking for a definition!

    (Pronounced Kuh-Vor-Kuh) Kavorka is a power, a mystical power, which only few possess. It is the animal attraction which causes friends to adore you and women to lust after you. Some say that it is a curse ,A great burden to be in such demand and Kavorka has been known to cause insanity as well as eccentric behavior. Those who possess Kavorka are the pinnacles of style, grace and popularity. Kavorka cannot be learned because it is an aura of sorts, and therefor you either got it or you don’t.

  4. Whoa, whoa, whoa… Rita…
    Didn’t you ever watch Seinfeld? Seinfeld taught us all about kavorka when that Latvian nun gets the hots for Kramer.

    1. @Abe Rosenzweig:
      Abe, I know you’ll despise me for this but I’ve got to admit it. I don’t watch TV! Thank you for bringing me up to speed on this, with the help of Chuck’s link below. I watched the clip. Hilarious! Still don’t know this has anything to do with anything, but it was a fun interlude!

  5. Very unusual that they hold membership in LWF, but are also in communion with Missouri Synod Lutherans. They are not, however, members of the International Lutheran Council, the world-wide counterpart to LWF for more conservative churches (LC-MS is). I doubt that they will be allowed to continue in LWF if they are not willing to acknowledge the ordained ministries of other LWF churches. I wonder, also, if they will remain in the Porvoo Communion, where most churches ordain women.

  6. Come on, Rita.

    Had this young bishop made the opposite decision, and allowed women’s ordination, would you really have dismissed him just the same?

    Somehow I find that hard to believe.

  7. @John Schuster-Craig:

    They are not members of Porvoo, merely observers (although the Latvian Church Abroad is a member).

  8. This vote by the Latvians has everything to do with their relationship with the LCMS. I wouldn’t be surprised to read soon that they also leave LWF and then join the ILC.

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