Love and Subjugation

[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]

Last week, I wrote Submission and the Clash of Cultures. This week I want to follow it by writing about subjugation and the clash of cultures. For in website and blog comments regarding last week’s article the clash of world views became very obvious. The word ‘submission’ is, as I suggested, the presenting issue of something much bigger; it is a difference over “the nature of marriage, of human relationships and humanity itself”.

When people remove a word from its cultural context and carry it across to another culture it is easily misunderstood and misapplied. This is even more complicated when there is an overlap of cultures such as exists within the dominant Australian culture of “Christianised secularism or secularised Christianity”.

The consistent accusation levelled against the Christian understanding is that it leads to oppression and worse—domestic violence. To heighten this argument, details of dreadful abuse are given about husbands who use the wedding vows about submission to claim the right to be violent, abusive, controlling and domineering.

The secularist worldview, based in individualism, power and rights, analyses the cause of this abuse in terms of giving power and authority to the husband and therefore rejects the whole notion of submission. The Christian worldview analyses this abuse in terms of the profound sinfulness of the human heart and therefore rejects the behaviour of such husbands as expressions of a wicked and evil nature in need of repentance and regeneration.

Sydney Anglicans are accused of speaking a lot about the submission of the wife and the difference between the spouses, but not of the sacrificial love of the husband and the equal rights of the spouses. It is an accusation that does not ring true to my experience, where most wedding sermons on passages like Ephesians 5 major on both Christ’s sacrifice rather than the church’s submission, and on the husband’s responsibility rather than the wife’s response. These accusations are the result of selective listening. Sometimes people who live in a different culture only notice what is said when for them a politically incorrect word like ‘submission’ is uttered. Others have seen firsthand the horror of domestic violence and are rightly sensitised to anything that could contribute to such an awful abuse.

However, to make sure that people within the Christian culture understand and, on the off chance that some secularist will take note of what we actually teach and, so that we can have it on record, I will draw out the implications of what I said last week on submission, under the heading subjugation.

While the Bible calls upon the wife to submit it never calls upon the husband to subjugate or subdue his wife. It is never his prerogative or responsibility. Hers must always be her own willing, Spirit-filled response to the saviour, never a response enforced by her husband. All forms of coercion—physical, economic, social, psychological, spiritual—are inappropriate and wrong for a husband to use on his wife. Some, such as physical abuse, are criminal and should be dealt with by the courts. The Christian husband’s duty and solemn vow is to follow the example of his Lord and lay down his life for his bride. This will always put her interests before his own at whatever cost it is to him. This will mean never using or even threatening force. To subjugate his wife is a complete denial of what he promised.

There are many Biblical truths that lie behind the previous paragraph. Here are a just few of the principles:

  1. The character of the love required of a husband is sacrificial (Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Corinthian 13:4-7).
  2. Christian leadership is fundamentally different to the world’s leadership, as it is not based on power and the exercise of authority, but on service and sacrifice (Mark 10:42-45, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 1 Peter 5:3).
  3. Men and women are together created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) with the dignity and right to life that such creation implies (Genesis 9:5-6).
  4. Men and women are one in their status in Christ and eternal life (Galatians 3:27-29, 1 Peter 3:7).
  5. Godliness is demonstrated in caring for widows and orphans because God has a particular care for those who lack the provision and protection of a husband (Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:22, Isaiah 1:17,23, James 1:27).
  6. Violence is the character of the wicked not the godly (Psalm 11:5, 73:1-6, Romans 12:18-21).

In 1 Peter 3:7 we read of the Christian husband’s responsibility: “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”. Notice how the husband’s greater physical strength is to be used not to subjugate but to honour his wife, especially as she is equally an heir “with you of the grace of life”. Indeed what he is commanded to do is to live considerately, understanding his wife’s physical needs.

Or again in 1 Corinthians 7:4 it is clear that the wife is not the chattel or possession of her husband: “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does”. This reciprocal mutuality is even reflected in Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Mark 10:12). Indeed, so foreign is the idea of the wife being a man’s chattel that the old Book of Common Prayer makes no allowance for a bride to share her possessions with her husband but requires the groom to endow “all my worldly goods” upon his bride.

The Christian bridegroom’s vow to love is not the same as the world’s ‘being in love’. He is not declaring his emotional affection but promising his devoted service. The man who keeps his vow to love like Christ, can never try to subjugate his wife.

39 thoughts on “Love and Subjugation

  1. Here is some good advice.

    My view is that the need to control is an addiction. To those who are vulnerable to this addiction, certain things make them more vulnerable.

    A person who is likely to become a control addict and therefore act out in violent ways, is made more likely to become addicted by the following –

    entitlement to greater rights than others
    blaming the behaviour of others
    being able to isolate the person they are controlling

    Since there are always some people who are vulnerable to this addiction, the vow to submit, necessarily puts them in a position where they are more likely to become addicted to control. They feel entitled because they have been the receiver of this vow, they also have plenty of amunition to blame the victim because she has been secular in her view of autonomy and refuses to surrender all her basic human rights.

