UPDATE Very interesting article now from Julia Baird in the SMH about responses to the issue, including the unprecedented (in my experience) of seeing a Sydney blogger backtrack!
(Incidentally, coming into my Inbox today was a link to this article, touching on areas involved in the issues of this post, but from a 'catholic' approach to thinking about connection between gender and liturgy. Not, in my view, First Things' finest article).
ORIGINAL Down Under internet trawlers over the last week or so might have noticed that SMH journalist Julia Baird has led something of a calling out on the doctrine of male headship/female submission, a doctrine which, diplomatically, we will say is not unknown nor un-taught in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. And, we must also say, it is taught in other churches around the globe (yes, I am thinking of you, John Piper).
A few days later this initial article was followed up with a personal story of abuse in a marriage. One anecdote does not make for anecdata, but apparently a few more stories are forthcoming, according to Johanna Harris Tyler, writing on the ABC website. Even then a series of stories at best may represent evidence of distortion of a doctrine otherwise sincerely held and lovingly maintained by couples mutually agreeing to live their marriage in a particular manner. That doesn't sound right ...is it submission if I mutually agree with my husband to embrace the doctrine of headship?
The better point to make (albeit with urgency in the light of personal stories of abuse) is whether the doctrine of headship is true or not. On that matter Johanna Harris Tyler makes a good case that the doctrine is certainly not incontestable and likely not true.
One question I have been pondering lately is this: why do we talk about headship of men and submission of wives leading to a description such as 'doctrine of headship' when we could as readily talk from the same Bible passages about the doctrine of sacrificial love (husbands for their wives)?
Clearly some vigorous discussion will be occurring around Sydney dinner tables, if not Lord's Tables. So we see a robust response to Julia Baird here by Sarah Colyer. David Ould has three posts on his site. (In part David's is technical, exegetical and if you want to comment on his exegesis, please do so there and not here.)
One problem. What Sarah Colyer writes looks like a doctrine of mutuality in marriage not a doctrine of headship and submission. Her happy marriage sounds like my happy marriage!
What I would like to see is an intelligent writer like Sarah engage with a response to this item in Johanna Harris Tyler's article:
"A forthcoming conference at the Priscilla and Aquila Centre, linked to Moore Theological College, entitled 'Submission and the Christian Life', only advertises male speakers, all of whom are strong advocates of female submission."
Is a smart woman who is able to speak publicly via the medium of the Sydney Morning Herald going to defend an all male line up for such an event?
What, incidentally, we might ask, is the difference between a woman teaching a mixed gender SMH readership about the doctrine of headship and a woman teaching a mixed gender congregation?
It is from this kind of observation that I suggest the greatest stress will fall on Sydney Anglicans who continue teaching headship. To continue to teach the doctrine is (I predict) to increasingly provide examples of the doctrine being problematic.
Here is another instance. Sandy Grant, senior minister in Wollongong cathedral, offers a rebuttal to Julia Baird which in substantial part is a clarion call to understand that the doctrine of headship involves many exceptions to the teaching that the husband is head of the wife. Abuse exempts a wife from submitting to her husband, and 'abuse' is widely defined by Grant so there are many exceptions to the application of the doctrine:
"Often we've just not been explicit enough in naming 'domestic violence' and the fact it refers not only to actual violence, but to threats, verbal abuse, restrictions on movement, and other emotional or psychological abuse.
So let's be clear for any Christians who missed the memo. The Bible says any abuse or aggression from one spouse to another, whether physical or verbal, is wrong."
But nowhere do the Bible verses which are used to teach the doctrine offer such exemptions. In rightly pointing out that husbands who abuse their wives are doing wrong, Grant in fact is trumping one doctrine (headship) with another doctrine (do no harm). In making this theological judgment, Grant is being a theologian, not a Bible exegete. He is offering a fuller theology of marriage than the doctrine of headship itself gives.
Further, he highlights that the doctrine of headship is problematic because it needs rescuing whenever it goes wrong. It needs to be propped up against misunderstanding and distortion.
Are we not heading into the territory of the absurd?
Absurdity is difficult to defend.
It may take decades, or it might be achieved with the election of the next archbishop, but I predict that the doctrine of headship in Sydney will die a quiet death and become a slightly embarrassing footnote in future histories of the Diocese.
It is much easier to teach (what I call) the doctrine of mutuality in marriage, a doctrine which draws together both texts on marriage, texts on respect for other people, and texts on responsible action in relationships to teach marriage as a relationship of mutual love and responsibility between spouses and for any children in the marriage.
The interesting observation about Sandy Grant and Sarah Colyer's contributions to the debate to which I have discussed above is that they more or less teach the doctrine of mutuality in marriage while straining to retain the subject heading of 'headship'. They are half way there :)