In the bible and modern life, men and women are equal
Last weekend, an article appeared in a Sydney newspaper detailing proposed new vows in the Anglican diocese of Sydney, whereby women would pledge to “love and submit” to their husband. It caused quite a furore. The vows are defended today by Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen. But many see them as sexist and archaic. A visiting Anglican Minister from Britain, the Rev’d Barbara Steele-Perkins, was not impressed when she saw the story, and has penned this column exclusively for The Punch
Last weekend, three separate people in Sydney showed me the article about the proposed new marriage vows. “What do YOU think?” they all asked.
Perhaps I should first explain why they were at all interested! I’m in Australia visiting my daughter and her family; I am an English woman, a one-time clergy wife, now an ordained Anglican minister myself. I have two part-time ‘jobs’: I’m a parish priest in a typically English village and a theological educator – that is, I help prepare men and women who are called to the Anglican ministry – both ordained and lay.
No wonder I am thought to have an opinion! And yes, I do.
First, about the word ‘submission’. We get rather het up in the 21st century, more by its misuse than its proper use. It is even abused, because we understand it to mean something negative and life-denying, but perhaps if we understood its proper use and the context, it will help.
The writer of the biblical letter from which it is quoted (to the Christians of Ephesus) addressed a cultural setting based on a philosophy where the individual was all. To be told that they should ALL ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ was revolutionary and different: the Christian life is not individualistic; it is lived in community, in relationship with God and with others.
It is a generous word, a giving word, an every-relationship word. In my church community for example, I gladly submit to someone who has a gift that I don’t, as they gladly submit to mine. We submit equally to each other.
The letter continues to explore something of what that meant for that culture at that time. Women in Ephesus for example were uneducated, whereas in Rome (see another letter in the Bible) the situation was quite different, and Paul specifically mentions women ministers there.
In our day and culture we need to work out what it means in detail for us. If you will forgive a little theology, every human being is in the image of God, who is, in God’s very being, three persons in perfect and equal submission to each other.
‘Subordination’, however, is an entirely different matter and entirely out of place; nowhere (unless it is being misinterpreted) does the Bible suggest that men and women are anything but equal in the sight of God and each other.
So my main question about the article, especially after reading Archbishop Jensen’s response, is: in a culture where women and men are equal (in Australia and England for example) why is there a perceived need for bride and groom to say different things in their vows?
The Rev’d Barbara Steele-Perkins
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