    Regardless of the theology behind this, it is tragic that men and women who are vulnerable to this addiction, are not helped out more by the church. The church ought to teach that the vow of submission can be a bad thing in certain cases, and ought never to be used in a situation where the husband wants it used. That’s a sign of trouble in the first place.

    Wives need to be taught that wanting basic human rights is not worldly, selfish, sinful or rebellious. Women need assertiveness training.

    There is no use pretending that violence and coercion does not happen. even if the percentage is only 10%, surely those men and women are worthy of help from the church.

    • Just because of a group of women and men misusing a biblical truth does not mean churches should preach against it.

      Also should not a Husband focus on his role and whether he is living up to the standard as servant leader/provider regardless of whether his wife is submissive or not.

      • Wow. Here it is. Do you realize that you are saying that even if his wife does not WANT to be led he has to try and lead. Do you understand what that means. HOW IS THIS NOT ABUSIVE? Her word and opinion mean NOTHING because he is supposed to be leading. I can’t even believe I have to spell this out. You live in a fantasy land where “whether a woman is being submissive or not” is absolutely irrelevant to how a man should act in accordance with his wife. It’s insanity. You are literally saying “lead her even if she does not want to be led”. You are probably reading this like “well whats wrong with that”. Do you realize how many people have used this text to keep women from having power and equality? YOU ARE NO DIFFERENT. Your absolute inability to question whether submission is even good because it is written down in a book you happen to believe in causes so much pain, and inequality and you don’t care b/c you have your faith.

  2. I’m unsure whether it is so much a clash of cultures as a clash of priorities. Of course talking up the clash of cultures has much attraction in a rhetorical or polemic exercise, where the highlighting of differences serves to warm the hearts of the faithful, but little else.

    Isn’t it the case that this piece is more about the prioritising of a wholly complementarian philosophy, over the protection of victims of domestic violence? This presumably has the perceived spin-off benefits of that system to the proponents of it, like keeping women out of authority in certain institutions. And little to do with such grandiose concepts as clashes of cultures.

    While one can only agree with the author that ‘Christian understanding’ does not necessarily lead to domestic violence, it is still possible to at least propose that the creation and maintenance of any form of patriarchal system can contribute in a positive way to the prevalence of domestic violence. All the noble sentiments expressed in the bible about the treatment of women were not put in because the behaviour expressed in the verses was the norm in the community surely? They were put there to address the reverse, ie poor treatment of wives.

    It seems a little ironic to quote such verses to perpetuate a system that even might be more likely to contribute to domestic violence. Rather you’d quote them to support the avoidance of any suggestion of subordinationism, the scent of which is so loved by the complementarian.

    It also seems a little harsh to suggest that those who are interested enough to comment on this website and may well themselves be victims of domestic violence are simply raising the point to ‘heighten the argument’. After all, how do we know exactly what they have suffered or what their particular state is. They deserve the benefit of the doubt in my view. The heat and passion of their communication is more than likely to be a reflection of their pain.

    Turning the entire issue into a sub-set of the so-called culture clash seems no more than an exercise in semantics. I doubt victims of domestic violence think twice about theological clichés. It is about concrete realities that are seemingly a million miles away from transcendent concepts that only appear to go to fostering points of division.

  3. Thanks Phillip for a thoughtful post on a very difficult topic. I think it’s helpful to spell things out with regards to domestic violence, as you have done here. I hope that some other preachers will follow your lead here.

  4. Yeah so most of the books I read on Christian submission clearly outline a demand from God that a couple be having habitual sex. This environment and the structure of this kind of relationship makes coercion an inevitability. If you ever have sex for some reason other than wanting to (to please your partner on a second ask etc) you are being coerced.

    My main point is secularists aren’t arguing that submission causes abuse we are arguing that it is abuse. At least I am. It does not have to fit your definition of abuse. In a sexual relationship if one person has more authority that is abuse. If one person’s word is seen as the ultimate final word that is abuse. If someone feels they cannot leave a relationship if they want to it is abuse. If someone feels they have a sexual obligation to another person it is abuse. Believing you own someone else’s body is abuse regardless of what Scripture tells you.

    The argument that we all misunderstand what you are saying is ridiculous. We know what you are saying and we are saying its crazy.

    • And before anyone flames me for using the word “crazy” it is because in a world where abuse is so prevalent, yet ignored, it is imperative that every person be willing to question the very foundations of their convictions b/c all groups have been guilty of ignoring the rights of others because there was something about their dogma or worldview that they weren’t willing to question.

      When you respond to the real abuse of real people which can easily proven to have something to do with the specific power dynamics that you preach every day, with a verse of a religious text that can truly only be validated by your own faith, you are doing no different than every person in history whom has oppressed others because aspects of their faith were untouchable.

      To put it simply when the victim of abuse is not you, it becomes far to easy to simply say “my specific faith” is a more important reality that absolutely must exist at the end of the debate at the expense of whom ever suffers because of it.

      There are millions of people whom feel their faith just as strongly as you yet hold different opinions. If you admit that they could be perpetuating oppression because they are unwilling to take a second look at their faith, the same must apply to you.

      If you are not willing to challenge the very basis of your own thinking, then you are probably contributing to the abuse and oppression of others without recognizing it, as every group in human history has done.

