Are some Sydney Anglicans giving the Church a bad name?

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.  (Arise archives)


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 which 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.