Before delivering a speech to year 12 prefects during the Annual Service for Anglican School Leaders on Thursday, Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies faced a series of robust questions from male and female students about the place of women.
In explaining his view that the Bible says men and women have different roles in society and that God intended men to be the “heads” of women, many present believed he was saying women should not aspire to the same career heights as men.
The Drum has heard from several students present at the service who said they were “shocked and frustrated” by the “outdated” ideas he promoted on issues like gender equality and homosexuality.
A prefect at one of Sydney’s most prestigious girls’ schools, who declined to be identified because the students had been advised by their school not to speak to the media, said she and her friends were “angry” and “confused” that the Church was telling them the opposite message about gender equality to that told to them by their parents, educators and society in general.
Another said: “We’re trying as much as we can, and to be told that in the end we’re not going to get there because of our gender? … It was disrespectful to us, as girls.”
When asked what Archbishop Davies said on gender equality, the students told The Drum that he told them the genders were equal, but the roles they inhabited were not.
“We were told that men will make the decisions because men are regarded as having higher status and more power,” one said.
As some of the students returned to their schools voicing their confusion, principals spoke privately to The Drum about the need to “hose” down girls who were told to submit to men by church elders.
Staff member ‘felt like crying’ after service
However, some school staff in attendance said they did not see anything “out of the ordinary” at this year’s service and that it proceeded as normal. They said if offence was taken, it was because the comments were misinterpreted by the school students.
But one school staff member, who declined to be identified, said he “felt like crying coming out of it”, because it was exactly the opposite of the message that the schools had been trying to drum into their girls.
The Sydney Anglican Diocese told The Drum there was no transcript of the speech delivered by Archbishop Davies, nor would it confirm what was said during the service.
But the Archbishop’s office did say in a statement that the “Annual Prefects Service offers the opportunity to commission Year 12 leaders and to pray for them for the year ahead”.
“The Archbishop also invites any prefect to ask him questions in a Q&A session prior to the service,” the statement said.
“The service, as well as the question and answer session, proceeded as normal today with good support from Anglican schools across the diocese.”
The Movement for the Ordination of Women’s national president said she was alarmed by the Anglican Church’s approach to gender issues.
The Reverend Jeannette McHugh said the Archbishop’s words were consistent with the fact that “the diocese of Sydney stringently upholds the teaching of male headship, which limits women from roles of leadership within the church and the home, whereby the male is the ‘head’ of the household and his wife is to ‘complement’ him his role”.
“Alarmingly, many men and women in the Sydney diocese believe this is the true interpretation of biblical texts written nearly 2,000 years ago, despite our education systems, the corporate sector, all tiers of government, the defence forces and sporting world increasing their dedication to initiatives that establish great equality and fairness to women,” she added.
‘You don’t have to believe this’: former head teacher
Dr Timothy Wright, the headmaster of the private boy’s school Shore — Archbishop Davies’ alma mater — was not at the service.
Asked what his school taught boys about the place of women, he said he emphasised not submission but liberation through the gospel.
Dr Wright said he believed it was crucial to teach boys a fundamental respect.
“We ensure they know we live in a world where women are their equals, where they will work for women and they should expect to live in a world where women should have a voice in all areas.”
Rowena Danziger, who was the headmistress of Ascham school for 31 years, said: “I would say to those girls [present at the service], this is just wrong, you don’t have to believe this. This is not Christian doctrine, it’s church doctrine.”
Dr Briony Scott, principal of another of Sydney’s independent nondenominational schools, Wenona, said she often had conversations with young girls about the mixed messages they received from the Church on issues of gender.
“Young women have long been presented with opinions from others about what they can do, who they can be and whether they can lead or not,” she said.
“This is fine. People are entitled to their opinions.
“My advice to young women is not to accept opinion as fact but learn to challenge and think about different perspectives.
“In my experience, young women rise superbly to the challenge.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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