      Please at least be willing to wonder whether it is possible that what you preach does in fact perpetuate abuse and create a more likely environment for it. If you are not even willing to think about it then please admit that abuse is very low on your list of priorities.

      • My belief and my faith is challenged everyday. It is NOT easy to live a truly faithful life or reconcile my choices with the Gospel and love of God. Generally, this requires sacrifice, putting others first as Jesus did, setting aside my own ego and desire for my own pleasure, comfort, and security, for the Lord’s plan to restore the world in His wisdom, not mine. Why would that be “too easy” to do unquestioningly?

        I have commonly run across the implicit or explicit assumption that says “if other people really thought about and questioned their beliefs, they would agree with me or live as I do.” As a person of faith, my experience has been that I am challenged everyday to meditate on whether what I believe is really true because it has clear ramifications for how I live my life.

        Other people do not come to the same conclusions as I do about many things. Often they are working or speaking within a different context that I may not understand, and turn out to be better people than I am who have more to offer than I do. The baseline operating assumption should not be that they are blind, willfully ignorant, or even cruel because they don’t agree with me.

        The abuse you speak of is not consistent with an understanding of the narrative of Jesus as Lord, Savior, and God, which is the lynchpin of the Bible. Reading and interpreting the Bible is different from a secular standpoint without that understanding of God.

        • So you choose to ignore every reality of abuse that we know now from study, and what kind of power dynamics influence and perpetuate that kind of abuse.

          It’s not that hard. If a woman is in an abusive relationship the abuse will have a higher likelihood of persisting if she is told that person is her immediate authority. She will have a harder time getting out of the situation (if at all) when divorce is preached as a last resort (akin to barbarianism if you knew the realities of abuse). It is more likely that she will never get out and succumb to abuse when people like John Piper actually say “If she is getting verbally abused she must endure it for a season then perhaps go to the church.” Abuse persists more when you say that your submissive demeanor will actually help the situation. To think like this is absolutely insane and a complete disregard for reality.

          Abuse is something that comes from one person having power over someone in a relationship and using that power to coerce. The difference between other authorities and a husband and wife is TRANSPARENCY. There is absolutely no direct checks and balances like that in government, the Church and the workplace. Do you understand the vast implications of this?

          “The baseline operating assumption should not be that they are blind, willfully ignorant, or even cruel because they don’t agree with me.”

          It’s not because you disagree. It’s because the consequence is abuse, pain, inequality and suffering. This is not some petty philosophical disagreement.

          • Lily,

            Can I just say that my husband is NOT my immediate authority! I think this is perhaps a part of the cultural misunderstanding that Phillip was speaking about!

            The husband promises “Will you love her, cherish her, honour and protect her?”
            The wife promises “Will you love him, and obey/submit to him, honour and protect her?”

            In my view this submission is my continual choice as is my choice to honour, love and protect him. He isn’t my authority, or boss at all. I don’t submit to him because he has more power, is more qualified (at times this is very untrue) or because of any other qualifications. I choose to submit him because he is putting our family first!

            In marriage submission is a choice and this is one of the main ways that it differs from submission within society. We have no choice but to submit to the police/law. Whenever I have heard submission preached it has always been focused on our choice! It makes me sad to hear that this hasn’t been your experience. I totally agree that if submission is mis-preached and unfair power dynamics are created then relationships of abuse can be formed and perpetrated. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely! BUT I don’t think the husband/wife relationship and the submission within marriage is based on power like you are speaking about AT ALL.

            I think it is important that people like Phillip preach the real meaning of biblical submission to break through these dangerous power relationships that have formed within and outside the church, and to show that biblical submission can exist in a relationship without any form of abuse. I am proud to say that I submit to my husband (and at times have failed to submit to my husband) and I have NEVER been a victim of any type of abuse, nor would I relational pattern of abuse or encourage any other person, Christian or non-christian to remain in a relationship that was abusive.

            Abuse (to women, men, children) should NEVER be tolerated. FULL STOP.

            Biblical models of self sacrificial love should be espoused and celebrated as these are the exact opposite of abuse.

          • To the comment below (it wouldnt let me reply). The most prominent preachers in regards to this topic do say he is the immediate authority. I know that not all people follow these people’s teachings but I am speaking for a large group within the complmentarianism.

          • All the more reason for The Briefing and Philip Jensen to speak out to clarify their position! I think this article clearly presents a position that is not at all in line with “authority” as you have described it!

            “While the Bible calls upon the wife to submit it never calls upon the husband to subjugate or subdue his wife. It is never his prerogative or responsibility. Hers must always be her own willing, Spirit-filled response to the saviour, never a response enforced by her husband.”

            I don’t disagree at all with what you’re saying, I’m just saying that what you’re saying about abuse and power and authority is actually not at all what this article is about! This article seems to actually be disagreeing with the same things that you disagree with! And so it should!

          • Furthermore:
            “Christian leadership is fundamentally different to the world’s leadership, as it is not based on power and the exercise of authority, but on service and sacrifice (Mark 10:42-45, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 1 Peter 5:3).”

            Praise God that our leadership is not based on authority! Lily, please keep fighting against those that do base leadership on authority! But get behind those (like Philip) who don’t!

