What you're seeing in this photograph is a Lutheran pastor (to the right) and three Lutheran deacons to his left. Yes, Lutheran deacons, and double yes, the third person from the left is a woman deacon.
At this point, if you belong to a Missouri Synod congregation, you may be shaking your head and clicking your tongue and sighing: "Oh, those ELCA Lutherans!"
But wait! These are LCMS ministers - all four. Yes, that's right, you are looking at a female minister in the LCMS wearing an alb and stole. Women deacons not only have the blessing of Concordia Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Kingsport, Tenn., as well as the Rev. Paul Becker, but also of the Mid-South District of the LCMS. I know of no opinion one way or the other from anyone at the synodical level, though this may simply be due to the fact that this is a recent development.
You can read it yourself (as well as see the picture) in the Mid-South District's newsletter. Click on the July-August link on this link. There is also a discussion about this situation at this Mid-South layman's blogsite.
The fact that we have licensed female deacons wearing stoles fits in nicely with my earlier posts on tradition. This is not going on in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or traditional continuing Anglican communions - nor is it happening in the faithful traditionalist Lutheran communions that have retained traditional polity (bishop, priest, and deacon) and refuse to ordain women. There are several such church bodies in communion with the LCMS. Only in church bodies that are bereft of tradition will you have the incongruity of conservatism, confessionalism, AND vested women deacons.
Of course, women are forbidden by Scripture to serve as deacons (e.g. see 1 Tim 3:12), and even the Greek word diakonos is in the masculine gender. But the Mid-South District can simply point to the LCMS's embrace of a female diaconate in the form of the modern synodical deaconess program. They can also point to the CTCR's benediction of women "elders" (noting that many congregations simply call their elders "deacons") - and in doing so, they can make the argument that just as an "elder" is not an elder (presbuteros) in the biblical sense, so too is a female "deacon" not a deacon (diakonos) in the biblical sense. Thus, this is an adiaphoron, a matter neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture - hence it falls within the realm of evangelical freedom. Besides, it has long been a widely-held interpretation of LCMS theologians that biblical deacons are in fact ordained pastors. And if this is the case, a woman "deacon" is no problem at all, given that she is unordained.
The LCMS approach to the roles of men and women avoids tradition, and pays scant lip service to the order of creation. Instead, we adopt a legalistic and biblicistic approach that says a women can do anything except preach and administer sacraments. Anything up to that line is okay, since the Bible has made only the ordained ministry out of bounds to women. Further, since our synod has no synodwide understanding of the diaconate, and since lay "deacons" are not ordained ministers in our synodical understanding, of course a women can serve in this capacity - so long as she is not exercising the functions of the ordained pastorate.
Furthermore, since neither the Bible not the confessions prohibit a woman from wearing a white robe with a brightly colored piece of fabric worn diagonally across her shoulders, there is nothing to complain about. Nor is there any biblical prohibition against a woman wearing a black shirt with a white collar. This too would be a matter of evangelical freedom.
And if tradition is not to be consulted, they are correct!
A traditionalist will certainly argue from Scripture that a woman may not be consecrated as a deacon. But he will also argue that this is a repugnant innovation in the practice of the Church, that the Church has never interpreted Scripture in such a way as to sanction vested female ministers - whether ordained to the presbyterate or consecrated to the diaconate. To a traditionalist, having women vest in masculine ecclesiastical garb and take on functions of the ministry (even granting the technicality that she is not ordained) is simply not done. We don't have to argue about bylaws, constitutions, and mission statements. We don't have to wade through pages and pages of clever biblical exegesis, nor must we consult the Book of Concord. It is simply not done, it has not been done, and it shall not be done. There is no need for discussion or infighting about it any more than we ought to entertain a motion on the floor of the convention to consider admitting new persons to the Trinity.
Of course, it is a biblical matter - but it goes beyond a few proof texts. Rather, this is a reflection of the order of creation. Even granting that (for now) she may not preach and say Mass, she is still acting in some kind of spiritual leadership. This is what the stole signifies. She is exercising spiritual authority. Her stole is a confession concerning what is acceptable for women to do - and it reflects a typical Missouri mindset that scours the Bible and scans the Confessions, but remains largely silent regarding the fathers of the Church.
This is where a "traditionalist" and a strict "confessionalist" (one who does not consider tradition) will clash. The traditionalist says the burden of proof lies on those who want female deacons. Otherwise, you can't have them. The confessionalist will place the burden of proof on the traditionalist, and in the absence of a Bible verse or a passage from the Book of Concord, it's a matter of liberty.
A traditionalist looks around himself at others in the Church Catholic. What does she do? What has she done? By contrast, a strict confessionalist has tunnel vision, viewing everything not prooftexted in the Bible and Book of Concord as a matter of freedom. Our congregation can do anything it wants without a care in the world what the rest of synod, the rest of churches in fellowship with our synod, nor the rest of the historic jurisdictions of the Church do or have done. This attitude is really sectarianism. Only a restoration of a traditional ethos will supplant this mindset and end this confusion and dreadful diversity of doctrine and practice in our synod.
So, where is this leading? To take a view of history is to see the trajectory. In the course of a few years, the LCMS has changed its mind and allowed for women voters, women representatives at synods, women acolytes, women congregational leaders, women elders, deaconesses, and now licensed and vested women deacons. We can see where this is headed.
I wonder how long it will be before some of our partner churches in the world, many of whom have an all male threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, will end fellowship with the LCMS. A woman wearing a stole in, say the Russian or Latvian Lutheran churches would be a scandal, an absolute scandal! These churches have suffered at the hands of the Lutheran World Federation for taking a stand against having women bishops, priests, and deacons. One wonders how long they can remain in fellowship with a church like the LCMS that allows women this place in the holy ministry.
Licensing women for diaconal work, having her wear an alb and a deacon's stole is simply not done. It is wrong - even if she is not technically a deacon in the biblical sense. How do I know this? To paraphrase Jesus Loves Me, "Tra-di-tion tells me so!"