Anglican Down Under has drawn attention to the latest reflections on gender emanating from the Diocese of Sydney. A proposed marriage rite for the diocese includes the following question addressed to the bride:
Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?
Needless to say, many in Sydney have been robust in defending the proposed rite and its theology. The Sydney Morning Herald carried a column arguing that the rite was indicative of a "deep strain of misogyny" in Sydney Anglicanism. An article in The Briefing responded:
As Christians we should not worry too much what the SMH or society in general
says on these things.
Another contribution in The Briefing killed off any possible 'mutual submission' defence of the proposed marriage rite:
We should avoid using the slogan entirely. It’s lazy, and it’s a bad way to read
In an opinion piece in the SMH, Archbishop Jensen sought to place the revised rite in the context of an alternative to the "libertarian and individualistic philosophy" (and, yes, the Church is called to challenge this philosophy). However, one line stands out with reference to his defence of "submit":
This is not an invitation to bossiness, let alone abuse.
It is difficult not ask that, if this defence has to be made of the proposed rite, should Sydney not be asking itself some hard questions?
The situation is not helped by a discussion paper published by a body related to Moore Theological College. Julia Baird of the SMH quoted from it:
Listed on its website, among teaching resources, is a paper titled "Christian women and leadership", which asks: "If we accept that the Bible teaches male headship, then should Christian women accept positions in the corporate workplace where they will be leading men?" The billion (or 80 cents in the) dollar question.
The author, Caroline Spencer, concedes this might be an "irksome question to raise in our post-feminist, industrial world" - you think? - and stresses that this is not about assessing the capabilities or value of women. Just their position.
The answer she gives is that women can be promoted above men, but only if they do not start acting like men, "because, while male headship might not be extended into the corporate workplace, it should still be respected. Male headship is part of God's good ordering for all society - not just his church."
The Briefing responded by declaring that "the views of Caroline Spencer ... about how women might conduct themselves in leadership in the
workplace are not the views of the diocese nor of Moore College". Imagine, however, an institute related to an Anglo-Catholic seminary published a paper stating that the BVM is co-redemptrix. Or a liberal TEC seminary publishes a paper suggesting that marriage equality should embrace partnerships of three people not merely two. Would Sydney and Moore dismiss the paper as 'not the official views' of the relevant body? Or, rather, would they interpret the paper as evidence of a theological style and method?
If a key dimension of the new evangelisation is the Church's engagement with contemporary culture, one really does have to wonder about Sydney's abrasive approach to issues of gender. Speaking into postmodernity's confusions over gender matters is part of the Church's mission: but the Church will seek to undertake this in a manner which does not give credence to the popularly held view that the Church is a patriarchial institution. The response from secular society was therefore entirely predictable and now the Archbishop of Sydney is required to put in print his view that the diocese's proposed marriage rite "is not an invitation to bossiness, let alone abuse".
Catholicity and covenant will return to the theological issues behind Sydney's proposed marriage rite, but it is profoundly difficult to see how the Church's mission and witness is aided by Sydney's stance. What is more, there is an anomaly worth reflecting upon. One of The Briefing articles notes:
By the way, anyone who comes to an Anglican church is still offered the choice
of completely symmetrical vows if they prefer.
++Jensen also mentions this in his article:
Both kinds of promise are provided for in the Sydney Anglican diocese's proposed Prayer Book.
This suggests that the "submit" question in the proposed rite is not a first order matter of faith: if it was, it would not be a mere option. If this is not a first order matter of faith, should Sydney have allowed it to become a matter of confrontation that does not serve the Church's mission and witness?