Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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I have been reluctant to get involved in the ongoing kerfuffle that some Sydney Anglicans have caused by bringing their pet doctrine of “wifely submission” into the public arena. But if Peter Jensen isn’t shy about continuing the debate and discussion on this subject, I guess I shouldn’t be shy either . . . or should I?

On the 25th of August the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, “Brides will be promising to submit to their husbands under a new marriage vow the Anglican diocese of Sydney is expected to approve at its synod in October.”

That this report, which features a video of a married couple from the Sydney Anglican Church, should make front page news is surprising to me. That this report should generate insulting comments from the public who see equality as the social ideal, rather than male primacy and authority, is not surprising at all.

Has the cause of the gospel been furthered by this video and report with its message of wifely submission? I think the opposite is the case. (A response published by the same newspaper on the 27th of August is here.)

Then to have the Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen carry on the controversy and commotion with an article on marriage vows, published on the 29th, just seems unwise.

An observer could think that the Sydney Anglican Church’s desire to promote female submission is stronger than the desire to promote the gospel.

One of the main reasons why the apostle Paul gave instructions for certain behaviours, such as wifely submission, was so that the New Testament Christians would behave in ways that were appropriate and acceptable for the culture of that time. By behaving in culturally appropriate ways the Church would not get a bad name in society. Our culture today is vastly different. I believe that the articles published this week have caused the Word of God to be maligned and Christianity to be ridiculed, the very things Paul wanted to avoid (1 Tim 5:14; Titus 2:4-5).

Not all Sydney Anglicans subscribe to the specious doctrine of male authority and female subordination in marriage. Many of the members of the Sydney chapter of Christians for Biblical Equality are Sydney Anglicans. And Paul Perini, CBE Sydney’s coordinator, is a Sydney Anglican minister.

This is Paul Perini’s response:

Reflecting on the debate in the Sydney Morning Herald, concerning the use of ‘submit’ in a Sydney Diocesan devised marriage service, I have to say, that ‘submit’ may work for a young couple who are emotionally intelligent and theologically informed, but for a young couple without knowledge of the nuances of Christian submission and, who may not have the ability to verbalise their emotions, nor have an example from their families of origin as to how a marriage can work through hard times and change, give me ‘Mutual service’ for both the bride and groom any time. Submission is to open for misinterpretation.

When we read the household codes of the New Testament I think we place too much emphasis on what is expected from the wife, as if that were new. It was part and parcel of the dominant patriarchal culture. The new is that which is expected from the husband, and as a new community in Christ it is that which deserves our attention. Research shows that relationships in which both husband and wife mutually serve and understand themselves as being in an egalitarian relationship are the most satisfying, even if they do not use egalitarian language. (See Beyond Rivalry by Alan Craddock.)

© 30th of August 2012, Margaret Mowczko

CBE Sydney’s Facebook page is here.

I have written several articles on the subject of submission in marriage which can be found here.

An abridged version of this article was published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 13th of September, 2012.


29.08.12  Here is a report from ABC’s (Australia) 7.30 Report on the proposed new vows. In this video Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen describes egalitarianism as ‘wrong’ and ‘unhelpful’. He also thinks the current discussions are ‘good news’. I disagree entirely.

05.09.12 Dr Claire Smith, the author of God’s Good Design, was interviewed on ABC Radio National. The transcript and audio is here. Dr Smith received her BTh, MA (Theology) and PhD through Moore Theological College.  A review of her book is on this website here.

10.09.12 John Dickson, an Anglican Minister in the Sydney diocese and co-founder and director of Centre for Public Christianity, finishes writing his book Hearing her Voice. More information about this book here.

10.09.12 Peter Jensen was a guest on Q&A. The episode can be viewed here.

13.09.12 CBE International published an abridged version of the article above, Giving the Church a Bad Name, in their Arise newsletter.

14-16.09.12 President of CBE International Dr Mimi Haddad speaks in Sydney to audiences mostly made up of Sydney Anglicans.

8.10.12  The Sydney Anglican Synod begins. More information on this here.

14.10.12  Service not Servitude: Women in the Church was the title of this week’s program The Spirit of Things on ABC’s Radio National. An interview with Mimi Haddad, the president of CBE International, is part of this program.  Mimi was interviewed by Rachael Kohn during her recent visit to Sydney. The program can be heard online here.

17.10.12  The Sydney Anglican Synod passes a resolution that effectively recognises egalitarian marriage. Paul Perini comments on this on the CBE-Sydney website here.

25.12.12  John Dickson’s ebook Hearing Her Voice is published and initiates a great deal of discussion among Sydney-siders, and beyond.  My critique of John’s book is here.

22 thoughts on “Giving the Church a Bad Name

  1. There are two things said in the video that seem to qualify things somewhat. She said that she felt she was submitting to sacrificial love and she didn’t think she’d have any trouble submitting to that. He said that it was based upon mutual submission and that his job was to love sacrificially. Please view it again and see if I got that right.

    The problem seems to me to be that the Anglican church is holding it up as an hierarchy, which in effect will negate any thoughts of mutuality and will in essence force it into an obedience instead of honoring and a responding to the husbands love ….. which some of what they said seems to say.

  2. The young lady in the video said that she was submitting to sacrifical love – sounds nice – but does that mean that she chooses not to submit when her husband does or says things that cannot qualify as being done in sacrificial love?

    And how can any groom vow to love his bride as Christ loves the Church. Does the husband in the video really expect to love his wife every single moment of life together as much as Jesus loves the Church? Surely this level of love is impossible to maintain.