          • If his word is ultimately the one that is the final one in decision making, if he is the leader etc. its not really functioning differently than authority.

            I’ll put it simply. If a woman is being verbally abused, physically abused or abused in any way and you and Phillip don’t think the right thing to do is for her to get out of the marriage and leave then you are exactly who I am talking to. If you think there can be another appropriate answer or course of action it is you who I am talking to.

          • Also I know its not what the article is about. They never are! That’s half my point. The realities of abuse are completely ignored because they have to be in order to even have opinions like this. To even think that in a romantic and sexual relationship that one person being the leader is not only a “good thing” but ordained by God is not only ludicrous because of the implications of inequality but because the realities of abuse EXIST.

          • I’m sorry, Lily, but I don’t think you’re listening to me or to Philip.

            The husband doesn’t have the final say on decisions. Every decision the family makes the wife is free to choose to submit or to not submit. She can choose to give her husband authority or she can choose not give her husband authority. Just as in any given decision my husband can choose to give me authority to make certain decisions. The bible is quite clear, as is Philip, that coercion and abuse is NOT ok. I understand what your saying and agree that abuse is never OK. Philip himself says that abuse is not to be tolerated. I think he is exiplicitly addressing this issue that you think is very important. I’m not sure why you think he isn’t, I really can’t understand how we’re reading the same article!

          • I know you quoted John Piper and state that other complementarians have stated that the husband is the wife’s authority but that is not what this article is saying! This article seems to be saying what you’re saying, abuse is NEVER OK, and never to be tolerated.

          • And just to clarify again. I am not saying that any women should remain in any situation where she is being abused. As is Philip. Subjugation and abuse and not OK and are not biblical. This is what the article is about. What I was saying before was that the article isn’t about abused women remaining in the marriage because they believe their husband is their authority which is what you seem to be implying the article is about!

            I just believe that what your saying IS the same as what Philip’s saying in regards to abuse and it NEVER bring OK but I can’t understand why you can’t see it.

          • Lily, is what you want Philip to say is that the wife is never called on to submit to her husband in the bible?

  5. “All forms of coercion—physical, economic, social, psychological, spiritual—are inappropriate and wrong for a husband to use on his wife.”

    Having authority in a relationship that is sexual IS HABITUAL COERCION.

    • Well a lot of things in the bible can be described as abuse

      Also the wife owns the husbands body as well!!
      And leadership in the bedroom will mean taking care of his wife and not being abusive.

      Also which wife would not submit to that!!

      Abusive husbands are not exercising their role properly and are sinning, same with abusive wives (40% of domestic violence victims are male)

      • A mutual ownership of bodies does not make the idea any less horrible in nature. Where is your absolute right to say no when the person owns your body? When you feel that you have to fulfill a command from god to have sex? Where is your ultimate right to say no forever to sex?

  6. Dear Lily, Kevin and Akash, thank you for your comments.

    Would you please note that our posting policy is that you use your full name.

    More broadly I have made my comments on this topic over on the prior thread.

    But I would ask this question re. presuppositions of all those who comment here.

    If you were to become convinced that the NT teaches headship and submission (properly understood and safeguarded) as part of its overall teaching on marriage more broadly, would you accept that?

    For me, my answer to that question is yes, because I believe the NT is authorised by Jesus and his gift of the Spirit. And so as a follower of Christ, I am bound to live by all Scripture which is God-breathed and profitable for teaching etc. (And of course, that’s a whole other much larger discussion.)

    • Sandy,

      This belief of headship and submission cannot be in and of itself good, becaue this teaching has contributed to pure evil in my life. And I was under the direct teaching of two clergy from Sydney. So I know it cannot be God’s will.

      I honestly beieve that some complementarians live a domain based life of egalitarianism in many parts of their marriage, and complementarianism in some small part, and therefore are agreeable and respectable people.

      This is why I am able to believe that the practice of authority and submsssion is evil, and I note that most complementarian women don’t believe in it either, as Kristy has attested,

      And at the same time, I believe that many if not most complementarians are respectable in their own lifestyle but absolutely evil in their disregard for those who are victims of violence.

      I have written to my former minister and asked him to testify to the violence which took place, as he knows about it, but he has not answered me.

      I feel free to publish the names of these clergy if I receive no response and to once again emphasize that no shelter or therapy or ministry in any way was ever provided for the abused.

      In fact, the Anglican Church of Canada, should repent for hiring clergy from Sydney.

      Email me privately if you want the facts, or wait until I email someone in Australia who would like to know what really goes on.

      There is no excuse.

  7. Whenever I read the observations of orthodox Protestant teachers on the question of gender, I become downhearted, and wish another communion was available to us—one that was not orthodox, and not liberal either. One of the most harmful problems in which our intellectual culture is involved is the failure to carry out a detailed investigation, through our studies of language, into the nature of sense. Because we have not done this, sometimes we ‘discover’ universal theological propositions in the biblical writings, imagining that they are plainly expressed, and that identifying them is simple, when we are merely imagining.

    Sense can be found because it is represented explicitly, because it is available for deduction, or because it can be discovered by the evaluation of probabilities. The traditional Protestant view about gender is universal, that is to say it applies to all members of a class.

