Our Diocese - Missions and Ministries3The Gippsland Anglican
I WILL never forget thestunned silence, at a churchconference in the 1970s,when the wife of an Angli-can clergyman publicly de-scribed the many forms of abuse suffered by manywomen in Christian homes,where men demanded theirwives submit to them.It awakened me in analarming way to the awfultruth that what we say,whether or not we mean itto, can be taken by those towhom we say it, to justifywhat we never intended. Nomatter how well we mightargue our case theologicallyand logically, others willhear it as they want to hearit and justify all manner of behavior on the basis of it.This, presumably, is onereason why we are warnedin Scripture that to havethe authority of a teacher inthe church is an awesomeresponsibility.Imagine my alarm, then,when I hear fellow Anglicanbishop, Archbishop PeterJensen*, announce publicly,women should be asked tosubmit to their husbands intheir wedding vows. Thisagainst the background of an Australian society whereevery year on average114,600 women experienceviolence by a current orprevious partner; where atleast 68,000 of the casesare witnessed by children,and where in 30 per cent of these cases, the child wit-nesses are also abused.Now, I am certainly notsaying the Archbishop of Sydney would not be con-cerned about this violenceagainst women and chil-dren. Hardly. I believe he isas horrified as I am aboutdomestic violence, and Ihave heard him speak outstrongly against it.Nevertheless, I also be-lieve he is naïve not to un-derstand, like it or not, hispronouncement, thatwomen should submit tomen, will inevitably be acatalyst to ongoing domes-tic violence for those menwho perversely take hiswords, as some will do, to justify their dominance andabuse of women and chil-dren. It is certainly whatthe wife of an Anglican cler-gyman made so clear to meso long ago.There are two issues toaddress on this matter. Thefirst is the issue of lan-guage. The English word ‘submit’ is today so associ-ated with being submissive,or even forced into submis-sion, that it can no longerbe used in the nuanced waysuggested by the Arch-bishop. He correctly pointsout ‘submit’ has othermeanings to being submis-sive or forced into submis-sion, but the word is now sotainted by common usage itis largely beyond redemp-tion.It is certainly true theword ‘submit’ has beenused in some cases as theEnglish translation of aword used by St Paul to de-scribe, in the first place, theduty of every Christian,whether female or male, inliving out all our relation-ships with one another. Heasks all Christians to live inthis way “out of reverencefor Christ” (Ephesians5:21). In other words, hesays that if we truly revereJesus, we will live as helived and this will bedemonstrated in the atti-tude we have to each otherin all our relationships.Now, it is clear Jesus wasneither submissive nor washe forced into submission.It is also clear Jesus waswilling, in freedom andlove, to give of himself toothers so they might havelife. This is the pattern of his life to which St Paulpoints as the pattern forChristian life. Acts of de-voted costly love for thesake of the other, in whichwe count the other as bet-ter than self, indicate theattitude St Paul sees inJesus and fill out the mean-ing of the word he uses inthis passage. But in com-mon usage, the Englishword ‘submit’ does not con-vey this meaning.The second issue to ad-dress is the issue of Biblicalanthropology. So long assome argue there is a hier-archy of male over femalein Biblical anthropology, wewill continue to have prob-lems. In such an ideology, itwill not be seen as strangeto require submission of awoman to a man.The problem is, this is nota true representation of Biblical anthropology. Fromthe very beginning of Scrip-ture, it is clear in the cre-ation stories of the ancientHebrews that man andwoman are made in theimage of God. As such,both in their own right aregiven authority on God’sbehalf to play the same roleas each other in God’s cre-ation. There is no subordi-nation of one to the other,implicit or explicit, in thesefoundational stories. This isall the more extraordinaryfor the fact these storieswere originally told in an in-tensely patriarchal age, aculture that certainly im-pacts on many other ac-counts in Scripture.Surely this means theymust be understood as acorrective to patriarchy. Ac-cordingly, any attempt toread the subordination of female to male in any otherpart of Scripture, or to readsubordination back intothose foundational storieson the basis of a misinter-pretation of another part of Scripture, is simply badhermeneutics (interpreta-tion).In the end, the real prob-lem is the wrong messagesent to the community bythe use of language thatwill be misunderstood andby statements based on aninterpretation of Biblical an-thropology that subordi-nates women to men.This is a problem becauseof the inevitable detrimen-tal impact it has for womenand children right now.Sadly, it brings the Gospelinto disrepute, because itopposes the Gospel’s fun-damental message of liber-ation to all who areoppressed.*Archbishop Peter Jensenis the Anglican Archbishopof Sydney and Metropolitanof the Province of NewSouth Wales in the AnglicanChurch of Australia. He wasrecently in the Australianmedia when Sydney dio-cese released a new versionof marriage vows for in-tending couples.