    The couple make their marriage look rosy in the video, and maybe male authority and female submisson will work for them, but I still cannot see that the Bible teaches that men and husbands are the leaders or authorities of women and wives.

  3. In Eph 5, Paul is not calling for unique behaviors that create 2 different roles, one for wives and one for husbands, rather he is emphasizing some aspects of what every believer should be doing by doing it by gender as that 1st century culture had some temptations that were different for each gender. A wife is to respect her husband, do you think this means a husband is NOT to respect his wife? A husband is to love and sacrifice for his wife, do you think this means a wife is not to love and sacrifice for her husband? A wife is to submit to her husband, do you think this means a husband is NOT to submit to his wife? How crazy that anyone would think these actions would be restricted to one gender or another.

  4. I agree that the qualities (and behaviours) of love, respect and submission in marriage, and in other relationships, are not gender specific. However, some Sydney Anglicans and others of their ilk argue that leadership is a masculine quality.

    I am asked from time to time, especially in the last week, whether marriages without the husband in charge leads to chaos. My response is that mutual respect, consideration and deference does not cause chaos.

  5. Thanks Heidi! 🙂

  6. “The young lady in the video said that she was submitting to sacrifical love – sounds nice – but does that mean that she chooses not to submit when her husband does or says things that cannot qualify as being done in sacrificial love?”

    My question also. Does she ever say that she is submitting to his “headship” or leadership or anything similar. I don’t recollect that.

  7. “I am asked from time to time, especially in the last week, whether marriages without the husband in charge leads to chaos. My response is that mutual respect, consideration and deference does not cause chaos.

    Excellent statement which IMO needs to be spread around the NET in response to these ideas of male dominance.

  8. The Bible never actually says that God endorses patriarchy, even tho all the cultures in which the Bible was written were patriarchal. There is no clear statement that a husband is to rule his wife, nor a wife to obey her husband, at least in the Hebrew and Greek, so I discount the flawed translations that might say this.

  9. Get involved, please! I’m in Perth and thanks to the Sydney Anglicans infiltrating AFES – majority of weddings I attend have these hideous vows usually accompanied by a sermon about why women are subordinate e.g. “sometimes the wife doesn’t know how to make a good decision”.

  10. Hi gemmie, The Sydney Anglicans are influencing churches (and at least one Christian school) in my area also.

    I am very involved in promoting equality. My hesitation to respond to the current discussion is that I think it is unwise for Christians to squabble in public.
    (At least we’re not killing each other over idealogical and theological differences anymore.)

  11. To be strictly biblical, Eph 5:21 must also be followed, so the groom needs also to promise to submit.

  12. Yes, the Greek word for “submit” does not occur in Eph 5:22 (the verse addressed to wives) in some of our oldest Greek manuscripts. It is elided.

    The word does occur in Eph 5:21 (the verse about mutual submission – “submit yourselves to each other”), and the sense of “submission” carries over from verse 21 into verse 22.

    Similarly the sense of Greek verb for “submit” in the first clause if Ephesians 5:24 carries over into the second clause where it is not restated but implied.

    In English, we usually add the word “submit” in Ephesians 5:22 and in the second clause of Ephesians 5:24 so that it makes sense to us.

    Update: I’ve written more about the Greek grammar of Ephesians 5:21-22 here: https://margmowczko.com/tag/grammar-of-eph-521-22/

  13. I agree ! Thank you for another thoughtful article .

  14. Thank you for keeping us aware of what is going on in the Christian world . Even in my church, which allows women leaders and does not make a huge deal out of the gender differences, this sometimes raises it’s ugly head.

  15. Marg, While I agree that there are problems with Christians fighting each other in public, if the only voices that the secular world hears are those of the fringe (whether it be extremely conservative or extremely liberal), they are affirmed in their feelings that Christianity is irrelevant and totally weird. I think it is therefore essential that we keep saying “not all Christians understand the Bible in this way. Others see it like this”.

  16. Thanks Judy. It’s for the reasons you mention that I went ahead and posted the article.

    I want people to know that not all Sydney Anglicans are into the archaic idea of male authority and female submission in marriage. And I want Christians to realise that promoting the concept of wifely submission in a mostly egalitarian society is giving the Church a very bad name.

    I believe that the hierarchical marriage paradigm of the Sydney Anglicans, and others, hinders the work of the gospel.

  17. Given that Paul told wives to submit in 1st century culture and justified it in order to propagate the gospel, David Instone-Brewer points out in his analysis that should not we in our 21st century culture faithfully explan how to understand some perplexing gender texts in egalitarian ways so as to further propagate the gospel.

    And you Marg are doing exactly that!

  18. Thanks Don.

    Totally unrelated, but an opportunity to vent: I was looking at a link that Sydney Morning Herald journalist Julia Baird had linked to on her Twitter account, and I was dismayed to find that the Priscilla and Aquila Centre at Moore Theological College (a college closely associated with the Sydney Anglicans) has a link to the CBMW Gender Blog and even a links to articles by Mary Kassian. Mary Kassian … really? There is also a link to book review by Denny Burk.

    I truly thought the Sydney Anglicans were better than this.

  19. Thank you Marg! As a university student involved in an AFES group, it makes me very sad to see the public image of the church one of rules and stipulations that effectively degrade women, when instead it should be one of God-centred service as an example of the love and hope of the message of Jesus Christ. Muddying the waters with personal agendas on minor non-salvation issues isn’t going to make disciples!

  20. Beautifully put, Mim!

  21. For goodness sake Women, just get back into the kitchen & keep your mouths shut!!!
    What a beautiful world it would be!!!

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