    Universal sentences which can be true or false are unambiguously universal; they are in documents or passages whose explicitly delineated purpose is to communicate universal positions with respect to the theme dealt with, and they take forms like, ‘All X’s whatsoever are Y’s’. Otherwise sentences which can be true or false are indefinite, particular or singular.

    In the biblical writings there is no unambiguously universal expression of the traditional Protestant view with respect to gender; the previously-mentioned conditions are not met anywhere in these writings; there is only language which is indefinite, particular, or singular. That means the traditional position must be inferred.

    Inferences are of course either deductive, or probabilistic. In order for an inference to be deductive, a condition as broad as the ultimate conclusion must itself be used and met, as in, ‘All X’s whatsoever are Y’s; those objects over there, of which there are one million, are X’s; so they are all Y’s’. This means in order to deduce the traditional view about gender from the biblical writings, a universal condition must be identified in these writings, from which the conclusion may follow. This is an obvious requirement, because the interpretation is universal. However, there is no condition of that kind available.

    Inferences which are probabilistic, and which lead to universal conclusions, are weak. They take the form of for example, ‘Many X’s are Y’s; therefore all X’s whatsoever are probably Y’s’. The method used here to reach the conclusion is justifiably open to the criticism that it simply does not do enough to establish its product, as an absolute. If the traditional Protestant view about gender is to be discovered by a proper language-analysis, this is the kind of analysis and interpretation which is necessary. For neither deduction nor the mere identification of a direct, universal expression of the traditional view is possible. And it will have to be freely admitted that the dogma is only established weakly, because of the vague relation between universal interpretation and the linguistic data from which it is drawn.

    I think we will search without any success for a traditional Protestant theologian who accepts the old-fashioned position about women’s responsibilities, and who understands these things well, and takes them properly into account. How often are the considerations mentioned above ever raised intelligently and knowledgably, let alone dealt with adequately in the supposed demonstrations made of the traditional view? Yet we have little difficulty in finding teachers in our communions who despite this failing are quite happy to say that they know the traditional obligations according to which all women are meant to live ought to be met. Scholar after scholar merely takes the traditional dogma to be obvious, and offers exposition that other than with respect to grammar and semantics is almost entirely rhetorical, ie. that in important ways bears no resemblance at all to proper language-analysis.

    Every time one of our leaders confidently expresses their views on this subject, the scorching words of Nietzsche, who was a philologist by profession, enter the mind: ‘How little Christianity educates the sense of honesty and justice can easily be seen from the writings of its scholars; they advance their conjectures as blandly as dogmas…the Bible is pricked and pulled apart, and the people formally inculcated in the art of reading badly’. Is it possible we might at some future time consider that a view which was mistakenly broad in the responsibilities allowed to women in families and Christian societies would be a hundred times less damaging to us than is the concrete fact that we are prepared to lay down universal rules with a deep practical effect, even though we do not establish them by proper textual analysis? Personally, I think the situation is hopeless.

    What excuse have we for such behaviour? Only that we plainly do not realise our vague chat, where sentence-type is not identified, where the number of each sentence is not systematically established, and where the exact nature of the relation between data and interpretation is never revealed, is not a proper analyis, and thus establishes much less, interpretively speaking, than we believe.

  8. Hi David, do you really think the only alternatives are a naive confidence that universal propositions are always simply and plainly expressed or an ability to undertake your incredibly sophisticated analysis?

    Not everyone chooses to express themselves like you. Not everyone thinks they have to meet your particular philosophical syllogistic requirements to properly express their communicative intent to set forth a universal proposition.

    People can be effective communicators, and readers of communication, without meeting all your criteria!

    Ironically, as you critique those who make over-confident statements, and although you cleverly make it a probabilistic statement, you say we will search “without success” to find a single Protestant traditionalist teacher who properly understands the issues, let alone applies them.

    Well bully for you, mate, clearly you are a lot smarter than us, and me in particular. You are welcome to that sort of cleverness. And, yes, just to help you understand my communicative intent, I am being sarcastic here, something I try hard to refrain from, normally, in these impersonal internet contexts.

    Here’s my assertion in reply. There are plenty of Bible teachers who understand many of these matters, and are capable of applying many of the skills of language studies and textual analysis and philosophical reasoning, to varying degrees of ability and sophistication, and who can make much stronger cases than what you claim you so easily dismiss here.

    Find and fairly represent the strongest presentations of the traditionalist case, and match yourself against those, rather than intellectual pygmies like myself. Lay it out in the sort of detail it deserves, with your own proper analysis, and engagement with the alternative arguments, rather than the dismissive way you’ve done it here.

  9. A thought-provoking disproof comes to mind, with respect to our management of these things.

    Orthodox Protestant communions teach the traditional dogmas about women in the church and the family as though nothing could be more obvious, and moreover as though it is wicked to contravene the dogmas.

    These traditional dogmas are not stated explicitly in our scriptures, however; they cannot be. For this to occur, almost exactly the language in the dogmas would have to be used in the texts from which they are taken. This is obviously not what happens; the dogmas are not a mere repetition of various texts; they are something else. (Perhaps it would be accurate to describe the dogmas as an attempt at the summing up of linguistic and historical data.) Thus, they are derived by some other method than by identifying them as being explicitly stated in our scriptures.

