To love and submit?!

T

This weekend the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Sydney Anglican churches have a new marriage liturgy in which the bride promises to ‘submit’ to her husband. This reflects a conviction that the Bible sees leadership in church and home as gendered, and that while bible writers may have applied this in culturally particular ways, the underlying pattern is ordained by God for all cultures and all times.

It’s somewhat ironic that I came to reject this view while studying at Moore Theological College, the flagship educational institution of Sydney Anglicans. I entered theological college believing leadership was male and left committed to the notion that both men and women should serve as leaders in the church and that my marriage should be a partnership where Sandy and I make decisions together as equals.

I was challenged to reconsider my view when I met women studying at Moore who believed they were called to pastoral leadership. Rather than seeking to shore up my view, I decided to try to destroy it. If my view was truly biblical it would withstand rigorous examination. It didn’t. The more I studied the more the gaping holes became apparent.

First, there were the women in the bible who led with the blessing of God – Deborah the judge, Huldah the prophet, Junias the apostle, Paul’s ‘co-workers’ Euodia, Syntyche, Priscilla. It struck me that people with a leadership is male approach tried all sorts of interpretive gymnastics to evade the force of these texts.

Second, there was the logic of a gospel which declared that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. It seemed to me incredulous that this did not have social implications, that just as this gospel undermined cultural division and the institution of slavery it subverted patriarchal models of marriage.

Third, my male headship view was built on the idea that this was something God instituted at creation. I understood this was the point in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 where the Adam-Eve story is used in discussion of gender roles, definitive proof that different gender roles are inherent to how we are created and not merely cultural. Yet as I studied these somewhat cryptic verses I couldn’t find a convincing explanation of what they mean. It became far less apparent that these verses were laying out a creation hierarchy.

Finally, texts that did teach male leadership made sense as applied love. The first century world was dominated by men. Husbands were the undisputed masters of the home and public life was controlled by men. The New Testament writers call Christians to infuse these relationships with love, grace and servanthood. Husbands are to use their authority to love and serve their wives and wives are to lovingly serve their husbands and gracefully submit to their leadership. When Ephesians 5 anchors this in the relationship between Christ and the church the point is not that the Christ-church relationship is the model for gender roles within marriage but for love and service in relationships where status and authority varies between the parties.

Thus the New Testament points us toward a world where cultural divisions, gender hierarchies and social status hierarchies are eliminated, while at the same time providing pastoral advice as to how gospel values of love and grace could be worked out in a highly patriarchal culture.

On this basis it doesn’t make sense to me that we try to perpetuate male leadership in church and home. This privileges an oppressive first century culture rather than the liberating message of Christ.

Of course, there are those who will read the texts differently, many of them fine biblical scholars. I recognise this is a fraught issue and that at the end of the day we may well agree to differ. But my journey has brought me to a place where I cannot endorse the idea that leadership of church and home belongs in the hands of men. I think it is unbiblical and detrimental to healthy community,-

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18 Comments on "To love and submit?!"

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Tony Camilleri
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“When Ephesians 5 anchors this in the relationship between Christ and the church the point is not that the Christ-church relationship is the model for gender roles within marriage but for love and service in relationships where status and authority varies between the parties.” An excellent point. I’m banging my own head against “complementarianism” lately and I think it results from displacing Pauls structure of relationships from any context other than his other comments on women teachers or their hair offending angels. The text is only talking to itself because the text is all. It boils down to how people… Read more »
Simon Camilleri
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There is a middle ground, as your blog explored. Scripture can be God-inspired and contain truths that are always true (not simply an expression of the writer’s musings) but that does not mean their application is the same for all time. A cold literalist reading and application of Scripture is exactly what Jesus spoke against in Matthew 5:17-48. He upheld Scripture as eternally “true”, but also said it could be “fulfilled” and expanded its application.

Tony Camilleri
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How come your tag line says “creative director” and mine says “38 years old”? 🙂
Simon, it seems to me that scripture as it ages is just a form of our human understanding that we are allowing to calcify.We live in hope of its expanded application but I’m not sure if using scripture aids that at all. Increasingly it feels like a weight on our backs with less and less to offer. At the moment a compassionate application of scripture gets me almost to where my common sense does – particularly in regard to women’s leadership.

Tony Camilleri
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That’s more pessimistic than I actually feel about the use of the Bible. Easy to get despondent re: this issue.

Scott Higgins
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August Smith
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i think it’s a goodyn too, tone : ) …. v apparent this whole inter-status relationship thing in19 th c brit lit …. between social classes

Anna Do
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Like Like Like!

Scott Higgins
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Thanks Anna

Tanya O'Dea
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What a pity the SMH isn’t publishing this! I have been concerned for a long time by the implications of the whole Anglican headship/submission thing, and the potential for this teaching to be used to condone domestic violence, especially where the abuse is psychological, emotional, financial and social. In my experience this is the dark side of this teaching. No-one in the Church wants to talk about domestic violence in Christian marriage, let alone acknowledge that it exists. In fact, it’s better for a Christian wife to have an adulterous husband than a tormenting and abusive one. With the former,… Read more »
Scott Higgins
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Hi Tanya,
Agree we need to be talking more openly about domestic violence within Christian marriages. I find it both disturbing and bizarre when I hear reports of churches protecting the perpetrator and neglecting the victim, but sadly I have heard too many of these reports

Elen Gerakios
Guest

Well said Tanya. As a Counsellor who has extensive experience working with DV and often with ‘Christian individuals’ – I can’t agree with you more!

Julie Houghton
Guest

What a brilliantly written piece of faithful common sense! Thank you.

Scott Higgins
Guest

Thanks Julie

Elen Gerakios
Guest

Scott…excellently articulated article – so true on so many counts!

Scott Higgins
Guest

Thanks Elen

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