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.