    In order for these dogmas to be deduced, there must be a universal condition sharing much of its content with the dogma, and so allowing this method to be used. What for example is required to make the rule ‘No woman should be the senior leader of a properly organised Christian congregation’ susceptible to deduction is a condition expressed in terms like these: ‘No women whatsoever should ever exercise authority over a man’. Only a statement so broad, and so near the conclusion, can allow a deduction of the dogma. There is no properly universal expression of this type available, so the dogma in question cannot be deduced.

    If this is true, then the traditional Protestant views about women’s responsibilities can only be reached using an evaluation of probabilities.

    In the light of these elementary ideas, the questions I have are these. Why are the traditional dogmas about gender fervently believed by many to be obvious, and why is it taught that it is evil to disobey them, when the dogmas are not stated in our scriptures, and cannot be deduced from them?

    However, if the dogmas are obvious, why are they not shown in a few plainly written paragraphs to be stated, or susceptible to deduction?

    Still, it may be that the dogmas are only obviously probable, to a remarkable degree. If that is the state of affairs, then what is the demonstration of it?

    The form the required proofs would take would be be comparatively simple, although it might not appear at first glance as though it were. All that would be required would be (i) a quotation on the nature of assertoric sentences, deduction or probability from a well-recognised authority on these problems (any genuine authority will do); (ii) a brief analysis showing that sentences in our scriptures on the theme of women’s responsibilities, when evaluated in the light of these basic facts, satisfy the conditions required of statements, deduction or probability, such that it can be clearly seen the dogmas are stated, available to deduction, or probable.

    Given the deep love for God and others which belief in these dogmas is said to exhibit, no doubt the questions I have posed above have in truth been answered everwhere among us, even in detail as brief as this. For if the dogmas are not imaginary, their advocates will know they are not, will know why they are not, and will be able to explain both at length and in briefer form how it is they are not. All those among us who are most inclined to reflection, and who accept the dogmas, must in order to have adopted them in the first place have gathered together abundant proofs of these dogmas’ factuality. Otherwise, how could we bear to say to anyone whose private and public life it might effect that the dogmas were clearly true—so plainly true that breaches of them are evil? The Archbishop will have given such demonstrations as these in numerous addresses. The Doctrine Commission’s report on men, women and the Trinity will contain them. The publications of our press will also offer them in many places. The books we admire on the dogmas, like Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, will likewise contain them. So will lecture notes and sermon notes, and the leaflets handed out to sway voters before important formal decisions about women’s responsibilities in our congregations.

    On that account, if for us at least the traditional dogmas are not fancies, it will be possible for hundreds of examples of previously made demonstrations assuming the correct form to be quoted here, taken from concrete sources of this type. On the other hand, if these dogmas are fancies from our point of view, almost nothing and perhaps nothing satisfactory will be available that can be quoted here.

    So, where are the numerous adequate demonstrations of the biblical origin of the traditional dogmas that out of a love for truth, God and each other we have formulated, and offered to one another over the years in our sermons, books, reports, addresses & etc? Let the pertinent sections of a reasonable number of them be quoted below or nearby, one after the other, over whatever period of time is convenient, with their origin indicated clearly, so it can be revealed decisively in a public forum that love for God, fact and other people really lies where it is said to lie on the question of gender.

    Given the importance of this forum, and the stature of those who contribute to it, the non-appearance here of a number of demonstrations meeting the required conditions will be, I think, a sufficient indication that as far as we are concerned, the traditional view has its origin, not in the texts of our scriptures, but in our capacity for making images of various types. That will be the disproof.

    • No, David.

      Demanding a series of carefully argued statements from second- or third-hand sources in a forum that is tangential to the purpose of original post (especially when you’ve identified a number of examples, and when it could be plausibly argued that the burden of such ‘proof’ falls on non-traditionalists) does not allow you, when those statements/arguments don’t appear, to assert that it’s all rubbish anyway.

      If this conversation ends here and now that will not be proof or disproof of anything.

  10. David does present a very compelling case, though, Sam. I, for one would be interested to hear a substantive rebuttal.

    • Well I, like Sandy, don’t think it’s a compelling case: it’s a straw-man-esque picture of New Testament scholarship, and a poor assertion that absence of evidence in blog comments rules out any scholarship on the matter.

      But to deal with one small part of the argument (before I exit this conversation as it’s pretty tangential to the original post) the ‘universal condition’ that David so desires is actually in the biblical texts themselves. A number of the New Testament texts on gender relationships appeal to created order in Genesis 1-3, which has application to all of humanity. For an example of how this plays out, look at Claire Smith’s chapter on Genesis 1-3 (along with the rest of it, actually) in God’s Good Design.

      In any case, this is not the place for a detailed discussion.

  11. To try and bring things back on topic…

    I am not persuaded by the suggestion above that traditional marriage vows incite domestic violence, that is, turn ordinary husbands into abusers. I would have to see evidence to believe.


