by ALYS GAGNON
As a married person, as a woman and a feminist – and as a lifelong Anglican – I have watched with horror as the Anglican Diocese of Sydney have insisted on the archaic notion that women ‘obey’ their husbands.
Julia Baird, in the National Times, writes; “Sydney Anglicans are introducing a new, supposedly more modern marriage vow, where women promise to “submit” to their husbands (instead of to obey, which, you will have noticed, means exactly the same thing).”
When I got married six months ago, in an Anglican ceremony in a teeny tiny church in the middle of a paddock just outside of Canberra, our priest (a woman, by the way) gave a very beautiful sermon on the word “honour”.
In the Anglican ceremony, as with most traditional Christian ceremonies, couples say the words “With all that I am and all that I have, I honour you,” as they exchange rings
Honouring means that my husband and I are considerate of and respect each other’s needs, aspirations and feelings. We compromise together. We make choices together. Sometimes it is not be easy, but we face the world together.
That’s because modern relationships involve the partnership of equals.
Churches must acknowledge that equality of partners in modern relationships.
Churches cannot exist in a vacuum.
They must respond to the world in which they exist if they plan to survive.
This whole ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ thing is merely the tip of the iceberg for the leadership of Sydney Diocese.
Sydney Diocese will not ordain women priests and have been the main block in the past preventing the wider Anglican Church in Australia from consecrating women bishops. They promote a model of family where a woman is subordinate to a man.
Some in the authority of Sydney Diocese believe it is sinful for a woman to preach to men and so women are consigned in their ministry to that which is considered women’s work.
They endorse a view where women and men are equal but that there is an order to the genders in which men come first.
They believe that, somehow, submission and equality can co-exist.
And all of this they claim to base on the teachings of the bible.
The bible is not a life manual. Oh, if only life were so simple, that one could dip in and out of a book to get all the answers to life’s complexities. I truly believe that there are great life lessons for us today within the bible but it is still a document that must be considered within its historical context.
Absolutely no one takes the whole bible completely literally.
For example, Leviticus 5:3 suggests that a person who touches the waste of a human has sinned gravely. I know that, in the course of one or two exploding nappies from my son, I have come into contact with human waste.
Leviticus continues in this chapter that as soon as this sin is discovered the sinner should have a priest sacrifice a female sheep or goat. Now, there are a number of young families amongst the ranks of Sydney’s Anglican Churches, and yet I’m guessing there hasn’t been any ritual sacrifices lately.
Why then, can we not also understand the biblical descriptions of women within an appropriate historical context?
As I have grown over the past decade, from an opinionated teenager with a tendency to jump to conclusions to a woman who happens to be a wife and mother, I have tried to learn that assumptions and easy conclusions often lead to unwise judgements.
But, the more I read and learn about the leadership of the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the more I am convinced that there is a sinister anti-woman agenda at play.
And that disturbs me as a woman, as a wife and as an Anglican.
Alys Gagnon is a mother, a wife and works in politics. She is the daughter of an ordained Anglican priest, grew up in the Anglican tradition and is a former member of the Anglican Synod of Canberra Goulburn Diocese.
Would you be comfortable agreeing to ‘obey’ or ‘submit’ to your husband as part of your wedding vows?