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The Drum has heard from several students present at the service who said they were “shocked and frustrated” by the “outdated” ideas he promoted on issues like gender equality and homosexuality.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.