    I *have* spoken to women in this situation who tell me that an abusive Christian husband *will* use these verses to maintain control and justify his actions. Also, one expert (Dina McMillan) claims that some abusive men (consciously or not) are attracted to religious women because the are likely to be more susceptible to control.

    We need to face these uncomfortable truths. For this reason, it essential that preachers follow Phillip’s lead and speak about domestic violence in terms of gender roles.

  12. The conclusion to which I am forced is that, after all, the traditional dogmas about women’s responsibilities are not stated by our scriptures, are not deducible from them, and are not available as matters of probability. For if they were, this would have been plainly revealed above. Of course, it has not been.

    If you say someone else has proven something, and you are correct, then you know what is required of proof, and you know the proof itself. You can share it in a few hundred words, in such a way as to establish it fairly comprehensively. Aristotle in the ancient world and Frege in the modern revolutionised our understanding of language, in documents lasting a few pages. Yet we cannot establish quite well in a short space the factuality of a single universal inference which is supposed to be obviously justified?

    (Of course, what the complaints about my taking scholarship too lightly show is that the existence of the traditional dogmas are not at all easy to demonstrate. Of course, should they be so difficult to find, they should not be widely accepted as obvious. They will almost certainly be justified as mere matters of probability, if any cognitive and linguistic worth can be attributed to them. For if they were stated directly or if they were deducible, then all would be quite straightforward.)

    In addition to this, if you care about others, and expect them to comply with a universal rule in which you believe, you will I think pass up no opportunity to share even in a brief form the demonstration that proves you are right. The only reason for not sharing a proof in the space available to you is that you do not know at all what such demonstrations require, and have no idea whether an authentic demonstration has ever been made

    That is why I put the questions I did.

    Of course, there is the assertion of the obvious universality of certain passages. However, this idea is clearly absurd; the person who argues that way will have in the end to confess they have never, ever so much as looked over a single paper on the problem of generality in language, even though they are quite happy to set out univeral rules for others based on their ‘reading’. It is accepted everywhere among those who learn to read to a professional standard that one of the most difficult problems in interpretation is the ambiguity of quantifiers, which occurs everywhere in some degree except in the most formal documents—and even in these. Any good textbook on language should say so; but in order to find this out, a person would naturally have to know the contents of such a book.

    All these things are naturally entirely to do with the Archbishop’s posts—for his presupposition in writing is that the traditional dogmas about women’s responsibilities are obviously true. The best way to understand a person’s mettle is, as is well known, to examine the worth of the presuppositions upon which their ideas depend. If the Archbishop’s presupposition is false, then his post is entirely lacking in important respects.

    Is it not strange when the truth of a dogma of great practical importance is placed in question, to resort to the argument that the point being made is irrelevant to the discussion? I am right, am I not, to trust the Archbishop himself does not think the truth and falsity of his most important presuppositions about gender are irrelevant to his post? I certainly hope he does not; but then, perhaps he does, seeing that his subordinates appear to.

    Having read what he has to say, it is quite disappointing to send the bucket subsequently to the bottom of the well, only to find it is dry, when above ground it promised a copious supply of water. I suppose such things are the unfortunate result of the fact that an infinitesimally small number of our ministers and theologians are qualified to teach language-comprehension as a subject in its own right, at university level.

    I think another extremely helpful disproof of the traditional dogmas about gender in their absolute and universal form would be the simple count of those of our teachers who advocate these opinions as obviously true, and who are qualified either formally or informally to be employed to teach reading as a subject in its own right to undergraduates. How many of them would there be? One? Three? Five? I do not know; my guess is that the figure would not pass ten, seeing that in my own experience in the church, I have perhaps met only one—and I think, as he is a theologian of genuine intellectual honesty, he might easily say himself that he was not so qualified. Would we were all so honest! Personally, I think in the interests of the love for factuality someone with the power and opportunity to do it should make this count, and publish the results, so anyone may discover them.

    The upshot of such a project would be extremely edifying, seeing that a person is only an authority on a subject insofar as the subject is well known to him or her. It would be most helpful to us to be able to take into account the extent to which our teachers should be relied on, as far as their reading goes, and as far as their evaluation of the correctness of the tradition’s readings goes. It is of course a vital part of learning to understand that of which your preceptor is made.

    In the light of such findings, the Archbishop’s ideas about gender, as he expresses them above, could be evaluated with fuller understanding. We would then be in a better position to give them the appropriate respect, whatever that proved to be. We would be able to discuss them more knowledgably. For the moment, though, I am quite happy to accept that his views have the merit they have been demonstrated here to possess.

    • Oh, stop being so dismissive.

      Not continuing a tangential conversation thread doesn’t settle the argument. That’s a ridiculous thing to say. In any case, you haven’t dealt with the fairly plain statements (or, at a stretch, a clear deduction) about the universality of Genesis 1-3, detailed not only in Paul but in Claire’s book above. There’s one avenue for you to explore. If you don’t engage properly with the best proponents of the arguments (as Sandy said) and instead relying on the silence of (again, as Sandy said) intellectual pygmies by comparison, all you’re doing is lighting the way forward by burning a whole field of strawmen.

