Thursday, 13 September 2012

Husbandly Love

I've been thinking about some of the implications of the Sydney Diocese proposal for the marriage liturgy, including some of the remarks made by Archbishop Peter Jensen on Q&A.

I should say that there were points where I found myself in agreement with the Archbishop. His critique of secular individualism was spot on, and I appreciated his compassion towards refugees and his overall composure and refusal to resort to abuse. I valued too his call for open, respectful dialogue.

In that spirit, I have respectfully to disagree with the Archbishop on the gender and marriage question - although not, I hope, from the perspective of liberal individualism. I can't accept the theological reasoning that wives should be the only ones submitting in marriage. In my view, submission is mutual in marriage and not just for wives.

Indeed, I find the argument for wifely submission deeply inconsistent. Men, we are told, have the more difficult deal in this arrangement. Whereas wives are required only to submit (or obey), husbands are required to give their lives.

But what, I wonder, does that actually mean? Well, it means, of course, that in a terrorist attack, husbands should act self-sacrificially and protectively of their wives, even if it means the loss of their own; each is to put his wife's safety before his own. Here the model is that of Christ's love for the church, evidenced in his sacrificial death.

That's all very well. But, truth to tell, in our context it's hardly a likely scenario. How many husbands will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for their wives?

So, if the literal meaning is so unlikely, what about the metaphorical? The husband, we're told by Archbishop Jensen, will have his natural masculine arrogance and bossiness challenged and softened by the vows he makes in marriage; no recipe, this, for domestic violence which the Archbishop regards (rightly) as a very serious sin.

But in what way will the husband metaphorically give his life for his wife? Will he support her career? Will he look after the children so that her work will thrive? Will he share the housework with her, if not do the bulk of it when required? Will he be prepared to give up his career for hers? Will he ensure she has regular time for herself and her own development, spiritual, intellectual, emotional?

Or will he expect her to surrender her life to his, her career for his? Will he expect her to serve him, day after day, supporting his career or vocation, placing her gifts at the disposable of his, feeding him, taking care of him, supporting him emotionally, taking the lion's share of the work for the children and the domestic chores?

In this model - by far the most likely scenario in such marriages - it's the wife who is taking the burden of self-sacrifice, not the husband; she is the one giving her life for his, not the other way round.

The truth is, I just don't get the (theo-)logic. I'm bemused at the conclusion that women are less capable of leadership than men by reason of their God-given biology. I'm dismayed at the implication that men are deemed more Christ-like in marriage than women. I'm cynical of the self-evident chasm between the rhetoric and the reality.


  1. How is it that the husbands would be "deemed mroe Christ-like in marriage than women"? If the wife is taking the burden of self-sacrifice is it not she then who is more Christ-like - considering it was Christ Himself who came to serve, humbly, and sacrificed himself. The Lord Himself placed much value upon women, and respected them. Was it not Lydia who started a Church and led it? I don't remember reading how the women in Jesus' life betrayed Him or denied Him. In fact, it was Mary who was with Him till the end, it was Mary who came to bury Him, Mary who ran to tell the others He was risen. The men went fishing. Typical. Now, having made that judgement I'm much less Christ-like. Thank God we have Jesus.

  2. Beautifully written, Dorothy. I agree with you. I think I have finally worked out why Sydney are so anti gay-marriage: if you have two men married to one another, who vows to "submit", does the housework, gives up his careers, and looks after the children? In my (limited) experience of relationships, both my own and those of parishioners, the thing that makes them "work" is through the giving and receiving of self. You could use the way that Christ gives himself in the Eucharist, and we receive him, as the metaphor. I think that as women become more and more empowered, we see less pressure on a woman must give up her career to raise children and keep house; we are seeing more and more support mechanisms in place so that women can return to work and have a fulfilling career too, and I have seen evidence of this throughout my working life - always strong women in positions of leadership (maybe less in the church) - and always speaking of loving and mutual partnerships. MC.

  3. Personally I find the Sydney theology of submission disturbing not just because of its appearance in the proposed liturgy but because submission is what the Sydney Puritans ultimately expect of anyone who does business with them. Translated into the context of Sydney Diocese’s relationship with the Communion, there are assumptions that suggest, at least to me, that no one can be equal with Sydney until such time as they have submitted to the worldview of Sydney. It is all part of the same psychology. The male Sydney husband expects the female Anglican Communion to submit to its way of doing things. This is not a happy marriage, but who is preparing the divorce papers?