      Further, I suggest that you are treating the education and qualifications of those who teach in this diocese pretty lightly, yet at the same time failing to understand the nature of biblical revelation and authority (I assume you’re referring to me as a subordinate of the Archbishop in deferring to his teaching).

      Finally, it’s a little thing, but since you’re so big on reading carefully I feel I should point out that the author of this post and the previous one is not the Archbishop, but his brother. An easy mistake to make, sure, but an important distinction.

      As far as I’m concerned, this discussion is off-topic, and closed.


  13. It seems you’re (deliberately?) missing the point about the use of a proper literary methodology to justify any particular conclusion about a text. It doesn’t come by simply referring to Genesis 1-3 or some other similarly minded author. You just write it out, and it will be plain for all to see. It has been fairly clearly outlined.

    I hope you are not suggesting biblical revelation and tradition bear no relation to the meaning of the texts. Surely they must rely upon the authority primarily of the texts.

    Anyway, as you say, such things have nothing to do with posts about specific rules for people so why worry about it? I am sure all those poor ladies won’t be thinking of it.

    But touché on knowledge about who’s who. Not that relevant to the post though, but still, give yourself a gold star.

  14. That is an amusing error: I have always confused members of the Jensen family with one another. They look alike, sound alike, have the same views about certain problems, etc. In truth, I was much more concerned about using the right title, than about making sure I had the right image of a person in my head. The wrong image produced the wrong judgement.

    Of course, someone who is pointing out the difficulty of reading well, and the importance of conscientious study when it comes to the subject of interpretation, does not mind at all when their mistakes are pointed out. For of course their own errors are simply a verification of the need for genuine thoroughness they are quite rightly advocating. These blunders are equally a verification of the person’s criticism of dogmatism, ignorance, laziness, vanity, charlatanism & etc. in reading to which they are quite rightly expressing objections.

    Of course, all my observations are to do in the end with nothing else but domestic violence, and traditional Protestant views about gender. A person who fancies they are not has no insight into these things at all. In youth I worked for a number of years as a social worker. And with certain experiences in mind, I have written here to help every person at risk of domestic violence who might stumble upon this thread to have the opportunity to understand the really extraordinary lack of intellectual substance that the traditional dogmas about women’s responsibilities possess. I had no other purpose for contributing here.

    If this lack of substance is seen, then a person might, perhaps, be able to avoid the evil uses to which these dogmas are at times put.

  15. In additon to the sheer violence that some experience, there is the fact that many women who call themselves complementarians do not believe that the husband has any authority at all. Witness Kristy. But some of us, some very foolish women actually made a vow to obey and lived a life of utter and total misery.

    And I bet that those women who never once even thought of obeying their husbands, or thought of their husband as an authority, are laughing at those whose lives have been ruined.

    The best marriages I know are those of atheists. That is what I have seen.

    It is time for some man to write that complementarianism is not about authority and submission. Because yesterday I thought of this belief as being pretty bad, but now, I see it as completely devoid of any logic and consistency.

    I think that this thread would do much more than any book by one of the new atheistis in exiting readers from Christianity.

  16. Kristy,

    This is part of a sermon from one of the clergy trained in Sydney and now marrying people in Sydney.

    “Marriage is like the trinity, The Father is in charge. Jesus ALWAYS submits to the father, he obeys, he says what his father has told him to say, Jesus sees the father in the trinity as the head, and he obeys him. It is never the other way around. Isn’t it interesting?

    But in no way can we say that Jesus being subject to his father is demeaning. … In the godhead himself there is submission. To submit to any authority, you are being Godlike.

    In Gen. 1 God said, Let us make mankind in our image. To be made in the likeness of God is to be made in relationship where, just as the son submits to the father, we have a couple, a head and a helper.

    Wives, submit to the husband as the head – he is in charge. God solved the argument before it started, he said, I have to choose someone, okay, husbands, you are in charge. I hold you responsible.

    Now what does it look like? If you are married to a good husband, who … you will find a very happy wife, … if however, you are a wife who is married to a lousy husband, just line up over here and we can discuss this in a therapy group afterward. [laughingly] Its not easy.”

    I know a young woman who stood up and stumbled out of this sermon and nobody was every offered therapy That was just a joke. That was a pure and total mockery of the women who actually did suffer violence under this ministry.

    I perceive that complementarians think that abused women are a big joke. I lived in complementarianism for years. At first, when I woman told me about her rape, and the ridiculous advice of the elders, I thought that protesting and speaking out whould help.

    But now I know that speaking out has little effect but to provide objects for others to despise. After 30 years, I have concluded that complementarianism is a system that needs to be exposed.

  17. Suzanne,

    This whole area is something that is indeed very serious, and no-one here is treating lightly. In particular, you clearly have some specific allegations that ought to be dealt with properly and seriously, not in this kind of impersonal context.

    The Sydney Anglican Diocese has a set of careful and detailed procedures in place to work through the sorts of allegations you have suggested. I urge you to contact the Professional Standards Unit on (02) 9265 1514 or at

    I’m going to close off this thread now, not as a sign of dismissal of your concerns, but because it is so important. I don’t want this to be the forum to air these complaints because it’s important for all sides to do this kind of thing properly. Again, contact the people who can deal properly with this matter.

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